THE FIRST TERRITORIAL LEGISLATURE OF NEBRASKA.
REMINISCENCES BY H. P. BENNET.
DENVER, COLO., September 15, 1896.
To the Nebraska Historical
Society: At the earnest solicitation of your assistant
secretary and librarian, I will attempt to express what I can
remember of the first territorial legislative assembly of
Nebraska. Forty years is a long time to retain in one's memory
anything of interest concerning the assembly not found in the
journal of its proceedings, so you need not expect a very extended
statement. I might, indeed, draw upon my imagination for
embellishments; but such you would not want. Nor would I like to
give you anything but the plain truth of the matter so far as I
can, even though it be not so strange as fiction.
At the date of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, in May, 1854, I resided at Glenwood, Ia. My oldest brother, Isaiah H. Bennet, was in the employ of the government in the Indian service, and located at Bellevue. He and I were among the very first to locate claims in Nebraska after the passage of the bill. We made our locations on the Papillion, without, however, moving our families to the ground.
Late in the fall of 1854, S. F. Nuckolls, who had located at old Ft. Kearney (Nebraska City), persuaded me to move from Glenwood, Ia., and join him at Nebraska City. This I did, taking my little family with me in a buggy, and leaving all my household and other effects behind. We boarded at the Downs house, the only public house in the city, for some few weeks before the first election in the territory. At that election I was a candidate for the territorial council from Otoe county, which was entitled to two councilmen, and I was elected, together with Captain Bradford, long since deceased. As I remember the matter, I owed my honorable position as a member of the first session of the Ne-
braska legislature more to Stephen F. Nuckolls than to
the fact of any long or well-known residence in Nebraska prior to
I was elected as a South Platte man, which meant that I was in favor of the location of the capital at Nebraska City. In other words to remove the capital from Omaha, where Thomas B. Cuming, the secretary, had established it, to a point south of the Platte, where I and my South Platte colleagues and constituents had more corner lots than in Omaha. The corner lot question was the great political question at stake between the two Nebraska parties - "North Platte" and "South Platte" - of that early period. Party spirit, of course, ran high, as it naturally does when, as in this case, a great principle is involved in the issue. Just consider how many
north of the Platte, at Omaha, and south of the Platte, at
Nebraska City. In such trials the issue cannot be found by proofs
of the right beyond a reasonable doubt, as in criminal cases, but
only by a preponderance of corner lots. And it was so found in
this case, in favor of Omaha.
However, I must ask you to pardon these reflections, as I am not writing an essay on the righteousness of mankind, but only a few reminiscences of the early and half-forgotten days of the great state of Nebraska.
The legislature met at Omaha a few weeks after the election. It assembled in the old capitol building situate on the bluff near the Hemden house. All the parliamentary law I knew I had gained from study of Jefferson's Manual, which I had borrowed after my election. Notwithstanding my meagre knowledge of the subject, I was considered by my South Platte colleagues to be the most capable and best equipped member to put into the chair as pro tempo president of the council.
On the day the legislature met feeling between the parties was very hot in regard to the organization of the two bodies. I know that most of the members of the council were very much worked
up, and the greater portion of the crowded lobby was near
the fighting pitch. So far as the council was concerned, the South
Platte men had the advantage in nerve and fighting quality, and
could have bullied the other side successfully. But the lobby was
made up of the friends of Omaha. Some of them were armed, and
quite as ready and willing as were our side to have the council
organized their way peacefully, even if they had to, fight for
The North Platte members had a further advantage in having several men of brains and experience. O. D. Richardson, of Omaha, knew more of what the matter in hand was about and how to accomplish it than the entire delegation from South Platte. Besides him on the Omaha side there were B. R. Folsom, and Goodell and other cool, able, and experienced men.
Secretary Cuming, after "swearing in" the members of the house, came up to swear us in. We all stood up and he proceeded to swear us to support the constitution of the United States and the organic act of Nebraska, and was proceeding to swear us that we were all citizens of Nebraska and over twenty years of age, when I dropped into my seat, pulling Lafe Nuckolls, the "member from Cass," down with me, thereby declining the oath. This I did because of doubts as to my own or Lafe Nuckolls' residence in the territory, and for the further reason that I knew Lafe was not yet twenty. So I kept him company, and afterwards Judge Ferguson came in and administered to us the proper oath, omitting the matter of age and residence. Lafe was a bright and ready fellow. Some one, pending the arrival of Judge F. to swear us in, asked him his age. Lafe answered at once: "Ask my constituents, as Henry Clay once said."
