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The newcomers who followed the cattle men were mostly farmers with a few doctors, lawyers, preachers and merchants, all seeking the free land that could be obtained under the homestead law. The head of a family or any citizen twenty-one years of age could obtain one hundred sixty acres of land by living on it for five years and making a few improvements (building a small home and plowing a few acres of prairie. There were also small fees to be paid amounting to about $18). There were two other methods of obtaining a quarter section of land; the timber claim law which required that ten acres must be set to living trees; and the pre-emption claim which required six months residence and the payment to the government of $1.25 per acre. Some ambitious homeseekers obtained land by all these methods.
These early settlers arrived in true pioneer style, some driving the entire distances from their former homes in covered wagons, with a few cattle and chickens and their household necessities ready to begin life on “the claim”. Others came by rail to Oakdale or Neligh (and later to O’Neill or Long Pine), then took transportation from there with freighters or others who kept suitable outfits for such journeys.
The railroad reached Long Pine in 1881. It was then called the “Sioux City & Pacific.” A good sized town soon sprung up and’ many newcomers built homes in the canyons of Pine and Willow creeks nearby. In the spring of 18.82, the railroad pushed westward. Two preliminary surveys were run, one north and one south of where it was finally built. A townsite was surveyed about a mile north of the present site of Ainsworth, but abandoned when the line of road was changed. The station was named in honor of “Captain” J. E. Ainsworth of Missouri Valley, who was in charge of the construction. The first train arrived in Ainsworth June 11, 1882.
Later in the summer the road was completed across the present limits of the county and a station established on the homestead of John Berry. It is very probable that the name, Johnstown, was in his honor. A post office had been established in 1881, two and one half miles north of Johnstown. It was called “Evergreen” and Harrison Johnson was postmaster.
New settlers came in, great numbers in the spring and summer of 1882. A general feeling prevailed that the organization of a county should be attempted. To make the journey to O’Neill on county business was very inconvenient and expensive, and all filings had to be made at O’Neill or Valentine. As the population Increased the need of county government was keenly felt.