Early Settlements | Indian Troubles
Military Experience | Indian Relics | Mound Builders
Part 2: Organization of the County | County Seat
B. & M. R. R. R. Lands | Other Retarding Influences
Crimes and Casualties | General Topics
Oakdale: The Elkhorn "Pen and Plow."
Oakdale Seminary | The Grand Army of the Republic
Part 3: Neligh: The Land Office | Gates College | The Neligh Mill
The Press | Societies | Biographical Sketches
Burnett | St. Clair | Clearwater | Willowdale | Glenalpine
Clear Spring | Orchard | Other Towns
List of Illustrations in Antelope County
Antelope County is situated in the northeastern part of the State, in the fifth tier of counties from the eastern border of the State and in the second from the northern. It is bounded on the north by Knox County, on the east by Pierce and Madison, on the south by Boone and on the west by Wheeler and Holt Counties. It is twenty-four miles from east to west and thirty-six from north to south, containing twenty-four townships, 864 square miles, or 552,960 acres of land. The 42d parallel of latitude very nearly coincides with the northern line of its southern tier of townships
The county is composed of valley and upland, the Elkhorn Valley traversing it in a northwesterly and southwesterly direction and comprising the larger portion of the county. South of this valley is a range of hills, embracing most of the land in the southern tier of townships, and to the north of it is another range of hills, constituting the divide between this valley and those of the Verdigris and Bazile Creeks. These two ranges of hills vary in height from slight elevations to about 150 feet above the bottom lands of the Elkhorn Valley.
The valley of the Elkhorn itself is composed of "first" and "second" bottom lands. The first bottoms are small irregular tracts, contiguous to the river banks, and, in times of high water, subject to overflow. The second bottoms extend back from these to the foot of the hills on either side, at a distance varying from one to three miles, and at an average elevation of about twenty feet.
The uplands are themselves broken up by transverse ranges of hills and valleys, running nearly north and south, and drained by small creeks flowing for the most part into the Elkhorn. As a general thing these hill ranges are gently undulating and easy of ascent, but occasionally they are too steep and rough to admit of cultivation.
The immediate surface soil of three-quarters of the area of the county is a dark clay loam, the remaining one quarter varying from a rich, sandy loam to a worthless yellow sand. The bottom lands are alluvium and modified loess. The uplands are composed of loess and drift. The sandy portions are either drift or modified loess, but the drift is limited when compared with the loess, and makes very fertile land.
The soil of the hillsides average about eighteen inches in depth, and, on the bottom lands, from two and a half to three feet, though the subsoil, after exposure to frosts and atmospheric agencies, becomes pulverized and productive. There are exceptional places at the foot of steep hills, where the accumulation of vegetable mold has reached a depth of eight or ten feet.
Grasses.--Prominent among the natural resources of the county must be mentioned its grasses. Of these there is practically an unlimited supply. The most valuable variety is "blue joint," which grows everywhere except on the first bottoms of the Elkhorn. Just as soon as prairie fires are prevented in the fall, and the grass allowed to stand through the winter, protecting the roots from exposure by preventing the soil from being blown away, a thick turf is formed; excellent pasturage and heavy crops of nutritious hay result. Besides this, there are small quantities of red top and buffalo grass, and, on the bottoms, three or four varieties of coarse slough grass. There is also a species of wild oats growing on the uplands, which affords excellent pasturage early in the spring, and which is second only in value to the blue joint.
The timber found native in this county is principally cottonwood, ash and oak. Cottonwood is most abundant along the Elkhorn, and oak along the smaller streams. Other kinds of timber are the box elder, basswood, red and white elm and willow. There is plenty of wood in the western part of the county for fuel, though the eastern part is not so well supplied. There is but little brick clay in the county, and the brick made of it is not of the first quality, except that found near Neligh, which is of excellent quality. Wild fruits abound in favorable seasons, the principal kinds being plums, grapes and gooseberries.
