Previous to the year 1858, the great expanse of prairie land of Nebraska, with its streams and strips of timber, was the home of the red man, whose possession and enjoyment of the many bounties of nature, to be found on every hand, were disputed only by the wild beasts roaming at will over hill and dale. "Some white man's foot may, indeed, have marked the margin of the streams in the capacity of hunter and trapper, and certain it is that footprints had been made by government surveyor and topographical engineer far beyond. But not," grandiloquently continues Platte County's pioneer historian, I. N. Taylor, whose words have just been quoted, "until the still, sweet spring morning of 1856 did the pioneers of our westward civilization scent from afar the odors of these northern plains, arising at the touch of the morning sun of that new day of progress."
The momentous day above referred to was April 27, 1856, and then it was that the first actual settlers of Platte County, Isaac Albertson and E. N. Toncray, entered this domain and halted for the time being on the east bank of Shell Creek, a little above the entrance into the Platte. The hardy adventurers not only "looked the country over," but set their stakes for new homes. They founded the town of Buchanan, in Colfax County, and eventually became men of high standing and influence in the County of Platte.
At about this time a certain coterie of men, deeply imbued with the western fever, met together in Omaha. Most of them came from the capital city of Ohio and had unbounded faith in the possibilities of Nebraska. Their object was to found and establish a town on the logical route of the much talked of transcontinental line of railroad, which one day certainly would be built. The Columbus Town Company was organized and Frederick Gottschalk, Jacob Louis and George Rousch were sent ahead, as an expeditionary force, to locate a site for the proposed town. Before the month of May, 1856, had expired the party passed the stopping place of Toncray and Albert-
FOUNDERS OF COLUMBUS
PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY 47
son and, arriving at a spot, striking their fancy, determined they had reached their destination and found the Mecca sought. The object of the expedition having been accomplished, the trio returned to Omaha and reported to the company. Thereupon, under their chosen captain, Vincent Kummer, the Columbus Company, consisting of the three members of the advance guard just mentioned, and Charles Turner, surveyor; John C. Wolfel, carpenter; Jacob Guter, Carl Reinke, Henry Lusche, Michael Smith, Adam Denk and John Held, came into the land of promise. How the site of Columbus was selected and the founding of the town was consummated can best be told in the words of Mr. Taylor:
"Our Columbus party passed this spot a month later and pressed on to their destination on the Loup. Of course, Gottschalk and Louis could point out this spot, for they had been there. The others, too, would readily recognize it, for the river had been described as a clear and placid stream, deep but narrow, and abounding with fish. They halted at noon on the enchanting shore and gazed with delight at the great fish lying far down in the quiet water. Wolfel, as boss carpenter, was enthusiastic and could scarcely wait until dinner was finished before commencing the Loup bridge and thus sealing the destiny of the new city against all rivals. Only Kummer was somewhat incredulous about 'that thing' being a river, and he strayed away along the bank. Having rounded one end of the river, legend saith not which end, suddenly he confronted the camp from the opposite bank, at which surprising event the original explorers subsided and the bridge builder withdrew his proposition; and what is now known as 'McAllister's slough' was left alone in its glory. Proceeding westward eight or nine miles they came upon the veritable Loup whose rushing tide and boiling quicksand put to shame the pretensions of McAllister's pond. Here they wisely located, neither too far east nor too far west as the whole sequel has proved, for the true crossing of the river on the permanent line of transportation over the plains.
"A letter of Mr. Kummer to his old home, Columbus, Ohio, describing the new world, aroused the spirit of adventure in many, among them John Rickly, who immediately dropped all and left for the West, with Michael Weaver and others. Meantime, the preliminary work went on here. On the 28th day of May, 1856, the outlines of the town were determined and the whole was soon blocked out. A rough log building was extemporized and roofed with grass.
48PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY
It answered all their purposes of dwelling, storage and fortification and was long known as the 'Old Company House.'"
On the 27th day of October, 1856, the little settlement was highly elated over the increase in its numbers, by the arrival of J. C. and Mrs. Wolfel, J. Rickly, John P. Becker, John Browner, Anthony Voll, Charles Bremer, John H. Green, William Distlehorst, Jedediah Mills, George Berni, Martin Heintz, the Quinns and Haneys. To Mrs. Wolfel, in distinction of her being the first woman of the settlement, was presented by the Columbus Company a share of stock, which meant ten lots in the town. In December, J. M. Becker was added to the colony and all told, the population of Platte County in 1856 numbered thirty-five.
CONSOLIDATION OF TWO TOWN SITE COMPANIES
The Elkhorn & Loup Fork Bridge & Ferry Company, composed of A. J. Smith, S. N. Fifield and others, had established a ferry on the Loup River and laid out the Town of Pawnee City, which extended from the ferry toward the new Town of Columbus and was likely, not only to interfere with the progress and prosperity of its rival, but also be retarded in its own growth by too close proximity to that town. Hence, a compromise was established between the two corporations, by which the Town of Pawnee was abandoned, the Columbus and Pawnee City companies consolidated and of the two hundred shares issued by the reformed Columbus Company, each of the several interests was allotted one hundred shares; this consummation was of date July 14, 1856. A. B. Malcom was made president; James C. Mitchell, secretary; V. Burkley, treasurer; A. D. Jones, V. Burkley, Vincent Kummer, James C. Mitchell, with the ones mentioned, made up the board of directors. A. D. Jones was authorized to enter into a contract for the resurveying of the town and laying out therein one hundred and fifty-five blocks, of eight lots each, 66x132 feet.
