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Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Hall County
Produced by
Kaylynn Loveland.

Hall County | Early History

Wild Game in the County | Indian Depredations | The Great Storm
Grasshoppers | Old Settlers | Saw and Grist Mills
Agriculture | Public Improvements


Grand Island:  Early History of Grand Island | U. P. Railroad Shops
Grand Island Buildings | Newspapers | Churches | Schools | Societies

 4 ~ 5:
Biographical Sketches:


Doniphan:  Doniphan Biographies
Wood River:  Wood River Biographies

List of Illustrations in Hall County Chapter
Hall County Names Index

Part 1

   HALL County is one of the oldest in the state, having been organized in 1859. It is situated in the sixth tier of counties west from the Missouri River and about 150 miles west from Omaha. It is bounded on the north by Howard County, on the east by Hamilton and Merrick, on the south by Adams and on the west by Buffalo.

   The Platte River enters the county at the southwest corner, flows east of northeast across the county, leaving it about twelve miles north of the southern boundary. Wood River enters the county from the west and about three miles north of the Platte and flows in a direction nearly parallel with the latter named stream, emptying into it about eight miles west of the city of Grand Island. The Platte is very broad all the way in this county. Over the western border, in Buffalo County, it separates into two channels, between which lies a broad and fertile island about sixty miles in length. This extends across Hall County and is known as Grand Island. Besides the Platte and Wood rivers, the only other stream of great importance is Prairie Creek, about one hundred miles in length, two branches of which rise in Buffalo County, and after flowing across the northern half of Hall County in an easterly direction, unite near its eastern boundary.

   The elevation of Hall County is about 1,850 miles above the sea level. The general surface of the county is undulated prairie. The high lands are not abrupt and broken, but are generally made up of long and gentle slopes. The valleys are well drained and have a rich and fertile soil, and average from two to nine miles in width. All this extent of country is interspersed by a large number of clear and quite rapid flowing streams that are fed by springs. Except the narrow extent of country which comprises the sand hills, a strip of which extends almost entirely across the county, the soil is very fertile; and the sand hills themselves being covered with grass, afford rich pasturage for stock.

   There is but little natural growing timber in the county. In the years of the first settlement of the county, the Platte was skirted with considerable timber while there was a great deal to be found on its islands. There was also considerable timber along Wood River and a little on Prairie Creek, but the greater portion of this was cut off at the time the Union Pacific Railroad was built in 1866. There is, however, some natural timber yet to be found, but, excepting the young trees, in no great quantities. There is, however, a vast acreage of trees, that have been planted in groves by settlers and cultivated while small; many of these have already attained a large growth. The oldest grove of forest trees planted in the county is near Grand Island and the trees have attained a height of from seventy to eighty feet. Timber grows very rapidly. Three years after planting cottonwood, walnut, ash and maple will attain a size sufficient for good fuel, and in five years will make good fence posts, and in ten or twelve years will attain a size to make good lumber.

   The planting of fruit trees has been carried on to a sufficient extent to prove that all the hardier varieties of larger fruits, and all small fruits, flourish and yield abundantly.


   About the years 1856-1857, a great many settlements in the Platte, (then Nebraska) River Valley were projected by the residents of more eastern states. The colonies for these settlements were generally sent out by speculators, who intended to lay out towns, expecting that a railroad would, some time in the future, extend up this valley. Their object was to start at this early day, towns that would, when the railroad came, have attained sufficient size to form nuclei for settlement, and to readily become important business centers.

   What is now Hall County, Nebraska, was settled in the summer of 1857, by a colony consisting of a number of Germans and a few Americans, from Davenport, Iowa.

   This colony was formed under the following circumstances. Sometime during the winter of 1856-1857, A. H. Barrows, of the banking house of Chubb Bros. & Barrows, of Davenport, Iowa, Washington, D. C., and Boston, Mass., conceived the idea of founding a town on the Platte River. Accordingly he went to William Stolley to get him to help organize a colony and locate a town. He told Stolley that wealthy and influential parties, some of whom were members of the United States Congress, would aid in the project, and that it was thought a railroad would be built up the Platte valley at an early day and that the national capital would eventually be removed from Washington to some point near the geographical center of the United States. The object of Barrows and his associates was to locate a town as near the center of the country as possible, secure land, and then secure the removal of the capital to this point.

   It is true, that this was a wild and visionary scheme, but there is no doubt that these enthusiasts fully believed that their object would be attained. This was an era of wild speculations, preceding the great panic that followed as a natural consequence. This plan, wild and imaginary as it was, of going out into a wild and unsettled country, inhabited only by Indians, in the hope of securing in a few years the national capital, was no more chimerical than many other plans formed about this time for the acquisition of sudden wealth.

   At this time the surveys in the Territory of Nebraska, did not extend west of the town of Columbus. The lands north of the Platte, with the exception of a small reservation, had just been deeded by the Pawnee Indians to the United States, and the Sioux claimed all the lands south of the Platte River.

   According to the plan of Barrows, four or five men were to be sent to find a suitable location and make surveys; Stolley declined to become a member of the company to be formed, but agreed to undertake the work and to form a settlement. But on account of anticipated danger from the Indians he proposed that twenty or thirty young men be engaged, which proposition Barrows acceded to.

   Therefore a town company was formed, consisting of A. H. Barrows, W. H. F. Gurley, and B. B. Woodward, who empowered Wm. Stolley and Fred Hedde to engage a number of men under certain conditions and make a settlement. By a Nebraska territorial law, then thought to be legal, every person who was a single man or the head of a family could claim 320 acres of land, by making a settlement. The contract entered into, with the proposed settlers, by the town company, was that each settler should enter and hold 320 acres of land wherever the company's surveyor should direct. The town company was to furnish funds to purchase the land, and each settler contracted to deed one-half of this land to the town company immediately after he had secured a title to it. Each settler was also to have ten lots in the new town, and all parties who were without means were to be furnished with provisions for one year, by the company; these they were to pay for as soon as they could. A party of Americans and Germans was made up on above conditions. The Americans were: R. C. Barnard, and Lorens Barnard, surveyors from Washington, D. C.; Joshua Smith, David P. Morgan and Wm. Seymour from Davenport, Iowa. The remainder of the party was made up of Germans, the most of whom had been in America but a short time. They were: Henry Joehnks and wife, Marx Stelk, Henry Schoel and wife, Fred Doll, Wm. Hagge, Wm. Stolley, George Shulz, Fred Hedde, John Hamann, Fred Vatge, Hans Wrage, Peter Stuhr, Wm. Steer and wife, Detlef Sass, Cay Ewoldt, Henry Egge, Cornelius Axelson, Nicholas Thede and wife, Anna Steer, and Christ Menck. The above were all from Holstein, Germany. There were also Henry Schaaf and Mathias Gries, of Prussia, Fred Landman of Mecklenburg, Theo. Nagel, Waldeck; Herman Vasold, Thuringen; Christ. Andresen and wife, Schleswig, Germany. After they had become thoroughly organized, a surveying party, consisting of R. C. Barnard, and all the Americans of the colony, with Fred Hedde, and Christ. Menck, left Davenport, Iowa, about the middle of May, 1857.

   William Hagge and Theo. Nagel were appointed to go to St. Louis to purchase a supply of ammunition, arms, and provisions, blacksmith tools, &c., and to ship them to Omaha in time to meet the main party there.

   On the 28th day of May, 1857, the main party left Davenport with five loaded wagons, drawn by sixteen yoke of oxen, and in charge of Wm. Stolley. This party arrived at Omaha the 18th day of June, and after remaining there one day, all except Stolley went on west. He was obliged to return to Davenport on business. The party passed Fremont, which then consisted of ten log houses, on the 23rd of June. On June 26, they arrived at Columbus, then a little town of about 18 log houses. From this point they kept on up the Loup River until they were about twenty miles above Columbus, near where Genoa now is. Here they crossed the river on the 27th of June.

   On the 2nd day of July, the party arrived at the point where Wood River empties into the Platte, opposite the large island in the latter river, upward of fifty miles in length, now called Grand Island. On July 4, the party, having spent their time since their arrival in making observations on the country, had retraced their steps for a few miles, and now laid out a town very near the present site of the city of Grand Island. On the next day, the survey of their town was completed and stakes driven. The town was called Grand Island, after the large island in the Platte. Part of this town site covered the present town of that name, but the greater part of it was south and southwest, between the present town and the north channel of the Platte.

   Though very well satisfied with the location of their town, the colony, wishing to find the very best location possible, on July 7, divided into three parties, each to start in different directions. One of these explored Prairie Creek, another crossed over to the island and explored it, and the other went up Wood River about thirty miles.

   By July 11, the parties had all returned, and on comparing notes, decided to remain at their first location. A meeting was then called, at which it was resolved that, to meet the present needs of the colony, four log houses should be built, each fourteen feet wide and thirty-three feet long. Each house was to consist of two rooms, with an entrance large enough for a door.

