Part 2: Fort McPherson | Indian Troubles | County Organization
Part 3: General History | The Indian War
Hunting Buffalo and Indians
Part 4: Visit of the Grand Duke Alexis | Stock-raising
Agriculture | Present Condition of the County
Part 5: North Platte: Early Reputation | Permanent Improvements
Part 6: Biographical Sketches (cont.)
Illustration: [View of North Platte - Lincoln County Court House]
In the spring of 1860, W. M. Hinman, who had been on the frontier for a number of years in the employ of the Government, removed from Fort Laramie to Cottonwood Springs and opened up a farm some four miles west of the Springs. In the course of a few years, he had a farm of nearly two hundred and fifty acres, fenced with cedar posts and rails. He was remarkably successful, the yield of crops being very great. Potatoes and vegetables were, however, the principal crops raised, and with the immense travel over this route, the market was always good. His prices were high, and the profits were of course enormous. Besides his dealings with the freighters and ranchmen, he was, after the establishment of a military post here made Government Interpreter. From the very first, his trade with the Indians was great. The Indians are particularly fond of vegetables of all kinds, and would pay almost any price, trading their ponies and furs for them. Mr. Hinman tells us that one season some eighty lodges of Indians camped near his farm, and so passionately fond were they of vegetables, that they remained until they had literally traded everything they possessed that was of the least possible value. On this farm also were planted a large number of forest trees and an extensive orchard. These trees all thrived, and their growth and development was wonderful until in the summer of 1864 a flood of the Platte River destroyed them.
In November of 1863, Fort McPherson was established by the United States Government at this settlement of Cottonwood Springs. The location of the fort was at the foot of the bluffs along the Platte River. The cause of its location at this point was an accident. The expedition sent out for the purpose was overtaken by a cold storm and sought shelter under these bluffs. Finding themselves near a settlement, they concluded to locate the fort here.
A better location might probably have been selected, as the bluffs coming down so closely enabled the Indians in after years to approach unseen so near the fort on one side as to prove very dangerous to any who might be a short distance away from the post on that side. This military station was first commanded by Maj. O'Brien.
Fort McPherson was established none too soon, for it was only in the following year, 1864, that the war with the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians commenced. It seems that the Indians had organized so well that attacks were made almost simultaneously on nearly all the stations along the valley from Fort Kearney to the Rocky Mountains. The war began with the massacre at Plum Creek, which occurred August 8, 1864.
There have various accounts been given as to the causes which led to this war; but from the most reliable information gathered from those residing in the county at the time, the following account may be said to be generally correct.
The Cheyennes had for some time exhibited a troublesome and warlike spirit, though the Sioux had been quiet, and had shown themselves willing and even anxious to remain friendly with the white men in the country. The Indians, however, were badly treated. White men stole their ponies and committed flagrant acts of injustice, for which redress was impossible. During their friendly visits at the stations and military posts, they were frequently met with rebuffs and driven away. This was notably the case at Fort McPherson, Maj. O'Brien being very unkind to them, driving them away whenever they put in an appearance at the fort. This being the state of affairs, the first event that led to actual outbreak took place in Colorado some time previous to the opening of the war. The bodies of a family who had been killed were found by white men at a ranch. No one was left to tell the story of the murder, but it was immediately attributed to the Cheyenne, and a party was at once organized, and an attack was made upon this tribe. A number of them were killed, which, of course, only served to stir up still more their feelings of hatred toward the whites. During the winter of 1863-64, it was observed by the traders at Cottonwood and at other points in Lincoln county, that the Cheyennes who, previous to this time, were always so anxious to trade for guns and ammunition, no longer cared to do so. Upon being questioned as to the reason, they responded that they obtained guns and ammunition to the southward, in Kansas and on the border of the Indian territory. Many writers have been led to believe, as is generally believed here, that they were secretly armed and incited to war by agents of the Confederate Government. It is true they were well armed, but this could not be regarded as proving that they had received assistance from the South, for the Indian traders were only too willing to provide fire arms and ammunition, selling them for enormously high prices. It must be remembered, also, that this had been going on for a number of years, and that there were still a large number whose only arms were their bows and arrows; besides this, the persecution and wrongs that had to be endured by these Indians were of themselves quite sufficient to incite them to insurrection. These facts, together with the somewhat crippled condition of the Southern Confederacy at that time, would indicate the probability that the rebel government had nothing to do with this outbreak. As stated, the Cheyennes were the first to manifest hostilities. The Sioux showed a desire to remain friendly. Some months before the first trouble in this county, Little Thunder, a chief of the Brule Sioux, gave the settlers warning of the proposed outbreak on the part of the Cheyennes. But friendly as they were at first, the Sioux and Cheyennes were so intimately related, having married from one tribe to the other, and having mingled together for years until they were in most respects almost as one tribe, their interests were so closely allied, and these Sioux especially had been so badly treated by the Post Commanders, that they were at length driven by the force of circumstances to ally themselves with the Cheyennes.
