NEGenWeb Project
Kansas Collection Books

Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Produced by
Don Schreiner.

Surface and Natural Products | Early Settlement | Events and Items

War Record | County Organization | County Roster
County Representation


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
Manufacturing Interests

9 - 14:

** Nebraska City Biographical Sketches **

PART 15:

Syracuse:  Education | Religion | Societies | Railroad Interests
The Press | Biographical Sketches

PART 16:
Syracuse (cont.):  Biographical Sketches (cont.)
PART 17:

Palmyra:  Education | Societies | Religion | Business
Biographical Sketches

PART 18:

Dunbar:  Events and Items | Education | Religion | Societies
Railroad Interests | Delaware Precinct (biographical sketches)

PART 19:

Unadilla:  Religion | Societies | The Press | Events and Items
Biographical Sketches

PART 20:

Wyoming | Camp Creek | Other Towns
Biographical Sketches:  North Branch Precinct | Hendricks Precinct
Osage Precinct | McWilliams Precinct | Berlin Precinct | Minersville
Otoe Precinct

List of Illustrations in Otoe County Chapter

Part 4


[View of Nebraska City]

Nebraska City, the county-seat of Otoe County, is favorably and beautifully situated on the bank of the Missouri River, about sixty miles south of Omaha, Neb., and 110 miles north of St. Joseph, Mo. Its natural advantages are unsurpassed by those of any town upon the river; the site of the city occupying low bluffs and gently inclining planes, which place it far beyond the reach of high water, or the yet more invidious and dangerous malaria; while the eminence is so slight, and in its approach so gradual, as to occasion no inconvenience. Beyond the city, to the north, the west and the south, the eye falls upon an open plain, an undulating prairie country, while everywhere may be seen groves of forest trees planted by the early settlers. Its streets are broad, and in the resident part of the town, planted with shade trees. Nestling in its valleys and spreading out upon its hills, Nebraska City is truly a city of orchards and gardens, well situated to afford the casual beholder the best possible view of its advantages and its beauties.


The early settlement of Nebraska City has been already touched upon, it being the first locality in Otoe County to be settled. In 1844 the United States Government occupied a portion of the present town site for a military post, which was named Fort Kearney, the fort proper, a blockhouse, being built in 1846. It stood in what is now Fifth street, about four rods south of the center of Main; a log cabin, used for officers' quarters, barracks, or hospital, standing about 150 feet to the east. This cabin, it may be noted, was removed in 1858, the blockhouse standing until 1865, when it was taken down, a portion of it still being in existence; having in the nineteen years of its service been occupied successively as printing office, justice court, drugstore, saloon, jail and butcher shop.

The troops being removed and the post abandoned in 1848, the Government property was left in charge of a Mr. Hardin, superseded in 1849 by Col. John Boulware; Col. Hiram P. Downs assuming control in 1850, and continuing in charge until the Government withdrew all claim to the site upon which the fort stood.

The original settlers and claimants, as squatters, of the ground now embraced by Nebraska City, were John Boulware, John B. Boulware and Hiram P. Downs. John B. Boulware building, as early as 1852, a log residence, also used as a ferry house, at the foot of Commercial street, opposite the site of the old Planters' House; a ferry having been established prior to this by the Boulwares, father and son. The former's claim was the present Kearney's division to the city. Hiram P. Downs taking old Nebraska City, or 160 acres of the land upon which it afterward stood, as soon as it was abandoned by the United States. Until the spring of 1854, the territory on the west side of the river, and of course including that portion to which especial reference is made, was closed for settlement; it being necessary to secure a special permit from the Secretary of the Interior in order to locate on the Indian lands. Among other permits issued prior to the President's proclamation based on the treaty with the Otoe tribe of Indians of 1853-54, was one to Charles H. Cowles, formerly a resident of Iowa, who opened very early in the spring of 1854 the "Indian Store," which he continued to operate for some years; disposing of his stock finally to Henry Bradford. The next store was opened by Job Deneen, in Kearney; Deneen closing out his stock within a short time and removing to Hamburg. The first frame house erected on the town site was that of Charles H. Cowles, built near the present corner of Fifth and Main streets; the second, by Charles Pierce, on Main near Third.

In April, 1854 Stephen F. Nuckolls, and in May of the same year Allen A. Bradford crossed the river, making an arrangement with Hiram P. Downs, whereby they became, with him, joint owners in the claim which he had taken, immediately employing Charles W. Pierce to survey and stake off a city. This work was commenced in May, 1854, Dr. William Dewey, Cornelius Schubert, Samuel Saunders, and others assisting. This company, known as the Nebraska City Town Company, subsequently added to its membership H. P. Bennett, William B. Hail, Lafayette Nuckolls, John Doniphan, L. D. Bird, James Doniphan, S. E. Frazer, Marshall & Woodward, N. B. Giddings, Charles F. Holly, J. W. Kelly, W. S. VanDoren, Robert Cook and J. Sterling Morton, all, or most of these securing a goodly number of corner lots, there being as may of these as it was within the scope of mathematical possibilities to create.

