of a liberal quantity of firearms, although, as to-day,
they carried their bows and arrows. One of the staple articles
that was traded to the Indians was packages of strap or hoop iron.
These were exchanged for furs and meat. From these bundles of
strap iron the Indians fashioned their lances and arrow heads. The
fur company supplied them with firearms, mostly flint-lock,
smooth-bore guns. These they continued to use until the advent of
the breach-loaders. The company also furnished the Indians with
swords that the company obtained from the sale of abandoned
military equipments sold by the United States and other nations.
Among the other staple articles handled by the company and
exchanged with the Indians were sugar, molasses, flour, tea,
coffee, hominy, and anything that the Indians in their contact
with the whites had learned to want. Powder, lead, flints, and
knives were in great demand.
The first buffaloes sighted by Mr. Morin, in 1836, were seen on about what is now the site of Sioux City, as he, with other voyageurs, worked his way further up the river. The number of buffaloes increased on either bank. Many bands were seen on this voyage up. Numbers were crossing the river and many were shot from the boat.
Mr. Morin continued in the employ of the American Fur Company five years, also with Rabbit & Cotton six years, and with Harvey, Premo & Co. about the same time. Altogether he was engaged in working and trading for these three companies about seventeen years. At that time no whites were in the trans-Missouri country except those engaged in the fur business. No permanent settlements were found except along the Missouri river. He remembers that about 1850 a few whites commenced to settle along the Missouri. Back from the river the country was inhabited solely by Indians. Bands of hardy trappers and traders were continually coming in and trading with the company. On the arrival of any of these bands at the post the agents made them an offer on their loads and if a trade was closed the trappers received an order or check on their principal house in St. Louis. This order was good at any of the company stores. Money was
also obtained on these orders. The principal
nationalities who were engaged in this work were French-Canadians
and Americans. The trappers were called free men, as they worked
entirely free of any control, and what they earned was their own.
Mr. Morin remembers the Mandan Indians, who, he states, were tall,
powerful-built Indians, with blue eyes, and some of them had fair
hair. These, he states, were considered the bravest Indians of the
plains. History records their almost entire destruction by that
dread disease, the small-pox.
In 1844 Mr. Morin crossed over the Rocky mountains to the Pacific coast under the guidance of Jim Bridger, from whom Fort Bridger, Wyoming, was afterwards named. On this trip the party had several fights with the Indians. One man, by the name of Lambert, was dangerously wounded on this trip. The first white man's residence that they reached, in what is now the state of California, was Sutter's Fort, where gold was first discovered in 1849. Mr. Sutter had a grist mill at that time, run by water power. Here the wounded trapper, Lambert, had the Indian arrow extracted from his back by a Dr. White. The following year, 1845, Mr. Morin returned to the Missouri river. On this trip, going and returning, the only white resident seen was at Fort Bridger, on Green river, Wyoming. The country was inhabited only by Indians. When he first crossed the continent to California, buffalo, antelope, deer, and other game were more plentiful than domestic animals are to-day. West of Green river, no buffalo were seen, although deer and antelope were plentiful. During these seventeen years when in the employ of these companies, he was often in great danger from hostile bands of Indians, who, while not engaged in war upon the whites directly, were on raiding or war excursions to attack some other bands or tribes of the plains or mountains. Mr. Morin bears an his person the marks of two arrow wounds, one on his side, and one on his knee. Mr. Morin, although seventy-eight years of age, is still active and vigorous. He is now residing at the home of one of his daughters, Mrs. Fillion, of North Platte, Nebraska. Mr. Morin credits his good health and vigor at his advanced age to
the fact that he never dissipated nor engaged in the
carouses common to the men of the frontier in those early days. In
1848 he married Miss Valentine Peters, of St. Louis. Miss Peters'
father was a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi river. Eight
children are the result of this union. All are alive to-day. In
1853 Mr. Morin established a trading post at the mouth of Box
Elder canyon. This canyon is about two miles west of where Fort
McPherson, Nebraska, was afterwards located. A few years after
this he built a very commodious and substantial trading ranch and
post at the mouth of what is now known as Morin's Canyon. This
ranch he occupied until 1868, when on the decline of travel he
built a small house, or ranch, near the old Jack Morrow ranch,
where for a short time he resided. He afterwards built and lived
in a house five miles west of the fort. From 1862 until 1872 he
was in the employ of the government as Indian interpreter.
