Organization | Public Schools | Population | Railroads
Indians | "The Logan War." | Hard Times | Omadi
Part 2: Towns
Dakota City: | Local Matters | Biographical Sketches
Part 3: St. Johns: Biographical Sketch
Jackson: Biographical Sketches
Homer | Hubbard: | Biographical Sketches
Covington: Biographical Sketch
DAKOTA County is situated in the northeastern part of the State. It was created by the First Territorial Legislature, in response to a petition signed by J. D. M. Crockwell and thirty-one others on March 7, 1855, with the following boundaries: Commencing at the southwest corner of Township 27, Range 6 east, thence north to the Missouri River, thence down to the channel of the river to the south line of Township 27, thence west to the place of beginning. The boundaries remained as above described until 1858, when a bill was passed by the Legislature annexing to Dixon County one-half of Townships 27, 28 and 29, and all of Townships 30 and 31, thus reducing the county in size by nearly three townships, and making it the smallest county in the State except Sarpy. In 1879 its southern boundary was removed downward to the middle line of Township 25, thus including for "elective, judicial and revenue purposes," the Winnebago and a portion of Omaha Reservation. The extent of the county proper is about 225 square miles, or a little less than 130,000 acres.
Dakota County was named after the Dakota Indians. The northern boundary of it lies in very nearly 42° 30', north latitude, and its average elevation above the sea is not far from 1,100 feet. The bottom lands, including those of the creeks as well as those of the Missouri River, embrace nearly one-half of its entire extent. They are generally of a rich vegetable mold and very productive. To the northwest of Dakota City, on the Missouri bottom there are some small sloughs, which in times of high floods in that river are full of water, and even themselves sometimes overflow. Rather more than half of the county is valley and uplands, which vie with the bottom land in fertility. The loess formation is here thicker perhaps than in any portion of the State, extending to the depth of over 200 feet. Here as everywhere in this geological formation, the water in wells and springs is exceedingly clear, and contains but little mineral, just enough to render it palatable but not enough to render it injurious, and that little carbonate of lime. On the uplands, springs abound, there being scarcely a farm there without a spring. The county also has plenty of running water. The Omaha Creek enters it from the south and after receiving from the west, Fiddler and Wigle creeks, as tributaries, empties into the Missouri just east of Homer. Pigeon Creek waters the central portion, and Elk Creek, the western, both creeks losing themselves in sloughs in the Missouri bottom to the west of Dakota City.
The native prairie grasses yet prevail, slough grass on the bottoms, blue joint on the uplands. Timothy is, however, being successfully introduced, and Kentucky blue grass is successfully introducing itself; crowding out all other varieties wherever it gets a start.
Dakota County is remarkable for the variety and large size of its forest trees. With the exception of the Indian Reservations just south of it it probably surpasses in the value of its forests and shrubs any other portion of the State of equal entent. Of these forest trees may be mentioned the cottonwood; trees of this kind having been found five and a feet half in diameter, over sixty feet to the first considerable limb, and over three hundred years old; black walnut which grows here to a diameter of from three to five feet, and to a height of forty feet without a limb. Dakota County sent 500,000 feet of this lumber to market in 1865 and 1866. White ash grows here to a diameter of two feet. Hackberry is also found, and makes the best of firewood. There are also the sugar maple, box elder, coffee-tree, and long-headed black, and silver leaved willows, all growing to tree size in St. John's timber in the northern part of the county. Besides these there are various other kinds of trees, and shrubs.
Dakota County is also distinguished by the great development, within its boundaries, of that important geological formation, known as the "Dakota Group." It was so named from the above fact by Prof. Hayden. Because of overlying strata toward the West its breadth can not be accurately ascertained; but there is evidence that from north to south, "it has been continuous from the Gulf of Mexico to Greenland and other Arctic lands." The group itself is distinguished by the non-existence of antecedents of its flora. This is a remarkable circumstance, and there are but two hypotheses proposed for its explanation. One is that when the proper time came for this flora to appear its varieties were created by the fiat of the Supreme Being. At present, however, naturalists do not incline to this theory, but, looking upon nature as a connected whole, adopt the only hypothesis remaining; that there was a gradual advancement from the primitive types, but that the intermediate links between these and the Dakota flora have been swept away.
The Dakota group consists mainly of sandstone, of different kinds and of different degrees of hardness, from very soft to very hard. A great deal of it is, however, a medium between the two extremes and is very valuable for smaller structures, from the ease with which it can be quarried and dressed. It is here also that is found an intensely hard quartzite suitable for the foundations of the largest structures. On the hill-top in this county may be seen a peculiar species of limestone, called from the abundance of its fossils, the Inoceramus limestone bed. It often breaks up into flagging stone, and, because capable of resisting great pressure, furnishes good building material. There is also an abundance of clay which makes excellent brick, and plenty of sand for plastering, both in the Missouri bottoms and uplands.
There is a considerable quantity of peat, on both Elk and Pigeon Creeks, but no use has yet been made of it; and there is a little coal, but its commercial value has not yet been ascertained.
Turning from its natural resources, we find that in the twenty-six years of its history, Dakota County has made considerable progress in the acquisition and building up of property, one of the main tests of civilization. In the county there are three flouring mills, all run by water power, and three steam saw mills. There are 2160 horses, valued at $42,800; 11,576 cattle, valued at $102,000; 21 sheep, valued at $21; 9,200 hogs, valued at $6,576; and 77 mules, value $1,870. These are the taxable values, which are one-third the actual values. The total taxable property in the county is as follows: Land, $430,440; town property, $44,911; personal property, $192,710; rail.road proporty, $127,651; making a total taxable valuation of $795,712.
In 1881 there were produced in the county of the various crops very nearly as follows: spring wheat, 8,880 acres, yielding 69,500 bushels; corn, 13,500 acres, yielding 547,000 bushels; oats, 1,400 acres, yield 29,800 bushels; potatoes, 250 acres, yield 20,000 bushels; and of barley 120 acres, yielding 765 bushels.
Of forest trees there have been planted 565 acres, the varieties being mostly cottonwood, maple, box elder and walnut.
Of fruit trees there have been planted 8,843, mainly apple, cherry and plum.
Dakota County was organized in 1855. Chauncey H. Horr was appointed Probate Judge and William Pilgrim, Recorder.
The first election was held in November, 1856, at which time the following officers were elected: Probate Judge, Chauncey A. Horr; Clerk, Jacob H. Hallock; Treasurer, William Young: Recorder, William Pilgrim; Sheriff, G. W. Williamson; County Commissioners, Samuel Gamble, A. H. Baker and John J. Trecy. There were also chosen at this election as member of the Council, A. W. Puett; and as members of the Legislature, Samuel F. Watts and Thomas Coleman.
The first election of which there was a record made was held on August 3, 1857, at which the following officers were elected: Probate Judge, Alexander Johnston; Clerk, J. M. Griffin; Treasurer, Charles Young; Register of Deeds, John M. Hayes; Sheriff, T. C. Ryan; Surveyor, Robert Alexander; Superintendent of Common Schools, Harlan Baird; County Commissioners, Samuel Gamble, A. H. Baker and John J. Trecy. Some of the above persons failing to qualify, a special election was held on November 30, following, at which the vacancies were filled as follows: Probate Judge, Chauncey A. Horr; Treasurer, George A. Hinsdale; Surveyor, Michael O'Grady. Thus was the county started off on its political career.
The officers whose terms expired in January, 1882, are the following: Probate Judge, K. W. Frazer; Clerk, W. C. McBeath; Treasurer, G. W. Wilkinson; Surveyor, George C. Granger; Sheriff, N. Maher; Coroner, Robert Campbell; Superintendent of Public Instruction, T. J. Sloan; County Commissioners, John C. Gribble, Henry Ream and John Boler.
Attempt to Remove the County Seat. Dakota City had been made the County Seat by an Act of the Legislature passed January 23, 1856. In 1858 some of the people desired its removal to a more central location. Accordingly on August 2, of that year a vote was taken upon the question of removal. At this election there were cast 569 votes, St. John's receiving 263, Dakota City, 260. A majority not being in favor of removing the county seat, it remained and still remains at Dakota City.