The first hotel was built by Mr. Downs in the fall of 1854. It was a two-story house about thirty feet by twenty-five, with a small back building. This, the City Hotel, was kept by Mr. Downs until May, 1855; by Messrs. D. F. Jackson & Jones, until September of the same year, by George Washington Hepner, to July, 1856; by Barnum Barnes until the spring of 1857; John L. Armstrong until the spring of 1858, and by Fred W. Hattendorf for a few weeks in March or April, 1858. After Hattendorf moved out, while excavating for a basement to the hotel (the property having been purchased by Simpson Hargus),the building caved in; Hargus immediately removed the wreck and erected in its stead, a four-story brick hotel of which further mention will be made. The next hotel in Nebraska City was the Planters' House, in Kearney, the largest part of which was destroyed by fire in 1863. The Planters' House was built in 1855, and was kept as a popular hotel by Col. John McMecham, still a resident of Otoe County.

As early as 1852, a post office, called Table Creek Post office, was established at Nebraska City, with Col. John Boulware as Postmaster. He was superseded in 1853, by Hiram P. Downs, and a year later the name of the office was changed to Nebraska City, C. W. Pierce being appointed Postmaster.

The first regular preaching in the new city, or to be more accurate, the city of the future, was by William D. Gage, a Methodist missionary, who commenced his ministration in this section as early as 1853. There is every probability that the garrison of Fort Kearney had enjoyed some sort of religious privileges, but if so, all record regarding it is lost.

The first child born in Nebraska City was the son of George H. Benton, who made his debut in August, 1854. The first marriage celebrated was that of George W. Nuckolls to Sarah Kennedy, sometime during the same year. The first death was that of one of the Donohue family, occurring in the fall of 1854, the remains being interred in the block between Laramie and Main, and Eleventh and Twelfth streets.

The first slaves brought to this vicinity were the property of Stephen F. Nuckolls. This was in the fall of 1854, and the chattels consisted of two girls and two men, Shade and Shack. In 1857 or '58, Shade and the two girls were smuggled away by the managers of the underground railway; tracing them to Chicago, their owner attempted to have them arrested under the fugitive slave law, a proceeding which occasioned great excitement in the abolition city; so great that Nuckolls' life was endangered, and in all probability saved only by the prompt action of Hiram Joy, Chairman of the Committee on Police, of the City Council, who provided the injudicious master with a disguise which enabled him to steal out of the city, and get home, without his property. After the war, letters were received from Shade, then a member of the South Carolina Legislature, under the name of his former master.

Two other slaves, Uncle Hercules and Aunt Dinah, were the property of Judge Charles F. Holly, who becoming involved, one of his creditors, William B. Hale, secured a judgment and through the efforts of his attorney, O. P. Mason, had an execution issued and levied, under which the slaves were sold for about $400 and taken to Missouri.

Alexander Majors brought five colored house servants with him from Missouri in 1857. In June, 1860, three of these, all girls, were assisted to get away on the underground railroad. One was captured in Chicago a few months later but, it is believed, was never brought back.

In addition to these Robert Kirkum had one negro woman. These twelve constituted the slave property of Nebraska City.

In May, 1854, William and Kennett McLennan, the former now an attorney at Nebraska City, and the latter a resident of Ohio, brought the first steam ferry boat up the river, taking it first to Omaha where it was run until July of the same year, being then operated at Nebraska City. After various tribulations this boat, the Nebraska No. 2, was sunk at Plattsmouth in 1858 or 1859. In November, 1854, a saw mill was erected by Stephen F. Nuckolls, continuing in operation but a short time.

The first term of court was held in March, 1855, beginning on the 19th of the month, Edward R. Hardin, of Georgia, officiating as judge and M. W. Riden as clerk. At this term nothing of importance was done beyond the admission of attorneys, the reception of a few naturalization oaths, and the preparation for a term to follow. On November 12, 1855, an adjourned session of the September term was held by Judge Hardin, the first criminal case of record being the Territory against James W. Woods for selling intoxicating liquors. Another case tried during the same term was that of McLellan against North, the complaint being that the defendant had been guilty of "jumping'' McLellan's claim. The jury, after listening to the able arguments on both sides, were shut up in a room in the old Nebraska House to consider its verdict, the first and the fortieth vote showing eleven to be for the complainant and one for the defendant. This stubborn juryman, believing right to be on his side and having little sympathy with the edicts or desires of the "Claim Club," of which McLellan was a member, refused to be convinced, and when coercion was attempted, barricaded himself in a corner of the room, holding in each hand a pepper box, the moral influence of which was to result in a final report of disagreement to the court and the discharge of the jury.

