Surface and Natural Productions | Early Settlement | Events and Items|
War Record | County Organization | County Roster|
Court House and Jail | Railroads | Ferry and Transfer Companies|
Otoe County Fair Association | Otoe County Medical Society
The Old Settlers' Association | Assessments for Taxation
Nebraska City: Early Settlement | Selling Town Lots | A Judicial Joke|
An Incident of the Panic | An Era of Speculation
Nebraska City (cont.): Transportation and Telegraphs | Incorporation|
Official Roster | Criminal | Education
Nebraska City (cont.): Religion|
Nebraska City (cont.): The Press | Government Offices|
Fire Department | Fires | Societies | Wyuka Cemetery
Nebraska City (cont.): Public Buildings | Hotels | Banks|
Board of Trade | Elevators | Nebraska City Gaslight Company
9 - 14:
** Nebraska City Biographical Sketches **|
| ADLE~DILLON | DRAKE~KEES | KINNEY | KOHN~NEILSON |
| NORTHCUTT~SCHMITZ | SEYMOUR~ZIMMERS |
Syracuse: Education | Religion | Societies | Railroad Interests|
The Press | Biographical Sketches
Syracuse (cont.): Biographical Sketches (cont.)|
Palmyra: Education | Societies | Religion | Business|
Dunbar: Events and Items | Education | Religion | Societies|
Railroad Interests | Delaware Precinct (biographical sketches)
Unadilla: Religion | Societies | The Press | Events and Items|
Wyoming | Camp Creek | Other Towns|
Biographical Sketches: North Branch Precinct | Hendricks Precinct
Osage Precinct | McWilliams Precinct | Berlin Precinct | Minersville
List of Illustrations in Otoe County Chapter
Otoe County Names Index
OTOE County is centrally located on the Missouri river in southeastern Nebraska. It has a river frontage of eighteen miles north and south, extending thirty-six miles to the west. The area of the county is about 390,000 acres, and its geographical position unsurpassed, lying as it does, in the same belt of latitude as Philadelphia, Columbus and Indianapolis, and in the very center of the great grain and fruit producing regions of the Northwest. It rises gradually from the low grounds of the Missouri Valley, the elevation above the sea level being about 950 feet on the eastern border, and about 1,100 feet on the western line.
The county is cut out of the rolling prairie, which consists of long, gentle swells of land, scarcely ever offering obstructions to the plow. The term "rolling prairie" is general, describing a prominent feature of the county, but not the whole of the land included in its borders. There are broad stretches of level prairie, and bottoms along the streams, from one to two miles wide. On the Missouri River front there are high bluffs; the land of these bluffs, where they are the roughest, being rich and fertile, and adapted for growing fruits to perfection. The streams are abundant, and each one has well drained bottom lands through which it meanders. These river and creek bottoms, as well as the high rolling prairies, are exceedingly fertile, and year after year fifty to sixty bushels of corn to the acre is the common product of the soil. The Little Nemaha River and its tributaries run from the northwest to the southeast of the county, affording ample water power, and in addition to this and the various creeks are draws or ravines, which can not properly be called streams, but which afford permanent water for stock, in large, deep pools, where, in the pure atmosphere, it remains sweet and fresh all the year round. There are very few, if any, quarter sections of land in the county that do not afford good stock water.
It may be said of the soil, not only of this, but of all the counties of southeastern Nebraska, that it needs no artificial enrichment, and the testimony of science is that it is practically inexhaustible. The surface is a black alluvial, rich in organic remains, and containing in full proportion all the components of plant food needed in growing the staple crops of the world. Under the black surface soil is the sub-soil, varying in thickness from twenty to eighty feet, also exceedingly rich. The fertility of this sub-soil, according to Hayden's report on the trans-Missouri territory, it is impossible to exhaust. In fact only cultivation is needed, not manure. No mere tickling with a hoe will make any land laugh with harvest; but in this county, wherever the plow-share is driven, there are bountiful crops.