There are thirty-three school districts, and thirty-three schoolhouses; 744 male and 722 female, scholars; fifteen male and thirty-two female teachers. Total wages paid to male teachers $1,962, to females, $2,838. The schoolhouses are valued at $18,600, sites at $1,235, and books and apparatus at $385.
The population of Dakota County in 1869 was 1,598; in 1874, 2,759; in 1879, 3,108, 1712 being males, and 1,496 females.
The people were divided among the precincts as follows: Omadi, 873; Dakota, 805; Covington, 262; St. Johns, 696; Summit, 297; Pigeon Creek, 275. We give the census of 1879 because that of 1880 is incomplete and unreliable. Judging from that portion that is complete, the population of the county was at that time 3,500.
The first railroad built in Dakota County was the Covington, Columbus & Black Hills Railroad, in 1876. The gauge was three feet six inches. The county voted bonds to the amount of $95,000, which were given to the company on the completion of its contract, viz.: The building of the road from Covington to the northern boundary line, a distance of twenty-two and a quarter miles.
In the fall of 1880 the Chicago, St. .Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad Company completed its line to Cobrom Junction, five miles west of Dakota City, and having in the meantime purchased the Covington, Columbus & Black Hills Railroad, and changed it to a standard gauge. The purchasing company now has thirty-eight miles of railroad in the county, valued at $384,000.
The history of Dakota County since its settlement by white people, furnishes but little of interest connected with the aboriginal inhabitants of the country. There are, however, a few incidents which should be recorded and preserved.
In September, 1855, a party of twenty-one Sioux Indians came upon the little company of settlers at the mouth of the Omaha creek, stole all their provisions, and also their boat, thus cutting off communication with the Iowa side of the river, their source of supplies. After fasting three days, they at last picked up a hawk that had been killed about that length of time, and with its flesh appeased their hunger.
Three or four days after the stealing of the provisions by the Sioux, a party of Poncas came along, one of whom attempted to carry off what clothing he could get his hands on. He was fired upon by Mr. George T. Woods, who was doing guard duty while his comrades labored, and was thus driven away.
About this time Charles Roulaux, who previous to the stealing of the provisions and boat had gone over the river, returned with food, thus removing the dangers of starvation, and, having been an Indian trader, he understood their language and had influence over them. A parley was held which settled all difficulties, after which there were no further Indian troubles in that part of the county. A more serious trouble however, occurred during the same summer in the St. John's timber, in the northern part of the county. Adam Benners, with his family, had moved in, in June of that year. During his absence, three Ponca Indians entered his cabin, where lay his wife sick in bed, her newborn babe by her side. The Indians pulled the feather bed off onto the floor, Mrs. Benners with it, and ransacked the house generally. Mrs. Benners died from the shock of the fright and exposure, and was survived but a short time by her babe. Gen. Harnev was at the time at Ft. Randall. The three Indians were delivered up to him by their tribe, and were tried, condemned and executed for their crime.
In order to understand the rationale of the so-called "Logan War," it is necessary to premise that in those days of self and mutual defense, it was customary for the settlers to organize themselves into "claim clubs" for the purpose of defending each other in the possession of their "claims." Each man was allowed to hold 320 acres of land, and if any outsider attempted to "jump" a claim of any member of the club, he was usually dealt with in a very summary manner. The decision of the club was final. At that time there was such a club at Omadi and another at Logan. At the latter place Mr. Joseph Conley held possession of a claim, which some one attempted to wrest from him by force. The friends of either party arrayed themselves in opposition, and considerable excitement ensued throughout the county. The club at Omadi were notified late at night of the difficulty and appealed to for aid. They promptly turned out about thirty strong with their arms, and reached Logan by daylight the next morning. The "jumper," with his friends was overawed by this unexpected show of force, and, relinquishing his claim, retired without causing any bloodshed.