Mr. Morin lost his wife an the 28th day of August, 1875, by the accidental discharge of a gun. While she was journeying along the road on a trip to gather wild grapes an emigrant, in pulling his gun from his wagon, accidentally discharged the same, the contents striking Mrs. Morin in the breast. From this death occurred the next day.
Of some of the Indian tribes he remembers that the Mandans and Rees cultivated the ground, raised corn, pumpkins, and a few other vegetables. The Sioux were always at war with all other tribes.
Mr. Morin's father first inspired him with a desire to visit the mountains and plains of the west, as he had been a fur trader and trapper on Lake Superior before those waters became a part of the American possession.
During the first twenty years of his life on the plains Mr. Morin lived quite a good proportion of his time in the camps of the Indians with whom he traded. He was always welcome, and when in their camps was always well treated. In those early days the only danger to the whites was from maurauding (sic) bands that were engaged in plundering opposing tribes or from
some Indian outlaw who desired to acquire his property
without trading or recompense.
Mr. Morin states that there are as many variations of character among the Indians as among the whites; the good and the bad, the lazy and the thrifty, the improvident and reckless, the intelligent and the imbeciles, the industrious and the careless, some who have a natural inclination to acquire property and some who are always in want and distress.
For nearly twenty-eight years the writer has been acquainted with Mr. Morin and his family. He remembers seeing Mr. Morin engaged in trading with the Sioux and other Indians who twenty-five years ago would often pass through North Platte on their trips north and south. Mr. Morin is to-day in all probability one of the oldest pioneers of the plains now living. He, as a man, never aspired to become a scout or Indian fighter.
The writer remembers that the statement was general that in early days, before the whites were numerous, Mr. Morin was one of the members of the Ponca Indian tribe, and whether he was a married member of that tribe or not the writer does not know, but it was a fashion in those early days for traders to take to themselves Indian wives. Whether he adopted this plan of one of the prohibition candidates for president who hailed from California he does not know or care to know. Mr. Morin was a fair business man, as he could buy and sell in a way that showed that if he had been trained for a mercantile life he would have made a good merchant or salesman.
Despite Mr. Morin's years and the terrible hardships he has undergone, he walks the streets of our city with quick, active steps and indicates that he has many years of life yet before him. His mind and recollections are yet clear and strong. When he passes away he will be the last of that hardy band of early pioneers who have seen the trans-Missouri country become converted from a barren and savage wilderness into a land of civilization and of homes.
Diary kept by J. P. Dunlap, of Dwight, Nebr., and read by him
before the State
Historical Society January 15, 1896.
came twenty miles and camped for the night within five
miles of Salt creek.
June 14. Passed Salt Creek crossing. There was a house near the crossing. We followed down the valley to the north. There were a few settlers along the creek. Camped for dinner near the creek. After noon passed Lancaster, seat of Lancaster county. The town consists of one small store, two dwelling houses, and a blacksmith shop. This is now Lincoln. Passed the Salt basin. We saw where they had been making salt. Camped for the night near the salt basin and one mile from Salt Creek. We are told that it is twenty miles to where we will find wood and water again. Plenty of wild grass everywhere. We filled a keg with water, wet the keg, and laid it out in the grass and left it there until morning to take with us. The water was much colder next morning than when we dipped it from the branch.
June 15. We saw the first antelope. We found that it was full twenty miles to wood and water. After traveling about twenty-five miles we camped on a small creek called Oak creek. near a trapper's cabin. He had two elk calves in a pen and a small cabin about half full of skins of wild animals of different kinds. We shot our first elk near here.
