The Mormon Advent | Renewal of Attempts at Settlement|
First Postal Arrangements | Settlers in 1854 | Tradition of the Name|
Omaha Surveyed | Pioneer Events
Political Organization | Selection of Omaha as Capital|
An Executive Ball | The First Murder Trial
Religious Awakening | Progress in 1856 | Pioneer Justice|
Attempt to Remove the Capital | The Panic of 1857
Claims Troubles | Official Roster | County Buildings|
Douglas County Agricultural Society | The Old Settlers' Association
List of Illustrations in Douglas County Chapter
On the 30th of May previous, Nebraska had been organized as a Territory and Gov. Burt reached Bellevue on the 6th of October in failing health. He was the guest of the Rev. Wm. Hamilton at the old Mission House, where he died within three weeks of the date of his arrival, when the duties of organizing the government and apportioning the counties devolved upon Secretary Thomas B. Cuming, who by virtue of his office became acting Governor. Douglas County, so named after the "Little Giant" commenced at the mouth of Platte River and extended north along the west bank of the Missouri River to a point one mile north of Omaha City, thence west along the south boundary of Washington County twenty miles, thence south ten miles more or less, thence east to the place of beginning. It contained two precincts, one at Omaha with David Lindley, T. G. Goodwill and C. B. Smith judges of election; M. C. Gaylord and Dr. Pattee, clerks. The second precinct was located at the Old Mission, where Isaiah Bennet, D. E. Reed and Thomas Morton were judges: G. Hollister and Silas A. Strickland, clerks. The first general election was held on December 20, 1854, at which T. G. Goodwill, A. D. Jones, O. D. Richardson and S. E. Rogers were elected members of the council, with A. J. Hanscom, W. N. Byers, William Clancy, F. Davidson, Thomas Davis, A. D. Goyer, A. J. Poppleton and Robert Whitted, members of the House of Representatives.
The boundaries of the county were re-defined by an act of the First Territorial Legislature, and in February, 1857, Sarpy County was established out of its southern limits and the boundaries of the later fixes as they exist at present.
Thus was Douglas County set apart and became an independent sovereignty, with one city on the tapis and others in contemplation. The county also enjoyed the distinction of supporting a weekly paper. The Arrow, established in Omaha during July, 1854, by J. E. Johnson, a practical Mormon, and J. W. Pattison, an observant Gentile. Its circulation was among all classes, though printed at the Bugle office in Council Bluffs, and its weekly issue among the events of importance. The population of the county was less than 1,000; that of Omaha less than one hundred. At that time society was in a transition state, so to speak. There were no courts for the redress of private grievances, no churches, no schoolhouses. Every individual stood upon his merits, and if dispossessed of his claim or insulted in good name or reputation, generally took the law in his own hands. Yet it is to the credit of all who lived here then that few crimes were committed. Pistols were generally carried, and now and then a knife appeared in the belt of some one whom nobody feared. Beyond the violence which occasionally prevailed, growing out of the protection of rights in respect to land there was scarcely a ripple to cause anxiety or exercise evil spirits. These claim troubles too, have been greatly exaggerated, it is said, but in all other respects the hamlet of huts of 1854 was as peaceable as ordinary frontier towns. And as the population increased, the moral power of the better classes began to assert itself by the institution of public worship, the establishment of schools, the arbitration of business disputes and other means of reform.
The year 1854 closed with a balance to the profit side of Omaha, and 1855 dawned upon the settlement rich in the promise of a prophetic period gone before. Nature and man's ingenuity combined to bring about somewhat of a realization of what had been sought for. Emigration to the new country increased and was composed as a rule of men of substantial character who came to improve their fortunes and whose coming increased the value of material interests in their new home. Huts, dug-outs, and in some instances houses were erected. Stores were opened, communication more direct and feasible was established with points that had heretofore been distant, farms were beginning to be opened in the county and every resource available at that early day tending to develop the country and render it attractive to persons seeking homes west of the Missouri was employed with moderate successes. During the winter of 1854-55 the presence of ladies added spice to the variety of life here, and exerted a humanizing influence abroad that only those who have at intervals been deprived of this inestimable boon can appreciate at its true value. Among the more prominent were: Mesdames George L. Miller, A. D. Jones, W. P. Snowden, J. C. Reeves, O. B. Selden, S. E. Rogers, A. J. Hanscom and T. B. Cuming.
