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Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Madison County
Produced by
Connie Snyder.


Topography and Geology | Natural Resources | Early Settlements
Indians | Organization | Railroads | Public Schools | Crops
Taxable Property | Population

Norfolk:  Incorporation | Biographical Sketches

Madison:   Biographical Sketches
Battle Creek | Other Towns

List of Illustrations in Madison County Chapter
Madison County Names Index

Part 1

MADISON County is in the third tier of counties, south from the Missouri River, on the north line of the State, and the fourth tier from the same river on the east line of the State. Its area contains 576 square miles, or 368,640 acres.

   The county was created in 1856, by the Territorial Legislature, and its boundary lines fixed by statute; nor have these original boundaries since been changed.


   The surface of Madison County is composed of upland, valley, bluff and bottom lands in the following proportions: Upland, 40 per cent; valley, 40 per cent; bluff and sandy lands, 15 per cent; bottom lands, 5 per cent. The bottom lands lying immediately along the creeks are subject to overflow; the sandy lands lie mainly in the eastern part of the county, midway from north to south; they furnish excellent pasture, and constitute 12 per cent of the surface; the Elkhorn Valley extends across the northern end of the county, varying from three to six miles in width; Union and Taylor Valleys are in the southeastern corner, and Shell Creek Valley in the southwestern. The uplands vary in height from thirty to two hundred feet above the bottom lands.

   The surface soil of the bottom lands, uplands and valleys, is mainly a dark sandy loam, varying in depth from two to eight feet. Beneath this the subsoil is either sand or clay, which lie upon each other to an unknown depth, the rock below not having been reached in any deep borings as yet. At a depth of about twelve feet in some places, a coarse gravelly layer is found.


   In this, as in other counties generally throughout the State, the different varieties of grasses constitute the principal natural source of wealth. Blue-joint is the most valuable kind, and from the valleys and uplands an abundance of excellent pasturage and nutritious hay is obtained. A little buffalo grass is still visible on the sandy plains, and several kinds of coarse slough grass grow on the bottom lands. When the earliest settlers came into this county, considerable timber was found along the Elkhorn, and the creeks in the southern part of the county. Cottonwood trees a foot in diameter were found, and there were to be found box elder, elm, willow and other kinds. That growing naturally has been mostly utilized in building and for fuel, and the planted groves do not yet equal in quantity of timber the original natural forests.

   There have been planted numerous groves of cottonwood, walnut and ash, the former especially making rapid growth, the total number of forest trees planted up to 1881 being over fifteen hundred thousand, and of hedges 213 miles.

   There have been planted also 2,700 apple trees, 760 cherry trees, 540 plum trees, 270 peach trees a few pear trees and thirty-eight acres of grape vines.

   There is an abundance of good brick clay in the county, in the vicinity of Norfolk and Madison, brick made from which is extensively used in the erection of business blocks and dwelling houses.

   Madison County is well watered by the Elkhorn, which flows through the northern part a little to the south of east; by the North Fork of the Elkhorn, which flows through the northeast corner; by Battle Creek, which rises in the western part and empties into the Elkhorn from the south, about the middle of the county from east to west; by Union and Taylor Creeks in the southeast, Shell Creek in the southwest, and by Buffalo, Deer, Dry and Meridian Creeks.

   Water is found in the valleys by digging wells from. twelve to twenty-five feet, and on the uplands from thirty-five to one hundred and twenty-five feet. The water found in these wells is of excellent quality, clear as crystal, but often quite hard, necessitating the use of alkalies to soften, it for washing purposes. Springs are found in various parts of the county, some hard, some soft. The soil is abundantly fertile, yielding large crops of all kinds of cereals, except wheat and vegetables.


