Collection: Days of Yore Early History of Brown County Nebraska

County Courthouse of Brown County, Nebraska

But all these matters faded into insignificance before two great questions, namely, county division, and the building of a courthouse. As early as October, 1883 residents of the eastern part of the county petitioned for an election to vote on county division, the new county to be called Elkhorn. A year later, October 14, 1884, a petition was presented, signed by Ralph Lewis, John A. Plympton and 243 other voters asking that the question of detaching a portion of Brown county and erecting the same into a new county to be known as Keya Paha county, be submitted to a vote of the people at the next general election. The new county was to include all that part of Brown lying north of the center of the channel of the Niobrara River, and containing 25,471 acres, the petition was granted and at the general election on November 4, a majority of voters favored the division. Twice in 1886 and again in 1887 petitions were before the commissioners asking that an election be called to vote on the question of making the eastern portion of Brown into a new county to be called Elkhorn. On August 1,1888, a petition was presented, asking that the question of county division be submitted at the general election in November. The new county was to be called Rock and the boundaries were defined as...

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1883 Election in Brown County, Nebraska

At the general election of 1883 these special officers were re-elected with the following exceptions: Clerk, B. H. McGrew Treasurer, J. A. Plympton Sheriff, H. J. Simpson Coroner, J. H. Spafford J. F. Burns was appointed county attorney at a salary of $100 per year. In June it was found that the assessed valuation of the entire county (now three counties) was but $649,195.75, of which the railroad and telegraph companies was $240,115. A levy for taxation was made of 9 mills general, 4 bridges and 2 road. The new county was now in fairly good running order. The usual perplexing problems came up to annoy and create factions. The bridge question seems to have been quite satisfactorily handled. The bridges over the Pine, Plum and Bone creeks, in addition to those over the Niobrara, were among the early under takings. The care of prisoners occupied much attention, and consumed not a little of the county funds, as it was, necessary at first to send them to other counties to be kept. In June, 18.83, Mrs. N. J. Osborn gave to the county a small building to be used as, a jail, which by installing steel cells and being remodeled met the needs of the county until 1889, when $1,000 was set aside to build a jail and sheriff’s residence; $600 was added to this sum later for the...

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1893-1895 Drought Years in Brown County, Nebraska

“About one-half of each homestead was broken up by 1893. Crops had been good, and you would find lots of cattle south, with some north and west of town. In 1893 the drought started in July. It was dry and hot. Corn that year averaged about five to six bushel, small grain about fifteen bushel. In the spring of 1894 it was very damp. Wheat stood on the ground, and got very thick. Again the drought hit in May and June the wheat died before it headed out. Corn tasselled out, but tassels fell off, and there was not an ear in the entire field. Some wheat made two bushels per acre. No oats were cut. In the heat of the day corn would roll up like a cigar; at night would uncurl and look fine. In 1895 crops were little better. Just raised enough so the people managed to get through. People left Brown County by wagon loads. Very few farms occupied on Bone Creek. Some couldn’t get away because they couldn’t sell what they had. A cow wouldn’t bring $15, and shoats sold for 50 cents to $1.00. “In 1893 and ’94 aid was sent to this county food supplies and clothing. R. S. Rising and J. Kingery were the committee in charge. Rations were issued to all who were in need, just enough to last one...

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1890 Drought of Brown County, Nebraska

The progressive spirit of Brown County, Nebraska was very suddenly checked when crops began to fail for lack of rains. In 1890 many farmers failed to raise enough to feed their stock and family, and appealed to the county for relief. The county, in turn, appealed to the state. Small amounts of money received afforded some help for the needy, but there was need for very rigid economy everywhere. The dry seasons continued and each year more families were obliged to ask for relief. Many became completely discouraged and left the county. Farms were deserted, stock was sold at low prices, given away or turned out to die. Banks began to fail, which made times more strenuous for the county, the farmer and businessman. Many firms were forced to close their doors. By 1895 the population had dwindled to about one half of what it had been before the dry years. No one starved, but there would “have been great suffering had it not been for the aid from outside the drought-stricken counties.” Supplies of food and clothing in car load lots were distributed in “Relief stores” to all who would accept them. These were sent by people of eastern states. Our own citizens gave generously of their time and money to those less fortunate, and the state furnished seed grain so that the farmers who had the courage to...

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Immigration in Brown County, Nebraska

For a few years, during the 80’s the tide if immigration flowed steadily until there was claim shanty on almost every quarter section of tillable land. The years 1884 and 1885 were marked by an unusual rush of newcomers. A few cattle ranches had been opened in the sand hill sections, but at that time the grass was very sparse, and only in the valleys was the growth heavy enough for grazing. This was probably due to the frequent prairie fires which swept over them. The normal, yearly rainfall of Brown County is about 24 inches (23.98 as shown by the average all-time records). Although no records were kept the early settlers say rains were plentiful and. that harvests were abundant, especially wheat which was of excellent quality. In 1884 and again in 1888 a carload of wheat shipped from Ainsworth took the first prize offered by the Chicago ‘board of trade as the best grade received there during those years. Garden products grew with almost no cultivation and were also of excellent quality. Food was plentiful for those who were willing to put forth even ordinary effort. The late P. D. McAndrew once wrote of our early settlers: “Brown county received a large contingent of Uncle Sam’s nobility and very best citizens, full of faith, zeal and energy, who went to work in dead earnest, and soon proved...

