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History of Western Nebraska and Its People






   Box Butte county had its first inception in the minds of its citizens during the summer months of 1886. The one thousand and eighty square miles now comprising Box Butte county was at that time the southern half of Dawes county. The reason of this was the great distance from Chadron, the county seat. The average distance was sixty miles, which the people were compelled to travel, by team or on horseback, in order to pay their taxes, serve on juries, and attend to their legal matters. The population of this territory had grown to about three thousand people, which was probably as great a number as lived in the northern half of the country.

   A convention was held during the summer of 1886, and at that convention it was decided that steps be taken to secure a division of Dawes county and that the new county elected in the south half, if division succeeded, should be called Box Butte county. Committees were appointed, petitions were circulated and unanimously signed, asking the County Commissioners of Dawes county to submit the question of county division to a vote of the people at the general election to be held in November of that year. The Commissioners granted the request, and at the November election a majority of the votes cast in favor of division. The governor of Nebraska, Honorable John M. Thayer, issued a proclamation designating a special election, at which election the people of the new county were to choose a location for their county seat, and elect a complete set of county officers.

   Of the one thousand or more voters participating in that election held thirty-four years ago, but few are still residents of the county. Among those recalled are E.I. Gregg, who with his good wife were very industrious in circulating the petition asking for county division. Other residents of Alliance who participated in that election are R.M. Hampton, F. M. Knight, Robert Garrett, John O'Keefe, Si Coker, Moses Wright, C.H. Underwood, Julius Atz, Jack Mettlen, Henry Clayton, George Gadsby, and possibly a few others.

   Prior to this special election, political conventions were held when Democrats and Republicans each nominated a complete ticket of candidates for the county offices. The county being rather thinly settled and no rapid means of communication, people were unable to become personally or intimately acquainted with the respective candidates, and apparently went to the polls and voted their party tickets. This resulted in the election of the entire Republican ticket.

   There were two candidates for the location of county seat; Nonpareil and Hemingford. They were two cross-road villages of about equal size, each having a couple of stores, blacksmith shop, bank, law and locator's offices, and Nonpariel had a newspaper and Hemingford had two. Nonpareil received a majority of the votes and was declared the county seat of the new county.

   The county officers were as follows: County Clerk, George W. Clark; Treasurer, Eli Gerber; Sheriff, Fred A. Shonquist; County Attorney, James H. Danskin; Surveyor, Charles A. Barney; County Superintendent, N.S. Simpson; Coroner, Doctor John Blood; County Commissioners, James Barry, Louis C. DeCoudress, and Delbert S. Reed.

   When the result of the election became known, Judge-elect Field drove down to Chadron and there took the oath of office to his associate officers. He approved the bonds of the county commissioners, who immediately met in special session and commenced to plan to launch the new county upon its career as a struggling commonwealth. The first set of officers elected proved to be careful, able and painstaking officers. The county did not have a dollar in its treasury,



History of Western Nebraska and Its People

not a dollar of tax had been levied, and its credit had yet to be established.



   The people of Nonpareil, as an inducement or bribe to the voters, had made a pre-election promise that in case Nonpareil was chosen as the county capital, that they the people of Nonpareil would at their own expense, erect a frame courthouse suitable to house the county officers and in which to transact the county's business. This promise they fulfilled by erecting a flimsy frame structure, twenty by thirty feet in dimensions, one and a half stories in height. This building was not plastered, neither did it have a chimney, the floors were all rough boards, counters, tables and other furniture was manufactured out of rough sawn Pine Ridge lumber by local carpenters. A large fire proof safe, costing one thousand dollars was bought on long time payments, which the commissioners promised to pay when funds were derived from taxation. This was completed May or June of 1887. A small jail, containing two cells, built of two by four scantling securely spiked together and covered with a rough board roof was also erected.

   The first duty of County Clerk was to take an assistant and go to Chadron and transcribe the records of the county which pertained to the few tracts of deeded land, mortgages, and other legal records, which were necessary, and the basis of the present county records. There were very few duties for the new county officers to discharge, outside of those of the County Clerk, Clerk of the District Court and the County Judge. There were no taxes collected during that year, and the County Treasurer spent a few days only of his time at the new county seat.

