Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Douglas County
Produced by Liz Lee.

Part 2      Part 3

Douglas County History

The Mormon Advent | Renewal of Attempts at Settlement

First Postal Arrangements | Settlers in 1854 | Tradition of the Name
Omaha Surveyed | Pioneer Events


Political Organization | Selection of Omaha as Capital
An Executive Ball | The First Murder Trial


Religious Awakening | Progress in 1856 | Pioneer Justice
Attempt to Remove the Capital | The Panic of 1857


Claims Troubles | Official Roster | County Buildings
Douglas County Agricultural Society | The Old Settlers' Association

List of Illustrations in Douglas County Chapter

Douglas County History 1

DOUGLAS County, from its geographical position, holds an important place in the early history of Nebraska. The expedition of Lewis & Clark, described at length in the general history of the State, passed through this county, and encamped on the plateau which now forms the eastern part of Omaha. Following this came the early settlements of Indian traders, which, however, in the earlier days, were neither extended nor frequent. One T. B. Roye is said to have established a trading-post on the present site of Omaha in 1825, but how long he remained here is not known. During the first half of the nineteenth century, white men frequently visited this locality, but made no attempt at permanent occupation of its green hills and fertile valleys, upon which roamed unmolested the red hunter, in pursuit of the antelope and the buffalo.


The first important immigration of white men into Douglas County, was what is known in history as the "Mormon Advent." These people, who had been settled in large numbers at Nauvoo in Illinois, were expelled from the State in 1844, and gathering together their possessions, started westward to find a locality where they might be unmolested in there peculiar religious belief. The number of this traveling band is variously estimated, but probably aggregated,--county all who came, earlier and later,--nearly 10,000 men, women and children. Their route lay across the State of Iowa, and the road by which they traveled was afterwards known as the "Mormon Trail." Many stopped off on the way, but the greatest portion came through and halted at or near the present site of Council Bluffs--a name first given to what is now Fort Calhoun, because Lewis & Clark there held a council with the Missouri and Pawnee Indians. *

*The name Council Bluffs was afterwards given to a post office east of and opposite Bellevue to which immigrants coming west directed their mail matter and became the means of rendezvousing many strangers at the town. The present city was first known as Miller's Hollow, then Kanesville after a Dr. Kane, well-known and popular among the Mormons, and so continued to be known until 1852, when it was laid out and surveyed by A. D. Jones, now of Omaha, and at whose suggestion it was designated by the name "Council Bluffs City."

Here the Mormons first halted after their retirement from Nauvoo, but remained only a brief period when they crossed the Missouri.

This was in the spring of the year, and during the season the Mormons erected houses for temporary protection. The population within a year was quoted at 15,000, and the place was known as "Winter Quarters." Many of the improvements made by the Mormons were visible for years after their final departure to Salt Lake and some still exist, but the most were soon destroyed, and every record of their existence obliterated.

While here the Mormons were necessarily obliged to cut large quantities of lumber for building purposes, and the result is said to have been a comparatively well-built city, when the place and difficulties experienced in framing homes are considered. Residences are said to have lined the streets, interspersed with stores, warehouses and shops, and a busy aspect was apparent in their every day lives. It is credibly asserted that polygamy was not practiced by any of these people then; save by Joseph E. Johnson, a man named Benson and two or three others, whose names can not now be recalled. Yet it is said they were disposed to be equally as vindictive in their enmities, arbitrary in their ruling and domineering in their intercourse as when at Nauvoo; and this spirit has since grown with such rapidity and volume that to-day an apostate will not be suffered to long survive his renunciation of the faith, and a Gentile is forbidden to criticize their theology. During their stay at the "Winter Quarters" death, preceded by the scurvy, invaded their homes and left his mark upon the door-post of nearly every household. Many died during this year and their bodies were laid away on the hillside to the rear of Mitchell's homestead in Florence, with the conscious belief on the part of mourners, that with a few more sun risings they would come to them again. The Mormons, at this time, had a firm belief in the speedy approach of a Millennium.

The depredations of this people on the timber contiguous to "Winter Quarters", of which mention has already been made, excited feelings of indignation among the Indians which found frequent and earnest expression on their part in complaints to the agent employed by the Government to attend to their interests. An investigation was made into the foundation of these complaints, which resulted in his ordering the Mormons to abandon their settlement, and retrace their steps to the east of the Missouri. The larger part of them obeyed the command, recrossed the river and scattered over Iowa generally, settling upon accessible points among the bluffs on the Missouri River from Glenwood to Boyer River.

An elder by the name of Miller took his charge into the defiles of the bluffs directly east of Omaha, which was designated as Miller's Hollow. There a very large number congregated and this place became the headquarters of the Mormons in this part of the country. Nearly all the cultivatable land in the vicinity was "squatted" upon and many small farms were opened. The valley of the Missouri between Miller's Hollow and Traders' Point became nearly a continuous lane, and the surrounding lands were extensively cultivated and fenced. The Tabernacle was located in the extreme southern portion of what is now known as Council Bluffs and was surrounded by extensive settlements giving it the appearance of a country of many years' existence. About 1851 this branch of the sect commenced removing to Salt Lake, and the places remaining unsold to the Gentiles were stripped of most of their improvements and the land again grew up into woods and grass.

The history of Mormon occupation of Douglas County concludes with their expulsion from "Winter Quarters." A few believers in their faith still remain about the vicinity of Florence, but their creed is theoretic rather than practical, their influence is slight and their enterprise as a tale that is told. The crossing at this point for the horde of emigrants who subsequently went over the plains to dwell in the shade of the Temple, was patronized long after the law organizing Nebraska as a Territory was adopted; and until early in the sixties large delegations of these "misguided enthusiasts" annually collected at Florence, Council Bluffs and other accessible points, preparatory to the commencement of their travels to the "Land of Promise." But the Pacific road has since become the avenue of communication, the tide upon which the "Latter Day Saints" seek access to the outside world.


After the Mormons had departed, Douglas County, and also the entire Territory, remained in a state of quiescence, so to speak. There is no record of white men visiting its domains either as prospectors or for pleasure, from 1847 until say 1852 or 1853. Occasional visitors no doubt ventured into the country, but none remained. This was in a measure due to its distance from bases of supplies, but largely owing to the claim made on behalf of the Indians for exclusive possession; and the protectorate established by the Government over its "wards" enabled them to successfully repel any invasion of their rights in the premises. This must have been the Golden Age of Indian supremacy; but it was the pride which goeth before a fall.

The white trader, at this time, was indeed endured by the red men, but only for the virtues to be found in his commodities. He was generally a man, according to common rumor, whose honesty was scarcely as intense as his earnestness, and the object of his life work seemed to be the highest personal good at the expense of the Indians, with whom he was constantly associated. He was familiar with hypocrisy, and indicated his admiration of selfishness by being himself selfish. Yet with all his deficiencies--and they are said to have been numerous--he was the advance picket of the army of pioneers who have leveled the mountain, exalted the plain, making the once unfruitful fields to blossom as the rose, and dotting the landscape west of the Missouri with cities, towns and villages.

In striking contrast to this feature of life was the pioneer who followed in the wake of the trader. For the part he played in the development of the Western States and Territories, no class or condition of men have a higher claim to eminence. Of great physical endurance, his intellect was less remarkable than his character. It had little that was brilliant or attractive in it. Its quality was sagacious, not profound; deliberate, not quick; respectable rather than remarkable, and always subordinate to character. He was a man of firm, resolute, persistent nature; patient and steadfast, self reliant, reserved but sympathetic. His temper was calm and impassive, his disposition undemonstrative. His moral sense was just and broad and generous. He had great qualities of attraction, and little habit of conciliation. The present age could have but little appreciation of such a man, little comprehension of the principles and motives of his life, little sympathy with him, and their criticism on him may at times be severe, not to say vindictive. "By their works shall ye know them," and the fruit of his labors stands to-day a bulwark between him and the unjust reflections of a posterity, often superficial, always prejudiced. Think of him as men may, there was something grand in his lonely self reliance, and steadfastness which all must admire.

If the men were subjects which commend themselves to posterity as worthy as emulation, the merits they possessed were duplicated in the pioneer women, who braved every danger, and disputed every obstacle to be with their husbands and fathers and sons in the trackless waste of the great Northwest. As wives, they were the most agreeable companions, and the most faithful and affectionate friends. As mothers, they were the most gentle children ever had the misfortune to lose, who corrected the most pernicious evils by the most tender management. Prudent from affection, they practiced economy from the love they bore their husbands, and at critical periods preserved the needed order in affairs. The life of the pioneer woman was passed in the reclamation of the pioneer from despair, in inspiring his indolence to exertion, and aiding in the cultivation of industry, integrity and manhood.

By some, it is claimed, that the honor of being the first white settler to stake a claim on the plateau now occupied by the city of Omaha is properly due to William D. Brown. This, however, is not sustained by the statement in that connection made by A. D. Jones, who was among the earliest white men to decide upon locating in Nebraska, and making a claim in harmony with such decision.

Mr. Brown had emigrated to the Missouri River early in 1851 and engaged as a ferryman at what was known as Busha Ferry, near Kanesville. Deeming a change advisable he disposed of his interest in the Busha Ferry, and, following down the east bank of the Missouri to a point opposite the present city of Omaha, he determined to establish a new ferry, notwithstanding there were many difficulties to be overcome before the undertaking could be made successful. These included a sandbar in the middle of the river, a wide slough at the east bank that would obstruct the passage of a boat, and a low bottom at the west bank composed of sand and marsh. In spite of these obstructions to a favorable cross navigation of the Missouri, he determined to make the venture, and June 3, 1853, effected an exploration to the Nebraska shore to enable him to ascertain a route that would avoid the sandbar; where to land and what direction his customers would take to reach high land.

At that time Council Bluffs was a city of probably 2,000 inhabitants, and soon after A. D. Jones met Mr. Brown, and was by him informed that he had made two or three trips across the river but had not been on the town plateau, and knew nothing of its advantages as the location of a city. He called his ferry "Lone Tree Ferry," but when inquired of in reference to the origin of the name, replied that "there was no particular one referred to, although there were several isolated trees on the west bank as well as on the east side, which might be designated as the Lone Tree."

From this it becomes clearly apparent that the honor sought to be awarded Mr. Brown has no foundation in fact, and the question once more recurs, who was the first settler to locate in Douglas County with a view to remain permanently after the Mormon hegira? At this time, which was prior to the passage of the organic act opening up Nebraska for settlement, crowds of hungry land speculators and sharpers had congregated in and around Council Bluffs anxiously awaiting the time when they should be able to appropriate the choice sites bordering upon the river, especially in the vicinity of the present city of Omaha. The Indians yet held possession and had forbidden the whites to cross, or in any way to identify themselves with the Territory to which they (the Indians) still claimed title. This prohibition was generally observed, however, and it was not until the months of January and February, 1854, that these land pirates began to cross in any considerable numbers, stake out claims and make preparations for the building of a town.

During the month of June, 1853, several gentlemen, residents of Council Bluffs, with pre-eminent foresight and daring, for the period, deemed it to their interest to unite with Mr. Brown in the organization of a ferry and town company. After settling upon the preliminaries, they concluded to cross the river in Brown's oar flat ferry, and examine the contemplated town site. This they did on the 25th day of June, 1853, the gentlemen composing the company on that occasion being Dr. Enos Lowe, Jesse Williams, Joseph Street, William D. Brown and Jesse Lowe, the latter, however, not being a member of the ferry company. They landed on the Nebraska shore about the present western terminus of the bridge, and walked up the shore to a point at which the Union Pacific shops have since been located. Here Jesse Williams gave out, and being unable to proceed further, was left in the care of some emigrants encamped on the bottom until his comrades returned. The remainder of the company continued down the plateau to the edge of the bluffs, and about where the old Catholic Church was subsequently erected, and started up a flock of wild turkeys, the first visible signs of life that had appeared to their gaze. Being without arms, they were unable to obtain a brace of the fowl. They proceeded to where since has been located the Willow Springs distillery, then in a westerly direction until they reached the prairie, where they came upon the old military road, which they followed to where Forrest retreat now is, from which point they could overlook the Saratoga plateau. From thence they followed a direct course as near as practicable to where Col. Williams had been left, and procuring the company of that gentleman, returned to Council Bluffs, hungry and fatigued, but rejoiced over the further prospects of their projected city.

In less than a month after the consultation in re the ferry organization, a contract was signed on July 23, 1853, and Dr. E. Lowe dispatched to purchase a steam ferry boat. The purchase was made, the chattel delivered and arrived at Council Bluffs during the following September, whence it made several trips across the river and survived the wreck of matter until the spring of 1855, at which date it was thrown upon the east bank by high water, to the logic of which it succumbed and became a useless appendage of travel. After the formation of the ferry company, Brown's flat ferry was not employed for purposes of navigation and those who insist that they came to Omaha by that conveyance are mistaken.

In the spring of the same year, James C. Mitchell visited the old Mormon rendezvous with a view to the selection of a town site, and late in the summer, according to the memory of his widow still surviving, he returned thither with a company of surveyors, a Mrs. Compton and son, the lady to officiate in the capacity of house-keeper for Mr. Mitchell's employés, and began the platting of the village of Florence, which was subsequently built up, became a formidable rival to Omaha, and finally being left in the vocative by the latter city, fell into decay, its streets and corner lots being vacated in favor of its successful competitor. Beyond this, nothing, it is believed, was attempted by individuals or companies looking to the settlement and development of Douglas County, the peopling of the western district being reserved to a date measurably later.

A. D. Jones had frequently expressed his determination to settle in Nebraska long before an opportunity was offered to carry out his intention. He was a surveyor by profession, and when running lines on the Iowa side of the river, made observations as to the most desirable location for a claim, and in his own mind had selected that one of which he should endeavor to possess himself when occasion offered. The claim was subsequently selected as contemplated and in time became the property of Herman Kountze and S. E. Rogers. Among those with whom he canvassed the prospects, and conferred in reference to establishing claims, was William Knight, a decided character of the day, and others. In November, 1853, a party of gentlemen from Council Bluffs, visited the landing of the ferry boat "Marion", under a promise that the steamer would convey them to the Nebraska shore. A claim meeting was held, pending negotiations with the managers of the boat, in which William Knight occupied a prominent position, and unbosomed himself of his views at every available period, the liveliest and most animated discussions occurring between Jones and Knight. The officers of the steam ferry failed to respond to the wishes of the anticipating claimants, when the latter returned to their homes, with remarks from some that they would go to the upper ferry in the morning, cross in the canoe and come down and make claims on and in the vicinity, of the plateau, now Omaha. Believing that then was the time to strike, A. D. Jones conferred with Thomas and William Allen, sub-contractors in the construction of what was formerly known as "the grade" for the Council Bluffs and Nebraska Ferry Company, to whom he set forth the importance of crossing the river at once. They agreed with his proposition and the trio at once visited Mr. Brown, from whom they procured a small, leaky scow that lay on the bank of the river, in which they proposed to cross, though it was considered a risky and dangerous undertaking. The plan of operations having been agreed upon, the point at which claims should be made, etc., the three men visited Thomas Allen's residence and obtained a supply of edibles preparatory to setting out. The frail craft was launched into the waters of the "Big Muddy" with Thomas Allen as oarsman, "Bill" Allen to bail out the water and Mr. Jones as helmsman. Thus situated, these modern voyagers for the Golden Fleece struck out from the end of the grade opposite Davenport street, and passing the foot of the sandbar in the middle of the river landed below where Ilers' distillery was located at a later day. The bottom was covered with a tall, stiff grass, much higher than the explorers' heads, which they were compelled to part with their hands to enable them to make their way through. They next came to a wide slough alongside the low plat of ground upon which the distillery above mentioned stands, which they crossed by wading, and crawling over the tops of fallen trees. That bottom was then heavily timbered, but is now covered with city residences and manufactories. Being wet and fatigued, the explorers sought the first favorable place for camping for the night, which they found, and after building a fire and cooking their supper seated themselves about the embers and congratulated each other upon their safe arrival.

Being in a strange land, owned and occupied by aborigines, a feeling of timidity and insecurity was experienced; to the north on the prairie bottoms, fires could be seen burning, and "Bill" Allen informed his companions that the Indians were coming, fortifying his assertion by drawing their attention towards what seemed to be hordes of savages moving rapidly to and fro before the flames to the northward, fed by the dry vegetation found in its path. The party gazed with wonder and alarm at the distant figures, but becoming satisfied that no danger menaced the camp, and quieting the fears of the too susceptible "Bill," each sought a log for his pillow, inviting sleep, occasionally awakening, however, to replenish the dying fire as the night was chilly and crisp.

Early the next morning as soon as there was sufficient light to enable them to make their way through the brush, the party arose from their unsatisfactory and primitive couches, ate the last morsel of corn bread and bacon, and started out over an unknown region for the purpose of making the claims which they had previously selected. Mr. Jones, with a hatchet he had brought with him, blazed a corner tree near where the camp was located, and put therein the initials of his name, with his survey marking iron. Then continuing he blazed lines north (to the point afterward occupied by the residence of Mr. Kountze) thence south of a point (Mr. Goodman's present place) which he desirous of taking into his claim, as it was most prominent point on the hill. The Allens now suggesting that Mr. Jones had taken in his share of the timber, the latter gentleman marked a corner of the ridge (east of Tenth street), and started east blazing line trees until he came to a deep ravine heavily timbered with exceedingly tall trees, but somewhat clear of underbrush. He descended into the valley and named it "Purgatory," by which name it was afterward familiarly known. As he descended the valley he discovered that the creek which coursed within its confines, ran sometimes above the surface and sometimes was hidden from view for a considerable distance. He also ascertained that the lower end of the ravine was the bed of an excellent article of lime building stone. Upon emerging from the valley and gaining the plateau, rejoicing over his discovered acquisitions, he met the Allens, who had surrounded their respective claims, over which they were much pleased. Here Mr. Jones made his fourth corner and continued to mark a line along the margin of the plateau contiguous to the slough to the place of beginning. He then went above (to where S. E. Rogers afterward resided) and laid his claim foundations regularly, completing the requisities for making a good and valid claim according to the laws and customs among squatters in other new portions of the public domain.

The previous evening, upon starting in the small boat, the captain of the "Marion" informed Mr. Jones and the Allens that he would come after them on the succeeding day when they returned to the bank, but for some reason the captain failed to respond to their calls and signals. The river was found to be filled with floating ice on both sides of the sand-bar, making it very dangerous for them to start out in their leaky craft, but there was neither house nor living person anywhere about the surroundings, except one lone Indian who was seen on the bluffs, but who refused to approach them. They were without anything to eat; and trouble seemed imminent whether they ventured into the floating ice or remained on the Nebraska soil. They finally agreed to try their luck in the ice, and dragging the scow up the shore for a considerable distance, launched the same, and struck out through the ice to reach the sand-bar if possible. They barely reached the objective point, and, having attained the same, pulled the boat high along the east side of the bar and again ventured into the turbid stream amid the floating ice, through which they drifted, and after hard work landed on the Iowa shore about opposite Ilers' distillery, believing that they had but just escaped a watery grave.

This was probably the first survey ever made in Douglas County, and the first claim made, not by right, but with the tacit consent of the Indians, Mr. Jones and his conferes becoming "squatters" by their acquiescence in the acts necessary to such privileges. During the remainder of that year, and also in the winter of 1853-1854, there was some inspection of the lay of the land, but no claims or acts tending to establish settlements undertaken, other than those cited. The present State was still an unorganized Territory, in possession of the Indians, who were jealous of every intrusion, and guarded their freehold with more than ordinary diligence. Such then are the facts regarding the attempts primarily made to found a settlement west of the Missouri. Of those who participated in the efforts which have culminated so splendidly, all save Mr. Jones, are now dead. They were sponsors at the infant baptism of Douglas County, but have not lived to witness its dawning maturity, and its receiving its inheritance to take rank among the strongest, best developed and most opulent of all the civil descendants of the vigorous and athletic commonwealth, Nebraska.

Early in February, 1854, Major Gatewood, Indian Agent for the tribes in the vicinity of where Omaha was that year located, assembled the Indians together at Bellevue, which had for a long time been a mission, and there entered into a conference with them, preliminary to a treaty under, and by the terms of which they were to yield up the title to their lands and submit to removal to a reservation. Logan Fontenelle, who had been educated at St. Louis, and understood the English language perfectly, was chosen by the tribes as head chief in the negotiation of the treaty and headed a delegation of chiefs which proceeded to Washington in that connection. After some delay, a treaty was concluded with the Otoes, Missouris and Omaha Indians on the 15th and 16th days of March, ratified June 21, and promulgated June 24, following, which extinguished the Indian title to lands in the present county.

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