The first outbreak of the war was at Plum Creek, on the 8th of August, 1864, when a wagon train was captured, and a general massacre occurred, the particulars of which are given in the history of Dawson County. This was followed on the next day by an attack on several points in this county, though but few lives were lost, as the news of the Plum Creek massacre had been telegraphed to all the stations along the Platte, and the settlers had either retired to the fort at McPherson, or had taken precautions to defend themselves. Between Fort McPherson and Plum Creek, however, several men were killed and scalped. At Gillette's Ranch, east of McPherson, the two young brothers Gillette were killed some distance from the ranch, and their father searching for them was also surprised and killed. A man was also killed near Fort McPherson while at work in his hay field. Bob Carson, well known to the old settlers, was also killed. The stage stations were all attacked, and many of them totally destroyed. Travel, unless with a heavy guard, was attended with great danger, and even then they had to be always on the alert and watchful lest they be surprised. The carrying of the mails was of course very irregular, and though the stage coaches were still continued on the line, they traveled only with a strong guard, and then their trips were only made at irregular intervals. But, strange to say, the telegraph line was hardly ever injured, and the greater portion of the time communication could be kept up by this means. During September, 1864, a number of men were working at or near the farm of W. M. Hinman, when they were surprised and killed. About the same time, while a squad of soldiers in charge of Capt. Mitchell, were out in the bluffs near the fort, gathering plums, they were surprised by the Indians, and a number of the soldiers were killed and scalped. Those who escaped reported that the well-known chief Spotted Tail was among the attacking party. In October, of the same year, Mrs. McDonald was returning from Omaha, where she had been visiting her brother, James Boyd, the present Mayor of that city, and narrowly escaped an attack, by taking a special stage coach from Fort Kearney, where she had remained for some time waiting for a favorable opportunity to run the gauntlet among the Indians to reach her husband at Fort McPherson. Though she arrived safely and in the night, the regular stage with a number of military officers on board and attended by a guard, passing over the road some hours later, was attacked by Indians and one of the horses killed when within a short distance of the fort. They succeeded, however, in beating the Indians back, and none of the party were hurt except a Jew, who was slightly wounded.
As a result of these troubles, prices of supplies rapidly went up. A large beef contract was entered into by the officer in command at Fort McPherson, with Mr. Hinman, to furnish a large number of cattle at 18 cents per pound. Charles McDonald was awarded a contract to furnish hay at this post at $49 per ton. The prices of all supplies increased in proportion.
These troubles with the Indians continued for about five years after the outbreak in 1864, and though travel was attended with much danger, still the travel and freighting over the plains continued, and the stage and mail routes were kept up, some of the time the mail being carried by what was known as the pony express. This was a fast mail line, running at the rate of about fifteen miles per hours, and was operated as follows: the mail was carried by a man riding a pony at full speed. Strong and agile riders were engaged who, mounting their ponies, spurred them on at a full gallop, stopping at each station to change ponies, a fresh one being held in readiness by an attendant, so the rider need not be delayed except to jump from one pony and mount the other at once. This was, of course, attended with great danger, and occasionally one of these pony riders fell prey to the Indians. Besides this, great physical endurance was required. Stage coaches, though generally guarded, were frequently captured and the occupants killed. Freight trains were attacked and plundered, and unless they could escape by flight, the entire wagon party would be killed and scalped.
What is now known as Lincoln County was first organized as a county under the old Territorial government of Nebraska, in 1860. Cottonwood Springs was made the county seat. The following officers were elected. Commissioners, I. P. Boyer, who is now a resident of North Platte; J. C. Gilman and J. A. Morrow; Judge. Charles McDonald; Treasurer, W. M. Hinman. Instead of being called Lincoln, however, the county was named Shorter. Further than to organize, nothing was done of any importance, as the only officers who ever took the trouble to qualify for their respective offices were J. A. Morrow and Charles McDonald. Judge McDonald entered upon his official duties so far as to perform the marriage ceremony, but to no greater extent. He continued to exercise the functions of this office until the re-organization of the county under the name of Lincoln, in 1866.
In 1866, steps were taken to re-organize old Shorter County, as the first organization had no effect so far as the government of the county was concerned. The officers elected in 1860 having failed, with two or three exceptions, to qualify, and no other election having been held, the organization of the county was practically of no effect.
On September 3, 1866, a meeting was held and arrangements made to re-organize Shorter county under the name of Lincoln, in accordance with the Territorial laws of Nebraska, as this was before Nebraska became a State. An election was called for the 9th day of the following October. The early records are so incomplete that it is impossible to give the names of all the officers elected at this time, but J. C. Gilman, W. M. Hinman and J. A. Morrow were elected Commissioners; S. D. Fitchie, Judge; William Baker, Sheriff; Charles McDonald, Clerk. The county seat was continued at Cottonwood Springs.