Cheyenne County | Early History | Organization|
Indian Troubles | Stock Raising | Agriculture
Sidney: The Sidney of To-day | Biographical Sketches|
List of Illustrations in Cheyenne County Chapter
Cheyenne County Names Index
CHEYENNE County is located in the extreme western part of the State. It is one of the largest counties of the State, being 102 miles in length from east to west, and fifty miles in breadth from north to south, and contains 5,100 square miles, or 3,264,000 acres. The elevation above the level of the sea, is, in the eastern part, about 3,350 feet, increasing to 5,000 feet on the western boundary.
There are a number of streams intersecting the county, the greatest of which are the North Platte River, which flows in a southeasterly direction across the county, from the extreme northwest, and the Lodge Pole, flowing across the southern half of the county, in an easterly direction. The last-named stream is a tributary of the South Platte River, into which it empties at Julesburg. Besides these are Blue River and Coldwater, Red Willow, Wild, Rush and Pumpkin-seed Creeks, tributaries of the North Platte, which afford an abundance of clear running water for stock-raising purposes, and would also be sufficient for irrigating the narrow but fertile valleys bordering them. There are also hundreds of "draws," or cañons, many of which have running water, and the most of which, unless in exceptionally dry seasons, afford an abundance of water for the immense herds of cattle roaming over these prairies.
Relating to the early history of the county, previous to its organization in 1870, but little can be narrated, beyond a description of events daily transpiring along the great freight roads up both the North and South Platte, which are but similar in their nature to those described in another portion of this work.
In early days, previous to the construction of the Union Pacific Railway in 1867, the only settlements were at the ranches on the great emigrant and freight roads, started and kept up at first to supply freighters and emigrants and for the purpose of trading with the Indians. Afterward, the ranches were located nearer to each other, and kept up as mail and stage stations, also as telegraph stations, after the building of the famous Creighton telegraph line, in 1861.
During the early troubles with the Indians, between 1850 and 1860, several battles were fought on the North Platte River, notably among them that of Ash Hollow, where Gen. Harney defeated a large body of Indians, in 1855. It was at this battle that Gen. Harney received the title of "The Hornet," from the Indians. The latter being unfamiliar with the long range at which rifle shots could be fired with accuracy, first beat a retreat, and, halting on a knoll, where they thought themselves out of danger, they turned their backs to the soldiers and indulged in many inelegant and taunting gestures; these were soon brought to a close by a well-directed volley of rifle shots that caused the Indians to fly in disorder. Little Thunder, afterward a Brule Chief, in describing this fight to W. M. Hinman, then interpreter at Fort McPherson, says Harney was called "The Hornet" because the Indians at this time regarded themselves as badly stung.
There were also about this time several sharp fights with the Indians near Julesburg, which place, though just across the boundary of Nebraska, in the present State of Colorado, has a history which concerns the earlier history of Cheyenne County so closely that it will frequently in this narrative be necessary to refer to it. Julesburg derives its name from a Frenchman named Jules Beni, who owned a ranch at this point, which was, at the time of the mail and stage routes, used as a ranch for the keeping of stage horses. The noted desperado, Alf Slade, was at that time Superintendent for the stage company and Jules had charge of their stock at this point. Though an efficient Superintendent, Slade was one of the most cruel and desperate characters who ever frequented the frontier, and any little difficulty or altercation with him usually resulted in the slaughter of his opponent in cold blood. One day, having some difficulty with Jules, he told him he would cut off his ears and wear them as a charm on his watch chain. Slade then started across the yard for his arms, and Jules, knowing the other's threats were generally no idle boast, shot and wounded him. Then, fearing the vengeance of Slade and his associates, he at once fled to the brushy cañons in the vicinity, and remained concealed for some days, until he could prevail on one of his associates to take charge of his cattle. He then left the frontier, going to St. Louis, where he remained some time, but returned, in 1860, to Cottonwood Springs, a little more than 100 miles east of his old ranch, and on the Platte River, where he established a grocery store, intending to remove his cattle to this point. As soon as the proper arrangements were made, he, accompanied by a few men, started westward for his cattle, which were then on the North Platte, near Fort Laramie, but he had only got well started on his return trip, when he was overtaken by Slade, with several of his men. Slade, on coming up to Jules, shot and wounded him, after which he cut off the poor Frenchman's ears, and finally, put him to death, by slow and cruel tortures of the knife. He then, after giving a share of the murdered man's cattle to the ranchmen who had been keeping them, drove off the remainder as his own property. After drying the ears of poor Jules, the monster attached them to his watch chain, where he wore them as a fulfillment of his terrible threat and as a warning to all who dared oppose him. Some years afterward, however, Slade came to a violent death, he and several associates being hanged by a vigilance committee. His cold-blooded murders and desperate deeds became too terrible to be borne, even by men whose lives had long become inured to scenes of bloodshed.
