Part 2: Change of County Seat--Elections | Progress of the County
Bloomington: Crime | Local Institutions | The Press
Part 3: Bloomington (cont.): Biographical Sketches
Riverton: Early History | Churches | Societies
Part 4: Naponee: Churches | Biographical Sketches
Franklin | Early Settlement | Franklin Machine Shops
Franklin County is in the southern tier of the counties of the State, and 175 miles west from the Missouri River. It is twenty-four miles square and contains 368,640 acres. It is one of the most fertile of the great Republican Valley counties. It is bounded on the north by Kearney County, on the east by Webster, on the south by Phillips County, Kan., and on the west by Harlan. The Republican River flows through the county from west to east, at an average distance of about six miles north of the Kansas boundary. On both the north and south side, this river has a large number of creeks and small streams tributary to it in this county. Among the more important of these are Thompson's Creek, Turkey, Rebecca, Crow and Lovely. The Republican River is broad and rather shallow, while the small creeks are clear and beautiful in their sparkling transparency, reminding one of the brooks of the New England States. Some of these streams are very peculiar; at one point, they are seen flowing rapidly along over a sandy bed, with a considerable volume of water, then, for a short distance, they will entirely disappear, only to appear again some distance below, with as great a volume as ever, after having passed on in underground currents through the sand for the space that they are hidden from view. In places where nothing is to be seen but the sandy bed of the creek, during the dry seasons, by digging down a few inches, water will be found flowing through the sand. This filtering of the water through the sandy bed of these creeks tends to make it of the purest quality and great value to the stock-raiser.
The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad extends through the county from east to west on the north side of the Republican River, on which are located the following towns: Riverton, Franklin, Bloomington and Naponee.
The valley of the Republican River varies from four to eight miles in width. Each of the tributaries has a valley of its own, making the area of bottom lands more than twice that of the Republican. The bottom lands are beautifully terraced, these terraces numbering from one to three. The ascent from one terrace to another is so gentle, in many instances, that only the careful observer would notice it. the lines of these terraces curve in so many different ways that the traveler looks in vain for two that are similar in appearance. The uplands are frequently reached by steep and abrupt bluffs, which extend back for a distance of from half a mile to three or four miles, affording beautiful and picturesque scenery. In other places again, no bluffs intervene between the bottoms and the uplands, but the surface ascends gently and by step-like terraces until high ground is reached. Where this is the case, these step-like slopes present a most beautiful and enchanting appearance. The uplands themselves are comparatively level, but are gently undulated and present every variety of form that can be imagined.
Previous to the year 1870, there had been no settlements in the Republican Valley, but about this time attention having been called to it from the reports of hunters and occasional travelers, who vividly described its extraordinary fertility and attractiveness, parties were organized at different points in the eastern part of the State, and sent out to make examinations as to the truth of these reports. As a result of these explorations and examinations, the settlement of Franklin County soon commenced.
Previous to this time, the Republican Valley had been the very best hunting-ground of the Indians, and their occupancy of it, with their hostility, had rendered its settlement previous to this time impracticable. For many years, however, a number of hunters and trappers had penetrated the country and spent the hunting seasons here. They had numerous conflicts with the Indians, and many of them were killed at different times. As early as the winter of 1866-67, a settlement in the western part of the county, on Sections 29 and 30, Town 2, Range 16 west, had been projected by Porter & Crowen, but had to be abandoned on account of the hostility of the Indians. At this time, there were no white settlers within one hundred miles to the eastward, and on the north, nor settlements nearer than those on the Platte River.
In 1870, several companies were organized in Omaha for the purpose of selecting places for settlement, somewhere in the western part of the State. One of these companies proposed a location somewhere in the Republican Valley. Accordingly, a party was selected to make explorations; money was raised, and the party was supplied with conveyances, equipments and provisions, and sent on its mission.
Therefore, on the 14th day of September, 1870, William C. Thompson, James W. Thompson, Richard Beckwith, John Corbin, Isaac Chappel and Barnett Ashburne started from Omaha on this trip of examination. Until the Republican Valley was reached, nothing eventful occurred. Here the only settlement passed was that of Red Cloud, which was then just started.
Owing to the general troubles with the Indians, which had been quieted the year previous, and still later troubles between them and the hunters, it was necessary for the explorers to use the greatest precautions. But they were not molested. They also found wild game of all kinds, common to the Western prairies, in abundance.
Going up the north side of the Republican River, the party came to a beautiful creek about thirteen miles west from Red Cloud, where they proposed to stop and look about.
All the way up from Red Cloud, J. W. Thompson had been busily engaged in taking notes on the country. As soon as the party camped on this creek, he also began to make plats and maps of the country adjacent. During the examinations and explorations in this vicinity, Thompson wandered up the creek alone as far as the Forks. He found it to be well timbered, having a good supply of water, with numerous springs along the banks. He also make a careful examination of the soil, and found it to be deep and of a good quality.
In October, the party returned to Omaha and gave such a glowing account of the country that many persons went to Beatrice, where the United States Land Office for that district was then located, and entered homestead claims without seeing the land. The first homestead claim in Franklin county was made by Barnett Ashburne, who was one of the party who selected the location. The stream on which the settlement was made was called Thompson's Creek, in honor of James W. Thompson. The colony was known as the Thompson Colony.
During the winter of 1870-71, the Thompson Colony held meetings regularly at the house of Michael O'Sullivan, in Omaha. Among them were James W. Thompson, William C. Thompson, William McBride, Barnett Ashburne, J. H. Hunter, Henry Baker, Redford Owney, H. and James Banks, William Bowers, Thomas Pomeroy, S. Taylor, Richard Beckwith and John Auld.
While this was termed a colony, it was one without rules, and the only bond that held the settlers together was their common cause. The meetings of the colony during the winter were very enthusiastic, and were held to arrange plans for their future course in establishing their homes in the new West. these colonists were all poor, and efforts were at first made to form a union with the Bruce Colony, an organization for the same purpose, but supposed to be stronger financially. The latter-named colony, however, had too high aspirations to join this little band and share the fruits of their explorations. After the failure to unite the two colonies, the question next to be decided was how they should defend themselves from the Indians, should they prove dangerous. They finally made an application to Gov. David Butler for arms and ammunition that they might defend them selves. The Governor informed them that before he could comply with their request, it would be necessary for them to organize a militia company. this they at once did. The entire colony was formed into a militia company and elected T. S. Butler, Captain; J. H. Hunter, First Lieutenant, and W. C. Thompson, Second Lieutenant. They were duly enlisted in the Second Nebraska Cavalry, and the Governor issued commissions to the officers elected, and ordered that they should be armed and placed on a war footing immediately.
The winter was now drawing to a close. February had passed, and the six months' time allowing homesteaders to get on their claims had already expired. But the prospects for starting out were very poor. There was a want of means, and the winter preceding had been an idle one for most of the colonists. The entire party could only raise three teams, and it was 300 miles to the place of their destination. Barnett Ashburne had two of these teams, and loaded them with goods and started out. Many of the colonists walked the entire distance. It was a venturesome undertaking, but they thought they could live as well as the Indians. The Ashburne party arrived on Thompson Creek about the middle of March, 1871. During the second week in March, William McBride started out with his loaded ox-team, accompanied by J. H. Hunter, Michael O'Sullivan and Henry Baker. The party arrived on Thompson Creek the 27th of March, 1871. they found the Ashburne party already on the ground and building the first house on the creek and the second one in the county. Thus was the settlement of the eastern part of the county and of Riverton commenced, by a brave and persistent little party with only three teams in the entire outfit, and the greater number of them nearly without money. As no breaking had been done, and there was a certainty of having to wait at least eighteen months before any crops, other than those planted on the newly-broken sod, could be raised, their future prospects seemed to be poor; but none of the party were discouraged. Though many of them had never seen their homestead before, all were suited and went to work with a will to build houses of longs and sod, and to do all in their power to open up their farms.
But this was not the only settlement made in the county at this time. There had been an organization formed previous to that of the Thompson Colony, for the colonization and settlement of Western Nebraska. This was known as the Rankin Colony, from Col. Rankin, its leader. In 1870, a branch of this colony made a separate organization, known as the Republican Valley Land Claim Association, and sometimes called the Knight Colony from one of its principal members. The officers of this association were Major Mills, of Omaha, President; C. J. Van Laningham, Vice President; R. D. Curry, Treasurer; J. Graham, Secretary; David Van Etten, Surveyor. and William H. Riley, Assistant Surveyor. In the fall of 1870, soon after the location of the Thompson colony, this association located a body of land on the north side of the Republican River, not far from the center of the county, and laid out a town here, with the intention of securing the location of the county seat when the county should be organized. The town was called Franklin City.
The first actual settlers in the county were members of this colony. Early in November, 1870, a number of persons started with C. J. Van Laningham to locate on their homesteads, in the vicinity of the proposed new town. Upon arriving at Lincoln, they met a party of five men, who concluded to come with them, but the only one who remained was W. B. Powell. The party arrived November 26, 1870. All were pleased with their land claims and at once set to work to erect houses before the winter set in. The first house erected was one of logs and sods, by C. J. Van Laningham, who was accompanied by his family. Mrs. Katie Van Laningham was the first white woman to form a residence in the county, and her two children were the first in the county.
Another settlement that was made in the county late in 1870 and early in 1871, was that on Turkey Creek in the western part of the county, where Naponee now stands. This settlement was made by Richard and A. Walther and R. B. Werner.
Measures had been taken to organize the county, and Gov. David Butler issued a proclamation, February 14, 1871, calling an election of county officers, to be held the 3d day of the following March.
At the election of March 3, 1871, the following officers were elected to fill the duties of their respective offices for the short term, to expire the 1st of the following January: Clerk, Matthew Lynch; Judge, C. J. Van Laningham; Sheriff and Surveyor, Ernest Arnold; Coroner, James Newsham; Treasurer, John E. Simmons; Superintendent of Schools, Richard Walther; Commissioners, W. B. Powell, James Knight and Charles Vining. Of these officers elected, all qualified and attended to the duties of the respective offices except W. B. Powell and Richard Walther. Powell lived just outside the limits of the county, in Webster, and of course, could not legally serve, therefore, Barnett Ashburne was appointed to fill the vacancy.
The first death that occurred in the county was that of Samuel W. Ashby, who died June 2, 1872, aged sixty-three years, at the old town of Franklin.
After the location had been selected for the proposed town of Franklin City, David Van Etten, the surveyor of the colony, was sent to the Government Land Office, at Beatrice, to file it on the records as a town site, but, being desirous of owning the town site himself, he entered it as a homestead in his own name. He did not hold it long, however, before C. J. Van Laningham filed it as a town site, but the location of the town having changed, James Knight finally entered the land as a homestead.
The first post office in the county was established at Franklin during May, 1871; J. A. Perry was appointed Postmaster, and a postal route was established between Franklin and Kearney Junction.
In May, 1871, quarrels and dissensions having broken out among the projectors of Franklin City, the Plattsmouth Town Company laid out a town one mile east of Franklin City and called it Waterloo. J. A. Perry, the Postmaster, was interested in the new town and removed the post office here. The post office being called Franklin, the new town was always known by the latter name, though it always appeared in the books of the company as Waterloo. Neither of these towns were ever platted or filed on the county records.
Another colony from Omaha, composed entirely of colored people, was located late in the spring of 1871, on a fine creek, about midway between the locations of the Thompson and Knight Colonies. They were about eight or ten in number, and taking up their locations here, called the stream on which they settled Lovely Creek, a name which it still bears. Like many of their fellow-pioneers, they built up great plans for the future of their settlement, that were only to be overthrown in the end. They had laid out a town on the southeast quarter of Section 35, Town 2, Range 14, and called it the city of Grant, expecting this to form the nucleus of a large and prosperous town at no very distant day. Ash poles, to which were tied strips of hides, marked the different locations. They went to work to establish a brick yard, and a court house was in anticipation. They were all young men and active, but were poor, and had but one team in the entire party. Their money was soon gone, and, though each had taken a homestead claim, they abandoned the country some time during the summer, never to return. Thomas Shoemaker, on August 9, 1872, settled on their proposed town site, where he now has a beautiful farm.
June 21, 1871, was the date of the first meeting of the County Commissioners. They met at the residence of Judge C. J. Van Laningham. the bonds of the county officials were then filed, and Richard Walthers resigning his office of Superintendent of Schools, J. F. Pugsley was appointed in his place.
The first sermon was preached in the county in June, 1871, at the residence of Judge Van Laningham, by Rev. John W. Whiting, a one-armed ex-soldier. The services were held under a large cottonwood tree, a few rods from the door of the house. There were somewhere from thirty to forty persons present, and all listened with eager attention to the first religious services ever held in the county. The tree under which this meeting was held was cut down in 1882.
During the summer of 1871, a company of soldiers were stationed about two miles above the mouth of Turkey Creek, to guard against any depredations of the Indians. The early settlers, however, never experienced any troubles from the red men, though there were some fears for a long time, owing to their hostility for the year or two previous.
During the first year of settlement, considerable attention was attracted by a flock of wild sheep, numbering about one hundred. These sheep had all the appearance of domestic cheep, but were wild as the deer or antelope. It is supposed that they must have strayed from the flock of some venturesome herder, who had probably driven through here some previous year. The prairies at that time were infested with large numbers of wolves, and the only wonder is that the sheep ever escaped them. They disappeared soon, however, some having been killed by the settlers and soldiers.
The first store in the county was established at Franklin about September 1, 1871 by O'Bannon.
September 19, 1871, an election was called to vote on the adoption of a new State constitution. This election was held at the house of James Knight.
The regular election of county officers took place October 10, 1871, at the residence of Daniel Giger, at Franklin. At this time, the county consisted of but one voting precinct, and thirty votes were polled. The following officers were elected: Commissioners, J. F. Pugsley, John Hutchinson and B. Ashburne; Sheriff G. L. Cooper; Clerk, J. A. Peery; Judge, C. J. Van Laningham.
The first child born in the county was Franklin Durand, born October 1, 1871; the next birth in the county was Maude Peery, born during the same month in 1871; she still resides with her parents on the old homestead, where she was born.
During the spring of 1871, the first plowing or breaking of the prairie had been done, but so diligently did the settlers apply themselves, that by the middle of summer many farms had been opened. The houses built were generally constructed of logs or sod. As soon in the spring as breaking the prairie had commenced, corn was planted on the sod. A great deal of this sod corn yielded as high as thirty bushels to the acre. A great many potatoes were planted and did very well; some of them are said to have yielded at the rate of three or four hundred bushels to the acre. A few vegetables were also raised.
During the fall of 1871, a great many settlers came to the county, and settlements were made on several tributaries of the Republican, on Crow Creek, by Jacob Stanslow, on Rebecca Creek and on Turkey Creek and on other streams. O. B. Starkey also settled about two miles from Macon.
Soon after the election in the fall of 1871, the county was divided into three precincts, each extending the entire length of the county, north and south. The eastern precinct was called Grant, the central, Franklin, and the western Sheridan.
In the fall of this year, many of the settlers left the country to spend the winter farther east, where they could secure employment. The only crops raised were sod corn, a few potatoes and some vegetables. Where these crops had been planted there was a fair yield, but many of the settlers had arrived too late to plant any seed, and others had believed it to be unnecessary to try to raise crops on the sod.
The winter of 1871-1872 was an exceptionally severe one, and some hard times were experienced by these pioneer settlers, who remained during the winter. The fall of the year had been warm, and the settlers, busy with their other duties, had not prepared for the winter. The cold weather set in with a storm in November, and, from that time until late in the spring of 1872, the severe cold continued. Snow storms, driven by a fierce wind, were frequent, and many of the families had hardly sufficient clothing. Their houses, however, if not elegant, were warm and comfortable, and, as most of the settlements were near the streams, which were skirted with timber, they had access to plenty of fuel. Though other provisions were scarce, game was abundant. Buffalo, antelope, wild turkeys and other game could be secured with but little effort; therefore, there was no danger of starvation or of freezing. At the Franklin settlement, O'Bannon, the storekeeper, very generously let his neighbors have groceries on credit, whenever he could get them, but he had to haul his goods over the wild and uninhabited divides, from Kearney Junction, and the winter was so severe and the snow so piled in drifts, that over the open county it was impossible to haul a load a great deal of the time. There were but few cattle belonging to the settlers in the country at that time, but their teams suffered a great deal for lack of food. To make matters worse, a herd of 1,500 Texan cattle were driven in here to winter. The cold being most intense and the snow covering the ground, these hungry and half-crazed animals took refuge in the valleys of the streams where the settlements were located, and greedily devoured all the feed that came in their reach, thus leaving the teams and cattle of the settlers almost in a starving condition. The winter was so cold and stormy that by spring only 600 of these Texan cattle were left. Corn during this winter sold at $1 per bushel, and it was next to impossible to procure hay to replace that destroyed by the wild cattle.
During the early winter, the settlers were also annoyed considerably by hunters, who would steal small articles and commit many minor depredations simply to make it disagreeable for the settlers. When the severe storms came on, however, the hunters generally left this locality. Many of them were caught out in the storms, and, trying to make their way through the blinding snow to shelter, they lost a number of their teams, and some of them perished from the cold.
Early in the spring of 1872, the settlers who left the county the previous year, after their breaking was done and houses built, returned and began putting in crops with a will. The land that was broken the previous year was soon all planted. During the spring, many fresh emigrants also came. For a time, there was almost a steady stream of settlers, and the county was fast being settled up.
The following figures give some indication of the growth of the county during the first year of its settlement. While at the time of the organization of the county, in March, 1871, there was no property taxed in the county, at the time of assessment, in the spring of 1872, the property was valued at $81,000.
Up to the spring of 1872, Waterloo, or Franklin, as it was called, had acquired but little importance. About this time, George Buck, one of the members of the Plattsmouth Town Company, came out and built a store. In April, the county seat, which had not been established at any given place, was located here, and the upper story of a building belonging to E. A. Kirkpatrick was leased for a court house, and the county records removed here. This town was located on Section 31, Town 2, Range 14 west.
The first marriage license issued in the county was March 1, 1872, by Judge C. J. Van Laningham to a couple from Harlan County.
The first Fourth of July celebration in the county was held in 1872, in a cottonwood grove, near the Republican River, on the farm of J. F. Pugsley, whose whole-souled generosity added much to the enjoyment of the occasion. There were upward of one hundred persons present, twenty-seven of whom were from Rebecca Creek, on the south side of the river. J. F. Zediker read the Declaration of Independence, and his wife, Mrs. Julia M. Zediker, read an essay on "Nebraska Ten Years Hence." Her prophecies of the churches, villages, railroads and other improvements have been more than fulfilled. Among the speakers were Jacob Graff, J. C. Delano, James L. Thompson, J. F. Pugsley, Dr. A. J. Weston and Rev. Mr. Benton. Music was furnished by several of the participants, among whom were Judge L. M. Moulton and G. L. Pugsley. The flag floated from the boughs of a large tree and a grand pioneer banquet was spread beneath it. The dainties were rich and abundant, and general sociability and good feeling prevailed. The pioneers now living here remember this as one of the most pleasant of early events in the history of the county.
The first school district in the county was what is now the Bloomington District, and was organized in the summer of 1872. The first school was taught here this summer in a dug-out, about one-half a mile west of the present town. Miss Maria Peery, now Mrs. Jesse Davis, was the teacher. During the same summer and beginning a little earlier, there was a school taught in the Franklin District by Miss Emma Hammond.
The first marriage in the county was that of Charles H. Townsend to Miss Elizabeth J. Peery. The ceremony took place August 2, 1872, Rev. P. W. Townsend officiating.
In 1872, a town company was organized in Brownville, Neb., for the purpose of locating a town in some desirable locality in Franklin County. The site of the present town of Bloomington was selected. A town was surveyed and platted, and, in June, the first settlers arrived. Improvements at once began and Bloomington soon became a village. The Bloomington Town Company numbered among its members some of the leading men of Brownville and well known throughout the State. And every effort was made to call attention to the new town and to induce immigration to its vicinity. As a result of this during the fall, the village improved quite rapidly and the adjoining country was rapidly being settled up with a thrifty class of farmers.
The first newspaper in the county was established at Bloomington, in August, 1872, by J. D. Calhoun, former editor of the Brownville Advertiser, and was called the Bloomington Guard
The population had, during the year 1872, increased very largely, and an immense acreage was added to the cultivated lands of the county. The crops yielded abundantly, and the new settlers were all satisfied with their newly settled county. The Government land in the county had been nearly all taken along the river and its tributaries, and settlements were extending out upon the upland prairies. As early as the fall of 1871 and the spring of 1872, several settlements had been commenced in the north part of the county, and more particularly, that of North Franklin, in the northeastern part. Among the more prominent of these settlers were C. E. Burlock and M. S. Budlong, the former of whom did the first breaking here in the spring of 1872, and the latter, this year, made arrangements to start a nursery and planted out more than one thousand fruit trees.
In the fall of 1872, the population had so increased that aside from those who had settled within the past six months, and, therefore, were not entitled to vote, the number of votes cast at the October election was about 200.
The winter passed quietly, and, when spring opened, immigration again set in, and the new settlers making a location here were numerous; but aside from the ordinary events of rapid settlement, and the opening up and improvement of farms, nothing of any particular interest occurred until June, 1873, when the Franklin County Agricultural Society was organized, of which M. S. Budlong was elected President, and Dr. A. J. Weston, Secretary. The first agricultural fair in the county and the first in the Republican Valley was held at Bloomington on the 1st day of October, 1873. Gov. R. B. Furnas delivered the agricultural address, and complimented the farmers and citizens on the remarkable progress they had made, and on the large and magnificent display of products. The crops of 1873 were indeed good ones. It was the first year that small grain had been planted to any great extent, and the harvest was particularly gratifying to the men who were demonstrating the adaptability of the county to crop-raising. Corn and vegetables also yielded largely this year. During the summer, the influx of new settlers had been great, and an immense number of acres were added to the cultivated lands of the county.
At the election in October, the following officers were elected: Clerk, J. A. Peery; Judge, L. M. Moulton; Treasurer, John Simmons; Commissioner, C. C. Dake; Coroner, W. W. Loyd; Sheriff, D. K. Calkins; Surveyor, A. J. Weston, and Superintendent of Schools, C. B. Childs. At this election more than 400 votes were cast.
The next year (1874), a very large acreage of crops of all kinds was planted, and, during the early part of the season, there were prospects for an immense crop, but before the harvest of small grain was completed, in July the grasshoppers appeared in immense numbers, and, in a few days' time, everything that was yet green was ruined. Corn was just coming into the ear and was looking fine, except that at the time the weather was a little dry, but, when these ravenous insects left, nothing was to be seen but the short stumpy stalks. There was, however, a fair crop of small grain. But the settlers were nearly all poor, and, as this was the first crop for many who came the year before to do their breaking, its partial failure placed them in a desperate condition. Had it not been for aid furnished them by friends in the East and from aid societies, there would have been a great deal of suffering. As it was, a great many privations and hardships had to be endured during the following winter.
In the fall of 1874, the first herd of Short-horn cattle, numbering about one hundred, were brought in by A. R. Gage, who settled on Crow Creek.