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Kansas Collection Books

Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Nebraska as a Territory
Produced by Ted and Carole Miller.

Part 1:

Traders and Missionaries | The Mormon Exodus | The Gold Hunters
Nebraska as Seen in 1856 | Erection of Nebraska

Part 2:

Text of the Organic Act | Organization of the Territory
Arrival and Death of Gov. Burt

Part 3:

Acting Governor Cuming | Location of the Capital
The Machinery in Motion | The First Legislature

Part 4:

Election of Delegate | Mr. Clark's Prophecy | Gov. M. W. Izard
First Formal Census | The Second Legislature | First School Report
The Third Session | Attempted Removal of the Capital
Repeal of the Criminal Code | The Fourth Session

Part 5:

The Florence Secession | The Fifth Session
The Death of Secretary Cuming | Gov. S. W. Black | The Sixth Session

Part 6:

Attempt to Create a State | Gov. Alvin Saunders
The Eighth, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Sessions
The Enabling Act

Part 7:
Constitution of 1866 | Senator Gere's Sketch
Part 8:

Vote on the Constitution | President Johnson's Veto
Formal Admission of the State | The State Legislature
Official Roster of the Territory | Judiciary

Part 5


   The Fourth Assembly is a memorable one, from the fact of its having witnessed the secession of a majority of its members, and the failure to enact necessary legislation, thereby still leaving the Territory without a criminal code and other essential instruments or methods of government, as previous enactments had annulled the original laws.

   The primal cause of the disturbance was a desire on the part of the majority of the body to remove the capital from Omaha to some other place. A bill for this purpose was introduced, January 7, by Mr. Abbe, but vigorously opposed by those who were interested in retaining the seat of government at Omaha. As it was impossible to bring the measure before both bodies in regular form, strategy was resorted to. It transpired that the question of choosing a Territorial printer had vexed the body somewhat and created considerable feeling. Hon. J. Sterling Morton had favored the encouragement of local journals by making it obligatory on the Legislature to award the printing of the Territory to some one established in the business within the limits of Nebraska, and a joint resolution expressing that idea was before the body. On the morning of January 7, 1858, the House went into Committee of the Whole, to consider the resolution nominally, which was the special order of the day, but it was declared by the friends of removal that the object was to prevent action on the capital bill. This claim does not appear to be substantiated, however, as the question of removal was made the special order of the following Wednesday. The Speaker, Mr. James H. Decker, withdrew from the House, with his friends, he favoring the removal of the capital, and repaired to the Douglas House. Thirteen of the members remained in session, and, when the Committee of the Whole arose, Mr. Morton was chosen Speaker pro tem. Asking leave to sit again, the committee reported their work unfinished, and the session was declared adjourned.

   The following morning, Friday, the 8th, the House met, and, on motion of Mr. Donelan, to adjourn to meet at Florence the next day, the session was declared adjourned by Speaker Decker. Thereupon all but thirteen members quitted the chamber. Mr. Morton. then nominated Mr. Poppleton as Speaker pro tem., and the minority adjourned to meet at the regular place of holding session, on the next day at 9 A. M.

   The infection spread to the Council, and, on the 8th, Mr. Reeves moved that the Council adjourn to meet at Florence on the succeeding morning. President George L. Miller decided that he could not entertain the motion, upon the ground that, under the Organic Act, no such adjournment could take place without the concurrent action of both Houses, and the official sanction of the Governor. Mr. Reeves appealed from this ruling, and, by a vote of 8 nays to 4 ayes, the ruling was not sustained. The President still refused to submit to the dictation of those who were clearly acting in violation of parliamentary practice, as well as law; and Mr. Reeves, standing in his place, put the motion, which was carried by a vote of 8 to 4. The eight members thereupon left the chamber. A roll call was demanded, but the Clerk, Mr. W. Safford, refused to obey. On motion, Mr. E. G. McNeely was chosen Chief Clerk pro tem. It was then discovered that Messrs. Allen, Bowen, Bradford, Clancy, Furnas, Kirkpatrick, Reeves and Safford had retired.