THE PIONEER MILL
At the first meeting of the consolidated town company a resolution was passed authorizing the company to donate a certain number of shares of the company's stock to any one who should erect a steam sawmill within a reasonable length of time. In pursuance of the resolution the company entered into an agreement on the 25th
PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY 49
day of August, 1856, with John Rickly, at Omaha, by which he was to build a sawmill and also a shingle mill, in consideration of eighteen shares of Columbus Company stock. The sawmill to be of not less than thirty-two horse power and ready for operation within a year from the date of the contract. Agreeably to all which, the mill was constructed and in operation August 1, 1857. According to his diary, John Rickly "picked out the lot nearest the ferry for the sawmill, and put a stake there." The next day, after staking out the mill, Rickly, Green and Mills returned to Omaha, having made a contract with J. P. Becker and J. H. Green for a thousand logs at $5.50 per thousand feet. Arrangements were then made in Omaha for equipping the mill, which was in operation by August 1, 1857, as stated above.
WINTER OF DEEP SNOW
The winter of 1856-7 was memorable for deep snow. The plains were covered the whole season to an average depth of three feet, while the drifts in low ground varied from ten to thirty feet. The situation of the Columbus settlement was serious if not perilous. Those who remained in the colony that winter were J. C. Wolfel and his brave wife; A. Voll, J. P. Becker, J. Browner and C. Bremer, who boarded at the Company's house; Jacob Guter, John Held, M. Smith, Jacob Louis, A. Denk, F. Gottschalk, H. Lusche and C. Reinke, whose houses were of logs and but indifferent protection from the snow and wild prairie winds. In December certain of the brave of heart faced the dangers of the unbroken prairies and went to Omaha, over ninety miles away, where they purchased ox teams and provisions for their besieged friends and loved ones. On their return the high-banked snow at the Elkhorn made further progress almost impossible; as a matter of fact, they could not go on with the teams. It was a question, however, of life or death for those at Columbus. They were out of food and hungry; their anxiety for the success of the relief party can well be imagined. Undaunted by the obstacles ahead and the treacherous snow, the saviours, although seventy-five miles away from their objective, equipped themselves with snow shoes, piled a portion of the food on a hand sled and hauled it the entire distance, bringing needed succor to the hungry and distraught settlers none too soon. J. C. Wolfel, C. Bremer and the elder Hashberger, who, with his son, D. Hashberger, had joined the colonists in the fall, made the second trip to Omaha, which was neces-
50PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY
sary, taking a hand sled, on which they hauled back to Columbus a load of provisions, covering the distance of almost two hundred miles, to and fro, in ten days. By following the frozen channel of the Platte River these sturdy frontiersmen were enabled to save valuable time in making this dangerous, but necessary journey.
SOME WHO CAME IN 1857
The first persons to join the colony in the opening of the year 1857 were Dr. Charles B. Stillman and George W. Hewitt, both of whom were later to figure quite largely in the affairs of Platte County. They trudged afoot from Omaha, through snow three feet deep, arriving at Columbus in March. Patrick Murray and Hugh McDonough also walked in, coming from Iowa City in April. It was but a short time thereafter when Murray sent back to Pennsylvania for his sisters, Kate and Maggie Murray, who joined him at his Loup farm and later became the wives of pioneers.
In the spring of 1857, John Rickly returned to Columbus, bringing with him his son, John, and daughter, Caroline. The young lady presided over her father's household for some time and then entered the home of William B. Dale as his wife. Mr. Dale was one of Columbus' prominent merchants and served the city faithfully and well as its chief executive.
Early in this memorable year of 1857, came Michael Kelly, Thomas Lynch, Patrick Gleason and John Deneen. They breasted the almost impenetrable snow, making their way from Omaha with difficulty and no little distress. This group of pioneers settled in Shell Creek Township, west of the meridian line.
On the 1st day of May, 1857, Leander Gerrard stuck his stakes on the Looking Glass, near the center of Monroe County (now part of Platte), having a sharp eye, no doubt financially and politically speaking, to county seat, if not state capital considerations. Gerrard made quick tracks back towards the United States land office. While on his way down, his claims were jumped by Whaley, Pierce and Baty -- a party from New York -- then by Ray, Swicker and Henderson. Then came the Mormons and jumped them all. But Gerrard, Whaley and Ray ousted the Mormons, establishing their claims by the tenth of the month. The Mormons moved higher up and commenced settlement at Genoa, on the Beaver. These disciples of the latter day apostle, Joseph, inclosed 2,000 acres of the richest land in Nebraska, and broke and planted 1,200 acres. Such a crop
PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY 51
never grew before nor since on the Nebraska plains. Many a single potato was as large as a common man's foot, solid and good, and was a full meal for one. But in the year 1857, the United States Government surveyed and confirmed, by treaty to the Pawnee Indians, a reservation five by thirty miles area, commencing at the mouth of the Beaver and extending westward along the Loup. This, of course, displaced the colonists, who left in the fall of 1859, not being permitted to even gather their crops. A few remained in the country; of these were Henry J. Hudson, Charles Brindley, James Warner, Moses Welsh, children of Peter Murie, Mrs. Carl Reinke and Mrs. Freston, whose husband was killed in Columbus, by timbers from William B. Dale's new building falling on him. The families of all the men came with them."
