Part 2: Organization | General County Topics | Schools
Means of Communication
West Point: Fire Department | Public Schools | Churches
Part 3: West Point (cont.): Hotels and Public Halls
Societies | Manufactories
General Business Topics | Biographical Sketches
Part 4: Wisner: Early History | Churches | Societies | Business
Bancroft | Biographical Sketches
List of Illustrations in Cuming County Chapter
CUMING County is located in the second tier of counties from the Missouri River, being west of Burt and north of Dodge County. It is in the northeastern part of the state, being a portion of that fertile region included in the Elkhorn Valley. This included an area of country equal to Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and no agricultural district in the world has so little waste land. The soil is a rich vegetable mould, on the uplands, one foot to two and one half feet deep; this is interspersed with a fine sandy loam. The subsoil is porous, and, as much of the underlying strata is a soft sandstone, there is no such thing as a "baked out soil." It improves also by cultivation--never "runs out"--ground which formerly yielded but twenty-five or thirty bushels of corn to the acre, now producing from fifty to eighty, without the aid of fertilizers.
The county, containing 504 square miles, is well watered, the Elkhorn River being the principal source of supply. It performs some of its greatest eccentricities in Cuming County, favoring that region with over thirty miles of valley. Rock, Sand, Plum, Pebble, and Cuming creeks also diversify and fertilize the country.
In addition to the abundance of water supply there are good limestone ledges, especially in the vicinity of West Point, and excellent clay in places for making brick. Indications of coal have also been discovered, but no paying deposits have yet been worked.
The Elkhorn River near which West Point is situated, has naturally a fine water power. This was not improved until 1867, when Messrs. Bruner & Neligh commenced building a dam, in order to obtain power for the operation of a grist mill. At this time the one on Rock Creek was the only grist mill north of Omaha. The dam was completed and control obtained over a body of water equal to 500-horse power. By the next year the mill was completed, and drew its support from a radius of from fifty to one hundred miles around. The establishment of the mill had a great effect in the founding of West Point itself.
The Rock Creek mill was built by August Lambrecht and Christian Neumann, in 1866, being completed in February of that year. The previous year these gentlemen had erected a saw mill, which when timber was plenty, was a paying institution. In 1870 Mr. Lambrecht came into possession of the grist mill and is still operating it. It has two run of stone for flour and one for feed; patent flour is also manufactured. The property is valued at over $12,000.
The following extract taken from the centennial history of Cuming County, written by E. N. Sweet, formerly editor of the West Point Republican, is as concise an account of early history of the county for the first two years as can be obtained. For "the truth of history," however, several corrections in the text have been made:
In the summer of 1856, Benjamin B. Moore left Hillsdale, Mich., and accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Anna Moore, daughter, Miss Kate Moore, and three sons, Abram, George, and Oscar, came to Nebraska, and after viewing the country in different parts of the State, came to the conclusion that no portion of it excelled the Elkhorn Valley in beauty and fertility, and accordingly made a claim and erected a cabin at Catherine, or Dead Timber, being the first actual settler in the county. The winter following was an unusually severe one, and the snow fell to such a depth that it was impossible, for a time, to drive a team to Fontanelle, an embryo town in Dodge County, and in consequence Mr. Moore and his sons were compelled to haul provisions from that place over the snow crust on hand-sled. But, fortunately, the family were enabled to get an abundant supply of fresh meat without going far from home, without money and without price. The Elkhorn Valley was literally filled with antelope, deer, and elk, and when the deep snow covered the face of the country, they flocked to the friendly shelter of the timber on the river bottoms, and during the winter Mr. Moore and his sons killed not less than seventy of them with axes in and around Dead Timber, the snow crust being firm enough to bear a man, while the animals would break through, thus becoming easy prey. This winter, 1856-1857, was the most severe one ever experienced since the settlement of Nebraska, and caused the death of hundreds and hundreds of animals. Even to this day may be seen the decaying bones of antelope, deer, and elk, which died of cold and starvation in the deep encrusted snow that had drifted into the bottoms and thickets along the river. In the summer of 1857, the Moore family left their claim at Dead Timber, and settled in what is known as De Witt, on the southwest quarter of section 4, in Township 22, Range 6 east, at which place Mrs. Anna Moore and Oscar Moore still reside. There are now only three of the family living--Mrs. Anna Moore, Mrs. Kate Crawford, wife of Hon. J. C. Crawford, of West Point, and Oscar Moore, the younger son. George Moore enlisted in the federal army and died in the West, Abram Moore was accidentally shot and killed, and Benjamin J. Moore died at his residence on the second day of September 1870.