This by-play on my part in regard to the oath I suppose furthered my being selected to occupy the chair during the organization of the council. This position I filled as best I could for about an hour, in the midst of great excitement on the part of the members, the lobby, and everybody else in the chamber. What occurred during the short time I presided, or pretended to preside, I cannot remember, except that I most assuredly did
not know "where I was at." I was put into the chair by a
majority of one; but on the vote for permanent president, the
Omaha side, having won over one of our South Platte members by
offering him the presidency, elected J. L. Sharp, of Richardson
county, and I stepped down and out.
Frank Welch was an enrolling clerk of that session, and a good man. He could sketch with his pen almost as well as Thos. Nast, and during the session he made many caricatures of the ridiculous things that occurred. I remember one on the committee of the whole; and another on "the final departure of the gentleman from Cass," as Lafe Nuckolls was called. The latter represented the council in session and Lafe at the door, his right hand extended in farewell to the members, while in his left, rather back of him, he carried his carpet bag, gorged to overflowing with stationery and other accumulated perquisites of office.
J. Waldo Thompson (son of the Widow Thompson who afterwards married Steven Decatur) was our only page that session.
I cannot now recall to mind that I had any pet measure at that session, other than the location of the capitol, nor that I introduced a bill for any purpose whatever, unless it was for a tollroad bridge or ferry charter. There were hundreds of such bills introduced, and all passed, covering every buffalo and Indian trail to and from watering places and fords on the Platte and every other known river or stream in the territory too wide to step across. In respect to private charters this first legislature did all that was necessary so far as they knew at the time. Future legislatures, I am pleased to hear, followed the precedent set by the first upon the discovery of fresh trails and dry creeks in the then unexplored regions of that part of "the great American desert."
But I must cease this gossip about the great state of Nebraska. It is all right now, however crude and uncouth in its beginnings. It has grown many men of ability, quite a number of whom will compare favorably with the average statesmen of our land. And
now she can proudly point to one masterful son, who, in some respects at feast, may well be compared to the immortal Lincoln.
Written by his brother, J. M. Whitted, of Florence, Nebr.
Robert Bates Whitted, who was a member of the first legislature, territory of Nebraska, was born April 26, 1822, in Maury county, Tennessee. His foreparents were of Welsh descent, who came over as disciples of William Penn and settled in Orange county, North Carolina, about 1685. He is of revolutionary stock; both his grandfathers were at the battle of Guilford, North Carolina, and fought under General Green. His father was under Jackson in the war of 1812. Robert's early life was spent on a farm. When he was fifteen years of age his parents moved to Park county, Indiana, where they purchased and settled on a farm. Not making a success of farming, his father tried the occupation of a boatman. He lost his life at Vicksburg, Miss., about 1837, and left Robert's mother with but very little means to support the large family. They struggled on in poverty, Robert going to school in winter and working in summer, until he was twenty years of age, when he apprenticed himself to a tanner and currier until he learned the trade. He then started in business for himself and moved to Keokuk county, Iowa, in 1846. He married Lucindy Hurley in 1847. They had four children. In 1852 he came to Council Bluffs, Ia., and when Nebraska was organized, he located his claim in the present site of Omaha. His wife died in 1856. In 1857 he moved to Grayson county, Texas. His two. sons, Simeon and Pinckney Whitted, now live in Sherman, Grayson county, Texas. He was thoroughly democratic in his political views. He died in 1864.
Written by John C. Thompson, Omaha, Nebr.
maker's trade. That, however, did not suit his tastes, so he read law and became an attorney. He was married early in the thirties to Miss Martha Baker, a woman of strong character and maidenly virtues, with whom he lived happily for more than a third of a century - until the day of his death. The early years of their married life were spent in Missouri, and it was while they lived in that state that most of their children were born. The early history of Missouri, if properly and correctly written, would probably show J. D. N. Thompson in his most natural role - that of a soldier - for he was captain of the Fifth Missouri Militia, and, after that company disbanded, became a member of one of the twelve-month regiments of militia. His daughter, Mrs. Mary Marsh, says her father served in the Black Hawk, the Seminole, the Mexican, and the civil wars; that he was in Colonel Gentry's regiment and was present and participated in the great battle fought Christmas day, 1837, when Old Rough and Ready so severely chastised the Indians, and when Colonel Gentry was killed. Mr. Thompson's record in the Mexican war was that of a daring, courageous, and loyal soldier. It cannot be stated in language any more appropriate than that employed in the obituary notice published in the Nebraska Advertiser at the time of his death. It said: "He was with Colonel Doniphan's regiment, and participated in a series of marches and hard-fought battles which terminated in the capture of the principal cities of the north of Mexico." After his return from the Mexican battlefields he was not contented in Missouri. He removed from there to Iowa, then to Nebraska, locating in Kanosha, from which point he was elected as a member of the first house of representatives of Nebraska. This was the only official position, aside from justice of the peace, which he ever filled. After the expiration of his term of office as a representative, in 1855, he removed with his family to Glenwood, Ia. The following year found him on the move again and that time he located in Brownville, Neb. At the breaking out of the civil war he was postmaster of that town, but resigned in order to accept a commission as captain of the First Nebraska under Colonel Thos. J.