   The breaking of the prairie was the next thing attended to, but it was now so late in the season that only fifty acres were broken the first year.

   By July 12, work began in earnest. Some chopped logs, others hauled them, and still others burned charcoal for use in the blacksmith shops.

   On July 23, it being feared that they would soon run out of provisions, a team was sent to Omaha for a supply.

   Saturday, August 15, some of the settlers moved into the new houses, and by the 27th, all of the houses were completed. These houses were built on the south half of the northwest quarter, and on the north half of the southwest quarter of Section 14, Town 11 and Range 9, now a part of the farm owned by Christ Menck.

   When the team was sent to Omaha for provisions, in July, the settlers had to live on half rations until its arrival. The company was furnishing provisions, and Fred Hedde had charge of their distribution. For a time there was a little trouble with some of the settlers, who insisted on having full rations as long as any provisions remained, but soon the trouble was quieted, and every thing went on smoothly until the provisions arrived, seventeen days after the teams has left the settlement, and once again the half-starved and almost discouraged settlers were supplied with plenty.

   On Monday, September 21, teams were again sent to Omaha for provisions and clothing that had been shipped to them from St. Louis and Davenport. But on arriving at Omaha it was found that the goods had not yet arrived, as the low water in the Missouri River had cut off the supplies by the line of boats, by which all freight was then received.

   Soon after the Grand Island settlement, another one was formed at the mouth of Wood River. A town was laid out and called Mendota. Four houses were built. This town was settled by David Crocker, Wm. Roberts, M. Potts and Wm. Painter. Owing to a lack of means, this town was soon abandoned, and the town was settled by Crocker as a farm. Later he sold it and removed to California.

   The fall was passed in making preparations for the coming winter. The teams sent for provisions had not yet returned, and much anxiety began to be felt lest the winter should set in before their arrival. Should this happen, unless the teams could make their way through the snow, the settlers could see nothing but starvation in store for them.

   The fall passed without any extraordinary occurrences, until a big snow storm set in on November 6. In this storm a number of the settlers came near losing their lives. On the above date a hunting party, comprised of Lorens Barnard, Henry Joehnks, Wm. Roberts and Wm. Painter, started out to try to kill some antelope and ducks. When on Prairie Creek, near the pond due north of Grand Island City, the party separated into pairs. Barnard and Roberts went up the creek and Joehnks and Painter went down. While hunting along the creek they got wet. Toward evening it began to rain very hard, and they started home. They were soon very wet, and the wind suddenly changing to the north a heavy snow began to fall, the weather became colder and colder, and so blinding was the storm that the travelers soon lost their way. After much trouble, however, Barnard and Roberts reached the settlement with no further harm than being very cold and wet. But Joehnks and Painter were unable to find their way through the storm, and so, when darkness set in, they concluded to stay where they then were. This was in a swampy slough. They tried to shelter themselves by stacking their guns and covering them with slough grass, but the wind blew the grass away as fast as they could put it on. To keep from perishing with the cold, they walked all night. Painter became so hungry that he ate a portion of a raw duck that they had killed during the day. By daylight the snow was eighteen inches deep, and the storm was still raging in all its fury. Again they tried to reach the settlement , but it was impossible to find their way through the blinding storm. However, they plodded wearily on through the deep and drifting snow.

   From the settlement a party was sent out to look for them, but the men were soon driven back by the drifting snow which was so blinding that it was impossible to face it. About nine o'clock on the morning of the 7th, the storm began to abate, and soon Joehnks reached home, so weak and exhausted from the effects of hunger and cold that he could but stumble along, and was almost unconscious and unable to speak. As soon as he could recover his voice he managed to make it known that Painter had lain down in a dying condition not far away. Parties went out to look for him, and he was soon found in an unconscious condition and nearly dead. He was quickly taken to a house and every means tried to save him, but he only lived a few hours. This was the first death to occur in Hall County. Joehnks was badly frozen but finally recovered.

   The teams sent to Omaha for provisions, in September, had not yet returned, and on November 10 the settlers sent a team with a wagon load of hay, to meet them at Columbus. This reached the banks of the Loup River, opposite Columbus, on the 14th. The provision train was there, but it was impossible to get across the river. There was a ferry boat here, but it was unsafe at the best of times, and now that the river was full of drifting ice, it was madness to ry to use it. Two of the men belonging to the provision train saw the team opposite, and with much danger and difficulty succeeded in crossing over in a small skiff. A conference was then held, and it was determined to buy all the rope in Columbus and try and work the ferry boat. The rope was bought, and an attempt was mane to use the ferry boat, but it was unsuccessful. They then resorted to the use of the skiff, and by making frequent trips they succeeded in getting several hundred pounds of flour and a few other articles over. The team then returned home, taking with them two of the Columbus party, who were sick with a fever. They arrived at Grand Island, November 18, 1857.

   On the 23rd of November another team was sent with a load of hay to the Columbus party, but they returned on December 4, with no provisions.

   The first Indians that appeared at the settlement were a large number of Pawnees, who stopped here a short time on their return from a hunt, during the winter. As the settlers knew little of the Indian character they were somewhat fearful that depredations would be committed, but in a few days the savages departed peaceably.

   The first fire in the new settlement occurred January 8, 1858. The houses of Henry Schoel and Wm. Steer were burned and but little was saved. They were, however, assisted by the other settlers.

   By this time the lack of provisions began seriously to be felt in the settlement. There was plenty of flour, but that was all. Several weak oxen were killed for food, but the meat proved of very poor quality. For weeks there were no candles or soap in the settlement. The winter was a mild one, but this was worse for the settlers, as the Loup did not freeze over enough to allow the teams to cross from Columbus. The provision train did not arrive until January 25, 1858, almost four months after leaving the settlement for Omaha. Their arrival was the signal for great rejoicing at Grand Island. The settlers had been on half rations, and even less, for some time, and many were feeble and weak.

   The first white child born in the settlement was Nellie, daughter of the wife of Wm. Steer, born March 3, 1858.

   In the spring of 1858 work was commenced in earnest, and the land broken the year before was planted to crops, while much more land was now being opened up, and all other necessary improvements were fast being added. All went on very well during the spring, but the colony again getting short of provisions, teams were dispatched to Omaha for a fresh supply.

   In June, however, long before the arrival of supplies, their stock of provisions ran so low that they resorted to half rations and some of the time even less. As this was the very busy season of the year, they had to work very hard, and soon many were so weak they could hardly stand. Cay Ewoldt was so nearly starved that he could not walk without a cane. Thus were strong and healthy men giving out from day to day. But on Thursday, June 24, the wagon loaded with supplies arrived from Omaha. Again the settlers were saved from the starvation that stared them in the face, and in a short time all were strong again.

   On July 5, 1858, another party of settlers arrived from Davenport. This consisted of twenty persons, who brought with them ten horse teams, twenty yoke of oxen, and a number of cows and young stock.

   On August 27 the Pawnee Indians again visited them, and were viewed with suspicion, but they were perfectly friendly and no damage was done by them, other than stealing a small quantity of corn and potatoes.

   The settlement had been made under the town company for the purpose of speculation, and the original town site laid out, consisted of 1,440 acres. But the speculation was not a success and, besides this, during the financial crisis of 1857-58, the great banking-house of Chubb Bros., Barrow & Co. became bankrupt, and the town company soon fell to pieces. Disputes had arisen between the settlers and the company, the former not thinking they were cared for and they should be under the terms of the contract. The provisions furnished the settler were to be paid for as soon as the settlement should become firmly established, and Fred Hedde was appointed to distribute the goods and keep the books. The books he still has in his possession, the disbanded company never having called on him for them, or upon the settlers who were indebted to them, for payment of their dues. The company did not abandon the settlement until after they had spent $6,000. Of the members of the company A. H. Barrows and W. H. F. Gurley died many years ago. A few years since B. B. Woodward was president of the Davenport National Bank, and it is believed that he is still living there. The five Americans who have been named as having been members of the colony, left during the early years of settlement, and never again returned. The German settlers were then left to keep up this new settlement, on the wild, and except by themselves, uninhabited prairies, as best they could.

   In 1858, another settlement, composed of Mormons, was commenced, some miles west of them on Wood River. The center of this settlement was on the spot where Shelton, Buffalo County, now stands. This was about one-half mile west of the present limits of Hall County, but the settlement was scattered along Wood River for a few miles in this county.

   On Tuesday, January 18, 1859, an event took place, that struck terror to the hearts of all. This was a terrible prairie fire that swept over the settlement. Three men supposed to be from Florence, Nebraska, who were on their way home from the gold fields of California, became angry with some of the settlers as they passed through, and one of the fiends, after they had got out a little way, declared with an oath, he would burn out the Dutch settlement and at once set fire to the prairie. A violent wind was blowing, and in a short time the fire had swept over the settlement. It was with the greatest effort on the part of the settlers that no lives were lost. Only with the hardest work was any of the settlement kept from destruction. As it was, eight of the large houses were burned to the ground. Besides this a great deal of damage was done to other property. The principal sufferers were William Stolley, William Hagge, John and Henry Vieregg, Christ Menck, Marx Stelk, Fred Vatge, Hans Wrage, Mathias Gries, and Rudolph Mathieson, though many others lost a great deal of property.

   Though the greatest effort was made, the villains who perpetrated this dastardly crime, were never captured or brought to justice.

   Knowing the desperate circumstances in which some of the settlers must be placed by this event, the citizens of Omaha raised money to aid the sufferers, but the party to whom it was entrusted stole it.

   During the winter and before another crop could be raised, many privations and some suffering was endured by the settlers, but all worked manfully in the efforts to raise a good crop and their labors were liberally rewarded.

   In the fall of 1859, the settlers, through William H. Stolley, secured a government contract for the delivery of 2,000 bushels of corn at Fort Kearney, at $2.00 per bushel. Before this time, corn had been freighted to the above named post from Fort Leavenworth, at a cost of from $3.50 to $4.00 per bushel. Col. May was at this time commander at Fort Kearney, and he was ever a firm and kind friend to the settlers. It was through him that the settlers secured this contract, and then only with the greatest difficulty, as so many rings existed for the purpose of furnishing the government with grain at an immense price. During the winter many of the settlers also found work at the fort, and their days of suffering were at an end.

   Another thing that now contributed to the success of the settlers was the fact that the overland travel to the west began to pour up the Platte Valley. Gold had been discovered at Pike's Peak, and emigrants and freighters, en route for Oregon, California, New Mexico, Montana and Colorado, began to travel up the valley by the thousands. This was the commencement for the Grand Island settlement of a term of prosperity that continued for several years. Everything they had to sell brought a high price. Cabbages were 50 cents each, watermelons, $1 each, with all other products bringing prices in the same proportion.

   Every day large trains were moving up and down the valley. The teams generally used were oxen, and the settlers did a good business buying up lame cattle and young calves from the emigrants and freighters, who were willing to sell cheap. This soon became one of the most prosperous settlements in the State and for several years the settlers made money rapidly.

   During the early years of the settlement but after the organization of the county, ten of the settlers left the settlement. These were Fred Hedde, Christ Andresen, D. Sass, William Steer, N. Thede, M. Greis, Theo. Nagel, C. Axelson and H. Vasold. The three first named returned in a short time and remained, becoming leading men. None of the others ever came back.

   In 1859, the settlement had acquired so great importance that it was determined to organize a county under the territorial laws of Nebraska. Before this the Grand Island settlement had been a part of Platte County, but in this year Hall County was organized, and officers elected. The first officers were: Judge, Fred Hedde; Clerk, Theo. Nagel; Commissioners, Hans Wrage, James Vieregg, and Henry Egge; Sheriff, Herman Vasoid; Treasurer, Christ Andresen; Justices of the Peace, R. C. Barnard, and Wm. Stolley; Assessor, Fred Doll; Constables, Christ Menck and M. Greis.

   In the winter of 1858-59, the stage line had been extended from Columbus to Fort Kearney, through Grand Island and this first brought "Pap" Lamb here as the first stage driver and station keeper. The first post office was established in the spring of 1859, with R. C. Barnard, Postmaster. The first mails were weekly, but changed to tri-weekly in 1860. The first weekly stage from Omaha to Fort Kearney was put on the route, October 1, 1858.

   From Grand Island, the first party to venture to the Loup country started in October, 1860. They started with two teams, one of horses and the other of oxen. Their route was up Wood River to a point north of Fort Kearney, where they crossed over the divides to the north. They were gone about three weeks and returned with loads of game and furs.

   The first term of school ever taught in the county, was in 1862, and was taught about one mile south from the present court house of Grand Island. There were but six pupils in attendance, and Theo. Nagel was the teacher.

   The winter of 1863-64 was an exceptionably severe one. Snow covered the ground from November to March. The greater portion of the corn was left in the fields all winter, it being impossible to get it out on account of the deep snow. A great many cattle perished during the cold storms. Several men were so badly frozen, while lost in the storms, that they lost some of their limbs, and one man was frozen to death.

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County Index    Table of Contents

Index of Illustrations in Hall County Chapter
  1. [Grand Island & U. P. R. R. Shops.]
  2. [Residence of Hon. John L. Mean.]
  3. [Residence of George Cornelius.]
  4. [Portrait of Henry A. Koenig.]
  5. [Portrait of W. H. Platt.]
  6. [Portrait of Jay. E. White.]