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Necessity for a jail. -- Log jail built. -- Prisoners escape. -- The town expands. -- The Vigilant Committee. -- First church built. -- South Platte bridge built. -- Buffalo hunting. -- McLucas store robbed. -- Suspects arrested. -- Man lynched at railroad bridge. -- Mob at jail. -- Suspects brought into court. -- Seized by mob. -- One hanged to telegraph pole. -- One escapes and dies through exposure.

     At the close of 1868, and well into the seventies; North Platte was a pretty tough town, and very in differently equipped to enforce the law and maintain order. It had no jail, and on this account crime often went unpunished, but when occasional arrests were made, culprits had either to be kept in the guard house at the Post; sent to Fort McPherson, or other places for safe keeping. Prisoners were a costly encumbrance as will be seen by the following extracts from the county records: "October 16, 1868,--




At a meeting of Commissioners it was ordered that the claim of the Union Pacific Railroad Company for the transporting of prisoners to Fremont, the sum of one hundred and twenty-eight dollars and fifty cents be paid."

     "January 19, 1869: The claim of William Pateny for guarding prisoners eight days; the sum of twenty-five dollars."  

     "January 24, 1869: The claim of Dodge County, Nebraska, for keeping and trying John Burly for the crime of murder; the sum of four hundred and sixteen dollars, and fourteen cents."

     "February 1, 1869: Ordered that the claim of Company D; 18th United States Infantry for boarding and guarding prisoners, the sum of two hundred and thirty-eight dollars be paid."

     "February 19, 1869: Ordered that the claim of Col. Bracket for keeping prisoners at Fort McPherson, the sum of twenty-two dollars be paid."

     "March 3, 1869: Ordered that the claim of the Union Pacific Railroad Company for transporting prisoners from Omaha to North Platte, the sum of eight-seven dollars and twenty-five cents, be paid."

     The commanding officer at the Post seem to




have tired of his guardhouse being used as a city jail, and intimated as much to the sheriff, who in turn, informed the county commissioners, but from an entry in the county records, it appears they had the erection of a jail under consideration, for, as it states, "The court met on the 28th of September, 1868, at the county clerk's office at two o'clock p. m. Present, A. J. Miller, and W. M. Hinman.

     "It was ordered by the Board that proposals be received at the county clerk's office on the 5th day of October, 1868, to build a jail in the County of Lincoln; said jail to be divided into two rooms, twelve feet square, and bids for larger or smaller rooms will be considered. Ordered that the county clerk issue notices to secure proposals for building a jail or furnish material for same; said proposals to be received up to the 15th day of October 1868; the Board reserving the right to reject any or all bids."

     On October 17, 1868, a contract is entered into with W. S. Peniston, in accordance with his bid to build a county jail; and on January 16, 1869, it is ordered "that he receive the sum of twenty-five hundred dollars for building jail and furnishing cot. That this sum stands on motion."




     Afterward, it was "Ordered that the deed of Peniston and Miller, for the west half of lot number three (3) block, one hundred and three (103), in the town of North Platte, upon which the jail of Lincoln County now stands, be received under contract with W. S. Peniston, until the Union Pacific Railroad Company can make a title; and it is further ordered, that the claim of Peniston and Miller for extra work to county jail, the sum of five hundred dollars, be audited and allowed from county general fund."

     Readers who remember the low-roofed, rough log cabin designated "the jail," that stood on Front Street, a little west of the railroad depot, with its small barred windows and heavy door, may consider that the commissioners paid liberally for it, but every thing was high priced in those days. The log jail, like the log school house, had its associations, and some of them are gruesome and grim.

     It often had in its keeping, cattle and horse thieves; murderers and assassins; yea, criminals of all grades; and upon two occasions at least, it was assailed by a mob of would be lynches. One sheriff stood in it doorway, revolver in hand, in front of an excited mob wishing to wreck vengeance on a prisoner, and de-




clared in defiant tones, that any who crossed the threshold of the jail, would do so over his dead body. All knew he meant what he said, and none ventured. The old building, strong as it looked, was not over secure, and it was harder to keep prisoners in it, sometimes, than it was to catch and put them in. It had no foundation and some gained freedom by digging under a sill, but a favorite mod of escape was through the shingled roof. A ventilator also served as an avenue to freedom, and slim fellows occasionally availed themselves of it. Escapes were so frequent that it had to be patroled, and the cost of guarding, and supplies to the jail, made it an expensive institution.