   The first explorers of Madison County of whom we have any account, were two Germans from Jefferson County, Wis., who left their homes September 1, 1865, to look for new homes in Nebraska. They came here by way of St. Joseph, Mo., Omaha, Elkhorn City, Fontanelle and West Point. Here they hired a team to take them to the North Fork of the Elkhorn. Eight miles above West Point, the most advanced settler was found. Passing on, they reached their destination September 15. These two pioneers were Herman Braasch and Frederick Wagner.

   After selecting a location for a colony with which they were satisfied, they returned to Wisconsin to spend the winter in preparations for removal in the spring. On the 14th of May, 1866, twenty-four families, consisting in the aggregate of about one hundred and twenty-five persons, started for Madison County, Neb., from their former homes in Jefferson County, Wis., under the leadership of Herman Braasch. On the 4th of July, they reached West Point, Cuming County, and on the 17th of July, 1866, having built numerous bridges across streams they could not ford, they arrived at the present site of Norfolk, on the North Fork of the Elkhorn, four miles above its confluence with the main stream. The names of some of these men who came out with Mr. Braasch, were Martin Braasch, Gottlieb Rorke, Charles Ninow, William Ruhlow and William Winter. Upon arriving at their destination, they found a small party of young men from Illinois, already settled on the ground; these young men had reached there in May preceding. Their names were William A. Barnes, L. D. Barnes, William H. Bradshaw, D. L. Allen and Matthias Kerr. These young men being Americans, did not desire to live with the Germans, so prepared to seek a more congenial settlement. Matthias Kerr, holding a claim along the North Fork, containing 160 acres, in the form of a rectangle four times as long as wide, sold his right to Herman Braasch for $200. The colonists then arranged themselves on either side of the creek, on quarter-sections of the same shape as Kerr's, but endwise to the creek, so that a compact settlement might be formed, that each man's stock might have easy access to water, and that it might be easy for the whole colony to collect on either side of the stream, in case of an attack upon them by the Indians.

   The first rude survey of these lands was made by William Sharpe, using a pocket compass and a pair of harness lines. After the laying-out of the claims, the selection was made by lot, each settler taking as his, the 160 acres corresponding in number to the number on a slip of paper drawn by him, blindfolded, out of a hat. Thus did this colony of honest Germans recognize the equality of each with the others in his rights, and thus were many possible future bickerings, quarrels and envying prevented.

   While these preliminaries were being arranged, the families lived in their wagons, as they continued to do, while log houses were built. This was not so arduous a task as in some localities, for there was plenty of cottonwood timber on the Elkhorn about a mile to the south. All had neat comfortable log houses ready for occupancy before the approach of winter, which proved to be very severe.

   In 1867, Samuel H. and A. J. Thatch settled on the Elkhorn, south of Norfolk.

   In the year 1867, Frederick Wagner returned to Madison County, accompanied by Frederic Lukas, Ferdinand Pasawalk and others. The settlement continued to grow and prosper. Herman Braasch, in the spring of 1877, sowed fourteen acres of wheat on land that Matthias Kerr had broken the previous year, from which he reaped 185 bushels, selling it for $1.50 per bushel.

   In December, 1866, Henry M. Barnes, Frank W. Barnes and William J. Barnes made a selection of a place to locate, on Union Creek, where Madison now stands, and, May 3, 1867, made their settlement. They were followed by P. J. Barnes, Henry Hill, Horace Severance, William Bickley, Thomas R. Bickley, Henry Platts, Charles Huylar and others in 1867; and, in 1868, by Peter H. Fedderman, William Ellis, B. C. Hicks, Henry Maurer, Sr., John Maurer and Henry Maurer, Jr., Philip Schwartze, Henry C. Brown and others, all of whom settled on or near Union Creek.

   On Shell Creek, in the southwestern part of the county, Capt. O. O Austin was a squatter sovereign, built a log house on a piece of land and remained about a year, being thus the first settler in the county who may be looked upon as in any degree permanent; though John Bloomfield, who came in 1868, was the first bona fide settler on this creek. William Meneice also came in 1868, and, in 1870, Niels Nelson, Anders Larsen, Newman and Lewis Warren, the latter of whom settled on Capt. Austin's deserted land.

   In 1867, a settlement was made on Battle Creek, nearly five miles above where the town of Battle Creek now stands. The first settler here was George St. Clair, or, as he was otherwise called, "Ponca George," who came here on the 10th of January, 1867. Patrick Scully followed on the 1st of March, 1867; Benjamin Speelman, January 10, 1868; and in l869, quite a number settled on or near the creek, most or all of them being attracted by the exceptionally fine timber growing there. This timber consisted of burr oak, red and white elm, hackberry and ash.

   The settlers of 1869, came mostly from Missouri. Some of their names are the following: John and Henry Tiedgen, August Eyl and three sons, Theodore, Henry and Fritz, Heinrich Tomhagan and Henry Woste. These parties reached Battle Creek in April. Later in the same year, L. D. Barnes, Patrick O'Neill and John Ahrens settled in the vicinity.

   In 1870, Bennett and Henry Stolle, W. A. Barnes and others came here; and, in 1871, F. J., D. A., J. D. and J. T. Hale came to this county from Virginia, and settled between Emerick and Fairview, as also T. C. Osborn and C. H. Reeves.

   In the Battle Creek School District, Miss Sarah Crooks taught the first school in the summer of 1871, a schoolhouse having been built the winter previous.

   In May, 1872, the first sermon was preached in the schoolhouse by Rev. Jacob Dellinger, a Baptist clergyman.

   The first birth in the settlement was that of a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Tiedgen, in the year 1870.

   The first marriage was that of Heinrich Tomhagan to Miss Lena Gunkel, October 15, 1870; and the first death that of Mr. Seckel, also in 1870.

   During the summer of 1871, a settler named Sidney Fuller was murdered in a field near Shell Creek. Two cattle dealers were arrested and tried, but sufficient evidence could not be found to implicate them. The mystery connected with the murder has not been solved; no subsequent attempt has been made to discover the murderer.


   The people of Madison County have had but little trouble on account of Indians. The settlement on the North Fork had, perhaps, most difficulty with them in the spring of 1867. The winter had been exceptionally severe, snow lying on the level to the depth of three feet, and the cold being intense. It was next to impossible for the Indians to find food. Provisions were not plenty with the settlers, and for their own supplies they had to travel to the Logan Creek, a distance of sixty-five miles, the trip frequently requiring a whole week. Under these circumstances, it was no easy task to feed themselves and the Indians too. Still, the best possible was done, notwithstanding which the Indians were always hungry, and, in consequence, committed some acts of depredation. They poisoned one cow for Herman Braasch, and ate the flesh, killed and ate five dogs belonging to the settlement, and upon discovering the carcasses of seven timber wolves which had been killed by the settlers three weeks previously, eagerly dressed them as well as they could and devoured the flesh.

   It is probable that hunger tamed the savage nature of the Indian in this case. The settlements on Shell Creek were visited in 1869 by a party of Sioux Indians, who killed some stock belonging to Lewis Warren and others, and shot Mrs. Nelson, but not fatally.


   The county was organized in December, 1867, and the first election was held in a small frame house on Taylor Creek, January 21, 1868. The following officers were elected at that time: County Commissioners, Herman Braasch, August Raasch and Henry M. Barnes; Probate Judge, Frederick Wagner; Clerk, Samuel H. Thatch; Treasurer, Frederick Heckendorf; Surveyor, August Lentz; Coroner, Horace J. Severance; Sheriff, Fielding Bradshaw; County Assessor, Frederick Boche; Justices of the Peace, John Allison and William Bickley; Constables, Thomas Bickley and Fred Hasse.

   The Commissioners held their first meeting at the house of Samuel H. Thatch, April 6, 1868, at which meeting they appointed C. W. Braasch, Probate Judge, to fill a vacancy, and divided the county into three Commissioners' Districts.

   At the first regular election held October 11, 1868, the officers chosen were: Clerk, P. J. Barnes; Sheriff, C. W. Braasch; Surveyor, Alvin Marsh; County Assessor, A. J. Thatch; Coroner, J. Q. Harvey; Superintendent of Instruction, Henry A. Barnes.

   In 1876, Hon. Frank Welch, of Norfolk, was elected a member of Congress, and during the canvass for a re-election, died suddenly of apoplexy, at Neligh.

   The first State Senator from District No.7, of which Madison County was a part, was Dr. Alexander Bear, of Norfolk, elected in November, 1874. The second was Samuel W. Hayes, of Norfolk, elected in 1876, the number of the district having been changed to 11.

   The first member of State House of Representatives from Madison County, was Dr. Alexander Bear, of Norfolk, elected in November, 1877; the second, Hon. Charles P. Mathewson, elected in November, 1879, and the third, Hon. C. C. Wyatt, of Schoolcraft Precinct, elected in November, 1881.

   There have been several contests over the location of the county seat. At the first election, held January 21, 1868, it was located near the present site of Norfolk, but as the town did not grow up around the offices, the offices were moved into town by the officers, by common consent among themselves, which action, though illegal, was never criticised.

   In 1875, the question of the relocation of the county was voted upon a number of times, the first election being held July 13. At this election the vote stood: For Battle Creek, 286; for Madison, 220; for Norfolk, 142.

   No town having received a three-fifths majority, another election was necessary, which was held September 6. The result this time was as follows: Battle Creek, 256; Madison, 211; Norfolk, 205.

   No place having yet received a three-fifths majority, another election was required, and as Norfolk had at this second election received less than two-fifths of the entire vote cast, she being the county seat, was not permitted to again enter the lists, and at the next election a majority vote would decide the question. The third election was held October 12, and according to the canvass of the vote resulted for Battle Creek, 362; Madison, 368. Madison thus became the county seat.

   Battle Creek gave notice of their intention to contest the election on the ground of fraud, and commenced proceedings, but not pressing them to an issue, there has been no judicial decision of the case.

   An unsatisfied feeling still exists in regard to this matter, and, in consequence, no court house or other county buildings have been erected.


   In the year 1872, the Burlington & Missouri Railroad Company made their selection of lands within the county to the amount of 88,000 acres. A brief history of the difficulties connected with the title to these lands, and of the contests over the payment of the taxes may be found in connection with Antelope County. Suffice it to mention here, the terms of settlement of the question between the Burlington & Missouri Company and Madison County.

   The case was brought in the United States District Court for Nebraska, Judge Elmer S. Dundy presiding, under the title of Horatio H. Hunnewell vs. the Burlington & Missouri Railroad Company, and the County Commissioners of Madison County and William Gerecke, Treasurer. The taxes in controversy were for the years 1873 to 1877 inclusive, and averaged $7,135.43 for each of the five years. The company practically gave the county a bonus of $6,000 to permit the case to go into court.

   The finding of the court was that the taxes were void and not a lien upon the lands, but that a cloud had rested upon the company's title. The defendants were enjoined from collecting any of said taxes, and the cloud upon the title was removed. So the county lost by this decision of what they claimed the snug little sum of $29,677.14.

   The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missiouri Valley Railroad Company made a proposition to the people of the county to build their road through the county and maintain a depot in case they would vote to the company $40,000 in twenty year 8 per cent interest bonds. This proposition was voted on, and lost, May 3,1879, the vote being 642 for the bonds out of a total vote of 1,041, not a two-thirds majority.

   The Omaha, Niobrara & Black Hills Railroad Company made a proposition to build twenty-seven miles of road and maintain three depots within the county, in case the county would vote them $52,000 in bonds. This proposition was defeated June 14, 1879.

   On June 18, the electors of Norfolk Precinct held a meeting, and by resolution invited the Omaha, Niobrara & Black Hills Company to submit a proposition for precinct bonds, and accordingly this company submitted a proposition to Union, Fairview and Norfolk Precincts to build their road through those precincts in case they would vote bonds to the amount of $13,000, $2,800 and $13,000 respectively. The election was held on the 26th day of July, 1879, and the bonds succeeded by the following vote: Norfolk Precinct, for bonds, 171; against, 26; Union Precinct, for bonds, 196; against, 17; Fairview Precinct, for bonds, 46; against. 13.

   The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad (S. C. & P. R. R.) was built without aid from the county, and reached Norfolk September 15, 1879. The Omaha, Niobrara & Black Hills Railroad reached Norfolk in 1880, and the St. Paul & Sioux City Railroad about April 15, 1882.

   The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad has twenty-eight miles of road in the county, appraised at $106,261; the Omaha, Niobrara & Big Horn, twenty-two miles, valued at $64,928, and the St. Paul & Sioux City, twelve miles, not appraised.

   The Burlington & Missouri Company has yet about fifty thousand acres of land in this county for sale, varying from $2 to $6 per acre.


   The county has manifested commendable interest in the cause of public education, and has made noteworthy progress. There are fifty-seven school districts, fifty-three schoolhouses, sixty-five qualified teachers, and 2,225 school children enumerated--1,150 males and 1,075 females. The schoolhouse sites are valued at $1,110; schoolhouses at $10,337; books and apparatus at $350.


   Owing to inaccuracies in and the incompleteness of the Assessors' reports for 1881, the acreage under cultivation and yield for that year cannot be given. We therefore reproduce the report for 1880, as follows:

                            Acreage.       Yield--Bushels.

   Winter wheat............... 65                 869
   Rye..................... 1,071              30,229
   Spring wheat........... 17,868             185,000
   Corn................... 12,300             309,880
   Barley.................... 601              12,161
   Oats.................... 3,812             128,220
   Sorghum.................... 14                 857 galls.
   Broom-corn................. 20                   4 tons.
   Potatoes.................. 266              27,000
   Turnips..................... 1                 140
   Tobacco..................... 0¼             ......
   Timothy.................... 13              ......
   Clover...................... 2              ......
                           ______              ______
     Total................ 23,753¼            385,426


The valuation for 1881 was--

                             Number.        Valuation.
   Real estate......................          $561,483
   Horses..................... 3,143            96,790
   Cattle..................... 8,905            85,363
   Mules........................ 141             5,408
   Sheep...................... 3,240             4,220
   Hogs....................... 9,469            12,732
   Vehicles..................... 893            12,268
   Money in merchandise.............            51,275
   Money in manufactures............             6,038
   Agricultural implements and ma-
     chinery........................            22,385
   Moneys, credits and stocks.......            30,495
   Furniture........................             6,578
   Investments in and improvements on
     real estate....................            31,255
   Not enumerated...................           185,344
     Total real and personal estate on
       the tax list..................        $1,111,643


   When the county was organized in December, 1867, it contained about thirty families--perhaps one hundred and fifty persons. In 1876, it contained a population of 3,288; in 1880, according to the Government census, 5,587. The Assessors' returns for 1881 make the population 5,577, distributed among the precincts as follows; Union Creek, 1,183; Schoolcraft, 509; Shell Creek, 311; Fairview, 309; Jefferson, 327; Norfolk, 1,266; Battle Creek, 1,120, Emerick, 231; and Grove, 321; but no one has confidence in the returns, and we should probably be much nearer the truth to add 1,000 to the whole number returned, and divide this number proportionately among the precincts.

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County Index    Table of Contents

Index of Illustrations in Madison County Chapter
  1. [Portrait of Alexander Bear, M. D.]
  2. [Portrait of S. W. Hayes]
  3. [Portrait of J. S. McClary]
  4. [Portrait of Chas. P. Mathewson]
  5. [Madison.]