Majors. After that regiment was discharged he again enlisted, this time as a private in company K, Forty-eighth Missouri Volunteer Infantry, with Geo. Vandaventer as captain, being mustered in the 1st day of September, 1864, and being mastered out the 29th day of June, 1865. His four sons all fought under the stars and stripes for the preservation of the Union, and his wife and daughters - those remaining unmarried - were at the front, and often acted as nurses, during a portion of the time that he was in active service. After the spirit of state rights had been crushed he returned again to Nebraska, living in Nemaha and Richardson counties alternately until the date of his death, June 2, 1871. He was survived by his wife and six children. He was buried in Walnut Grove cemetery in Brownville.
Written by Hon. James M. Woolworth and William S. Poppleton.
The subject of this brief sketch comes of a family which may be traced to an early day. An English officer of the name was in Cromwell's army which overran Ireland in 1649-50. When the subjugation of the island was complete he remained there. It is said that Samuel Poppleton was his grandson. Samuel Poppleton was born in Ireland in 1710 and was married to Rosanna Whaley, by whom he had four sons, Ebenezer, Benjamin, William, and Samuel, the youngest of whom, Samuel, was born in New Jersey on Christmas day, 1750. Soon after the birth of this child the family settled at Pownall, in the territory which now forms a part of the state of Vermont. At the outbreak of the revolution the elder Samuel adhered to the British crown and returned to Ireland, where he died, but his four sons enlisted in the Continental army and were all actively engaged in the war. Samuel, the youngest, was with Ethan Allen at the taking of Ticonderoga, served under Benedict Arnold in the expedition. against Quebec and at the battle of Saratoga, and participated in a number of engagements until the close of the
war. He was accustomed to say that he had been in seven
In 1783 Samuel Poppleton was married in Pownall, Vt., to Caroline Osborne, by whom he had eight children, of whom William Poppleton, the father of Andrew J. Poppleton, was born in Poultney, Vt., in 1795.
In 1811 Samuel Poppleton with his family removed to Richmond, Ontario county, New York, and in 1822 again emigrated and settled at Belleville, in Richland county, Ohio, where he died in 1833. His wife died at the same place on the 7th of November, 1842. In 1814 William Poppleton was married at Richmond, in New York, to Zada Crooks, the granddaughter of David Crooks, a Scotchman, who came to Blandford, in Massachusetts, prior to 1769, and afterwards removed to Richmond, in New York, where he died in 1820. His son, David, the father of Zada Crooks Poppleton, was born in Blandford, Mass., on the 2d day of December, 1769, and afterwards removed to Richmond, in New York, where he was engaged as a saw and grist miller until his death in 1812. The mother of Mrs. Poppleton was Eunice Knox Crooks, a granddaughter of William Knox, who was born in Ireland of Scotch descent in 1690, and came to America in 1735. She was born on the 30th of May, 1772, and died in Troy, Oakland county, Michigan, in 1863, at the great age of ninety-one. In 1825 William Poppleton and his family removed to Troy township, in Oakland county, Michigan. He had seven children, of whom Andrew J. Poppleton was the sixth, born in Troy township, Oakland county, Michigan, on the 24th day of July, 1830. It is worthy of note that each generation of Mr. Poppleton's family, including himself, have been pioneers in a new country. From Samuel Poppleton and his four sons, who came to this country from Ireland and made new homes in what is now Vermont, to the subject of this sketch, all were farmers, tilling the soil with their own hands. The education of the father of Andrew J. Poppleton was limited. By his own reading, study, and thought he became a man of large intelligence, and as such, and for sterling virtues, was held in the highest esteem in the county
of Oakland. He was several times elected to local offices
and once to the Michigan state legislature.