Before the expiration of 1857 and during the years 1858 and 1859, many accessions were made to the settlements of Platte County, mostly by Germans. Among these were the Helds, Erbs, Marohns, Wills, Wetterers, Rickerts, Ahrens, Hengellers, Matthis and the Losekes. To the Irish settlements came the Hays, Doodys and Carrigs. In the eastern part of the county settled Nelson Toncray, William Davis, Robert Corson, and farther up, the Rolfers, Russells, Skinners, Kemps, Cloughs, Spauldings and Fayls. In 1859 the Galleys, James, the elder, and his three sons, George W., James H. and Samuel; and his two sons-in-law, William Draper and John Barrow. The McAllisters and Andersons came some time later. About this time, what may be termed the Yankee contingent, settled beyond the Loup River, among which were the Guy C. Barnums, the Clothers, L. M. and J. B. Beebe, George W. Stevens, the pioneer school teacher of the county; the Morses, Perrys, Clarks, Cushings and Witchies. Some of these remained on farms they opened and improved; others became citizens of the county seat.
Three years after the initial settlement took place in Platte County, its census was taken by the Federal Government. In 1856, the number of people in the county was thirty-five, but in the comparatively short space of something over three years' time the figures had grown to 782. After the Civil war, immigration to the county increased, and in 1870 the population was numbered at 1,899.
The manner in which the county grew; the salient causes and the character and nationality of the settlers, is clearly indicated in the pamphlet history of Platte County, written by I. N. Taylor in 1876:
"It is remarkable that even so powerful an incentive as the free homestead law, which took effect January 1, 1863, gave so slight an
52PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY
impulse to our immigration. But the true reasons have been given. Not until the rebellion had collapsed and the fear of a general Indian war had subsided and Nebraska had become connected by rail with the East and South, and not until the Platte Valley was made to tremble beneath the rattling heels of the Union Pacific iron horse, did the homestead law have any meaning to persons at a distance. But thenceforth free homesteads, preemptions and even railroad lands at $5 per acre were as the hot cakes of the griddle on a winter morning, and now scarcely a homestead is left unclaimed in Platte County. In the month of May, 1866, the construction trains of the Casement Brothers entered our eastern borders, and on the first day of June the track was laid through the Town of Columbus. The whole city -- men, women and children -- went out to witness the wonderful spectacle of a live engine slowly creeping along as the rails were laid, a pair at a time, by a gang of disciplined workmen, all moving with the harmony of a clock, and completing the track-laying at the rate of ten feet per minute. This event was to Columbus and Platte County the beginning of a new life, and we are therefore today just ten years, one month and four days old.
"To trace the rapid steps of our progress in all the paths of physical, social, political and moral development, with names, dates and events in detail, is manifestly impracticable in this brief paper. It must suffice to say that in the settlement of our county, 'the birds of a feather have flocked together.' There are some exceptions: it would be better perhaps if there were more: but as a rule we see on swinging around the circle from southeast to southwest, that the sons of Johnny Bull, whether English or Scotch, have the lower Platte Valley and the Mormons lead. The Germans possess the lower Shell Creek Valley, with all its tributaries, and are mostly Lutherans. The northeast and Tracy Valley are Yankees and are largely Presbyterians. The Irish have got the upper Shell Creek Valley and the lower north shore of the Loup, and are Catholics. The Scandinavians possess the upper Looking Glass and Lost Creek and are mostly Lutheran. The Indian policy of President Grant has resulted in giving us in the upper north shore Loup Valley a planting of the seed of William Penn, who we hope are betrothed to the county and will live and becoffined Truemen. In our Mesopotamia -- that garden of beauty -- the Germans have gradually squeezed out the Yankees; they are mostly Lutheran. Stearns Prairie, in the center, like Columbus, is a mixture of everything under the sun, Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Skeptic. But the
PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY 53
whole county is at length dotted over with human abodes and everywhere, on this glad day, the dark green corn blade, the darker grove bough and the golden wheat stem are nodding on the breeze to the flag of our Union."
At the beginning of this chapter the distinction of being the first settlers in Platte County was conferred on Isaac Albertson and E. N. Toncray. This, however, should be qualified by the explanation that when these men went into camp at the spot designated, they were in Colfax County, which was a part of Platte County. Isaac Albertson removed from Michigan in 1856 and first stopped at Omaha in April of that year, where a company was formed with the idea of founding a city at some point on the Platte River, west of North Bend. Among the prominent members of this company were Experience Estabrook, Lorin Miller, Isaac Albertson and his brother-in-law, E. N. Toncray. The latter two were sent out to determine upon a site. After a hard Journey and a perilous crossing of the Elkhorn, they finally arrived on the east bank of Shell Creek, near where it enters the Platte River, and proceeded to found the Town of Buchanan, now known as Rogers. Just one month later the founders of Columbus passed through Buchanan. A log house, known as the "Town House," was soon erected on the site of Buchanan and Albertson was appointed postmaster, a position which he held several years. Isaac Albertson became prominent in the affairs of the territory. He was elected a member of the council of the Territorial Legislature in the fall of 1864, representing Monroe, Merrick, Hall, Buffalo, Kearney and Lincoln counties. His district was the largest in area of that of any member during his term. He served as county judge of Platte County from 1863-69, and after the organization of Colfax County, out of a part of Platte County, he served as county judge one term. He was also treasurer of Colfax County. Judge Albertson married a sister of E. N. Toncray and a daughter, Clara Albertson Young, became prominent in school and church work, and in 1891 was elected president of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association.
