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Gov. Francis Burt

      The territorial life of Nebraska began with the arrival of Governor Francis Burt, of South Carolina, who arrived at Bellevue October 7, 1854, took his official oath of office October 16, and died October 18. Thomas B. Cuming, of Michigan, had been appointed Secretary of State and became acting governor upon his death. There were a score of pressing public questions at the threshold of the new territory. The governor was given authority by law to take a territorial census, to divide the territory into legislative districts, to call an election for members of the first territorial legislature and to fix the place where they should hold their first session. By treaty with the Omaha and Otoe Indians in April, 1854, while the Nebraska-Kansas bill was yet pending in Congress, the United States had acquired title to Nebraska land fronting on the Missouri river and extending west about one hundred miles. This was not yet surveyed, but was open for white settlement and adventurous spirits swarmed across the river all the way from Rulo to Niobrara, to locate townsites and take their pick of choice tracts of land. Council Bluffs, Iowa, was then a town of about two thousand people, the largest place on the Missouri river opposite the Nebraska shore. Enterprising citizens of Council Bluffs had already driven stakes, in the year 1853, on the Nebraska hillside directly opposite their town. In 1854 the townsite and ferry company began booming the new location as the future capital of Nebraska and the river crossing of the Pacific raliroad (sic). In this work they had of course the active assistance of the entire population of Council Bluffs who planned thereby to make their town the real terminus and departure point for the Pacific coast.

     Omaha and Bellevue, then, became immediate rivals for the Nebraska territorial capital. Florence, Plattsmouth and Nebraska City were also candidates. Bellevue had the advantage of possession, the advantage of the better site, the advantage of long historic settlement and association in men's minds as the principal,--nay, the only,--town in eastern Nebraska. It was the site of the Omaha, Otoe



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Gov. Thomas B. Cuming

and Pawnee Indian Agency, the site of the Presbyterian mission church and school, the location of the first newspaper,--the Nebraska Palladium, printed on Nebraska soil, the headquarters of the fur trade and the residence of the acting governor and other territorial officers.

      Naturally, the citizens of Bellevue felt they had a sure thing and in their case, as so often in human experience, over-confidence ended in defeat. The first step in proceedings was the territorial census, which was taken simultaneously in all districts bordering on the Missouri river, beginning October 31, 1854. The returns showed two thousand, seven hundred and nineteen white settlers and thirteen slaves in Nebraska territory. More than half of these, unquestionably, were actual residents of Iowa and Missouri. Governor Cuming's next step was the division of eastern Nebraska into counties and the apportionment of members of the first territorial legislature among them. In this apportionment it became perfectly plain that Governor Cuming was in favor of Omaha. A majority of the members of both houses was apportioned north of the Platte and Omaha and Bellevue were grouped together in the one county of Douglas. At the election which followed no party lines were drawn, no political parties were in fact organized. In Douglas county the struggle was between an Omaha ticket and a Bellevue ticket for members of the legislature and Omaha won. The ferry between Council Bluffs and Omaha was in good working condition. On December 20, 1854, Governor Cuming issued his proclamation convening the first session of the Nebraska legislature in Omaha January 16, 1855. The citizens of Bellevue might rave and gnash their teeth, denounce the governor as a boodler and demand his removal. They did all these things. But there was no going back on the returns. The governor was master of the situation. Omaha became the capital of Nebraska and Bellevue a quiet village of historic memories and the seat of a Presbyterian college. It required nerve to do all these things, to face the storm they roused, but Cuming had the nerve and to him Omaha owes her place on the map.

      Omaha had about one hundred and fifty people and a brick building hastily erected near Ninth and Farnam and donated by the Ferry company was the place where the first territorial legislature met pursuant to the governor's proclamation. The senate (or council as it was then called) was composed of thirteen members,--the house of twenty-six. The leading theme in the message of Acting Governor Cuming was--the Pacific railroad, He urged that the valley of the Platte was the natural route of the road and pictured the commerce of India, China and the Pacific Islands crossing Nebraska. He recommended a memorial to congress for the transcontinental telegraph as the precursor of a railroad, asked liberal provision for education and concluded his reference



to current events in these words: "We stand in the center of this great confederacy. Our fellow citizens are brothers from nearly every state. In our admission geographical lines were erased between the north and the south. Let us institute no line of demarcation within our territorial boundaries, separating communities of embittered feelings. Let mutual concession and conciliation characterize our public acts, so that tranquility and satisfaction may the more speedily prevail over the conflict of local interests."