June 16. We built a bridge so as to cross the creek. The timber is about twenty rods wide. We traveled eight miles and camped for dinner on the prairie near where Dwight is now. One of our party found a prairie hen's nest and we had eggs for dinner. The cook is known by the name of Michigan, that being the state that he is from. The kettles, except for bread, are made of sheet iron. Our coffee is quite black from the effects of the kettle. They answer well for other victuals. Bread is baked in thick iron skillets with legs. Cups and plates are made of tin. Every one furnishes his own knife, and fingers take the place of forks. The fire is built in a hole in the ground, dug for the purpose. After noon we saw a small party of Indians. They were on the ground when first seen, but soon got on their ponies and rode away towards the west. We came to the old
California Road and followed it about five miles to the
Plattsmouth Road. There is a house where they keep travelers over
night. It is called a ranch. The ranchman's name is David Reed. He
had just killed an antelope. There are plenty of wild strawberries
here. We camp for the night near the ranch.
June 17. Sunday. The morning is very cold for the season. We were none too warm by the camp-fire with our overcoats on. We traveled sixteen miles and camped for noon at Shinns' Ferry on Platte river. Weather quite warm. Big change since morning. The boat is run by David Gardner and Dennis Hookstra. The boat is a flat bottom and will carry one wagon at a time. The river is about eighty rods wide. They have a large cable rope stretched across the river and tied at one end to a tree and the other end to a stout post set in the ground for the purpose. In each end of the boat is rope and windlass, with the ends of the rope attached to pulleys on the large cable rope. The water in the river is swift, and when they want to go to the north they turn the north end up toward the cable and lower the south end. The force of the water forces the boat across the stream to near the shore and then with poles they shove it to the Shore. When they want to go back to the south, they wind up the windlass to raise the south end and lower the north end, and the force of the water forces the boat back to the other shore.
After crossing the main channel of the river an the boat, we were fording a narrow channel about two hundred feet wide, when one wagon loaded with flour in sacks got stuck in the quick sand about half way across. In our hurry to unload we carried the flour to the bank from which we came and did not notice that we were just as near the other bank until we had most of the flour unloaded. When we got the wagon out we had to wade the channel and carry the flour over on our shoulders. We thought that did pretty well for a set of engineers. After going one mile we camped for the night. Very little wood and, very sandy, and great numbers of mosquitoes. They made the oxen roar with pain. We protected ourselves with thick clothing and built smokes for the cattle and ourselves.
The cattle would stand near the fires and hold their
heads in the smoke.
June 18. We came eighteen miles and camped for the noon on Loup river at Columbus, where the wagon road from Omaha to the mountains crosses that stream on a pontoon bridge. A great number of freight teams crosses here. The Union Pacific railroad also crosses here. The track was laid through here a few days ago. Perhaps there are thirty or forty houses all told. There is neither a white woman nor a white child in sight. Hundreds of Indians of both sexes and all ages, some nearly naked and striped with paint, and carrying war clubs, others with bows and arrows, others rolled in buffalo robes and lounging about. We saw one old Indian beat his squaw because she let the ponies get away. She put her blanket over her head and went around making a blubbering cry for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then was as quiet as the rest. She was herding the ponies on the wild grass when they started to play and run past her and ran perhaps one mile down the valley, and went to grazing again. They were still in plain sight from where we were. We will get our turn to cross the river soon after noon. We have to take our turn in rotation.
We did not get across until nearly four o'clock P. M. The bridge is made by laying it on flat boats stood side by side. The boats are fastened to a big cable rope and the rope tied to posts on each bank. An Indian skull decorates the top of one of the posts. We came two miles and camped for the night.