In January of this year the State House on Ninth street between Farnam and Douglas was completed. It was constructed of brick brought from Council Bluffs, which were laid in place by John Withnell, and in addition to being the first brick building put up in the infant city was considered as a model of architectural excellence for the times. The premises were erected under direction of the ferry company, were 33 x 75, two stories high and cost a total of about $3,000. The first story was occupied by the Territorial Council and John A. Parker, first Register of the Land Office, while the second floor was utilized as a place of convening the House of Representatives, also as the office of A. R. Gilmore, the first Receiver of the Land Office. And here it might be observed that the old Capitol Building subsequently passed into the hands of Dr. G. C. Monell, by whom it was razed and its material transported to other points for the equipment of later structures. Here the Legislature convened on the 16th day of January, 1855, in obedience to the proclamation of acting Governor Cuming, who had designated Omaha as the temporary capital, notwithstanding the opposition from other points, representatives from which were straining every nerve and employing every means to induce him to select their favorite town. When the Legislature convened, a large number of men who had been disappointed in their endeavors to secure the first meeting at other points flocked to Omaha, where they arrayed themselves in the red blankets of savages and loudly proclaimed their design of breaking up the assembly. The reason of this excitement to a certain extent, relates A. D. Jones, was that Governor Cuming had given to Bellevue district the name of Omaha County and designated Bellevue as the place of voting. But when it was found that the Mission would not sell their grounds at Bellevue for less than $50,000, in anticipation of having the capital there located; Cumings at midnight previous to the election, took up the voting place and vacated the order naming Bellevue district, Omaha County.
The Legislature was convened at 10 o'clock in the morning and organized by the election of Hiram P. Bennet, of Pierce, President, pro tem. A committee consisting of Joseph L. Sharp, James C. Mitchell and Lafayette Nuckolls was appointed to examine credentials when a recess until 2 o'clock p.m. was taken.
Hon. Joseph L. Sharp, elected President of the Council at its permanent organization, is described as a remarkable man. He was tall, sinewy, angular, his long head crowned with a luxuriously uncombed mass of iron gray hair. There was a never ending controversy between his arms and his coat sleeves, between his extremities and pantaloons. His garments were phillipics against extravagance in raiment, crude, rude pæans in honor of frugality and meekness. His physiognomy was neither delicately beautiful, nor beautifully delicate, without features of attraction for the softer sex. He was in face a "homely man," his cheeks deeply pitted with the small pox, his eyes terribly askew from the same cause, with one of them totally blind. In these particulars he assimilated to his prototype, the French Tribune--Honore Mirabeau, as also in his superior powers as a speaker, sound judgment, quick perception and remarkable foresight. Socially he was entertaining and agreeable; generous, jolly and accessible, he was a man, in short, peculiarly adapted to the times, as the times were peculiarly adapted to him; with scarcely a peer and without a superior in the lines wherein he cast his life.
The Representatives also assembled at 10 o'clock a. m., temporarily organized by the election of John M. Latham, Speaker and J. W. Paddock Chief Clerk, when an adjournment was taken, as had been by the Senate, until 2 o'clock p. m. At that hour the joint session was convened in the hall of the House of Representatives to listen to the first executive message to the first legislative assembly of Nebraska by the first acting Governor, the Hon. Thomas B. Cuming, said to have been the ablest communication ever made by an executive of Nebraska from its Territorial days, through its admission as a State to the present time.
At that time "Tom Cuming," as he was affectionately called, was about twenty-eight years old. He was a man of full habit, rather below the medium height, compactly built and in action denoting a sort of hickory muscularity combined with great nervous energy. His complexion was swarthy, his hair black as the plumage of the ravens, his eye-brows heavy, his eyes deep set, restless, dark and flashing. His mouth was firm and his lips shut together resolutely, indexed a determination and fixedness of purpose which distinguished him from fickle and enervated men. In speaking he began his theme in a clear, well-modulated voice which convinced and fascinated. As he proceeded the well-rounded sentences, happy illustrations, finished paragraphs and elegant diction demonstrated not only great natural abilities, but an education both accomplished and classical. But "Tom Cuming" is gone, and with him many a glorious throng of happy days and dreams. And many who were known and honored in these days of Territorial trials and Territorial triumphs have, too, "passed to silence and pathetic dust."
Dr. Miller, editor of the Herald, to whom the writer is more than indebted for many, very many suggestions, kind acts and good advice in connection with the present work, writing of that session observes: "Hanscom was speaker, Col. Joseph Sharp, President of the Council. A gentle tap on the shoulder of Richard Brown, member of the council from Nebraska, who voted for the wrong man, from Charles B. Smith, made the editor of this paper chief Clerk of that body. Poppleton was champion of Omaha in the House, and O. D. Richardson and Goodwill in the council, the capital question being the main issue, North Platte against South Platte. Hanscom and Poppleton carried the art of winking to its highest perfection in those days. The latter was always first recognized by the speaker when he wanted the floor. The speaker was always very particular about keeping order. Any refractory member opposed to Omaha, who refused to take his seat when so ordered by him, was forcibly notified that if he didn't sit down, he would be knocked down. The result was usually satisfactory to the speaker."
[FIRST STATE CAPITOL BUILDING, USED AS POST HOSPITAL DURING THE WAR -- NOW TORN DOWN, AND THE SITE OCCUPIED BY PUBLIC SCHOOL BUILDING.]
"The excitement over the capital question was at times very great. The lobbies, we remember, were once crowded with the respective parties to the contest, armed with bludgeons, brick-bats and pistols. A fight was thought to be imminent, but it didn't occur. * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * The elections were eminently farcical, owing to the fact that many districts where white men never slept more than one night were represented by members who talked loudly of their "constituents," much to their own amusement.
"The Douglas House," he continues, "was the center of all gatherings; just beyond it the editor of this paper and Lyman Richardson used to chase deer, but we were harmless hunters and never known to kill a deer. In a fractional part of a fraction of the house now occupied by Mr. Millard many men lodged in the winter of 1855. Mr. Bedell erected and kept it. How the wolves howled at night and the dogs quarreled with them under and around the persecuted inmates of the building, we have not words to describe. One side of it was for a long time protected from the weather by blankets tacked upon the studding. What motley groups gathered there in those days, how in the colder nights we would rally round a rusty old sheet iron stove that stood in one corner, we need not try to tell. Mrs. Bedell was still landlady, but she was the envied sole mistress of Mr. Millard's kitchen, which stood near, and was as happy as we ever saw at getting the men into the "new house." Before this change about eight men slept in it in bunks, heads pointing to the west, while she and her husband occupied a space at the end of the shanty partitioned off from the less exclusive apartment, heads pointing to the south. We have never been able to understand any experience of our own how man and wife could, by any possibility, get into so small a hole."
The contestants for the prize in this capital contest were Omaha, Fontanelle, Florence, Bellevue, Plattsmouth, Nebraska City and Brownsville, and the excitement ran at a fever heat. The entire South Platte country was opposed to Omaha, and, as will be readily imagined, the present city was laboring to execute a contract in spite of every possible impediment. The influence of James C. Mitchell, of Florence, it is said, was sufficient to fix the capital at Omaha or take it away. He was appointed the sole commissioner to locate the capitol, it being understood that he favored Omaha, but located it for a new company at Sulphur Springs. By another company he was induced to locate it west of the spring on the hill, at which junction the original company once more joined issue and persuaded him to establish its site on High School Hill, when the question was permanently disposed of.
