The First Murder | Early Justice
Part 2: Other Pioneer Events | Organization
County Agricultural Association
Schuyler: The Press | Fire Department | The Schools
Part 3: Schuyler (cont.): Societies | General Business
Part 4: Schuyler (cont.): Biographical Sketches (cont.)
Part 5: Benton
Colfax Precinct | Wilson Precinct | Stanton Precinct
List of Illustrations in Colfax County Chapter
Colfax County Names Index
COLFAX County is one of those rich, prosperous eastern counties of Nebraska situated in the great Valley of the Platte. Dodge County lies to the east, Platte to the west, Stanton to the north and Butler to the south. The county is 41° 30´ north latitude, and is located in almost the exact geographical center of the United States. About 1,000 feet above the level of the sea, the atmosphere is, as a rule, pure, dry and invigorating. The general surface of the county consists of undulating prairie highlands not broken or abrupt, but stretching out in long reaches. What timber land is left consists of cotton-wood, box-elder, ash, walnut and soft maple, found principally along the streams. About a million forest trees are still standing. The valleys are well drained by the Platte River and its tributaries, and as the soil therein is a rich loam, plentifully intermixed with sand, immense and fine quantities of hay are raised. Springs abound throughout the county. Shell Creek, which joins the Platte in the southeastern part of the county, and flows northwest, contains good water powers. In 1868 the first grist mill was erected by J. P. Becker, on that stream, in the western part of Colfax County. It has now four run of stone. In 1870 Wells & Nieman erected their mill on Shell Creek. In 1874, W. Dworak built a grist mill five miles northwest of Schuyler. Messrs. Hansel & Nowak also built a fourth mill two miles northeast of town. The grist mill of Wells & Nieman has been discontinued, the firm having just built a fine steam mill at Schuyler. The Big Maple and the Little Maple creeks also water the county to the north and northeast, but have no improved water powers.
The farming lands which lie principally outside the valleys are prolific in the yield of corn, but wheat does not greatly flourish. Unimproved land sells usually at about $7 per acre, while improved land will range all the way from $10 to $30 according to location. The railroad lands are now about all taken up; only about 30,000 acres lying outside the ten-mile limit being in the market.
Tracers of coal have been discovered both in Colfax and Butler Counties, but little has been accomplished towards developing the deposits.
As to live stock, Colfax County is well adapted to the carrying on of this business--especially as it has been noted above, in the Valley of the Platte which abounds in the fine quality of grasses. The best varieties of horses principally raised are the Norman and Clydesdale, of cattle the Short-horn, and of sheep the Merino and Cotswold.
Colfax County contains 276,480 acres of land, and according to the last return made by the assessors; 67,040 acres of this is improved, and 158,346 unimproved--the total valuation $820,146. It is but fair to remark that on account of the great proportion of foreign population the returns do not represent the actual condition of the county. In most cases the figures have been received from but six out of the eleven assessors, and those who have made returns say that in many cases they found it almost impossible to make their mission plainly understood. With this explanation, the figures, which are in some cases estimates, are given as being the only data, though somewhat unreliable, that could be obtained. The personal property is assessed at $505,048; improved village or city lots $81,950; unimproved $104,730. This makes the total valuation of property throughout the county, over $1,500,000. This estimate is far below the actual value of such property.
Of the 60,559 acres under cultivation, 26,628 have been sown to wheat, and 28,189 to corn. There are only a thousand acres of cultivated timber in the county. The live stock exhibit is as follows, the returns being made for 1881: Cattle in the county, 9,058; sheep, 10,763, horses, 2,802.
According to the last settlement made with the County Treasurer, January 20, 1882, there was a balance in the treasury of $29,326.97. The estimated expenses for 1882 are $42,800; the bonded debt of the county, principally on account of bridge and court-house, is $121,500. At the time the county was organized in 1869, it contained a population of about 200. Within the next two years this figure had increased to nearly 1,500. In 1875 the population was 3,651; in 1882, 7,264. In 1869 the property of the county was assessed at $613,615; in 1870, 800,950; 1874, $1,322,610; 1882, $1,512,739.
Until the summer of 1866 the increase in population and property valuation was very slight. There were, generally speaking, no houses in the county which were not along the old military road, until the iron horse bounded over his own track; when not only did new settlers locate, but property advanced in value and the new civilization came into life. The military road followed quite faithfully the Platte River, while the railroad passed several miles to the north of it. It passed through the entire southern part of Colfax County, there being eighteen miles of road within its bounds. As early as 1860, the Western Union Telegraph Company put up one wire along the military road, but in 1869 this was taken down and a new set of poles and three wires placed in position. Two years later the U. P. R. R. put up a new set of poles and two wires. So that now Colfax county is bound by "all the modern improvements" to the outside world, and its means of communication are complete.
In April, 1856, a company was formed in Omaha for the purpose of founding a city at some point on the Platte River beyond North Bend. Gen. Estabrook, Col. Miller, Isaac Albertson and E. W. Toncray, were among the prominent members thereof, and the latter two were sent out to fix upon a site. In crossing the Elkhorn, Mr. Albertson met with a mishap, which might have cooled the ardor of one less persevering, but not his. At the date mentioned there was no bridge west of Omaha, and when that stream was reached he prepared to transfer his team and other impedimenta the best way he could. After swimming over his animals he placed his wagon on a raft and started. The Elkhorn had other than peaceful designs upon himself and companion, however, and turned over everything human into its raging bosom. The raft and wagon sped down the stream and stuck fast in the mud and thick brush, and the wet, tired and hungry survivors had to carry on a long process of tunneling and chopping before they reached their wagon. The two men finally halted on the east bank of Shell Creek a little above where it enters the Platte, Range 4 east, and proceeded to found the town of Buchanan. The locality was a few miles east of Schuyler, and the date April 27, 1856. Isaac Albertson and E. W. Toncray afterward held many offices of local trust, being among the foremost citizens of the county. Mr. Albertson was the first Probate Judge of Platte county, and Mr. Toncray the second. Mr. Albertson lives at present in Fremont, E. W. Toncray at Buffalo. A month later the founders of Columbus passed through Buchanan. Soon afterward the erection of a log "town house" was commenced, but that was about the extent of Buchanan's growth.
The following is a verbatim copy of the paper attached to the original plat of Buchanan:
We, Isaac Albertson and Lorin Miller, have this day taken of the public lands the following described parcels and laid the same out into lots and blocks according to the annexed plot, to-wit:--the east ½ of the n. w. ¼ and the n. e. ¼ of section 10, and the west ½ of the n. w. ¼ of section 11, townships 17 north, range 4 east of the sixth principal meridian; and hereby locate the same as the town of Buchanan, the same being and lying in the County of Platte and Territory of Nebraska. This was sworn to in presence of A. B. Pattison. The plat was filed and recorded at 4 o'clock P. M., December 4, 1857, J. P. Becker. Register. Buchanan had seventeen streets running north and south, and nine east and west. A fine park was also laid out, dividing ranges 4 and 5 west; thence north to the northwest corner of township 20, north of range 4 west.; thence east by the 5th standard parallel to the line dividing ranges 1 and 2 east; thence south to the point of beginning.
According to the latest returns from the census enumerators the population of Colfax County is 6,588.
