Pierce County is bounded on the north by Knox and Cedar, on the east by Cedar and Wayne, on the South by Madison and on the west by Antelope County. It was created in 1859 by the Territorial Legislature, and its limits defined by law as follows: "Commencing at the southwest corner of Township 25 north, of Range 4 west; thence east to the southeast corner of Township 25 north, Range 1 west; thence north to the northeast corner of Township 27 north, Range 1 west; thence west to the northeast corner of Township 27 north, Range 2 west; thence north to the northeast corner of Township 28 north, Range 2 west; thence west to the northwest corner of Township 28 north, Range 4 west; thence south to the place of beginning."
On the 5th of February, 1875, the boundaries were re-adjusted by statute so as to include in Pierce County, Township 28 north, Range 1 west, thus making it square, and to contain sixteen townships, or 368,640 acres of land.
Pierce County is composed of valley and upland in about equal proportions. The North Fork Valley averages from two to four miles in width and extends from the northern to the southern boundary of the county. Quite a number of other valleys of greater or less extent connect with it from either side. The uplands separated by these valleys are of easy ascent, and seldom, if ever, over fifty feet above the contiguous valley.
The surface soils, on the southwest part, a black, sandy loam, the balance dark clay loam, except that portion which may properly be termed sand hills. The Government surveys show about one-sixth of the surface as sandy, but a large portion of this one-sixth is quite good farming land even, and only about six sections are worthless for cultivation, while all the sandy portions furnish excellent pasturage.
The subsoil is generally clay, extending from a depth of from three to seventy-five feet. In some portions of the county, as in the northeast corner, there is a kind of chalk rock and numerous small pieces of friable limestone. Many bowlders at one time lay on the surface in the northern part, indicating that this was a portion of the drift region. Below the layer of clay well borings enter sand, which has not, so far as our knowledge goes, been penetrated to the underlying stratum.
This county, like others in this part of the State, produces luxuriant crops of various kinds of grasses, which constitute its greatest natural resource. Blue joint, or blue stem, as it is called by some, is the principal variety. Red top grows in low meadows and coarse slough grass on the bottom lands. There is also a species of reed growing in wet lands, which is preferred by cattle to almost anything else, when it is young and tender, as it is then extremely succulent. Blue joint furnishes an abundance of nutritious hay.
The principal kinds of native forest trees found here by the early settlers were the elm, willow, ash and box-elder. Most of the native trees have been utilized, but many fine groves are rapidly springing up in various parts of the county, and before many years, will not only change the bleak aspect of nature, but will at the same time materially modify and mollify the severity of the winter winds.
In the northern part of the country there is an abundance of excellent clay suitable for making brick, and experienced tile-makers also say there is a fine quality of tile clay there also, although no tiles have yet been made. There is also a limited supply of sandstone suitable for building stone walls.
The principal stream of water in this county is the North Fork, which rises in Knox County, enters Pierce from the north and flows in a general southerly and southeasterly direction until it enters Madison County, near the southeast corner of Pierce. Its branches from the west are Willow Creek and Dry Creek, and it has numerous small branches from the east. Springs are not numerous and are usually hard water. Occasionally they rise in the bottom of a lake or creek, as in the little lake at the head of Dry Creek and in the North Fork, about three miles above Pierce, where the river for a considerable distance from the spring is not known to freeze. Wells, usually of hard water, may be dug anywhere and water found at an average depth of twenty feet, although in some places on the uplands it is necessary to bore 100 feet.