June 19. We traveled along the Platte River valley. It is level and sparsely settled. The houses are mostly of either logs or sods and covered with dirt. There are many bands at work building the U. P. railroad. They are making about three miles per day. There are also many Indians. They are of a friendly tribe called Pawnees. They live by their aid from the government, begging and eating the offals of the railroad camps. We camped for the night near the laid track of the railroad. Beds are made in this country by spreading one pair of woolen blankets or a buffalo robe on the ground, and covering with another
pair of blankets. If the ground is wet they first spread
a rubber blanket, and if it is raining, they spread another rubber
blanket over the top. The Indians can roll themselves in one
buffalo robe so as to cover their heads and feet too, and lay and
sleep in that manner.
June 20. A cloudy day and the mosquitoes are very bad.
June 21. Camped for noon near the O K store and saw General Curtis' block house. It is made of red cedar posts like railroad ties, but longer. They are set on end in the ground and project up about ten feet above the ground. It is built in a square about 300 feet long on each side and each corner is made with a projection or a small square built the same as the other, only about fifteen feet square each way. They were joined together in just such a shape as if the corner had been cut off of the large square and the two openings set together. These small squares had port holes so as to give free range of each wall of the large square. After noon we got to and crossed Wood river and camped near it for the night.
June 22 and 23 was spent in reaching Fort Kearney Military Reservation and in getting ready to begin the survey.
June 24 we began the survey from the northwest corner of the reservation to the north, and in a few hours were out of sight of the line of travel, and here over a dry and sandy country, with no sign that any white person had ever been here before, with only the pranks of the wild animals to break the monotony of the scene, we worked day after day. On the morning of the fourth of July we fired off our guns, and then the same old routine, but soon after I got sick and quit the work. The people, though strangers, were as kind as they could well be under the circumstances. It is not a good country to be sick in; but after lying tent for a long time I got better, but did not make much. I came back and took a district school near Lancaster, and soon got stout and ready to try the west again.
THE COST OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT--THEN AND NOW.
Read at the Annual Meeting, January 15, 1896. Written by Hon. J. Sterling Morton.
Taxation in the territory of Nebraska was never oppressive. To it the United States appropriated each year $20,000, out of which sum the territorial legislative assembly was paid its per diem and the printing of its journals and its statutes provided for, together with the postages and mileages and all other incidental expenses of that body. And to show how frugal and economical the management of federal finances in Nebraska was in those days, it is only necessary to point to the fact that after thirteen years of territorial existence, with an annual appropriation of the sum named, and without any debts, and all expenses paid to date, Nebraska territory, in March, 1867, became a state of the American Union and had $40,000 of unexpended balances remaining to her credit in the United States treasury out of that yearly appropriation, which to-day would be considered quite insufficient to meet the annual expenses of an ordinary board of county commissioners in one of the smallest eastern counties of the state. That annual appropriation of $20,000, however, paid the legislating and printing expenses of a territory which at that time embraced, for purposes of government and protection, all that vast area which is now the two Dakotas, Wyoming, and a part of Colorado. By the census of 1860 the territory contained between 128,000 and 129,000 population. This number of people was scattered in sparsely settled counties from north to south and east to west over an area of 75,000 square miles. Nevertheless, protection to life, liberty, and property was almost as satisfactory then as it is now. County organizations along the river were fully as well managed then as they are now. The counties of Richardson, Nemaha, Otoe, Cass, Sarpy, Douglas, Washington, Burt, and Dakota boasted then as reputable boards of commissioners, as honest and as well qualified and efficient sheriffs, judges, treasurers, and clerks as they have to-day. In 1865, two years before the admission of the state, taxes in Richardson county were twelve mills on the dollar. Ten years later, notwithstanding a promise made everywhere of lower taxes by the advocates of statehood, in the same county they were sixteen mills on the dollar. In 1885 - twenty years later - they were
twenty-five mills on the dollar, and in 1895 were still
twenty-four mills upon the dollar. But the government of
Richardson county is no more satisfactory to-day, as far as the
protection of the life, liberty, and property of its citizens is
concerned, than it was in 1855, when taxes were still lower than
in 1865, though the actual amount of levy for the former year I
have been unable to ascertain.