   The following day, a joint committee was appointed to investigate the cause of the trouble, consisting of A. F.Salisbury, S. E. Rogers, Charles McDonald and A. W. Puett, on the part of the Council; J. Sterling Morton, J. S. Minick, A. F. Cromwell, J. Van Horn and J. W. Paddock on the part of the House. The work of that committee is embodied in an official report and accompanying documents, from which is compiled the following statement of the scene of violence, January 7, which transpired in the House:

   Sterrett M. Curran, Chief Clerk of the House, under oath, stated that he "was present in the House Thursday morning, January 7. When the House met, I read the journal of the preceding day. *   *  Mr. Strickland moved to go into Committee of the Whole on the special order of the day, which was a joint resolution relative to public printer, which was agreed to by a majority of the House; the House accordingly went into committee, Mr. Strickland in the chair." The evidence shows that there was a preconcerted desire and intent to gain possession of the chair by Mr. Decker, for the purpose of putting the motion relative to adjournment to Florence, and an equally determined desire on the part of the Omaha faction to prevent that motion. Members spoke "against time," and members were constantly going out and coming in during the protracted session of the body in committee. Gentlemen not members of the House were present, as a lobby in both interests. It is shown that, after Mr. Decker and his friends had remained in the Douglas House some time, he proposed to go up to the House, and said, "Let us go up, and I will take the chair or die." A conference was held, and the Florence faction proceeded to the House. There they found the committee still in session. Dr. Thrall, of Douglas County, was in the chair, and Mr. Clayes was speaking, when a message was announced as having been received from the Council. Mr. Decker arose from his seat and approached the chair, to receive the message, when Mr. Poppleton inquired of the Clerk of the Council if the Council was in session, which question being answered in the negative, he protested against the message being received, as the rules provided that no message from one House to, the other should be received unless both Houses were in session. Quoting Dr. Thrall's testimony, the ensuing scene is described: "The Speaker continued to advance, mounted the rostrum, and declared in an excited manner that he 'would have that message, or die right here,' and, as he spoke snatched from my hand the gavel. Up to this time, no demonstration of violence had been made from any quarter, except from the Speaker, Mr. Decker, as before stated. Upon his taking the gavel and making the declaration he did at that time a scene of great confusion ensued. At this point, Mr. Decker grasped the arm of the Speaker's chair, in which I was sitting, and commenced tipping the same, ordering me at the same time to leave. Mr. Murphy then grasped the Speaker's right arm, and pulled him out of the stand on the floor of the House, I still retaining my seat. While Mr. Decker and Mr. Murphy were scuffling on the floor, Mr. Paddock rushed in to the aid of Mr. Murphy, all three holding on to the gavel. Mr. Hanscom advanced behind Mr. Decker, took hold of him and rolled him under the table, releasing him from the grasp of Murphy and Paddock. While this was occurring, I was endeavoring, as Chairman of the committee, to maintain order, using a copy of Swan's Revised Statutes for that purpose, in the absence of the gavel. After Mr. Decker got upon his feet, he declared the committee dissolved and the House adjourned, while Mr. Clayes had the floor, having continued to speak during the entire melee. Mr. Kinney, of Nebraska City, was called upon by Mr. Decker and his friends to speak, and, standing upon a desk, he attempted to do so, but, not being a member of the House, was ordered by me to take his seat, which he did. Mr. Decker and his friends at that time, and subsequent thereto, were walking about the floor with their hats on, endeavoring to create as much disturbance as possible. Order being finally restored, Mr. Morton requested the lobby to withdraw, which they immediately did. After the lobby was thus cleared, Mr. Clayes yielded the floor to Mr. Morton, of Otoe, who moved that the committee arise and report progress, and ask leave to sit again, which was carried. The Speaker having left the House, Mr. Poppleton nominated Mr. Morton Speaker pro tem., and put the motion, which was carried, and thereupon Mr. Morton took the chair and received the report of the committee, which was adopted, and then, upon motion, the House adjourned. On the morning of the 8th, the House assembled as usual, Mr. Decker in the chair. After prayer by the Chaplain, Mr. Donelan, of Cass, sprang to his feet and moved that the House adjourn to meet in Florence tomorrow, the 9th, at 10 o'clock A. M., which, being seconded by Mr. Cooper, I think, the Speaker put in a hurried manner, and declared it carried whereupon he, with twenty-one other members, took their hats and left the hall. During the confusion of leaving, Mr. Morton nominated Mr. Poppleton Speaker pro tem, which being seconded and carried, Mr. Poppleton took the chair. The remaining members continued in their seats, and have assembled and adjourned from day to day regularly ever since up to the present time, doing little or no business, except to appoint a committee to investigate the matter in reference to which I am now testifying."

   The testimony of the other witnesses corroborates the foregoing, giving merely additional facts, which go to complete the chain of evidence, but which are not materially different from the narrative of the gentlemen who was officially connected with the session at the time of the occurrence.

   As a matter of course, no further business was transacted by this Legislature. The "regular" branch met from day to day until January 16, when, by limitation, the session expired, the law declaring the term to be but forty days in length.

   The seceding branch met at Florence, from which place they addressed a resolution to Acting Gov. Cuming (Gov. Izard having resigned his office), over the signatures of "J. H. Decker, Speaker of the House of Representatives," and "Leavitt L. Bowen, President of the Council," informing him that a minority of the Legislature were forcibly retaining the books, papers and documents belonging to the Legislature, and thereby preventing the passage of the criminal code, the homestead, the revenue, the fee and other important bills, and requesting the Executive to issue an order for their delivery to the majority in session at Florence.

   This resolution Acting Gov. Cuming replied to with courtesy, refusing to issue the order, as he was of opinion that the acts of the recusant members were illegal.

   Thus the fourth session closed, in the midst of dissensions, which might easily have been changed to scenes of positive riot, but which, fortunately for the fair name and honor of Nebraska, terminated without bloodshed.

   Gov. Richardson, appointed to succeed Gov. Izard, arrived in Omaha early in January, 1858, and assumed his official duties on the 12th. A committee was designated by the Florence faction to wait upon the Executive, as soon as he reached the Territory, and present a joint resolution readings follows:

   Be it resolved by the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Nebraska. That whereas, it is understood that His Excellency, the Governor of the Territory, the Hon. William A. Richardson, has arrived at Omaha City, then be it

   Resolved, That a joint committee, consisting of one member of the Council and two members of the House, be appointed to wait upon His Excellency and inform him that the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Nebraska are now in session at Florence, having been forced to adjourn to that, the nearest place of safety, by the disorganizing and turbulent acts of a minority of their own body, aided by the violence of an unrestrained mob at Omaha, causing a well-grounded apprehension as to the personal safety of the majority, and requesting His Excellency to communicate with the Legislature at this place at his earliest convenience.

   This amusing confession of fear of "personal violence" by the majority--which, when fired by a determination to do or die, is usually able to overcome a minority of half its physical strength--did not awaken in the bosom of the newly arrived Governor a very profound belief in the fact of imminent danger, whatever may have been his opinion concerning the "unrestrained mob" in the city of Omaha--on which point the records are not explicit--he certainly did not fail to interpret the law as it was manifestly intended to be read. Responding to the resolution in a spirit of courtesy, Gov. Richardson addressed the seceders as "Members of the Legislature," not as "the Legislature," and informed them that they were in error. Continuing his letter, he assured the gentlemen that he was "prepared to guarantee that no act of violence by any man or set of men will be perpetrated upon the rights or persons of members of the Legislature, while in the discharge of their duties as such. *   *  The public necessity requires that the Legislature should proceed to business and perform its appropriate duties. It would be exceedingly gratifying, therefore, to me, if you would return to the capital, accept the protection which it is my duty and pleasure to tender to the Representatives of the people, and, by just and needful legislation, relieve the citizens of the Territory from the apprehension of being left for another year without sufficient laws for that absolute protection which is guaranteed by the constitution of the United States."

   As has been stated, the time for holding the fourth session expired before the friendly overture could be accepted--or before the seceding members were disposed to accept it--and the Legislature adjourned sine die on the 16th of January, 1858.


   The cloud of war which hung over the Territory, because of the disturbance described in the foregoing pages, necessitated the calling of an extra session of the Legislature. Under proclamation dated August 14, 1858, the honorable body assembled at Omaha September 21 of that year, and began the fifth session.

   Gov. Richardson's message called attention to the fact that the previous Legislature had left the Territory without a criminal code, and the sole method of procedure then in vogue was the common law of England, under the provisions of which perjury, forgery and other crimes less than capital were punishable by death. This was one of the many un-American predicaments into which the late difficulties had plunged the Territorial Government. The message also referred to the desire of the Northern and Southern sections of the Territory to amicably adjust sectional feelings by bridging the Platte.


   The death of T. B. Cuming, late Secretary and twice Acting Governor of Nebraska, which occurred March 12, 1858, was alluded to in an appropriate manner.

   Hon. J. Sterling Morton assumed the duties of the Secretaryship, July 12, 1858. From March 23 until that date, Hon. John B. Motley acted as Secretary, after the death of Secretary Cuming.

   The Council was composed of the following members: Richardson and Pawnee, Charles McDonald, whose seat was contested by E. S. Dundy; Nemaha, R. W. Furnas; Otoe, Mills S. Reeves, W. H. Taylor; Otoe, Cass and Dodge, John H. Cheever; Sarpy, L. L. Bowen; Douglas, G. L. Miller, W. E. Moore, John H. Porter; Washington, George E. Scott; Burt, Washington and Sarpy, George W. Doane; Dakota, W. G. Crawford.

   Hon. L. L. Bowen was elected President; S. M. Curran, Chief Clerk; John G. Tredway, Assistant Clerk; John McA. Campbell, Sergeant-at-Arms, and John Reck, Doorkeeper.

   In the House the roll stood: Richardson and Pawnee, William C. Fleming, A. C. Dean; Nemaha and Johnson, M. F. Clark, Jesse Noel, S. G. Daily; Otoe, John Cassell, O. P. Mason, H. P. Bennet, George F. Lee, W. B. Hall; Cass, William R. Davis, William J. Young, T. M. Marquette, R. G. Doom; Sarpy, Charles C. Norwood, Stephen H. Wattles; Douglas, James H. Seymour, Clinton Briggs, Augustus Roeder, James Stewart, William A. Gwver, R. W. Steele, John A. Steinberger, George Clayes; Dodge and Platte, Henry W. De Puy; Washington, C. D. Davis, P. G. Cooper, L. W. Kline; Burt, David L. Collier; Dakota, Cedar and L'eau Qui Court, John Taffe, D. T. Bramble.

   The officers of the House were: H. P. Bennet, Speaker; E. G. McNeely, Chief Clerk; Hugh McNeely, Assistant Clerk; J. D. N. Thompson, Sergeant-at-Arms; E. H. Rogers, Doorkeeper.

   A committee consisting of Hons. R. W. Furnas, W. E. Moore and George W. Doane presented a report upon that portion of the Governor's message relating to the death of Secretary Cuming, as follows:

   Thomas B. Cuming was appointed Secretary of the Territory of Nebraska by Franklin Pierce, President of the United States, upon the organization of the Territory, and entered at once upon the discharge of the duties of his office, arriving here in the month of September, 1854. By the untimely decease of Gov. Burt, he succeeded to the supreme executive, and became Acting Governor of the Territory. How ably he filled that office those living can testify. In the organization of the first Legislature, surrounded as he was by conflicting elements, threatened by fierce and contending factions, standing in imminent danger of even personal violence, he wavered not once in his fealty to the General Government nor in his fidelity to the trust imposed in him. Throughout the duration of those troublesome times, he pursued a policy the sagacity of which was proved by its success, and the wisdom of which is evidenced by the present prosperous condition of the Territory which he governed. Upon the resignation of Gov. Izard, he again assumed the executive office, and from that time until his death maintained it. He has been identified with the Territory ever since its organization as one of its highest officers. He died with the mantle of authority still about him, in the land which he had chosen as his own, in the country which he had ruled so well. He was buried with his honors fresh upon him, from the hall where he was wont to tread among a people that delighted to do him reverence. He was followed to the grave by those who were his friends, and the soil for which he had lived and labored received his remains. His requiem was told by the silence of those who knew what they had lost, and if you "seek his monument, look about you." Besides being for a long time the first executive officer of the Territory, he was in many respects the first man of Nebraska; and hereafter, when the roll of the great men of the Territory is called, and the name of Thomas B. Cuming is pronounced first upon the list, let the answer be, as with the surviving comrades of La Tour D'Auvergne, first grenadier of the grand army of France, "died on the field of honor." The closing moments of an existence checkered as his had been with worldly contests, cannot but attract attention. His life was no holiday, but almost every moment of it had been passed in the busy thoroughfares of the world, and when finally prostrated by disease, the closing acts of his public life were characterized with the same energy and decision which had made its character what it was.

   In order that a consecutive narrative may be preserved relating to the absorbing question of slavery in the Territory, mere allusion is here made to the fact that, November 1, 1858, Representative S. G. Daily introduced a bill "to abolish slavery in the Territory of Nebraska." The record of the long contest over this measure is preserved for a chapter describing public action on slavery, the extension of the elective franchise to women, temperance, and other great social and political topics, which is to be found further on in this work. Territorial action on the subject of numerous Indian outbreaks is given in the chapter on the military history of Nebraska.


   Gov. Richardson did not long wear the honors of the gubernatorial office. His term extended only from January 12, 1858, to the 5th of December, of the same year. Secretary J. Sterling Morton assumed the functions of Executive at that date, continuing as Acting Governor until the arrival of Gov. Samuel W. Black, May 2, 1859.


   The sixth session of the Territorial Legislature convened at Omaha December 5, 1859. The only changes in the Council were: Thomas J. Boykin, of Sarpy; Thomas T. Collier, of Dakota, and W. A. Little, of Douglas, who succeeded Messrs. Bowen, Crawford and Moore, respectively.

   The "officers" of the Council were: E. A. Donelan, President; S. M. Curran, Chief Clerk; E. A. Allen, Assistant Clerk, J. F. Coffman. Sergeant at Arms, and R. R. Kirkpatrick. Doorkeeper.

   The House roll was: Richardson, Houston Nuckolls, J. E. Burbank, Nathan Myers; Nemaha, George Crowe, W. W. Keeling, Jesse Noel, John P. Parker; Otoe, John C. Campbell, Alex Bain, Truman H. Adams, Stephen F. Nuckolls, Milton W. Reynolds, William H. Broadhead; Cass and Lancaster, J. N. Stephenson, William S. Latta, William R. Davis, Samuel Maxwell, T. M. Marquette; Sarpy, Matthew J. Shields, Silas A. Strickland; Douglas, A. J. Hanscom, D. D. Belden, Harrison Johnson, George F. Kennedy, George B. Lake, A. B. Malcomb; Washington, James S. Stewart, J. S. Bowen; Burt and Cuming, David S. Collier; Dakota, George A. Hinsdale, Barnabas Bates, Dixon, Cedar and L'eau qui Court, James Tufts.

   The officers were: Silas A. Strickland, Speaker; James W. Moore, Chief Clerk; George W. Rust, Assistant Clerk; J. W. Coleman, Sergeant at Arms; N. J. Sharp, Doorkeeper.

   Gov. Black's first message was delivered December 6, 1859. He congratulated the Legislature and people upon the marvelous progress of the region. "This Territory was organized on the 30th of May, 1854, and the first Legislature met at Omaha on the 16th day of January. 1855. In that body, eight counties were represented. Now, at the expiration of less than five years, twenty-three counties have their Representatives in the Legislature, and thirty-five couties have been fully organized or their boundaries defined by law. *   *  The lands in Nebraska actually surveyed amount to 8,851,758 acres. The surveys have been extended from the dividing line between Kansas and Nebraska, on the 40th Parallel, to the Latitude of 42° 51', while the average depth from the Missouri River is about 140 miles."

   The message contained what these pages foreshadowed, when referring to the message of Gov. Izard, a reference to the delusions of "high times and paper prices." It said: "It is a matter of bitter experience that the people of this Territory have been made to pass through the delusive days of high times and paper prices, and the consequent dark and gloomy night of low times and no prices. We have had our full share of the financial spasms which for two years have afflicted the great body of the American people. They are gradually passing away, but they will never altogether disappear until the producing causes are removed." The message then goes on to allude to the oppression of exorbitant interest, and recommends the passage of an usury law. But the fact that wild lands sold, one year after the creation of the Territory, for $400 per acre, because near the site of proposed towns, is manifestly the index of depressed times in 1859.

   The capitol was still unfinished. The $20,000 appropriated by Congress and the $60,000 furnished by Omaha had been expended, but $30,000 was still needed to complete the work.

   "During the last spring," the message continued, "and in the early part of the summer, the settlers, particularly in the Platte Valley and about the Elkhorn River, as well as in other places (south as well as north of the Platte), were subjected to depredations and outrages by the Pawnee Indians, of the most aggravated character. For a season no one within reach was safe in person, habitation or estate. The citizens residing in the districts not very thickly settled, were exposed to personal insult and violence, and their property not only stolen, but boldly taken or driven away in the presence of themselves and families. Houses were broken into and plundered of their entire contents, and in some cases families were turned out without a home. Post offices were entered by violence, and the mail of the United States either robbed or destroyed. The people of the neighborhood organized, as well as they could, for their protection, and, finally, about the 1st of July, appealed to the Executive for assistance. During my temporary absence from the capital, and with the approbation of Mr. Secretary Morton, an expedition was organized under the military direction of Gen. Thayer, and started, as promptly as possible, for the scene of trouble. Information being communicated to me by express, I started immediately to the capital, having with me a few government troops, under Lieut. Robertson, of the dragoons, and arrived at Omaha on the evening of July 5. With those troops and some volunteers, I came up with the expedition early on the morning of the 8th. The whole force numbered about 200 men, and was placed under the immediate command of Gen. Thayer. After a forced march of four days, we overtook the Indians, who had this time set forth on their summer hunt. After the first demonstration, they surrendered, unconditionally, and submitted to reasonable and just terms." The message commended the spirit of generosity with which the people had met the demand upon them in defense and support of their fellow citizens in distress.

   The Governor alluded to an apparent desire on the part of the people to witness the admission of the Territory as a State into the Union. The subject was exhaustively considered by him, and, the question of right or justice being left out of the problem from necessity, the fact was apparent that Nebraska was not then able to claim admission, because of her having less than the requisite population--at that time the law requiring 93,423, or the number of citizens forming the basis of Congressional representation.

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