Julesburg continued, for many years, to be the most important station between Cottonwood or Fort McPherson, as it was called, after the location of the fort there in 1863, and the Rocky Mountains.
Quite a town had grown up; Fort Sedgwick had been located here and garrisoned by United States soldiers, when it was surprised, on the 2d day of February, 1865, by a large body of Sioux Indians, who, after a short but sharp battle, succeeded in killing fourteen soldiers and a number of settlers. The greater portion of the latter, however, escaped to the fort, located a short distance from the settlement, where they witnessed the plunder and burning of the town. The Indians, after stealing all they wished, ornamenting themselves in the most fantastic manner from their spoils, among other things tying long pieces of cloth to the saddles of their ponies and to themselves, to be used as streamers, set fire to the town and rode about in a wild manner, waving the scalps of their victims, keeping up their heathen orgies for some hours.
While the town was yet burning, quite an amusing incident took place at the telegraph station where a large number of glass jars containing nitric acid were stored. The Indians first thought these jars contained alcohol, but, on investigation, learning their mistake, they in their rage, broke the jars, letting the acid run out upon the earth floor. Upon this they set up a war dance, but the acid burning through their moccasins, their amusement was soon turned to a very thoroughly earnest dance, while yells of agony rent the air. Of course, they could not guess the cause of their pain, and, rushing out from the building and running about in agony, continuing their yells, they attracted the attention of several of their comrades, who promptly proceeded into the building to investigate. These, too, soon came out in the same uncomfortable predicament, and, with the added yells of rage and agony, the surprise of all may be said to have been complete. Nor did these Indians ever understand the cause of this occurrence, but, in their superstitious ignorance, ascribed their troubles to supernatural power, thinking themselves injured by the evil spirit. The above incident was told, some years after, around an Indian camp-fire, in the presence of Hon. S. F. Watts, now a member of the Nebraska Legislature, who was thoroughly conversant with the Sioux language.
These troubles with Indians were kept up for many years. Stock was run off from the ranches. Settlers were attacked and killed, stages and emigrant trains were attacked, and, unless the greatest caution was used, there was great danger that small and unprotected parties would be surprised by Indians. At one ranch--that of a French Canadian, known as French Louis--attacks were made and stock run off, at intervals of every few weeks, until, when nearly ruined, and about the time of the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad, in 1867, he removed to Sidney, then just laid out, and started a store, selling supplies and whisky to the men engaged in the construction of the railroad.
The Indian war was practically ended in 1869, when Gen. Carr, then in command of Fort McPherson, under the guidance of Buffalo Bill (W. F. Cody), then chief of scouts, pursued a large body of Sioux up the Platte River, and, overtaking them a short distance from Fort Sedgwick, defeated them with great slaughter. This battle was fought on Sunday, July 11, 1869
Though the war was considered ended, it was for some years unsafe for small parties to venture any great distance from the larger settlements. The savages were somewhat cowed by their defeat, but yet murders and stealing of cattle and horses were quite frequent.
On the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad to within about fifty miles of the western boundary of the State, in the fall of 1867, a town was laid out and called Sidney. The town grew quite rapidly, and the settlement of Cheyenne County centered here. Previous to 1870, however, this county was attached to Lincoln County for revenue and judiciary purposes; but this proving unsatisfactory to the citizens, a meeting was held in the summer of 1870, when it was resolved that steps at once be taken to effect a separate organization. Thomas Kane was appointed to go to Lincoln, the capital of the State, and effect arrangements with the Governor that the county might be organized that year. After listening to the representations of Mr. Kane, Gov. David Butler, in August, issued a proclamation calling a special election for the purpose of electing county officers. At this election, the following officers were elected: Thomas Kane, Treasurer; John Ellis, Sheriff; D. Kelliher, Judge ; H. L. Elsworth, Fred Glover and Charles A. Moore, Commissioners, and H. A. Dygart, Clerk, though he only held the office for a short time, when the vacancy was filled by D. A. Martin.
The early records of the county are very incomplete, a great portion of them not having been preserved, and the writer has to derive the greater part of the earlier history of the county from the memory of the early settlers. There may be some events, therefore, concerning this organization that are not here recorded. The first regular election was held in October, 1871, one year after its organization. At this time, Dennis Carrigan was elected Commissioner; George C. Cook, Sheriff; George W. Heist, Judge; James A. Moore, Treasurer, and L. Connell, Clerk.
The first school district in the county was organized at Sidney in 1871. In the fall of that year, some half a dozen voters met in the village of Sidney and organized a school district, and elected C. E. Borgquist, Moderator; Dennis Carrigan, Director, and Joseph Clayborne, Treasurer. The first school was taught in the winter of 1871-72 by Mrs. Irene Sherwood, at her residence, there being some ten or twelve pupils in attendance. This school has developed until at the date of this writing (1882), there are 150 pupils in attendance. There are two departments and the schools are regularly graded, with three grades in each department. Prof. J. M. Brenton is Principal, and has charge of the grammar and high school department. Mrs. N. L. Shelton has charge of the other department, in which are the primary and intermediate grades.
In the entire county of Cheyenne there are but three school districts, that of Sidney, just described; one at Antelope, having fifteen pupils of school age. and one at Lodge Pole, having about the same number of pupils.
The first white child known to have been born in the county was Fanny, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Fisher, who was born at Sidney in 1869. Miss Fanny is now just blooming into womanhood, and is one of Sidney's brightest young ladies.
It is believed that the first marriage of white persons in the county was that of Henry Neuman and Miss McMurray, who were married in September, 1869. The courtship of Miss McMurray and Mr. Neuman was commenced in Sidney, when it was but a very small village, at a time when there were but few ladies in the county, and their married life has been a prosperous one. They are still residents of Sidney and are one of the first families of the town.
The first newspaper established in the county was the Sidney Telegraph, the first number of which was issued in May, 1873, by L. Connell, it being a four-column folio sheet, independent in politics.
The military post at Sidney was established late in 1867, and, during the following year, Fort Sidney was established, which has since remained a military post of considerable importance.
After the organization of the county, the Indians gave no particular trouble, except an occasional attack on herders or surveying parties unprotected by soldiers or small parties who ventured out. Of course, there are many such incidents as these, where parties were killed and scalped, though there was no real Indian outbreak. To illustrate about the character of these attacks, we relate the following: In the summer of 1872, Prof. I. W. LaMunyon, now a resident of North Platte, had charge of a surveying party, surveying the lands along Pumpkin-seed Creek, being attended by a company of cavalry from Fort Sidney. No hostile Indians having been seen, and, apprehending no danger, this company took occasion one day to ride off to Sidney, leaving the surveyors unprotected. Some time during the day, while engaged in their labors, the party was attacked by a band of Indians. A hole of some feet in circumference and about two feet in depth had been dug for the purpose of storing casks of water, etc., and to this Prof. LaMunyon led his men, where they took refuge, putting up their water casks and provisions about the sides for a better protection. Here they endured an attack of several hours' duration. The plan of attack was that generally adopted by the Indians--to put their ponies on a full run, and, riding in single file, throwing themselves on the outer side of their ponies, shoot under their necks, while describing a circle about the besieged. Though a sharp firing was kept up on both sides for several hours, strange to say none of the surveying party were hurt. Many of the ponies of the Indians were killed, and several Indians were slain. Finally, the soldiers appearing in sight, the Indians fled, and, though pursued, made good their escape.
The first large herd of cattle brought into the county was in 1869, when Edward Creighton started a stock ranch, bringing in a herd of several thousand head. Previous to this time, the danger from Indians was so great that cattle had to be closely guarded to prevent them from being stolen. The luxuriant growth of the richest of wild grasses upon the prairie, and the dryness of the climate, which insures the preservation of its nutritious qualities during the winter; together with the fact that the winters are usually very mild with but little snow, and little shelter therefore is required--these things render this county peculiarly well adapted to the raising of cattle, now the main industry of the county.
The cattle business has continued to increase till there are now in the county probably nearly 300,000 head, though the assessment returns show only 110,000 head. But the reader must understand that in these new counties where stock run at large, and where this is the one great interest of the county, the returns for assessing purposes are generally made for only from one-third to one-half of the number really owned in the county. One of the reasons for this perhaps is that, as the cattle all run at large, only being collected or "rounded up" once during the year, and that during the summer after the assessment in the spring; and as it is impossible to estimate, with any accuracy, the percentage of loss through cattle thieves, accidents, or losses during the winter ; it is thought better that the number and value of cattle be under rather than over estimated. There are also a considerable number of horses raised in the county. These may now be estimated to number about 20,000. The sheep-raising interest has been given but little attention until quite recently. The number now in the county may be estimated at 8,000. This industry is very profitable, and many of the owners of the smaller herds of cattle are fast disposing of their cattle to invest in sheep.
The raising of cattle as a business is here conducted far differently than in an agricultural community, where there are crops to be protected. The land being all, or nearly all, Government property, it is by mutual consent of the cattle owners divided among themselves into tracts termed "ranges," each range comprising an acreage in proportion to the number of cattle owned by the proprietor, and generally consisting of several thousand acres. The proprietor has no legal title to his range, but simply builds a ranche, and sometimes two or three on the range claimed by him. His rights to this are maintained by a mutual understanding among the cattle owners, and this right is respected by his brother cattle owners, and any encroachments by outside parties are promptly punished by the proprietors of the ranges, assisted by his men, who are known by the suggestive appellation of "cowboys."
The prairies for thousands of square miles are one vast pasture, where the cattle, with no respect to ownership, are allowed to roam wild. These cattle, however, are "rounded-up" or collected each year, and the younger ones branded with the owner's private mark.
To those unacquainted with the methods of carrying on the immense cattle business in this great free pasture region of America, these "round-ups" need to be described: Late in the spring, after the grass has attained considerable growth, so that cattle may with grazing a few hours in the day obtain sufficient food, large bodies of men termed cowboys are organized, after which they scatter out over a vast extent of territory, frequently embracing several thousand square miles, and ride toward a common center, driving all the cattle they can find before them. These cattle are all supposed to be branded, each owner having a private brand by which his cattle are known, and, as fast as the ranges are reached, all the cattle bearing the brand or private mark of the owner of that range are "cut out," together with the calves accompanying them, and left in charge of the cowboys in the employment of this owner, who proceed to corral them, after which they are counted and the young are branded. This is generally kept up about three months during the summer, usually being completed some time in July. These round ups are attended with considerable excitement, as the cattle are wild, and unused to the sight of mankind. When being driven in large herds, it requires much skill, experience and good horsemanship to cut out, that is, to separate, the wild steers one by one, as the range to which they belong is reached. While these annual round-ups are made as thorough as possible, there are, of course, many cattle that are not secured, therefore it is impossible for an extensive cattle owner to ascertain with accuracy just how many cattle he owns.
Of late, so much has been said and written regarding the lawlessness of the "cowboys," it is eminently proper that a word concerning their real character be given a place in this work. In the first place, it must be said that, whatever his faults, the cowboy is a hard and faithful worker. His life on the broad and unsettled plains is one of freedom and liberty. The greater portion of his life is spent where law, legally executed, has little force. From the very nature of his habits he becomes somewhat rough and wild. The rifle or pistol is the only effective protection of life or property, and where such is the case--where each man takes the law in his own hands, and where he is deprived of the refining influences of society, where rough sports and daily exercises are such as to fit him physically for his hard and wild life, it is but natural that he becomes somewhat hardened in his nature and that he becomes daring and reckless of life. It is not strange that, when released from rough and wild life, he enters upon drinking sprees, and with a crowd of congenial spirits, gives himself up to the coarser instincts of his nature. Nor is it strange that, when a large crowd of these rough men are brought together in a frontier town, where drinking and gambling are the attractions and principal amusements, they let themselves loose, and, crazed with poisonous liquor, their deeds are many times lawless and horrible to witness. Still, these men have many excellent traits in their rough nature. They are honest; a thief is despised, and if one falls into their hands, he is, generally, promptly shot or hanged. They despise cowardice, and are wont to try to inspire terror in the breasts of a "tenderfoot," as they term those who are from the more civilized settlements of the East, and are unaccustomed to the rough life of the unsettled plains, and woe unto the "tenderfoot" if he proves himself a coward. Yet these very men, rough in their natures as they are, will spare no effort, or acknowledge no difficulty too great to attempt to surmount, no danger too great for them to risk, to aid even a stranger who is in distress.
The soil of Cheyenne County is fertile, and well adapted to the raising of all kinds of crops common to this latitude; but from the great elevation above the sea level, the rainfall is slight, and crop-growing is not successful, except when irrigation is adopted. On some of the streams, notably on the Lodge Pole, where the farmers have adopted the plan of irrigation, bountiful crops have been raised, especially potatoes and other vegetables. We observe in Sidney that potatoes raised here bring about one-fourth greater price than those brought in from the East, the quality being much better. Some seasons there is doubtless a sufficient rainfall to insure the growth of crops along the valleys of the streams, but such seasons are very infrequent. There is an increased rainfall each year, but as yet not enough to make crop-raising a success.
The county is now in a flourishing condition. There are outstanding only $22,000 in bonds. County warrants sell for 98 cents. The taxable property as returned to the Assessor is: personal property $1,988,793 and real estate $79,241, or a total $2,068,034. In these returns, however, as far as they are a guide in estimating the wealth of the county, it must be remembered that probably less than one-half of the personal property is assessed at all, and this is at but little more than one-third of its actual value.
The officers of Cheyenne County at present are: Commissioners, A. J. Walrath, T. H. Lawrence and J. W. Haas; Clerk, J. J. McIntosh Sheriff, S. O. Fowler; Judge, J. Neubauer; Treasurer, James Sutherland; Superintendent, Joseph Oberfelder; Surveyor, L. H. Bordell; Coroner, J. A. Carley.
The county is divided into six precincts. Their names and population, according to the census of 1880, are as follows: Sidney, population 1,157; Antelope, population 54; Potter, population 62, and the three combined precincts of Big Spring, Lodge Pole and Court House Rock having a population of 262. The entire population of the county, according to this census, was 1,535.
Along the Union Pacific Railroad, extending the entire length of the county from east to west, are several telegraph and mail stations, but the only town in the county of any importance is Sidney.