The average annual taxation from 1865 to 1895 in the county of Richardson has been 191 mills on a dollar's valuation. Why is it that a county which by nature - taking into consideration timber, water, and rock for building purposes - is, perhaps, by far the best county in the whole commonwealth, should have thus increased its taxation without materially or perceptibly improving its means of protecting property and citizens?
Nemaha county, on the north of Richardson, likewise on the Missouri river, began, in 1865, with a taxation of 11 5/8 mills on the dollar, ran up to 17 1/2 mills in 1885, and declined to 15 mills in 1895. But this county has scaled down (in some of its precincts) vast sums of indebtedness unwisely incurred by the voting of the public funds to private enterprises, like railroads. This misuse of the power to tax, which has raised funds out of all of the people for the purpose of bestowing them upon a few of the people who have projected and constructed for themselves railroads and other enterprises, has created for taxpayers in the state of Nebraska millions of dollars of unlawful and burdensome indebtedness. The town of Brownville, formerly the county seat of Nemaha, has, in its career, its life and death, illustrated the truth of the statement of Chief Justice Marshall that "the power to tax is the power to destroy." That thrifty and attractive little village was originally one of the most prosperous communities in the whole territory. In fact, it was the first point whence grain and other farm products were shipped from Nebraska to an eastern or southern market, via Missouri river steamboats and St. Louis. But in economic blindness its citizens voted $40,000 for the purpose of paying for grading a railroad from Phelps, in the state of Missouri, down to the river
landing opposite Brownville. This sum was given in the bonds of Brownville precinct, said bonds drawing 10 per cent. interest. The grade was completed, and while the people were tied to this debt and for some years regularly paid the interest, there never were any ties placed upon the grade nor any cars run thereupon, for the reason that no railroad was ever constructed from Phelps to Brownville. During many years the people of Brownville precinct continued to pay for that folly and fallacy. Nevertheless, even after this lesson, the people of Brownville were induced again to vote a large subsidy to the Brownville & Fort Kearney railroad. This line was graded, tied and ironed for about nine miles. Over it, with some considerable timidity and no less difficulty, an engine and a few cars several times carefully made trips. The bonds were issued, the interest began to gnaw upon the property of Brownville and to depress the spirit of enterprise which had characterized it; and then, to further illustrated the fallacy of taxing all for the purpose of raising money to give to the few who compose a corporation, and to emphasize its wickedness, the owners of the Brownville & Fort Kearney railroad tore up its tracks and abandoned the project. But they did not abandon the bonds nor relinquish their claim upon the right to use the taxing power in that precinct for the purpose of raising money to meet the coupons as they annually matured. The result was that taxes in Brownville ran up to 17 cents on the dollar. Brownville property was undesirable. No one demanded it. Its value declined with great velocity. A beautiful home, like that of ex-United States Senator Thomas W. Tipton, consisting of a pretty, substantial two-story brick house, honestly built, well finished, with all modern conveniences, and twelve lots, beautifully located and adorned with trees, was sold for something less than one thousand dollars. The county seat was removed, mercantile houses and banks deserted the townsite, until in some of the best buildings on the main street bats and owls found their most secluded and comfortable roosting places. Grass grew in streets that had been resonant with the rumble of farm wagons and brisk with the traffic of a rich and prosperous county.
Brownville is an instance of communal
suicide. It destroyed itself by the mismanagement and extravagance
of its local government. From prosperity, thrift, and contentment
it was transformed into thriftlessness, discontent, and a
corporate cadaver. The fate of this pioneer business center is
recorded as an admonition to all the new villages in the new
counties of the commonwealth. It shows that an overdose of
taxation is as fatal to corporate health and life as an overdose
of morphine is to the individual organism.