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Outlaws and Native Americans in Brown County, Nebraska

Another class of men sometimes came into this wild, new country. They planned their travels carefully that they might leave no trails for others to follow. They were outlaws who lived by stealing horses from farmers in Iowa and eastern Nebraska. The stolen stock was brought to this lonely country and hid until a safe market could be found for it. The canyons afforded good pasture and safety, Plum creek being well adapted to this purpose. (It was there that the notorious “Doe” Middleton and his band of horse thieves had headquarters, though his home was near Mariaville in what is now called Middleton canyon. The remains of a corral on Hazel Creek, Middleton hill,, said to have been his “lookout” on Plum creek and Doe’s lake in Cherry county are, reminders of his residence here in early days.) All the northwestern portion of this state was at one time known as “unorganized territory” and was given the general name “Sioux County” though there were no county officers. The only government it had was administered from the military posts. The Nebraska state government gradually took this over after 1867 when the territory was admitted to the union. As scattered settlements were made the “unorganized territory” was divided up and counties established. Large companies of settlers came to O’Neill in 1874-’75. Holt County was organized in 1876, and for a...

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Courts and Law and Order in Brown County, Nebraska

Courts were soon organized; law and order prevailed with but a small amount of crime and lawlessness. Vigilance committees were active in some sections and several lynchings took place, but the greater portion of the people felt secure in their new homes. They had faith in this country, believing that the good crops would continue. They had faith in the integrity of the new county of Brown and its officers. They had hope that the future would bring its blessings in easier living, better schools, more roads and bridges and a broader, pleasanter life for their children. As they saw their new location they could note signs of progress on every hand. Building materials were very high but as settlers made final proof on their claims the log cabins, dugouts, soddies and small frame “shacks” that had done service for dwelling and schoolhouses were replaced by well built structures of lumber. The general trend was toward a building that would endure. The county income from taxable property was very uncertain, but the county officials did well with the tax money that could be collected, and a general improvement in roads and bridges was to be seen each...

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Establishing a New County called Brown County, Nebraska

In December, 1882, Frank Sellors and Merritt Griffiths circulated a petition asking that the coming legislature pass an act establishing a new county from unorganized territory lying west of Holt county. The boundaries as set forth in the petition included what is now the three counties, Brown, Rock and Keya Paha, and was a tract forty-eight miles from east to west and sixty-four miles north and -south. It had been under the jurisdiction of Holt County for some years. Two bills defining the boundaries of Brown County were introduced; one in the senate by Moses P. Kinkaid of the twelfth district; the other in the house by Frank North of the twenty-third district. The bills were practically the same and both were introduced on January 9, 1883. Kinkaid’s bill passed the senate on January 24th without a dissenting vote, but was lost in the house, that body having already passed North’s bill on February 8. The senate passed this bill on February 14 and it was approved by Governor Dawes on the 19th. From the fact that there were not less than five members of the legislature of ’83 by the name of Brown, and that the petition mentioned no name, it was decided to call the new county “Brown.” Loup and Cherry counties were organized the same year. A committee consisting of Ed Cook, T. J. Smith and...

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Newcomers to Brown County, Nebraska

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...

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1880-1881 Hard Winter in Brown County, Nebraska

The winter of 1880-’81 has gone into history as one of the most severe that was ever known. The prairies were covered with snow so deep that the cattle could not graze on the buffalo grass on which the ranchers relied for their winter feed. The snow came early in the fall and laid on the ground all winter. It was so deep that the cattle could not travel, and at times a crust of ice covered the surface of it making travel impossible as the cattle sank into the snow and thousands of head starved to death, sometimes in sight of the hay which ranchers had put up to be fed when the cattle could not graze. Of the 3,000 head on the Cook ranch only 800 were left in the spring. Other ranchers had similar losses and were obliged to close out, thus leaving the fertile prairies open to settlement by the farmers who came a few years later. To these hardy frontiersmen much credit is due for their efforts to establish cattle ranches in this country to which it is so well adapted. Had they understood the climate they could have protected their stock from blizzards as is now done and saved themselves from losses. Among these early ranchers were Cook and Tower on Bone creek, A. M. Brinckerhoff at the mouth of Pine creek, G....

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Railroads and Cattlemen of Brown County, Nebraska

The Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley railroad began building westward in the late 70’s. Each year it pushed farther into the new farming regions. To supply the needs of the new settlers the railroad carried freight, mail, express and passengers to its western terminus, Oakdale, then Neligh which it reached in 1880. In the late 70’s the cattlemen came ahead of the railroad. They were attracted by the rich, abundant grasses of the prairies which offered excellent range for their herds, with water, shelter and firewood to be found in the canyons. As a rule these ranchers held a “water front” on some running stream and had no legal title to the land as it had not formally been thrown open for settlement. Government surveyors had been at work for several years blocking out the land in sections, townships and ranges- so that records of each man’s land could be kept. They began near the Missouri river in the southeast part of the state, and each year pushed a little farther west and north. Great dangers and hardships were suffered by the surveyors while on duty in the new country. Robert Harvey of St. Paul, Nebraska, was in charge of the work in this portion of the...

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Fort Hartsuff

Fort Hartsuff near Ord, Nebraska, was built in 1874 to protect settlers of the Loup Valley from Indians and outlaws, but it was too far away to afford any protection to the country along the Niobrara. Congress decided to locate the Sioux on reservations where they could be kept from wandering and committing depredations on the incoming settlers. In the fall of 1876 the United States government sent commissioners to the Sioux headquarters in western Nebraska to ratify a treaty which was signed by Chief Red Cloud of the Oglalas and Chief Spotted Tail of the Brule Sioux. The Indians agreed to remove to land reserved for them in South Dakota. Each Indian was given a small sum of money, beef and other supplies every month and heads of families were given free title to one hundred sixty acres of land. The Brules were located on what is now called the Rosebud reservation; the Oglalas farther west at Pine Ridge. The construction of the agency buildings was begun in 1878. This move drew the attention of home seekers to North Central Nebraska, as the removal of the Indians gave people confidence that their lives would be safe from attacks. A railroad was heading in this direction which was an added inducement to those looking for land. Again the Indians failed to live up to the terms of their treaty...

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Fort Niobrara

In 1879 General Crook of the United States army, commanding the department of the Platte was ordered to select a suitable place for a new fort. He made a visit to the region, and recommended a point on the Niobrara River south of the Rosebud agency. The post was established April 22 1880 by Major John J. Upham of the 5th U. S. Cavalry. Three companies of his regiment and one company of the 9th Infantry were the first troops to be stationed there. The post was named Fort Niobrara. The buildings were mostly of adobe brick. The other materials used in their construction and supplies for the soldiers were brought by large freighting outfits from Neligh, then the western end of the railroad. These outfits consisted of ten to twenty heavy freight wagons with twelve yoke of oxen on each wagon with trailer. Some smaller freighting outfits did a thriving business hauling supplies for the new military post, and for ranchers who established themselves nearby. They in turn did a good business selling their cattle on hoof to the government to feed the soldiers and for the monthly beef issue to the Indians. t Niobrara was abandoned in 1907, troops were removed and all the buildings disposed of but one which is now used by the U. S. Game Preserve which has its headquarters on the site of...

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Cattle Ranchers and Native Americans of Brown County, Nebraska

Cattle ranches were the first settlements made in northwest Nebraska. The surplus stock from these ranches was bought by the United States government at good prices, so the business was a profitable one for a few years. To the west of Brown county several large outfits were found very early, previous to 1880: Boiling Springs ranch owned by Carpenter and Morehead; the JP ranch on the Niobrara about twelve miles below Boiling Springs; the Newman ranch twenty-one miles west of Boiling Springs; and the Hunter ranch about due south of where Gordon is now located. The herds owned by these outfits were driven into this country from Texas over the old “Chisholm Trail”. They were the Texas longhorns, a breed no longer seen in this state. These ranchers were in continual warfare with the Indians and many lonely graves are found in the hills along the Niobrara river where rest the remains of cowboys who were shot and scalped by Sioux. Each year the Sioux became more dissatisfied and warlike. Many treaties were made with them by commissioners sent out by the United States government, but they were made only to be broken, both the government and the Indians: being equally faithless. Due to the loss of their buffalo herds, the Indians were starving. They blamed the white settlers: for their troubles, and as these troubles increased so did...

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Historic Trails of Brown County, Nebraska

The “Calamus Trail” entered Brown County near the southeast corner. Its eastern terminus was Fort Hartsuff (near Ord). It followed up the North Loup River, then the Calamus River to its source in Moon Lake, then on west through the sand hills to the forts in the western part of the state. It was used chiefly as a military route for United States troops passing from one post to another. In later years a government post was maintained on the north shore of Moon Lake, affording a stopping place for travelers and also a place for securing supplies. (Moon Lake was at first named Post Lake from the fact that this government post was located on its shores. Branches from Calamus Trail led to other places, and these trails and the last traces of the supply post may still be found by diligent search.) The “Gordon Trail” was made in the spring of 1875 by a large company of gold hunters from Sioux City, Iowa, who were trying to enter the Black Hills against the orders of the government. The expedition kept to the south side of the Niobrara River in order to evade United States troops from Fort Randall (South Dakota), who had been ordered to prevent them from entering the Black Hills. The troops overtook the Gordon party near the present site of Gordon, Nebraska, and destroyed...

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