The life of a new comer to a western home in the early days of the settlement of Michigan was very severe. Clearing the forests, planting a farm, and building a home was a work of great privation and unremitting toil. William Poppleton passed through these days and their labors, and in his later manhood saw the state of his adoption a prosperous commonwealth and accumulated an ample competency, living and dying on the farm which his own hands had redeemed from a state of nature.
He greatly valued the education which had been denied him, and gave to his children all the advantages in that way which the circumstances permitted. He died in May, 1869.
The boyhood of Andrew J. Poppleton was passed upon his father's farm. He inherited a love of the pursuits and associations of rural life. The hay and harvest field, the ride to the mill, the orchard, the care and love of animals, the common sports of such a home came to him as natural and enjoyable exercises, and from their pleasures he was never alienated. One of his favorite recreations in later life was the development of agriculture and the breeding, raising, and training of standard bred trotting horses at his Oakland farm of some 1,200 acres, near Elkhorn, Neb. He contributed a strong impulse toward the advancement of the trotting stock interests of the state.
Until 1844 he went to the county district schools, and at that time entered an academy at Romeo, a little town near his home, where he prepared for college. In 1847 he entered Michigan University; but in the fall of 1850 he withdrew and entered Union College at Schenectady. While he was at the latter institution the venerable Dr. Nott was its president, and Dr. Tayler Lewis its professor of Greek. Other members of the faculty left an influence upon his mind, but these two men deeply impressed themselves upon his character. As an instructor of young men, instilling into them the highest principles and at the same time teaching them the precepts which conduct to practical success in life, Dr. Nott has been unsurpassed in this country. The
nature of the country boy was open to such influences,
and he has carried through life what he received from the lips and
from the personality of that great man. Dr. Lewis influenced the
young student in another direction. A Grecian of learning and
culture unsurpassed, perhaps, by any other in this country, he not
only taught his pupils the language, but inspired in them a love
of the literature of the Attic race. Mr. Poppleton graduated in
July, 1851. He returned to the school at Romeo, where he taught
Latin and Greek until April of the next year. During the last
years of his college life, and while engaged in teaching, it was
his ambition to be a professor of Greek in a college, which seemed
to him the very highest position to which he could attain. Upon
leaving Romeo he entered the law office of Messrs. C. I. and E. C.
Walker, at Detroit, Mich., then leaders of the bar of the state.
He continued his studies with them until October 22, 1852, when,
after a public examination by the judges of the supreme court of
Michigan, he was admitted to the bar. Directly afterwards he
became a student in the law school of John W. Fowler, at that time
located at Balston, in New York, and afterwards removed to
Poughkeepsie in that state. He enjoyed at this school the special
advantages of the instruction which Mr. Fowler gave in elocution
and in the related exercises. With very great gifts in public
speech, and trained in all of the ways of a popular orator, this
gentleman was one of the most useful and successful teachers. He
not only gave instruction in the exercises of declamation, but
taught his pupils to think upon their feet; to prepare themselves
by abundant study, and then express themselves at a moment's
notice in the presence of others and under the direction of his
critical skill. Timid, hesitating, ineffective, and disconnected
speech was, under his training, developed into direct, strong,
vigorous, and impressive delivery, not after the pattern of his
own style, but according to the natural modes of the pupil, when
trained and cultivated. He never had a more apt and enthusiastic
scholar than Mr. Poppleton.
In April, 1853, the young man returned to Detroit, and became
a partner in a law firm which was mostly engaged in a
collection business, and remained there until the first of
October, 1854. At this time California held out many promises to
young men, and Mr. Poppleton listened to them. He turned his face
to the west, and on his way reached Omaha October 13, 1854, just
about the time government was being set up in Nebraska. Omaha was
just being settled; its resident population was very small; most
of those who claimed citizenship really lived at Council Bluffs
and in other towns in Iowa along the Missouri river. There was
something interesting to the young man in the work of planting
homes and in the institution of social and political order in a
new country which disposed him to remain for the winter, thinking
at first that when he had seen the work completed he would
continue his way to the Pacific or turn his steps in some other
direction. One thing and another afterward fell out, which
determined him to remain and make his home for life in the new
territory. In 1855 he married Caroline L. Sears, by whom he had
The different acts of the executive in organizing the government followed one another in rapid succession. On the 21st day of October, 1854, preliminary to the election of a delegate to congress and a territorial legislature, the acting governor, T. B. Cuming, issued his proclamation for an enumeration of the inhabitants. On the 26th of the same month he issued instructions to deputy marshals directing them in their duties of taking the census. On the 21st of November he sent out a set of rules for conducting the election, and on the 23d issued a further proclamation dividing the territory into counties, apportioning the councilmen and representatives among them, and ordering the election. On the 20th of December he constituted the three judicial districts, assigned the judges of the supreme court thereto, and appointed terms for the courts; and on the same day issued another proclamation convening the legislature at Omaha on the 16th of January, 1855.
