SOME FIRST THINGS IN THE HISTORY OF ADAMS COUNTY
BY GEORGE F. WORK
Adams county is named for the first time, in an act of the territorial legislature approved February 16, 1867, when the south bank of the Platte river was made its northern boundary. There were no settlers here at that time although several persons who are mentioned later herein had established trapping camps within what are now its boundaries. In 1871 it was declared a county by executive proclamation and its present limits defined as, in short, consisting of government ranges, 9, 10, 11, and 12 west of the sixth principal meridian, and townships 5, 6, 7, and 8, north of the base line, which corresponds with the south line of the state.
Mortimer N. Kress, familiarly known to the early settlers as "Wild Bill," Marion Jerome Fouts, also known as "California Joe," and James Bainter had made hunting and trapping camps all the way along the Little Blue river, prior to this time. This stream flows through the south part of the county and has its source just west of its western boundary in Kearney county. James Bainter filed on a tract just across its eastern line in Clay county as his homestead, and so disappears in the history of Adams county. Mortimer N. Kress is still living and now has his home in Hastings, a hale, hearty man of seventy-five years and respected by all. Marion J. Fouts, about seventy years of age, still lives on the homestead he selected in that early day and is a respected, prominent man in that locality.
Gordon H. Edgerton, now a resident and prominent business man of Hastings, when a young man, in 1866, was engaged in freighting across the plains, over the Oregon trail that entered the county where the Little Blue crosses its eastern boundary and continued in a northwesterly direction, leaving its western line a few miles west and a little north of where Kenesaw now stands, and so is familiar with its early history. There has already been some who have questioned the authenticity of the
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
story of an Indian massacre having taken place where this trail crosses Thirty-two Mile creek, so named because it was at this point about thirty-two miles east of Fort Kearny. This massacre took place about the year 1867, and Mr. Edgerton says that it was universally believed at the time he was passing back and forth along this trail. He distinctly remembers an old threshing machine that stood at that place for a long time and that was left there by some of the members of the party that were killed. The writer of this sketch who came to the county in 1874, was shown a mound at this place, near the bank of the creek, which he was told was the heaped up mound of the grave where the victims were buried, and the story was not questioned so far as he ever heard until recent years. Certainly those who lived near the locality at that early day did not question it. This massacre took place very near the locality where Captain Fremont encamped, the night of June 25, 1842, as related in the history of his expedition and was about five or six miles south and a little west of Hastings. I well remember the appearance of this trail. It consisted of a number of deeply cut wagon tracks, nearly parallel with each other, but which would converge to one track where the surface was difficult or where there was a crossing to be made over a rough place or stream. The constant tramping of the teams would pulverize the soil and the high winds would blow out the dust, or if on sloping ground, the water from heavy rains would wash it out until the track became so deep that a new one would be followed because the axles of the wagons would drag on the ground. It was on this trail a few miles west of what is now the site of Kenesaw, that a lone grave was discovered by the first settlers in the country, and a story is told of how it came to be there. About midway from where the trail leaves the Little Blue to the military post at Fort Kearny on the Platte river a man with a vision of many dollars to be made from the people going west to the gold-fields over this trail, dug a well about one hundred feet deep for the purpose of selling water to the travelers and freighters. Some time later he was killed by the Indians and the well was poisoned by them. A man by the name of Haile camped here a few days later and he and his wife used the water for cooking and drinking. Both were taken sick and the wife died, but he recovered. He took the boards of his wagon box and made her
EARLY HISTORY OF ADAMS COUNTY
a coffin and buried her near the trail. Some time afterwards he returned and erected a headstone over her grave which was a few years since still standing and perhaps is to this day, the monument of a true man to his love for his wife and to her memory.