Carl Reinke was one of the pioneers. He was born near Berlin, Germany, in 1828, and acquired a rather limited education in a Luth-
PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY 55
eran school at his native place. Upon coming to the United States 1854, he settled in Illinois, and was employed for two years in a stone quarry. He removed to Nebraska in 1856 and after stopping for about six weeks in Omaha started with the Columbus party as one of its members and settled on what is now the site of Columbus. Leaving Columbus soon afterward, he went to Shell Creek, having upon his arrival there about one hundred and sixty dollars, which was expended in the purchase of a wagon, two cows and a yoke of cattle. He took up a preemption claim of 160 acres, later bought eighty acres and from time to time during his residence there, purchased additional holdings until he had about seven hundred acres of land. In 1891 Mr. Reinke retired from farm life and took up his residence in Columbus.
Vincent Kummer was born in Switzerland in 1820. He attended school in his native village, where he became a locksmith, and in 1850 immigrated to the United States. Kummer was a member of the Columbus Company, and came with the town builders in 1856. He was elected the first treasurer of Platte County and held the position twenty-one successive years. Rosena Gerber became his second wife in 1870, and after becoming a widow, she married H. T. Spoerry. Throughout his life Vincent Kummer was noted for his honesty and hospitality. On all occasions he displayed a natural goodness of heart and a generous welcome, attributes of the genuine pioneer. He was a man of strong will and of very decided principles. The death of this valued pioneer occurred March 21, 1880. His request just before death, that the pioneers carry his body to the grave, and H. J. Hudson conduct the services, was complied with. The Kummer Guards attended the funeral in a body.
John Browner was a native of Ireland, born June 24, 1820. He arrived in this country in 1852, found his way to Illinois, and thence to Omaha in the summer of 1856. On the 5th day of November of the same year he arrived in Columbus and took a preemption on Shell Creek two days thereafter, where he built a log shanty and returned to the settlement. In the summer of 1857 Browner worked at Omaha and that fall found him as a clerk in the American Hotel, then presided over by Mrs. Baker. He was in the employ of the Government in 1859 and before the end of that year took an active part in the Indian war. This pioneer was elected sheriff of Platte County in 1865, and gained a record for integrity and usefulness as a citizen and public official. In 1869 Mr. Browner purchased 160 acres of school
56PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY
land in Columbus Township, two miles northeast of the county seat, which he increased in acreage as the years went by.
Charles Bremer was one of the pioneers of the county, coming to Columbus in October, 1856, within a few weeks after the town had been laid out and platted. He was a native of Germany and arrived in the United States in 1849. Mr. Bremer was one of the first brewers of the state, having built an establishment for the manufacture of beer at Columbus, in 1864, continuing the business until his death in 1875.
John Rickley was a member of the Columbus Company. He assisted in making a survey of the town site and built the first sawmill in Platte County, having it in operation on the first day of August, 1857, and managed the utility until 1872. Mr. Rickly took an active part in the early settlement and organization of the county and was largely influential in the merger of Monroe County into Platte. The old ferry, charging the exorbitant price of $3 for transporting each immigrant across the river, led Mr. Rickly to obtain a charter for another ferry and when in operation he reduced the fare to $1. He was captain of a company raised to fight the Pawnees, represented the county in the Legislature, served as sheriff, was a member of the Columbus council and mayor of the city.
John P. (Pete) Becker was born in Germany in 1833, immigrated with his parents to America and settled at Columbus, Ohio. When twenty-seven years of age he helped organize a party "to go west," which, in the fall of 1856, settled on the site of Columbus Nebraska. He was a carpenter and the pioneer in that field of endeavor in the new town. In 1863 he embarked in the grocery trade and in 1867, with Jonas Welch, built the first grist mill in Platte County and in the central part of the state. This mill was a "God send" to the settlers and was patronized throughout a territory over fifty miles in every direction. Mr. Becker was prominent in governmental affairs. He served in the State Legislature, was appointed by President Johnson agent for the Pawnee Indians; was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1875; first recorder of deeds of Platte County, being elected in 1858, and mayor of the town he helped to found. Mr. Becker died January 14,1892.
Jacob Ernst, who lived on section 8, Columbus Township, was a native of Switzerland, immigrated to the United States in 1875 and to Columbus, Ohio, where he remained until 1857, in the spring of which year he settled in Columbus, Nebraska. Ernst was a blacksmith and plied his trade in the new prairie home he had selected, thus
PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY 57
becoming the pioneer of the county in that line of industry. In the fall of 1868 Ernst moved to a farm on section 8, Columbus Township. He became one of the opulent farmers of the county and his wife was the fourth woman to settle here.