The prairie, in a state of nature, demonstrates its own productiveness. The open grounds are clothed with rich and nutritious grasses, affording unlimited pasturage and hay. The prairie is, in fact, a grass country, not fewer than one hundred and fifty species having been identified, many of these, and all the most common are equally good for grass or hay. The bluffs and the banks of streams are well clothed with timber, and though very much has been cut, there is to-day in Otoe County, more timber than there was when the first white man crossed the Missouri and settled in fertile Nebraska. Among the trees are numerous species of oaks, several maples, various species of ash, elm and hackberries, hickories and cotton-wood poplars. The wild fruits are also numerous and exceedingly good. In all the timber belts and groves, plum trees are found bearing excellent fruit, six species in all, while wild grapes and gooseberries are abundant, and in patches on the prairie grow to great perfection.
Such was the land when the first settlements were made, such is it now, where the natural products have not been eliminated by the breaking plow, the cornfield taking the place of the pasture, the pasture as it exists, changed and improved by the introduction of yet new products.
Prior to the year 1844, the territory now known as Otoe County, may be said to have been exclusively in the possession of the Pawnees, the Otoes, and the Omaha tribes of Indians; although it is known that traders to whom might properly be applied the title of itinerant, were among them some years earlier than this, crossing from Iowa, and ascending the river from St. Louis, then the great trading post of the Northwest. It is certain, however, that no regular settlement had been made in Nebraska, below Bellevue, in Sarpy County, than a station of the American Fur Company, and under charge of Colonel Peter A. Sarpy; before the establishment of Old Fort Kearney, in the year mentioned, that of 1844. There seems to be some question as to just when the establishment of this fort, and its definite location, was decided upon: One of the witnesses stating that as early as 1841, the spot was selected by Colonel Steven W. Kearney (afterwards Major General), while another says that it was not chosen until about two years prior to its occupancy, in 1846.
On the 22d day of April, of that year, Company G, Second United States Dragoons, under command of Captain Allen, arrived and proceeded to establish a military post on the present site of Nebraska City. Another account says that work was commenced under the direction of Captain Woodbury, of the United States Engineering Corps. In any event a block house was at once erected, near what was afterward the middle of Fifth, between Main and Otoe streets, and a log house built near where the Morton house (now the Seymour) afterwards stood, being intended for, and occupied as officer's quarters. A hospital was also built; subsequently used as a residence by William R. Craig, near the present corner of Fourth and Main streets. War having been declared between the United States and Mexico, early in the year in which this occurred, the regular forces were ordered to New Mexico, soon after the improvements mentioned had been complete, the post remaining practically untenanted by the military until 1847; the buildings during the interim being in charge of William Ridgeway English, now, or recently, of Glenwood, Iowa, as military storekeeper.
In the fall of 1847, there arrived at Fort Kearney, five companies of United States troops, raised in Missouri, for service in New Mexico, and ordered to winter at the unoccupied post. This command was in charge of Colonel L. W. Powell, the companies being directly commanded by Captain Andrew W. Lambeth of St. Louis; Captain David McCaustion of St. Charles; Captain Robert W. Stewart, (afterwards Governor of Missouri); Captain W. H. Roders of Savannah, Missouri, and Captain, afterwards General, Craig of St. Joseph. Temporary houses were erected for the officers of the battalion, most of them being situated near the present intersection of California and Fourth streets, the barracks for the troops being located south of Main street and near Sixth. The command remained at Fort Kearney for just about one year, doing little more than to prevent encroachment upon the Indian preserves, themselves, it is said, making frequent raids of a mild character on Fremont County, Iowa, and Atchison County, Mo., where balls and fandangoes, enlivened by the presence of the many Mormon ladies then living in these counties, were the order of the day.
In the fall of 1848, the military post was abandoned, and the garrison moved to what was afterwards known as New Fort Kearney, on the Platte River, and in the south central portion of the State, the Government property being left in charge of a Mr. Hardin, superseded a year later by Col. John Boulware, Col. Hiram P. Downs being placed in charge in 1850, and retaining control until the Government withdrew all claims to the site upon which the fort was built. Col. Hiram P. Downs afterwards assisted in raising the "Nebraska regiment" in 1861, and was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, in August of that year, removing shortly after the war to Montana Territory.