In March, 1857, Uriah Bruner, John J. Bruner (now of West Point, then of Omaha), Henry A. Kosters, Wm. Sexauer, Andrew J. Bruner, Peter Windheim, Henry Eikey, Charles Beindorf (some of whom still reside in Omaha), and other citizens of Omaha associated themselves together under the name and style of "The Nebraska Settlement Association," and appointed a committee to go up to the Elkhorn and fix upon a proper site for the location of a town. Early in that month, Uriah Bruner, John J. Bruner, and other members of the association who had been appointed as such a committee, started upon a prospecting tour to the Elkhorn, while the snow was still on the ground, being compelled to build bridges across Bell Creek, in Washington County, across Logan Creek and across Cuming Creek, in order to get their teams across those streams, which were swollen by the floods of spring. Their journey, on account of the bad state of the roads and swollen streams, was necessarily slow, but in a few days they reached the Elkhorn without accident or serious difficulty. Arriving at or near where West Point now stands, the members of the committee were favorably impressed with the general make up of the country, with the beauties of the undulating land, the apparent richness of its soil, and especially were they favorably impressed, and highly pleased, with the splendid stream of water which gracefully wound its way down the broad valley, and its excellent facilities for being improved for manufacturing purposes. "Here," said they, with one accord, "will we 'set our stakes,' here will we locate a town, and establish industries." The committee made a favorable report to the association at Omaha, and it was unanimously agreed that the report be accepted, and that a town be located as recommended. Accordingly, claims were taken, and the community purchased a steam saw-mill, which arrived at the town site in the month of June; men were set to work putting up machinery; a log house was erected, and during the summer a town site was surveyed (being a portion of the present site upon which West Point is located) by Andrew J. Bruner. The town was first named Philadelphia, but soon after changed to West Point. The several townships in the county were surveyed into subdivisions during the summer of this year, the survey of the township in which West Point is situated being made August 4, to August 7. Several members of the committee sent out by "the Nebraska Settlement Association," took "squatter's" claims in the neighborhood of the town site, and John Gaul and a man named Smith also made claims. Mr. U. Bruner and John J. Bruner, and other members of the settlement association, remained until the saw-mill was partly completed, but they finally all returned to Omaha, to await the settlement and development of the country.
In the month of March, 1858, John D. Neligh, James C. Crawford, and George W. Houser, or Pennsylvania, and Josiah McKirahan and John McKirahan, of Ohio, arrived in Omaha, and hearing a glowing account of the Elkhorn Valley, came to Cuming County. They were so well pleased with the outlook that they took "squatter's" claims, in accordance with claim laws established by early settlers throughout the State (the lands in Cuming County not yet having been thrown open for homesteads), near West Point, built temporary houses out of adobes, and commenced breaking prairie with a view to permanent location. Some of the party also took pre-emption claims--the first taken in the county by Josiah McKirahan, on the 14th day of April, 1858, being the north-west quarter of Section 21, in Township 22, Range 6 east. Mr. Neligh and Crawford bought the unfinished saw-mill of the "Nebraska Settlement Association" and also its claim to the town site, and during the summer the saw-mill was completed. Soon after the parties just referred to had made a commencement, other settlers gradually dropped in, among whom were John Bromer and family, and ere long quite a settlement had gathered in the valley, within a few miles of West Point. the citizens soon felt the urgent need of a post office, and petitioned the Postmaster General for the establishment of an office and the appointment of a postmaster. The petition was promptly recognized by Aaron Brown, Postmaster-General, and on the 15th day of May, 1858, an office was established, and J. C. Crawford was appointed Postmaster. About the 1st of the following month, Mr. Crawford's bond having been filed and approved, the post-office was opened in the "Claim-house" on the town site. Mails were carried to and from West Point to Fontanelle semi-occasionally by the Postmaster, or by any traveler who happened to be coming to or going from the so-called town.
Early during the year 1858 the first death occurred--the wife of John Gaul. She was buried about one-half a mile north of the court house.
The winter of 1858-59 was a hard one, but crops seemed to promise well for the coming season, and quite a flood of immigrants poured into the county.