   This set of county officers were elected to serve for the remainder of the year 1887, a period of about nine months, and their successors were elected at the election held November 4, 1887. After a very warm political battle staged between the Republican and Democratic parties, with the Prohibitionists casting about thirty votes in the county, a ticket composed of both Democrats and Republicans was elected. The Republicans elected Fred A. Shonquist, Sheriff; A.L. Field, County Judge; Doctor W.H. Smith, Coroner; while the Democrats elected John O'Keefe, County Treasurer; John Leith, County Superintendent; C.A. Burlew, County Clerk; and Thomas L. Irvine, Robert R. Ralls, Charles Nichols, Coutny Commissioners.

   The upper story of the courthouse was fitted up as a court room, and the first term of District Court for the new county, and the first term of District Court for the new county was held in June, 1887, with Honorable M.P. Kinkaid, our present congressman, as Judge, with A.L. Warrick official reporter. There were not many cases of importance tried at this term of court.

   Nonpareil continued to be the seat of county government until the first day of January, 1891, a period of three and one half years. The Burlington railroad having been built diagonally through the county during the spring and summer of 1889, passing through the new town of Alliance which had sprung up in the meantime, and the village of Hemingford, and missing the county seat by a distance of five miles, a movement was started seeking to locate the county seat on the railroad.



How the Court House in Alliance, Nebraska,
was moved to Hemingford, the New County
Seat of Box Butte County, By the Chicago,
Burlington and Quincy Railroad.


   Petitions were circulated and largely signed, asking the County Commissioners to submit the question of re-location at a special election. The special election on the question of re-locating the county seat was called for Thursday, the 7th of March, 1890. Three places were voted for at this election, namely; Alliance, Hemingford and Nonpareil. Neither of these places received the necessary three-fifths vote required for removal, so it was necessary to call a second special election held on Tuesday, the 8th day of April, 1890. This election was also indecisive, although Nonpareil failing to receive the necessary two-fifths which would enable it to retain the county seat, dropped out as a candidate, and under the law, the decisive election went over until the general election in November.


History of Western Nebraska and Its People



   At this election, Alliance and Hemingford were the opposing candidates and it was only necessary for one or the other to receive a bare majority of the votes cast to become the county seat on the first day of January following. This election was the most bitterly fought contest that ever occurred in the county.



Box Butte County Court House, Alliance


   Following a tacit agreement or understanding, which had been entered into between the officials of the Burlington railroad and its subsidiary corporation, the Lincoln Land Company, parties of the first part, and the respective citizens of Alliance, parties of the second part, it was agreed and understood that the new town of Alliance should be made a division point and shops established, which factors would be the foundation for a thriving city, and that Hemingford should be given the county seat, which would make of it a thriving town; and this arrangement would enable the Lincoln Land Company to make a market for its town lots in both towns, of which it was the owner. This agreement the railroad officials kept to the best of their ability, and as a result there were one hundred and twenty-six votes cast in Alliance in favor of Hemingford for the county seat. This enabled Hemingford to win by a majority of sixteen votes.

   The people of Alliance were sorely disappointed and felt very bitter at the opposition, especially the action of the railroad company, and were at first disposed to not abide by the decision of the voters. Their first plan was to seize the county records from the flimsy courthouse at Nonpareil, convey them to Alliance by force of arms, contest the election in the hope that by showing that fraudulent votes had been cast they might eventually reverse the decision rendered at the polls by appeal to the courts. This plan was not put into operation because they learned that the Burlington officials had an engine fired up and a coach attached, loaded with Burlington detectives, special agents, and other employees. Which they intended using upon evidence that the mob had left Alliance. This special train was to have been run to Hemingford and the posse conveyed by team, a distance of five miles, to Nonpareil, and would be there to defend the seizure of the records upon the arrival of the raiding party. However, the then county officials, of whom the author was one, supported by the sheriff, Eugene Hall, armed with Winchesters guarded the records and had the raiders appeared they would have met a very warm reception.

   The county seat was moved from Nonpareil to Hemingford on January 1st, 1891. The county officials occupied temporary quarters



History of Western Nebraska and Its People

from then until the May following, when the commodious courthouse which had been promised by the people of Hemingford, backed by the Lincoln Land Company, was erected. Hemingford remained the county seat from the latter date until the month of March, 1899, when by a large majority vote of the people, cast at a special election held previously, it was moved to Alliance, where the officials occupied temporary quarters in the Phelan Opera Block until the following July.



