NEGenWeb Project
Resource Center
On-Line Library



First house built in North Platte. -- First store. -- The Peniston & Miller homesteads. -- Coming of the U. P. Railroad creates a large population. -- The first newspaper. -- A military post for town protection. -- Building the U. P. shops and Round House. -- First houses. -- Early residents. -- Workmen sleep and cook for themselves in "the shops". -- The Cedar Hotel. -- Indian troubles. -- The Peace Conference. -- First weddings. -- Shop associations. -- Indians threaten the town. -- To the Round House for refuge.

     When the site of the fair city of North Platte was buffalo pasture, and the surrounding country the home of the Indian, William S. Peniston and Andrew J. Miller conducted a trading post called "Gold Water" at a point twenty-five miles west of Plum Creek. The country was without civil government, Indians numerous, and white men few, and the few were generally voyagers or in some way con-




nected with the United States army. In the summer of 1866, the track of the Union Pacific Railway was built past this trading post, and Mr. Miller, learning while in Omaha that the termin-



A. J. MILLER, North Platte's First Citizen


us of the first division of the road would be located between the rivers above where they were building the North Platte bridge, a better location for the




business conducted by Peniston and himself was suggested. Having a quantity of lumber and building material brought from Denver, they hauled it to the newly platted site of North Platte, and Mr. Miller, with his men and teams, camped there the last of September, 1866. Stillness reigned, and there was little to encourage settlement, but he felt assured that before long the silence would be broken by the hum of human activity. The town site was newly staked off, and looking round, he selected and bought a lot at the corner of what is now Locust and Front streets; and put a frame building built in North Platte. He afterward paid the first freight bill, and opened up with a stock of goods on the 9th day of November.

     Early in 1867, he moved the log store building that he and his partner had at Cold (sic) Water, to Cozad, and shipped it to North Platte, and put it up where it now stands. The frame building, and half of the lot was afterwards sold to Althimer & Co. for $1,111. This firm shortly thereafter, took the building down in sections and following the construction camp, set it up where convenient. After a time the




half lot was bought back for $150, and such is the account of a very early real estate deal, and the origin of the well built, bustling city of North Platte, as related by A. J. Miller, its first citizen.

     Peniston & Miler were associated in business up to 1870; when they dissolved partnership. Mr. Miller carried on the business until 1872, when deciding to retire, he sold the merchandise to Otto Uhling, and the historic building to Charles McDonald who conducted a popular grocer business in it for several years.

     After Mr. McDonald vacated the building, it assumed a dilapidated and abandoned appearance, the activity by which it was characterized having departed. The building, however, was a land mark, and was pointed out as a relic of the early days, but on the morning of April 21, 1910, it caught fire and despite heroic efforts of the Fire Brigade and citizens, it was thoroughly wrecked before the flames were subdued. The cedar logs of which the wall were constructed were exposed by the fire, and appeared as solid as when put in place.

     W. S. Peniston and A. J. Miller were the first to take up land adjoining, and likely to be included with




in the limits of the proposed city at some time. It appears that they had a stretch of land on the south fenced in. Col. J. B. Park was surveying in the neighborhood and noticing this, interviewed Mr. Miller. In course of conversation he said that if he was allowed to homestead part of the land they had inclosed, he would give the number of the section. As the land was not officially announced as surveyed, this was agreed to, and it was arranged that the Colonel should homestead one hundred and sixty acres, and that he and Peniston, take eighty each; and such is the origin of these additions to the city.

     As stated, the Union Pacific Railroad was completed to North Platte in November, 1866, and there the terminus remained until the following year. Then, the country was in a state of nature, wild and open, with no sign of civilization. Deer, antelope and buffalo were numerous; ducks and geese swarmed on the sloughs and along the rivers, and Indians roamed at will in primitive freedom. The advance of civilization, however, was fated to change all this; for with the railroad came a motly crowd of construction camp denizens; amongst whom were roughs, toughs and gamblers, and saloons and questionable resorts




were soon doing business in canvass tents, and all manner of hurriedly constructed abodes. This cosmopolitan crowd is said to have numbered some three thousand person, and no governing power controlled it.

     A. J. Miller tells of a mammoth tent east of his store; in which there was a saloon bar, billiard tables, and all kinds of gambling devices. A man by the name of McDonald, he states, ran it, and made a large amount of money by following the construction camp. Less pretentious resorts where vice was pandered to were numerous, and on the whole, the North Platte of that day was a lively and somewhat picturesque place.