Mr. Poppleton had known and been a friend of the governor in Michigan, and naturally was called to take part in advising
the executive in these several political acts. He was
elected a member of the house of representatives of the
legislature. The training which he had enjoyed fitted him for
these new duties. He had acquaintance with the methods and rules
governing deliberative bodies; he was able to deliver himself of
his views of every question, no matter how unexpectedly it was
presented, and he had a keen enjoyment of the excitements and
contentions of the unorganized conditions of the new society. The
first motion ever made in any legislative body in Nebraska was
made by Mr. Poppleton in the first house of representatives for
the temporary organization of the house. There was a good deal for
the legislature to do. The whole system of laws common in an
American State were to be enacted, save such as had been in
outline provided by the act of congress organizing the territory.
In all this work he had a large part. Besides this, another matter
deeply concerned every one: that was the permanent location of the
capital, which by the organic act was committed to the first
legislature. Whether such a matter be considered trivial or not in
a mature and settled state, it was thought to be of the first
consequence at this time, because it was supposed that to the seat
of government would be drawn the attention and interest of persons
seeking homes in the region now first open for settlement. We
cannot enter minutely into the plans, methods, and influences
which finally secured the location of the capital at Omaha, but in
them all Mr. Poppleton engaged with all the power of his nature;
and it is not too much to say that as much as any man he
contributed to the result.
From this time almost until he was stricken down by a severe sickness he gave his first attention to the upbuilding of Nebraska. Judicial business in the courts was limited. There were not many controversies carried into them, and the judges were not very diligent in holding their terms, but there sprang up at Omaha, as elsewhere in the territory, a popular tribunal in which there were many contentions of great interest. The public lands had not been surveyed and no land office of the government had been opened at which titles could be secured. This
state of things continued until the spring of 1857,
except that government surveys of the lands along the Missouri
river were prosecuted to some extent. Almost everybody made a
settlement upon a parcel of the public lands and alleged a claim
to it. For a variety of reasons it was impracticable for many of
the settlers to remain continuously upon their claims, so that
they were exposed to the settlement of a second or third comer. To
protect themselves against this, they organized what were called
Claim Clubs. These popular tribunals have always been found in new
settlements. It naturally resulted that the owners of adjoining
claims sometimes disagreed as to their dividing lines, and
disputes arose between the first and subsequent claims. Such
controversies were dealt with before a meeting of all the members
of the club, who were supposed to listen to the evidence and the
arguments of the parties, and decide according to the justice of
the case. A good many controversies of this sort came before the
Omaha Claim Club, and were tried in this way. They gave
opportunity for the gifts of the young citizen, his powers of
persuasion and reasoning, and all that goes to make up a popular
orator. Mr. Poppleton threw himself into the controversies in
which he was engaged with all the zeal, energy, and power of which
he was capable. There was much that was amusing and much that was
serious. The whole thing was a school in which the skill and the
power of the orator and lawyer were trained.
In 1857 Mr. Poppleton was a member of the state legislature which divided, a portion of the members setting up a pretended legislature at Florence. Mr. Poppleton remained at Omaha with the division recognized by the governor, and was elected speaker and served in that capacity during the balance of the session.
In 1858 Mr. Poppleton was mayor of the city of Omaha, being the second person to hold that office. In the following spring, after exposure in a severe storm, he suffered an attack of facial paralysis, which was followed by a protracted and dangerous illness. Upon his recovery the use of one of his limbs was greatly impaired, and he never recovered its strength. He was
absent from the life of the city for about eighteen
months, and returned to it with a vigor greatly reduced. Gradually
he recovered his position at the bar and enjoyed for many years a
large measure of health and strength. He was, however, always
obliged to exercise the greatest care of himself, and his habits
largely upon that account have been very abstemious. During the
time his strength was impaired he cultivated his love of
literature and engaged in the study of the best political and
philosophical works. When, in 1867, the state was admitted into
the Union, he received the entire vote of the democrats in the
legislature for United States senator; and but for methods on the
part of the adverse party which his friends have never been able
to reconcile with fairness and justice, he would have been
elected. In the following year he was the democratic candidate for
congress, but was defeated. He has never since taken any part in
politics as a candidate for office. Mr. Poppleton inherited from
his father an uncompromising faith in the principles of the
democratic party. This faith, strengthened with his strength and
became a part of himself. During the war all of his sympathies,
hopes, and convictions were on the side of the Union, and he
believed that no measure was beyond the competency of those
charged with the administration which conduced to the preservation
of the country. He held that the principles in which he was reared
and with which he was thoroughly imbued called every citizen to
the support and maintenance of that Union which Andrew Jackson, in
another exigency, had declared "must be preserved." The conflict
once over, he believed in burying all animosity. Soon after the
war he obtained from an ex-Union soldier possession of a military
land warrant issued to Jefferson Davis for services in the Mexican
war. He returned the same to Davis at a time when the north
generally was disposed to give the fallen chieftain very different
treatment, receiving in return a letter of thanks, signed by all
the members of the Davis family, including the infant children,
whose fingers were guided to make their signatures.
It has been one of the great doctrines of Mr. Poppleton's faith
that it is not the province of government to nurse by
subsidies or other like aids the interests of the individual; that
it was far better for every citizen to rely upon his own efforts,
and as an indiscriminate charity leads its objects to depend
thereon rather than upon their own industry and thrift, that the
government, in dispensing favors in aid of its citizens, only
helped in the end to bring them into a dependent and impoverished
condition. This was the fundamental principle of his political
faith, and he applied it to all questions of public policy,
however they arose. During this period of his life, extending from
1862 to 1878, he was devoted with all his heart and soul and
strength to his profession. He loved it for its own sake, and for
the good it rendered to society. He held before his eye a high
ideal of the lawyer and yielded to no man in his devotion to the
law. The period which has been indicated was probably the best
part of his professional life. In December, 1863, he was retained
by the Union Pacific Railway Company and continued in its service
until 1888. Most of his time after 1869 was given to the company
in whose official list he bore the title of general attorney,
having in his charge all its western business; that is to say, in
the states of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Nevada, and
Oregon, and the territories of Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and Idaho.
He conducted its important controversies in the courts personally,
giving to them his best strength. After 1878 his duties became so
arduous that he was obliged largely to withdraw from the courts
and confine himself to the general direction of the legal business
of the company.
He argued many important cases in the supreme court of the United States and arrested the attention and held the highest esteem of the judges of that tribunal. His reputation was advanced to a high point, not only in the west, but through the country. One of his best efforts was the writing of "The defense of Oakes Ames against the charge of selling to members of congress shares of the capital stock of the Credit Mobilier of America with intent to bribe said members," which was read in the house of representatives by the clerk. It pro-
duced a strong impression and disposed. the members to
look upon the offenses charged against Mr. Ames in a new light.
The exigency seemed, however, to call for a victim, and the result
was the censure of the accused. This, however, was a favorable
modification of the report of the investigating committee which
The writer of these lines has recently read that paper and has been greatly impressed by the clearness of the statement, the cogency of the reasoning, and the persuasiveness of the appeal.
Not long after its delivery he was told by Mr. Sidney Bartlett, the leader of the bar of this country, that he considered it one of the best pieces of modern advocacy.
Mr. Poppleton's official connection with the Union Pacific Railway Company and his good standing and influence with the magnates in the east who controlled the destiny of that corporation made it possible for him to continue to render the most important service to the city of which in 1854 he was one of the founders. By 1873 the fixing of the Union Pacific Company's terminal plant, offices, and equipment at Omaha was finally decided upon and settled. In regard to Mr. Poppleton's share in this result, the most beneficial to Omaha of any event in its history, the following words from the Omaha Herald of that time speak:
"While we rejoice it is but proper that a few words should be said in behalf of the citizen to whom this people owe much for his intelligent, steady, and well directed efforts to bring about the results over which every man in Omaha is rejoicing.
"Andrew J. Poppleton is the one man who, more than any other, has piloted the people through these railroad complications to their present final settlement and security. We say this as a matter of sheer justice to Mr. Poppleton, without going into details to show how richly he deserved it."
Mr., Poppleton was from time to time called upon to deliver addresses upon many interesting occasions. Among them may be mentioned a maiden address delivered before the Agricultural Society of Oakland County, Michigan, at the age of twenty-two;
a lecture on Edmund Burke; an address before the general
convention of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Indianapolis,
September 5, 1878, on the Unsolved Problem, having reference to
the unequal distribution of property; an address on Character,
delivered before the Nebraska State University at commencement,
June 27, 1877; an address before the Nebraska State Bar
Association on the Lawyer in Politics, and addresses on the
occasion of breaking ground in Omaha for the construction of the
Union Pacific Railway; the presentation of colors to the
contingent supplied by Omaha to the army of the Union; the laying
of the corner stone of the present Douglas county court house; the
memorial meeting of citizens after the death of the Right Rev.
