Topography and Geology | Natural Productions | The Indians|
Early Settlement | Hard Times | Organization | Railroad Bonds
Facts and Figures | Crimes and Casualties
The Dixon County "Volcano"
Ponca: Early History | Local Associations | Biographical Sketches|
Wakefield | Martinsburgh | Biographical Sketches
Other Towns | Biographical Sketches
DIXON county is located in the northeastern corner of the State. It is bounded on the north by the Missouri River, on the east by Missouri and Dakota counties, on the south by Wayne County, and on the west by Wayne and Cedar counties.
The county was organized by act of the Territorial Legislature in 1858, and its boundaries defined as follows:
"Commencing at the southwest corner of Township 27, north, Range 4, east; thence east to the line dividing Sections 33 and 34, in Township 27, north, Range 6, east; thence north to the dividing line between Townships 29 and 30, north, Range 6, east; thence east to the middle of the main channel of the Missouri River, thence up said channel to a point where the dividing line between Ranges 3 and 4, east, intersect the same; thence south to the place of beginning." The boundaries remain to-day the same as when thus established. The county contains in the aggregate between thirteen and fourteen townships, or 304,000 acres of land.
The surface of Dixon County is sufficiently diversified for variety and beauty, and in the extreme northern part, along the Missouri, it is almost rugged enough to awaken other emotions. Among these rugged hills in the northern part wind the valleys of Lime, Turkey and Powder creeks; in the central part are the valleys of Silver, Dailey, West, South and Aoway creeks, and in the southern those of Logan and its tributaries. The valleys vary from one-half a mile to three miles in width, and comprise in the aggregate about one-third of the surface of the county. The uplands, comprising the other two-thirds, vary in height from twenty to 100 feet. In most cases the ascent is gentle and easy, but in some places it is steep and difficult. This is the case along the Missouri, where the hills though well adapted to the pasturing of cattle and sheep, are in a few places, too rugged and steep to permit of cultivation.
The soil of Dixon County is deep and fertile. On the uplands it varies from one to three feet in depth, and in the valleys from about two to six feet in depth, and taking the county over it varies in composition from a dark sandy loam to a black vegetable mold. The fibrous roots of trees and plants extend in places to a depth of from fifteen to twenty feet.
The subsoil is that of that peculiar nature which permits the absorption of moisture in rainy seasons, and the retaining of it for the use of vegetation during dry seasons. It is, like the subsoil in most of the eastern part of the State, of that remarkable lacustrine deposit, and fertile throughout its entire thickness. This deposit is remarkable here, as in Dakota, Cedar and some counties west of them, in being of as great thickness on the high hills as in the bottom lands.
The Dakota group furnishes excellent building stone. Clay is found from which superior brick is made. Coal is found in thin layers at considerable depths, but none has yet been mined. It doubtless exists in paying quantity, and of fine quality. Peat is found also in certain locations. In Section 29, Township 28, Range 4, east, a peat bog is found containing about eighty acres, on the homestead of J. M. Biggs, the peat being of superior quality.
The principal varieties of trees indigenous to the county are the cottonwood, elm, ash, box-elder, soft-maple, different varieties of oak, black walnut, hackberry, hickory, willow and cedar. Hackberry is a hard wood and makes excellent fuel. Some farmers in different parts of the county have engaged extensively in tree planting and have now fine groves which yield an abundant supply of timber for fence posts and fuel. Very little native timber is to be found along the small streams, but along the Missouri, are fine bodies of it, in the aggregate perhaps 10,000 acres.
Generally speaking, there has been but little attention given in Dixon County to the planting of trees, either forest or fruit, when the age of the county is taken into account. There have been two reasons for this:--first, the abundance of timber along the Missouri, and second, the discouragements connected with timber culture occasioned by the destructiveness of prairie fires. Notwithstanding the penalties imposed by the State laws upon those guilty of intentionally or carelessly setting fire to the prairie grass during certain seasons of the year, such fires have so far been of frequent occurrence annually, and numerous fine young groves have by them been destroyed. The county is not settled thickly enough to render it possible to have fire guards sufficient for protection. The grasshopper has had almost, possibly quite as much, to do with the neglect of fruit culture as the prairie fire with forest culture. The evils connected with the latter will from year to year gradually diminish. The former may not come again, and it may be truthfully said in regard to them that the disastrous effects of their past visitations have been considerably exaggerated. Men have sometimes been so unjust to the locusts, as to charge upon them the results of their own indolence.
