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History of Western Nebraska and Its People





     Nothing in history exceeds in romantic interest the discovery and settlement of the New World, of which Nebraska and Cheyenne county are a part. The history of Nebraska begins with the Spanish Invasion of Mexico, and settlements at Santa Fe and Taos. Then later with the voyage of La Salle when he took New France, now Canada, and the region of the Great Lakes and the territory of Louisiana, in the name of Louis the Great, King of France. Spain followed by France thus became the first owners of the territory now comprised in Nebraska; in 1763, Louisiana Territory was ceded back to Spain, and what is now Cheyenne county, though unmarked and unnamed was in this territory. In 1802, Spain again ceded the territory to France, which prepared the way for Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, to negotiate the Louisiana purchase by which Louisiana Territory became a part of the young Republic in 1803. Cheyenne county was a part of it.

     This section of the country was inhabited only by the roving bands of Indians at that time and little was known of the country this far west. May 30, 1854, Nebraska Territory was created by an act of Congress, and in 1866 the question of the admission of Nebraska as a state was raised. All conditions required by Congress were complied with and on March 1,1867, the territory ceased to be and the great state of Nebraska came into existence.

     Cheyenne county was created by act of the first state legislature in 1867, and at that time contained the territory since erected into Banner, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Morrill and, Scotts Bluff counties. At the present time the county lies in the Panhandle section of Nebraska, in the second tier from the western boundary and the south tier north of the Colorado-Nebraska-boundary. Cheyenne county is bounded on the north by Morrill county on the east, Garden and Deuel counties on the south by Colorado, and on the west by Kimball and Banner counties.

     The general topography of the country may be described as high rolling plains, ranging from broken cliffs along the Lodgepole to the level lands of tableland and valleys. The land is composed mostly of rich sand loam, occasionally traversed by deep canyons showing some rock out cropping. Profitable farming is extensively carried on in the county. Where much was given over to stock-raising by using the native grasses for forage, and pasture, in early days, it is now secondary in point of importance.

     The Lodgepole creek valley leads all the valley in the county in size. It enters the county at the west line south of the center north and south,is several miles wide and, runs east entirely across the country in an almost direct east and west direction. In addition to this major stream, the Lodgepole valley has a south branch running northeast from the western line and smaller valleys, many unnamed. Lodgepole valley is generally level, deep soiled and well watered and in an early day was attractive to the homseekers. The lands were the first lands to be settled and today are the sites of the oldest ranches and farms. In the early days the stream was wooded along its banks with trees native to this locality, while the bluffs bordering the valley contained scattering Cedar and Pine.



     No detailed description of climatic conditions in Cheyenne county is necessary. The climate is much the same as in all parts of the highlands of western the state and the middle west, and is admirably adapted to stock-raising and agriculture. It is a very healthful climate.



     Contemporaneous with and following the building of the Union Pacific, the cattlemen came into the country. All was government and railroad land, and the stockmen came to use the ranges. Originally they described their brands and range, thereby indicating a claim for so many miles of prairie that assured plenty of territory. Ranges seldom overlapped, but the cattle became mixed and the round up instituted. After Gates demonstrated efficacy of barbwire some began to build fences. In 1869 and 1870, cattle were wintered in the country now comprised in Cheyenne county though the ranges had been used before that time for oxen. For a number of years no taxes were levied against the cattle, no investments in real estate were necessary and the profits were large. Later the cattlemen and ranchers had to pay their taxes to the organized counties adjacent. They had no benefit from them and no enforcement of the laws and in order to accomplish this it was evident that county organization should be established. County organization began to be talked over when the Union Pacific began building west through what is now Cheyenne county and the history of the county, and the town of Sidney, are so closely associated that they will be written together.


History of Western Nebraska and Its People


     The story of Cheyenne county and Sidney begins in 1867 when the Union Pacific Railroad reached the site of the present city.

     On December 13, 1867, the United States established Sidney Barracks, a sub-post of Fort Sedgewick, Colorado Territory.

     On November 28, 1870, it became an independent post.