     It is worthy to mention, that a newspaper called the Pioneer on Wheels, came with the railroad and supplied the camp with news of the outside world. It was printed, and published from a box car by a man named Clark, and without doubt was the first news sheet issued in North Platte. A copy would be a curiosity, but search and inquiry have failed to locate one. This paper is referred to in the Platte Valley Independent, an early local paper, and James M. Ray, a pioneer citizen, speaks positively of it.




     Work on the Railroad was resumed in July, 1867; and when the construction camp moved west, the bulk of the floating population followed, and it was not long until there was barely one hundred and fifty people left, most them being employed on the railroad.

     The Indians were never very docile or easity managed, but early in 1867, they became restless and overbearing. Small parties of white men had been attacked, and unprotected, killed and scalped. Stock was also run off when opportunity afforded, and many depredations committed. Peniston and Miller had eighty head of cattle stolen by then when filling a wood contract at Willow Island, and others lost heavily by raids.

     By the close of 1867, North Platte was becoming quite a village: and as it showed signs of growth; the Government, to protect it and suppress Indian troubles, established a Military Post, garrisoned it with two companies of cavalry and maintained it until 1880. About the date, the Indians in Lincoln County were deported to a reservation, and as there was no further need for Military protection; the buildings of the Post were disposed of, and the site is now




built on and traversed by streets. This historic Post or Barracks was situated a little west of town near the railroad track.

     Early in 1867 the Railroad Company began the erection of their Round House, and shops. The Blacksmith shop was first built. Arthur P. Wood, Civil Engineer of Omaha superintended the work, and remained until all the buildings were completed. The first houses were built of sod and not a few of logs, but by the close of 1867 several frame houses were erected; notably, the two still standing at the corner of Locust and Sixth Streets. The one on the west corner was the home of A.J. Peniston. The late David Day, Franklin Peale, and Joseph and Andy Picard, were the first shopmen to build. Their homes were on Sixth and Chestnut streets, but by the Fall of 1868 the prairie became dotted with small houses. These were mostly unplastered, but secured against the penetrating winds of winter by robes, skins and such like tacked to the walls. With these, and a hot cook-stove going day and night while cold spells and blizzard lasted, the inmates managed to get along. But families kept com-




ing and were made welcome, and it may be truthfully said that there was more friendly intercourse amongst neighbors than there has been since.

     Among the families of these early days were those of David Day, Franklin Peal, Albert Marsh, Frazier, Struthers, W. J. Patterson, M. C. Keith, Lew Baker, Lamplaugh, Daugherty, Peniston, Miller, Van Doran, A. P. Carlson, Russell, Austin, Morin, R. J. Wyman, W. M. Hinman and others, all worthy citizens, and although many of them have entered the silent halls of death. all names are familiar and associated with days when North Platte was a frontier settlement and the Indian and buffalo roamed the wilds of Lincoln County in unrestricted freedom.

     The Union Pacific pay roll for January 1868 shows there were five blacksmith, twenty-two machemists, and one boilermaker in the employ at North Platte, and that J. P. Marston was master mechanic, Albert Marsh, foreman of the blacksmith shope, James Van Claim of the machine shop, and a Mr. Granger of the copper shop. Work at that time, and for years after, was plentiful and pressing, and continued from seven in the morning until half past ten at night, and often until twelve and one next




morning; Sunday being as other days. Big money was earned, and as it was spent freely, other were made prosperous.

     In those days, boarding places were few and crowded, and many workmen slept in bunks in the machine shop and round house, the carpenters sleeping on their work benches. Some cooked their food and roughed it, while others took their meals at the Cedar Hotel, a rough log structure that stood on the site of the Timmerman building on Front Street. It was the only hotel in town at one time, but served requirements as well as any of the present day. One fine morning, however, it burned, and as the town was increasing, the late M. C. Keith erected a larger and better building on the site and successfully ran a hotel for some time; but his building also shared the fate of its predecessor. Shortly after its destruction, the Nebraska House was built, and it and other boarding places began to offer accommodation to railroad men and the traveling public.