Streams and Water Supply.--The main stream of the county is the Elkhorn, one of the most beautiful streams in the State. It enters the county from the west, thirteen miles from the northwest corner, and, after pursuing a tortuous course toward the southeast, leaves it ten miles from the southeast corner. Its average width is here about seventy-five feet; depth, eighteen inches; current, rapid; water, clear and pure; bottom, sandy; fall, about six feet to the mile. From the north it has several tributaries, among them Reynolds, Belmer, Elwood and Hopkins Creeks. From the south seven creeks flow into it, Cedar Creek and Clear Water being the principal ones. The former derived its name from the existence of considerable quantities of cedar timber up its valley, from two to three miles above where Oakdale is located. Both streams have quite rapid currents and considerable volume, and furnish excellent milling facilities.
Springs of hard water are numerous in the creek valleys, and plenty of good well water is obtained by digging or boring on the bottom lands to a depth of from ten to twenty five feet, and on the uplands from sixty to one hundred and fifty feet, according to the elevation above the water level in the valleys.
The first pre-emption claim made in Antelope County was by George St. Clair, commonly known as "Ponca George," a man of Canadian French descent. His claim was No. 941, in the Dakota Land District. The date of settlement was April 25, 1868. On June 30, he entered his claim, which was in St. Clair Valley, one of the finest valleys in the county. St. Clair went West in the same year. Josiah McKirahan, from Belmont County, Ohio, pre-empted Claim No. 957. The date of his settlement was November 2, 1868. He "proved up" on his claim November 28, 1868, and sold his claim to Cyrus D. Buck May 6, 1869. This was the first deed executed in the county.
Michael J. Hughes brought his family into the county in June, 1868, and moved away in October following. His was the first family that lived in the county.
The first permanent settlement was made by Crandall Hopkins, who came here from Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in November 1868. The next permanent settlers were Thomas Mahan, Charles Timms, J .H. Snider and family, A. M. Salnave, Jacob Bowsman and William Clark, who came in the early spring of 1869. A few months later, B. A. Trueblood, Albert Sleitter, August Learman, John Cowin, A. M. Towsley and Charles Dworak arrived and made selection of claims.
In 1870, the Cedar Creek settlement was made. Among these settlers were A. J. Leech, Henry King, Edward and Albert Palmer, S. Morgan, Charles Wilson, Anson L. Kimball and Chauncey Seely. This settlement is about seven miles above Oakdale. About a month later, Martin L. Freeman, Thomas Stolp, Louis Contois, Louis Patras and W. W. Putney (followed in about a month by his family) moved into the county.
West Cedar Valley was settled in June, 1872, by Thomas Lawton, William Lawrence, Henry Griffith, Henry Rogers, Henry Karl and I. N. Taylor.
The first birth in the county was that of Anna Kimball, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Kimball, May 1, 1870; the first marriage was a double one--Allen Hopkins to Miss Frances Bausman and Elias Ives to Miss Hopkins, sister of Allen Hopkins, August 14, 1869, and the first death that of Mary Frances Snider, October 4, 1870.
The first post office in the county was at Twin Grove; J. H. Snider was first Postmaster.
The early settlers of Antelope County suffered but little molestation from the Indians. From a little pamphlet descriptive of the county, written in 1878, by A. J. Leech, one of the early settlers, we make the following extracts: "In 1870, the settlers suffered from the first Indian raid. A party of ten Indians visited the new settlement, appearing friendly at first, but in two or three instances becoming extremely insolent, firing a number of shots into the house of Louis Petras, finally stealing nine horses and hurrying off toward the Sioux reservations in the Northwest."
"In November, 1870, the Indians made a second raid upon the settlements, breaking into the house of Robert Horne, living on the head of Cedar Creek, carrying off or destroying all his household goods. These Indians were followed by fourteen of the settlers, overtaken and severely punished * * a few miles below O'Neill City. Two of their number were killed and two or three known to be wounded. The whites also suffered in this little battle, two of them receiving severe arrow wounds and having one horse killed and two or three wounded. Since that time the settlers have not been molested by Indians."
There were in addition to the difficulties mentioned in these extracts, a few Indian "scares." One of these scares occurred in the spring of 1872, in the St. Clair Valley. A party of Poncas were on their way to pay a visit to the Pawnees, when they stopped at the house of Mr. Blankenship and ordered something to eat. Perceiving that the settlers feared them, they decided to have some sport, and so made the children turn the grindstone while they ground their hatchets and knives, chased the dog off the place, scattered a sack of seed corn to the winds, etc. Mr. Blankenship now appearing on the scene, took down his musket and ordered them to "Poccachee," which order, not desiring to have any difficulty, they obeyed. After going through similar antics at the house of David Cossairt, they pursued their journey, and no Indians afterward disturbed the settlement.
One of the old settlers of Frenchtown gives the following account of an Indian begging and thieving raid in Frenchtown, of the Sioux tribe, which occurred March 1, 1870. He says there were but four families in the settlement at the time. About a dozen Indians passed down the river (Elkhorn), stopping at Frank Patras', wanting something to eat; they stole a revolver and passed on to Louis Contois', asked lodgings, but the house was full already, so went on to Martin Freeman's, who was not at home, but his brother and wife and child were there. Mrs. F. Was frightened by them, so started for a neighbor's, but they overtook her and told her to come back or they would kill her papoose; so she returned and gave them something to eat. Mrs. Freeman was so thoroughly scared that she was determined to leave the place; so Mr. Freeman sold and they went down the river about eight miles. The reds then went to Louis Patras' and succeeded in getting away with most of his chickens and ducks; also shot a cow and pig with their bows and arrows, and, to wind up with, fired a gun-shot into his house. The next day, March 2, Frank Patras, Louis Contois and Andrew Thiboult started for Dakota City, at that time a land office. The following evening, the aforesaid Indians took their back tracks, stealing two horses from Louis Patras, one from Martin Freeman, three from Louis Contois and two from Frank Patras. On learning the condition of affairs, Louis Patras started on foot to meet and notify his neighbors, which, of course, was a useless trip. They lost no time in pursuing the Indians, going first to the Pawnee reservation. On arriving there, they were assured that the thieves were not of their number; they went from there to Lee Snyder's settlement, near Oakdale; while there, saw an account in a Omaha paper of some horses being stolen by the Indians, stating that they had been turned back to the Government at Fort Randall. To this point they directed their course, finding them (the horses) in a reduced condition, scarcely able to walk home, and disabled from performing ordinary work during that season.
In August, 1872, a party of about two hundred Poncas, returning from a hunting expedition, in which they had had a difficulty with the Sioux, paid this portion of the county a visit, and made themselves very obnoxious by their persistent begging; during the few days they were here, they also spent considerable time in hunting, killing thirty elk and a large number of deer. In the month of June previous, a large fine buffalo was killed here, which was the last seen in this part of the country.
Gen. O. P. Hurford, of Oakdale, who commanded the First Brigade of Nebraska Militia under the Territorial Government, contributes to this work the following letter, descriptive of Antelope County's earlier military experiences, which will no doubt be of much interest to our readers.
Gentlemen--In undertaking to comply with your request to furnish some account of the military transactions of Nebraska as far as they have passed under my observation, I realize that it is not always easy to hold the militia above ridicule at a time when the fashion was to go to war on the national account. During the rebellion, the animus of the Indians on the plains seemed to change as the fortunes of the Union forces varied, and when it became necessary for the Government to pay them their annuities in greenbacks instead of gold and silver, they became restless and impudent. Frequent depredations were committed by them upon freighters and the graders and tie-cutters of the Union Pacific Railroad. This state of things was a constant source of anxiety to the settlers along the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers. In addition to this, Gov. Saunders was frequently in receipt of anonymous letters from Kansas and Missouri, warning him that the rebel Quantrell was planning a raid on Omaha, to sack the town and rob the banks. These letters were brought to my attention by the Governor, with instructions to adopt such means as I had at my command to meet the danger should it arrive. While the public mind was thus agitated, we awoke one morning in July, 1864, to find some of the streets of Omaha full of refugees from the Elkhorn, who brought with them the dire report that the Indians were down upon them in force. Whole settlements packed up what movables they could in a hurry, and rushed into Omaha for protection. The thing looked serious. Word was sent to Bellevue, in Sarpy County, where the good people rallied and hastened to the scene of the reported danger. At Omaha, we rushed to arms; horses enough for two companies of cavalry were pressed into service, mounted by willing volunteers and sent to the front. I remember well the high character of some of the volunteers. Side by side in the ranks appeared Hons. P. W. Hitchcock and A. S. Paddock, both of whom served afterward with distinction in the Senate of the United States, and Mr. Hitchcock, also a Delegate in Congress from the Territory of Nebraska
The battalion, when formed and equipped, was put under the command of Maj. John Taff, who afterward served three terms in Congress for the State of Nebraska. Maj. Taff was ordered to proceed to the front, with instructions to protect the settlements but to avoid hostilities if possible. But when he arrived there he found that the Indians
And silently stolen away."