But Columbus to the west and North Bend and Fremont to the east sapped its "life" away, and Buchanan went down finally as hundreds of other paper towns of the West have done. The next permanent settler after the arrival of Mr. Albertson was Daniel Hashberger, who arrived in October, 1856, and still resides upon a portion of the claim he then selected. At the time of his settlement, there were but twenty-five people in Platte County; among those were the families of Albertson and Toncray at Buchanan. These people were among the unfortunates who were obliged to suffer the hardships of the hard winter of 1856-57. Mr. Hashberger was one who braved the storm to Omaha and return. In February, 1857, his provisions being almost exhausted, he started to make the trip on foot, for the purpose of buying flour, etc. He was unable to return for over a week, on account of the terrible weather. At length hearing that the road was opened to the Elkhorn River he hired a team and managed in the course of two days to transfer himself and provisions to that locality, where he rested long enough to "dump" his goods. Mr. Hashberger then continued his way afoot. The biting weather, however, soon enabled him to start back to the Elkhorn with two yoke of oxen and bring the precious freight to its destination. This journey occupied sixteen days. Fuel was also very scarce that winter, and so difficult to be hauled when obtained, that most of the families in the county were obliged to resort to hand sleds. To Fort Calhoun, Washington County, for flour and to Omaha for provisions, were the trips which had to be taken, rain or shine, frost or fire, in order to keep body and soul together. It was a fortunate circumstance for the early settlers, however, that game was so abundant. Mr. Albertson, for instance, during the first winter of his stay, shot thirty-three deer and eight elk.
Among the settlers best known who came during the next year, were R. W. Corson, who was the second Justice of the Peace of the county of Platte, Henry Kemp and Joseph Skinner. Mr. Kemp settled in the summer and Mr. Skinner in the fall. It soon became somewhat evident that Buchanan would never be a metropolis, and an attempt was made by parties from Council Bluffs to establish a town, the city of Neenah, five miles west of the present Schuyler. Another log shanty was erected, called the "town house," but the city was even shorter lived than Buchanan. This "city" was located near Shinn's Ferry. The schemes of speculators evidently did not flourish, and those who settled with the design of tilling the ground fared little better, when they had to pay $3 a bushel for miserable soft, seed corn, which they obtained from the Pawnees.
David Anderson, who was an early settler of Colfax County, writes the following, in the nature of a reminiscence: "When I first located in what is now Colfax County, in 1860, I found Judge Albertson and family on the homestead they now occupy; William Davis living on the farm he still owns, two miles east of Schuyler; R. W. Corson moved on to his present farm the same spring; and Daniel Hashberger was engaged raising corn and entertaining pilgrims, where he now resides. William Gillson owned a farm adjoining Hashberger's, that now embraces a portion of what is known as Clarkson's Addition to Schuyler. Mr. Rolfer, an old Hollander, lived and kept ranche at the slough bridge on the farm now owned by Mr. Hall. James Jeffries owned and lived on the Hurford farm, three miles west of Schuyler. Bushnell, late of Butler County, lived on the adjoining place west; and next to this farm was the famous "Russell's Ranche," well known to everybody, owned and run by Joseph Russell, an eccentric old Englishman, who, notwithstanding his many eccentricities and bluff manners, was a good neighbor, and valuable citizen. I have known of more than one hundred emigrants to be comfortably entertained at Russell's during one night, old Californians; Colorado miners, Oregon farmers, ranchmen from off the plains and freighters to the mountains. Russell's House, in fact, became famous as a place of hospitality and fun. Nothing remains to-day to mark the spot that once was so full of life and animation, but a few locust and cottonwood trees set out by Mr. Russell, whose body is now encased beneath the sod somewhere in the State of Missouri. Directly south of Russell's Ranche the well-known Shinn's rope ferry crossed the Platte River." Moses Shinn, afterward one of the wealthiest citizens of Omaha, preached the gospel in those days to emigrants who passed through that city en route for the great West. When the Pike's Peak excitement was on the "rampage," he is said to have reaped many sly dollars by interspersing among his sermons well-turned advertisements, holding up the advantages of Shinn's ferry over the Columbus institution.
Previous to the building of the Union Pacific road, there were not, in fact, more than a dozen families, who could be called actual settlers in what is now Colfax County. There were the Albertsons, the Toncrays, Michael Erb, Jonas Welch, William Wetherer, Abram Beaman, Joseph Russell, Joseph Skinner, William Davis, Messrs. H. Bushnell, George Spaulding, S. H. Fowler, the Quinns, a Dunlap, and a few others along the line of the military road, from east to west. Soon after Buchanan was platted, however, Mr. Albertson was appointed Postmaster, who continued to be oppressed with this honor for some time. When the road was built the trains, at first, ran very irregularly. It happened, moreover, that they generally passed Buchanan at night, the mail bag being thrown at random, if the train was anywhere in the vicinity of the "post office." The Postmaster's duties, therefore, as an anxious office holder in continual search of his official documents, were quite arduous. Mr. Davis, the incumbent, at this time, felt that sufficient safeguards were not thrown around the sanctity of the United States mail, upon being informed, once upon a time, that a squad of Indians were coming up the track trying to sell the contents of the bag to all the section hands whom they passed. P. M. Davis therefore sent in his resignation, and Mr. Albertson again assumed the duties of his position. A petition was circulated for the appointment of Daniel Hashberger at "Shell Creek." It was granted by the Government, and the new appointee marched over to Buchanan; Mr. Albertson reached overhead and unfastening from the rafters a pine box, about three feet in length and two in width, passed the office and its honors over to Postmaster Hashberger, who took both with him to the future Schuyler.
The five or six years previous to the time when these occurrences were taking place, a tragedy had stirred the monotony of these early days. It was the first within the present limits of Colfax County. The facts are stated by one conversant therewith, to be as follows: "The tragedy occurred about three quarters of a mile east of Folda & Lawrence's stock ranche. High waters occasioned a delay in the crossing of two or three weeks, and during that short period about one thousand wagons gathered on the north bank of the treacherous quick-sand hole, called the Great Platte River. As the trains and teams arrived they were numbered so that there would be no quarreling about crossing first. At the close of the first day's ferrying, Hill was killed. His teams and loose stock were the last that were crossed that evening. The last boat load were cows; one young calf jumped overboard and came to this shore. As soon as the boat landed the cow came back also. Hill came back with the boat to look after them. He got the cow tied up, then went to the camp of the Brady brothers. As it was their turn first in the morning, Hill asked the privilege of taking his cow over in one of their wagons. One of the boys said something about his keeping his cow on the other side when he had her there. Hill became enraged, and, as he was under the influence of whisky, became very abusive. One of the Brady boys knocked him down with a wagon wrench, the blow breaking his left cheek bone. Hill raised himself into a sitting posture, and drawing a pistol, shot Brady in the arm. The other brother knocked him over, took the pistol from him and shot him through the head, killing him instantly. The murderer was arrested and taken before Justice Kemp, whose place was two miles above. After spitting all over the stove several times, in order to get time to "reflect," he announced as his decision---"No cause for action." So that, "legally" speaking, the shooting as no murder, although the man was killed instantly.
The only docket illustrative of how justice was meted out in early days, has been brought to light, somewhat the worse for wear and tear, and bears initial date of August 8, 1862. R. M. McMurrey upon that date makes his first complaint against Peter Ruh, charging that Mr. Ruh made threats against his life and property. As it is the first document of the kind, it is given verbatim:
August 8, 1862, Platte County.--I this day enter complaint against Peter Ruh for threats which he has made against my life and property at different times. I make oath that my life and property is in danger and request that said Peter Ruh be bound over according to law to keep the peace. R. W. MCMURREY.
For serving warrant - - - $3 00 Mileage - - - - - - 70 Justice's fee, affidavit - - - 25 Justice's fees, oath - - - 10 Issuing warrant - - - - - 50 Recognizance - - - - - 50 Commitment on the evidence of Wm. Penn, Dan'l Hashberger Geo. N. Russell, and Hiram Bushnell. Oath of evidence - - - - 40 Commitment - - - - - 50 Hiram Bushnell charges for himself and team for conveying officer and prisoner to the Sheriff - - - - - $4 00 Constable's assistance - - - 1 50 Witness fees - - - - - 75 Mileage - - - - - - 45 For taking and guarding the prisoner the service of the following named persons: Thomas Russell, $1; William Penn, $1; George Russell, $1; M. Belden, $1; H. Bushnell, $1; N. B. Gillson, $1; D. Hashberger, $1; Jas. Hashberger, $1. R. W. CORSON, Justice.
The next entry is an affidavit to the effect that Daniel Hashberger and James Hashberger refuse to work or pay road tax. Alexander Albertson, Supervisor of Buchanan Precinct, Platte County, made affidavit to the above, October 7, 1862. Justice Corson issued summons two days thereafter, which was returnable on the 21st, but was served (by copy) on the 10th, by F. B. Skinner, Constable. It is next on record that Constable Skinner made a mistake in his copy, the suit was thrown out and "the defendant pays poll tax, $1; complainant pays costs." It seems that the cause of difficulty was that the Hashberger brothers were at work upon a bad hole near their house and Supervisor Albertson ordered them to a distance, which they couldn't see "any sense in," since there were others in that locality who could conveniently attend to the work there.
Although there was no regular "claim club" near Schuyler it occasionally happened that a case seemed too urgent to be passed over to cool-headed legal justice, and the settlers took the law into their own hands. Witness the following incident told in the Schuyler Sun, by "One of the Regulators":
In 1863, one Wm. Gillson sold his farm to an old man named Truesdell--said farm being situated just south of where Schuyler now is, and is now known as Clarkson's Addition to South Schuyler. After the sale was made, the money paid and the deed delivered, the U. P. station was located, when Gillson became dissatisfied and one day asked the old man if he had had the deed recorded. Being told that he had not, Mr. Gillson suggested that as he (himself) was going to Columbus he would take the deed and leave it at the County Clerk's office. Some five or six weeks afterward Truesdell called on Gillson and told him he had not left it at the office as he so understood he would. Gillson told him then he could not have the deed as he wanted to trade back, but the old gent would not do it. Gillson ordered the old man to "git" and he went. As Gillson had not given possession, he thought he had the best end of it, but as he soon found out he had more than he wanted. Mr. Truesdell went down to Uncle D. Hashberger's and told him about it. Uncle Dan went to Russell's Ranche on the afternoon of Feb. 4, 1864; and had a long talk with Joseph Russell, Sr. That evening about 25 wood-choppers and teamsters went to Uncle Hashberger's. It was about 7 o'clock when we arrived at Uncle Dan's, put up our teams and went in to warm and fortify ourselves against the evening with "old rye;" you may think that "old rye" is a weak fortification, but it was strong for us; then you know we needed something to keep our courage up, for there were only about forty of us to one. We organized and chose a captain--one John Ross. Just then the picket came in on a run and said he guessed Gillson had "smelled a mice" and was going to leave. The captain sent a guard of three to watch him, and if necessary to capture him; but upon the arrival of the guards all was quiet at the front. The guards went in and had a quiet chat with Gillson until the arrival of the main squad. Then things took a lively turn. The captain demanded the deed. At first Gillson denied having it, but on presenting him with a hemp collar he said he had lost the deed. He was told to write one. He said he could not--but that hemp collar persuaded him that he could, and in a hurry too. He wrote the deed, but it was of no account unless acknowledged by a proper official. We sent for Justice Corson, who came and acknowledged the document. The deed was duly signed by both Mr. and Mrs. Gillson, and John F. Eby, W. H. Penn as witnesses. Then we went for some more "old rye," and named our brave little band the "Regulators;" then went home to sleep the sleep of the just.
When we had all about forgotten this trivial incident, down came the Sheriff from Columbus and told us that we could consider ourselves under arrest and to appear at Columbus forthwith for trial. He caught all but Russell, who was in Omaha. We telegraphed him to come instanter and to bring with him a good lawyer. He came next day by coach and brought Nebraska's best criminal lawyer, the Hon. A. J. Poppleton. Just as soon as the coach stopped at the American Hotel, Russell was arrested. We were brought to trial before Justice Hudson, but Poppleton quashed the whole thing, and we were all set at liberty to roam and regulate as we had a mind to. Gillson thought that the neighbors showed partiality, so he moved to Oregon.