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

Part 1      Part 3

City of Omaha

Note: Please refer back to the Omaha first page, or to the Chapter Table of Contents for the complete listing.

SECTION 1:  The Early DaysSECTION 2:  More Early Days
SECTION 3:  Omaha in 1870

The Present Municipal Government | Bonded Debt Outstanding
Police Department | Wind and Hail Storm | Crime and Criminals
Summary Justice | The Execution of Tator
The Baker-Higgins Tragedy | The Killing of Davis

SECTION 5:  CrimesSECTION 6:  Fires and Public Works
SECTION 7:  Health, Parks, MailSECTION 8:  The Press in Omaha
SECTION 9:  Press ContinuedSECTION 10:  Religious
SECTION 11:  Religious (cont.)SECTION 12:  Cemetery and Schools
SECTION 13:  Legal and MedicalSECTION 14:  Opera House-Hotels-Business
SECTION 15:  SocietiesSECTION 16:  Societies Continued
SECTION 17:  BusinessSECTION 18:  Manufacturing
SECTION 19:  Manufacturing (cont.)

20 - 46:

   ** Omaha Biographical Sketches **
| WOODARD~ZEHRUNG | West Omaha Precinct | Douglas Precinct |

List of Illustrations in Douglas County Chapter

City of Omaha 4


The city government as at present constituted is composed as follows: J. E. Boyd, Mayor; C. F. Manderson, City Attorney; S. G. Mallette, Treasurer; J. J. L. C. Jewett, City Clerk; Daniel P. Angell, Marshal; Andrew Rosewater, City Engineer; Gustave Beneke, Police Judge; P. Ford, Street Commissioner; J. J. Galligan, Chief Engineer of Fire Department.

There are six Councilmen at large, viz.: Charles Kaufman, Richard O'Keefe, Frederick Dellone, Homer Stull, J. O. Corby and Samuel Herman; and six Ward Councilmen, viz.: First Ward, Alexander McGavock; Second Ward, M. A . McNamara; Third Ward, Henry Hornberger; Fourth Ward, Martin Dunham; Fifth Ward, William Daily; Sixth Ward, W. A. Baker.


Union Pacific bridge and depot bonds (so called),
     10 per cent due in 1889.................$171,850 00
Funding bonds 7 per cent due in 1909.............. 66,100 00
Sewer bonds, series one, 6 per cent due in 1900... 50,000 00
     Total outstanding bonds..................... 287,950 00
   No other debt unprovided for.
   The interest on all bonds is paid promptly in New York,
   The total amount of taxes collected during the fiscal
year ending June 30, 1881, exclusive of interest, was:
On the general tax of 1880 and previous years..... 190,491 28
For all special taxes.............................   5,420 51
     Total net tax collected...................... 195,911 79
Of this amount the school fund received...........  57,409 92
Also for licenses granted.........................  26,021 86
And for fines in police court.....................   2,617 50
     Total........................................  86,049 28
The tax list for 1881, which is based upon an assessment
   of not more than one third of the real value, shows
   a total valuation of real estate.............$4,095,637 00
Of personal property............................ 2,326,028 82
     Total valuation............................$6,421,666 82
   Total tax on the same at the rate of thirty-one mills
     per dollar is:
On real-estate................................... $126,964 72
On personal property.............................   72,106 89
     Total tax list.............................. $199,071 61

The tax levy for 1880 was 30 ½ mills. The levy for 1881 is 31 mills, which latter includes the water-rate tax and the sewer tax, both in addition to former years.

Current expenses for the eight months under the present administration, beginning April 1 and ending November 30, inclusive, as follows: City officers, $7,038.30; Council, $1,600; Police salaries and sundries, $8,420.98; Fire Department salaries and sundries, $11,731.71; streets, sidewalks and bridges, $11,731.69; park, $1,401.18; library, $1,727.77; miscellaneous bills, $11,675.96. Total $67,003.55.

During the past year the public improvements aggregated $405,640; those of private individuals amounted to upwards of $2,000,000.


With whatever spirit of order and quiet the founders of Omaha may have been imbued, they yet, in common with older settlements and communities, found present with them also, that other spirit of contention and lawlessness, which seems everywhere to be the inseparable concomitant of mankind. The first settlers, as is readily seen, had no local organization governing them; but came under the same control as their uncivilized neighbors, the Indians. At first, therefore, every man to a certain extent, was chief guardian and ruler of his own little realm, his claim. There was then no officer of the peace to shield and protect him, and no court of justice within easy reach, to which he might resort for settlement of the difficulties which arose between his neighbors and himself. The judgment is such cases, was consequently rendered in favor of the "best man."

As settlers began to multiply, and disputes became of frequent occurrence, particularly respecting the title to claims, it became necessary to frame some system of government for the regulation of the fast growing community, and through which all disagreements between parties could be settled. The "jumping" of claims--that is, the taking possession of a claim by one, which had been previously taken by another--occasioned those many and bitter disputes, which, heretofore, had been settled by the "hand to hand" code.

But not until compelled by actual necessity, were any steps taken to perfect such a measure. Owing, however, to a serious dispute arising between two claimants, the organization was effected. A party of new comers were about to take possession of a tract of land claimed by Robert Whitted. The tract lay between the forks of the creeks, where now is Shull's addition to the city. Whitted, watching the movements of the party from a distance, remarked to Mr. A. D. Jones, who was with him at the time, "that he believed those fellows were going to jump his claim." The claim was considered valuable and desirable on account of a fine grove of trees that stood upon it. Accordingly Jones and Whitted proceeded to the spot where the party were encamped, and upon inquiry, ascertained that it was really the intention of these men to take possession of the land. Whitted set up his claim to the property, to which the party paid no attention. An altercation ensued, which, had Jones not interfered, stepping between Whitted and his antagonist, would have resulted in a general knockdown.

The storm of passion having subsided, they finally agreed to submit the matter to arbitration and to make a division of the grove, which really was the bone of contention, and A. D. Jones was chosen arbitrator.

Mr. Jones began at once the work of division, marking the line by blazing the trees with a hatchet as he passed along; and thus was the dispute amicably settled.

This occurrence, therefore, led to the formation of what, on account of the purposes for which it was created, was significantly termed the "Claim Club," which came about in the following manner. After Jones had made a division of the grove, those present proceeded to frame an organization without authority of law, the laws by which it was to be governed being simply the will of a majority of its members. The election of Robert Whitted, president, and A. D. Jones, secretary, completed the organization. Secretary Jones then, on a pass book which he took from his pocket, hastily and impromptu drew up a code of laws. These laws were then read by the secretary, adopted by acclamation, and signed by those present, and became the "law of the land." As new settlers came in, this rustic code was read to and signed by them, by this act pledging their allegiance to the just powers of the government. Here then, with this natural grove for a legislative hall, was framed the first local body for the government of the embryo city. Thus was formed the celebrated "Claim Club," famous on account of the startling incidents which transpired through its operation.

The executive power of this body was vested in the community at large, who, when any person manifested a spirit of obstinacy and unwillingness to abide by the decision of the club, banded together and waited upon the person objecting. Unless he would consent to accede to the terms of their decision, this person received rough handling at the hands of the mob. Instances are told of how this body of men once ducked a victim in the river in freezing weather, when they had to break a hole in the ice to put him in; how they drove another from his shanty and burned it; and how they threw another through the window of his cabin. Other instances of these rough measures will be treated of elsewhere.

At a meeting of the club, July 22, 1854, among other alterations and amendments, the names of the officers were changed to that of Judge, Clerk, Sheriff, and Recorder. A. D. Jones was elected Judge. Owing to this circumstance, Mr. Jones became afterwards knows as Judge Jones, which title clings to him to this day. It was the duty of the judge, as it has been to the president of the club, to sit upon the trial of causes, and the sheriff was conservator for the peace, and was clothed with general powers of police.

The first trial held before this august tribunal was that of one Todd, the same individual that afterward became famous as the man, who--owning a small grocery and saloon, and making his purchases of goods in Council Bluffs, east of Omaha, just across the Missouri River--always said he "went East" for his goods.

Todd was charged with having stolen some cheese, was arrested by the Sheriff, brought before the Judge, tried, and found guilty. The judgment of the court and penalty for this theft was that he should bring back the cheese, and having done this, he was released.

In the winter of 1855, the Legislature met and taking control of the Territory assumed also the control of county affairs. The county organization was established, and Omaha passed under the same control. The name given the county offices were: County Judge, Clerk, Treasurer, Recorder, Sheriff, Commissioners, and Justices of the Peace and Constables, the jurisdiction of the latter being confined to certain defined precincts.

At this stage of the history, then, we fine the police powers of Omaha in the hands of the Justice and constable of the precinct to which it belonged, and so continued till the city government was established March 5, 1857. The ministerial officers of the city were; Mayor, Recorder, City Marshal, City Solicitor, City Assessor, City Engineer, and Health Officer.

Jesse Lowe was elected the first Mayor for the term of 1857-58; A. J. Poppleton, 1858-59; D. D. Belden, 1859-60; Clinton Briggs, 1860-61; George Armstrong, 1861-63, resigned October 14,1862; B. E. B. Kennedy, 1863-64; A. R. Gilmore, 1864-65; Lorin Miller, 1865-67; Charles H. Brown, 1867-68; George M. Roberts-1868-69; Ezra Millard, 1869-71; Smith S. Caldwell, 1871-72; James H. Millard, 1872-73; W. M. Brewer, 1873-74; Champion S. Chase, 1874-77; Reuben H. Wilbur, 1877-78; Champion S. Chase, 1879-81; James E. Boyd, 1881-82.

The Mayor exercised the powers of Police Judge and had jurisdiction in trials for misdemeanors, offences against the ordinances of the city, etc. The Marshal was the executive officer of the court and general custodian of the peace of the commonwealth.

The city had now attained a considerable size and the duties imposed upon the Mayor became so numerous and burdensome that it was no longer possible for him to discharge them alone. In the year 1868, the office of Police Judge was created, and the duty of sitting upon the trial of causes for offenses, etc., was transferred from the Mayor to the Police Judge.

John H. Sahler, was chosen first Judge, the date of his term being 1868-69; John R. Porter served from 1869-73, inclusive; E. G. Dudley, in 1873-74; R. H. Wilbur, in 1874-75; Gustav Anderson, in 1875-79; Patrick O. Hawes, 1879-81; Gustav Beneke, 1881-82.

The present police department, we find, consists of a Police Judge, Marshal and thirteen policemen. The names of those holding these offices at the present time are: Gustav Beneke, Police judge; Daniel P. Angell, Marshal; H. Jacobson, Ed. Gorman, John O'Donahue, Alexander Black, William McCune, M. Sullivan, Frank Kleffner, O. Buckley, Jerry O'Grady, Frank Kasper, William Nightingale, William Flynn, Joseph Granacher, Policemen.

On July 6, 1869, an ordinance was passed by the City Council establishing the police force, consisting of one Captain, one Lieutenant, and eighteen Policemen, who were appointed by the Council.

The Mayor was ex-officio Chief of Police. Five wardens, foreman and assistant-foreman of fire companies were also invested with police powers in cases of fire.

The Captain and Lieutenant received a salary of $90 per month, and policemen $70 per month.

By ordinance passed August 3, 1869, any person, partnership, or body corporate, upon application to the City Council, could have special policemen appointed, to be maintained at their own expense. Various changes and amendments have since been made with reference to the police force of the city. By ordinance passed July 1, 1881, the pay of policemen was put at $70 per month, and on August 16, 1881, the number of policemen was fixed at twelve and one special. The following table shows the present salaries received by the officers of the police department: Police Judge, $1,500 per annum; Clerk, $1,200; Marshal $1,000; policemen, $70 per month, $840 per annum. For the year ending March 31, 1880, the Police Department was maintained at a cost to the city of $6,101.83.

The first public school was opened in Omaha by Howard Kennedy as superintendent and principal, and he claims it was a graded school. Mrs. Rust taught a public school under Kennedy, near Twelfth on Douglas street. Miss Nye taught at Eleventh and Farnam streets. Mrs. Terry taught in the north part of the city near Eighteenth street and the Methodist Church. Dr. G. C. Monell, A. D. Jones, and Mr. Loveland were the first Board of Education, and were elected in March 1859, and held office one year, and in March 1860, Dr. G. C. Monell, Jesse Lowe, and J. H. Kellom were elected and made the first school report to the Commissioners of Public Schools.


The most remarkable and startling catastrophe which ever occurred in the vicinity of Omaha was the destruction of two spans of the railroad bridge, about half past 4 o'clock on the morning of August 25, 1877. There was not the remotest threat of a storm in the evening previous, but at 3 o'clock on the morning succeeding a wind and hail storm came up from the north, occasioning a violent disturbance of the elements, which half an hour later was powerful enough to blow down two spans of the massive iron bridge.

The wreck of the first span was laid in a shapeless mass on the south side of the embankment, while the second span had fallen into the river and was entirely hidden by the water. The bridge had parted at the third pier from the Iowa side and, in its fall, wrenched the massive columns from their location, snapping the heavy wooden sleepers as if they had been straw. The rails, though heavily bolted together, were twisted like wires. An eye-witness of the calamity stated that he observed a black mass coming down the river, which appeared to be balloon-shaped, but tapering at each end. It came with terrific roar and burst upon the bridge with deafening fury. At the moment of destruction, the scene was lit up by a blinding glare of electric light, and the massive iron structure, after being lifted to a great height above the piers, was dashed to the earth with inconceivable force. It was about the time the early eastern passenger train should start over the bridge, and this man being unable to rouse the watchman, procured a skiff and rowed across the treacherous river in storm and darkness, finally reaching the west shore by swimming the second channel, and reaching the depot a brief time before the train was ready to pull out.

The extent of the damage approximated $200,000; but it was speedily repaired, and has since been intact.


The first murder trial in Omaha, and its abortive conclusion, have been elsewhere detailed. The list of deeds of violence in this city has not been proportionally larger than that of other Western cities; in fact, few towns of the West of such rapid growth have, apparently, attracted so few lawless characters. The following list of criminal occurrences is probably not altogether complete, but it covers nearly all of the "deeds of darkness" whose details became generally known in the history of the city.


On Sunday night, March 3, 1861, the residence of George Taylor ten miles west of Omaha, was entered and robbed of property valued at $1,000. On the following Tuesday, two men, named respectively George Iler and James Bovey, were arrested; but as nothing definite could be proved against them, they were discharged. The succeeding morning, Mrs. Taylor was sent for and, upon reaching the city, identified the twain as those who had robbed her house; when they were re-arrested and lodged in jail. Great excitement prevailed, and a public meeting of citizens was convened, to settle the question whether this Bovey and Iler would be summarily dealt with or be permitted to plead according to law. Finally, it was decided to appoint a committee to inquire into the guilt or innocence of the prisoners. At an interview between the latter and the committee, they made a full confession of their guilt, and the committee reported recommending that the life of Iler be spared. The report was accepted, the committee discharged and the prisoners turned over to the Vigilance Committee. During Thursday and Friday of the ensuing week further confessions were made, and on Saturday morning Bovey was found at the door of his cell hung by the neck, and dead. Iler was released, after a severe punishment, and warned never to be found in the Territory again. A Coroner's jury, consisting of Emerson Seymour, Francis Smith, Jesse Lowe, A. J. Hanscom, M. W. Keith, Benjamin Stickles and Thomas L. Shaw, held an inquest on the remains of Bovey, and a verdict was rendered that he came to his death by hanging by persons unknown to them.

The question whether robbery and assassination should ride triumphantly over industry and virtue was thus definitely settled. During the six years of Territorial organization no murderer had met the punishment due his crime, and this, too, it was claimed, in over twenty instances. Some had been liberated by faithless officers; some coolly walked out into open day and escaped; others' necks had been legislated out of the halter, it was said, by men who were paid by the people for protecting men's lives and property; while others had used the spoil wrung from innocent men in purchasing acquittal at the hands of unscrupulous attorneys and packed juries. There was no jail offering reasonable security, the penitentiary had not yet been built, and applications to neighboring States for leave to place convicts in their prisons had been refused. In view of these complications, what remained for the citizens to do that virtue, not vice, should reign, but to fall back upon the first principles of self preservation? The protection of citizens demanded extreme action and the merited punishment inflicted would be a fearful warning to criminals that justice in some form would for the future, at least, be swift and certain.


Early in the summer of 1863, a tragedy was enacted below the city, the facts of which are as follows: On Friday, June 19, the dead body of an unknown man was found in a bend of the river opposite Sulphur Springs, about three miles below Omaha. He had evidently been murdered and thrown into the river, and for some days no one could be found to identify deceased. Finally, he was recognized as Isaac H. Neff, an emigrant who, in company with Cyrus Tator, was journeying West, and had encamped near a place known as the "Saratoga Spring," in the vicinity of which his remains were discovered. A combination of circumstances led the authorities to suspect Cyrus Tator of the murder, and resulted in his arrest while he was making preparations to escape. He was arraigned for trail before W. P. Kellogg, Judge of the District Court, at the June term thereof. Charles H Brown, Prosecuting Attorney, with W. A. Little and A. G. Poppleton, counsel for the defense. The examination continued several days, resulting in the conviction of Tator of murder, and his sentence to be hanged, the latter event fixed for August 21, 1863, or two months, almost to a day, from the date of the commission of the crime. Exceptions were taken to the rulings of the court during the trial, which were over-ruled, a writ of error denied by the Supreme Court, and the accused hanged on Friday, August 21, 1863, on the very spot where his crime had been committed. Before the fatal knot was adjusted, Tator called God to witness that he was an innocent man; that he had not murdered Isaac H. Neff, and was ignorant of the author of the deed. The trap-door of the scaffold was sprung at 1 o'clock precisely, and Tator was launched into eternity. He died almost immediately, and after hanging twenty-two minutes, his body was lowered, placed in a coffin, and awaited the demands of his friends. He left a wife and child.

This was the first execution to occur, not only in Omaha and Douglas County, but in the Territory of Nebraska, under the processes of United States law.


About half past 1 o'clock on the morning of November 23, 1866, the store of W. R. King & Co., was discovered in flames and, notwithstanding the labors of the department, totally destroyed. While the fire was in progress, Mr. King, accompanied by others, effected an entrance into the store, when Otway R. Baker, the porter, was found shot through the wrist. He asserted that he was awakened from sleep by the crackling of flames, and upon going into the cellar was met by a man who shot him and escaped. Upon proceeding to the room of W. D. Higgins, the bookkeeper, who also slept in the store, the crowd was horrified to find him the innocent victim of a foul murder. His skull was cleft open with an ax belonging to the store, which, with the fact that the safe had been robbed, and other suspicious circumstances, procured the arrest of Baker either as principal or accessory to the crime. The Coroner's jury rendered a verdict recommending that he be held without bail, which was accordingly done; and public opinion, grounded upon dark and portentous circumstances, fixed strong suspicion upon him as the author of the deed, but all were constrained to remember that in the probability of guilt there was also a possibility of innocence.

The District Court, Judge George B. Lake presiding, convened on the 10th of April following the commission of the crime, and on the 23rd of the same month, the grand jury certified an indictment against Baker for the murder of Higgins. On the 24th of April, Baker was arraigned and pleaded not guilty; and on the 1st of May--so difficult had it been to secure a jury-- the trial commenced. G. W. Doane and J. L. Redick appearing for the State; G. C. Hopkins, Benjamin Sheeks and M. H. Parks defending. The jury disagreed and the case was continued until the October term of court, when it was called, J. W. Savage, Benjamin Sheeks, M. H. Parks and W. H Morris appearing for the prisoner.

The second trial was closely contested and the evidence exhaustive, but resulted in the conviction of the prisoner. A motion for new trial was denied, and the case was carried to the Supreme Court. While the proceedings before that tribunal were pending, Col. Savage, Baker's attorney, appeared in court and, presenting his clients confession, asked leave to withdraw the motion previously made, which was granted, and the prisoner sentenced to be hanged on Friday, February 14, 1868.

On the morning of the day which witnessed the last fearful scene of a tragedy having its inception in a deliberately-planned murder, Baker, preceded by the Sheriff and his deputies, Father Egan and several invited parties, passed from his cell to the door leading out into the street, where a vast crowd awaited his appearance. Thence he was led to a carriage, in which himself, the Sheriff, Father Egan and Col. Savage took seats, followed by a second carriage, containing District-Attorney Estabrook, W. B. Smith, W. H. Morris and Dr. Pinney, the Coroner; and still a third vehicle, allotted to the press and Governor's Secretaries. In this order the procession moved to the gallows, which had been erected in a ravine about half a mile west of the Capitol, guarded by volunteers from the fire department, under the command of William L. May, Chief Engineer. Arriving at the instrument of death, Baker ascended the scaffold, attended by the Sheriff, his spiritual adviser and counsel, and took his place upon the drop. His hands and feet were pinioned, the rope placed about his neck, the fatal noose adjusted, and amid a silence that was oppressive, the drop was sprung from under the condemned man's feet and his body made a swift descent through the aperture, a sheer fall of seven feet. After hanging sixteen minutes, the body was examined by the physicians, who pronounced life extinct, when it was cut down, placed in a coffin and taken change of by Father Egan, who caused its removal to the Catholic Convent, whence it was buried.


One of the most terrible tragedies that has ever occurred in Omaha or in this section of the country, transpired between 4 and 5 o'clock on the afternoon of Monday, October 4, 1869, resulting in the death of George Davis at the hands of William Broaddus. The provocation was terrible, and by some thought to be richly deserved. On Wednesday or Thursday of the previous week, an innocent girl, daughter of Broaddus, not more than eight years of age, was enticed from her play-ground in the yard of the Metropolitan Hotel, taken into the cellar of a vacant house adjoining, and then foully dealt with by deceased. The father, when made acquainted with the facts, was almost beside himself with grief, and determined to wreak summary vengeance upon the author of the outrage. Arming himself, he began his search for Davis, and found him standing in the doorway of the latter's residence on Dodge street. Telling him that he would like to confer with him on business, Broaddus induced the unsuspecting man to accompany him to the hotel, where the twain proceeded at once to the room occupied by the injured parent and his family. Having entered the apartment, the father inquired of his daughter, "Do you know this man?" "Yes, papa, that was the man that hurt me. Make him go away," was the child's reply. That was enough. Without a single exclamation, the father drew a Derringer from his pocket and pointing it at his victim, fired. Davis rushed from the house, crying, "Oh God! I'm shot!" On reaching the sidewalk he was noticed to stagger, but made his way to the opposite corner, where he fell in the doorway of Moody & Blair's drug-store. As soon as he had discharged the pistol, Broaddus walked out of the room, with the pistol in his hand, and delivered himself into the custody of Col. Parker, one of the proprietors of the hotel, by whom he was accompanied to the county jail, where he was taken in charge by the Sheriff and locked up in a cell. Public opinion was somewhat varied but the prevailing sentiment seemed to be that a foul crime had been committed; that its author had been justly dealt with, and that Broaddus would be discharged without the action of a traverse jury. The prisoner was indicted for manslaughter, however, and placed on trial at the October term of the District Court. The Hon. Judge Lake presided, the prosecution being conducted on the part of the State by J. C. Cowen, while the interests of accused were cared for by Hon. J. W. Savage, assisted by C. H. Brown. The hearing lasted but one day, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty, assessing his punishment at five years in the penitentiary.

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