     The first purpose of the soldiers at Fort Sidney was to protect the builders of the railroad; four troops of the Third and Fifth United States Cavalry were stationed there and a portion of the Third Infantry for a time but they were later sent to another Post. General Dudley was in command of Sidney Post and remained two years before being relieved by General Merritt. A company of soldiers was stationed at or near the present site of the town of Lodgepole and another twenty miles west, where Potter is now located. In the middle eighties troops from Vancouver and other Pacific coast garrisons were sent to these posts for a time.

     Politics, even at this early day, entered into the life of Cheyenne county, as George W. E. Dorsey, member of Congress from the Third Nebraska District, which extended as far east as Fremont, his home, used the threat or scare regularly to have Fort Sidney abandoned, as an excuse to be returned to Congress. He succeeded in being elected until the farmers' revolution resulted in the election of Omer M. Kem. Four years, after he was first elected, or in 1894, the post was abandoned and the government property later sold to the Burlington railroad and used as the site for the present station grounds.

     The Union Pacific railroad was built on to the west from Sidney in 1868, and with it went a large part of the population of the town when it was the end of the road. There was a large nomadic, rough element in the country at the time, which always followed the rail head where it could prey on the laborers. The post was reduced to the mere needs of protection from Indians, which grew less and less each year.

     For a period there was little life in the town and county, after the road reached farther west, but, in 1870, things began to liven up, and the people began to consider organization. A partial set of officers were named and plans made for a regular election. This took place October 8, 1871, when Sidney's pioneer attorney, George W. Heist, was elected probate judge, but refused to qualify. He was later appointed and did qualify. George Cook was elected sheriff, but was removed and John EIlis was appointed in his place. James Moore was elected treasurer of the county but was unable to give the county commissioners a satisfactory bond and Thomas Kane was appointed for that office, and D. Cowigan was commissioner, but later resigned. L. Connell, elected county clerk, served. Even at this early day there were indications that a political ring had been formed in Cheyenne county and unless a man was favored by the members he did not succeed in public life.



      The stagnation of the town and county continued through the next five years. The trail herds passing through the town and county enlivened life occasionally, when cattle were driven from Texas into the country north of Sidney. The cattle business was becoming important in the Nebraska Panhandle where abundant pasture was available. A report of Thomas Kane, secretary of the Cattle Association, made August 5, 1976, indicates that the growth of this industry in Cheyenne county was considerable. The report gives only the cattle actually in the county, though some of the companies or ranchmen had large herds in other counties of the state, and in Colorado and Wyoming. Some of the most important companies and ranchmen with their holdings are as follows: Adams Redington & Co., six thousand head; Codd Brothers, five thousand head; Creighton Herd, three thousand head; Tusler Brothers, thirty-five hundred head; Pratt & Ferris, three thousand head; Bostler & Irwin, twenty-five hundred head; Bostler.& Lawrence, two thousand head; other men who had large numbers were Maybury, C. A. Moore, Harkinson & Griffin; Thomas Kane, D. B. Lynch, H. Newman, Callihan & Murshied, C. McCarty, Walrath Brothers, Robert Howard, Jesse Montgomery, Merchant & Wheeler.

History of Western Nebraska and Its People



     The first white child born in Cheyenne county was Fanny Fisher, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph, Fisher of Sidney. She was born in 1869, as her parents had come to the county some time previously.

     The first cemetery was started when it was found necessary to bury a white man killed by the Indians.



First Cemetery Sidney

     A log hut served as the first store building in Sidney and was built by a man called "French Louis" It was located about four miles south of the present town site, but when a station was established at Sidney on the railroad, he moved the store to the town. Most of the stock of goods at that day consisted of necessary supplies and whiskey.

     In 1868, Charles Moore built a frame hotel, store and saloon, and about the same time Thomas Kane built the second frame store building and became the first postmaster of Sidney.

     The name of Tom Kane stands out conspicuously in the development of Sidney and Cheyenne county, as he was naturally a builder and pioneer developer, taking an active part in all public affairs. He was not only the first county postmaster, but he was instrumental in the movement to have. the county organized. Mr. Kane was a prominent ranchman of this district, located near Bronson where he made good improvements, being among the first to erect a good stone dwelling house. As an early attorney of Cheyenne county, Mr. Kane was naturally a leader in many movements for the development of the country. He became secretary of the Cattle Association of Western Nebraska when it was formed, taking part in the settlement of many of the cattle disputes and difficulties of the early days.