Notwithstanding that Dixon County has numerous and varied resources in her soil, minerals and timber, her native grasses must still be considered her principal and grandest resource. These grow in great luxuriance and variety and are capable of supporting immense herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. Blue joint is the principal variety, but other varieties grow in great abundance. As yet very little has been done in the cultivation of tame grasses. Those who have sown timothy, red top and clover have met with gratifying success, and are confident there is no reason why these grasses can not succeed. Where Kentucky blue grass is introduced it crowds out every other kind. In 1879, E. W. Miller, of Logan Grove, sowed timothy, red top and clover and from this sowing in 1880 had excellent pasture, the tame grasses almost exterminating the wild in many places.
Dixon County is well watered by numerous springs and streams. The Missouri flows along the northern and a part of the eastern boundary. The Aoway Creek, in the central, and the Logan Creek, in the southern portion of the county, are the principal streams. There are numerous smaller ones, most of which have their origin in springs. They flow mostly over hard pebbly bottoms and are so well distributed that there are but few quarter sections of land which have not running water. Excellent water is found by digging wells from ten to seventy feet deep. Well water is generally hard, containing small quantities of carbonate of lime.
Previous to the advent of the white settlers there in 1856, Dixon County was the abode of several tribes of Indians, chief among which were the Dakotas, Omahas and Poncas. The Poncas were the most numerous of these three tribes. Their principal village was near the present location of Ponca, the county seat. The principal village of the Omahas was near the "lone tree," a few miles above the mouth of Dailey Creek. These Indians tribes had frequent battles with each other, sometimes resulting in great slaughter. In one of these savage conflicts between the Omahas and Poncas, which occurred about a mile north of Ponca, near the Missouri, the Omahas, who were on a raid, were led into an ambush and defeated with great slaughter, almost every one of the raiding forty being slain.
At the time of the settlement of the county, the Indians had become so reduced in numbers and ferocity, as not to be particularly dangerous. They were generally peaceable, except when their courage and animosity were quickened and strengthened by alcohol. Still it was not considered safe for the white intruder to go unarmed about his work, or to leave his wife and children unarmed at home. Numerous "scares" occurred, the Indians seeming particularly to enjoy this kind of amusement. As late as 1864, eight years after the settlement of the county, a marauding band of Sioux stole some horses belonging to different individuals, among them Father Ryan, of Dakota County. In passing through Dixon County westward they were discovered and pursued by Jeff Wilbur, who now lives a short distance west of Ponca, fired upon by him when at a distance of only about thirty rods, and escaped; which good fortune they owed to the fact of Mr. Wilbur having borrowed a very poor gun. The horses were recovered, all but one, which the Indians killed, the banks of Silver Creek being too steep and muddy for the horses to cross.
The first settlers who came into the county, so far as can be ascertained, arrived in 1856. Among them were John, Solomon B. and Jacob Stough, two brothers by the name of Brown, C. F. Putnam, and W. H. Jones, who located on the west branch of the Aoway Creek, John Paschal located in the Aoway Valley on the farm now owned by C. F. Putnam, upon which he built the first house in the county. In the same year Amos Dexter, and Aretus and Josiah Whitcomb settled in the Missouri bottom, where the built the first saw mill in the county.
In 1857, the settlers who had arrived the year previously, received large accessions to their numbers. E. Arnold and his family, consisting of his wife and two daughters, arrived about May 1 direct from Ireland. Shortly afterward Francis Jordan came in from New York, originally from England. Then came Francis Freeman and Leander Davis. Patrick Dailey settled on Dailey Creek, which was named in his honor. In South Creek Valley the following named parties found homes; John McKinley, Patrick Dempsey, Alexander Curry, Daniel Donlin, Murtha Gorman, Michael and William Gillan, John Cavanagh, Andrew Conner, William Biglay, Robert McKenna, and John Green.
In June, 1858, N. S. Porter and C. W. Todd moved in, and in the following August, E. M. Bisbee (at present County Clerk) and a few others. At this time there were about 100 people in the county, twenty of whom were in Ponca.