It may be remarked in this connection and in behalf of the law abiding disposition of its citizens, that the Claim Club rule never attained the supremacy in Nebraska City and Otoe County which it exerted in some other sections of the State ; the most notable exercise of their authority being the destruction of the house of one Newton, the value of which they were subsequently obliged to pay to the owner. An attempt at coercion is related in which George W. Sroat, still a resident of the city, played a prominent part, a claimant with a leveled pistol allowing him just five minutes to get off the roof of the cabin he was finishing. It was enough. He descended through the incompleted roof into the house, took down his trusty rifle and gave the intruder just two minutes and a half to get off the claim. This was more than enough and that was the last heard of the plaintiff's right.

The first mail contract let for service in Nebraska was upon a route established between Nebraska City and Fort Calhoun, Charles W. Pierce being the contractor and the contract being dated in July, 1855. In 1856 a Post office was established at Kearney, with Mills S. Reeves as Postmaster; and so brilliant were the imaginations of those who petitioned for the establishment of that office, that mail service was ordered between the office in Nebraska City and the Kearney office to be performed with celerity and dispatch. Seven and a half miles and back once a week. The actual distance between the offices was about 2,000 feet.


In the issue of the Nebraska Palladium, published at Bellevue, for April 11, 1855, and doubtless in other papers as well, there was an advertisement of the "'First public sale of lots in Nebraska City, the future emporium of Nebraska Territory." The announcement stipulating that about 500 choice lots in Nebraska City and fifty lots in Kearney City, immediately contiguous, would be offered for sale to the highest bidder on the premises, commencing on Monday, April 23, 1855. This sale is mentioned by J. Sterling Morton, in a commemorative pamphlet, as having occurred on May 5, 1855. His account thereof continues as follows:

"There must have been a multitude in attendance, which numbered at least seventeen or eighteen, and about five of them were not members of the town company, and against them every patriotic resident of this hopeful neighborhood--except myself, and I was the auctioneer, and couldn't--bid with great and vehement vigor. That was a proud period in the babyhood of this settlement. It demonstrated the fact that there was some exchangeable value to lots. Everybody began to feel wealthy, and put on the comfortable airs of proprietary and pecuniary plethora. We had lots to sell; the whole world wanted to buy lots, and we could make supply equal to demand, until the plains from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains had been chopped up into lots."

But success, either of individuals or of a community, as a rule, begets jealousy and envy. The fame of Nebraska City and its first lot sale was no exception to the rule. "Close following upon the heels of happiness came grim grief," in the shape of hideous head lines in the Council Bluffs, Omaha, Bellevue, Brownville, Wyoming and Otoe City newspapers, which informed the eager lot-purchasing portion of earth that Nebraska City was on a military reservation; that its town company had no title--which was true, too--and that this land never could and never should be sold, except by the War Department. And notwithstanding Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, sent an official letter declaring that the site of the fort had never been "regularly" reserved for military purposes, it required much effort to remove the reservation stigma, and in fact the town was damaged for years by the story, and to a most serious extent.

As an example of the prices given in these days for real estate, while the auctioneer's books of this particular sale have not been preserved, it is recorded that the three lots where the Nebraska City Bank was afterwards and for along time located, on the corner of Main and Fifth streets, sold in the autumn of 1855 for twenty dollars each, and the further consideration that a blacksmith shop should be erected thereupon within six months from the date of deed. The lot on Sixth street now occupied by Hawkes' Hall was donated about the same time to Conrad Mullis for another blacksmith shop.

Of the original town company, those who were engaged in "bulling" the market, with at least enough confidence in their town to infuse some others with sufficient as to cause them to invest in lots in the "future emporium of Nebraska.'' Of these men who drifted from New England hills, from Ohio valleys, from Missouri forest and bush, congregating, a motley but a strong crowd, in the one spot of all others, as they thought, destined to have a future. Of these men and their coadjutors in the settlement of the town and county, but few are left. To the Boulwares reference has already been made. Hiram P. Downs. of Maine, "with voice as shrill and loud as the winds wailing through the pines of his native State," went "west" to Montana. He is said to have been a man of liberal views, great energy, thorough honesty. Charles H. Cowles, the first storekeeper, is still a resident of the county, living on his farm near Wyoming. Stephen F. Nuckolls, a man of intrepid courage, of indomitable energy, to whom Nebraska will ever remain indebted, is dead.