Fine Residence of Sidney

     When the railroad tried to evade paying taxes Mr. Kane seized an engine on the track. First he order the deputy, sheriff, A. Solomonson, to stand in front of the engine; then the engineer started the engine and Solomonson yelled to Kane, who replied, "Stand where you are." "But they will run the engine over me," replied Solomonson. "If they do I will make them pay dearly for it," Kane replied. Solomonson stood in the track and was not hurt as Kane had attached a log chain to the engine and track and the engine did not move until the taxes were paid. Mr. Kane never ran a saloon in the new country and never was prominent in the roystering life of the frontier. Characteristic of his high spirits, he named his three boys, Tom, Dick .and Harry.

The first saloon was built and started in the new town of Sidney, by Dennis Carrigan. Sidney one time had twenty-three saloons in one block between First and Second streets west of Rose street, now Center street. Now there is none. The, business died of its own excesses and vice. Carrigan went into other businesses and became one of the progressive citizens, in later years. Saloon business in a "cow town" was vastly different from the same business in the mining rush. The people to deal with were of different type and character.


History of Western Nebraska and Its People

     In 1868, Sidney suddenly found itself the nearest town of consequence to the Black Hills at the time of the gold rush. Cheyenne entered into a spirited contest for the business which grew with leaps and bounds from the many men rushing in and requiring outfits: Kearney also opened a route to the Hills across the sand hills of central Nebraska



Sidney Short Route To Black Hills

     Kearney soon dropped out of the running, but Cheyenne kept up for years, though Sidney held its own. Dr. George L. Miller ran the Omaha Herald at the time and made mention of the advantages of Sidney: a spirited fight followed in the columns of the Cheyenne papers thought it could not be denied that Sidney was sixty miles nearer Deadwood than Cheyenne. The Sidney Telegraph quoted extensively from papers under the head, "Why argue with a man who has no brain?" The satire and sarcasm of the early day newspapers was at its best between Sidney and Cheyenne.

     By September, 1876, Sidney has a population of a thousand inhabitants, and the matter of city government and a permanently platted city engaged much attention, although gold was the item of paramount interest to everyone. It was not until May 1, 1877, that a plat of the town was filed.

     In 1876 and 1877, there arrived and departed from Sidney about fifteen hundred people daily in the rush to the Black Hills for gold. People were going to and from the Black Hills, except for a few who stopped in Sidney a few days farther west, also itinerant gamblers and the following of every gold rush.

History of Western Nebraska and Its People



     Business grew and was well represented in Sidney in 1876 and 1877, but of the men then engaged in retail trade only tow merchants remain in business today, namely: the Oberfelder Brothers, clothiers. During the rush through this section P.J. Cohn & Company, operated the Star Clothing House which for a time rivaled the Oberfelder store.



Sidney in 1877

     P.J. Cohn was the original senior member. His nephews operated the store. Louis and Mike Cohn were cousins and Louis later became sole owner. Mike sold his interest for $40,000, took it to Chicago, and lost it. William France had a hardware store here in 1876, and among the grocers were Henry Gantz & Son, wholesale merchants: W.J. McDonald, G.W. Dudley and H.T. Clarke. C.A. Morian and Dennis Carrigan each ran a combined dry goods and grocery store while an exclusive dry goods and grocery house was owned by Stevens & Wilcox and another by A.S. Brown. Dewey & Stone ran a furniture store, Kelley and Cameron and G.H. and J.S. Collins carried harness and saddles. Regular outfitting stores were owned by C.A. Moore, R.S. Van Tassel and the Oberfelders. At the latter the office of the Stevenson stage line was maintained with an all night service. The only jewelry store was owned by B.M.L. Thoelecke: C.E. Borquist was the pioneer druggist of Sidney, establishing his store in 1871, and in 1876 C.F. Goodman opened the second drug house.

     The first doctor to locate in Sidney who served the town and a large part of Cheyenne county, was Dr. Boggs, and Dr. J.G. Ivy, physician and surgeon, came in the autumn of 1876. The only dental office in the town was run by the Urmy Brothers.

     N. Grant and John Carver were the first men to run barber shops, the called "fashionable barbers," soon followed by J.H. Surles and Charles M. Rouse.