Leander Gerrard was one of the foremost men in Platte County; and had a state-wide reputation. He helped organize Monroe County, which subsequently became a part of Platte, and while a citizen of the Town of Monroe, from 1857 to 1866, among other activities largely engaged in the cattle business, overland freighting and trading with the Indians. In 1866 Mr. Gerrard moved to Columbus, where he formed a law partnership with Col. M. Whitmoyer and Judge A. M. Post, the firm name of which was Whitmoyer, Gerrard & Post. He organized the Columbus State Bank in 1871, the oldest bank, incorporated under the state laws, in Nebraska. Mr. Gerrard served in the upper branch of the State Legislature in the early '70s, was chairman of the first republican state convention, held at Plattsmouth in 1868. His wife was Betty C., daughter of Michael Weaver, who came to Columbus in the spring of 1857. This pioneer settler, banker, legislator and politician, was called to his long account about three years ago.
Edward A. Gerrard, a brother of Leander Gerrard, located near Columbus in 1859, and in the city in 1868. Having become familiar with the country northwest to the Indian reservations, by following bands of Indians who often came down and stole the settlers' horses, he was engaged as guide and made the first trail for cattle west of the sixth principal meridian, from the Platte to the Indian reservations northwest. He went to California in 1876 and, with C. W. Zeigler, drove a herd of ponies from San Luis Obispo, California, to Columbus. He was installed as postmaster at Columbus in May, 1878. Mr. Gerrard was county clerk of Monroe County. For the past several years he has been furnishing the people of Monroe with a newspaper of no little merit. His military record is a good one, and he is one of the very few from Nebraska who served in the Civil war. He was a member of the Second Nebraska Cavalry, Company D, and was a resident of Platte County at the time of his enlistment.
Patrick Murray came to this country from Ireland when eighteen years of age and settled in Platte County early in the spring of 1857. On the 4th of July of that year, he married Bridget Hennessey, at Omaha, and began farming and stock-raising; his first crop of wheat was garnered the following year. Before "proving up" on his claim, this hardy pioneer built a barn 100 feet square, paying $75 a thousand
58PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY
feet for his lumber, which he hauled from Omaha with ox teams. In 1865 he took a contract for putting up hay for the Government forces and while so engaged along the Looking Glass went to Omaha, leaving his wife and a number of hands at the hay. During his absence a band of Arapahoe Indians attacked his wife and the hands in the field, after taking supper with them and displaying every evidence of friendship. Their treacherous intentions, however, were soon made manifest, as they killed Mr. Murray's brother-in-law, Adam Smith, a brother of Michael Smith, of Columbus, and wounded his wife and several others by shooting them with arrows. Before taking their departure, the Indian miscreants destroyed the tent, bedding harness and everything not needed by themselves, and took away the mules and other articles that struck their fancy. As soon as word of this calamity reached Murray at Omaha, he started for home with a squad of soldiers in pursuit of the Arapahoes. The officer in command promised to return to Murray his property, but the Government sent commissioners, who made a treaty with the red marauders and murderers, permitting them to retain the stolen property and proposing to pay the owner its value in money. Mr. Murray filed his claim for the mules and other chattels but never got any satisfaction, although it was part of the agreement between him and the Government agents, that while preparing the hay he would be protected from the Indians. Notwithstanding his severe loss, the pioneer became prosperous and influential, at one time owning over two thousand acres of the finest land in Platte County. His home farm consisted of 600 acres and was finely improved. At the first land sale in Omaha, he purchased $4,000 worth of land. He then started four teams breaking the tough prairie sod and in a few weeks had 100 acres turned over. In the spring he sowed this land to wheat and sold 1,000 bushels of the yield at $1.02 a bushel, on the track at Columbus. He was a member of St. John's Catholic Church and hauled the lumber for the building from Omaha at his own expense.
Dr. Charles B. Stillman was the first man of his profession to locate in Columbus and was one of the original pioneers of Columbus, coming to the place in March, 1857, a few months after its founding. He was a native of Connecticut, first seeing the light of day in the year 1831. His parents moved to Illinois when he was three years of age and obtaining a common-school education, the young man, in 1856, graduated from the medical department of the Iowa State University. For nine years after his arrival in Columbus he was the only physician and druggist in the county. He had his office and
PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY 59
small stock of nostrums in a "lean-to" of a log cabin, which was the home of the priest. Charles A. Speice had a log house, then standing an the site of the Catholic Church afterwards built on the south side, into which Stillman later moved and remained until he built his drug store in 1866. Doctor Stillman was a good physician for his day and generation and had a large practice. As a man and citizen he was a valuable adjunct to the community. He held the office of county clerk from 1868 to 1872 and was also register of deeds, the two offices being combined. He served some time as surgeon for the Government, was coroner of the county and the first mayor of Columbus, so it is said.
Henry J. Hudson was born in London, England, in 1822. With his wife, Sarah, and children, he settled in the county in 1857 and became one of the prominent men of the community, filling many offices of note. He was county commissioner, county clerk, county judge, postmaster ten years; probate judge, police judge, justice of the peace, a member of the Legislature, minister of the Latter Day Saints Church, a fluent writer, an orator of no mean ability and an exceptionally good citizen. He was of the band of Mormons who were displaced from their holdings by the Pawnees, when their reservation was established in Nance County. He died several years ago.