     There is frequent mention in the county records of money paid for guarding the jail, and one entry, dated December 1, 1871, states that the bond of T. Redmond, who is to watch the jail at sixty dollars a month, is approved.

     During 1869 many houses were erected, and although somewhat scattered over the still open prairie, it was evident that the industry and frugality of railroad employes, and the ever increasing traffic on the road, would, in course of time, make North Platte




a place of importance. Many doubted this, but wise ones whose faith was well founded, secured town lots and land in the vicinity, and turned a deaf ear to pessimists, and today, several in their old age benefit by such investments.

     Like other frontier towns, North Platte was in fested by toughs and tramps who beat their way from place to place on the railroad, and assaults and holdups were so frequent, that leading citizens got together and organized a Vigilent committee to which was assigned the duty of ridding the city of undesirable characters. Undersirables selected were notified by a letter containing a rude drawing of a skull and cross bones, and a piece of rope with a noose. The post office at that time was on Front Street; and the late R. J. Wyman, was the postmaster. He frequently found such letters in the mails, and the parties to whom they were addressed, generally left town hurriedly.

     On the first of January, 1870, a newspaper called the Platte Valley Independent appeared in the city, and the editor in its columns denounced the Vigilants for being vigilant, and going too far with their system of intimidation. It is related




that this editor, when asked about the circulation of his paper, said, "My paper goes every where, and it is as much as I can do to keep it from going to h--l." It did not go there, however, but to Grand Island after running one year in North Platte and has been published in that city ever since as the Grand Island Independent.

     Up to 1870, there was not a church in town, but in that year, the Baptists, who had affiliated and worshipped together in private houses, appealed to the citizens for aid to build one, and the handsome sum of eight hundred and fifty dollars was subscribed. This church was erected on the lot occupied by the Oddfellows' Hall, but was removed to its present site on Fifth street in 1874.

     Unfortunately, the records of this church are lost, but it is safe to state that its members were never numerous, and that it has had many pastors; and for many years, a struggling existence. At preent it is fairly prosperous.

     When the Rev. R. B. Favoright, the present pastor, was inducted, there were but sixty-eight members, twenty-two of them being non-resident. This was discouraging, but by close application and zeal, he has




succeeded in the four years of his pastorate in increasing the number of adherents to one hundred and sixty; only thirty-nine being non-resident.

     This congregation purchased the Unitarian property, corner of Fourth and Locust streets, at a cost of $3,000, and expect to build a church edifice on the site of what was at one time, the Unitarian Hall; the locally historic building having fallen into decay.

     Before coming to North Platte, Mr. Favoright was stationed at Berwick, Ill., for nigh on three years. He is a native of Indiana; being born in that state in 1873. Acquiring the taste for ministry in early manhood, he entered Shurtleff College, Upper Atlon, Ill., in 1895, and in seven years, graduated. He was ordained in Atlanta, Ill., in August, 1903, and served as student pastor of different churches for six years.

     The building of this, the first church in town, was much appreciated, and the Commissioners, in an endeavor to reduce the number of saloons, increased the fee for a liquor license from twenty-five to fifty dollars.

     Many needed improvements were suggested to




the commissioners, among them the necessity for a bridge over the South Platte river, the only bridge at the time being that of the railroad. The mode of crossing the North and South rivers was by fords, and the task at times was perilous. A ford of the South Platte much used by persons going to, or coming from Fort McPherson was below the present bridge; and many a wild ride drunken soldiers and cowboys had across it. One solider name Thomas Casey, in his eagerness to cross, when river was in flood, was drowned.