Of Allen A. Bradford, more than a passing mention must be made. He had and has a strong intellect, a thoughtful brain, a keen capacity to see or take a joke. He never had a trick played on him that was not returned four-fold; he never was made the object of a slur or joke, and allowed the offender to escape unpunished. A specimen of the practical nature of his retaliation occurred early in 1859. A lawyer, one Joseph Murphy, of Sydney, Iowa, having in some way incurred the displeasure of Judge Bradford, the latter managed to convince Murphy that he would be an ornament to the supreme bench of Utah; there being a vacancy at the time. Murphy, an ambitious wight, but said to have just enough brains to carry him along in his practice as a justice lawyer, asking the judge what should be the first step, was told that he had better secure the influence of the Nebraska judges and bar, beginning with Nebraska City, and as the lawyers of that place were a wine-drinking, high-feeding, gustatory set, he had better, before broaching the subject generally, invite them to a supper, the Judge to arrange the preliminaries, if satisfactory to the victim, and see that those whose influence it was desirable to secure were on hand. The authority was given, without any restrictions being made as to its extent; the day was appointed, supper prepared, champagne in floods provided, and Mr. Murphy appeared when his guests were assembled, to conciliate and secure friends and backers for his high commission. Supper over, and the wine partly drank, Judge Bradford announced that the entertainment had been prepared at his instance; that Mr. Murphy was a candidate for the ermine of Utah; that he knew him well and could vouch for his capacity; and begged the guests to manifest their friendship for him, and their appreciation of their host's generosity, by uniting in a general recommendation of his friend for the post he sought. Accordingly, a committee was appointed to prepare resolutions, and at the end of a suitable retirement and delay, the chairman, Hon. J. Sterling Morton, read the following:

Whereas, We are convened here this evening at the invitation of a distinguished and eminent member of the high and honorable profession of the law--a bright particular star in that firmament of legal erudition whose effulgence illumines the fertile and magnificent valley of the Missouri River--Joseph Murphy, Esq., of Fremont County, Iowa: Therefore, be it

Resolved, 1. That in the intellectual economy of Joseph Murphy are all the elements and acquirements appertaining to the sound, practical and profound lawyer, the ever reliable, staunch, active, energetic and sagacious Democrat.
2. That the said Joseph Murphy, for his honesty, integrity, liberality and indomitable industry and sobriety, is peculiarly fitted for a seat upon the bench of the Supreme Court of Utah, for which place he seems to us THE MAN--the man furnished at this crisis in the affairs of that polygamous commonwealth, as Napoleon was to France by the hand of a never erring destiny.
3. That we earnestly, solicitously, anxiously and prayerfully petition his Excellency, James Buchanan, the President of the United States, to nominate and, by and with the advice and consent of the United States Senate, confirm our friend and host as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Utah.

And furthermore be it

Resolved, That we wish Joseph Murphy. Esq., long life, honor, happiness and prosperity in this world--that we thank him for this entertainment--and that when, late, he may be called to return to heaven, his ecstatic psychological essence may evaporate, to sing for ever and ever beneath the ambrosial palm trees of that viewless world where the hesperian oligarchy blooms perennially for ever and aye.

The resolutions were of course vociferously adopted. Mr. Murphy paid the bills; but, it is perhaps unnecessary to add, never received the appointment.

The first brick house erected in Nebraska City was built by S. F. Nuckolls, on the corner of Fifth and Main streets, in the fall of l854, being hurriedly completed in order to be ready for use as a State house; the sanguine citizens confidently expecting that their city would be made the capital of the new Territory. There being no use for the building in this capacity, it was used by Mr. Nuckolls as a residence until 1856, when the Platte Valley Bank was established, with this structure for its headquarters. When the panic of 1857 swept the country, like a whirlwind, it found in Nebraska six of these wildcat banks, of which the Platte Valley Bank was the only one which preserved its credit and paid its bills in full. How this was managed, having never been recorded, may be of interest.