The next building completed during the spring of 1855 was the Caldwell Bank, at the southwest corner of Twelfth and Farnam streets. It was built of brick, and still stands, with amendments and revisions, on the very spot of its origin. At that time the business, as also the residence, portion of Omaha, was east of Ninth street and North of the Union Pacific Depot, and though carried on mostly in log cabins, and dug-outs or frame shanties protected from the extreme cold by blankets, odds and ends of boards, etc., had assumed for those days large proportions. But one brick building had been erected for commercial purposes as above indicated, and business was generally concluded during the day, and at nightfall the streets were left to vacancy and darkness, interrupted at long intervals by the cheerful light of the inn or the "glim" of the saloon a guide-board directing immigrants and bacchanals in search of the cup that cheers. Occasionally when the whistle of an approaching steamer announced the coming of settlers, travelers and what not, a passing excitement was aroused, there was a hurrying into the darkness of the street, the feeling of one's way to the landing, and after a publication of the latest news from below, the number of passengers brought up, etc., the crowd dispersed to their homes and their haunts when the streets once more became as quiet and uneventful as before.
The leading merchants were Milton Rogers, Tootle and Jackson, with S. R. Brown as superintendent, James and Samuel Megeath with Jeff Megeath, in a clerical capacity, and John R. and H. B. Porter, the latter on the present site of the Paxton Hotel.
Dr. George L. Miller was the only physician, from which it may be argued that the city's general health was good. The legal fraternity was liberally represented and included some who have since become eminent. Among them was Jonas Seeley, A. J. Hanscom, O. D. Richardson, A. J. Poppleton, and E. B. Chandler. Mr. Peterson was Sheriff and Lyman Richardson, present part owner of the Herald was Recorder. Neither schoolhouse nor church had yet been built, nor was there a minister of the gospel in the young town.
For the most part, balls and socials made up the complement of diversions, and this suggests an account of the first executive ball ever given in Omaha, for a graphic description of which the writer acknowledges his obligations to Dr. Miller of the Herald. Mark W. Izard, who came into the Territory as United States Marshal, was appointed successor to Governor Burt, and the ball was had in honor of his excellency. It might be here parenthetically stated that when the Governor was to read his inaugural message he arranged it so that a negro was to announce his approach to the legislative chamber in words substantially as follows: "Mr. Speaker, the Governor is now approaching," but forgetting his text, electrified the assembled wisdom with the sentence: "Mr. Speaker, de gubner has done come."
Quoting from Dr. Miller in re the ball: "Izard was a stately character physically. Mentally, rather weak, and felt a lively sense of the dignity with which the appointment clothed him. He had never known such an honor before, and it bore upon him heavily. To the few persons who then constituted the population of the city, the Governor was careful to intimate a desire to have his gubernatorial advent suitably celebrated. The facetious and wary Cuming suggest the idea of giving Izard an executive ball. The larger of the two rooms, which then constituted the building, was the theater of a scene perhaps the most ludicrous that was ever witnessed in the history of public receptions. The rooms had a single coat of what was then called plastering, composed of a frozen mixture of mud and ice, and a very thin coating at that. The floor was rough and unplaned, and not altogether safe for those who preferred the upright position. It had been energetically scrubbed for the occasion. The night being dreadfully cold, and the heating apparatus failing to warm the room, the water froze upon the floor, and could not be melted by any then known process. Rough cottonwood boards on either side of the room were substitutes for chairs.
The hour of seven having arrived, the grand company began to assemble. Long before the appointed hour, his Arkansas Excellency appeared in the dancing hall. He and Jim Orton, "The Band" of Council Bluffs, reached the scene at about the same moment. The Governor was very polite to Jim and Jim was just tight enough to be correspondingly polite to the Governor--while Izard was the guest of nine ladies, who were all that could be mustered, even for a State occasion, in Omaha. They were Mrs. G. L. Miller, Mrs. T. B. Cuming, Mrs. Fenner Ferguson, Mrs. J. Sterling Morton, Mrs. C. B. Smith, Mrs. Fleming Davidson, Mrs. A. J. Hanscom, Mrs. A. D. Jones, and Mrs. S. E. Rogers. Two of the ladies could not dance, and their places were supplied by the same number of gentlemen. The Governor had a son by the name of James. He was his Excellency's private secretary, and wishing to present a high example of style, he came in at a late hour, escorting Mrs. Davidson. His bearing was fearfully stately and dignified. He wore a white vest and white kids, as any gentleman would do, but there were in rather discordant contrast with the surroundings. Paddock, Poppleton, Cuming, Smith, Morton, Ferguson, Goodwill, Clancy, Folsom, and Dr. Miller, besides a large assemblage of legislators, attended. Jim Orton was the solitary fiddler, occupying a corner of the room. The dance opened, and it was a gay and festive occasion. During the dance several accidents happened. One lady, now well known in Omaha, fell flat; others did likewise. The supper came off about midnight, and consisted of coffee with brown sugar, but no milk, sandwiches of peculiar size, very thick and made up of a singular mixture of bread of radical complexion, and bacon. The menu was supplemented with dried apple pie, and there being no tables in those days, was passed around. The Governor, having long lived in a hot climate, stood around shivering with the cold, but bore himself with amiable fortitude, buoyed up by the honors thus showered upon him, and at the proper time, under a deep sense of his own consequence, made a speech returning thanks for the high honors done him."
Thus is described the first and last executive ball that ever took place in Omaha.
Through the winter of 1855 Omaha balls were mostly steamboat balls, when Capt. Dan Able, and other dashing navigators of the Missouri, would come to the natural levee with goods for "merchants." Lying at the ample wharves over night, they would give a ball in the cabin of their big boats, and pretty much all the men, women and children in town would attend them. It did not require more than ten minutes' notice to get up a ball in those days, for the simplest of all reasons, it did not take as much time for the ladies to arrange their toilets then as it does now. Next came the balls of the Hamilton House, kept by Burnham and Judson, which bore the name of Banker Hamilton of the present day. They were very numerous and very jolly, when Cuming and Salisbury and Hanscom and Seely and Patrick and Rankin and Moore and Parker, and many others, gave free rein and direction to the social enjoyments of that period. The ball on the steamboat Gray Cloud, a chartered Government boat that had wintered in the Upper Missouri, which came down here after corn in April, 1856, is noteworthy. It was attended by Council Bluffs and Omaha people in large numbers and the wind blew so hard the next day that the Omaha branch of the party had to remain on board the boat all day. The Gray Cloud left next morning for her up-the-river destination. Salisbury & Smith owned a cottonwood saw-mill in those days, and persuaded two of the Gray Cloud's guests to go up on the boat above DeSoto and return on a raft of saw-logs. The party was duly landed, and the following morning with Mr. Richard Hogeboom added to the number, embarked on a large cottonwood raft for a pleasant sail to Omaha. The cabin passengers were attired in the light costumes, including cloth gaiters, worn at the recent ball. About 10 o'clock in rounding a point, the raft run aground on the bar and navigation was not resumed until the middle of the afternoon. Adverse winds caused a second and final stoppage an hour later, after a total progress of perhaps ten miles, and the raft being hopelessly aground, it became necessary to abandon it to its fate and the June rise. A section of it was cut loose upon which the ship's company got ashore, only to find themselves upon a long, narrow island with a narrow channel separating them from the Nebraska shore. After much labor a ferry raft was constructed of driftwood, toward which construction the cabin passengers aforesaid contributed more intelligent direction than physical strength, and the main land was successfully reached about 9 p.m. From this point the trip began to acquire increased interest. The nearest habitation was at Fort Calhoun, eight miles away, and the route lay over a wet, muddy bottom, heavily timbered, and crowded with a thick growth of underbrush. The night was reasonably dark, and cloth gaiters, not the best foot gear for fast time on that kind of ground, but under the skillful pilotage of Salisbury, a haven of rest was reached an hour after midnight, at the house of George Stevens, at Calhoun.
It was the custom in those days to celebrate the erection of any considerable new building with a ball. But before the event at the Herndon House, there were several celebrations of this kind. The brick store on Farnam street, near Thirteenth, which was built by Mr. Brown, "Stuttering" Brown, and known as the "Big B," was celebrated in this way in 1856. The store was occupied by Mr. Brown, who died prematurely, and afterwards by Mr. Shields. One other store, which stood where Dewey & Stone now do a great business, built by John M. Clark, and occupied by Armstrong & Clark in 1857, as a dry goods store, and afterward by M. W. Keith with a saloon, was the scene of one of those "dance-all-night-and-go-home-with-the-girls-and-married-ladies-in-the-morning" occasions with which this early Omaha life was crowded. Terpsichore finally took possession of the big dining room of the Herndon House, now Union Pacific headquarters, which was dedicated with a grand ball in the latter months of 1858.
Early in April, Governor Izard received a communication from Judge Ferguson, setting forth that Dr. Charles A. Henry had shot and killed a young man named George Hollister, and was imprisoned in the blacksmith shop at Bellevue, where he was safely guarded from the violence of a mob, who had threatened to lynch him. General Estabrook, Territorial Attorney, accompanied by P. G. Peterson, Sheriff, B. P. Rankin and Joseph Stickland, attached to the Nebraskian, a paper started this year, reached Bellevue at midnight, and proceeded to investigate the facts of the alleged homicide.
Henry is represented as having been a man of shrewdness, wonderful nerve and physical courage. The day previous to the shooting, a difficulty had arisen between Henry and deceased about a boundary line. It was resumed the succeeding day with results stated. The coroner's jury, governed in their decision by the laws of Iowa in the absence of laws in Nebraska applicable, rendered a verdict recommending that Henry be held pending an examination before a judicial officer. Upon an investigation had before Judge Ferguson, he was committed on the charge of murder, and imprisoned in the house of Sheriff Peterson on the west side of Tenth street, between Farnam and Henry, the owner occupying the rear portion of the premises, the balance being rented as a saloon and gambling house--this, by the way, was the fifth house erected in Omaha. At the first term of the United States District Court, the grand jury failed to indict, but Judge Ferguson, instead of discharging the accused, re-committed him and ordered the empaneling of a second jury.
A. J. Poppleton and O. P. Mason, the latter but recently become a resident of the Territory, were Henry's attorneys, and felt that the treatment of their client was unwarranted and outrageous, and Mason addressed the court in terms of the most bitter and scathing rhetoric that was ever listened to by an astonished justice in any court of record, resulting in the modification of certain offensive features of the order of commitment issued by his honor.
About this time, the steamer "William Baird" came up the river, laden with Government troops, en route to Fort Pierre. The cholera, which was then raging throughout the country, had attacked the soldiers, one of whom had died. Dr. Miller was sought to administer to the necessities of the afflicted, and responding at once to the demands made upon his professional skill, proceeded up the river, accompanied by Mrs. Miller, attending the cases en route, and remained the summer. During his absence, Dr. Henry was the solitary medicus in Omaha, and as patients demanded treatment, the accused was permitted to practice during the day, returning to his confinement and shackles at night. The jury next drawn to inquire into the facts connected with the killing of Hollister, failed to return an indictment as had its predecessor, whereupon Henry was discharged from custody, and became an active and enterprising citizen of Omaha. The following summer he aided in the building of Pioneer Block, also the building in which the first drugstore was conducted by himself.
This summer occurred the first election for county officers, resulting in the choice of J. C. Reeves for Sheriff; Clinton Briggs, Probate Judge; Thomas O'Connor, Register; George Forbes, Treasurer; Jesse Lowe, Thomas Davis and James H. McArdle, Commissioners. The first brick-yard to be established in the city was also opened this season by Bovey & Armstrong, at the corner of Webster and Thirteenth streets.