Regarding the location of the fort, Dr. Frederick Renner, in a lecture delivered in February, 1866, says: "As Gen. Kearney never owned a lot in Nebraska City, never speculated in wild lands, ferry charters, credit fonciers or cotton, it is but fair to presume that the natural advantages of our present town site from a commercial and strategical point of view alone induced him to erect a fort at this place."
However this may be, it is certain that the American Fur Company, soon after the location of the military post, made this one of their stations and continued it until the United States extinguished the Indian title.
Nothing of especial interest in the history of what is now Otoe County occurred from 1848 until 1852, when John B. Boulware, son of Col. John Boulware, built a ferry house, and the first permanent habitation in the county, on the river bank at the foot of Commercial street, opposite the site of the old Planters' House. In the spring of 1853, Col. Boulware's claim, afterwards the Kearney division of Nebraska City, was staked off as a squatter's claim. Hiram P. Downs also claimed two quarter sections adjoining, the claim being surveyed by Charles W. Pierce in the fall of the same year, running the north line from the river, nearly along north Table Creek to what was afterwards Tenth street, the west line along Tenth street, and the south line south of the present Kansas street. The claim of John B. Boulware extended from the south line of the last mentioned claim to south Table Creek, and from Col. Boulware's land upon the east, nearly to the west line of what is now Hail & Co.'s addition. Pierce also surveyed a quarter section for one Fawkes, of whom nothing further, or of importance, is known.
The Boulwares deserve especial mention as strong and adventurous pioneers, the raw material of a State, who came with the first, and, with a single exception, remained in the land of their adoption until death.
Next to Col. Peter A. Sarpy, whose trading post was at the Bellevue steamboat landing, Col. John Boulware is believed to be the first white man who attempted a settlement in the river valley above the north line of the State of Missouri. He went up the river and established himself at old Fort Calhoun in 1826, and after many years of the experiences of a life forward of the frontier, moved into Platte County, Mo. In 1846 he established a government ferry at Fort Kearney. Was given charge of the government building in 1849, still continuing, however, until his death, to run the ferry, no longer a government concern, but at one time exceedingly profitable, as the new territory began to settle, and the vast tide of immigration set in towards the western country. He died January 3, 1864, leaving the reputation of having been a man of strong common sense, warm in his affections, bitter but not implacable in his hates. In this connection it may be said that it was largely through his instrumentality that the Platte Valley Bank did not close its doors during the panic of 1857. This, although personally anything but a friend of Stephen F. Nuckolls the one chiefly interested.
The oldest son of Col. John Boulware, known as John B., remained at Nebraska City until civilization became too apparent for a natural frontiersman, when he moved still further west, being last heard from in Corinne, Utah. George W. Boulware, born in Platte County, Mo., was raised in Nebraska City, assumed charge of the ferry upon his father's death, carrying the mails between the city of his residence and Sydney, Iowa. At one time a man of large property, he died poor. Daring and reckless, strongly impulsive, yet full of charity for others, he passed away from earth leaving many very warm friends, October 20, 1881.
The Winter of 1856.--Those who came to the section of Nebraska to which reference has been made as early as 1854, or 1855, will remember the balmy, springlike, "first winters" which deceived many into believing that they had found a land where summer reigned perpetual. They will also remember how dearly the injudicious paid for their mistake, in supposing that what had been necessarily would be, during the terrible cold winter which began on December 1,1856, "freezing into ninety solid blocks of ice all the days of that month and the succeeding ones of January and February, 1857." Many lives were lost in the storms of that period. Deep snows covered the whole earth, and game, which before the year 1857 had been abundant--venison saddles being sold at $1.50, and dressed wild turkeys at 75 cents each--perished from cold and hunger. Deer ran through the streets of Nebraska City seeking safety from wolves, which followed them on the ice crusted snow, which the sharp feet of the fleeing kine cut through.