Leaving Nemaha county, going northward along the west bank of the Missouri, we come into the county of Otoe, where, upon the same half mile square of fertile land the writer hereof has lived more than forty years. The first tax paid upon that northeast quarter of section 7, town 8, range 14 east, long known as Arbor Lodge, was in 1855. It amounted to the sum of $5. That included county, precinct, and territorial taxes all told. In 1865 taxes in Otoe county were 9 mills upon the dollar's valuation. In 1875, 191 mills. In 1885, 22 mills. In 1895, 23 mills. And now this same home, adorned with beautiful trees and flowering shrubs and made valuable by the charm and grace of association and felicitous recollections, instead of paying five dollars a year to government for the service of protection, as it did when the domicile was a log cabin and its grounds were treeless prairie, must be taxed each year between two hundred and three hundred dollars.
The cost of that land, when the pre-emptor's title came from the government, on April 23,18,57, was $1.25 per acre, making an aggregate of $200 for the quarter section. And now each year its possessor is compelled to pay more, for the coat of local government than the original price of the land. What for? For the protection of life, liberty, and property? Not altogether. But to meet the demands of a sometime extravagant and mismanaged county organization. Primarily the county was involved in debt by voting subsidies to railroad - $150,000 to the Midland Pacific, with 10 per cent. interest, twenty years to run; $150,000 more to the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Com-
pany, 8 per cent. interest, with twenty years to run; and
$40,000 more to the Kansas City, St. Joseph & Missouri River
This voting of subsidies has been always, the writer thinks, contrary to law construed properly and to justice properly defined. It is guaranteed to the American citizen that neither his property, his liberty, nor his life shall be taken from him, except by due process of law. Money is property. Taxes take money from the citizen, and when it is taken by taxation to be bestowed in subsidies upon corporations, forcibly by a vote of a majority, it seems to me plain enough that it is not taken by due process of law. If it be lawful to take the property known as money, in the form of taxes, merely by the sheer force of a majority vote, what abjection can there be to taking liberty or life by the same power? If it is legal to take one's money by the strength of a majority vote, without any recognized legal process, is it not equally constitutional and equally just to likewise so take liberty and life?
What is a tax? Whether laid for a local, state, or national government, a tax is simply payment for the service which that government renders to the citizen. And the service which government was instituted to give is the protection of life, liberty, and property. Never, in all the ballots which have been cast in Otoe county for bonds to be used for subsidizing corporations, has the writer of this paper given any other than a negative vote. At no time in his life has he for a moment believed that it was either righteous, just, or expedient for a community to burden itself with debt for the purpose of hastening, before their time, the building of railroads or my other alleged public improvement for the immediate "booming" of a town or county. This system of voting subsidies has prevailed in the state of Nebraska to such an extent its to have involved several counties and precincts in an indebtedness aggregating between ten millions and twenty millions of dollars. A result of such unwisely incurrred (sic) debts is a tremendous levy upon various precincts, cities, and counties for "sinking funds" with which to meet the annual in-
terest account. And so far as observation goes up to this
time, a sinking fund sufficient to meet bonded obligations upon
their maturity in any city, precinct, or county has never yet been
formed. On the contrary, new bonds are issued when old ones fall
due, and the cancerous taxation is thus perpetuated from year to
year and sinking funds made a chronic, hereditary burden and
taint, seemingly, for all time to come.
Aside from subsidy taxes which are common to nearly all the counties, there are generally extravagant county current expenses. The county of Otoe is eighteen miles wide and thirty-six miles long, and the annual levy upon its real and personal property is for the purpose of raising somewhere between $90,000 and $100,000. The larger sum oftener than the lesser sum is the tribute wrung during each year from the people and property of that county, which contains, in round numbers, 400,000 acres of land. Bridges, road improvements, court expenses, and various other disbursements are, as a rule, unnecessarily of a recklessly extravagant character. Under an ancient statute, the County Agricultural Society draws $500 each year to encourage it more as a horse show and racing institution than anything else, just as though all ought to be taxed for the pleasure and amusement of the few who make up the county society and enjoy the races, the betting, and the excitement thereunto appertaining. Among abuses in the courts of justice, none is more palpable and obvious than the custom which some judges have of lucratively appointing clientless attorneys to defend attorneyless criminals, who, with vaulting alacrity, are so often ready to swear to their own impecuniosity. The sums sometimes paid the aforesaid callow pleaders amount to the fees paid in similar cases to the best lawyers. These fees, fixed by a kind and generous judge, come out of a popular pocket. It is suggested that each county should elect and salary a public defender as well as a public prosecutor. It would prove a cheaper system than the present one, and deprive the courts of a baleful patronage.