The "Pawnee war" occurred during the succeeding summer, the red men believing evidently that they could "clean out" the whole valley. The following account is given, referring more particularly to the trouble, as seen from the West Point standpoint. For more general mention, the reader is referred to the following extract from the history of the State:
In the last part of June of that year, about a thousand Pawnee Indians came up the Elkhorn Valley, ostensibly on their way north on a hunting expedition, but as the sequel proved, their main errand was to plunder the whites; they seemed to be in a half starved condition, and in order to satiate their hunger commenced a systematic warfare upon the settlers' pigs , poultry, and stock whenever favorable opportunity offered. They made their appearance in the vicinity of West Point on the 29th of June, and butchered a heifer belonging to Mr. Clemens. The Indians having committed numerous depredations further down the valley, the citizens organized and started in pursuit. At about sundown on the 29th, a company of volunteers from Fontanelle and vicinity, commanded by Captain Kline, arrived at West Point. The following night was spent in notifying the citizens of the prospective trouble, and nearly all of the settlers came to West Point. Soon after sunrise the next morning, two Indians were seen approaching the town from the south, which created no little excitement. Two young men mounted horses and started for the Indians, who immediately turned and ran toward the river, which, upon reaching, they swam and made their escape. Later in the day a number of Indians made their appearance across the river, opposite the saw-mill, and two Germans seeing their approach, concealed themselves between the saw-mill and river, with a view of sending some of them to their "happy hunting grounds." Their guns, however, missed fire, and the Indians discovering that danger was brewing, retreated. Upon discovering that a strong force was rendezvoused at West Point, the Indians moved up the river, and a party of thirty men, commanded by Captain Patterson, a young lawyer of Fontanelle, started up the river on the east side, in order to protect the few settlers in the vicinity of De Witt. Soon after arriving at De Witt, where B. B. Moore resided, the whites saw eleven Indians approaching, and conceived the idea of making them prisoners. Accordingly, the party moved into the kitchen, where Mrs. Moore and daughter were preparing dinner, with a view of decoying the Indians into the sitting-room, which was divided from the kitchen by a light board partition. The Indians came to the house, and entered the sitting-room, whereupon a part of the whites passed out of the kitchen and took a position near the south door to prevent their escape. Soon after firing commenced, by which party is unknown, and then followed a scene which beggars description. With a wild war-whoop the Indians rushed out of the house, dashed through the lines of whites, and ran toward their camp, on the opposite side of the river, followed by a deadly shower of leaden hail. The battle-cry sounded by the retreating Indians was answered by their comrades across Elkhorn (a distance of two miles or more), and as the echo and re-echo of the terrible war-whoop found its way along the river and over the prairie, consternation filled the breasts of all who heard it, and many of the settlers were panic-stricken. A proposition was made by Joseph McKirahan to follow the retreating Indians to their camp, but the party from Fontanelle refused to do so, or give their horses to those who volunteered. Just how many Indians were killed is not known, but members of their tribe have since admitted that only three reached their camp, and that one of them was mortally wounded. One Indian was left dead at Moore's house, and two others were left badly wounded. They were put in a wagon when the party started for West Point; one died on the way and the other was supposed to be dead and thrown into the river at a point where the mill-dam now is. He proved, however, to have been playing "possum," and struck for the shore, but never reached it. An ounce or two of lead caused him to sink to rise no more. The only white man wounded was Mr. Peterson of Fontanelle.
Immediately after the fight, the party started for West Point, the men from Fontanelle, especially, being much excited. Jo. McKirahan tried to prevail upon the teamsters to take a feather-bed and a trunk, belonging to the Moore family, which was refused, and in their terror they even forgot to take Mrs. Moore and her daughter with them. Mr. Moore's pony team was hitched to a wagon as speedily as possible, and the family drove rapidly towards town, with the exception of the boys, who were left to gather up the cattle and drive them along, Josiah McKirahan also remaining behind to assist them. When McKirahan arrived near the Webb place, they saw two men standing on the bluffs--since Dupray's farm--and believing them to be Indians, the boys proposed to run; Josiah demurred to this, declaring that his boots were too large, and that he could not run and would not. The supposed Indians proved to be Babbitt and McClellan, who accompanied the party to West Point.
The party which left De Witt so precipitately had intended to make a stand at West Point, but upon arriving there and finding that the remainder of the party from Fontanelle had already started home, the Fontanelle people all refused to remain, and followed as speedily as possible. It was rumored that several hundred Indians were preparing to swarm down on the little band of settlers, to avenge the death of their fallen braves, which caused a panic , such a one as the citizens of West Point have never witnessed since. Children screamed, anxious mothers wept, and tremblingly drew their little ones around them, expecting any moment to hear the shrill war-whoop, and to see the merciless savages come dashing among them with gleaming tomahawks and circling scalping knives; while sturdy fathers and husbands firmly awaited the expected onslaught with nerves highly strung, and rifle firmly clutched, determined to defend the loved ones to the last. During the excitement a consultation was held, and the majority determined to abandon West Point and go to Fontanelle with all of their effects they could take. Messrs. Neligh, Crawford, McClellan, Babbitt, Schadaman and Thomas, who were opposed to the move, remained behind a short time after the others had left, and secreted the most valuable articles which could not be taken along. There were only two persons left in the county, A. L. Ward and Caspar Eberline, both of whom were several miles above De Witt at the time of the fight, in blissful ignorance of the stirring scenes being enacted. Upon returning home they comprehended the situation, and followed as expeditiously as possible. The cattle around West Point were collected together before the citizens all left, and placed under the charge of W. R. Artman and John McKirahan of West Point, Johnson and Sprietk of Fontanelle, and the Moore brothers, of De Witt, who volunteered to drive them. After leaving West Point, this party, having become separated from the main body of the fugitives, imagined that perhaps the Indians had murdered their friends, and fearing that they themselves would soon be attacked, deserted the cattle and hid in the slough grass of the friendly river bottom. In the evening the rear guard of the party found the cattle and drove them along, and, proceeded four or five miles, found the herders in the tall grass, where they had lain. The entire party reached Fontanelle in safety and without molestation.