     After much deliberation, the Commissioners at a meeting held in March, 1870, ordered a special election to vote $30,000 in bonds for the purpose of bridging the South Platte river near town. The election was held, the bonds voted, the Wells, French & Co. of Chicago awarded the contract to build a pile bridge, which they did to their own satisfaction. J. B. Park surveyed a road from the Union Pacific Hotel to where the bridge is, and from thence to Fort McPherson, and from it to a point known as Bent's ranch. A. J. Miller and John Hornby were County Commissioners at the time, and sketched a design for the bridge bond warrants. It was sent J. W. Mid-




dleton, Lithographer, Chicago, to be printed from, but Lincoln County had no standing, and he would do no work for it unless paid in currency; Mr. Miller, however, had faith in the county, and paid the required $105.50, and accepted a warrant for his pay. The first offer the Commissioners had for bridge warrants was seventy cents on the dollar, but afterwards, seventy-seven cents was procured, and the Wells, French Company accepted them at that, and went on with the building of the bridge.

     A bridge east of town was equally requisite, and the Commissioners applied to S. H. Clark, assistant superintendent of the Union Pacific Railroad to find upon what terms their bridge could be used by the general public. They were informed that the use of the bridge for highway travel could be had for three years, with the privilege of five, for the considera tion of fifteen hundred dollars in Lincoln County warrants. The terms were accepted by the Commissioners, and thus approaches to the city from south and east were secured.

     Parties frequently came from the eastern states, to hunt buffalo, getting off the cars at North Platte and making their headquarters there or at Fort Mc-




Pherson. When the Indians were peaceable, soldiers had leisure and often accompanied hunting parties, or went on their own account. In the fall of 1870, a grand hunt was projected by General Sheridan for the entertainment of James Gordon Bennett, of the New York Herald; General Anson Stager of the Western Union Telegraph Company; Charles Wilson, editor of the Chicago Evening Journal and other dis intuited men of the period. They hunted round North Platte for a time, but went to Fort McPherson where they were received by a company of cavalry under General Embroy, Major Brown and Buffalo Bill. They had an extended hunt to the south where buffaloes were abundant, and where they met with great success.

     Many hunters went after buffalo then, with no other object than wanton slaughter, but others hunted for profit as well as sport. Hunting parties of citizens and soldiers often went after buffalo and returned from the chase rejoicing.

     It was in December, 1870, that such a party, officered by Colonel Lieb, Major Urbain and Lieutenant Thomas of the Fort, and Lieutenant Tracy of the Post, returned from a foray with the spoils. In




a day and a half they killed fifty buffaloes, of which Buffalo Bill brought down thirty-three. They had six wagon loads of hams which were divided, the share of the Post being twenty.

     Little wonder that the noble Bison is exterminated, and the buffalo hunter was succeeded by the hunter of buffalo bones.

     Lynching is not a inviting subject, but as one took place at the railroad bridge and another in town February, 1870, they cannot very well be omit ted in these associations of North Platte. It was considered that the Vigilants had been fairly successful in ridding the town of undesirable individuals, but when a section foreman named O'Keif was held up by two men armed with revolvers and robbed of some ninety odd dollars at the depot of the Union Pacific Railway in presence of the Company's watch man; and that some time during the same night, the McLucas jewelry store was broken into and robbed, it was evident that some had been overlooked. This burglary seems to have been well planned and neatly executed, as nothing was found in or about the premises to give the least clue to the perpetrators. Nathan Russell was sheriff at the time, and Major




William Woodhurst deputy, and they were as anxious as any that the burglars be apprehended and punished.

     A simple incident often leads to the detection of crime, and finding a tray that jewelers display their wares in, which McLucas claimed as having belonged to him, gave ground for the supposition that the burglars had dropped it while going east by a circuitous route. It was known that some tough characters had taken up their abode in an abandoned dobie or sod shack near the railroad bridge, and the sheriff and his deputy went to interview them. On their way they met a man carrying a bundle and searched him, but he made it evident that he was in no way connected with either robbery. When the dobie was reached, the sheriffs entered, and finding it occupied by two men, disarmed them and put them under arrest, Mr. Woodhurst telling them that his companion was sheriff and he deputy, and as a robbery had been committed, they had come to search the place. "All right," said one, "we know nothing of a robbery, and have no hand in this one." They searched, but found nothing to criminate the men. Not satisfied they decided to detain the pris-




