Part 2: Tekamah: Biographical Sketches
Part 3: Arizona: Biographical Sketches
Decatur: Biographical Sketches
Part 4: Alder Grove: Biographical Sketches
Oakland: Biographical Sketches
Lyons: Biographical Sketches
List of illustrations in Burt County Chapter
Burt County Names Index
BURT County is in the eastern part of Nebraska. It is bounded on the north by Dakota County, on the east by the Missouri River, on the south by Washington and Dodge Counties, and on the west by Dodge and Cuming Counties. It contains 512 square miles, or 327,000 acres.
The bottom lands along the Missouri vary from no width to eight miles, averaging about four miles wide, and, together with those of Logan Creek, in the western part of the county, compose about one-fifth the area of the county. The remainder of the surface consists of valley and rolling prairie, the average elevation of which above the bottoms is 100 feet.
Burt County is watered by Logan Creek in the western part, having numerous tributaries on either side; Bell Creek, which rises in the northern part of the county and flows southeastwardly into the Elkhorn; Blackbird Creek, in the northeastern part of the county; by Elm, Silver and Tekamah Creeks, and several smaller streams. Silver and Tekamah Creeks lose themselves in a slough, about three miles east of Tekamah, which extends from north to south about five miles, and is half a mile in width. The Commissioners of Washington and Burt Counties, on October 4, 1881, decided unitedly to drain this and other sloughs in the two counties, and thus reclaim and fit for cultivation some fifty thousand acres of land.
The county is as yet mostly covered with the original prairie grasses, blue-joint and other varieties, and they furnish an abundance of pasturage and hay; but, as the county becomes more thickly settled, the tame grasses must be introduced, and will undoubtedly succeed. Timothy and Kentucky blue grass have been sown to some extent.
The native timber of the county consists mostly of cottonwood, elm, and walnut on the Missouri River; and on the smaller streams, elm, walnut, box elder and ash. The farmers have given considerable attention to tree-planting, the kinds cultivated being generally cottonwood and walnut.
The soil is exceedingly fertile, not only in the bottom lands, but also in the valleys and on the rolling prairie. The bottom lands are especially adapted to the raising of corn, grass and vegetables. The yield of corn is sometimes as high as ninety bushels of ears to the acre. The Loess formation, as in most other counties in Northeastern Nebraska, underlies the soil, and is from twenty to seventy fee thick, furnishing an inexhaustible substratum of fertility.
Burt County is not rich in minerals. Coal in limited quantities has been found in the northeastern part of the county, near Decatur, but is exceedingly doubtful as to whether it can be profitably mined. There is, however, considerable sandstone suitable for building purposes, both here and at Tekamah. Although quite soft and friable when first taken out of the quarry, it hardens on exposure to the air, and, in a few weeks after such exposure, makes very good foundation stone. The seam at Tekamah, where it is worked, is twenty feet thick, and it crops out on both sides of Tekamah Creek for considerable distance.
Limestone is found in limited quantities in the northern part of the county, and there is also an abundance of clay, from which a fine quality of brick is made, though Milwaukee brick is generally used for the outside of buildings.
Less than one-third of the land in the county has been brought under cultivation, the number of acres reported for 1880 being 79,000, while the number of uncultivated acres was 197,500. The total value of land under cultivation is estimated at about $400,000, while the uncultivated portion is estimated at $620,000. There are 830 village lots with a value of $42,000; and 4,140 unimproved village lots, valued at 81,000.
Unimproved farming lands sell for from $5 to $12, and improved lands for from $10 to $30 per acre.
There have been planted 48,000 fruit trees, 1,500 acres of forest trees, and about 4,000 grape vines.
The fruit trees planted are mainly apple, cherry and plum; forest trees planted, as before stated, cottonwood and walnut; and of the varieties of grapes, mostly Concord, which is here exceedingly prolific.
The extent to which the various crops were raised by the farmers of Burt County in 1880, was, of spring wheat, 15,500 acres; of corn, 30,840 acres; of oats, 4,275 acres; and of barley, 175 acres. There was no cultivated meadow reported. The averages of the above crops for a series of years are very nearly as follows: Spring wheat, 13 bushels per acre; corn 38 bushels of ears; oats, 33 bushels; barley, 20 bushels. Winter wheat is raised only as an experiment, or on a piece of land especially well protected.
There are quite a number of farmers in the county who winter from eight hundred to one thousand heard of cattle, as it is more profitable to feed out corn than to sell it.
In the county there are three steam saw-mills, the first having been erected in 1857; and four flouring-mills, two using water-power and two steam. The first of these was erected on Logan Creek in 1864, and the last of the four was built at Tekamah in the fall of 1881, where it was very much needed. The foundation walls of this mill are of the sandstone in the immediate vicinity.
The Omaha Indians occupied this county previous to and at the time of its settlement by the white people. In the Spring of 1855, they were removed to their present reservation in Blackbird County, in accordance with the treaty between them and the Government, effected in March, 1854. In Burt County there never were any serious difficulties between the Indians and the settlers. Petty thieving was the most of which the red men were guilty.
In July, 1855, there was considerable excitement and alarm felt by the white people on account of the killing, near Fontanelle, of two young men by the Sioux. This murder occurred, as nearly as can be ascertained, on the 16th of the month. In view of the dangers to which the settlers were supposed then to be exposed, Hon. B. R. Folsom made a requisition on the Governor for arms and ammunition with which they might defend themselves. The requisition was complied with, and a company was organized with, B. R. Folsom, Captain; W. B. Beck, First Lieutenant; and Rev. William Bates, Second Lieutenant. Eighteen persons were enrolled, and military drill was kept up for some time twice a day. No Indian disturbances occurred, and the settlers returned to their labors, their fright gradually wearing away.
An incident connected with the Indians, serving to illustrate the relations existing at that time between them and the whites, may not inappropriately be introduced. In the fall of 1856, one afternoon, about three hundred Omahas came to Tekamah to bury a squaw in one of their early burying-grounds on the point of the hills just north of Tekamah Creek. They made the whole night hideous with their peculiar moaning and lamentations. In the morning, while G. P. Thomas and wife, and her brother, W. B. Beck, were at breakfast, in walked, without permission, two Omahas, who helped themselves to a plate of meat and potatoes, sat down on the stone hearth, ate the food and left without uttering a single word--the family thus unceremoniously intruded upon prefering, under the circumstances, to make no objections, and feeling greatly relieved at their departure.
In most, if not in all new countries, the pioneer settlers see hard times. Those of Burt County was no exception to the rule. In the year 1855, there was a protracted drouth, one of the effects of which was large fissures in the ground, in some cases four inches in width and three feet in depth. Following this drouth was one of the severest winters so far known in the State. On the 2d day of December, the great snow-storm came. It continued six days and nights, snowing incessantly. On the level, the ground was covered to the depth of four feet, and in drifts, to the depth of from five to fifteen feet. Communication with Omaha and Council Bluffs, the settlers' sources of supply, was cut off, and, had it not been for what they considered providential relief, any, if not most of them, would have experienced the horrors of starvation. The extreme cold had driven from the bleakness of the prairies to the shelter of the timbered bottom lands of the Missouri great numbers of deer, antelope and elk, and these furnished an abundance of food until the melting of the snow.
Two of the settlers had a narrower escape than any of the rest. F. E. Lange and Ernest Sandig, who were living in a shanty near Gillick's Bend of the river, were cut off from communication with the others by the river overflowing its banks between them and the bluffs. They subsisted a number of days on the carcass of an ox that had died from starvation. At length this supply was exhausted, and they had nothing left but a dog, that had died in the same manner as the ox; and the alternative was presented of eating the carcass of the dog or of risking their lives in an attempt to cross the stream. They preferred the latter, and their effort was crowned with success.
Burt County was so named in honor of Hon. Francis Burt, of South Carolina, Nebraska's first Governor, and its first temporary boundaries were defined by Gov. Cuming's proclamation, issued November 23, 1854. They were as follows: "Commencing at a point on the Missouri River two miles above Fort Calhoun, thence westwardly, crossing the Elkhorn River, 120 miles to the boundary of lands ceded to the United States; thence northerly to Mauvaise River, and along the east bank of the same to the L'Eau qui Court, or Running Water; thence easterly to the Aoway River, and along the south bank of it to its mouth; and thence southerly along the Missouri River to the place of beginning."
Afterward the boundaries of the county were changed by the Legislature at different times, and, until February 22, 1879, the present boundaries remained, except the northern. Up to that time, the forty-second parallel had been the northern boundary, but on that date, it was extended eight and one-quarter miles to the northward, and was then made and is now, "the middle line of Township 25 north". This was done for "elective, judicial and revenue purposes," for the reason that the reservation afforded a convenient retreat for parties desiring to avoid arrest by State officials for criminal practices, or to which to remove personal property to prevent the collection of taxes thereon. The remainder of the reservations was similarly attached to Cuming and Dakota Counties.
The first election in Burt County was held December, 1854. All who had taken the oath, as required, that they intended to make Nebraska their future home, were allowed to vote. In this election, Burt and Blackbird Counties were joined, and were entitled to one Councilman and two Representatives. B. R. Folsom was elected to the Council, and Gen. Robertson and H. C. Purple to the House.
B. R. Folsom was appointed Probate Judge on May 16, 1855.
The second election in the county was for county officers, on the 6th of November, 1855, and resulted as follows: For Probate Judge, William Bates; Sheriff, John Nevett; Treasurer, Lewis Peterson; County Surveyor, William F. Goodwill; Register, Peter Peterson; Justices of the Peace, Olney Harrington and Adam Olinger.
The total amount of taxes levied in 1855 was $91.04, the rate being 7 mills, on a valuation of $13,006.
The present county officers are: County Judge, C. Blanchard; Treasurer, Andrew Palmquist; Clerk, W. B. Roberts; Sheriff. A. A. Thomas, County Superintendent, George G. Gates; Coroner, Austin Nelson; Commissioners, P. L. Cook, P. S. Cook and Titus E. Hall.
The total value of taxable property in the county in 1881 was as follows: Acres of land, 276,480, at an aggregate valuation of $1,013,975; town lots valued at $122,000; money used in merchandise, $42,921; and in manufactures, $50,000; there were 4,267 horses, valued at $103,740; 17,780 cattle, valued at $160,000; 13,917 sheep, valued at $18,640; 21,880 hogs, valued at $39,220; and other animals valued at $12,265; 1,390 vehicles, value, $18,250; moneys, credits and mortgages, $109,382; furniture, $20,693; railroads, $117,915; and other property, $121,317; making a grand total on the tax duplicate of $1,820,087.
The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad was completed to Tekamah in the fall of 1876. It was then called the Omaha & North-Western. It was completed to Oakland in 1879, and to Lyons and Bancroft in 1880.
The public schools of the county are among its most valued institutions as they were among its first. There are fifty-five school districts in the county, and fifty-one school houses, mostly frame. The total value of school property in the county, including houses, sites, books and apparatus is $33,000.
The population of the county in 1879 was 5,165; in 1880, it was 6,937; and in 1881, 7,521. In the latter year, the population by precincts were as follows: Oakland 1,651; Decatur, 1,148; Bell Creek, 788; Tekamah, 1,199; Silver Creek, 504; Arizona, 615; Riverside, 314; Summit, 369; and Everett, 933.