On the 4th day of July a party was organized at Fontanelle to go to De Witt, consisting of J. D. Neligh, Josiah McKirahan, J. C. Crawford, John McClellan, A. Clements, J. B. Robinson, Thomas Parks, John Shoer, William Keyes, and others, for the purpose of seeing what the Indians had been doing. The party arrived at West Point on the 5th; Neligh and Clements were left at the place to prepare dinner, and the party, with this exception, proceeded to De Witt. Arriving at Moore's house they found a dead Indian lying on the kitchen floor with a bucket of water beside him, a pan of unbaked biscuit on the stove hearth, dishes broken, feathers strewn on the floor, and bureau drawers broken and contents strewn about. While the party was viewing the picture of desolation and death, from without came a cry of "Indians! Indians! Indians!" and in an instant all was commotion. A general rush was made for the wagons in which their arms were lying, and in the excitement which followed, a gun was accidentally discharged, its contents lodging in Mr. Shoer, killing him instantly. The alarm was discovered to have been a false one, and soon after the sad accident the party started for Fontanelle, where they arrived the same evening, bearing with them the lifeless body of their unfortunate comrade.
The winter of 1858-59 was what is known as the "hard winter." During this year (1859) Mr. Neligh lived on potatoes, without salt, while Mr. Crawford was obliged to take that tiresome trip to Omaha for provisions. Corn was a luxury, and mills--coffee mills--the only means known of getting it into meal--were almost as great a rarity as the grain itself. This year and the year 1860 were of so discouraging a nature that many settlers left the country, and it was only by the persistency of such men as Messrs. Neligh and Crawford that the West Point settlement was not completely disorganized. As showing the extent to which the country was depopulated the fact is significant that when the census was taken in the summer of 1860 but five legal voters were enrolled. The spring of 1861 opened with no brighter prospects, but the two gentlemen named above set themselves pluckily to work and "corraled" numbers of emigrants who were intending to locate elsewhere than West Point. During the fall of 1861 and the spring of 1862 the times improved, and among the prominent settlers who located were Charles Schuth, Martin Stuefer, Joseph Emley and Judge Newborn. The spring and summer of 1864 were very favorable seasons as far as an increase in population is concerned, and the next year (1866) was a "boom" in every direction. In 1868 Messrs. Bruner and Neligh completed the grist mill at West Point, which had the most enlivening effect not only in drawing business to the town but to the county at large. The town continued to grow until the completion of the Elkhorn Valley branch of the Sioux City & Pacific road to West Point, in November, 1870, when it and the county took a leap forward such as had not been witnessed since the settlement began. The history of the early settlement in the vicinity of Wisner will be found in the sketch of that place.
On July 3, 1860, a patent was issued to Patrick Murray, giving a title to the northeast quarter of sections 3 and 10, Township 2, Range 6 east, this being the first in the county.
J. C. Crawford was given the first recorded bill of sale, June 12, 1862.
Benjamin B. Moore made the first homestead entry February 16, 1863.
On June 1, 1865, A. E. Fensk opened the first store in West Point and in the county.
The first law suit was commenced before Justice Crawford, then of Bismarck Precinct, the day for the hearing being set for February 9, 1866--William Warblow vs. Ferdinand Fullner, being the title of the case. Suit was brought to recover $20 and costs, the plaintiff alleging the Mr. Fullner, the County Treasurer, had maliciously killed his dog. The defendant filed an affidavit for a change of venue, on the ground not only that the citizens were biased but the Justice also. The motion was not granted. An answer was filed, motions and counter-motions were made, and finally the case was continued to the 16th of that month. On the afternoon of the 15th Mr. Fullner started from West Point to Tekamah to engage an attorney to conduct his case. He was overtaken in a drifting, blinding snow storm and perished on Logan creek. In the same storm a Mr. Noyce and his son, residing near De Witt, were also overtaken and frozen to death.
In the summer of 1867 Josiah McKirahan opened the first hotel, in West Point. It was called the West Point House, and is still standing.
The first warrantee deed, of record, was given by Matthias Schumacker to Catherine B. Neligh, December 17, 1867.
The first church building erected in the county was that built by the Catholics, in St. Charles Precinct, during the spring of 1867.