Robert H. Clarkson, Episcopal bishop of Nebraska, besides a large
number of other addresses and speeches delivered on occasions of
public or social interest. Many old residents will remember his
appeal at a mass meeting of citizens for aid for those rendered
destitute and homeless by the great Chicago fire. He possessed a
full vocabulary, a glowing style, and elevated sentiments, as a
perusal of those addresses will attest.
Mr. Poppleton retained his connection with the Union Pacific Railway Company until February, 1888, when he was obliged to resign on account of failing health, carrying with him from the officers and directors warm and recorded expressions of their confidence, esteem, and appreciation of his long and faithful services.
During the spring following his resignation he sought recreation in travel, visiting the City of Mexico, where he was accorded the privilege of meeting the judges of the supreme court of that republic. Returning to Omaha he again took up the practice of law, intending to engage only in the more important cases.
In 1890, at the earnest solicitation of Mayor R. C. Cashing, he accepted the office of city attorney of Omaha, serving therein for two years. In advising the city authorities Mr. Poppleton, gave free access to all who desired his counsel and applied to all questions democratic principles of economy and strict observance of law. During the greater part of his term he was without
an official assistant, but succeeded in bringing to a
final disposition in the courts 196 cases brought against the
city, besides performing all the advisory duties of the
In 1891 and 1892 Mr. Poppleton was engaged as one of the leading counsel in behalf of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, and Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Companies in litigation before the United States courts with the Union Pacific Railway Company, the result of which was to break down the Union Pacific bridge barrier and secure to the companies named the right to use the bridge and tracks of the Union Pacific at Omaha on reasonable terms for the purpose of bringing in and through the city their freight and passenger traffic.
On June 12, 1878, he received the degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Nebraska. In June, 1895, he received the degree of Master of Arts from Michigan University.
He was one of the organizers and the first president of the Omaha board of trade and the present Omaha Bar Association. He was an organizer and a president of the Law Library Association, and also one of the organizers, a president, and long a director of the Omaha Public Library.
In 1879, Mr. Poppleton, in connection with Mr. J. L. Webster, made an earnest effort to secure the release on a writ of habeas corpus of Standing Bear, a Ponca chief, and his tribe, who had been unlawfully dispossessed by the government of their homes in Nebraska and were being transferred to Indian Territory under military custody. This case was exhaustively argued and is a "cause celebre" in the history of our Indian affairs, and was the first instance in the judicial history of the United States in which the writ of habeas corpus was invoked and obtained on behalf of a tribal Indian.
In 1890 Mr. Poppleton was elected a trustee of Union College, Schenectady, N. Y.
In 1891, in his dual capacity of director of the Omaha Public Library and city attorney, he aided in securing the acceptance by the city of the Byron Reed bequest for public library purposes, and the voting of bonds to carry out its provisions.
Mr. Poppleton served in many citizens'
associations and committees. He has always been especially
interested in questions involving the Omaha city charter and the
status and future of Omaha as a railway center and manufacturing
and distributing point. A firm believer irk the future of Omaha,
his surplus earnings were invested almost without exception in
Omaha and Douglas county real estate, and the erection of
buildings therein, resulting in the accumulation of a large
In 1871 he was one of the original promoters of the building of the Grand Central hotel, the first large hotel built in Omaha, and later joined with Edward Creighton and others in loaning $100,000 to the hotel company for the purpose of completing the enterprise.
Mr. Poppleton was one of the original incorporators of the Pacific Express Company and Interstate Bridge and Street Railway Company, and at the time of his death was a stockholder and director of the First National Bank of Omaha.
About the first of January, 1892, his eyesight began to fail, and in a few months was completely lost. This misfortune was accompanied during the summer by general illness. Later he recovered his general health and engaged in affairs as far as was possible for one suffering his affliction.
Mr. Poppleton possessed literary tastes and derived a great consolation from their indulgence. He was the owner of a large and valuable private library, especially rich in historical works.
He was never a member of any church. He contributed, however, to the support of church organizations and has always possessed warm friends among clergymen.
Mr. Poppleton died at his home in Omaha on Thursday, September 24, 1896. His illness was of short duration and his death was most unexpected when it occurred.