   In the meantime, the county commissioners purchased of the Lincoln Land Company, to whom it had reverted, the Hemingford courthouse at a price of fifteen hundred dollars. This was moved to the present court house site at Alliance on the Burlington railroad, and was considered a great engineering feat. The building was forty-five by fifty-four feet, with trussed roof forty feet in height. E.W. Bell, yet a resident of Alliance, superintended the removal. This court house was used for county purposes until November, 1914, when the present magnificent court house was completed and occupied.

   The, first village in the county was old Nonpareil, first called Buchanan because many of the settlers in the immediate vicinity came from the town of Buchanan, Michigan, and desired that the new town be called after their old home town. This name, was later changed to Nonpareil, at the instigation of Gene Heath, editor and publisher of its sole newspaper called "Gene Heath's Grip," in imitation of those frontier publications, "Bill Barlows Budget" and "Bill Nye's Boomerang." Mr. Heath being a printer, the word Nonpareil which is the name of printers type appealed to him as more euphonious than that of Buchanan. He being a Democrat and influential with the then Democratic Administration, he was influential enough to have the postoffice named in accordance with his wishes - Nonpareil.

   This village, at the time the County seat was located there, consisted of two general stores, a blacksmith shop, two livery barns, one bank, one newspaper, two hardware stores, a harness shop, one law office, one feed store, lumber yard and agricultural implement depot combined. Nonpareil ceased to exist soon after the removal of the county seat to Hemingford in 1891. There is nothing left to mark its site except a frame school house, which yet stands five miles south and one mile west of Hemingford.

   The village of Hemingford was founded and was named by several natives of Canada, among whom were R. McLeod, J.W. Roberts, J. S. Paradis, J. K. Green, Joseph Hare and others. The name Hemingford was adopted because of old associations with a town name in Canada. The postoffice was called Carlyle, and was located four miles due east of the present site of Hemingford, and F.W. Milek was the first postmaster. This postoffice, with the consent of the postal department, was transferred to Hemingford, still retained its name Carlyle for a years afterward.

   There was another village and fourteen miles due east of Hemingford, called Box Butte postoffice, but, it never boasted but one store, postoffice, a blacksmith shop, notary public, and real estate office. Like most villages, it had what was then well known as a Locator's office, a term now obsolete. The business of this functionary was to secure government plats from the land office of the district in which he was located, showing the government land unfiled upon, and which for a fee of ten to twenty-five dollars he would show to the prospective homesteader, prepare his filing papers and locate him upon the vacant quarter section which he selected.

   Another village was thirteen miles west and one mile north of Hemingford, which was called Lawn. It had a postoffice and store combined.

   The city of Alliance was unknown or unheard of at the organization of the county. It really had its inception on the 27th May, 1887. On this date the Department of public lands of the state of Nebraska, through its commissioner, advertised in the public press that all school lands in Box Butte county which consisted of sections sixteen and thirty six in each township would be offered for sale to the highest bidder on the terms:

   No land would be sold for less seven dollars per acre.

   If a bid of seven dollars was received and no higher bid made, it would be sold to the bidder on payment of one-tenth the purchase price down, and the balance in twenty-one years at six percent interest.

   If not sold, it would be offered for lease at its appraised value, the lessee to pay six percent per annum on that appraisement which ranged from one dollar and a quarter to four dollars per acre.

   This auction was held in front of the Bank


History of Western Nebraska and Its People


of Nonpareil, the court house not yet having been completed. Deputy Land Commissioner, J.S. Scott, was in charge of this sale, but little of the land offered found buyers until section thirty-six, township twenty-five, range forty-eight, the present site of Alliance, was reached in its order. This brought on spirited bidding.

   J.B. Weston, representing the Lincoln Land Company, bid seven dollars per acre on the first forty acre tract offered for sale. This bid was immediately raised by J.H. Sigafoos, and the land was bid up and finally sold to J.B. Weston for forty-three dollars per acre. Bidding on other forty-acre tracts was just as spirited, being sold to the same purchaser for prices ranging from thirty-three to forty dollars per acre. Finally the last forty acre tract, is being where South Alliance is now located, was dropped to Mr. Sigafoos at a price of thirty-eight dollars per acre.

