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Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Nance County
Produced by
Connie Snyder.


Natural Features and Products | Extent and Resources
Early Settlement | Organization | Schools | Means of Communication


Fullerton:  Schools and Churches | Societies and Newspapers
Business Interests | Biographical Sketches


Genoa:   Schools, Churches, etc. | Business Interests
Biographical Sketches

Nance County Names Index

Part 1


   NANCE County lies near the center of the State from the north to south, in the fifth tier of counties west of the Missouri River.

   It is bounded on the north by Boone and Platte Counties, on the east by Platte and Merrick, on the west by Howard and Greeley, and on the south by Merrick. Each of these counties is noted for its agricultural advantages, and in no respect is Nance inferior to either. With the exception of a sandy belt lying along the southern boundary and forming part of the Platte Valley, there is but little waste land in the county. About 80 per cent is upland, which, for grain-raising purposes, is preferred by many to the valley lands. The remaining 20 per cent is found along the various streams, with which the county is well supplied. The most important is the Loup River, which enters near the southwest corner and flows in a northwesterly direction, passing the eastern boundary near the middle, and furnishing thirty-two miles of valley, varying from one to three miles in width.

   From the northwest, Cedar Creek winds its way until it joins with the Loup near the center of the county. Farther east, Beaver Creek flows in a similar direction, meeting the Loup near the boundary.

   Besides these important water-courses, there are also a number of tributary streams. Plum, Ash, Council, Timber, Horse and Cottonwood Creeks all discharge their waters into the Cedar or Loup from the north, and below, Prairie Creek passes along near the southern boundary. Many of these valleys are skirted with native timber, and the market is supplied with wood at reasonable prices. The most important varieties are elm, ash, poplar and cottonwood. The existence of these groves was undoubtedly the most important factor in determining the choice of the Pawnees for the reservation. Much of the timber was cut off while the lands were held by the Government, and the valleys are now nearly stripped.

   For richness of soil, the valley lands cannot be excelled. Where cultivated, they yield the richest harvests, and, when left untouched, produce luxuriant growths of wild grass. Corn is the staple grain product, and is largely cultivated in connection with stock-raising, which is rapidly becoming the chief occupation of the farmers. A reference to the statistics will show that the great advantages for this branch have not been overlooked, and already the county contains some of the finest thoroughbred horses and cattle to be found in the West.

   Fruit-raising has been tried sufficiently to show that it is practicable, and, as soon as the groves, which are everywhere appearing, become large enough to afford protection from the wind, this county will have a full supply of all fruits suitable to the climate.

   Not to be overlooked in the estimate of Nance County's advantages are the beds of limestone on the Cedar, which promise to furnish valuable quarries. Some digging has also been done in search of coal, but no definite knowledge has yet been obtained of the existence of coal strata.


   An act of the Legislature, passed in 1879, defined the boundaries of Nance County as including "all that portion of the State of Nebraska included in and known as the Pawnee Reservation." Later an extent of unorganized territory lying west of the reservation was also included in the county. The original reservation was intended to equal a rectangle thirty by fifteen miles in extent, but numerous corrections of the survey reduced its size, and the additions made will still leave it with an area of about four hundred and fifty square miles, or 278,837 acres.

   As will be explained hereafter, the land is subject to neither homestead, pre-emption or other acts of Congress, but is sold for cash at a price which was determined by appraisers appointed by the Government. All proceeds go to the Pawnees, who originally owned the county. The lowest price at which any land was appraised was $2.50 per acre, and it ranged from that to $4 and $5 per acre. Over two hundred thousand acres of the lands of the county have been sold, and about sixty thousand still remain in the hands of the Government. Of that which has been sold, there can be any amount obtained by those desiring to settle. The price of lands in the valleys near Fullerton ranges from $5 to $10 per acre, and, farther back, can be had at the appraisers' prices. The tendency of this cash sale has been to keep many from settling in Nance for want of ready money, and they have gone elsewhere and taken homesteads or railroad lands. There has been some compensation for this loss, however, in the class which have taken Nance County lands. For, since none but those possessed of means could buy, only the better and more thrifty class have settled, and the 1,329 people which the census of 1880 gives as inhabitants of the county are composed of the very best elements which congregate in our Western States. Schools, churches and other means of culture are maintained by the people, and the new-comer meets here the same refinement and intelligence which marks the society of the older and wealthier communities. In so new a country as Nance County, but little could be expected in the way of improvements, and yet, in the Assessor's reports for 1881, 4,913 acres are returned as improved. Of this area, 1,161 acres were sown with wheat, 199 with oats and five with barley; corn was planted to 1,381 acres. These figures have been largely augmented during the last year. The same returns give 580 as the number of horses in the county, 4,149 of sheep, 3,234 of cattle, and 584 of hogs. The total personal property valuation was $132,834. Each year's growth makes large additions to all these figures, and even now the report of last year is no fair test of the extent of either population or property.

   Financially, Nance County is in the best condition. There is no bonded indebtedness, and but a slight floating indebtedness. Taxes are low, and the prospects are that they will be still lighter as the county settles up.

   Nance County has two streams running through its territory, which furnish unexcelled water-powers. In the east, the Beaver passes near Genoa, and in the central part, the Cedar meets the Loup at Fullerton. Both streams are narrow and rapid. In many places, the bottom is rock, and the banks are high, thus rendering damming an easy process. At Genoa, the water-power has not been improved, but D. A. Millard, the proprietor, is making efforts to secure a mill, and offers the site to any one who will build a good one. At Fullerton, a mill was erected in 1880, by Tiffany & Bently. This enterprise will be noticed more at length in connection with Fullerton's business.


   The first settlement made in Nance County was in 1857, by a colony of Mormons. They came from near St. Louis, under the leadership of H. J. Hudson, and after attempting to settle in Platte, moved to what was then Monroe County, beginning operations near the present town site of Genoa. There were 100 families altogether, and the fall was occupied in constructing cabins and dug-outs for protection during the winter. In the spring following, a survey of the lands squatted on was made, and shares allotted. Two thousand acres were surrounded by ditches and fences, and 1,200 acres were put under cultivation. A post office was established, and called the Genoa office. H. J. Hudson was appointed Postmaster. Although extreme privations were undergone during the first year of settlement, the colony was very prosperous in 1860, when the Pawnees arrived to take possession of their reservation. During the three succeeding years, the Mormons attempted to remain and hold their possessions, and live in proximity to the Indians; but the numerous struggles between the Sioux and Pawnees kept them in constant jeopardy, and in 1863 they broke up and scattered. Many located in Platte County (in the history of which may be found a further account of the settlement), but the greater portion left the country entirely, some going to Iowa and many to Salt Lake. The history of the Indian settlement during the fifteen years when they owned and occupied the county, has already been given. In 1875, under charge of the agent, William Burgess, they left the reservation, and in 1876 ratified the act of Congress, under which the lands were brought upon the market. Owing to the delay caused by the appraisement, the sale did not take place until 1878, but the early settlement began in 1876. Many were willing to make improvements and take their chances of securing titles. Among the earliest of these was Robert Compton, who came in 1876 and located eight miles above the mouth of the Cedar. During the same fall, W. A. Davis squatted on his half section, about half way between Genoa and Fullerton; and James Scully took the land which he afterward sold to N. Crabtree, who came in the fall of 1878. Mr. Derrick also came in 1876, and located where he now lives, seven miles northwest of Genoa. In the western part of the county, the Crow brothers squatted during the same fall. With them came Mrs. H. H. Knight, a sister, and the first white woman who came into the county to settle. They found Randall Fuller herding cattle on the present town site of Fullerton, and mistaking his stock for antelope, were preparing for sport. They discovered their error before any damage was done, however. In the winter A. H. Crow and Mrs. Knight went back to Minnesota, leaving Edward. One of his experiences was an hour's swim in the Cedar, during the winter. He had been calling on his neighbors, Compton and the Johnsons, a Norwegian family, then the only two families in that section, and was on his return, when he broke through, and by almost superhuman efforts broke ice to shore and escaped. In 1877, a few more settled, and awaited the sale to secure their improvements. In the eastern part of the county, Clark Cooncy came in with Davis, and located near him. Eric Nelson and Andrew Thompson settled a little west of them. Frank Hodges took a claim at the mouth of Timber Creek in September. Farther west, W. H. Bowman and Alfred Bixby settled during the year. Bowman came from Minnesota and met Bixby in Iowa, and together they traveled to the reservation. Bowman settled three miles north of Fullerton, where he now lives. Bixby located a little south of him, where he lived until 1878, when a sudden illness carried him off. It seemed doubly unfortunate that after enduring the perils of pioneer life, and then just fairly securing the title to his fine property, he should be removed from the enjoyment of it.

   In 1878, prior to the sale, O. E. Stearne arrived, and squatted on the quarter cornering with the town site of Fullerton on the northeast. Soon after locating he secured the post office, which was the first west of Genoa. There was no regular mail carrier, and each of the early settlers did service in turn and brought the mail in his pocket. It was not long after that a mail route was opened between Central City and Albion, and J. F. Bixby, one of the enterprising editors of the Journal, and an early settler, tells jovially of the first trip over the route, when the mail consisted of one postal card. During this year, also, A. Brown located, and was the first settler in the valley of the Cottonwood. When the sale occurred in July, there were not above twenty families in the county. Most of those who had squatted went to Central City and secured their titles, and the actual settlement began. But little was done during 1878, and the rush of immigration did not begin until the year following. During 1879, the towns were laid out, and immense quantities of lands were sold. People flocked into the country, and the rapid settlement, which has not decreased since that tinie, was begun.


   In 1857, during Buchanan's administration, a treaty was made by the Pawnee Indians, in which it was stipulated that they should choose a location west of the Missouri. Here they were to colonize and learn the arts of civilization, become converted to Christianity and develop, under the superintendency of the Government, into intelligent and law-abiding citizens. After roaming over the great Western country, the Indians located on the spot of land which is now known as Nance County. Buildings were erected by the Government for schools, supply-houses, etc., and for nineteen years the noble red man enjoyed the Government hospitality in this beautiful region. However, the rapidity with which Nebraska was settled soon brought numerous land hunters, who looked with longing gaze on the broad prairies and fertile valleys of the reserve, and long before any change was made herders had intruded with their stock, and a large portion of the Indian ground did yearly service in the way of pasturing their cattle. In 1875, by treaty stipulation, the Indians were removed to Indian Territory.

   By an act passed April 10, 1876, and agreed to by the Pawnees, the lands formerly occupied by them were offered for sale. The contents of this act were, that the land should be appraised in "quarter sections, and then offered at public sale to the highest bidder; that thereafter all remaining unsold should be sold to any one at the appraised value; that the terms of sale should be one-third cash down and the remainder in two equal yearly payments, bearing six per cent interest." For the distribution of the proceeds of the sale the following provision was made: The Government was first to be reimbursed for the expenses of survey and appraisement. Then the expenses connected with the removal of the tribe were to be paid. A new reservation was to be bought, and if anything was left, it should go for the benefit of the Indians. This act may be found in the Statutes at Large, Vol. XIX, p. 28.

   In consequence of the passage of the act, a survey was immediately begun and a Board of Appraisers appointed. The Board consisted of Albert W. Swalm, Lewis M. Briggs and Loran Clark. Over a year was spent by these gentlemen, in which time they viewed every quarter section in the county and appraised its value. As soon as this work had been completed arrangements were made for the sale. It was held at Central City, and began July 15, 1878. On that day, the first acre of Nance County land was disposed of. The Central City people had expected and made preparations for an immense crowd of buyers, and the few who were there still laugh at the disappointment which was everywhere exhibited. But very few attended the sale, which lasted four days, and but little land was sold. Those who had already squatted were present and secured their claims. D. A. Willard bought what has since become the town site of Genoa and Randall Fuller secured the two sections upon a portion of which now stands Fullerton. After this sale, the lands were purchased occasionally by those desiring to settle, and by 1879, a very respectable body of settlers was to be found in the county. Many had been kept out by the fact that the general impression was that the reserve would be divided among the neighboring counties, and this undoubtedly was what the counties themselves expected. But petitions were gotten up by the citizens and sent to the Legislature for the organization of a separate county.

   They were greatly assisted in the accomplishment of their purpose by Brad. D. Slaughter, at that time Clerk of the House, who had already determined to settle in the new county if it should be organized. The act was passed and the county named after the then Governor of the State, Albinus Nance. On the 21st day of June, 1879, the Board of Commissioners appointed by the Governor met to read the following order:

   "Whereas, a large number of citizens of the unorganized county of Nance have united in a petition asking that the said county be organized and that Orison & Stearns, George McChesney and J. W. Whitney be appointed special County Commissioners, and D. Eager be appointed special County Clerk of said county, for the purpose of forming a permanent organization, and that the northeast quarter of Section 14, Town 16 north, Range 6 west be designated as the temporary county seat of said county of Nance, and it appearing that the said county contains a population of not less than two hundred, and two or more of said petitioners are taxpayers and residents of said county; Now therefore, I, Albinus Nance, Governor of the State of Nebraska, in accordance with the memorial of said petitioners, and under and by virtue of authority in me vested and in pursuance of the statute in such cases made and provided, do declare said county to be temporarily organized for the purpose of permanent organization, and do appoint and commission the persons above named as the special County Commissioners, and the said person above named as special County Clerk, and do declare the place above named and described as the temporary county seat of said county."