Martin Heintz was one of the men who settled in Columbus in 1858 and helped build the town. His twin brother, Chris, came with him. Heintz never married and was considered an eccentric character, but withal, he made a good citizen and a generous neighbor. He died in 1892, his brother preceding him to the grave.
J. E. North, an early settler, became a leading and influential citizen of Columbus in 1858, and first engaged in running a ferry across the Loup River, carrying overland immigration. In this he continued one year, spent a year mining in Colorado and then returning to Columbus, in 1859, married Nellie Arnold, his being the second marriage in the county. He then followed freighting, from Omaha to Fort Kearney, until the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad to that point. Three years were spent trading with the Pawnee Indians on their reservation, after which he went into the real-estate business at Columbus. He served as one of the early sheriffs of this county, was county surveyor eight years, a member of the State Legislature in 1876-7, was in the city council and mayor of Columbus. J. E. North passed away July 5, 1913, and thus another landmark is missing.
Charles A. Speice, who came to Columbus in 1858, proved to be
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a valuable addition to the little settlement of sturdy men and women who were engaged in building a town on the Nebraska prairie. He was a native of Pennsylvania and when twenty-six years of age, migrated to Nebraska, landing in Omaha, May 12, 1856, on the steamboat Omaha, which had just made her maiden voyage up the river The first man he remembers seeing on his arrival was Governor Cuming, who had his trousers tucked into the tops of his boots and, though so late in the spring, was enveloped in a buffalo overcoat. Mr. Speice remained in Omaha until the 1st day of January, 1858; and arrived at Columbus on the third day of the month. During his boyhood he had learned the carpenter's trade and this was his avocation for several years after reaching Nebraska. In the mean time he studied law, was admitted to the practice in all the courts of the state, and the Federal courts. About the year 1865 he formed a law partnership with Oliver T. B. Williams, which lasted two years. He then became associated with James E. North, the firm name being Speice & North. The business of the firm was law, real estate and real-estate loans and continued until June, 1893.
Charles A. Speice was often called into service in the protection of the settlement against anticipated Indian raids. In the so-called Pawnee war, which occurred in July, 1859, Platte County turned out fifty men. Only four men remained at home in Columbus, and there were less than a dozen stay-at-homes in the entire county. His political affiliations were with the democratic party and he was called upon to fill numerous offices of trust and responsibility. He was a member of the board of county commissioners from 1862 to 1866, a member of the lower house of the Legislature in 1869-71; a member of the State Constitutional Convention of 1872, which framed a constitution that was rejected by the people; county superintendent of schools from 1871-75. He was also a member of the Board of Education of Columbus from the early '60s until late in the '70s. During the years 1886-7, Mr. Speice was county judge. In January, 1893, he was appointed to the board of supervisors to fill a vacancy and at the general election following was returned for the office.
It is said that Louis Phillipps, a native of Germany, was the first shoemaker to locate in Platte County, coming in May, 1861. He opened a shop on Seventh Street soon after his arrival. Mr. Phillipps worked on the bench at his trade until 1864, when he took up a homestead south of the Loup River and lived there the following five years. After proving up on his land he returned to Columbus, where he opened a shoe store and continued in business a number of years.
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Rev. J. M. Ryan, a pioneer priest of Platte County, was well known from Omaha to Denver, and in fact, throughout the West. He was pastor of St. John's Catholic Church, of Columbus, over a quarter of a century, having taken charge of the parish in 1866. Father Ryan had charge of mission work from the Elkhorn River to Julesburg, along the line of the Union Pacific Railroad. The priest retired from active duties to St. Joseph's Hospital, Omaha, in 1891, and died there two years later. Memorial services were held at St. Bonaventure Church at Columbus, attended by many pioneers and old settlers of Platte County.
Michael Erb, a native of Germany, arrived in Columbus about the middle of May, 1857. He had been here, however, in the previous fall, walking from Omaha to Shell Creek and back to look over the country before bringing his family. In April, 1857, he repeated the journey in the same manner, and at the time stated, with his family, in a covered wagon, he arrived here and located on a farm in Columbus Township. He and his family lived in a covered wagon four weeks, during which time work had been going on diligently in the erection of a log cabin. There were but two other settlers on the creek at this-time -- Carl Reinke and Henry Lusche. In 1884 Mr. Erb purchased a farm three miles east of Columbus, on which he lived until 1892 and then removed to Columbus. Mrs. Erb immigrated to this country from Germany in 1851 and was married at Columbus, Ohio, in 1853. She became the mother of fifteen children, one of whom was named Louis; the first white boy born in Platte County.
Peter Myer married Ellen Sheehan in London, England, in 1850. He was a native of Germany, and his wife of Ireland. They came to the United States in 1852, lived in New York City, New Orleans, in Illinois and Omaha, and in May, 1857, located in Columbus. Mrs. Myer was the second white woman to arrive in Platte County and take up. a permanent residence. A log house was built on Eighth Street, in which the young frontiersman and his bride lived three years, after which a year was spent on Shell Creek, and then four years followed in Columbus. He again tried farming, this time on a homestead over the Loup, where he remained eleven years and then retired to Columbus, which place was his residence until death called him away in 1892.