     The Indians continued surly and dissatisfied. They claimed that they had been deprived of their lands by the enroachment of the whites, and that




certain remuneration for their loss had been denied them. They also complained that the government had not kept its promise that at stated times, blankets and other necessities would be issued to them, and that upon going to appointed places to receive supplies, they were disappointed. To negotiate with the Indians, and obtain a cessation of hostilities, a conference was suggested, and the Indian chiefs agreed to meet commissioners appointed by the Government to North Platte, on September 24, 1868, Toward the end of July small bands of Sioux began to arrive; but by September, not only Sious, but Pawnees, Cheyennes, and other tribes came in force, and it is stated by citizens who saw them, that it was a never-to-be-forgotten sight to see the various bands filing slowly along west the round house clothed in garments made of hides of deer, antelope, buffalo and elk. Man had ponies with poles attached to them, the ends trailing on the ground. On these improvised, wheelless wagons, baggage was piled, and what could not be put on, squaws and ponies carried. This quaint, picturesque throng toiled slowly to the North River, crossed by a ford, and went into camp. The chiefs, headmen, and interp-




reters, with their squaws and families; and also half-breeds and squaw-men with their families, camped a little to the west of the round house.

     Skins, buffalo robes and pelts were all the Indians had to exchange for desired commodities, and the result was that the stores of Peniston and Miller, and Otto Uhling (the only stores in town at the time) were packed with them. Buffalo robes were a drug on the market, and Indians gladly accepted a silver dollar for the finest. These Indians are said to have been fine specimens of mankind, being moderately tall, and physically vigorous and strong. The Society of Friends of Philadelphia sent boxes of clothing, the articles to be distributed amongst them, but they had no use for coasts or vests, and as for pants, they changed them to approved Indian fashion by cutting the legs off at the knees, and making a flap in the seat.

     General Sherman, General Harvey, and John P. Sanborne were appointed by the Government to confer with Indian chiefs. The Union Pacific ma chine shop was just built, and as the machinery had not been placed in it, it was considered a suitable place in which to hold the conference, and




there it was held. The Indian chiefs, Standing Elk, Swift Bear, Pawnee Killer, Spotted Tail, Man-that walks-under-ground, and Big Mouth arrived on the day, and after a long conference and much discussion, a Treaty of Peace was entered upon.

     By this time, North Platte was getting to be a town of some importance, and during their stay the commissioners were well entertained by the citizens. Parties were given in their honor, and at a wedding they attended, Gen. Sherman was the first to kiss the bride. Previous to this, W. M. Hinman officiated at a double wedding in the old Union Pacific Hotel which was celebrated in true Western fashion. This hotel was destroyed by fired in May, 1869. These weddings were the first in North Platte, but such celebrations steadily increased, and are far from be coming obsolete.

     After the Peace Commission, the first meeting of Free Mason in North Platte was convened in the machine shop, and held in a small room in the loft, then, and for long after reached by a stairway. The object was to get the brethren in the locality to gether, so that by spending a social social hour they would




become acquainted. In this same room were rifles and bayonets for the workmen should the Indians at any time make a raid on the company's premises. They were never required, and when Indian troubles ceased, were appropriated by youths in the employ of the company and converted into rifles for hunting. So late as 1881, a few of these weapons were found covered with dust and rust and for some time bay onets lay about the machine shops.

     The ten stall round house of that day, blown down in 1881, also had is associations. To it women and children fled when terrorized by report that the Indians were going to attack the town and murder the inhabitants. This was in the spring of 1868. It seems that a report had been circulated that the Indians were on the war path in large force perpetrating their usual atrocities. The tale spread on all kinds of variations that imagination and fear could suggest. Settler thronged to the military Posts for protection, and women and children of the town sough refuge in the round house. Men armed themselves and looked out for the expected Indian attack, but as it failed to materialize, the




scare subsided. That the local report wan not wholly without foundation is made evident by the state ment of A. J. Miller. He says: "Peniston and I had been over on the south side of the river, and I had been over on the south side of the river, and com ing back to town, noticed many Indians. They all had their bows strung and arrows in their hands, and I told Peniston it looked as though we were going to have trouble. I drove up to the store and found that many people in town had already gone to the round house. I ran over to my house and tried to get my wife and Mrs. Peniston to go there too, but my wife refused to go. I then ran out and found High Bear and asked him to harangue the Indians and tell them their hearts were bad, and that I wanted to see them at the store. In a short time the store was full of Indians, and I made a talk to them, telling them that I could see their hearts were on the ground, but I was their friend and wanted them to feel good. I then gave them about two hundred and fifty dollars worth of goods so they could have a feast, besides giving them some hats and clothing and things of that kind. There was not further trouble. The Indians afterwards told General Harney at the Whetstone Agency, that if it




had not been for 'Sharp Nose', (the name they gave me) they would have killed everybody and burned the town."

Prior page
General Index
Next page

© 2003 for the NEGenWeb Project by Cris Geis, Ted & Carole Miller