oners and marching them to town placed them in jail, returning afterwards they searched more thoroughly, and found the stolen jewelry under a board buried in the sand. Letters were also found, which showed that the men in custody belonged to an organized gang of thieves. When the sheriffs returned to town and announced that the jewelry had been found, great excitement prevailed. The Vigilants met in the log school house to discuss the situation, and agreed to proceed to the bridge and investigate, and if possible find the companion of the men in jail, who, as they stated, had gone hunting. Followed by a crowd, they proceeded along the track to the bridge and found the dobie unoccupied. Woon a man was seen coming across the bridge, who, upon be ing threatened, said they were the men who robbed the jewelry store. Not satisfied, the questioners in sisted that he tell all he knew about them. The terrified wretch did so expecting to be released, but the mob was excited, and like all mobs, unreasonable, and on the assumption that he was one of the gang, a rope was produced; and end flung over the limb of a Cottonwood tree near the river, and in a brief space the victim of mob violence dangled in air.




     Satisfied with what was accomplished, the crowd returned to town intent upon getting the two men confined in jail. Finding this to be no easy matter, Judge Daugherty was seen, and induced to hold court at six in the evening, and give the supposed robbers a preliminary examination.

     A board building east of the jail served for a court room at that time. Court being opened with the usual formality the prisoners were brought in. The room was packed, and a mob had gathered outside, the proceedings were watched with interest. Evidence given, proved them guilty of the robbery, and it soon became evident that many on the outside were anxious to lay hold of the prisoners. When the trial was about concluded, the light were suddenly extinguished, and the same instant the prisoners were seized and dragged to the street, and one that resisted was brutally beaten on the head with the butt of a revolver. A leading business man with a rope in one hand and a revolver in the other led the way to a telegraph pole to the east of the jail followed by an orderly, but determined crowd. One of the prisoners made a dash for liberty, running, as only a desperate man would, in the direction of the South




Platte river, and although pursued and shot at, escaped. The other prisoner, a powerful dark visaged man, neither pleaded or flinched, but walked with a firm step, and when the rope was being placed round his neck, growled, "If you are going to hang me, make a good job of it, and don't hang me like a dog." He was hanged, and it is said the object lesson proved beneficial, for many toughs climbed on trains and got out of town.

     As already stated, Major William Woodhurst was deputy sheriff at the time of these lynching. He kindly furnished the main facts in the foregoing account of the disgraceful affairs. He go into communication with the father of the last victim of local lynch law, and forwarded to him the personal effects of his son, whose end did not greatly surprise him, for seemingly, a bad boy had developed into a bad man.

     It is said that the body of the man lynched in town was taken to Fort McPherson by an army surgeon for dissection and that the body of the man lynched at the bridge was secured by local doctors for the same purpose, and that in ripping the clothes off, a belt around the waist contained several hun-




dreds of dollars in bills was found. The late Dr. F. N. Dick was well versed in local lore, and when speaking of these lynching, would say that the story about the dissecting was possibly correct, but he had his doubts about money being found.

     The culprit who escaped from the lynches and ran toward the South river was supposed to have gotten away, but some weeks after the lynching, a cowboy informed Deputy Sheriff Woodhurst that he had found the body of man near Fremont Slough. Upon investigation, it was found to be that of the escaped prisoner. Dr. Dick, who examined the body, said, the man had been shot through the arm and had bound the wound with a handkerchief, but the wound was slight, and not sufficient to cause death; but having forded the river in his terror and fear of pursuit, he had been so chilled that he succumbed and died from exposure.

     Several who took an active part in these lynch ings are dead, and other have moved away, but he who placed the rope around the neck of one of the victims, lives, and bitterly regrets that he got mixed up in the disgraceful affair.

     The tree at the bridge upon which the unfortun-




ate man was lynched, despite his pleading, has long since disappeared, but it was looked at with superstitious awe by many for it was supposed that a curse clings to a tree upon which a man has been hanged, and that it withers and dies.

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