Plenty reigned throughout the county until the fall of 1857. Up to this time the settlers had had plenty of gold and silver money to meet their wants, and their crops had been good. But now their hard cash was all expended, and the greater number of the "wild-cat" banking institutions that existed at that time in the Territory, suddenly failed, and the paper money thus becoming worthless as suddenly ceased to circulate. Immigration also ceased. The wheat crop for this summer was a failure. There was, however, a fair crop of corn, and on this mainly, supplemented with a little bacon and crust coffee, the settlers managed to subsist through the succeeding winter. White wheat bread was during this year considered a great luxury. Misfortunes seldom come singly, and so it proved with our Dakota pioneers, for in addition to and in the midst of all their troubles they were in the spring of 1858 obliged to "prove up" on and pay for or lose their "claims." In the year 1857 the land had been surveyed and this spring it was offered in the market for sale. Many borrowed money at the rate of 40 per cent interest, mortgaging their lands for security. The Pike's Peak gold fever breaking out before these mortgages were canceled, drew many to the mountains with the hope of bringing back gold enough to redeem their farms. Some were successful, others never returned, and the lands of these went to the mortgagees. Those who remained at home went earnestly to work raising crops and making improvements, and were soon very generally out of debt and on the high road to prosperity.
Omadi was located on the Missouri River at the mouth of the Omaha creek. The first "claim" in this vicinity was probably that of Charles Roulaux, which was on the exact place of the subsequent town site of Omadi. Mr. Roulaux was found here by a company who for a 4th of July holiday, had crossed the Missouri about a mile above, from Sergeant's Bluff, Iowa, where for some months they had been living on claims, with the view of making their permanent home on the east side of the river. Once across, however, they were much better pleased with the Nebraska side. This party consisted, so far as can now be ascertained of the following persons; Geo. T. Woods, Robert Alexander, J. W. Hallock, John Bay, Albert Puett, and John Gallagher. Within a few days Chauncey A. Horr crossed the river and joined the party. The first "claim cabin" built in this part of the county was by John B. Artaux, and George T. Woods and Chauncey A. Horr, built the first cabin on purchased land in July, 1855, to live in during the erection of their saw mill at Omadi, which was commenced in September, 1855, and completed on April 1, 1856, and was the first mill built in the county. All the lumber used in its construction was hewed out of the log by Mr. Woods, with a broadax. Messrs. Woods and Horr bought of Charles Roulaux, twenty acres of land for their mill site, paying therefor $200, and in the summer of 1856, one of them was offered $1,800 for his half interest. At this time the county was settling up so rapidly, that the mill could not saw lumber fast enough to supply the demand. Cottonwood lumber sold readily for $30 per 1,000. During this summer Stephen Draper brought in a steam saw mill and located it at Omadi. In the fall of 1855, Jesse Wigle, Benjamin Hicks, Harlan Baird, Abraham Hirsch, and a Mr. Moore came to the settlement, and in the spring of 1856, settlers began to come in very fast. The town was started and named "Omadi." Besides the two saw mills, there was built a good frame schoolhouse, the first in the county, a fine store, kept by W. C. McBeath, who materially aided the early settlers during the hard times, of 1857, and numerous other buildings. The town grew and prospered until in 1857, it had about 400 inhabitants. It would doubtless have been a flourishing town to-day had it not been that, in the spring of 1858, the waters of the treacherous Missouri began to wash away its west bank, and undermine the town site, so that in order to save the buildings it was necessary to remove them. Its inhabitants began to scatter. Some moved out on to farms, others to Dakota City, still others left the State, and by the year 1865, every house was gone, and the river had complete possession of the ancient town site of Omadi.
The first school taught in the county was by Miss Putnam of Sioux City, in the Omadi schoolhouse, in the spring of 1857. Religious services were also held in this schoolhouse, being conducted by Presiding Elder Smith of Omaha, of the Methodists. Omadi also has the honor of having the first newspaper published in the county. It was called the Omadi Enterprise, and was edited by George Rust, afterwards editor of the Stock Journal in Chicago. The Enterprise was established in 1857, was sold to Griffin & Taffe in 1858, and expired in the same year. The first death in the county was either that of a niece of Charles Roulaux, or the wife of Adam Benners, who was killed in the St. John's timber in 1855 by the Ponca Indians, and the first birth in the county was that of Miss Emma Wigle.