Andrew Mathis was one of the hardy, adventurous spirits who, after arriving in the land of the free, from Switzerland, came West and in March, 1858, took up his residence in Columbus, where he first
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worked at whatever he could find to do. In 1861 Mathis removed to Shell Creek and pre-empted 160 acres of land on section 19. In 1863 he took the same piece of land as a homestead and continued to live there until March, 1892, when he became a citizen of Columbus. In 1855 Mr. Mathis married Susan Gruenther, at Columbus, Ohio. She was a native, however, of the Canton of Berne, Switzerland, the birthplace of her husband. Andrew Mathis was a successful farmer and during the many years of his activities in Platte County, passed through all the trials of pioneer life. He hauled grain to Fort Kearney, Fort Calhoun, Papillion, and to Genoa to get it ground, when streams had to be forded and wild savages encountered. He lived in a sod house for seven years and then for many years in a log house. His neighbors and friends gave him the character of a good neighbor, citizen, friend and a kind husband
James H. Galley, still in the harness and one of the early merchants of Columbus, came to Platte County from Salt Lake City in the fall of 1859. With him was his father, James, his wife and two other sons, George W. and Samuel. The elder Galley bought 389 acres of government land near Columbus and in the same township. Both the parents died in 1861. When the Galley family located on the raw and boundless prairie of Columbus Township, the nearest trading point was Omaha; Columbus had but one little store, that of Frank Becker. For mill stuff the settlers were compelled to go to Calhoun or Milford, the trip often consuming a whole week. Upon one occasion, after reaching the mill, James H. was obliged to go to the woods, to secure fuel for use in grinding his grist. The first winter he spent here was the memorable one of 1860, made so by its extreme severity. In January of that year Galley and companions started for Fort Kearney to sell their corn, as that place was a good market for farm products. In the party with Galley was his brother, Samuel, brother-in-law, William Draper, Tom French, of Plum Creek, and Pat Malloy. They had three wagon loads of corn, each drawn by three yoke of oxen. After crossing the Loup River on the ice, they went into camp for the night. Soon after getting comfortably settled a blizzard came up and for three days the young men were snow bound, only being able during this time to crawl out of their wagons to make coffee and fry some bacon; they would then lose no time in seeking the shelter of their "prairie schooners" and wrapping themselves in buffalo robes to keep from freezing. In the meantime the storm continued furiously, making it impossible for anyone to see objects two rods from the camp. The faithful animals
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were left to shift for themselves, no other course being safe or possible. However, they were found in safety and hitched to the wagons. When the Platte River was reached at Kearney, all day was consumed in fording the stream and that feat was only accomplished by putting the nine yoke of cattle to each wagon and hauling it through the boisterous water and tumbling ice-cakes.
The Galleys have figured quite largely in Platte County affairs. George W. served on the board of county commissioners and James H. and Samuel became merchants in Columbus. In 1873 the mercantile firm of J. H. Galley & Brother was formed and for a number of years was in business on the south side. In 1912, James H. Galley erected a building on East Thirteenth Street and is today the leading dry-goods merchant in Columbus. This pioneer farmer and business man has a Civil war record of which he may be proud, being a member of Company K, Second Nebraska Cavalry. His wife, Helen, whom he married in 1871, was a daughter of Henry J. Hudson.
A. J. Arnold came to Columbus from Florence in the spring of 1858 and entered a claim. That summer he was employed at the Rickly Mill, sawing lumber, and in the fall took charge of the old emigrant ferry. In 1862 he fought depredating Indians and in 1864 received orders to raise a company of cavalry. He was later assigned to Company C, Seventh Iowa Cavalry, and made first lieutenant; later fought the Sioux and was so engaged when twenty-five lodges of the tribe surrendered. He was assistant provost marshal for Western Nebraska, with headquarters at Fort Kearney. Mr. Arnold was elected sheriff of Platte County in 1872.
One of the pioneers of Columbus was C. D. Clother, who located in that city in the spring of 1859. He chopped cord wood and worked at carpentry and joining until 1862, when he went on a claim two miles west of Columbus, remaining there about six years. He returned to Columbus and in 1868 built the Clother House, which stands on the corner of Platte and Twelfth streets. He was enterprising and successful in his undertakings, and in no small degree contributed to the upbuilding and substantial growth of the county seat. His son, George W. Clother, was with him in 1859 when he came to Columbus and was identified with him in his business plans. The younger Clother established a lumberyard in 1877 and later built up a large trade in furs. In 1878 he practically took over the management of the Clother House, then the leading hotel in Platte County.
Judge John G. Higgins may be placed in the class of old settlers deserving special mention. He came to Columbus in 1870, where he
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engaged in the practice of law. For many years he served the people faithfully as county judge. He was an able lawyer and stood high in the community long his home. Judge Higgins died in November, 1893.
James Warner died at his home in Columbus, August 23, 1899. He was one of Platte County's pioneer citizens. Mr. Warner came to the United States from England in 1851, and in June, 1856, passed through Columbus with his bride, in a covered wagon, drawn by a yoke of oxen, on his way to Genoa. In 1863 he took up a homestead three miles northwest of Columbus and for the following five years worked for Patrick Murray. Then proving up on the homestead, he lived there until 1884, when he became a resident of Columbus.