   The high price which this land brought was convincing proof to the people of western Nebraska that upon the arrival of the Burlington railroad then building westward, this would be made an important division point with shops and other things calculated to make a large and thriving city, all of which expectations have been realized.

   The purchase of this school section at the land sale deeded it to the Lincoln Land Company. In the hope of counting on the building of the city, people came from different parts of Nebraska and surrounding states to the embryo town, but the Lincoln Land Company refused to plat a town site and offer the lots for sale until after the arrival of the railroad.

   These people congregated into a mushroom town or community on the deeded land of Samuel A. Smith, just east of the present town, where the dump ground and pest house are now located. This was named Grand Lake, and during the late summer of 1887 it became a typical western village of probably a thousand people. It had four banks, two newspapers, several general merchandise stores, livery stable, hotels, a blacksmith shop, and residences, all housed in rude structures built of rough Pine Ridge lumber, supplemented by canvas.

   The railroad grade of the Burlington which had been rapidly pushed westward during the spring and summer of this year from Anselmo, closely followed by the laying of rails, reached Alliance about January 1st, 1888. A station was opened and named Alliance, the company refusing to recognize the name Grand Lake because of its similarity to that of Grand Island, which it claimed would result in a confusion in train orders. F.M. Phelps, a resident of Alliance, was the first agent.

   Following this the town site was platted, recorded and widely advertised throughout the east, and a sale of town lots in the coming metropolis of Alliance was held on the 25th day of February, 1888. To assist in bringing people to the new city, the Burlington railroad, through posters and the press advertised that they would run an excursion train from all Missouri river points to Alliance and return, and the fare for the round trip would be five dollars. This brought a train load of prospective citizens, merchants, artisans, mechanics, hotel men and included the elements that generally rush to a new mining discovery or a new town. The little village of Grand Lake was overrun and was unable to adequately shelter or feed the trainload of excursionists. Many men came already prepared to go into business, their stocks of goods were bought, lumber was in cars on sidetracks, with which to erect buildings, there was an abundance of carpenters, plasterers and other workmen who had come with their tool boxes all prepared to build a city.

   At the lot sale, the first lot offered was the one where the First National Bank now stands. It brought fourteen hundred and fifty dollars, and was purchased by Porter Eihlers & Company.

   The next lot sold was directly opposite, where the Alliance National Bank now stands, and this was purchased by the Bank of Alliance which merged into the Alliance National bank, and of which F.M. Knight was then the cashier, and has remained in the hands of the original purchasers since that time. This lot was sold for one thousand and fifty dollars.

   The prices from these corners extending back were graded down where the lot upon which the present Chinese laundry is located sold for six hundred dollars. Some residence lots were sold in the vicinity of Sixth and Cheyenne Avenues at prices ranging from two hundred to three hundred dollars.

   The building of a town immediately commenced, there being an abundance of lumber, nails, hardware, lime and other building supplies on hand with a large supply of skilled workmen. The first eight business blocks



History of Western Nebraska and Its People

from the depot northward were rapidly changing from raw prairie into a bustling town. More than one hundred buildings were under construction at the same time. As soon as they were roofed over the people from Grand Lake began moving into them so that by the Fourth of July of that year Alliance probably had a population of two thousand people.

   At this time Alliance had no form of civil government, but it realized that this was necessary. After a lapse of a few months a mass meeting was held and it was decided to incorporate as a village under the laws of the state. A petition was presented to the county commissioners asking that it be incorporated under the name Alliance and that five village trustees be appointed to serve until the following April when a regular election would be held and regular trustees elected there at. The first board of trustees consisted of F.M. Sands, J.C. Weeter, C.F. Grant, W.G. Simonson, and F.W. Markham.

   Alliance continued under the village form of government until 1891 when it changed to a city of second class with a mayor and four councilmen. It was divided into two wards. The first ward comprised the territory lying west of Box Butte Avenue, and the second all that lying east of Box Butte Avenue. Frank H. Smith was chief clerk to the division superintendent of the Burlington, J.R. Phelan. He was succeeded by R.M. Hampton as mayor, who filled that position during the installation of the city's system of waterworks in 1892.