   After thus receiving their authority to act, the Commissioners proceeded to county business. At their third meeting, they ordered an election to be held November 4, 1879, for the purpose of electing county officers and choosing a county seat. "And thereby hangs a tale." The place which the Governor had designated for a temporary county seat was the present town site of Fullerton, a place very centrally located in the county and one which was very desirable for the permanent location. Genoa, however, was a thriving village in the eastern part of the county and was located on the railroad, and thought that the county business should be transacted there. The election passed off with no difficulty, but the counting of the votes proved a troublesome task. Whether, from the poll-books, it appeared that Genoa had a majority or for some other reason, it would be difficult to say, but at least an injunction was served on the board from Fullerton, ordering them not to canvass the Genoa vote. This brought the matter into court, and as Nance County had none, the different attorneys appeared before the Judges at Central City, where, on account of some technicality, the injunction was not removed. At Osceola, however, the Judge removed the injunction, and issued a mandamus ordering the board to canvass the vote. This was done, but, strange to relate, the returns from Genoa showed only fifty-eight votes, while the poll-books showed over ninety. Whether the returns had been doctored while the case was before the courts or by what means the result was as it was will probably never be fully understood. At all events, the board declared the vote to be in favor of Fullerton, and located the county seat there accordingly. The officers elected at this election were: Clerk, J. N. Reynolds; Treasurer, S. L. Sturtevant; Sheriff, W. H. Bowman; County Judge, M. S. Lindsey; Superintendent, Dan Barker; Surveyor, G. H. Haskins; Commissioners, R. R. Warn, Henry Ruby and Thomas F. Miller. Soon after the election, Randall Fuller, who owned the town site of Fullerton at the time, had entered into a contract with the county, agreeing that he would deed sixty acres joining the town to the county, in consideration that the county seat should be located there. This was accordingly done, and the county has since platted the land and made an addition to Fullerton. The lots are being sold and a fund accumulated for the purpose of building a court house. No bridges of any importance have been constructed by the county so far. Those over the Cedar and Beaver were the result of private subscription.

   Fullerton Precinct once offered assistance for the erection of a bridge over the Loup. Pierson Smith proposed to move the old wagon-road bridge, and place it near Fullerton, on condition that the precinct should give $1,250, bonds to be paid when the bridge was completed, and should also allow him to run it as a toll bridge five years, provided only that the county could buy it at any time during the five years, and open it as a free bridge. Accordingly, a vote was taken September 11, 1880, and the bonds issued by a vote of seventy-two for and twenty-two against. Mr. Smith began the work, and had all the piling in, and the bridge partially erected, when a freshet carried out about half of the spans. Becoming disheartened at this, Mr. Smith discontinued work, carried off the remaining piles, and threw up the contract at a loss of some $1,500. The precinct immediately had the bonds canceled, and thus ended the nearest approach that has so far been made to bridge the Loup. No bonds have ever been issued for anything by the county, and, so far as financial matters are concerned, the management of the county has been very economical. The present officers are: J. N. Reynolds, Clerk; S. L. Sturtevant, Treasurer; S. Roberts, Sheriff ; T. Elliott, Judge; J. J. Fleharty, Superintendent; A. H. Ellsworth, Surveyor; Thomas F. Miller, J. M. Kennedy and Robert Baxter, Commissioners.


   The short period of official existence has not been passed over by Nance County without making some provisions for education. At present, they are incomplete, but a few years will see the little nucleus, which the county already possesses, develop into an extensive and valuable system. There were, in 1881, twelve school districts and eleven teachers. The number of children of school age was 447, of which 438 attended during the year. The wages paid the teachers were $716.86, of which the lady teachers received $401.05. There were five schoolhouses in the county--one brick, one frame, one log and two sod houses. During the year, there were 825 days of school taught in the county. Since this report of the Superintendent was made, two new districts have been created and two buildings erected. In every way the growth has been rapid, and already the statistics of last year give no adequate idea of the extent of improvement.


   At present, Nance County is not well supplied with means of shipping, but the prospects for railroads through the county are good. In 1879, the Omaha, Niobrara & Black Hills Branch of the Union Pacific passed through the northeast corner of the county at Genoa, and thus far is the only road in the county. Lines have been surveyed by both the Union Pacific and the Burlington & Missouri up the Cedar Valley, and the grade stakes set by the former. The Union Pacific will come from Genoa, cross the Cedar near Fullerton, and go north on the west side of the river. The Burlington & Missouri is surveyed from Central City, and passes near the town, also following the Cedar. It is impossible to say when either road will build, but the prospects are that both will be commenced soon. This will give Nance every facility for shipping, and open up much of the finest land in the county. There are now good wagon roads from Fullerton to Genoa, and bridges across the Cedar and Beaver, which were built by private subscription. There is also a wagon road to Central City, but no bridge across the Loup, and fording and ferry-boats are both unsatisfactory methods of crossing this treacherous stream. In the early history of the county, Adam Smith's graded wagon road and bridge over the Loup were used a little, but before much settlement had been made, the bridge was washed out, and has never been replaced. A few y ears ago, an effort was made by Fullerton Precinct to secure a bridge over the Loup near town, but a freshet found the work half finished, and it was never completed. Nearly all the shipping of the county has been done at Genoa, where it will probably continue until some other road is completed. Throughout the county, there are a number of wagon roads, and every facility for easy travel to and from the station has been furnished.

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