The first settlements in the county were made in the fall of 1866 by a portion of the German colony from Wisconsin, which settled mainly on the North Fork of the Elkhorn, a little above the present town of Norfolk, Madison County. Among them were A. J. Huebner, August Nenow, Christian Huebner and others. In 1870-71, much of the choice land in the southern part of the North Fork was taken and some of that along its tributaries. In 1870, R. S. Lucas and J. H. Brown started a settlement on Willow Creek, the present town of Pierce, and, in 1871, William B. Chilvers located at the head of Dry Creek, where the town of Plainview now stands. Since that time, the settlement of the county has been quite gradual, there being but little Government land compared with that in other counties, much of the best land being owned by non-resident speculators, who have preferred to hold it rather than offer it at a price that would induce immigration. Lack of railroad facilities has also operated to deter immigration from entering Pierce. Since 1880, this obstacle has been removed, as during that year the Sioux city & Pacific Railroad Company built a branch road from Norfolk, in a northwesterly direction, through Pierce County, to Creighton, Knox County.
The county seat was located at the first election held in the county, July 26, 1870, on the south half of the northeast, and north half of the southeast quarter, Section No. 27, Town 26 north, Range 2 west. At the time, this land was owned by George Weare, of Sioux City, Iowa. It was bought of him by J. H. Brown, who sold one-half of it to R. S. Lucas. The town of Pierce was then laid out, and the inhabitants of Pierce County, unlike those of many other new counties, took time by the forelock by immediately setting about the building of a court house. On March 31, 1871, the question of issuing bonds in the sum of $15,000, to aid in building a court house, was carried by a vote of twenty-four for the bonds, in a total vote of forth-six. The bonds were never issued, as the county was able to pay for the court house out of the taxes collected. There has been no attempt to relocate the county seat.
The county has, at other times, voted bonds in aid of different enterprises. $10,000 in bonds were voted in 1874, to aid the North Fork of the Elkhorn Improvement Company.
On the 27th of March, 1876, $88,000 in bonds were voted to aid the Covington, Columbus & Black Hills Railroad Company in building their railroad through Pierce County, and, more recently, $60,000 in bonds were voted to aid the Omaha, Niobrara & Black Hills Railroad Company to build their road through the county from Norfork, $35,000 to be issued when the railroad should reach Pierce, the county seat, $25,000 when the road should reach the northern boundary line of the county. These conditions not having been fulfilled, the bonds have not been issued. The same has been the fate of the previously proposed bond-issues; the conditions not having been complied with, the bonds have not been issued. Consequently, the county is not only free from debt, but has about $4,000 cash in the Treasury.
In the year 1870, J. H. Brown was authorized to call a special election, for the purpose of organization of the county. This election was held July 26, 1870, and resulted as follows: Commissioners, R. S. Lucas, August Menow and T. C. Verges; Clerk, J. H. Brown; Treasurer, H. R. Mewis; Sheriff, Albert Brisso; Superintendent of Instruction, A. J. Babcock; Surveyor, A. J. Huebner; Assessor, Carl Griebenow.
Pierce County has had two Representatives in the State Legislature--R. S. Lucas, elected in 1874, and Charles H. Frady, elected in 1876.
In 1879, Pierce County contained a population of six hundred and eighty-four; in 1880, according to the United States census, twelve hundred and fifteen; but according to the Assessors' returns, which are in this instance the most reliable, nine hundred and twelve; and in 1881, one thousand and forth-nine--five hundred and fifty-five males, four hundred and ninety-four females.
The following was the list of taxable personal property returned in 1881: Horses, 694, value, $19,198; cattle, 2,009, value, $17,504; mules, 38, value, $1,335; sheep 1,064, value, $1,054; hogs, 1,380, value, $1,360; vehicles, 254, value, $3,323; money in merchandising, $6,759; agricultural implements, $5,534; credits, $6,587; railroad property, $90,163; furniture, $484; other property, $3,739.
The county seat of Pierce County is favorably located at the junction of Willow Creek with the North Fork of the Elkhorn, the latter furnishing excellent water-power.