   Alliance remained a terminus of the Burlington railroad from January, 1888, until the track was laid northwestward in September, 1889. During this year and a half, being the rail head, it was a very lively place. All material for the building of Belmont tunnel, culvert pipe, machinery for the Newcastle coal mines and supplies for the grading camps from Alliance to Newcastle was freighted by team from Alliance out along the right of way. Hundreds of men were shipped out from eastern centers to work on the grade and Alliance with its six saloons did a thriving business with hobos. However, it was fairly orderly, considering the character of its floating population, only one or two murders being committed during that time.



Street Scene Alliance


   Alliance continued to grow and thrive until the panic and hard times of 1893 and 1894, when for a few years it seemed to come to a standstill - neither increased nor decreased in population. It was given new life in the spring of 1899 when the Burlington commenced to


History of Western Nebraska and Its People


build southward when the Platte Valley line was built and later in the summer extended on southward to Denver. Since that time it has had a steady and healthy growth, until at the present time it has become a leading city in western Nebraska, with a population of over five thousand people.



   This is primarily an agricultural county, ninety-five percent of its total area is tillable. Only about sixty percent of this is in actual cultivation, the remainder being unbroken prairie used for pasture when used at all. The soil is rich, porous and very productive. It contains potash, sufficient for renewal and fertilization, and is consequently inexhaustible. Land farmed continuously for thirty years produced greater crops the last year than the first. The soil is especially adapted to the production of potatoes, it being sufficiently sandy and loose to enable them to reach enormous growth, and being raised without irrigation, they are of splendid quality and keep well into the following year.

   The next largest crop is of small grain - wheat, oats, rye and barley all making satisfactory yields. Corn is a secondary crop, but the yield is continuously increased so that many more hogs are raised then formerly. Alfalfa is increasing in acreage and importance every year. This crop is used to pasture the hogs during the summer season and the corn to finish them in the fall. Hog cholera is unknown.

   Dairy products are of much more importance. The county has one large creamery, which uses a large percent of the native product, but considerable is shipped to outside factories. The Snake Creek Valley, having an average width of five miles and a length of thirty miles, produces a great deal of wild hay. On the table lands, straw, corn fodder, alfalfa and kaffir corn are used for rough feed.



High School, Alliance


   Many farmers have adopted the silo method of preserving ensilage. The soil is easily cultivated and the surface being very nearly level, farm labor is very light compared with that of eastern states.

   Cattle, horses, and hogs are raised. The cattle industry is of considerable importance. The cattle grow rapidly on the nutritious feed produced and are singularly free from all diseases.



   Owing to the great distance from the coal fields, the county has but little manufacturing. Harness, saddle, tinware, water tanks, ice cream and butter are manufactured in sufficient quantities to supply the adjacent territory.



   Box Butte county has but one railroad. The Burlington traverses it from the southeast to northwest, having a mileage of forty-two miles, with a branch line connecting with the Platte Valley branch and Denver connections with a total mileage of fourteen miles. It maintains a division station with a division superintendent, also offices of a general superintendent having supervision over four other divisions, large roundhouse with shops for the repair of its rolling stock. About eight hundred employees in normal times are on the payroll, which averages one hundred and fifty thousand dollars per month, and is one of the county's primary resources.



There are no state of public institutions located in this county.



   The people of Box Butte county have always been deeply interested in having the best schools that their means could afford. The very earliest settlers considered the school of sufficient importance that among their first public acts was to organize school districts, tax themselves and provide schools for the education of their children. These pioneer schools first were conducted in a small room of a private house, in a dugout, or any other shelter that was available until school houses could be erected. As the county grew, these primitive school houses gave way to modern frame school houses equipped with the best appliances for teaching, and all the schools books are provided for the pupils at public expense. There are now two graded high schools in the county, the one at Hemingford occupying two buildings and employing five teachers. The public schools of Alliance occupy three large commodious buildings with a superintendent and a corps of thirty teachers. More than one thousand pupils are enrolled.



St. Agnes Parochial School, Alliance


   The great interest which the people of the county take in their schools, and the importance with which they are considered, is shown by the fact that one-half of the money raised by taxation in the county is used for the support of its schools.

   In addition to the public schools there is located at Alliance St. Agnes' Academy, a parochial school, which is graded and has the same course of instruction as the high school, with an average attendance of two hundred and twenty five pupils.


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