First Attempts at Agriculture.--About 1857 occurred what were practically the first attempts at agriculture. Up to this time the thought of persistent attempts to cultivate the soil had not been favorably or generally entertained. "Cain had been a farmer and came out badly, and agriculture was regarded as rather a plebeian vocation at best." Moreover there were legends to the effect that Nebraska could never become a commonwealth of farmers. But at this time, in the words of Hon. J. Sterling Morton, "it was discovered that a man with some mind and muscle could deposit eight quarts of Indian corn in a well plowed acre of Otoe County land, and by reasonably careful cultivation, and the co-operation of sunbeams and raindrops, gather in the autumn anywhere from fifty to eighty bushels of the cereal, from the same acre--and have all the land left." What this land has since been made to do, has already been related.
The Drought of 1859.--The summer of 1859 will be long remembered as a most remarkable one. Little or no rain fell during the entire season, and crops of all kinds through-out the entire West were unusually light. As a consequence, the cost of living, though unreasonably high before, was still further advanced, and the many in reduced circumstances who depended upon the produce of their land for their support, suffered considerable deprivation. The succeeding season however, by some unknown law of compensation, was all or more than could be asked.
The Great Storm of 1868.--On July 14, 1868, the most disastrous storm on record since the organization of civil government in Nebraska, occurred. The wind was almost a tornado, and the rain fell in torrents. The grain was as flat in the fields as though a heavy roller had passed over it, and the loss throughout the country, never estimated, was very heavy.
Arbor Day.--In 1873, through the action of the State Board of Agriculture, and the direct efforts of Hon. J. Sterling Morton, one day in each year was set apart as a perpetual "Arbor day," to be devoted throughout the State to the planting of forest and fruit trees. Prior to this, considerable attention had been paid to the subject in Otoe County, but the appointing of a definite and fixed time, the third Wednesday in April, gave a new incentive to the good work, the results of which are already seen. In 1857, cord-wood sold in Nebraska City for $7, $8, and sometimes as high as $9 a cord, and that too, at a time when her population was not one-fifth of what it is now; the present price is from four to five dollars a cord, the reduction in price being largely due to the planting and culture of groves. As an example of the extent to which this has been carried, it may be noticed that on November 16, 1876, a special autumnal "Arbor day," more than 7,000 forest trees of different varieties, were set out in Otoe County.
The Great Flood.--About the 5th of April, 1881, the waters of the Missouri River, fed by the melting ice of the Yellowstone and other tributaries, swelled by the spring rains in the North and all along their course, began to swell and surge, and fret their banks, spreading over the Iowa bottoms, finding their way up the gulches and creeks on the Nebraska side, stealthily undermining the railroad tracks and wagon roads on both sides of the river, and threatening distruction to life and property. On the 8th of the month, the river in the vicinity of Nebraska City, at its narrowest point was over a mile wide and at its widest over two miles. The K. C. & St. Joe, which is situated five feet above the level, was within a couple of inches of being sub-merged, while the B. & M. track of the Brownville Branch, was entirely useless, much of it being washed out.
By April 10, all attempts to run trains on the C. B. & Q. and the K. C. & St. Joe Railroads, were abandoned, the water being at that time eighteen feet above high water mark. On April 20, the river reached the unprecedented height of twenty-three feet and six inches above high water, forming a vast lake, fully eight miles in width; Eastport and Percival, on the Iowa side, were entirely surrounded, the elevated location of Nebraska City saving her from serious damage. The narrative of destruction so far as this section of the river is concerned, is properly a matter of Iowa more than of Nebraska history, Otoe County having few low tracts on the river's edge and escaping almost altogether the ravages of the flood. The cattle sheds of the distillery at the foot of Main street, in Nebraska City, were somewhat damaged, a few fields in Otoe and Wyoming precincts submerged, but Otoe County's principal interest in the matter, was that of sympathy for the Iowa sufferers, hundreds of whom sought refuge within her hospitable borders.