EARLY EVENTS IN JEFFERSON COUNTY
BY GEORGE CROSS
Along in the seventies, when everyone was interested in the project of the erection of a United Brethren college in Fairbury, the leading promoter of that enterprise held a revival in the Baptist church. The weather was warm and as his zeal in expounding the gospel increased he would remove his coat, vest, and collar, keeping up meantime a vigorous chewing of tobacco. The house was usually crowded and among the late-comers one night was W. A. Gould, who was obliged to take a seat in front close to the pulpit. The next day some one offered congratulations at seeing him in church, as it was the first time he had ever been seen at such a place in Fairbury. "Yes," said Gould, "I used to attend church, but that was the first time I ever sat under the actual drippings of the sanctuary, for the minister spit all over me."
The most closely contested election ever held in Jefferson county was that in 1879 on the question of voting bonds to the Burlington and Missouri railroad to secure the passing through Fairbury of the line being built east from Red Cloud. The proposition was virtually to indirectly relieve the road from taxation for ten years. As bonding propositions were submitted in those days this was considered a very liberal one, as the taxes were supposed to offset the bonds and if the road was not built there would be neither bonds nor taxes. It required a two-thirds vote to carry the bonds and as the northern and southern portions of the county were always jealous of Fairbury the contest was a bitter one. Some of the stakes of the old Brownville & Ft. Kearny survey were yet standing and some still hoped that road would be built. The people of Fairbury resorted to all known devices to gain votes, some of which have not yet been revealed. It was long before the days of the Australian ballot and more or less bogus tickets were in circulation at every election. On this occasion a few tickets containing a double negative were secretly circulated in a precinct bitterly opposed to the
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bonds. Several of these were found in the ballot box and of course rejected, which left on the face of the returns a majority of one in favor of the bonds. It has always been believed that Fairbury lost the road because the officials of the road, who also comprised the townsite company, thought they could make more by building up new towns of their own.
MONUMENT ON THE OREGON TRAIL, THREE MILES NORTH OF FAIRBURY
Erected by Quivira Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. Dedicated October 29, 1912. Cost $200
EARLY DAYS OF FAIRBURY AND JEFFERSON COUNTY
BY GEORGE W. HANSEN
The first white settler in what is now Jefferson county was Daniel Patterson who established a ranch in 1856 where the Overland, or Oregon trail crosses the Big Sandy. Newton Glenn located the same year at the trail crossing on Rock creek. The first government survey of land in this county was made in 1857, and the plat and field notes show the location of "Patterson's Trading Post" on the southeast quarter of section 16, town 3 north, range 1 east.
Early in May, 1859, D. C. Jenkins, disappointed in his search for gold at Pike's Peak, returned on foot pushing a wheelbarrow with all his possessions the entire distance. He stopped at the Big Sandy and established a ranch a short distance below Patterson's place. A few weeks later, on May 25, 1859, Joel Helvey and his family, enroute for Pike's Peak, discouraged by the reports of Mr. Jenkins and other returning gold hunters, settled on the Little Sandy at the crossing of the trail. About the same time came George Weisel, who now lives in Alexandria, James Blair, whose son Grant now lives near Powell, on the land where his father first located, and D. C. McCanles, who bought the Glenn ranch on Rock creek. The Helvey family have made this county their home ever since. One of Joel Helvey's sons, Frank, then a boy of nineteen, is now living in Fairbury. He knew Daniel Patterson and D. C. McCanles, and with his brothers Thomas and Jasper, buried McCanles, Jim Woods, and Jim Gordon, Wild Bill's victims of the Rock creek tragedy of 1861. He drove the Overland stage, rode the pony express, was the first sheriff of this county, and forms a connecting link between the days of Indian raids and the present. Alexander Majors, one of the proprietors of the Overland stage line, presented each of the drivers with a bible, and Frank Helvey's copy is now loaned to the Nebraska State Historical Society. Thomas Helvey and wife settled on Little Sandy, a short distance above his father's ranch, and there on July 4, 1860, their
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son Orlando, the first white child in the present limits of Jefferson and Thayer counties, was born.
During the civil war a number of families came, settling along the Little Blue and in the fertile valleys of Rose, Cub, and Swan creeks. In 1862 Ives Marks settled on Rose creek, near the present town of Reynolds, and built a small sawmill and church. He organized the first Sunday school at Big Sandy.
The first election for county officers was held in 1863. D. L. Marks was elected county clerk, T. J. Holt, county treasurer, Ed. Farrell, county judge. In November, 1868, Ives Marks was elected county treasurer. If a person was unable to pay his entire tax, he would accept a part, issue a receipt, and take a note for the balance. Sometimes he would give the note back so that the party would know when it fell due. He drove around the county collecting taxes, and kept his funds in a candle box. He drove to Lincoln in his one-horse cart, telling everyone he met that he was Rev. Ives Marks, treasurer of Jefferson county, and that he had five hundred dollars in that box which he was taking to the state treasurer.
Fairbury was laid out in August, 1869, by W. G. McDowell and J. B. Mattingly. Immediately after the survey Sidney Mason built the first house upon the townsite of Fairbury, on the corner northwest of the public square, where now stands the U. S. postoffice. Mrs. Mason kept boarders, and advertised that her table was loaded with all the delicacies the market afforded, and I can testify from personal experience that the common food our market did afford was transformed into delicacies by the magic of her cooking. Mrs. Mason has lived in Fairbury ever since the town was staked out, and now (1915), in her ninety-sixth year, is keeping her own house and performing all the duties of the home cheerfully and happily.
Mrs. Mason's grandson, Claiborn L. Shader, son of Mr. and Mrs, A. L. Shader, now of Lincoln, was the first child born in Fairbury.
One of the most vivid and pleasant memories that comes to me after the lapse of forty-five years is that of a boy, tired and footsore from a hundred-mile walk from the Missouri river, standing on the hill where the traveler from the east first sees the valley of the Little Blue, looking down on a little group of about a dozen houses the village of Fairbury. This was in
FAIRBURY AND JEFFERSON COUNTIES
the summer of 1870, and was my first view of the town that was ever after to be my home.
On the second floor of Thomas & Champlin's store I found George Cross and my brother, Harry Hansen, running off the Fairbury Gazette, alternating in inking the types with the old-fashioned roller and yanking the lever of the old-fashioned hand press. This was about the first issue of the Gazette entirely printed at home. The first issues were set up at home, hauled to Beatrice in a lumber wagon, and printed in the office of the Beatrice Express, until the press arrived in Fairbury.
When subscriptions were mostly paid in wood, butter, squash, and turnips, you can imagine what a time Mr. Cross had in skirmishing around for cash to pay for paper and ink, and the wages of a printer; so he decided if the paper was to survive and build up the country, he must have a printer for a partner, and he sold a half interest in the Gazette to my brother and me. The principal source of our revenue was from printing the commissioners' proceedings and the delinquent tax list, taking our pay in county warrants. These warrants drew ten per cent interest, were paid in a year, and we sold them to Editor Cramb's grandfather for seventy-five cents on the dollar. On that basis they yielded him forty per cent per annum --- too low a rate, we thought, to justify holding.
Prairie grass grew luxuriantly in the streets. There were not enough buildings around the public square to mark it. On the west side were three one-story buildings, the best one still standing, now owned by Wm. Christian and used as a confectionery; it was then the office of the county clerk and board of county commissioners. The second was the pioneer store of John Brown, his office as justice of the peace, and his home; the third was a shanty covered with tarred paper, the office and home of Dr. Showalter, physician, surgeon, politician, and sometimes exhorter; and a past master he was in them all. On the north side were two of the same class of buildings, one occupied by Mr. McCaffery, whose principal business was selling a vile brand of whiskey labeled Hostetter's Bitters, and the other was Wesley Bailey's drug store and postoffice. George Cross had the honor of being postmaster, but Wes drew the entire salary of four dollars and sixteen cents per month, for services as deputy and rent for the office. On the east side there was but one building,
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Thomas & Champlin's Farmers' store. On the south side there was nothing. On the south half of the square was our ball ground. Men were at work on the foundation of the Methodist church, the first church in Fairbury. We were short on church buildings but long on religious discussions.
Where the city hall now stands were the ruins of the dugout in which Judge Boyle and family had lived the previous winter. He had built a more stately mansion of native cottonwood lumber - his home, law and real-estate office. M. H. Weeks had for sale a few loads of lumber in his yard on the corner northeast of the square, hauled from Waterville by team, a distance of forty-five miles. All supplies were hauled from Waterville, the nearest railroad station, and it took nearly a week to make the round trip. Judge Mattingly was running a sawmill near the river, cutting the native cottonwoods into dimension lumber and common boards.
The Otoe Indians, whose reservation was on the east line of the county, camped on the public square going out on their annual buffalo hunts. The boys spent the evenings with them in their tents playing seven-up, penny a game, always letting the Indians win. They went out on their last hunt in the fall of 1874, and traveled four hundred miles before finding any buffalo. The animals were scarce by reason of their indiscriminate slaughter by hunters, and the Otoes returned in February, 1875, with the "jerked" meat and hides of only fifteen buffalo.
The Western Stage Company ran daily to and from Beatrice, connecting there by stage with Brownville and Nebraska City. The arrival of the stage was the great and exciting event of each day; it brought our mail and daily newspaper, an exchange to the Gazette; and occasionally it brought a passenger.
After resting from my long walk I decided to go on to Republic county, Kansas, and take a homestead. There were no roads on the prairie beyond Marks' mill, and I used a pocket compass to keep the general direction, and by the notches on the government stones determined my location. I found so much vacant government land that it was difficult to make a choice, and after two trips to the government land office at Junction City, located four miles east of the present town of Belleville. I built a dugout, and to prevent my claim being jumped, tacked a notice on the door, "Gone to hunt a wife." Returning to
FAIRBURY AND JEFFERSON COUNTIES
Fairbury, I stopped over night with Rev. Ives Marks at Marks' mill. He put me to bed with a stranger, and in the morning when settling my bill, he said: "I'll charge you the regular price, fifteen cents a meal, but this other man must pay twenty cents, he was so lavish with the sugar." On this trip I walked four hundred and forty miles. Two years later I traded my homestead to Mr. Alfred Kelley for a shotgun, and at that time met his daughter Mary. Mary and I celebrated our fortieth anniversary last May, with our children and grandchildren.
The first schoolhouse in Fairbury was completed in December, 1870, and for some time was used for church services, dances, and public gatherings. The first term of school began January 9, 1871, with P. L. Chapman for teacher.
In December, 1871, I was employed to teach the winter and spring terms of school at a salary of fifty dollars a month, and taught in one room all the pupils of Fairbury and surrounding country.
Mr. Cross announced in the Gazette that no town of its size in the state was so badly in need of a shoemaker as Fairbury, and he hoped some wandering son of St. Crispin would come this way. Just such a wandering shoemaker came in the person of Robert Christian, with all his clothes and tools in a satchel, and twenty-five cents in his pocket. He managed to get enough leather from worn-out boots given him to patch and halfsole others, and was soon prosperous.
During the summer of 1871 C. F. Steele built a two-story building on the lot now occupied by the First National bank, the first floor for a furniture store, the second floor for a home. When nearly completed a hurricane demolished it and scattered the lumber over the prairie for two miles south. It was a hard blow on Mr. Steele. He gathered together the wind-swept boards and, undismayed, began again the building of his store and business.
In the fall of 1871, William Allen and I built the Star hotel, a two-story building, on the east side, with accommodations for ten transient guests - large enough, we thought, for all time.
In the early days of my hotel experience, I was offered some cabbages by a farmer boy - rather a reserved and studious looking lad. He raised good cabbages on his father's homestead a few miles north of town. After dickering awhile over the price,
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I took his entire load. He afterwards said that I beat him down below cost of production, and then cleaned him out, while I insisted that he had a monopoly and the price of cabbages should have been regulated by law. Soon after, I was surprised to find him in my room taking an examination for a teacher's certificate, my room-mate being the county superintendent, and rather astonished, I said, "What! you teach school?" - a remark he never forgot. He read law with Slocumb & Hambel, was some time afterwards elected county attorney and later judge of this district. Ten years ago he was elected one of the judges of the supreme court of the state of Nebraska, and this position he still fills with distinguished ability. I scarcely need to mention that this was Charles B. Letton.
A celebration was held on July 4, 1871, at Mattingly's sawmill, and enthusiasm and patriotism were greatly stimulated by the blowing of a steam whistle which had recently been installed in the mill. Colonel Thomas Harbine, vice-president of the St. Joseph & Denver City R. R. Co., now the St. Joseph & Grand Island railroad, made the principal address, his subject being "The railroad, the modern civilizer, may we hail its advent." The Otoe Indian, Jim Whitewater, got drunk at this celebration, and on his way to the reservation murdered two white men who were encamped near Rock creek. He was arrested by the Indians, brought to Fairbury, and delivered to the authorities, after which chief Pipe Stem and chief Little Pipe visited the Gazette office and watched the setting of type and printing on the press with many a grunt of satisfaction. I was present at the trial of Whitewater the following spring. After the verdict of guilty was brought in, Judge 0. P. Mason asked him if he had anything to say why judgment should not be pronounced. Whitewater proceeded to make a lengthy speech, ridiculed the former sheriff, S. J. Alexander, and commenced criticizing the judge. The judge ordered him to sit down. A look of livid rage came over Whitewater's face, and he stooped slightly as though to spring. Then the judge turned pale, and in that rasping voice which all who knew him remember well, commanded the sheriff to seat the prisoner, which was done.
The spring of 1872 marked a new era in the life of Fairbury. On March 13th of that year the St. Joseph and Denver City railroad built into and through our city. From the time the track
FAIRBURY AND JEFFERSON COUNTIES
layers struck Jenkin's Mills, a crowd of us went down every day to see the locomotive and watch the progress of the work. One of our fondest dreams had come true.
In the fall of 1873 Col. Thomas Harbine began the erection of the first bank building, a one-story frame structure on the east side of the square. George Cross was the bank's first customer, and purchased draft No. 1. Upon the death of Col. Harbine's son John, in August, 1875, 1 became cashier, bookkeeper, teller, and janitor of the "Banking House of Thomas Harbine." In 1882 this bank incorporated under the state banking law as the "Harbine Bank of Fairbury," and I have been connected with it in various capacities ever since.
We had our pleasures in those pioneer days, but had to make them ourselves. Theatrical troupes never visited us --- we were not on the circuit - but we had a dramatic company of our own. Mr. Charles B. Slocumb, afterwards famous as the author of the Slocumb high license law, was the star actor in the club. A local critic commenting on our first play said: "Mr. Slocumb as a confirmed drunkard was a decided success. W. W. Watson as a temperance lecturer was eminently fitted for his part. G. W. Hansen as a hard-up student would have elicited applause on any stage."
Election days in those "good old times" gave employment to an army of workers sent out by candidates to every precinct to make votes, and to see that those bought or promised were delivered. John McT. Gibson of Gibson precinct, farmer, greenbacker, and poet, read an original poem at a Fourth of July celebration forty years ago, one verse of which gives us an idea of the bitterness of feeling existing in the political parties of that time:"Unholy Mammon can unlock the doors
of congress halls and legislative floors,
Dictate decisions of its judges bought,
And poison all the avenues of thought.
Metes out to labor miseries untold,
And grasps forever at a crown of gold."
I do not care to live too much in the past; but when the day's work is done, I love to draw aside the curtain that hides the intervening years, and in memory live over again Fairbury's
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pioneer days of the early seventies. Grasshoppers and drouth brought real adversity then, for, unlike the present, we were unprepared for the lean years. But we had hope and energy, and pulled together for the settlement of our county and the growth and prosperity of Fairbury.
We dreamed then of the days to come - when bridges should span the streams, and farm houses and fields of grain and corn should break the monotony of the silent, unending prairie. We were always working for better things to come - for the future. The delectable mountains were always ahead of us - would we ever reach them?
© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller