WHEN THE TOWN OF LANCASTER WAS CHANGED TO LINCOLN
By J. C. F. McKesson
I came to the territory of Nebraska with my parents in April, 1864, from the state of Kansas, where my father, Samuel W. McKesson, had been sent by the conference of the Evangelical church for the state of Iowa. My father was an itinerant preacher, and our moving anywhere was not specially for the purpose of settlement, but for the purpose of being as near and convenient to such religious charges and missionary work as might be laid out for him.
During the two years previous to moving into the territory the field of his labor was largely marked out for him by a missionary department of the conference, and in this case was not confined to county or statewide boundaries. And so, prior to our moving into the territory, father had made frequent circuits within its boundary.
We moved to Arago, in Richardson county, on the banks of the Missouri river. It is not now an organized town, having been abandoned and its place taken by the town of Fargo. Altho the town was situated on the banks of the river, it had no ferryboat connection with the Missouri side of the river. The manufacturing industries were a brickyard, a shingle sawmill and a brewery. The town was quite prosperous and progressive. The bluffs had been dug down half for the cutting thru of streets, and the ravines were filled and leveled. Besides the manufacturies and residences, many of them quite respectable wooden structures, the town supported a public school, an Evangelical church, a Catholic church and school, and several saloons.
Not much of interest to me occurred during the first year of our residence at Arago. I remember seeing boats travel up and down the Missouri river and stop to load and unload their cargoes of merchandise and to let off and take on passengers. The names of some of these river boats were the "Denver," "St. Mary's." "St. Joseph," and "St. Louis." They were of various sizes, some side-wheelers, some sternwheelers, some with single smokestacks and some with double smokestacks, but all with fog horns whose noise was anything but musical.
It was in this year also that I saw and tasted my first cherries. I accompanied father on a missionary tour into Pawnee county. where we stopped at a house in the country
for noonday lunch. An elderly man was shaving shingles on a shaving horse under the shade of a cottonwood tree. While father was talking with him I was standing close by, and I pulled his coattail and asked him what those little red things were, pointing to the cherries. He smilingly called the man's attention to my inquiry, and he stated that they were cherries, and good to eat, and for me to climb up and help myself, which I did. In the spring of 1865 the news of the termination of the war and the victory of the union armies had scarcely reached the territory until the news of the assassination of Lincoln was also received. I remember the sorrowful day when men and women congregated in little groups, many of them with tears streaming down their faces, exclaiming "President Lincoln is killed." his death appeared to be a personal bereavement to the people. Shortly after this I remember seeing the soldier boys returning. They were met by their parents, relatives and sweethearts with open arms and cheers. Public receptions were also given them and on one occasion I remember that a barbecue was held in honor of their return. Roast ox was served, prepared over a pit improvised for the occasion, of cobble stones, over which were laid slats of iron, picked up from the rear of the blacksmith shop. Anvils were fired and a general holiday held. The march to the front of the soldier and his return seems to create like feelings in the breasts of men. It was in this year also that I saw the first circus come to town. Of course this was of special interest, and I note it here that we may know that the early settlers were not without this feature of amusement. The menagerie was not so complete as now, but the performances were of similar character to those in vogue at present and these were more enjoyed by the early settlers because in his ordinary life on the frontier he had probably seen mountain lions, wild cats, deer and antelope. On the day of the circus in a run-away accident, father's leg was broken. On account of poor surgical treatment in the setting of the bone he was confined to the house, most of the time in bed, during the summer, which was a very hot one. It was late in the fall before he was able to get about on crutches and visit some of the nearby charges. The following winter we were visited by my father's brother, John M. McKesson, a physician and homesteader adjacent to the townsite of Lancaster, Lancaster county, Nebraska. whom he had not seen for twelve years. I remember the glowing accounts given by my uncle of a prosperous settlement out at Salt Creek. This was the first we had heard of such a place in what to us, living on the
Missouri river, was the far interior, inhabited by the Indian, tile buffalo, and the coyote. In addition to a pleasant visit the doctor held several semi-public meetings to acquaint the people with the great promise of the new colony which had been established at the Salt basin and the great work which the Lancaster seminary, which had also been founded, was doing for the education of the young ladies of the territory. This was offered as an inducement to all those who heard it to flock to the new settlement. This appealed to a widow with a little girl living in the neighborhood who a year or more later had an opportunity to come with us to this new colony. Here she found a place to educate her child and also found a home by marrying John Giles, one of the homesteaders, located on the southwest quarter of section twenty-six, afterward a part of the original townsite of Lincoln.
In the spring of 1866 an earthquake shock was felt at Arago. The shock was very perceptible but of short duration. My mother and I were raking up the rubbish in the backyard when we heard a dull sound like the roaring of wind or the rushing of water. We stopped our work and looking about us noticed that the board division fence between our lot and the neighbors was wabbling, and then that the house, which was a one and a half story building with the gable fronting us, seemed to vibrate about a foot at the top. The ground beneath our feet, too, seemed to wave, almost unbalancing us. A woman and two children were engaged in a like occupation in an adjacent lot to the south. Gathering her children in her arms the woman started for the house, screaming as she went, "earthquake! earthquake!" No serious damage came from the shock. Practically the only evidence of it we could find were the disarranged and nicked dishes in the old-fashioned high cupboard.
Something more fatal and disastrous occurred later in the summer of 1866, the dreadful scourge (sic) of cholera breaking out in the little town of Arago and nearly depopulated it. The first death was that of the shingle maker's child, five or six years of age, who died suddenly on Wednesday and was buried on Friday. On Friday night the infant child of the shingle maker died, also suddenly, and was buried the following Sunday. The two deaths occurring in the same family and so closely together aroused suspicion on the part of the people that they had been poisoned and the father and mother were arrested. The stomach of the infant was removed and before its interment on Sunday the body of the other child was exhumed and its stomach also removed at the cemetery in the presence of the people gathered for the burial, Both stomachs were to be sent to St. Joseph for analysis. One of the grounds for suspicion was the fact that
the mother of the infant was the shingle maker's second wife. On the following Wednesday the man died suddenly and the same night or the next day several other citizens died in like manner. This changed public sentiment and aroused the people of the town to the fact that a scourge was upon them. One very pathetic incident occurred. A woman, the wife of a Kansas homesteader, and her two little children were stopping at our house at the time, and being fearful father sent a courier to notify her husband to come and get her. He came several days afterward, but the night before they intended to go home the wife and both children died and were buried here. Father had charge of the services at most of these funerals and mother and I invariably accompanied him. Many opinions were advanced by the people as to the cause of the malady, among them that the disease was brought there by someone who got off a boat.
In the fall of 1866 a merchant in the town named Allgware built a temporary plant for packing pork on the river bottom not far from the river. During the winter of 1866 and 1867 the hogs were slaughtered here and the pork packed in dry salt. The packing was not as modem as now, tho the packer had as sure control as the packer of today. The meat was packed in layers, two men walking around on top, sprinkling a layer of salt and then a layer of pork. The intention, of course, was to ship this meat down or up the river where markets might be found in the spring -before the hot summer months. While the packed meat was to be used for the sustenance of the white man the Indians came in droves and helped themselves by carrying away all of the offal.
In the spring of 1867 the Kansas conference of the Evangelical church delegated to father the duty of visiting the various outposts of settlement in southeastern Nebraska, among them chiefly the Lancaster colony on Salt creek, for the purpose of establishing churches among them. We started with a team of ponies and spring wagon with a light driving buggy tied behind and one loose pony following. We drove from Arago to Brownville, from there to Nebraska City, and then on to Lancaster over what was then called the "steam wagon" road. This road started at Nebraska City and had been mapped out and designated thru to Palmyra. Here it forked, one road leading toward Beatrice and another passing thru Roca and Saltillo to Yankee Hill on Salt creek and from thence west, touching Middle creek, not far from the homestead of James Iler near Pleasantdale. Here the road again forked, one branch leading south to Camden on the Blue, the other following west toward Fort Kearney. Beside the road this side of Nebraska City not far from the J. Sterling Morton homestead the steam wagon was then standing.
It was not a success as a means of transportation and the project had been abandoned.
On this road in 1866 a Mormon train of about 255 wagons moved westward to a place then called Half-Way slough, located two miles south of Emerald and almost a half west. While in camp one of the members of the train force died and was buried on the east slope of the long hill just after crossing the slough. This grave is now close to the middle of the east line of the northwest quarter of section 34, township 10, range 5, Middle Creek precinct. The land is now owned by Harry W. Lee. The following epitaph was placed on a board at the head of the grave:
"Father, here we leave thee beneath the prairie sod, but again we hope to meet thee in the promised land, Salt Lake."
James Iler is the man whose wife was killed by Sioux Indians in their last raid of the settlements this far east in 1865. It might be noted here that some of the inhabitants around the Salt basin and Lancaster packed their belongings and started eastward toward Weeping Water after this tragedy, altho the Indians never came this far east. Word was sent to Nebraska City of the threatened raid and Captain Bauman ordered out the cavalry to drive them back which they did, commanding the officers to shoot the papooses as well as the warriors. As Mr, and Mrs. Iler were driving along the wagon road in a covered wagon they were overtaken by Indian warriors, who rode past them. Looking back they saw a woman driving, Mr. Iler having lain down in the wagon bed, thinking that they would not molest a woman and that thus he might save both of their lives. However, on turning they shot Mrs. Iler. Her husband removed the arrow, but the wound proved fatal and she died shortly after. Mr. Iler remained on his homestead altho the Indians had burned his premises and driven off his stock. He established a postoffice on his land in the early seventies, called Pleasantdale. This was located about one-half mile north and one-half mile east of the present town of Pleasantdale in Seward county.
Coming out from Nebraska City we stopped for lunch at what was called the Walling and Luff's crossing in Otoe county. We were just hitching up to start on again when a finely, caparisoned outfit of horses and carriage drove by with three or four apparently celebrated personages. On arriving at Lancaster the next morning we found that these were David Butler, Thomas P. Kennard and John Gillespie, commissioners to locate a new capital for the new state. They arrived in Lancaster that same night. We did not drive so fast, only reaching the Wallingford homestead on Salt creek about six miles south of Lincoln, and it was late at night when we arrived there. We would not
have known that anybody lived here had we not seen a flickering candlelight moving around. We stopped the horses and father walked toward the light and found that someone lived there. They were out about the stable caring for a young colt which had been attacked the night before by a stray mountain lion, which had clawed off part of one of the colt's hips. We were hospitably received and stayed there that night. The next morning we continued our journey to the then famous town of Lancaster and to the home of J. M. McKesson, who had taken his homestead June 22, 1863. His log house stood about two blocks and a half north of where the oldest building on the university campus now stands and a little east of Eleventh street on the knoll of the hill. Some of the same cottonwood trees are still there.
We arrived the fore part of June, 1867. We saw the seminary and in a day or two became acquainted with some of the few scattering residents of the Lancaster town site and adjacent homesteads. I remember that Cyrus Carter lived not far from R street east of the Antelope at about Twenty-fourth street on a homestead. Elder John M. Young, who was a first cousin of my father, lived at about the intersection of Seventeenth and O streets, and his son, James Young, lived at about Twenty-seventh and O streets on the south side. Jacob Dawson lived close to the intersection of Eighth and O streets on the south side and in a room in his house a grocery store was kept by a young man, Stephen B. Pound. Selling goods did not keep him very actively employed, and between times he continued the study of law. He was a student in a law office in New York before coming here. The writer remembers him well, because with of Doctor McKesson's boys we had raided the McKesson hen roost and taken the eggs down to swap with Mr. Pound for stick candy. Mr. Pound later became a practicing attorney in the capital city and judge of the district court, his record on the bench being a just and equitable one and of such high character that he was beloved by the bar and all those with whom he came in contact. He retired from the bench voluntarily, refusing re-election, and again engaged in the practice of law. Across O street from this grocery store stood the residence of the blacksmith, and on O street a little west stood the blacksmith shop and north of that was a sawmill. There were several other residences in and about the town side built of sandstone and located about where The State Journal now stands.
This particular settlement of Lancaster was a Protestant Methodist colony. Nearly all of them were preachers who as quickly as they settled on the public domain began inducing others of their calling to locate here. The church
then, as always thru the centuries, was a prominent feature in the early settlements of new lands. The Lancaster seminary association was organized on August 22, 1864, in the following manner as shown by the territorial records: "On August 22, 1864, Jacob Dawson, Milton Langdon, John M. McKesson, G. A. Newman, J. D. Main, J. W. Prey, William Shirley, Joel Mason and P. S. Shamp, they having provided by donation the sum of $500 for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a seminary, have adopted the name of Lancaster seminary and organized by electing Jacob Dawson, president; Milton Langdon, secretary, and G. A. Newman, treasurer. Organized under the provision of an act entitled 'An act to regulate corporations in the territory of Nebraska approved February 15, 1864'."
For the purpose of further carrying out the building of the seminary and endowing it, John M. Young purchased from Julian Metcalf and his wife, Juliana B. Metcalf, on May 14, 1864, the southeast quarter of section 23, T. 10, range 6, east. The metes and bounds of this quarter section, according to the present town plat of Lincoln would be from Seventh street to Fourteenth street and from O street to the alley of U street. This deed was filed for record August 22, 1864, considration (sic) $140. Julian Metcalf located this quarter section of land June 27, 1863, and purchased it from the government with a military bounty warrant, and the same was patented to him May 10, 1864. The law for issuing the military bounty warrants was an act of congress passed in 1855 for the benefit of the survivors of the war of 1812 and the Mexican war of 1848. The number of this particular warrant was 100953. What the warrant cost Mr. Metcalf, or whether he was a direct beneficiary, I do not know. This land, with eighty acres lying directly west of it, was also platted as a part of the Lancaster town site and filed by Jacob Dawson, surveyor, and by order of the county commissioners: August 6, 1864. The streets were only sixty-six feet in width and the blocks 264 feet square, John M. Young and wife, Alice Young, deeded to the Lancaster seminary association for the consideration of one dollar every alternate block of the town site of Lancaster for the endowment of the seminary. The seminary was built out of sandstone, and opened for school. It appears by the records that certain school taxes of the school district included in this town site and surrounding country were paid toward the support of the seminary and it was used as a public school to some extent. Four ladies now living in Lincoln attended this seminary. Professor Merrill was the teacher.
There was much rivalry between the postoffice located on Salt creek as to the merits of their various locations, for the
founding of cities and towns. A postoffice had been established at Roca in 1860. Mr. Davidson, who later built a grist mill at Milford, completing the same about the time the capital was located, was the first postmaster. At Saltillo a postoffice was established in 1862 or 1863, and Miranda Wilson was the first postmistress. She was the mother of Mrs. Effie Lee Scott, formerly of Lincoln, but now of Denver, and died at Denver about a year and a half ago. The postoffice at Yankee Hill was established in 1865 with W. T. Donovan as postmaster.
One of the chief attractions for settlement at the town of Lancaster was its closeness to the Salt basin. Early settlers believed that surely a great salt industry would be developed here. Some political scandal among the officials of the state and would-be officials at that time was created, various parties being charged with an attempt to get hold of these lands for the purpose of manufacturing salt. They seemed to think there were millions in it. This may have been one factor in locating the capital here later on. Considerable money and time and energy had been spent by adventurers and people in and about the community in trying to manufacture salt, by evaporation of salt on the two large basins. Their efforts, however, were not crowned with success. About the only manufactured salt that it was possible to get was that which was evaporated by nature, and in the warm dry summer months in the salt basins and tributaries on the bare saline ground on the Salt creek bottoms north and west of town salt was scraped up by hand, the ground being white as snow.
Having been sent on horseback one day to scrape up some of the salt and bring it home I filled a small gunny sack partially full of salt, divided it and threw it across the pony's back, and got on and rode home. The hot sun, speed and distance did some more evaporating. Needless to say, the horse and rider did not care to wear harness for several days after that.
In the summer of 1866 the Hardenberg brothers associated with some other residents, undertook to built salt works at the big basin. They were at this time running a store in the town of Lancaster and located in what is now P street just west of Ninth. They paid their help principally in merchandise which was almost as scarce as money. Rev. Peter S. Shamp, who assisted them, related that in constructing the salt works at the big basin he hauled logs from up Salt creek and lumber from Nebraska City and took his pay in such groceries as could be procured at the Hardenburg store, beans, codfish, sugar and coffee. Beans were about as scarce then as now. Dried codfish took the place of meat. Bacon was a scarce article not usually
kept in stock then at the country store. It was usually sent across the plains from Nebraska City.
The commissioners authorized to locate the site of the capital for the new state of Nebraska visited the various locations offered them at Seward, Milford and various other places, among them Yankee Hill, which was a candidate for this high honor. But the final decision made the town of Lancaster the seat of government for the new state and the name of the capital was to be Lincoln. This declaration, was made in front of the residence of W. T. Donovan, situated somewhere at about Eighth and Q streets, in the presence of fifteen or twenty citizens of Lancaster and the surrounding country. The official proclamation, however, was not made until August. On the day of the informal declaration by the commissioners, the writer, with several other boys, had been swimming and fishing in what was then the public swimming pool, called the Willow bend, just north of where the gas works are now located in the old channel of Salt creek, and came by, each with black mud boots and a string of fish. We looked at the unusual crowd and noticed the waving of hats and cheering, but, feeling that it was of little consequence as compared with the fun we bad been having, we soon left and went home.
Included in the original town site of the city of Lincoln were the following titles: The southwest quarter of section 23, which lies between Seventh street and Fourteenth street and O street and the alley of U street was located by Julian Metcalf June 27, 1863, and purchased with military bounty warrant, patented May 10, 1864; the northwest quarter of section 25, the west half of which only is included in the original town site, extending from Fourteenth to Seventeenth street and from O to H street was the homestead of Luke Lavender filed on August 1, 1863, commuted August 1, 1867, at $1.25 an acre, patented August 20, 1868; the southwest quarter of section 25, the west half of which was in the original town site, between Fourteenth and Seventeenth and A and H streets, was located by Edith Dawson, October 3, 1864, and purchased with military bounty land warrant at $1.25 per acre, patent issued June 15, 1866; the northeast quarter of section 26, homesteaded by Jacob Dawson, July 9, 1863, commuted August 1, 1867, purchased at $1.25 an acre, patent issued March 15, 1869, the land lying between Seventh and Fourteenth streets and H and O streets; the southeast quarter of section 26, located by Edith Dawson, April 12, 1864, purchased with military bounty land warrant at $1.25 an acre, patent issued November 1, 1865. the land lying between Seventh and Fourteenth and A and H streets; southwest quarter of section 26, homesteaded by John Giles, January 18, 1864, commuted August 14, 1867, at $1.25 per
acre, patent issued December 1, 1868; northwest quarter section 26 was saline land. A little later an extension of the town site included also the southwest quarter of section 23, which lies between First and Seventh streets and O street and the alley of U street. This was saline land. The Burlington and Union Pacific railroads occupy the larger portion of this land now.
Such part of the old town site of Lancaster lying east of Seventh street, the southeast quarter of section 23, except such lots and blocks as had been purchased by other parties, was quitclaimed to the state by John M. and Alice Young August 3, 1867. On September 14, 1867, Julian Metcalf and Julia B. Metcalf quitclaimed to the state of Nebraska. The Lancaster seminary gave a warranty deed to the state August 1, 1867, after having passed the following resolutions: "Minutes of the annual meeting of the board of trustees of Lancaster seminary. Resolved that whereas the board of trustees have conveyed to the state of Nebraska all their interest in the town of Lancaster, thus parting with all funds for building the seminary, therefore we do not deem it necessary to collect from the school district any more than sufficient to pay the just indebtedness of the seminary. Resolution was adopted. Moved that when this meeting adjourns it be a final adjournment and that the organization be dissolved. Motion carried. Signed by W. T. Donovan, president; M. Langdon, secretary; Martin Pflug, John Montieth, Stephen B. Pound."
The deed of the commissioners to the state of Nebraska by David Butler, Thomas P. Kennard and John Gillespie, commissioners, dedicated the land forming the plat of Lincoln to the capital of Nebraska and located the same on the southwest quarter of section 23, T. 10, range 6 east and other lands under the provision of the act of the legislature approved June 14, 1867. The plat of the town of Lancaster was never vacated, the title to all lots- and blocks finding its way back to the state of Nebraska prior to August 14, 1867, when the plat of Lincoln was made. All lots in that part of Lincoln located on said southeast quarter cover some lots, streets or alleys or parts thereof in the town of Lancaster. In preparing an abstract of many lots in Lincoln that are located on said southeast quarter, lots lying between Seventh street and Fourteenth street and O street and the alley of U street it is necessary for the abstracter to ascertain what part of the town of Lancaster is covered by the lot and then show on the abstract any transfers affecting the title to such part of the town site of Lancaster.
On none of these lands was there a single tree. The site of Lincoln was virgin sod and covered with prairie grass. The topography of the town was much the same as now
with the exception of one or two changes. The present site of the postoffice was on a hill, which was lowered fifteen or twenty feet. There was a slough where the conservatory of music now stands at Eleventh and R streets and a deep ravine running west across Tenth and Ninth streets, toward Salt creek a little south of N street. This ravine was the outlet for a slough which was located about the corner of Twelfth and O streets.
The activity of building the new capital commenced with the declaration of its location in June and streams of wagons poured in from Nebraska City and other river points to get in on the ground floor and to be present at the first sale of lots, which took place in September. From this beginning has grown the beautiful city of Lincoln, and the growth has been marvelous, especially within the last quarter of a century. Its future is bright from every point of view. It may never become the metropolis of the state, but it is destined to become its chief residence city, school city and home of the retired wealthy classes of the state.
The social condition of the early pioneers was much more enjoyable, than the later generation, who have grown up with surroundings and advantages which to them seem more agreeable, realize. At the time of the location of the capital, while the communities were generally located along the creeks and streams, they were not so far apart that visiting and association was impossible. It was not considered a hardship but a pleasure to go ten or twenty miles to make a visit, attend a dance or reunion of pioneer families. A further advantage was the pleasure of seeing the beautiful rolling prairie, now gone. And then there was the hunting and fishing, which was a real sport and only limited by the will and endurance of those engaged in the chase. And the game was worth while. There were buffalo, deer and antelope, ducks and geese innumerable; quail and prairie chickens in abundance. There were no restricted season on any of these. These pleasures will not come again. The land of the prairie has been settled.
Provisions were sometimes scarce, being hauled mostly from Nebraska City. Corn was raised in abundance and also a fine quality of spring wheat. Garden vegetables grew bountifully as did watermelons and muskmelons. Wild onions were plentiful on portions of the prairie. Fruit was plentiful in its season, such as it was, and some of it was good. There was the wild goose plum, the wild grape, and the choke cherry. The plums were sometimes cured for winter use in the following manner: Territorial recipe No. 1 -- Put as many firm wild goose plums as you want to in a barrel and cover with water. Remove as needed until January 1 following. Recipe No. 2 -- Plum leather. Boil as many wild goose plums as you want until done. Squeeze them thru
a colander, if you have no colander pick seeds out with fingers. Lay the pulp out in the sun to dry on a cloth, paper being scarce, or on brown wrapping paper. Soak and make pies, stew for sauce or give to babies to chew.
Dried pumpkin was also pretty good, and pumpkin butter. Potatoes, of course, and turnips were plentiful. It was told that one homesteader's family lived almost exclusively on turnips during one winter. Very few preserves and jellies were made. Sugar was very scarce, altho not very dear compared with present prices, being 3 or 4 cents a pound for the Dutch standard 16, a very black sugar, and unrefined.
The early settlers who had a perspective (sic) of the future remained to do their part, with the assistance of the inflow of newcomers, in building up and developing the natural resources of the city and state. They have seen the lands advance in price and importance beyond their dreams. Think of agricultural lands within the space of fifty years after early settlement, being sold at $250 to $275 an acre. It is safe to predict that the next fifty years will find them selling at from $500 to $800 and possibly $1,000 an acre in this portion of the state. There are no better agricultural lands anywhere, and a quarter section of eastern Nebraska land, will support as large a population as any quarter section anywhere on the globe.
"Quaeque . . . ipse vidi, et quorum pars magna fui."--Aeneas.
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