When John Thomson failed in New York, and the Ohio Life and Trust Company in Cincinnati; when banks all over the country began to go down, the merchants of St. Louis--with which city nearly all Nebraska transactions were conducted--placed the various promises to pay in the hands of one of their number to collect. Going first to Florence, he took what the Bank of Florence had, and its doors closed. So with Omaha and Bellevue, both unable to stand the demand made upon them. Hourly expected at Nebraska City by steamer, the officers and friends of the bank endeavored to arrange a plan of action to secure at least a temporary delay. The whistle of the steamer was heard, the doors closed, the president and cashier literally "took to the bush." With saddlebags on his arm, the St. Louis man came up the street, reaching the bank to find Mr. George W. Sroat on the steps composedly awaiting his approach. Where was the cashier?--didn't know. The president?--didn't know. Would the bank open soon? Mr. Sroat supposed that it would. The steamer whistled again, and the stranger, after inquiring if he could get back by stage in the morning, broke for the boat and passed on to Brownville. The time gained was used to the best advantage. John Boulware, though anything but a friend of S. F. Nuckolls, the president, opened his safe doors and gave up his gold to the extent of $10,000. Others contributed, and at the regular time of opening the counter of the Platte Valley Bank was a sight to make a miser glad. The stage came in, and with it the stranger, saddlebags and all. He remarked that he had some bills that he wished redeemed. Joshua Garside, the cashier, replied that they were trying to get in their issue, and he was glad of the opportunity to take up so large an amount at once. The stranger looked at the gold, at his saddlebags, and remarked that the former was very heavy; that he had a long journey before him, and finally, that if the bank had the money, he guessed he didn't want it!

The borrowed money was returned, and that afternoon $2,000 in bills, presented for payment, would have placed the bank with its contemporaries--among those things which were, but are not.


The speculation of which this panic was the result, may be said to have been almost universal. In the West, as in the East, the mania for fictitious stocks in fabulous enterprises having possession of the people. Kearney being organized in the winter of 1856-57, South Nebraska City in May, 1857, Prairie City in August, 1858; and besides these, adjacent to each other, were surveyed and staked off into town lots, for sale: Marietta, McClellan's Addition to Marietta, Anderson's First and Second Addition, Cambridge, Belmont, Elmwood, Greggsport, Gregg's Addition to Greggsport, Cowles' Addition to Greggsport, and Condit; while the island near by in the Missouri River rejoiced in two towns under the euphonious titles of Woodlawn and Woodville. The total cluster embraced nearly 3,000 acres, or enough to make a town one mile wide by four and a half long; and it is said on credible authority that if the owner of Arbor Lodge, the quarter section bounding this union of cities upon the west, had not resisted the fascinations of town-lot speculation and refused to lay his land off into lots, blocks, street and alleys, there is no knowing where the chain would have gone to.

A fair instance of the mania for town stocks is related by Mr. Augustus F. Harvey, in a chapter of reminiscences published in 1871. He says that "in the winter of 1856-57, Johnny Freeman, the devil in the News office, was one day short of funds. To raise the required amount, he took a form of blank town stock, took out the name that was in type, and inserted the striking though ancient name of Xenia. On Sunday afternoon he printed a couple of hundred blanks, the usual number, got a friend to assist in signing them up with the first names they could manufacture, for president and secretary, and sold the whole batch to Joe Ellis, a sharp dealer in scraps, for $2.50. By the next week Joe had bulled them into market, and Xenia shares were current at $25 each."

In the spring of 1857, the Nebraska City Insurance Company was organized, with a capital stock of $50,000 and with Charles F. Holley as president, and J. Garside, secretary. Its operations were confined to marine or cargo risks, and after a short period of doubtful success, it suspended operations and closed up its business. In the spring of 1858, commenced the golden days of Nebraska City, the precious metal having been found away off in Colorado, and attention called to it, it is claimed, by the Nebraska City News. The sensationalist says that one day the editor was absent, the boys were out of copy, and the narrator, in response to a request for the same, picked up the nearest exchange, which happened to be an Arkansas newspaper, and in it, occupying an unimportant corner, found an extract from a letter giving an account of a bit of gold that was picked up in the sand of Cherry Creek, above Fort St. Vrain. This meager foundation was sufficient for a column article, half of it being star heads, describing in glowing colors the wonderful field of mineral wealth lying amid the head waters of the South Platte. The result was the commencement of a tide of emigration greatly in excess of that to California ten years before. The next year a rumor spread that the stories of gold at Pike's Peak were false, giving rise to much disappointment, suffering and anger, among the pilgrims thitherward bound. In April, 1859, hundreds turned back, and one day a vast multitude, both of the outgoing and the incoming (the former alarmed by the pale, long faces and stern looks of the latter), camped on the Weeping Water in Cass County, held an indignation meeting, and resolved to come to Nebraska City, burn the News office and hang the proprietor and editor. Happily this design was frustrated (if indeed they were serious in it) by the appearance in the midst of the excited crowd, of Columbus Nuckolls, of Glenwood, Iowa, with a little buckskin bag of veritable gold dust, gathered in the Pike's Peak diggings.

Top of Page   First Page   Back   Next

County Index