The following is from the tribute paid to the memory of Mr. Poppleton by the Hon. James M. Woolworth at a meeting of the Douglas county bar held September 28, 1896:
"A long, useful, and honorable life has come to an end; it was a happy life, barring some of the pains and troubles which are
more or less the lot of all - even the most fortunate. We
cannot suppress our sorrow; it is part of our humanity to grieve
when one is taken from us who has had part in our lives; but in
the end of a career of good report that we ourselves have seen in
its whole course there is rejoicing in the midst of mourning." In
closing Mr Woolworth said: "Mr. Poppleton's pride was his
profession. His great motive was to contribute to its fame. His
desire was to live to a great age and give his years to the last
to its exercise and service. He had no other ambition. When he saw
his end drawing near and he and I were about to separate never to
meet again on this earth, prostrate as he was, his voice, strong
as ever, gave me his high command, 'Hold up the standard.' If I
have ever done anything for the profession to which he and I have
given forty years of life together, the most I now can do is to
keep on our way and pass on to you, my brethren of a younger
generation, his great words, 'hold up the Standard.'
"Four years ago last April he called me to him to tell me of his impending calamity of blindness. No one of all his friends, except his wife and children, knew what was upon him. Perhaps he remembered the sympathy of the days when, after his first great sickness, he was struggling back into strength and professional success. It was not long before the darkness came. As with Milton, from his natural eye the beauties of the earth and the heavens were excluded. To him returned not
"A long season of great distress followed; but when it was passed he composed himself to his new conditions with a calm and serene spirit. They were four years of happy life. He consoled himself with the pleasures of literature, communing with the great spirits of the past, bent on high thoughts, and reasoning of the great problem of life and history. He dwelt in the high places where the light first comes and shines the longest, not in the valleys, where common men hold their way among common things.
"I must say one word of another great
happiness. In the home were his treasures. God keep them now.
"Mr. Poppleton held strong opinions upon all subjects of social and political order and the conduct of life. Reared by his father in the school of Jefferson, he believed that the true function of the government was limited; and that as far as is consistent with the equal rights of others, every man should be left to the exercise of his powers, capacities, and faculties in such ways and measures as he in his judgment believes will give them their highest enjoyment. And he held in abhorrence the contrivances and assiduities of those who by statutes seek to create wealth and make private gain of official opportunity. In private life he believed that it is much the best for men to avoid ostentation and hold a simple, frugal, and sincere way among their fellows. For vice he had no tolerance. Good men he held in reverence. Chief among his friends were Bishop Garrett, when that great man lived among us, and Dr. Sherrill, who, at his request, committed his body to the ground, earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. If I were to sum up his character I would take the injunction of the apostle, who wrote to his people: 'Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.'
"With these virtues he clothed himself as with a garment; and in such covering I verily believe he presented himself before the Judge of all the earth."
By Hon. J. Sterling Morton.
Thirty-eight years ago a democrat, just in
the sunrise of a strenuous and manly career, began with others in
the first session of the legislative assembly of the territory of
Nebraska to lay the foundations in Nebraska of civil
With other able and temperate, frugal and industrous (sic) pioneers
he sought to establish on these plains an educated and
prosperous commonwealth. No man ever labored more faithfully in
the cause of democracy and good government; and Omaha and Douglas
county often honored themselves by honoring him, calling him
frequently to the highest positions of trust and responsibility,
and always with beneficent results to the community. And in 1866,
when the first state legislature selected United States senators -
without a caucus, and without solicitation on his part - the
democrats, twenty-seven in number and only seven in minority, with
hearty spontaneity gave every vote to Andrew Jackson Poppleton.
Again, in 1868, Mr. Poppleton was called by the democracy of the
state of Nebraska to make a campaign for congress against Hon.
John Taffe; and no one who heard Mr. Poppleton in that series of
speeches will ever forget his eloquence. His well-trained mind,
his vast natural ability, his tremendous acquirements, his glowing
earnestness which warmed every word, and a presence which inspired
confidence, made him a master; and the majesty of his oratory at
that time has never been surpassed in the state. Truthfully, ably,
conscientiously, for more than thirty years Mr. Poppleton
advocated the principles and policies of a genuine democracy. As a
propagandist of the true economic and civic faith which can alone
save popular government from overthrow and destruction, for nearly
forty years Mr. Poppleton has stood pre-eminent in the northwest,
and, intellectually, the peer of any lawyer or publicist in the
But, alas, in the early afternoon of a most useful and successful life, Mr. Poppleton is irrevocably bereft of the sense of sight - stricken with absolute and incurable blindness.
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