From an experience as a taxpayer in Otoe county that now reaches out towards half a century, I must frankly say that the
cost of government in that particular county is far more
than it ought to be, and that the character of government has not
improved proportionally with the increase of its taxation. On the
other hand, conscientiously I aver that from 1855 to 1865 we had,
as a rule, a better and more economical administration of county
affairs than we have had since that date.
Otoe county has, in round numbers, a population of 33,000. And yet its annual appropriation to meet the demands of its county commissioners, which hold to it the same relation that the legislative assembly did to the territory of Nebraska, is something like $100,000; while the territory of Nebraska's legislative expenses were annually less than $20,000, and provided legislation for more than 100,000 people who scatteringiy inhabited an area of 75,000 square miles.
The excessive cost of local governments and the consequent high rate of taxation which it imposes, repels from some of the best portions of our commonwealth the highest character of thrifty and intelligent immigration and the most desirable capital and enterprise.
Cass county makes a better showing for inexpensive local government than any of the older counties of the territory and state, as her annual levy has averaged only 1 per cent. from 1865 to 1895, and in the latter year is only a little over 1 cent on the dollar.
Douglas county has averaged over 14 mills on the dollar during the same thirty years. But Washington county, which began with 14 1/2 mills in 1865, has now a tax of 23 5/8 mills, and makes an average of annual taxation for thirty years of 21.49 1/8 mills.
Burt county began with 10 mills on the dollar in 1865 and closes with 14.4 mills in 1895, making an average of 12.294, including and between the two dates.
In 1865 Dakota county had a tax of 13 mills, and in 1895 of 19 mills on the dollar's valuation, and shows an annual average during thirty years of 20 1/4 mills.
Throughout the state, during the "boom" period, and for the purpose of continuing an artificial energy of development in
most of the larger cities, the fallacy of making public
improvements, merely for the alleged purpose of giving employment
to the idle, quite largely prevailed. Many big sewers which were
unnecessary, and miles of expensive pavements in streets which
needed no pavement at all, have been levied for, with the avowed
purpose of raising funds with which to employ idle muscle. It has
been deemed a duty of government by a majority of the voters in
many localities to furnish compensating employment to all seeking
it. Following out this economic fallacy, those who have been
temperate, industrious, self-denying, and acquisitive have been
compelled, by the power to tax, to furnish the means of livelihood
to those who have been largely during their whole lives
intemperate, improvident, and indolent. Paved streets -
vehicleless, trafficless, and almost peopleless - running, out
from Lincoln, from Omaha, and from other metropolitan points
towards impossible additions, attest the futility and folly of
such expenditures. The transitory and almost vagrant population in
behalf of which such alleged public works were undertaken left
each one of those towns go soon as the artificial excitement and
unnecessary expenditure of public moneys subsided, or, by force of
depleted exchequers, finally came to an end.
It is not the business of governments to furnish employment to citizens. But it is their business to protect the lives, liberties, and properties of citizens within the areas which they cover. Having afforded this protection, they may righteously tax for the service thus rendered, and a tax for any other than such a public purpose is licensed larceny.
The question arises now: How shall the good people in the various precincts, cities, and counties of the commonwealth of Nebraska hereafter avoid unnecessary extravagance and burdensome taxation in local government?