The first homestead was taken in the county by Francis M. Luey, March 5, 1870, though there were others taken the same day. The facts as I get them direct from Mr. Kress are that he took his team and wagon, and he and three other men went to Beatrice, where the government land office was located, to make their entries. When they arrived at the office, with his characteristic generosity he said: "Boys, step up and take your choice; any of it is good enough for me." Luey was the first to make his entry, and he was followed by the other three. Francis M. Luey took the southwest quarter of section twelve; Mortimer N. Kress selected the northeast quarter of section thirteen; Marion Jerome Fouts, the southeast quarter of eleven; and the fourth person, John Smith, filed on the southwest quarter of eleven, all in township five north and range eleven west of the sixth principal meridian. Smith relinquished his claim later and never made final proof, so his name does not appear on the records of the county as having made this entry. The others settled and made improvements on their lands. Mortimer N. Kress built a sod house that spring, and later in the summer, a hewed log house, and these were the first buildings in the county. So Kress and Fouts, two old comrades and trappers, settled down together, and are still citizens of the county. Other settlers rapidly began to make entry in the neighborhood, and soon there were enough to be called together in the first religious service. The first sermon was preached in Mr. Kress' hewed log house by Rev. J. W. Warwick in the fall of 1871.
The first marriage in the county was solemnized in 1872 between Rhoderic Lomas or Loomis and "Lila" or Eliza Warwick, the ceremony being performed by the bride's father, Rev. J. W. Warwick. Prior to this, however, on October 18, 1871, Eben Wright and Susan Gates, a young couple who had settled in the county, were taken by Mr. Kress in his two-horse farm wagon to Grand Island, where they were married by the probate judge.
The first deaths that occurred in the county were of two young men who came into the new settlement to make homes for themselves in 1870, selected their claims and went to work, and
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a few days later were killed in their camp at night. It was believed that a disreputable character who came along with a small herd of horses committed the murder, but no one knew what the motive was. He was arrested and his name given as Jake Haynes, but as no positive proof could be obtained he was cleared at the preliminary examination, and left the country. A story became current a short time afterward that he was hanged in Kansas for stealing a mule.
The first murder that occurred in the county that was proven was that of Henry Stutzman, who was killed by William John McElroy, February 8, 1879, about four miles south of Hastings. He was arrested a few hours afterward, and on his trial was convicted and sent to the penitentiary.
The first child born in the county was born to Francis M. Luey and wife in the spring of 1871. These parents were the first married couple to settle in this county. The child lived only a short time and was buried near the home, there being no graveyard yet established. A few years ago the K. C. & 0. R. R. in grading its roadbed through that farm disturbed the grave and uncovered its bones.
In the spring and summer of 1870 Mr. Kress broke about fifty acres of prairie on his claim and this constituted the first improvement of that nature in the county.
J. R. Carter and wife settled in this neighborhood about 1870, and the two young men, mentioned above as having been murdered, stopped at their house over night, their first visitors. It was a disputed point for a long time whether Mrs. Carter, Mrs. W. S. Moote, or Mrs. Francis M. Luey was the first white woman to settle permanently in the county; but Mr. Kress is positive that the last named was the first and is entitled to that distinction. Mrs. Moote, with her husband, came next and camped on their claim, then both left and made their entries of the land. In the meantime, before the return of the Mootes, Mr. and Mrs. Carter made permanent settlement on their land, so the honors were pretty evenly divided.
The first white settler in the county to die a natural death and receive christian burial was William H. Akers, who had taken a homestead in section 10-5-9. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. J. W. Warwick.
In the summer of 1871 a colony of settlers from Michigan
EARLY HISTORY OF ADAMS COUNTY
settled on land on which the townsite of Juniata was afterward located, and October 1, 1871, the first deed that was placed on record in the county was executed by John and Margaret Stark to Col.. Charles F. Morse before P. F. Barr, a notary public at Crete, Nebraska, and was filed for record March 9, 1872, and recorded on page 1, volume 1, of deed records of Adams county. The grantee was general superintendent of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company which was then approaching the eastern edge of the county, and opened its first office at Hastings in April, 1873, with agent Horace S. Wiggins in charge. Mr. Wiggins is now a well-known public accountant and insurance actuary residing in Lincoln. The land conveyed by this deed and some other tracts for which deeds were soon after executed was in section 12, township 7, range 11, and on which the town of Juniata was platted. The Stark patent was dated June 5, 1872, and signed by U. S. Grant as president. The town plat was filed for record March 9, 1872.
The first church organized in the county was by Rev. John F. Clarkson, chaplain of a colony of English Congregationalists who settled near the present location of Hastings in 1871. He preached the first sermon while they were still camped in their covered wagons at a point near the present intersection of Second street and Burlington avenue, the first Sunday after their arrival. A short time afterward, in a sod house on the claim of John G. Moore, at or near the present site of the Lepin hotel, the church was organized with nine members uniting by letter, and a few Sundays later four more by confession of their faith. This data I have from Peter Fowlie and S. B. Binfield, two of the persons composing the first organization.
The first Sunday school organized in the county was organized in a small residence then under construction on lot 3 in block 4 of Moore's addition to Hastings. The frame was up, the roof on, siding and floor in place, but that was all. Nail kegs and plank formed the seats, and a store box the desk. The building still stands and constitutes the main part of the present residence of my family at 219 North Burlington avenue. It was a union school and was the nucleus of the present Presbyterian and Congregational Sunday schools. I am not able to give the date of its organization but it was probably in the winter of 1872-73.1 got this information from Mr. A. L. Wigton, who
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was influential in bringing about the organization and was its first superintendent.
The first school in the county was opened about a mile south of Juniata early in 1872, by Miss Emma Leonard, and that fall Miss Lizzie Scott was employed to teach one in Juniata. So rapidly did the county settle that by October 1, 1873, thirty-eight school districts were reported organized.
The acting governor, W. H. James, on November 7, 1871, ordered the organization of the county for political and judicial purposes, and fixed the day of the first election to be held, on December 12 following. Twenty-nine votes were cast and the following persons were elected as county officers:
- Clerk, Russell D. Babcock.
- Treasurer, John S. Chandler.
- Sheriff, Isaac W. Stark.
- Probate Judge, Titus Babcock.
- Surveyor, George Henderson.
- Superintendent of Schools, Adna H. Bowen.
- Coroner, Isaiah Sluyter.
- Assessor, William M. Camp.
- County Commissioners: Samuel L. Brass, Edwin M. Allen, and Wellington W. Selleck.
The first assessment of personal property produced a tax of $5,500, on an assessed valuation of $20,003, and the total valuation of personal and real property amounted to $957,183, mostly on railroad lands of which the Burlington road was found to own 105,423 acres and the Union Pacific, 72,207. Very few of the settlers had at that time made final proof. This assessment was made in the spring of 1872.
The first building for county uses was ordered constructed on January 17, 1872, and was 16x2O feet on the ground with an eight-foot story, shingle roof, four windows and one door, matched floor, and ceiled overhead with building paper. The county commissioners were to furnish all material except the door and windows and the contract for the work was let to Joseph Stuhl for $30.00. S. L. Brass was to superintend the construction, and the building was to be ready for occupancy in ten days.
The salary of the county clerk was fixed by the board at $300, that of the probate judge at $75 for the year.
EARLY HISTORY OF ADAMS COUNTY
It is claimed that the law making every section line a county road, in the state of Nebraska, originated with this board in a resolution passed by it, requesting their representatives in the senate and house of the legislature then in session to introduce a bill to that effect and work for its passage. Their work must have been effective for we find that in July following, the Burlington railroad company asked damages by reason of loss sustained through the act of the legislature taking about eight acres of each section of their land, for these public roads.
The first poorhouse was built in the fall of 1872. It was 16x24 feet, one and one-half stories high, and was constructed by Ira G. Dillon for $1,400, and Peter Fowlie was appointed poormaster at a salary of $25 per month. And on November 1 of that year he reported six poor persons as charges on the county, but his administration must have been effective for on December 5, following, he reported none then in his charge.
The first agricultural society was organized at Kingston and the first agricultural fair of which there is any record was held October 11 and 12, 1873. The fair grounds were on the southeast corner of the northwest quarter of section 32-5-9 on land owned by G. H. Edgerton, and quite a creditable list of premiums were awarded.
The first Grand Army post was organized at Hastings under a charter issued May 13, 1878, and T. D. Scofield was elected commander.
The first newspaper published in the county was the Adams County Gazette, issued at Juniata by R. D. and C. C. Babcock in January, 1872. This was soon followed by the Hastings Journal published by M. K. Lewis and A. L. Wigton. These were in time consolidated and in January, 1880, the first daily was issued by A. L. and J. W. Wigton and called the Daily GazetteJournal.
EARLY EXPERIENCES IN ADAMS COUNTY
BY GENERAL ALBERT V. COLE
I was a young business man in Michigan in 1871, about which time many civil war veterans were moving from Michigan and other states to Kansas and Nebraska, where they could secure free homesteads. I received circulars advertising Juniata. They called it a village but at that time there were only four houses, all occupied by agents of the Burlington railroad who had been employed to preempt a section of land for the purpose of locating a townsite. In October, 1871, I started for Juniata, passing through Chicago at the time of the great fire. With a comrade I crossed the Missouri river at Plattsmouth on a flatboat. The Burlington was running mixed trains as far west as School Creek, now Sutton. We rode to that point, then started to walk to Juniata, arriving at Harvard in the evening. Harvard also had four houses placed for the same purpose as those in Juniata. Frank M. Davis, who was elected commissioner of public lands and buildings in 1876, lived in one house with his family; the other three were supposed to be occupied by bachelors.
We arranged with Mr. Davis for a bed in an upper room of one of the vacant houses. We were tenderfeet from the East and therefore rather suspicious of the surroundings, there being no lock on the lower door. To avoid being surprised we piled everything we could find against the door. About midnight we were awakened by a terrible noise; our fortifications had fallen and we heard the tramp of feet below. Some of the preemptors had been out on section 37 for wood and the lower room was where they kept the horse feed.
The next morning we paid our lodging and resumed the journey west. Twelve miles from Harvard we found four more houses placed by the Burlington. The village was called Inland and was on the east line of Adams county but has since been moved east into Clay county. Just before reaching Inland we met a man coming from the west with a load of buffalo meat and at Inland we found C. S. Jaynes, one of the preemptors, sitting18
OREGON TRAIL MONUMENT ON NEBRASKA-WYOMING STATE LINE
Erected by the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution of Nebraska and Wyoming. Dedicated April 4, 1913.
MONUMENT ON THE OREGON TRAIL
Seven miles south of Hastings. Erected by Niobrara Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution at a cost of $100
EARLY EXPERIENCES IN ADAMS COUNTY
outside his shanty cutting up some of the meat. It was twelve miles farther to Juniata, the railroad grade being our guide. The section where Hastings now stands was on the line but there was no town, not a tree or living thing in sight, just burnt prairie. I did not think when we passed over that black and desolate section that a city like Hastings would be builded there. The buffalo and the antelope had gone in search of greener pastures; even the wolf and the coyote were unable to live there at that time.
Six miles farther on we arrived at Juniata and the first thing we did was to drink from the well in the center of the section between the four houses. This was the only well in the district and that first drink of water in Adams county was indeed refreshing. The first man we met was Judson Buswell, a civil war veteran, who had a homestead a mile away and was watering his mule team at the well. Although forty-four years have passed, I shall never forget those mules; one had a crooked leg, but they were the best Mr. Buswell could afford. Now at the age of seventy-three he spends his winters in California and rides in his automobile, but still retains his original homestead.
Juniata had in addition to the four houses a small frame building used as a hotel kept by John Jacobson. It was a frail structure, a story and a half, and when the Nebraska wind blew it would shake on its foundation. There was one room upstairs with a bed in each corner. During the night there came up a northwest wind and every bed was on the floor the next morning. Later another hotel was built called the Juniata House. Land seekers poured into Adams county after the Burlington was completed in July, 1872, and there was quite a strife between the Jacobson House and the Juniata House. Finally a runner for the latter hotel advertised it as the only hotel in town with a cook stove.
Adams county was organized December 12, 1871. Twenty-nine voters took part in the first election and Juniata was made the county seat.
We started out the next morning after our arrival to find a quarter section of land. About a mile north we came to the dugout of Mr. Chandler. He lived in the back end of his house and kept his horses in the front part. Mr. Chandler went with us to locate our claims. We preempted land on section twenty-
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eight north of range ten west, in what is now Highland township. I turned the first sod in that township and put down the first bored well, which was 117 feet deep and cost $82.70. Our first shanty was 10x12 feet in size, boarded up and down and papered on the inside with tar paper. Our bed was made of soft-pine lumber with slats but no springs. The table was a flat-top trunk.
In the spring of 1872 my wife's brother, George Crane, came from Michigan and took 80 acres near me. We began our spring work by breaking the virgin sod. We each bought a yoke of oxen and a Fish Brothers wagon, in Crete, eighty miles away, and then with garden tools and provisions in the wagon we started home, being four days on the way. A few miles west of Fairmont we met the Gaylord brothers, who had been to Grand Island and bought a printing press. They were going to publish a paper in Fairmont. They were stuck in a deep draw of mud, so deeply imbedded that our oxen could not pull their wagon out, so we hitched onto the press and pulled it out on dry land. It was not in very good condition when we left it but the boys printed a very clean paper on it for a number of years.
In August Mrs. Cole came out and joined me. I had broken 30 acres and planted corn, harvesting a fair crop which I fed to my oxen and cows. Mrs. Cole made butter, our first churn being a wash bowl in which she stirred the cream with a spoon, but the butter was sweet and we were happy, except that Mrs. Cole was very homesick. She was only nineteen years old and a thousand miles from her people, never before having been separated from her mother. I had never had a home, my parents having died when I was very small, and I had been pushed around from pillar to post. Now I had a home of my own and was delighted with the wildness of Nebraska, yet my heart went out to Mrs. Cole. The wind blew more fiercely than now and she made me promise that if our house ever blew down I would take her back to Michigan. That time very nearly came on April 13, 1873. The storm raged three days and nights and the snow flew so it could not be faced. I have experienced colder blizzards but never such a storm as this Easter one. I had built an addition of two rooms on my shanty and it was fortunate we had that much room before the storm for it was the means of saving the lives of four friends who were caught with
EARLY EXPERIENCES IN ADAMS COUNTY
out shelter. Two of them, a man and wife, were building a house on their claim one-half mile east, the others were a young couple who had been taking a ride on that beautiful Sunday afternoon. The storm came suddenly about four in the afternoon; not a breath of air was stirring and it became very dark. The storm burst, black dirt filled the air, and the house rocked. Mrs. Cole almost prayed that the house would go down so she could go back East. But it weathered the blast; if it had not I know we would all have perished. The young man's team had to have shelter and my board stable was only large enough for my oxen and cow so we took his horses to the sod house on the girl's claim a mile away. Rain and hail were falling but the snow did not come until we got home or we would not have found our way. There were six grown people and one child to camp in our house three days and only one bed. The three women and the child occupied the bed, the men slept on the floor in another room. Monday morning the snow was drifted around and over the house and had packed in the cellar through a hole where I intended to put in a window some day. To get the potatoes from the cellar for breakfast I had to tunnel through the snow from the trap door in the kitchen. It was impossible to get to the well so we lifted the trap door and melted fresh snow when water was needed.
The shack that sheltered my live stock was 125 feet from the house and it took three of us to get to the shack to feed. Number two would keep within hearing of number one and the third man kept in touch with number two until he reached the stable. Wednesday evening we went for the horses in the sod house and found one dead. They had gnawed the wall of the house so that it afterwards fell down.
I could tell many other incidents of a homesteader's life, of trials and short rations, of the grasshoppers in 1874-75-76, of hail storms and hot winds; yet all who remained through those days of hardship are driving automobiles instead of oxen and their land is worth, not $2.50 an acre, but $150.
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