      The leading features of this first session were, a bitter fight to take the capital from Omaha, which failed,--the adoption of the Iowa code of laws, the granting of numerous ferry, bridge and college charters, provision for a public school system, the enactment of a prohibitory liquor law and of a territorial claim club law. This last act was practically an attempt to abrogate the United States statute for the acquisition of land. It has been stated that the Indian title had been extinguished in eastern Nebraska. No surveys were made until 1855 and 1856. All the first settlers were therefore "squatters." When the land was surveyed and the land office opened each would be entitled to a pre-emption not exceeding 160 acres. "Claim clubs" were organizations designed to secure for each pioneer "Squatter" 320 acres instead of the 160 granted by the United States. They were bound together by a secret ritual and oath, to protect each other in this undertaking. The theory was that each pioneer was equitably entitled to 320 acres and should hold the extra quarter section until some tenderfoot came on from the east to whom he might sell his "right" thereby harvesting enough cash to pay Uncle Sam $1.25 per acre for the quarter said uncle permitted him to pre-empt. Claim club members respected each other's claims and if an outsider attempted to "squat" on any tract so claimed he was "visited" by a mass meeting of the club,--generally provided with a rope of convenient length. These claim clubs were the real government of the territory for the first few years in the all-important matter of land titles. Distinguished men like John M. Thayer and A. J. Poppleton were presidents of the Omaha claim club. The first legislature, being composed of members of claim clubs, passed an act legalizing claims of 320 acres and providing penalties for trespassing upon them. The act was never tested in court, its enforcement generally being by the swift and vigorous claim club mass meetings.

      One of the first acts the aspiring democratic statesmen of the new territory felt called upon to do was to pass resolutions approving the principle of "popular sovereignty" as embodied in Douglas' bill. This resolution passed the house by a vote of 21 to 4 and the senate by 9 to 4. Douglas was the rising star in the democratic sky at this time and that no doubt influenced the vote. Indicative of the sentiment on the negro question is the fact that a bill to prevent the settlement of free negroes in Nebraska passed the house but was killed in the senate.

     The first free public school act in Nebraska was passed March 16, 1855. The state librarian was also state superintendent of schools. The old-fashioned plan of examining teachers by the school board which employed them was in the law. The county superintendent organized school districts upon petition, but levied the school tax himself--not less than three,



nor more than five mills. Two "universities" were incorporated by this first session,--Nebraska University at Fontanelle in Dodge county, and Simpson university at Omaha,--besides the Nebraska City Collegiate and Preparatory Institute. About a dozen other universities and colleges were incorporated in the next two years.

      During this first legislative session Mark W. Izard, of Arkansas, who had been appointed governor by President Pierce to fill the vacancy made by the death of Governor Burt, arrived and assumed his duties, making an address before both houses on February 20, 1855.

      Among the events which marked this year of Nebraska life was the Fontanelle or "Catfish War" as it was called by some of the participants. July 30 a courier arrived at Omaha from Fontanelle with news of a Sioux

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Sioux Indian Fourth of July Celebration, July 4, 1903

raid. Two persons had been killed and the community stampeded. Under orders of Governor Izard, John M. Thayer, who had just been appointed a brigadier general of militia, gathered a company of forty men and made a rapid march to Fontanelle. No Indians were seen by the militia and they were probably a hundred miles away when the troops arrived. To protect the outer settlers a company was stationed during the rest of the summer at Elkhorn City and another at Tekamah. The soldiers at these posts beguiled the time by fishing and owing to their remarkable luck in landing big channel cat named the hostilities the "Catfish War." The cost to the territorial treasury was $9,100.

     The Fontanelle settlement deserves a word in this place. It was the only colony of these earliest settlement days and was the outgrowth

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