The first house built in the vicinity of Pierce was a slab and sod house on the bank of Willow Creek, by J. H. Brown, early in 1870. For a time, this house served the purposes of a dwelling, post office, court house and hotel. The second house was a frame one, built by R. S. Lucas, one and a half stories high, on land adjoining Mr. Brown's. The third was a frame dwelling on the town site of Pierce, now used as a hotel, built by George D. Hetzel in 1871. The schoolhouse and court house were both built in 1872. The court house is a large two-story frame building, surrounded by a grove of cottonwood trees, and cost $4,000. A store building was erected, in 1874, by H. R. Mewis. The post office was established in 1870, A. J. Babcock, first Postmaster. The first school taught was by Mrs. Robert S. Lucas in her own house, she afterward teaching in the schoolhouse built in 1872. The schoolhouse has so far been used for religious purposes, the German Lutherans and Methodists both having organizations here but no church building.
Pierce now contains two general stores, one hotel, one drug store, one agricultural implement dealer, on physician, one lumber yard, one lawyer, one newspaper and about one hundred inhabitants. The town has been almost entirely built up since the spring of 1881.
The Pierce County Call.--This paper is published in Pierce, and is the only paper in the county. It is four column quarto, and was established October 6, 1877, by J. B. Sharot & Bro. It is alive to the interests of Pierce County, and labors steadily for their advancement. J. B. Sharot, the principal editor, is now Postmaster.
CHARLES A. APFEL, County Treasurer, was born in Saxony; came in 1855 to Milwaukee with his parents; followed fishing about ten years; after engaged in the railroad business. In 1871, he came to Pierce County, and took a homestead of 160 acres, which he improved, and where his family now resides. In the fall of 1875, he was elected County Treasurer, and is now serving on his fourth term. Was married, in 1860, to Mary Braasch, of Prussia. They have nine children, four sons and five daughters.
J. H. BROWN, attorney at law and land office, is a native of New Orleans, La.; when a boy, he came to New York. After completing a preparatory course of studies, he attended Harvard University; graduated from the law department in 1865. He then came to St. Louis, where he engaged in the practice of law four years. Came to Pierce in 1870, and purchased the present town site. He then sold one-half interest to Mr. Lucas; they at once laid out and organized the town. He has held the office of County Judge several years.
DR. J. P. BUCKNER, physician and surgeon, was born in Morgan County, Ind. In 1871, he entered the Ohio Medical College; graduated from that institution in the spring of 1874; he then returned to Indiana, where he was actively engaged in the practice of medicine about seven years. In the fall of 1881, he came to Pierce, where he has since followed his profession.
WILLIAM B. CHILVERS, County Clerk, is a native of England. In 1851, he came to Chicago, Ill., and worked at the carpenter's trade. In 1854, he removed to Boone County, also engaged at the carpenter's trade there. In the fall of 1862, he enlisted in Company B, Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry, and served three years; returned to Boone County and continued carpentering and building. In March, 1871, he came to Norfolk, Neb., and worked there at his trade about six months. In 1871, he took a pre-emption claim, and in 1874 took a homestead claim near Plainview, Pierce County, which he has since improved. In the fall of 1879, he was elected County Clerk, re-elected in the fall of 1881 when in Plainview, he held the office of Justice of the Peace four years.
WILSON HALL, firm of Pugh & Hall, general merchandise, is a native of Lycoming County, Penn.; there he was raised. He enlisted in 1864, Company K, Eighty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry; served to the end of the war. In 1871, came to Pierce County and took a homestead of 160 acres, which he improved. From 1878 to 1881, he had the mail contract from Pierce to Norfolk; held the office of County Judge one year; has been Treasurer of School District No. 2 the past seven years. In December, 1881, he became a member of this firm.
HON. ROBERT S. LUCAS (deceased). The subject of our brief sketch was born October 5, 1831, in Pike County, Ohio. His father was the Hon. Robert Lucas, who was twice elected Governor of Ohio, and appointed Territorial Governor of Iowa. Early in the summer of 1870, Robert S. Lucas with J. H. Brown came to Pierce County from Iowa. He was repeatedly elected to positions of honor and trust by his fellow citizens; he was one of the first Board of County Commissioners, and the first Probate Judge of the County. In the fall of 1874, he was elected to the State House of Representatives, serving through one session. He died November 22, 1877, honored by all, having performed all his duties, private and official, with fidelity.
H. R. MEWIS, general merchandise, is a native of Prussia. Came to dodge County, Wis., in 1860; there he learned the brewing business, where he worked eight years. In 1868, he came to Stanton County, and followed farming one year. In 1869, came to Pierce County, followed farming until 1873, when he removed to Pierce and opened a general store; this business he has since continued; this is the pioneer store in this county, and he is doing a business of about $7,000 a year. He held the office of County Treasurer five years, and County Clerk two years. He enlisted, in March, 1865, in Company C, Fifty-fifth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry; served to the end of the war.
G. W. PUGH, lumber dealer, is a native of Morgan County, Ky. In 1856, came to Vernon County, Wis., with his parents; there assisted on their farm. He enlisted in 1863, Company G, Thirty-fifth Wisconsin Infantry. Was honorably discharged March 16, 1866. Then returned to Wisconsin. In 1870, he came to Dodge County, Neb. Engaged in merchandising. April, 1881, came to Dodge County, Neb. Engaged in merchandising. April, 1881, came to Pierce. The following June, he opened a lumber yard, which he has since continued. August, 1881, he bought out Mr. Horton's general merchandising. The following December, Mr. Hall became a member of this business.
E. P. WEATHERBY, attorney at law and druggist, is a native of Morrow county, Ohio. In 1859, came to Dubuque, Iowa. There raised and received his early education. He took up the study of law in Manchester, Iowa. Was admitted to the bar in 1869. He then continued the practice of his profession in Dubuque till 1875, when he came to Pierce, where he has since resided, following this profession. In the fall of 1881, he built this store, 22x40 feet, and has since carried on the drug business. He enlisted in 1863, Company C, Forty-fourth Iowa Infantry. Served one hundred days.
Plainview is a small village in Dry Creek Precinct in the northwestern part of the county, about thirty miles northwest of Norfolk. The country surrounding the village is valley and upland, the hills rising gently to the height of from ten to twenty feet. The soil is adapted to both grazing and farming.
The first settler here was William B. Chilvers, at present County Clerk, who came on June 1, 1871. About the 10th of June, Fred Dedlow and three sons and Henry Blank came in, and, about the 15th, John C. Starr, Albert and Charles Rose, Bailey Schoonover, Jarvis Dean and Thomas Hawkins, both the latter parties from Wisconsin. In the spring of 1872, James Gould, Daniel Dowling and George Burnham moved in, and, in the fall, Henry Holley, Silas Hutchins, John Seebring and William Alexander. The post office was established in April, 1872, and called Roseville, in honor of Charles Rose, who was appointed first Postmaster. In 1874, the name of the post office was changed to Plainview.
The first house built was a sod house, in the fall of 1871, by Starr, Rose, Schoonover and Dean, the settlers living meanwhile in wagons and tents. The first frame house was built in April, 1872.
H. R. Mewis built the first store building, in December, 1879.
The town was platted October 30, 1880. It contains two general stores, two blacksmiths, two agricultural implement dealers, one drug store, one hotel, one doctor, two church organizations--Methodist and Congregationalist-- and about seventy-five inhabitants.
This post office is situated on level prairie, in Willow Creek Precinct, in the southwestern part of the county, twelve miles west of Pierce, the county seat. The first settlement was made here by S. W. Kincaid, in 1872. About the same time, Frederic Rautenberg, Frederic Kuhl and Jacob Hepfinger moved into this part of the county. Emma Rautenberg was the first child born here. The first school was taught by Elizabeth Kincaid, in 1875, in a schoolhouse built for the purpose. The first sermon was preached in 1880 by Rev. J. Sohl, at Wilhelm Klitzke's house. The post office was established in 1880, Wilhelm Klitzke, first Postmaster.