Philip B. Bonesteel, a native of Canada, settled in Columbus in March, 1868. For one year he farmed and then opened a dry-goods store, in the first business building erected north of the track; it stood on the site of the present Friedhof store, corner of Thirteenth and Platte. Mr. Bonesteel died in 1878.
Edward J. Baker located in Columbus in 1870, and engaged in the grain and mercantile trade. He had a large ranch on the Loup and became an extensive dealer in live stock.
Moses K. Turner may be said to have been the pioneer newspaper man of Platte County, as his founding of the Platte Journal in 1870 and putting it upon a firm and enduring footing justly entitles him to that distinction, others' efforts in this direction failing in their incipiency. Mr. Turner was born in the State of Ohio, where he received a collegiate education and then taught school. He read law in the office of his father at Cadiz, Ohio, and in 1870 located in Columbus. On the 11th day of May, 1870, Turner issued the first number of the Journal and by the same token it may be said, put Columbus firmly on the map. Later, Mr. Turner moved to a farm of several hundred acres, was sent to the Legislature and a few years ago death ended a life that had been active and of great value to this community.
David Anderson with nine other adventurous young men traveled with mule teams over the Canastota Pike and Allegheny Mountains to Pittsburgh. Here they, with hundreds of others, embarked on board a steamboat bound for Leavenworth, Kansas. At this city, then a mere hamlet, a week was spent outfitting and preparing for a long, tedious and dangerous trip over the "plains," to Pike's Peak the new "El Dorado." They were confronted with 600 miles of a barren waste, inhabited only by wild animals and hostile Indians, but
PAST AND PRESENT OF PLATTE COUNTY 65
these brave emigrants dared to risk poverty, starvation and death to gain their desires. Fifty-two days were consumed on this voyage of uncertainty and vicissitude; all manner of hardships, privation and danger were experienced in many deadly conflicts with the wily Arapaho and Cheyenne Indian tribes. Cyclones and the ever present scarcity of water for man and beast were dangers added to the other perils. At last Pike's Peak was seen eighty miles in the distance. A few more days of travel and the train arrived at Cherry Creek, on the present site of Denver. Here were a few log huts, built and occupied by some sturdy mountaineers and prospectors who had preceded them. Mr. Anderson painted the first building erected in Denver; he established and operated the first mail route in the Rocky Mountains; and he discovered the only feasible wagon road leading from the valley into the mining districts, thus averting the herculean task of climbing the almost perpendicular heights of the lower mountain range. This important enterprise eventually opened up what is denominated "Eight-Mile Gulch," terminating at Guy Hill. Afterward, however, it was operated as a toll road by a speculative genius, who reaped the benefit of Mr. Anderson's exploit. Mr. Anderson was present at the first marriage ceremony and observed the first hanging bee at Golden City. He assisted in cutting down, off one tree, three evildoers who were hung by the vigilance committee. He also occupied a seat in the first territorial convention that met in Golden City. He counted among his friends Mr. Gregory and Green Russell, who made the first discovery of quartz and gulch gold dust; Amos Stock, Denver's pioneer postmaster; Kit Carson, and many other noted personages who figured prominently in the early settlement of Colorado. He was the owner of an original share (thirty-two lots) in Denver, which he allowed to be sold for taxes during the war. In the spring of 1861 Mr. Anderson settled with his family on a ranch and farm in the Platte Valley, eight miles east of Columbus, Nebraska. This farm lay on the old California trail and at that time the whole locality was beyond the rain belt, consequently the labor of many seasons was entirely lost on account of severe droughts, grasshopper raids, etc. He freighted the lumber from Omaha at a cost of $80 per thousand feet, to build a schoolhouse within a half mile of his home. The Pawnee braves were continually pilfering from the settlers, but the squaws were of great benefit, especially during the war, in performing the menial labor of the farms, such as chopping wood, digging potatoes, etc. The faithful wife and little ones contributed largely to the outdoor labors. A large grove of
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timber stands today on that farm as a stately monument to the industry and foresight of that frugal family of pioneers. Fifteen years were spent by the family on that old homestead in stock-raising, farming and ranching. In 1876 the farm was disposed of and Mr. Anderson moved into Columbus, immediately engaging in the shipment of live stock. Soon he gained a prominent position as the largest stock shipper in the state. When the Stock Shippers' Association was organized at South Omaha in 1885, Mr. Anderson was elected its first vice president. On the establishment of the stockyards and packing plants, he was among the first patrons of that market. On account of old age, together with the hardships and personal risks incident to the shipping business, he abandoned that line and removed with his family, in the fall of 1886, to South Omaha, intending to make that rapidly growing young city his permanent home. Here he engaged in the real-estate and loan business. In his new field of labor he soon became an important factor in the upbuilding and progress of the town.
In 1875, while on his farm, Mr. Anderson wrote the manuscript for a book of four pages entitled "Over the Plains," "Roughing in the Rocky Mountains" and "Fifteen Years in the Wilds of Nebraska." Owing to the pressure of business Mr. Anderson never expended time or money to have this work published. These writings were not of fiction, but minutely described the stern realities of his checkered and romantic career. They related to his own experiences and observations during a long and strenuous life of toil, hardship and deprivation.
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