Dixon County, in common with the other parts of the then Territory, suffered largely from the hard times of 1857 and 1858. Gold and silver disappeared, and paper money of the "wild cat" species became utterly worthless. Most, if not all of the settlers, became discouraged in a greater or less degree. Some went back to the East, some went to Pike's Peak in 1859, some stayed on their lands. There is but little doubt that those who remained, although enduring many a hardship and privation, chose the wisest course. Their farms in time became valuable, and they have gradually accumulated a comfortable competence; while those who sought gold in the West, or easier times East, generally returned to Nebraska, if possible, after a few years, no richer than when they went away, and unable to content themselves elsewhere.
In 1862 the settlement of the county was again retarded by fears of a general Indian massacre. In response to a call from the General Government for a regiment of cavalry to be raised north of the Platte, about thirty citizens of Dixon County enlisted in Company I, Second Nebraska Cavalry, of which company John Taffe was Captain. Of the thirty were N. S. Porter, E. Arnold and Francis Freeman, of Ponca. After serving nearly a year the regiment was mustered out, the Indians being subdued.
The progress of the county was steady though slow, until the famous grasshopper visitation of 1874. This visitation was a great calamity. The insects came in countless myriads, occasionally flying in such dense clouds as to obscure the sun. They ate the leaves off of nearly all vegetation, and headed the growing wheat in a most complete and admirable manner. In some cases they stripped the bark off young fruit trees. In consequence of these discouragements, many people left the county, and many who remained seemed for a time to lose heart, fearing a recurrence of the Rocky Mountain locust scourge. In 1875 and 1876 they did return as feared, but since the latter year they have not been seen. The settlers in consequence soon regained their former courage and their industry. Progress has during the last six years been rapid, the results permanent. The locust is not again expected, and the effects of a possible visit are but little feared. Many of those who left the county six, seven or eight years ago, have since returned, finding it impossible to remain away. There is an exceeding fascination about these Western plains. Their boundless extent, their exhilarating atmosphere, their healthful climate, their fertile soil, their freedom from restraint, their lack of social caste, and the mutual sympathy and helpfulness of the pioneers, all combine almost certainly and irresistibly to re-attract the wanderer who has once enjoyed these advantages. This is a remarkable thing, that nearly all who have become dissatisfied with Nebraska, and shaken its dust from off their feet, renouncing it and denouncing it in terms never so emphatic, are almost certain in a few years, more or less, to return--no other place is home to them.
True, it has its disadvantages. Certain branches of agriculture can not, at present, be profitably pursued. The principal, and almost the only, one of these is the culture of winter wheat. This would be practicable and profitable were it not for the generally dry atmosphere during winter, as a result of which a snowy covering to the earth can not be relied upon. Spring wheat is generally sure, but occasionally hot winds come just in time to prevent its ripening. For every other branch of agriculture belonging to the latitude, the climate and soil are excellently adapted. Since it has been learned that spring wheat occasionally fails, farmers are devoting their attention to corn, oats, rye, barley and potatoes; and to the raising of cattle and swine, and dairying. The results of the change have been most gratifying. Real and personal estate are rapidly increasing in value. Money is more plenty, the rate of interest is decreasing, and immigration is steadily pouring in. Sheep husbandry is not receiving the attention its importance demands. While, for the raising of sheep, the climate of Nebraska is one of the fines in the world, and while in Dixon County there is, and will be for years, plenty of range, yet farmers generally raise but few of them. There is perhaps but one reason assignable for this neglect, that few farmers are, as yet, able to start with a large flock. It does not pay to herd less than about 300 sheep, and it will be necessary to herd them until fences become general.
Then every quarter section shall have become a farm, prairie fires will have ceased, groves and orchards will spring up everywhere, mitigating the severity of the storms of winter, and adding immeasurably to the picturesqueness and beauty of the landscape; peace and plenty will reign supreme, and Nebraska will have become as nearly paradise as is desirable that earth should be. The inhabitants of Dixon County believe that it will be the garden of that future happy land.
That this may be the result they are doing what they can. By improving their farms, by enhancing the value of their property, by developing the resources of the county, by beautifying their homes, by proper attention to educational and religious matters, by adopting judicious measures for self improvement, and by encouraging the better class of immigrants to settle among them, they feel assured that such a desirable condition of things will certainly be brought about.
Previous to December, 1858, Dixon County was attached to Dakota County for legislative, judicial and revenue purposes. While the county was thus in her minority, in 1857, an election was held in Dakota and Dixon Counties, jointly, for the purpose of electing county officers. Two tickets were in the field, Democratic and Republican. E. Arnold, of Ponca, was the only candidate on the Democratic ticket and the only Dixon County candidate who was elected, he being elected Superintendent of Schools.
In December 1858, Dixon County was organized by an act of the Territorial Legislature. On the 12th of the same month, an election was held for the purpose of electing county officers, with the following result: Commissioners, John Cavanagh, Henry A. Fuller and John Massinger; Clerk, E. Arnold; Probate Judge, J. B. Denton; Sheriff, C. F. Putnam; Treasurer, John Malone: Register of Deeds, C. W. Todd.
Dixon County has been represented in the Territorial Legislature by the following gentlemen: D. T. Bramble, elected in 1857; James Barrett, elected in 1858; R. H. Wilbur, elected in 1860, re-elected in 1862; N. S. Porter, elected in 1864, re-elected in 1866. In the State Legislature by O. W. Baltzley, elected in 1868; R. H. Wilbur, elected in 1872; J. P. Walters, elected in 1876; W. H. Vanderbilt, elected in 1878; A. S. Palmer, elected in 1880, and in the Senate by the following gentlemen: N. S. Porter, elected in 1868, and O. P. Sullenberger, elected in 1878.
J. B. Barnes, of Ponca, was appointed Judge of the Sixth Judicial District in January 1879, to fill a vacancy, and was elected to the same position in 1880.
N. S. Porter, of Ponca, was appointed Indian Agent at Fort Peck, Montana Agency in 1878.
The county officers at the date of writing are the following: Commissioners, A. Dregger, R. H. Pomeroy and W. W. Atkinson; Probate Judge, W. C. Smith; Clerk, E. M. Bisbee; Treasurer, R. H. Knapp; Sheriff, E. H. Jones; Surveyor, George C. Granger; Superintendent of Schools, G. W. Walbeck; Coroner, John Lawrence.
The first child born in the county was a son of Daniel Donlins in 1857; the firs marriage that of William Gillan and Margaret Gorman, in 1862, and the first death that of Mrs. Michael Gillan, April 1, 1858. The first school in the county was taught by Miss Margaret Gorman, in Daniel Donlin's house in 1857.
County Seat. In December, 1858, an election was held for the purpose of determining the county seat. Several places desired to become the capital of the county, and a heated contest was the result. At that time there was a town named North Bend, at the north bend of the river, of about four houses, and another named Concord on Lime Creek, of about the same size. Ponca was a town then of four log houses and a grocery. North Bend and Concord combined their forces to secure the coveted prize for their part of the county, and laid out a town midway between them, naming it Dixon, which they tried to make the county seat. Their efforts were unsuccessful, and by a small majority Ponca was declared the victor. Since then there has been an attempt to remove the county seat, the election having been held December 27, 1875. Ponca with her railroad and commercial interests, and especially from the converging there of most of the county roads, has thus far been too strong for her competitors. The question is not permanently settled, and for this reason Dixon County, has as yet, no court house.
On the 12th of December, 1875, the electors of Dixon County voted on the proposition of the Covington, Columbus & Black Hills Railroad Company, to build a railroad into Dixon County, if they were encouraged by county aid. $87,000 was the amount required. The bonds were voted, the railroad built, and the bonds issued; twenty year bonds, with ten per cent semi-annual interest coupons. The total taxable valuation of property in the county in 1875, was $587,331. It will therefore be seen that in voting bonds to the amount of $87,000, the people imposed upon themselves a bonded indebtedness of fifteen percent of the valuation of their property. This is a plain violation of the law of the State, as that limits the amount which any county, city or precinct may vote to aid works of internal improvement to ten per cent of such valuation. In view of the illegality of the issue of these bonds, the county has taken steps calculated to prevent the collection of them. The Supreme Court of the State decided them illegal, but, having passed into the hand of innocent parties, they have become invested with the general properties of commercial paper, and the Supreme Court of the United States, to which the case has been appealed, has, by previous decisions in similar cases, virtually decided the case in favor of the holders of the bonds.
Up to the present time there have been built ten saw mills in Dixon County.--
1. Dexter & Whitcomb's, on the Missouri bottom, in the fall of 1856.
The public schools of the county are in a very flourishing condition. There are 59 districts and 59 schoolhouses; 58 qualified teachers were employed during 1881, and there are 1,771 children of school age. The schoolhouse sites are valued at $540; schoolhouses at $8,675; books and apparatus at $400; total value of school property, $9,615.
The taxable value of personal estate in the county in 1881 was as follows: Horses--number, 2,273; value, $63,687.50. Cattle--number, 9,184; value, $88,121. Mules--number, 61; value, $1,923. Sheep--number, 878; value, $949. Hogs--number, 5,325; value, $5254. Vehicles--number, 580; value, $7,096. Money in merchandising, $14,173; in manufacturing, $2,150, in agricultural implements, $7,930; credits, $9,077; other property, $10,052. Value of railroad property, $13,745.50; number of acres of improved lands, 24,430--value, $122,150. Number of acres of unimproved land, 222,737; value, $514,567. number of improved village lots, 700; value, $43,148. Number of unimproved village lots, 723; value, $16,598.
Population.--In 1860, Dixon County had a population of 247; in 1870, 1,345; in 1875, 2,886; in 1880, 4,177; in 1881, according to the assessor's returns, 4,188.
The first murder that occurred in Dixon County was the killing of a Mr. Dunn, an elderly gentleman, who was coming into the county from Iowa, by Mat. Miller, in the early part of July 1870. The murder was committed for money, in a grove not far from Ponca. Suspicion being directed to Miller, he was arrested, brought to Ponca, and tried by a self-constituted tribunal of the whole people, Rev. Mr. Beardshear presiding. At the trial, Miller confessed his guilt, and was condemned to death by a vote of those present; and was hanged near the schoolhouse, on an improvised scaffold constructed of three scantling bound together at the top, July 23, 1870. His body was buried in the cemetery on the hill, just north of town. Rumors have been in circulation that as his neck was not broken, he was resuscitated by certain doctors from Sioux City, and a coffin filled with bricks buried in his stead; but these rumors are without foundation, there being incontestible evidence that he was buried on the next day after being hanged.
One of the saddest cases of accidental death on record is that of Miss Phoebe Almira Baker, who was drowned April 25, 1878, in attempting to cross the Missouri River in a skiff. The river being high, the boat was capsized and it was impossible to save her, nor could the body be recovered at the time. On December 31, 1878, it was found on an island five miles below Sioux City, brought back to Ponca, and interred.
A shooting affray occurred near New Castle, November 11, 1881. W. H. Auchmoody had taken up some cattle as estrays, belonging to L. C. Bishop. Bishop had attempted to take possession of them, refusing to pay the three dollars demanded, whereupon Auchmoody, having threatened to shoot Bishop if he persisted in his attempt to remove them, put his threat into execution, killing Bishop almost instantly. The Coroner's jury brought in a verdict of felonious shooting against Auchmoody, who is now under bonds to appear for trial at the next term of court.
In Dixon County the great flood of 1881 did comparatively little damage. Throughout the county the Missouri bottom is quite narrow, averaging about two miles in width, hence it was easy for farmers to move their effects and stock to high ground. Most damage was done near North Bend, where the river makes a wide detour to the north, returning again almost upon itself, thus forming a large peninsula with a narrow isthmus. Cutting across this isthmus the waters caught and destroyed considerable stock belonging to Moses Nelson, washed away about 200 acres of his farm, and demolished his house, causing him a loss of about $5,000. The Sutherland estate, three miles above North Bend, lost in real and personal property about $3,500. Frank Brockey lost eighty-five cattle, seven horses, his house, barn and granary, aggregating $4,000. The total loss of property in the county by reason of flood would probably amount to about $40,000.
This phenomena acquired an extended reputation a few years since, in consequence of extremely exaggerated descriptions of it, and of imaginary subterranean caverns connected with it, published in the Northern Nebraska Journal. It is therefore proper to include in our sketch of Dixon County a recital of what it was and is.
It is located about eighty rods above Ionia, and immediately upon the bluffs of the Missouri. It attracted the attention of Lewis and Clarke when on their famous expedition in 1804. It was again observed in 1865, but created most sensation in 1877, when a certain class of people actually feared a calamity was impending. At that time a mass of earth 550 feet long, 110 feet high and thirty-five feet thick was undermined by the river and fell in. This left exposed certain minerals, which seemed to develop heat and combustion spontaneously. A few volcanic phenomena were feebly exhibited; steam escaped out of crevices in the ground, upon digging down a few feet the heat became too great to proceed, the fumes of burning sulphur were discernible, etc. Lime stone, sulphur, copperas and other minerals abound in the vicinity. As a residue of the combustion there was a highly colored red rock. There is little or nothing now about this matter worthy of mention, except for the purpose of correcting erroneous impressions.