Geographical and Physical Features | Early History|
Organization | County Statistics | Official Roster|
Schools | Railroads | Historical Incidents
David City: Schools | Religious | Societies | The Press|
Ulysses: Local Interests | Banks | Schools | Press | Societies | Religious | Biographical Sketches|
Rising City: Biographical Sketches|
Brainard: Biographical Sketches|
Bellwood: Biographical Sketches
Miscellaneous Biographical Sketches
List of Illustrations in Butler County Chapter
Butler County Names Index
BUTLER County is located in the eastern part of Nebraska, lying about fifty-one miles west of the Missouri River, 350 miles from the western boundary of the State, and about midway between north and south. Its northern border is washed by the Great Platte River, which separates it from Colfax and Platte Counties; and it is bounded on the east by Saunders County; south by Seward and west by Polk. It has a climate cool enough for wheat and all northern productions, and sufficiently mild for the growth of fruit, vegetables and coarser cereals of southern localities. In altitude, it is 1,500 feet above sea level, and the contiguousness of the great plains guarantees the continual presence of a pure and constantly moving atmosphere. It is quite regular in shape, being square in all but its northern face, where the high-water mark of the southern shore of the Platte forms the legal boundary line. In area it comprises about 377,600 acres, 500 acres of which are wild forest land and upward of 10,000 tame forest and fruit trees, and the soil is tillable and fertile to the highest degree. It is watered by the Platte, the Blues, the Oaks, Skull, Bone, Wilson, Deer, Plum and other minor streams, together with their numerous branches. Well water is obtainable at a depth of from ten to sixty feet. In an irregular line from four to six miles south from the Platte, the bluffs or breaks spring suddenly up from the level plain, affording a landscape view of surpassing beauty and one peculiarly different from any view east of the Missouri. After pitching and tossing about promiscuously, these ridges and the interadjacent ravines cease, quite abruptly, yet seeming to blend all at once in the perfectly level table-land, unsurpassed in loveliness in any State.
The contrast presented is most enchanting. Away to the southward and eastward lie the beautiful and charming valleys of the Big Blue and the Oak, marked in summer time by a thread-like continuation of green groves and plum thickets, winding in and out and through the nude plains. Approaching these, after crossing the table-land proper, a broad expanse of moderately rolling surface meets the eye, stretching out to the southward as far as it can reach, and including a region most admirably adapted to pasturage and agriculture.
According to received theories this portion has been three times under water -- first, in common with the whole earth, under a universal ocean; next, beneath an immense North American inland sea, formed by the bulging up of the Rocky and Appalachian Mountain systems, and finally under a lake of a few hundred miles long, north and south, and somewhat narrower east and west, formed by the general upheaval of the entire continent. Anterior to all this, an island had existed in the universal ocean, whose western shore was not far east of this locality; so that, as it transpires, ancient Butler County occupied a position of honor, near the wave-washed shore, in the old original "Pacific," of the inland sea and the lake, their shore line being common and running in a north and south direction through Saunders County. The surface of the table-land is, approximately, 120 feet above the level of the Platte Valley, or bottom, and overlies the great common sand-bed of the ancient sea or lake. This quicksand stratum is often struck by spade and well auger, in the extreme western portion of the county, always at a depth of about ninety feet, showing that about twenty or thirty feet of this old sand level was cut out and carried down from bluff to bluff by the ancient Platte before it sank into its present narrow channel.
The dark soil of the table-land extends about twelve inches from the grass roots, followed by three or four feet of dark clayey soil, which exhibits a tendency to crumble into pea-sized cubes and other shapes, by exposure to the sun and atmosphere. A soft yellowish clayey drift commences here and extends down about thirty feet, terminating in a thin strata of blue, soapy water-clay, which forms the bottoms of wells, except in the western townships, where it is frequently barren of water, in which event none is found short of the Platte level. Immediately overlying this water sheet is another soil, exactly similar to the surface soils, plentifully interspersed with snail and mussel shells and fragments of rotted wood, pointing to the existence of an ancient swampy forest, thirty or forty feet beneath us. Thence downward to the sand-bed we pass through a stretch of whitish yellow earth, full of chalk lime and coarse gravel seams, with an occasional small boulder. Forty feet through gravel and sand bring us to the immense blue black clay stratum, where the second water sheet is found, and over which are scattered boulders and stones from two to three feet in diameter down to two inches. In the next fifty feet, as shown by shafts at Skull and Deer Creeks, this clay develops into shaley soapstones, after which thin strata of fossiliferous lime rock, more soapstone, some scales of half-formed soft coal; and here geology awaits the further good offices of the drill and blast. The above includes a description of the Platte bottom, except as modified by the wash from the ridges and ravines adjacent to the table-land and rotted vegetation. Under the bluffs, the made soil is marvelously rich and productive.
Previous to 1859, the territory included within the present limits of Butler County had never been cumbered with any human habitation, save the dismal "tepee " or "wick-ee-up." The first people of whom we have any account as inhabitants of Butler County are the Pawnee Indians. So far as may be learned from any vestiges now remaining, and from tradition, only three villages, or permanent homes of this tribe, were ever located within this county, and of these none were on the table-lands and none on any of the tributary streams, except very near their confluence with the Platte, a location where water is always obtainable in midwinter by a people who dig no wells. Traces of temporary residences are still distinct along the line in which the Platte bluffs or breaks meet the table-land. These consist of an abundance of fragments of rude pottery, probably manufactured from the peculiar blue clay, outcropping from and underlying the south bank of the Platte, together with shells, pebbles, pieces of flint, and arrow and spear heads. The Paw, or Pawnee, nation, with its subordinate branches, was certainly a strong and numerous people but a hundred years since. What are left of them now live in Kansas; the Kittikorak's band are in the Indian Territory, and also the Pawnees proper, who were removed there in 1875, the latter for some years occupied a fine reservation near Columbus. The Pawnees anciently lived on Skull Creek, near the spot where Linwood now stands; there they were frequently pounced upon by their murderous and out-numbering foe, the Sioux, their wick-ee-ups demolished and their squaws and papooses strewn around the village, mangled and dead. It is said by the "old men" of the Kittikoraks that not many generations ago the Pawnees were more powerful than the Sioux and held them in abject terror and subjection, which admits the supposition that these fiendish slaughterings perpetuated in the name of Skull Creek may have avenged equally cruel precedents, dating many years back . Kittikorak's band lived for many years upon the present site of the Savannah, which might have been chosen because it was a watering-place for buffaloes and other game. A very aged Pawnee once said to Mr. D. R. Gardner that Kittikorak's band went south when he was but seven years old. This would fix the final desertion of the ancient village about the year 1785, about the close of the Revolution, a period when Ohio and Western Pennsylvania were as thickly settled as Western Dakota is at the present time; hence, Kittikorak may have been entirely oblivious of the white or Cherokee man at the moment when the "emigration fever" unsettled the contentment of his dusky followers, causing them to desert their long-tenanted lodges. No certain evidences of battle exist in or around the village; indeed, the site seems to have been selected with especial reference to preventing surprises, the inevitable concomitant of Indian warfare. The steep bank of the river formed its northern face, while the level bottoms extended four miles to the south and to the east and west indefinitely. The crumbled remains of the ancient lodges present an appearance similar to the circus-ring of the present day, only smaller. Half-rotted remains of upright posts may be found by digging in any of the old wells, and the interior of floor for several feet beneath the surface is a conglomeration of bone fragments, pieces of pottery, pebbles, large stones, etc.
The doorway is plainly marked in each case, and was evidently a covered entrance or projecting hallway. The streets or play-grounds are beaten deep into the earth, from long use, and wind around through the village without any regularity or system. According to living Pawnees, they were a lively, playful people, their games consisting of racing, wrestling, dancing, arrow-shooting and throwing the lance. This lance was a straight ash rod, wound with a raw-hide thong and pointed with a stone or bone. A ring made from ash, from three to six inches in diameter, wound neatly with a green leathern string, formed an important feature in their favorite sport of throwing the lance. The ring was rolled swiftly along by a leader at the head, and arranged in line along the side were the contestants, each of whom tried to throw his lance through the ring as it passed him.
A large rock having a smooth depression in its upper surface, and which must have been brought from a distance, is pointed out as the corn-grinder, or city mills, over which many a squaw has crooned her melancholy airs in years gone by. Traces of that universal companion, the bison, or buffalo, still remain in the "wallows." Crumbling bones on the prairies and faint lines along the hillsides mark the course of their ancient trails, notwithstanding the obliterating effects of the perpetually recurring autumn prairie fires and spring rains.
Probably the exploring party of Gen. John C. Fremont were the first whites who stepped upon Butler County soil. The Mormons came next, on their long, weary and perilous journey to Salt Lake, leaving their foot-prints in the shape of a winding, deeply-beaten roadway, familiarly known to early settlers as the "Old Mormon Trail." This historical trail enters the county in the southeast part of Section 24, Town 13, Range 4, on the east, thence following up one of the continuous divides to the table-land, and thence around its northern edge to the point where Deer Creek leaves the hills, where it descends another short divide to the Platte bottoms. Subsequently, the overland travel to California, and later, to Pike's Peak and the mountains generally, then an immense travel across the county, established two great trails, of which, perhaps, the most remarkable was first traveled by the military, and is now, as then, called the "Old Government Road." This road also entered the county on the east, at a point near the line dividing Skull and Oak Creek Precincts, winding in a very crooked manner along the divide to Section 6, Town 14, Range 4 east, the site of Dave Reed's Ranch, established in 1862 and operated for five years after. From this point it took up the Mormon trail, and followed it to Fort Kearney. The old "Fort Kearney Road," or "Pike's Peak Trail," hugged the Platte, passing through the old sites of Waverly, on Skull Creek, Ellsworth, on Bone Creek, and "Gardner's Ranch," established in 1859 by David R. Gardner, and afterward the site of Savannah, the first county seat. In 1858, an addition was made to the travel on the famous overland thoroughfare, by the location of Shinn's Ferry, at a point midway between the county limits, east and west, near the present residence of Mr. Tennis Hoekstra, on Section 6, Town 16, Range 3 east. On the portion of the old Government road between Deer Creek and the county line west, and dispersed along the foot of the bluffs, were several ranches: McCabe's on Deer Creek, established 1859; Thompson Bissell's, on Elm Creek, established 1860 and Simpson's, afterward Grant's, also established in 1859. Thompson Bissell removed to Saunders County in 1865. D. R. Gardner and David Reed yet claim Butler County as their home. They are among the very oldest citizens and have frequently been vested with positions of honor and trust by those who have since followed them into this prairie domain. Several graves of "Forty-niners" may yet be seen on the hill points, near McCabe's ranch, but of the old ranch little is visible beyond a profuse growth of gigantic weeds. Ranch life in Butler County covered a period of about ten years, ending about 1868, when the county was organized, and "freighters," customs and road laws give way to legislative enactments. Although no longer traveled, these comparatively ancient roads are still plainly visible in their entire length, running at random through meadows, groves and grain fields, always marked by clumps of huge wild sunflowers, endless patches of yellow mayweed, cockle-bur, plantain and other domestic growths, fetched from the trans-Missouri country by the cattle and mules of the freighters and emigrants.
The first attempt to settle in the county was made in 1857 by the Waverly Town Company, of Plattsmouth, upon the banks of the Skull Creek, so named from the surprising number of Pawnee skulls found strewn about near the ruins of an ancient village of that tribe, which once flourished near the spot where Linwood now stands.
At this date, this region was still in the possession of the Pawnees, not to speak of an occasional visit by marauding bands of the Sioux. Messrs. Hultsizer, Barker, Garrison and nine others were the members of this pioneer company, which was of brief existence, owing to the Pike's Peak excitement of the next year (1858-59). They erected the first house in Butler County, which was situated about a half mile above the Linwood mills, on the west bank of Skull Creek.
No white man had broken a permanent trail through the rich fields of the Platte bottoms, but the Mormon trail and the old Government road had wound their silent, lonely lengths in dusty majesty along the divides and table-lands for many years prior. In 1858, after the advent and exodus of the Waverly Town Company, Solomon B. Garfield and James Blair settled with their families on Section 26, Town 17, Range 4, taking up their lonely but romantic abode in the dwelling alluded to, and are entitled to the honor of being the first permanent settlers in the county. As is usual with the pioneers of every new country, they avoided the high ground, preferring to settle along the valleys of the streams, snuggling into the little groves and nooks, under the pro section of the hills and bluffs, in the vicinity of the prime necessities of pioneer life, water and wood, each new arrival venturing a little farther up the stream to the next grove or thicket.
Thus such portions of the valleys along the Platte, the Blues, the Oaks, were first selected and occupied by the early settlers, while the highlands were still a vast wilderness, inhabited only by the antelope and coyote, with an occasional herd of buffalo. In 1859, Thompson Bissell, William Bissell, William Earl, J. W. Seeley, Moses Shinn and Messrs. Simpson, Beardsley, McCabe, David R. Gardner, David Reed made settlements in the county. Thompson Bissell, D. R. Gardner, David Reed, Simpson and McCabe established ranches as previously stated, the others locating in the vicinity of Savannah and Linwood. Thompson Bissell remained in the county until 1865, when he settled near Wahoo, in Saunders County, at the point known as Bissell's Grove, where he still resides. Mr. Garfield has been dead some years. David Reed settled upon the Big Blue, in 1867, where he has since continued to live. Mr.. Simpson settled upon Oak Creek, some time after, his claim and ranch passing into the hands of Ransel B. Grant, who was murdered by one Robert Wilson. Wilson received summary justice, being hung to a neighboring tree, and his body dropped into the Platte by way of burial. The others, with hardly an exception, remained upon their first locations.
The next year (1860), only two settlers came into the county. These were William Butler and S. D. Shinn. They located in the vicinity of Savannah. Mr. Shinn afterward became proprietor of Shinn's Ferry.
In 1861, A. U. Briggs settled near Grant's ranch. Jehiel Hobart, F. C. Johnson and two or three others, are the only settlers who located here in 1862, making Linwood the point of their settlement. This village is beautifully located on the east bank of Skull Creek, on the old Waverly town site, on a little bench or plain under the bluffs which lie to the south. It was formerly begun and located in 1870-71, but, owing to its distance from the railroad, has never assumed any great proportions, the population now being only twenty-nine. It has a good substantial schoolhouse, an excellent grist and flouring-mill and a store with stock of general merchandise. Among the older inhabitants of Linwood are Josh P. Brown, S. O. Crawford, Gilbert Hobart, John L. Smith, William Spring and James McBride. Several considerable efforts to find coal have been made, but none of the shafts have been sunk deep enough to practically test the presence or non-presence of this valuable mineral, although the superficial indications are said to be quite favorable.
During the years of the war of the rebellion, scarcely any settlers came into the county. Among the few are Levi Clark, who made the first location in Pepperville Precinct, in 1863, and Joseph Shields, who made the first settlement in 1864, upon the Big Blue in the southern portion of the county, on Section 27, Town 13, Range 2.
In 1865, Isaac Clark and Hubbel Pepper made settlements in Pepperville Precinct, at the organization of the county. Three years later, Mr. Pepper was elected as the first County Clerk, which position he held until the close of 1873. In May, 1865, James D. Brown made the first settlement on Oak Creek, and, a few months later, J. C. Hatchett, J. Crowley and Robert Lee arrived, locating in the immediate vicinity. They selected the timber groves bordering the creek as the site of their future homes, and gave the name of Urban to the new settlement. Other settlers came to this point in 1868, locating upon the creek south, among whom were Richard Brooks, on Section 29; Grove Diznee, on Section 30, Town 14, and Willis T. Richardson, in Richardson Precinct. During this year a post office was established at the settlement of Urban under the same name, with James D. Brown as Postmaster. In the winter of 1865-66, a school was opened at the house of J. Crowley, with Mrs. Frances G. Crowley as teacher. In the fall of 1867, a sod schoolhouse was erected on Section 23, in which, in the fall of 1869, Rev. George Worley preached the first sermon ever listened to in the settlement. Two years later, in the spring of 1871, Bert Swan opened a store with a stock of general merchandise, upon Section 25. The first child born was a son of J. C. Hatchett (Thomas), October 1, 1866. Thomas Worrall and Miss Polly Brown were the first parties to contract marriage. The ceremony was performed February 22, 1869. The first time that death made its appearance in this little hamlet was in the fall of 1870, when Mr. L. Simpson was struck down by the hand of the grim destroyer.
In the early part of 1864, Joseph Shields, with his family, settled Section 27, in one of the timber groves of the Big Blue, and made the first settlement made in the southern portion of the county. He was followed by Abraham Towner, in 1866, David Reed, J. M. Palmer, Dr. S. T. W. Thrapp, McD. Towner, in June, 1867. They all located upon the Blues. Towner, Sr., located about four miles west of Ulysses, on Section 11, Town 13, Range 1 west; David Reed, on Section 18, Town 13; J. M. Palmer, on Section 22, upon the present site of Ulysses, and was the original proprietor of a part of the town; Dr. Thrapp, on Section 27; McD. Towner, on Section 21, all in Town 13. In the spring of 1868, Jacob Kenauber, James McIntosh, Ephraim Palmer, settled on Section 13, Town 13, Range 1 west. James Sisty also settled near Mr. E. Palmer in this year, and Sumner Darnell settled upon the north fork of the Blue, in the spring of 1867.
Christopher Davis, James Darnell, George Reed, Robert Reed, G. McCarty, settled in the vicinity of Ulysses. Mr. McCarty homesteaded the town site; George and Robert Reed located on Section 34, Town 13, Range 2; Davis and Darnell about four miles northeast of the town. A school district was organized in 1869. It included a territory nine miles square, and was the first organization effected south of the settlements made on the Platte and upon Oak Creek.
The following are the officers of the first School Board:
Sumner Darnell, Director; Dr. S. T. W. Thrapp, Moderator, and J. M. Palmer, Treasurer. The first school was held in the house of Dr. Thrapp, was of three months' duration and taught by J. M. Wilkinson, ex-County Judge. The following summer, a three months' school was taught by Mr. Metcalf, and since that date the district has never been without a ten months' school each year. A frame schoolhouse, 18x24 feet, was erected in 1871, which was used until 1877. Rev. William Worley, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, organized the first circuit in the county and preached the first sermon in the groves of the Blue, in 1868, and yet he can hardly be said to have organized a regular circuit, for his labors partook more of the character of missionary work, spreading the good news of the Gospel of Christ wherever he found a listening heart, either in the dug-out of the pioneer or under the broad canopy of the heavens. The field of his work included the counties of Saunders, Butler, Polk and a portion of Seward. He was succeeded by Rev. Mr. Comstock, who was assisted by Rev. Mr. Oliver. They completed the organization inaugurated by Rev. William Worley. Rev. Abraham Towner was the first local minister to settle on the Blue, and has always been an earnest worker, and rendered efficient aid to the early fathers of the church, who were called upon to minister to this people.
The first birth occurring was a son to Dr. S. T. W. Thrapp, in 1867. The first marriage in the new settlement took place in 1869. The participants were Mr. Thomas Shields and Miss Adaline Skillman. The ceremony was performed in Seward County, that being the nearest point for obtaining the matrimonial solder. The wedding reception and dance were given at the log cabin of the bridegroom's father, and it was one of the happy events of the times. In 1870, death made its appearance for the first time in the annals of Ulysses by removing a son of Jacob Kenauber. The last sad honors to the dead are indeed a painful duty to perform among many. Still greater is the loss and heavier the grief among a few. In this instance it cast a gloom over the hearts of the settlers long to be remembered. A rude coffin was fashioned by the hands of a stranger, who, by chance, was sojourning in the settlement, assisted by Mr. J. M. Palmer, silently trimmed and draped by willing hands, under the direction of Mrs. J. M. Palmer. There being no clergyman to officiate, the remains were tenderly laid in their last earthly resting-place, without the customary service, on the farm of Mr. Kenauber. This hallowed spot was afterward presented to the county for a public cemetery, and is situated on the hill close to the site of Ulysses.
In 1870, the first settlement was made upon the table-land proper, by O. H. Ford, J. C. Ford, George Fox, J. Zimmerman, Jacob Kleinhan, Thomas Dowling, William M. Bunting, John Bunting, J. D. Van Tassell, William Jackson, Thomas Preston, E. Ackerman, L. Ham, J. Shotwell, E. Shotwell, Milo Yaw and Lewis Brown.
During the years 1870, 1871 and 1872, fully 2,500 persons settled in the county, absorbing the valleys and soon after the table and rolling lands of the Platte bluffs and breaks. The immediate cause of this remarkable influx of immigration was the completion of the Union Pacific Railway, affording both an inlet and outlet to this heretofore isolated territory. More than 40,000 acres of prairie sod were overturned by the plow, and hundreds of dwellings erected. That which before had been a lonely, silent region of grass-covered hill, hollow and plain, whose time-honored solitude had been unbroken, save by the whistling winds, the tramp of the bison, or the muttering gibe of the red man, was transformed as if by magic by this billow of human souls into a very garden, with a population containing all the elements and conditions found in communities that have been generations growing up to their present state.