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
Previous to this consummation Mr. Jones had re-surveyed his claim and by such means as were available, confirmed title to the same in contemplation of the Indian exodus. But the natives grew jealous of his encroachments, say some, and persuaded the Indian agent to notify him to leave "Park Wild" without delay. To this however he is represented as having demurred, and applied for the establishment of a post office. The application being made through J. D. Test of Council Bluffs, was successful, as will appear from the following communication:
|Washington City, May 6, 1854.|
|Dr. Test: Yours of the 10th ultimo relative to Omaha City post office has been received. I got the office established today, and had A. D. Jones appointed postmaster.|
Yours truly, |
He also applied for a mail route, but this was denied him for the reasons set forth in the subjoined letter:
|Washington City, May 6, 1854|
|A. D. Jones, Omaha City, Nebraska Ter., Dear Sir: Yours of the 15th ultimo has been received, but as the post route bill has already received final action, I can not carry out your suggestion as to the route from Council Bluffs to Omaha City at this session. Perhaps, however, it is not necessary, as it is already covered by the route I had established last Congress, from Council Bluffs to Fort Laramie, and although said route has not been let, you may get that part put in operation by petitioning the Department to do so; which course I would suggest be adopted at once. If you do so, send me the petition directed to Fairfield, and I will forward it. Yours truly,|
This was the first letter directed to Omaha City, and that too at a time when the city was without survey or residents.
The Department, however, authorized the employment of a mail carrier to be reimbursed out of the proceeds of the office, but the funds were insufficient for the purpose, and in this connection it might not be out of place to refer to Mr. Jones' official life. In default of procuring a carrier, he discharged the duties incident to that busy but unremunerative station until a route was established, and had so few letters and papers for the new settler who came in that he deemed it best to carry the mail about him, using his hat and pockets as receptacles therefor, delivering the contents to the rightful owner as opportunity offered. That became too irksome as time progressed, and so he appointed a Mr. Lindley, who was engaged as a carpenter on the Douglas house, as his deputy. Finally concluding to resign, he recommended Mr. Lindley as his successor, but upon being appointed, that gentleman declined to serve, and Mr. Jones continued in office, until one Frank, a Mormon who had fled from Fontanelle upon approach of Indians, and coming to Omaha, built his house on the corner of Harney and Twelfth streets, was inducted into the duties of an assistant. The mail here was kept in a bushel basket, and Jones fearing disastrous results if valuable matter should be received, induced the Mormon to accept a commission, and retired from active service upon his duly qualifying.
Early in the spring of 1854 some settlers located upon the new purchase from the Omahas, including the country north of the Platte. Some made claims in the vicinity of Omaha, while others settled in the new village. The names of these, as nearly as can be remembered, were as follows: Alf. D. Jones, Surveyor; J. E. Johnson, merchant, blacksmith and editor; Robert B Whitted, farmer; Mr. Seeley, carpenter; William Clancey, grocer. The last named, some years after, erected a brick building on the north side of Farnam street, upon which John Withnell and George C. Bovey did the brick work, and laid the wall. During the progress of the work a pint bottle of whiskey circulated around the building, which Bovey and Withnell succeeded in reducing about one half, when the idea suggested itself to Withnell to make a permanent deposit of the spirits in the wall, bottle and all. This was done. Securely corked, the whisky remained a walled-in prisoner until a recent date, when Mr. Withnell remembering the transaction, went in search of his whisky bottle, which was found perfectly preserved and equally as tempting as when first deposited. The casket was tapped, and the quality of its contents tested by many old citizens, including among others, John I. Redick, all of whom rendered a decision that it was capital Old Bourbon. But to continue with the list: Jeffrey brothers, millers; "Mule" or Harrison Johnson, expressman; J. C. Reeves, James Hickey, expressmen, Ben Leonard, fiddler; Mr. Gaylord, carpenter, Mr. Dodd, grocer; C. H. Downs, speculator; A. R. Gilmore, office seeker; William P. Snowden, auctioneer; O. B. Seldon, blacksmith; J. W. Paddock; William Gray, carpenter; John Withnell, bricklayer; A. J. Poppleton, attorney; George L. Miller, physician; Lorin Miller, surveyor; J. G. Megeath, merchant; A. B. Moore, speculator; O. D. Richardson, attorney; and some few others.
Among these many have become prominent in the walks of commercial and professional life and live in the history of the State as its moving spirits. They have lived to see Nebraska grow from a condition of barbarism to an empire of civilization, and as public men, tested in the places to which they have been called upon to fill, are valuable examples of industry, integrity and personal bravery, to inspire modest worth to noble lives.
Immediately upon his appointment as Postmaster, Mr. Jones began the erection of a claim cabin of logs, assisted by Mr. Whitted, which was completed on the 28th of May two days before the promulgation of the organic act creating the Territory of Nebraska. The building, or rather shanty, stood in the northeastern portion of the Kountze place in South Omaha. On it was placed a sign consisting of a wide shingle with the words, "Postoffice, by A. D. Jones" written upon it in ordinary chirography of the times, with a lead pencil. This attracted as much by the quaintness of style as the information it communicated. This was the first actual dwelling-house erected in the new country, afterward the great city of Omaha.
But the settlers were by no means idle or unenterprising. Immediately upon the passage of the bill admitting Nebraska as a Territory, the ferry company proceeded to lay out the town, the company then consisting of Dr. Enos Lowe, President; William D. Brown, Tootle & Jackson, S. S. Bayliss, Joseph H. D. Street, Henn & Williams, Samuel R. Curtis, Tanner & Downs, and others. The beautiful plateau upon which Omaha now stands was selected for the town site, and A. D. Jones assisted by C. H. Downs surveyed the same.
The name "Omaha" was suggested by Jesse Lowe, since deceased, and originated as follows: The Indians preserved a tradition that two tribes had met on the Missouri River and engaged in an encounter in which all on one side were killed but one who had been thrown into the river. Rising suddenly from what was thought to be a watery gave, he listed his head above the surface and pronounced the word "Omaha," which had never been heard before. Its meaning was that the supposedly drowning Indian was above the water and not under it as his enemies supposed, and those who heard it took that word as the name of their tribe.
The city was laid out into 320 blocks, each being 264 feet square, intersected by streets 100 feet wide except Capitol avenue and Nebraska avenue, now called Twenty-First street, which were made 120 feet wide, but which were given no alley in the blocks on each side of them. The lots were staked out 66 x 132 feet, except the business lots, which were made twenty-two feet wide. Three squares were reserved -- Capitol Square, 600 feet; Jefferson Square, 264 x 280 feet, and Washington Square, 264 feet square. A park of sevel blocks, bounded by Eighth and Ninth and Jackson and Davenport streets, was laid out, but afterward given up to business purposes.
While this progress was being made at Omaha, other points in the county were in process of settlement also, and presumed to enter the lists as rivals against the present city. Of these Bellevue was doubtless considered the most dangerous yet not the only one. Seven miles to the north stood Florence with it sightly site and rock bottom bridge with a route to the Rock Island road threatening to reach the Missouri down the valley of the "Pigeon" -- a small water course north of Council Bluffs--with residents at a distance interested in Florence instead of down the Mosquito valley through which it was subsequently built. Railroads were then promising early advent to the Missouri, and it was believed that any road arriving on the other side of the river would cross it. Such was supposed to be the bottomless character of the Missouri that it was generally believed the absence of "rock bottom" would prevent the bridging of the stream. Hence Florence found it necessary to discover, and did discover a river bed of rock for the bridge, and on this ground it was thought that road would be built via Pigeon instead of Mosquito Creek.
In consequence of these assumed advantages Florence attracted no inconsiderable share of attention, and settlers including such men as B. Rush Pegram, Phillip Chapman, J. B. Stootsman and others. A land company was organized at that point a few years later, a bank established and a newspaper published, and other attempts made to give to the "city" an air of cosmopolitanism ill adapted to the actual situation.
These were the only settlements at that date in the county. Stragglers were scattered over some portions of the Elkhorn valley, and in the Territory since exappropriated from Douglas to form Sarpy County; but like improvements were in futuro rather than in esse. Living was expensive, or is represented to have been, but game abundant; the accessories of civilization limited but choice; the people small in point of numbers, but enterprising, pushing and fearless. Omaha existed, but in the imagination, those who considered themselves residents of the place constructively, tarried at Council Bluffs from necessity.
During the month in which Nebraska was adopted as a Territory, what has sometimes been called the first house to be erected in Omaha, was put up. The date of its construction is also in dispute, one authority contending that it was erected in January or February. The house was built by Tom Allen, of round logs, and stood on the corner of Jackson and Twelfth streets. It was intended for a town house and being the general headquarters for a time was known under the name of the "St. Nicholas." Here. A. D. Jones, Robert Whitted, J. W. Patterson and others who had claims would congregate in the evenings, cook their bacon, corn bread and coffee in the center of the room, where a portion of the puncheon floor had been removed for a fire place, sing songs and pass away the evening. Later, Johnson pitched a tent on the corner of Cass and Thirteenth streets, which was in time substituted for by a sod and board shanty, that was named the "Big Six", where the first saloon was established, to which the town house men would often pay a visit, wading through grass knee deep. By some this was called a "dug out," according to Mr. Jones, for the reason that it was coated around with sod to keep the inmates from freezing on the bleak point on which it was situated.
About the time the ferry company, desiring to procure the building of improvements in Omaha, were alive to the advantages of securing skilled workmen, whose services were in ready demand. Among these was Benjamin Winchester, who arrived at the Pacific House, Council Bluffs, on the 17th day of May, 1854. He soon became acquainted with Dr. Lowe, Captain Downs, J. A. Jackson and others of the ferry company, who induced him to undertake the establishment of a brick-yard at the corner of Fourteenth and Jones streets, Omaha. He accordingly accepted the inducements offered, and procured from the company the use of the St. Nicholas, opened his yard and prepared to make the brick for the contemplated State House, which was located on the west side of Ninth between Farnam and Douglas streets. He came over to superintend the work, and on the 15th of July, Mr. and Mrs. Newell followed him. Mrs. N. was, as stated by Mr. Winchester in a letter addressed to Dr. George L. Miller, under date of February 15, 1872, the first white woman as housekeeper and absolute resident, who ever cooked a meal in Omaha. On this point as also with reference to the alleged occupation of the St. Nicholas, authorities are antagonistic. It is asserted that Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Snowden came to Omaha from Kanesville on the same day that witnessed the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Newell, and as the latter remained but three weeks, while the former remained permanently, Mrs. Snowden is entitled to the honor of precedence. Again Mr. Jones insists that neither party occupied the St. Nicholas until after July, for it was appropriated to himself and the surveying party consisting of Mr. Higly, Judge McDonald, Mr. Corbin and others, who cooked, ate, and slept there until after that date.
Winchester states that he moulded the first brick in the present city, but is silent as to subsequent proceedings. Common rumor has it, however, that being overcome by misfortunes he was unable to execute the contract and sold his yard to the ferry company, who were afterwards obliged to obtain the necessary brick for the State House from Kanesville, whence they were hauled by Harrison Johnson.
At this point another mooted question is sprung with reference to the first birth in the city, and consequently in the county; one commentator states it to have been that of Margaret Ferry, daughter of James Ferry, who laid the first stone for the foundation of the old State House; she was born in the month of October, 1854. Another quite as positively alleges that a son to Mrs. Gaylord was entitled to the dignity and that November was the month in which such dignity was conferred, while Mr. A. D. Jones disagrees with both. He states that the first child born in the village of Omaha City was at "Park Wild" in a log cabin, on the 3rd day of November, 1854, to Jesse and Elizabeth Reeves, who had been early squatters on Uncle Sam's domain previous to the passage of the Nebraska Bill. The infant was a boy, and his name William Nebraska Reeves. He grew to manhood in the city of his birth and became a prosperous farmer in the central portion of Douglas county. The second birth, continues Mr. Jones, changed the sex but added one more to the population of Nebraska in the person of Maggie Ferry, above mentioned, who was born later during the same month in the valley of Paradise Creek near where Green's flouring mill was afterward built, in the southern portion of the city. The midwife who was present on both of these momentous occasions says, also, that William Reeves anticipated the arrival of Miss Ferry by several days, and in the face of such indubitable evidence no one can argumentatively prevail to the contrary.
The first to bring the distress of death to the infant settlement was a child of Mr. Gaylord, a carpenter, who had erected a house on the ground near where Creighton College is now situated. The burial took place there, the funeral being attended by residents generally, though it is not believed that any formal serves were held. This was not the first death in Omaha, however, that mournful circumstance having for its central figure an aged Otoe squaw who had been abandoned by her tribe, met the fate of mankind and was laid in her tomb by the hands of strangers in the land of her ancestors. Her grave was opened by W. P. Snowden at a point on Tenth street where Turner Hall now stands.
Behind the scared squaw's birch canoe|
The steamer smokes and raves;
And city lots are staked for sale
Above old Indian graves.
Mr. Todd, who during this year erected a small house near the corner of Jackson and Twelfth streets in the neighborhood of the St. Nicholas, was the first adult buried in the village. His death it is said was caused by a too free use of liquors which he kept on sale in connection with a small stock of groceries for the accommodation of a limited patronage. He was buried about the intersection of the Union Pacific track and Fourteenth streets, and it is believed that his remains still lie under the embankment at that point. In this connection it might be stated that the first corpse taken out of the village for internment was the father of Samuel E. Rogers.
The first marriage was that of John Logan to Miss Caroline Mosier, celebrated without pomp or circumstance, and it is recalled today among the incidents of a period when similar occurrences were rare and at long intervals. The exact date of this occurrence can not now be ascertained, for the stage of that world long since departed, exists now only in the memory of a few that yet linger in this locality.
In the year 1854, the Fourth of July was observed for the first time in the county, if not in the Territory. In the latter part of June, during the survey of Omaha, several gentlemen from Council Bluffs, then a city, met at the town claim cabin, or more properly speaking, "The St. Nicholas," when, during an interchange of ideas, A. D. Jones suggested that it might assist in popularizing the new town if a Fourth of July celebration could be arranged for on the western side of the Missouri River, within the prairie wilds of Nebraska. This opinion was concurred in by those present, and proceedings initiated with a view to the carrying of such design into effect. Committees were accordingly chosen, Capitol Hill, where the high school is now located, was selected for the scene of the gathering, and a general plan of operations agreed upon. The committee whose duty it was to prepare the awning, procured forked poles and planted them in the ground, over which cotton sheeting, obtained from James Jackson, Jr., a merchant of Council Bluffs was laid, the sides exposed to the sun being protected by brush. J. E. Johnson, editor of the Council Bluffs Bugle and proprietor of a store and blacksmith shop, furnished an anvil as a substitute for a cannon, and the ammunition came gratuitously from the same liberal hand. The ladies, most of whom were from Council Bluffs, furnished the viands and the ferry company furnished free passage to all who were desirous of attending the festivities.
All being in readiness, the anvil was discharged, under the direction of Captain Johnson, and the volunteer choir assisted by all who made any pretensions of a knowledge of vocal music, opened with "Old Hundred," "Come, Thou Fount," and made the hills and valleys resound with their western voices. After dinner, which was eaten spread upon the grass, a report of the anvil announced a change of programme and a rostrum being improvised from a wagon, Mr. Sawyer, an ex-member of Congress from Ohio, who happened to be present, having come over through curiosity to witness the celebration in a country not clear of its original land owners, was pressed into the service and delivered an address, being followed by H. D. Johnson, A. D. Jones and others. Volunteer toasts succeeded the orations, one of which--"Omaha, the Future Metropolis of Nebraska," was offered and responded to by A. D. Jones, and after a general ramble by many of the company, over the adjacent prairie, the exercises concluded with the doxology. The day was pleasant, there was no attempt at style or display, and the unpretentious and off-hand celebration was very much enjoyed by all present.
Claim associations were first organized this year, precipitated by the attempt of two men to "jump the claim" of Robert B. Whitted, since known as the Shull and Megeath land. After some informal proceedings looking to the institution of this society, a meeting was held on July 22, 1854, in the bottom about where the Union Pacific shops are located, at which a claim association was entered upon under a large spreading oak tree, at which A. D. Jones was elected Judge, A. Lewis, Clerk; M. C. Gaylord, Recorder and Robert B. Whitted, Sheriff. The laws agreed upon allowed each settler to hold 320 acres of land, eighty acres of timber and 240 of prairie, purchasers to be entitled to hold all the claims they could buy, and claims to be recorded and conveyed by quit-claim deeds. These regulations were subsequently amended at a meeting held in front of the Big Six, and remained in force until the land became pre-emptible, when the association dissolved. In regard to the quality of justice administered to interlopers and others who violated the unwritten law, it was not always tempered with that mercy which "droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven." The houses of squatters were not unfrequently torn down and their occupants ordered to leave, men were ducked in the river, thrown out of windows, marched through the streets, etc. These inflictions, however, were never perpetrated by the clubs, though it is believed members thereof participated.
At an early day Todd, who will be remembered as the former owner of a saloon on Jackson street, and the first adult buried in the village, was arrested on the complaint that he had stolen a cheese. He was regularly tried and convicted, and punished by being compelled to return what remained of the delicacy to its legitimate owner, who accordingly received that what there was of it unappropriated.
In October, 1854, the Rev. Isaac Cooper, and English local Methodist clergyman, who resided in Council Bluffs, visited Omaha to work Jones' quarry, which was located near Boyd's packing house. Whilst thus employed he was solicited to deliver a sermon for the edification of citizens residing in the village, to which he consented--the services to occur on the following Sabbath. At that time there was no hall in the village, and the congregation was obliged to rely upon the generosity of some family who would grant the privilege of meeting in their residence. Alexander Davis, who owned a saw-mill, where the State grist-mill was afterward erected, near the McCormick & Davis Elevator, had put up a small one-story frame dwelling on a rise of ground near the corner of Seventh and Jones streets, which contained a room of about sixteen feet square, and as this was the most commodious for the purpose, it was secured. The improvised auditorium was entered through the rear kitchen door, and the audience numbered less than twenty worshipers, principal among whom were Mr. Davis and family, A. D. Jones, A. J. Poppleton and others. Mr. Cooper took his position in the southwest corner of the room, and commenced the services by the giving out of the hymn which was sung to the tune of "Old Hundred," A. D. Jones acting as chorister. This was followed by the sermon, the text of which is forgotten. No collection was taken up, the precedent in Omaha for this time honored custom, being reserved for the future to develop, but the sermon was listened to with rapt attention, and elicited highly commendable encomiums. This was the first, last, and only sermon preached in Omaha during 1854.
Through the fall of that year weekly accessions were made to the population, and improvements are represented as having been scarcely equal to the demand. It was this period, when the village contained less than an hundred inhabitants, that David Lindley commenced the erection of a two-story house on the southwest corner of Harney and Thirteenth streets, which though not of large dimensions when completed, was used as a hotel, the "Douglas House," the first in Omaha. Before its completion, Lindley sold the premises to the Wells Brothers, who opened it to the public in November, when it became the principal stopping place in the village, and the rendezvous for travelers, politicians, speculators and legislators. The dining room had no floor, the table was made by driving poles into the ground for stakes, with rough cottonwood boards used for the top, the sides were open, and often the table would be covered with snow while the boarders were seated for meals, the viands freezing before they could be eaten. The beds were generally common sheeting ticks filled with prairie grass, which would roll up in knots, requiring the sleeper to conform himself to the peculiarities of the bed to be at ease.
When the Hon. Aaron Cahn, an old settler, first arrived in Omaha, he put up at the Douglas House, obtaining access thereto, as it was after dark, through the dining room door. The floor was covered with sleepers, and objecting to increase the number the landlord remarked: "I have a nice bed for fastidious gentlemen," leading the guest to one of the prairie hay beds so filled with knots that he was unable to in any way woo tired nature's restorer, "balmy sleep." At dinner the landlord had a habit of dealing extremely parsimonious bits of meat to his patrons, and when they called for more their demands would not be considered at all, or so meagerly as to excite the hungry edge of appetite to a limit beyond comparison. During the time the building of the premises continued, the post office was therein located, the mail being kept in an ax box divided into four pigeon holes, and during the absence of the postmaster the carpenters would wait upon those asking for letters or papers. In 1855 a rear addition was built to the premises. To lay the floors, lumber from torn down claim shanties, and nails taken out of the fire at Council Bluffs were used, being the best materials the proprietors could furnish at this time. When it came to painting a sign for the house, Louis A. Walker was the artist employed, but suitable lumber could not be procured for the job. In this emergency some sheeting was secured and tacked to a rough sign board where the letters were affixed and the sign completed. The old house as stated was a point of attraction to all who ever visited Nebraska; and a familiar hostelrie to residents west of the Missouri. It was in front of its hospitable entrance that T. B. Cuming made one the "greatest efforts of his life" on July 4, 1855; it was within its walls settler witnessed and participated in the dance or listened to the eloquence of the western minister. It was in its dining room that the drama was occasionally produced, and at its bar a few got "rosy" when the spirit moved them. Caucuses were convened here, and it was here that a vagrant from Missouri fulminated intelligence that the Northern Indians were marching on the village in force. The house was barricaded and all necessary measures taken to meet the invaders with a bloody welcome, but when the drover added to his assininity by informing the frightened populace that he only made the remark to witness its effect upon the people, anger usurped the place of fear, and he left the village as if pursued by an avenging Nemesis. The old house passed through checkered experience, but was finally removed to give place to a brick block. What a myriad of memories remained after it was blotted out.
Among those who came this year in October was Dr. George L. Miller, for many years editor of The Herald, and who has been pronounced as one of the most remarkable men of the day for genuine and unostentatious benevolence, manly character and executive ability. He was the first physician to locate in Omaha reaching here with his father, Col. Lorin Miller, who still survives, as above stated during October and establishing himself in the cabin put up by Mrs. Bedell's husband, in the tall grass west of the Union Pacific railroad headquarters, where he hung out his sign and offered his services to the diseased in body.
No sooner was his arrival noted than it was promulgated among the Indians who were camping on the river bottom near the present Union Pacific shops, and the information that a "medicine man" was accessible not only filled them with wonder but excited a desire for his professional attentions. It so happened that a papoose lay sick of a fever, and one morning shortly after the doctor's arrival, a muscular buck appeared at the Poppleton mansion and demanded that he should accompany him and minister to the ailment of the infant invalid. Being a stranger to the customs of the Indians, Dr. Miller felt disinclined to go with the messenger, but the ethics of professional duty overcame his scruples, and he began the trip preceded by his guide, who ever and anon turned and beckoned him in the direction he was to follow. Filled with visions of scalping knives and tomahawks the doctor slowly obeyed the beckoning hand. Suddenly and without any preliminary warning the Indian jumped from the beaten path both were pursuing and disappeared in the tall grass. This unexpected piece of by-play by no means encouraged the confidence of Dr. Miller, who now paused, not daring to follow, yet fearing to retrace his journey toward the settlement. While he waited, in wonder and anxiety, this Indian guide as suddenly re-appeared and beckoned the doctor to "come on." In a few moments the guide and his companion reached the wigwam where a new difficulty was encountered, to wit: how entrance thereto could be obtained. The Indian shot through the triangular-shaped entrance like a ball from a cannon, but the mind of Dr. Miller became at once exercised as to how he was to follow suit. After debating the question for what seemed to be an indefinite period, cut off summarily by the unmusical if not painful notes of preparation within the tepee, he bravely assailed the triangular opening and by main strength and wonderful good luck succeeded in accomplishing his entrance. He was welcomed to the interior in a manner calculated to dissipate any apprehensions remaining, and after smoking the pipe of peace was permitted to examine the condition of the Indian infant. A diagnosis of the case convinced the "Medicine Man" that the patient was beyond the reach of human aid, and announcing his fears by signs and shakes of the head, he left some soothing potion to be administered by those in attendance and returned to the village. The succeeding day his whilom guide called to announce the death of the papoose and indicated by signs and grimaces that the grief of the tribe in consequence was very great.