To use a well-remembered expression of Senator Paddock, "It was no great war anyhow." Instead of their being Sioux, as reported, they were a band of Omahas who were returning from a visit to the Otoes. They had camped at the mouth of the Elkhorn, within easy range of some of Edward Creighton's cattle, and needing something for their larder, they appropriated a steer or two to that account. The keepers of the cattle took fright and fled, bringing with them every settler to whom they could communicate their own panic. When the Indians saw what had been done they were as badly frightened as the rest of us, and pulled out for their reservation. In the meantime, the situation farther west grew every day more and more serious, and the demand for help more urgent. Gen. Mitchell was in command of the Department of the Platte, with headquarters at Omaha, but owing to the necessity for troops at the South, he had not men enough at his command to keep the Indians west of Ft. Kearney in check and protect the commerce of the plains. In his extremity, he called upon Gov. Saunders for help, and I was ordered to raise and equip a battalion of mounted militia to co operate with Gen. Mitchell in the field. In order to do so I called for volunteers, but while our people were ready and willing to protect their own homes, it was a much more serious matter for many of them to leave their families and go to the far front without present compensation. To meet this difficulty, I raised a bounty fund by subscription, which was liberally supplied by the business men of Omaha. A number of persons volunteered and supplied their own horses, while other horses had to be pressed or hired, as necessity seemed to require. I obtained the necessary ordnance stores to equip the horses from the War Department. Lieut. Northop was the ordnance officer at Omaha, and as ordnance stores can only be issued on the order of a Brigadier General, I had to apply to Gen. Mitchell, who was on the plains, operating against the savages. The General telegraphed the officer in charge of the stores to deliver me what I wanted, whereupon I wrote an order for what we wanted of cavalry equipments and gave it to one of my staff officers (Col. N. R. Hays), with directions to deliver it to Lieut. Northop, draw the supplies, and have them turned over to the officer in command of new recruits. Col. Hays took the order, and in his zeal to do things just right without knowing exactly how, put his own approval upon the order, to the great amusement of the better informed on such subjects. The order, with the indorsement of approval by a subordinate, passed as a joke in military circles for some time thereafter. But here in passing, let me pay a willing tribute to the memory of the late Col. Hays. His zeal was only equaled by his usefulness. Located as he was at Columbus, in charge of the Loup Fork Ferry, he was ever watchful and prompt. By his vigilance I was kept fully advised at all times of the movements of the Indians on the Upper Loup Fork River. And thus a company of horse was raised and equipped, put under command of Capt. Ira R. Porter and sent into the field. At Ft. Kearney, they were sworn into the United States service for two months, went to the front and did good work. They claimed to have actually killed more Indians than all the United States forces put together. They were honorably discharged when their services were no longer needed, and I had the satisfaction afterward of hearing them well spoken of by the army officers with whom they came in contact.
"There are various indications that at some former time the site of Neligh City was the camping-ground and home of some large body of Indians. Traces of their camps are still visible on the surface of the earth, and in excavating cellars, bones of buffalo, elk, deer and antelope, stone arrow-heads and portions of human skeletons are frequently unearthed." --(O'Neill's Northern Nebraska, 1875.)
Were there ever any Mound-Builders in Nebraska? Possibly. About three-fourths of a mile west of Neligh, previous to the advent of the plow, there were indications of the existence of a race anterior to the red man. At this point, when first the early settlers came, a circular embankment, from one to two feet high, was visible, inclosing a space about one half-mile in diameter, and with an opening at the southeast, as if for an entrance. This inclosure, with its embankment, which may have been, in the centuries long ago, breast high and designed for defense, was called by the early settlers "The Fort." Near "The Fort" toward the north were two irregular rows of mounds, about fifteen in number, and of about the same elevation as the embankment. Near by were also found, by Hon. William B. Lambert, numerous specimens of what appeared to be remains of a rude pottery or earthenware, one piece in particular being found nearly entire, bearing a strong resemblance to an urn. Now the embankment and the mounds have been reduced by the plow to a common level with the surrounding prairie, so that their former location is not distinguishable to the eye.