     Pratt and Ferris, well known as the "P F" were the early freighters, doing an extensive business in Cheyenne county and the Black Hills, while G.W. Dudley advertised "Dear's Stage Line to the Black Hills." The main



History of Western Nebraska and Its People

stage line was run by Stevenson and the Dears line was not long in operation.

     Half a dozen hotels and as many restaurants were built and operated to accommodate the rush of travelers, the best known being the Lockwood House, the Germania, the Gilt Edge, the Southern, the Delmonico, the Miners, the American and H.M. McFadden's not one of which is in business today. All passed with the transient life of that day. All the men who operated them have gone but McFadden who still maintains his home in Sidney though retired from business. It should be stated that H.M. McFadden advertised in a way that stood out like an island in a tempestuous sea. "No gambling tables connected with this house."

     In April, 1876, the only resident lawyers in Sidney were George W. Heist and George R. Ballou, though by spring of 1877 V. Bierbower, A.M. Stevenson, Guy Barnum, Jr., and Tom Kane were also established in law practice.



Interior of Oberfelders Outfitting Store, 1877


     In 1876, the United States established a mail route between Sidney, Nebraska, and Greeley, Colorado. Sidney Probst was the driver from 1876 to 1878, and his many experiences of those early days are interesting and instructive, telling of the life of the vanguard of civilization. Probst died a few years ago in Colorado. This route did not compare in peril with that to the north on the Black Hills' route, for that line ran through hostile Indian country, and the stages were lined with steel for the protection of the passengers. Major North, with his Pawnee scouts, and the Crows, with an hereditary enmity for the Sioux, were valuable assets to the with in subduing the Indian troubles north of the North Platte river.



     Kearney's ambition to compete with Sidney and Cheyenne for the Black Hills' business resulted in the establishment of a road, stage line and pony express through the sand hills north of Dakota. This line crossed the Niobrara river at the Newman ranch near the mouth of Antelope creek. It was a longer and more dangerous line.



Overland Mail on the "Old Trails" Route for San Francisco

Charles Fordyce, one of the pony express riders, was killed by Indians a little north of that station.

     In 1877, a white man who had been selling or trying to sell trees in the Hills drove into the Newman station. It was snowing and the Newman outfit tried to persuade him to stay until the storm was over but he pressed on. Later appeared an advertisement asking the where- abouts of a tree man, saying last seen on Cheyenne river traveling south. The following spring Hunter & Evans outfit found him. He had perished in the snow.



Pony Express and Overland Mail Office, Ft. Kearney


The Kearney route was given up about January, 1878, and the route through Sidney became the main traveled one to the gold fields.

History of Western Nebraska and Its People



     Indians were hostile to all white advances, especially to surveyors and when I.W. LaMunyon was surveying on Pumpkin creek in 1872, a detachment of soldiers were went to guard the surveying party. There had been no sign of Indians and one day the soldiers rode out a considerable distance from the surveyors at work and camp. The Indians then seemed to rise out of the prairie and the surveyors "dug in" making a hole about eight feet square into which they put the provisions and water, then crawled in themselves. The Indians circled about on ponies, swinging over their sides and shooting under the animals necks; but the soldiers heard the firing, returned in haste, and the Indians fled. No one was hurt although a number of Indian ponies were shot by the surveyors.



     The Sidney Telegraph came into existence in May, 1873, and in 1874 was published by Joseph B. Gossage. George G. Darrow joined the force in the spring of 1875. Darrow later went to Denver and Gossage to the Black Hills, and in 1920, was publishing the Journal at Rapid City, South Dakota. The Telegraph was not only the first newspaper published in Cheyenne county, but the first in the Nebraska Panhandle.



     When Henry T. Clarke decided to build a toll bridge across the North Platte river at "Camp Clarke," he sent a number of choppers into the Pumpkin creek hills to cut suitable logs for the piles and necessary timbers for the bridge. It was dangerous work as is testified by the killing of a man named Brocklay, and later Webber, in 1876, near the Tusler ranch by Indians. The bridge was built, however, and was used by the people passing north and south.

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Contributed by Sandy Smith

© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 for NEGenWeb Project by Sandy Smith, Ted & Carole Miller