This is a very serious problem. It must be answered, therefore, with careful, thoughtful deliberation. There is one absolutely certain method of correcting the evil of extravagant administration in local affairs, and that is, to recognize, respect, and exalt individual merit and personal worth in selecting public
servants. Eulogize good character and denounce bad;
choose for official places only those citizens who are peculiarly
qualified, fitted, and adapted to those places. The best method to
accomplish the selection of that class of citizens, and thereby
put a premium upon acknowledged ability and clean character, is to
repeal every statute in the state of Nebraska which requires any
officer to give bonds for the faithful performance of his duty or
for the proper care of public funds.
The theory of democratic government is that a majority of the people are always right, and, therefore, perfectly competent to govern themselves. In fact, this government is one of committees. In the county of Lancaster the whole people desire a treasurer, a sheriff, a county judge, and county commissioners, together with a county clerk. By a vote of the whole these officers are selected, as a mere committee, to attend to business which the people in their primary capacity cannot look after. To these officers are committed all the functions appertaining to their respective places. They have been chosen by a majority of the legal voters. If any one of them is inefficient or dishonest, those who elected them should suffer the consequences. The whole community should be bondsmen for the electees of the majority. The community should not plead the "baby act," and after, by a majority of ten to one, having elected A. B. treasurer, ask eight, ten, or a dozen good citizens who, by thrift, temperance, industry, and frugality, have acquired competencies, to come forward and sign a bond by which they shall risk all their lives; earnings (which, by natural rights, in part belong to their wives and children) in order to indemnify the community against loss by its own choice of an officer.
Up to date, the bond-giving system, which is contrary to a democratic form of government, has resulted, as a rule, in fruitless litigation when bondsmen have been sued.
That which is true as to the non-banding of county and city officers is likewise true of the bonded state officials in Nebraska. The state treasurer of this commonwealth is required to give a bond in the sum of something like a million of dollars. That is
to say, two hundred thousand voters, having advocated or
permitted the election of a citizen to the responsible position of
state treasurer, then ask that they may be protected from their
own selectee and guaranteed that he will not rob those who have
chosen him to take care of the public funds. The best type of
citizenship is then asked to jeopardize its earnings and the
education and happiness of its households to protect a majestic
majority from the possible consequences of its own votes.
Events too recent in the state are ample in potency to prove the fallacy of the bond-giving system when it comes to state treasurers. It, too, results only in litigation and loss.
But let the laws requiring these official bonds be repealed, so that neither city, county, nor state officers - whether they handle money or perform other duties - can be required to give any financial guaranty as to their capability, efficiency, or honesty. When these laws shall have been repealed, who will dare say that the republican party, the democratic party, the populist party, or the prohibition party of this state will nominate in any city or county a treasurer, or name for a state treasurer, a man whose character for ability as an accountant and for honesty and sobriety as a citizen is not above and beyond reproach? The repeal of these laws, which have in practice been almost a complete failure, would put a premium upon ability and honesty in public life. No political organization would dare name for public place a man intellectually or morally disqualified for the performance of the duties which that position demands. There would be no further pleading of the "baby act" by vast majorities. The whole people would soon understand and fully realize that whenever a dishonest or inefficient official was elected, they themselves were his sureties. The vote of every property holder would then be given after due reflection as to the probabilities of the candidate being able to satisfactorily do the work of the office sought. No longer would men be named for county treasurers simply because small bankers furnished bonds for them, in consideration of their furnishing back the small bankers deposits of public funds out of which petty
money-mongers may, by devious methods, evolve
surreptitious and unlicensed gains.
Until offices are recognized as having been created for public utility and not exclusively for party purposes, and until salaries are paid only for services faithfully, honorably, and wisely given for the common weal, these ills, which are grievous to be borne, will probably remain uncured and become more malignant.
Until no bonds are required, extravagance in local governments can and probably will be continued. Until there be a premium upon personal integrity and upon fitness and adaptation for given positions, rascality and mediocrity may perpetuate dishonest and extravagant management and taxes may continue to be more now than they were then.
© 2000, 2001 for NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller