NEGenWeb Project - Adams County
Who's Who in Nebraska, 1940
Addison Erwin Sheldon
HE EARLIEST records of man in Nebraska are prehistoric. These include picture writings on natural rock walls, especially frequent in the Missouri river regions. They include also artifacts--flint arrowheads and spears, stone axes, spades and war clubs, pipes, pottery, beads made from bones and shells, needles, scrapers, awls and ornaments. Besides these, bones of animals, bone implements, parched corn, shells of nuts, fragments of wood, ashes, broken rock, and charcoal of ancient fire-places and skeletons of early human beings are found in buried houses and graves in all parts of Nebraska.
Altogether, approximately 200 house sites and 800 graves have been explored in forty counties. The State Historical Society has been the chief explorer. Its museum in the Capitol building at Lincoln contains many of the most important remains of the Nebraska prehistoric period.
Prehistoric Nebraska--Unknown Centuries
Some of these primitive people lived by hunting. Others lived by hunting, fishing, gathering wild fruits, raising corn, beans, melons, squashes and tobacco. We know their life from the remains they have left. Photographs showing exact conditions in their houses and graves are taken by Nebraska's scientific explorers. It is known that people lived here at least 1,000 years ago, while some believe there is evidence of human beings in this plains region as much as ten or twenty thousand years ago. We are discovering each year more evidence of former times and conditions in Nebraska and in the world. These discoveries tend to show the existence of man on this planet at earlier periods than were once thought possible. They are changing our ideas of the destiny as well as the origin of man. We are going to school in the houses and graveyards of our predecessors.
Discoveries by White Men--1541-1720
Spaniards from Mexico, under the command of Francisco Vasquez Coronado, were the first white men to reach Nebraska and to make written records of their visit. It was in July, 1541 they crossed the plains from the Rio Grande valley. We have four printed accounts of the expedition. They describe the plains, the grasses, the fruits, the animals, the streams, the day's travel, and the Indians, with an accuracy which proves that they were in the Nebraska region. Their report states that they were in the 40th degree of latitude--Nebraska's southern boundary. They stayed one month only. We do not know the exact place in Nebraska that they reached. We are not likely ever to know. This is an advantage. It furnishes a field for research--for imagination, for poetic and historical literature: a stimulus to writers of all future times and places in Nebraska. It has given us already many pageants and poems on the Kingdom of Quivera.
After Coronado there were other Spanish expeditions into Nebraska. Most important was the Villasur invasion from Santa Fe in 1720. An army of Spaniards and Indians reached the valley of the Platte. The Spaniards' plan was to conquer, colonize, and annex the Nebraska country to Spanish Mexico. On Aug. 10, 1720, the united Otoe and Pawnee tribes surprised this army on the banks of the Platte and annihilated it. The writer believes this was near the junction of the Loup and Platte rivers, not far from Columbus. The defeat of Villasur marks a great day in the history of Nebraska. If this region had been colonized by the Spaniards we would have a mixed Spanish and Indian population like New Mexico instead of our present population from northern Europe. We ought to celebrate August 10 (Otoe- Pawnee Victor Day) in our Nebraska calendar.
French explorers came up the Missouri river to Nebraska as early as 1704. They described the country as "the most beautiful in the world, with
abundant grass and great herds of wild cattle." One traveler wrote: "It may become a more populous country than France. The climate is pleasant and the land produces everything in the greatest abundance without difficulty." The Mallet brothers, a party of French, came up the Missouri river and wintered with Panimaha Nebraska Indians in 1738-39.
In the spring of 1739 the party traveled up the Platte river (which they named) and crossed the plains to Santa Fe. French fur traders and trappers continued exploration of the Missouri river region for the next hundred years. They intermarried with the Indians, gave French names to many rivers and prominent places and their descendants are still found in our population.
Claims of France and Spain--1704-1803
Rivalry between France and Spain for the Nebraska region continued for a hundred years. Both sought the fur trade of the plains Indians. England granted to her colonies along the Atlantic seaboard royal charters across the continent from the Atlantic ocean to the "South Sea"--the Pacific. But her settlements were more than a thousand miles from the banks of the Missouri river, and her settlers were wholly occupied in the struggle to gain a living from the new land and defend themselves from hostile Indians.
France and England went to war over the Ohio river country. France lost in the war (1754-1763) which gave George Washington his first fame. To save the region beyond the Mississippi from England, France ceded it to Spain.
Nebraska Becomes Part of the United States
The Spanish flag waved over New Orleans and Nebraska from 1769 to 1803, when Louisiana province was transferred from Spain to France and from France to the United States. Thus Nebraska became a part of the American republic. Its land was purchased from Napoleon by Thomas Jefferson at the price of four cents per acre.
American Exploration of Nebraska--1803-1860
Explorations of the Nebraska region under the American flag began in 1804 and went forward under government military and scientific expeditions, fur trading companies, steamboat and Overland Trail travelers, missionaries, frontier hunters and trappers. By 1860 almost every part of the present state had been reached by American citizens and printed reports upon its resources given to the world.
This is the epic period of Nebraska. Its hitherto unknown regions of wild animals, Indians, vast grassy plains, sandhills, lakes, valleys, mountain ranges, picturesque buttes and badlands were penetrated by daring frontiersmen. Thrilling conflicts, great hardships, heroic deeds, severe sufferings, marked Nebraska's exploration and early settlement. A world renowned literature tells the story of these Nebraska years and its creation is still in progress. High points in this literature are found in Longfellow's poems, Washington Irving's Astoria, Mark Twain's volumes on the West, the reports of Lewis and Clark, Major Long, Lieut. John C. Fremont and Lieut. G. K. Warren, volumes by Bayard Taylor on his travels and by Capt. H. M. Chittenden on the fur trade and steamboat travel reports of frontier missionaries, the Overland Trail narratives, the epic poems of John J. Neihardt, and others which cannot here be named.
The outstanding events connected with this early period of Nebraska history are these:
- Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1807.
- Fur Trade and Steamboat Travel, 1807-1860.
- Lieutenant Pike and Astorian Expeditions, 1807-1813.
Major Long Explorations, 1819-1920.
Fort Atkinson Foundation and Farming, 1819-1827.
Missionary Adventures, 1833-1850.
Overland Trails Travels, 1832-1869.
- George Catlin and Prince Maximilian Explorations, 1832-1834.
- Lieutenant Woodbury's Expedition Across South Platte Region, 1847-1848.
- Lieutenant G. K. Warren's Explorations of Sandhills Region, 1855-1857.
- F. V. Hayden and O. C. Marsh Geological Expeditions, 1850-1875.
Fight for Free Soll--1844-1854
After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Nebraska's next great political event was the fight between slavery and freedom for possession of the trans-Missouri territory. This is not only the great event in Nebraska history--it is also the great event in American history between the Revolution and the Civil War. Nebraska thus becomes the central figure in national and world history during this period.
A threshold step to the slavery struggle is the Indian Act of 1834. In that year Nebraska and all the region between the Missouri river and the Rocky Mountains were by act of congress named "The Indian Country." White men were forbidden to travel or settle there, except by special permit from the United States. The intention of the act was to keep the vast region forever as hunting ground for Indian tribes. It was regarded as fit only for wild animals and Indians. The act was ignored by frontiersmen and Oregon Trail travelers. They continued to hunt, travel and explore.
In 1844 the first bill to create a territory called Nebraska was introduced in congress. The name Nebraska was suggested by Lieutenant Fremont, who drew his idea from the Oto name of the Platte river--Ne-brath-ka, or "Shallow Water."
After ten years of delay caused by the Mexican War of 1846-47 by the annexation of Oregon, California, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Arizona in 1848-50, the Kansas-Nebraska, bill, introduced by Sen. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois in 1854, became the center of the nation's fiercest political controversy--the issue whether slave labor or free labor should prevail in the new territory. Slavery had been shut out by the Missouri Compromise act of 1820. The South now demanded the
same right to take slaves into the Nebraska region that the North had to take cattle there. Senator Douglas sought a compromise which would permit the voters of each new territory to decide the slavery question for themselves--"Squatter Sovereignty," as it was called by its opponents.
In the bitter fight in congress Douglas won. The Kansas-Nebraska bill was signed by President Franklin Pierce May 30, 1854. Nebraska became a name on the map of America; slavery was forbidden by her territorial legislature, although fifteen slaves were found here by the census of 1860. The issues raised by the Kansas-Nebraska bill marched on in national politics, resulting in a split Democratic party in 1860. There followed the election of Abraham Lincoln, Republican, as president of the United States, the secession of the South, the Civil War, the abolition of Negro slavery, and a new era of expansion for the American republic.
Nebraska, at the edge of the frontier, was first to feel the force of the new national expansion when the Civil War closed. She was in the direct path of empire. The Union Pacific railroad, the Free Homestead act, the great westward rush of soldiers discharged from the armies, set every section of Nebraska land tingling with expectation of the plowman and the cattle herder.
Governors of Nebraska Territory were appointed by the president of the United States. The people in Nebraska had nothing to do about it. Five territorial governors were appointed:
- Francis Burt of South Carolina, who arrived in Nebraska October 7, 1854, and died October 18, 1854.
- Mark Izard of Arkansas, who served from February 20, 1855, to January 12, 1858.
- William A. Richard of Illinois--from January 12, 1858, to May 2, 1859.
- Samuel W. Black of Pennsylvania--from May 2, 1859, to February 24, 1861.
- Alvin Saunders of Omaha--from May 1, 1861, to March 1, 1867.
The thirteen territorial years (1854-1867) were filled with intense rivalries and conflicts. First of these was the struggle over location of the capital. In this, Omaha won over Bellevue.
Rivalry between the North Platte and South Platte sections was fierce throughout the entire thirteen territorial years. The South Platte had more people, but the North Platte had the governors who vetoed bills to move the capital to the South Platte section. The South Platte people held a convention to get annexed to Kansas, but Kansas did not want them.
Nebraska Territory had a legislature elected by the white settlers, with a council or senate of thirteen and a house of twenty-six members. This legislature made the first Nebraska laws by taking a book of Iowa laws and enacting most of them for Nebraska.
The first years of Nebraska Territory were boom years. Speculators laid out townsites everywhere and sold lots to everyone. "Wildcat banks" having no real capital were created by the legislature. These banks issued more than $400,000 worth of paper money and loaned it freely to the settlers. Everyone seemed to be getting rich.
Then came the great financial panic and depression of 1857. The banks failed, the townsite bubbles blew up; the people found they were very poor and had to go to work. Land, money and transportation were the principal questions in this period, although they were not put into political platforms. until the Populist national convention of 1892 at Omaha.
At first all the people in Nebraska were Democrats. The Republican party was not organized until 1858. The Democratic party was divided upon the slavery issue. The Republican party was united in opposition to slavery and gained votes rapidly.
In 1860 the Republican party won in Nebraska and in the nation. The South seceded and the Civil War began. The people of Nebraska united in support of Abraham Lincoln and the Union. They sent about four thousand volunteers to the Union Army.
Three most important acts for Nebraska were passed by congress in 1862 and signed by President Lincoln. These were:
(1) The Free Homestead act, giving each settler one hundred and sixty acres of land. The first homestead under this act was taken by Daniel Freeman in Gage County, Nebraska.
(2) The Pacific railroad act, under which the Union Pacific railroad and later the Burlington, were built across Nebraska.
(3) The Agricultural College Land Grant act, under which agricultural colleges were founded in Nebraska and other states.
In 1864 the great Sioux and Cheyenne War broke on the Nebraska frontier, with loss of many lives and destruction of property.
With the end of the Civil War in 1865, settlers came in increasing numbers and the first steps were taken toward statehood.
The new Republican and old Democratic parties were almost evenly balanced in Nebraska from 1860 to 1867. It was thirty years later before they were again nearly balanced. By the narrow majority of a hundred votes Nebraska adopted statehood in 1866 and elected the Republican ticket.
The issues of early statehood in Nebraska were common to new regions. They included a struggle between the cattlemen and the corn and wheat farmers. The latter won, and the herd law of 1870-71 made it possible for the prairie homesteader to raise a crop without fencing. This was the first necessary safeguard for the existence of the small farmer--and, with him, the, growth of the state.
Land, finance and transportation are the three fundamental needs of a modern society. In Nebraska the land question was solved for the first fifty years by the Free Homestead act, taking effect Jan. 1, 1863. The transportation problem was solved rapidly in the first thirty years of Nebraska life by the construction of more than 6,000 miles of railroad across the smooth prairie, reaching every section of the state. This was done at low cost with the aid of liberal bonuses of land and money (both national and local), which made the railway system practically a gift from the people to the promoters. Having received so much from the people the Nebraska railroad managers, on their own motion, took over the business of running state and local governments. For forty years the leading political and economic issue was that of railroad control..
The finance issue (the money question, as it is so often called in controversies), has been a living question in both its national and local aspects throughout Nebraska history. It is a specialized form of the capital and labor problem arising in all human societies. Its common Nebraska form has been, not wages, but management rewards. In settling and developing 50 million acres of wild land the chief actor has been the individual farmer family..
Capital is required to develop a homestead. The common method in Nebraska has been for the farmer to sign a note and give a mortgage on the farm, on personal property, or on both. By this means he obtained machinery and livestock--absolute essentials for his mode of farming. Rates of interest on such farmer borrowings have varied, during the first fifty years, from 10 to 60 percent per annum. In most cases the rate was far beyond the average returns from farming. The farmer sold his major crops in a world-wide market. What he bought was in a "protected industry" market. When he borrowed, it was from strongly organized financial groups who dictated the terms and the security.
From these conditions arose the money question. The answer to this question demanded (a) a larger volume of money to raise farm prices; (b) lower rates of interest obtained through government loans; and (c) state laws against usury. The money question and the railroad question constituted the main political issues in the "free land" economy of Nebraska's first fifty years.
Lesser (but important) issues in these years were prohibition, woman suffrage, free schools, public roads, co-operative marketing, changing forms of government, voting systems, school lands, banking, taxation, the care of public funds and the regulation of business, trades and professions. Phases of these questions have been constantly before the Nebraska public during our entire history. Progress has been made in dealing with them to meet social demands. None of them (with perhaps the one exception of woman suffrage) has been finally decided. Most of the proposals presented have been to obtain special advantages for some group which feels the stress of present-day competition.
Periods of History Since Statehood.
Nebraska history, since statehood, logically falls into four chief periods, each marked by important transitions. I characterize them as follows:.
1867-1890--Settlement, Organization, Construction.
1890-1917--Political and Social Revolution.
1917-1929--World War Expansion and Speculation.
1929-1939--Downfall, Depression, Social Experiment..
Each of these periods had its personnel, its office holders, its agitators, its constructive leaders, its mass conditions. Brief mention is here made of these.
The Nebraska slavery controversy led to the American Civil War. The results of the Civil War led directly to the admission of Nebraska as the thirty-seventh state in the federal union..
At the end of the Civil War the Republican party divided into two factions--radical and conservative. The radical faction was in control. It engaged in a violent quarrel with President Andrew Johnson upon the issues arising from the war. Nebraska was needed to bring two more Republican votes into the United States senate and give a two-thirds majority against the president. Republicans in Nebraska and at Washington urged a plan for immediate admission of Nebraska as a state. Nebraska Democrats, led by J. Sterling Morton and Dr. George L. Miller, opposed immediate statehood. The Republican majority in the territorial legislature rushed through a hurry-up state constitution and submitted it to a vote of the people June 2, 1866.
The campaign was bitter, personal; the election close. In order to win, the Republican canvassing board in Cass County threw out the vote of Rock Bluff precinct, which gave 107 Democratic and 49 Republican votes. This changed the result of the election. No adequate defense of the act has ever been offered. Its effect was to steal the election of 1866 and bring Nebraska in as a Republican state.
The South Platte section of the state had the larger population. It obtained a majority of the legislature in the 1866 election. A bill to relocate the state capital was promptly passed. The Capital Commission (consisting of David Butler, governor; T. P. Kennard, secretary of state; and John Gillespie, auditor) met July 29, 1867, on the present site of Lincoln and selected it as the capital city of Nebraska. Land was the chief asset of the new state. A sale of town lots provided the money to build the first capitol at a total cost of $75,000. Sale of lands provided other funds for other public buildings, including the first state university. The
State Historical Society was founded by these three men Aug. 26, 1867.
Governor David Butler (Pawnee City) was the "strong man" of this early state period. He pushed through the program planned for the capital and state government. Whatever was needed to win was done. He was three times elected governor--1866, 1868, 1870. In 1871 he was tried by the state legislature, impeached and removed from office for illegal use of public funds. Secretary of State William H. James served out his term. Later Governor Butler transferred to the state lands owned by him. Sale of these lands repaid with interest the funds he had used. The voters of Pawnee County expressed their confidence by electing him to the state senate in 1882.
Robert W. Furnas was elected governor in 1872. As editor of the Brownville Advertiser (1856-74), founder (1859) of The Nebraska Farmer, first farm journal in Nebraska, and member of the territorial legislatures, he was active in all territorial affairs. He was colonel of the Second Nebraska cavalry (1862) in the war against the hostile Sioux Indians. He was the great Nebraska leader in orchard and tree planting. He was founder of the State Board of Agriculture, State Horticultural Society, and re-creator of the State Historical Society. Mr. Furnas served one term as governor. He was the object of bitter attack by Dr. George L. Miller in the Omaha Herald, charging him with accepting a bribe of $3,000 in the early fight over removal of the state capital from Omaha. Governor Furnas sued the Omaha Herald for libel. After a spectacular court trial the jury disagreed. An unbiased jury was considered impossible in the heated political atmosphere. The case was dismissed. Governor Furnas forsook politics and for the next forty years became leader in Nebraska agriculture, forestry, and other phases of Nebraska development.
Five Great Editors
Five great editors emerge from the crowd in the first period of Nebraska life--Robert W. Furnas (1824-1905); J. Sterling Morton (1832-1902); Dr. George L. Miller (1830-1920); Charles H. Gere (1838-1904); Edward Rosewater (1841-1906). All five lived through the first period of statehood and into the twentieth century which followed. They were the five great leaders of the constructive period, exerting a stronger influence in the formation of the state, development of its resources, its modes of thinking, direction of its action, than any other men of their time.
Two of these, Furnas and Morton, were practical farmers and tree planters as well as editors. Two more, George L. Miller and Charles H. Gere, were champions of railroad building, commerce and industry. In addition Mr. Gere was a leader in Nebraska's educational program, literary and economic thought. The fifth, Edward Rosewater, was a champion of early anti-monopoly and labor movements, and a leader in the critical, independent school of action which has become one of Nebraska's chief characteristics. These five great men wrote the history of their own times in thousands of printed columns. They were in the center of its conflicts. They formulated the public opinion and action of the period. Their lives penetrated the structure of Nebraska society in its early, formative years. Nebraska editors today have a high challenge before them to meet the changed conditions and crises of our later time with ability and leadership matching that of Nebraska's five great editors of our pioneer statehood.
The most important Nebraska events in this period were these:
(1) Achievement of Statehood. Relocation of the State Capital. Early railroad construction.
(2) The rush of immigrants for Nebraska land. This is most briefly shown by the census of population and figures on the public domain.
(3) The second money panic and depression in Nebraska history--1873 to 1879.
(4) The great grasshopper invasions--1874-1877.
(5) The great Easter blizzard-April 12-15, 1873.
(6) The Constitutional Conventions of 1871 and 1875. Adoption of constitution of 1875, and passage (1877) of new state laws in harmony with constitution.
(7) Advent of prohibition, woman suffrage and anti-monopoly as leading political issues.
(8) The Grange movement in politics and business. First co-operative organizations-mostly failures.
(9) Revival of business. Era of railroad and town building. The state's greatest increase in population--quadrupled in 1870-1880, doubled in 1880-1890. Nearly stationary since 1890.
Nebraska development had gone forward under changing state political administrations, yielding to the influence of each. Sometimes the governor has been the real leader during his term of office. Often he has been but a figurehead, moved by leaders behind the scenes. An outline of the successive terms of Nebraska's governors forms the simplest framework of Nebraska history. The contending currents of human life register some part of their movement in each administration, recording in public documents their acts and aspirations.
Over, above and beyond the heads of governors, legislatures and courts run the great issues
© 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller