Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Gage County
Produced by
Brenda Busing, Diana Busing, and Lori Laird.


Climate, Soil and Rainfall | Water Courses | Natural Products
Early Settlements | Indians


Pioneer History | First Things | Additions to the County
Early Modes of Travel

Progress of the County | Official Roster

Beatrice:   Robert Emery | Educational | Town-Lot Steal | The Press
Churches | Post Office | Societies | Bank

 5 ~ 7:

Beatrice Biographical Sketches:


Blue Springs:   Public Schools | Churches | Societies
Biographical Sketches


Wymore:   Biographical Sketches
Liberty:   Biographical Sketches

PART 10:

Odell:   Societies | Biographical Sketches
Holmesville:   Biographical Sketches
Adams:   Biographical Sketches

PART 11:

Caldwell:   Biographical Sketches
Biographical Sketches:
Grant Precinct | Holt Precinct | Highland Precinct | Clatonia Precinct
Nemaha Precinct

List of Illustrations in Gage County Chapter

Part 2


   Returning to the early history, we find that Gage County was organized with Beatrice as the county seat in July, 1857, twenty-five years ago, but nine-tenths of its wonderful progress has been made within the last ten years.

   The first election took place the 16th of July, at which time Albert Towle (pronounced Toll), who was afterward Postmaster at Beatrice for nearly twenty years, and Dr. H. M. Reynolds, were elected the first County Commissioners. O. B. Hewette was elected County Judge and P. M. Favor, Sheriff. The two years following were the most peaceful and pious years in the county's history. No ones's rights were disturbed and justice visited all alike, for, at that time, the Judge did not have to sit in court to balance the scales of right, at which "his honor" was not offended, and the Sheriff made no arrests, and for once that unpleasant office was enjoyed. I. P. Mumford, the first Treasurer, served the two years without the pleasure and profit of handling funds, as he did not collect a cent, and consequently, did not pay a warrant. Lawrence Johnston, after serving two years for 50 cents in fees, was caused by a disappointed or restless ambition to resign and retire from public service whose compensation would furnish only one good meal in two years. He was succeeded by Nathan Blakeley, whose appetite relished "honor." The early records are quite as scarce now as official business was then, and it is difficult to discover therefrom the names of those who held the position of trust and "honor." The first Gage County Commissioners' meeting was held March 13, 1858, at which time an election was ordered to vote on the question of relocating the county seat, which at that early day had found an aspiring and daring rival in Blue Springs, and also to elect a County Treasurer, Superintendent of Schools and County Clerk. An injunction, it is said, was obtained from court, and a vote on the relocation prevented. It is but fair to add that at that time Blue Springs had a better right to that title than Beatrice, as it was then the geographical center of the county, but that position, since the addition of two townships on the north, is now occupied by Beatrice. On what ground, therefore, the injunction was obtained we have not been able to discover. At the time of holding the first election, the population of the county was thirty-three men and one woman, and each candidate received just thirty-three votes.

   There is a little doubt in the minds of some, who was the first settler; but the majority concede that honor to David Palmer, before mentioned, who was drowned the 27th of June, 1876. The first furrow plowed was turned by John Pethoud, Sr.

   But there is no doubt as to who was the first lady in the county, the honor of which belongs to Mrs. J. P. Mumford. Her advent was the occasion and result of an exciting episode, which was no doubt as pleasant and gratifying to her at that time as it is interesting now to the citizens of the county. Mr. Mumford, his wife and two men had crossed the Missouri, and, steering westward in search of a suitable location, entered Gage County and were seen by one of the Beatrice settlers, who was not long in conveying the intelligence to the camp that there was actually a woman in the county. This discovery acted like the rising sun upon a landscape.

   The flood of pleasant memories came like the streaming rays of glorious sunshine that drives the mists of night from the hills, and drove from their faces the somber shadows of separation. They remembered their mothers, wives and sisters far away. The desponding lover remembered her whom he had promised to return for and claim as his bride as soon as he should have been satisfied that the dusky red man would not come to kill or frighten her in his absence. As one said afterward, a "transformation scene took place as if by magic in their countenances." Joyful excitement ensued, the news passed around from lip to lip with accents that betrayed the deep respect and admiration these hardy pioneers had for that benign being--woman. The camp turned out en masse to see her, and induce her and her husband to favor them with their presence.

   Their art of persuasion or diplomacy was sufficient to accomplish their design, and she was tendered a right royal reception. And we doubt not that many were envious about that time, and wished that their mother, wife, sister or "sweetheart" had been in Mrs. Mumford's place. Mr. Mumford at once became the most popular man in the community. Luck always attends a man who takes a wife into a new country, and in this instance no doubt Mr. Mumford had the honor of being the first County Treasurer thrust upon him on that account. But his reward consisted simply in honors, as he served two years without collecting a cent of revenue, for which he also received no pay. But she brought more than office to him, for the firm of Mr. and Mrs. Mumford made more money than any other firm in the place. They kept the first boarding-house started in the county, which she opened for the reception and accommodation of the members of the town company, who made the hotel business a very profitable one during that first summer. The location of this boarding-house was on the ground now occupied by the brick yard, near the mouth of Indian Creek. The hotels of Beatrice to-day, and they are numerous, have a greater abundance and variety doubtless, but the bachelor pioneers hailed this new departure and perhaps enjoyed their first meals there more than they could the best table in the Randall House.

   About the next woman to arrive was Mrs. Towle, wife of Albert Towle, and, although not the first white woman in the county, she undoubtedly helped to verify the saying about "luck," for Mr. Towle at once became a prominent member of the community and was appointed to the position of Postmaster, in 1860, which he held until his death, in March, 1879.

   On the 4th of July, 1857, the first celebration of that memorable day in Gage County occurred. Fired with enthusiasm over their early prosperity and prospect in this fair country and in a land of freedom, they prepared to celebrate in earnest. In answer to a generous invitation to their neighbors to join them, a number of people came from Nebraska City, including Judge Kinney and his daughter, Beatrice. This added greatly to the interest of the occasion, for the women were conspicuous for their scarcity, and then the young lady whom they had honored with an honor so lasting and sincere coming to express her gratitude, made it an occasion of unusual interest. Celebrations hereafter may be great and grand in their dimensions, display and noise, but none will ever be more sincere, more beautiful and touching than this one. At this time that grand and beloved emblem of our country, the stars and stripes, the flag of the free, was presented to the brave pioneer town company, and Miss Beatrice Kinney had the honor of making the presentation speech and presenting the flag. The occasion was an impressive and appropriate one, exact and appropriate in time and appointments. The town was new and had taken but one step in its long and glorious career of usefulness. The mission of life of the maiden whose name it bore lay before her scarcely commenced. Thus the trials and triumphs of each were still in the future. Her presentation speech and the response by Bennet Pike were both appropriate and eloquent. It is said that Mr. Pike owes his success in responding so happily to Miss Beatrice to some of the boys, his good friends, who, finding that he had imbibed too freely, took him in charge, and one on each side, walked him up and down the Blue for several hours in the morning before this, the great event of the day, took place, in order to get him sufficiently sober to perform the duty assigned to him. The "boys" declare they walked in this manner about fourteen miles. At any rate, he became himself again, and proved sufficient for the occasion. The historian should be faithful to his trust, and on this ground the liberty is taken with Mr. Pike's name. He long ago became a distinguished Judge in the State of Missouri, highly honored and respected by all.

   The lady must surely be proud of her namesake to-day, which has grown to be one of the most prosperous and lovely cities of this great State.

   It was during this first summer that "Pap's cabin" was built. It soon became noted as a wayside inn throughout Southern Nebraska, for the genial hospitality of its occupants. The place and the family early won a place in the hearts of the people that never grew cold, but rather grew warmer with the coming years. Its head was one of those large-hearted, kindly-disposed men that leave the world better for their short stay in it, and the people of Beatrice to-day speak the name, "Pap" Towle, with reverence, as though they remembered him as a relative, and, indeed, as a generous true friend. He lived to see the place he had helped to establish and adorn one of the loveliest villages of this great State. He departed a useful, pleasant and successful life, in March, 1879, after a residence here of about twenty-two years. When he came here he had a love for the fatal bowl, like too many of those generous natures, and it is a wonder that it did not ruin him. But he had a firm resolution, and shortly after settling here, conquered that appetite and lived ever after a consistent Christian life. In honor of him and his noble wife, we quote a current saying: "They reared a family of five daughters, that, for beauty, ability and goodness, are not surpassed in Nebraska." They, too, have proven useful and ornamental to the society they helped to create.

   That "cabin" stood as a relic of those early days until 1879. It stood about fifteen rods southeast of where the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad depot is now located. Mrs. Towle is still an honored resident of the place.

   During the winter of 1857-58, but few people remained in Beatrice and vicinity. The few who did remain supposed they had an ample supply of provisions to last them through to a season of the year when a trip to Nebraska City or Brownville, for supplies, would be attended with less danger, but even before the holidays their larder became very low, and they found it necessary to dispatch a team for supplies. G. T. Loomis volunteered to make the attempt, and, taking Mr. Towle's team, was directed to cross over into Missouri to make his purchases, in order to make the most of a small amount of funds he had at his command. After crossing the Missouri River, the weather turned suddenly cold, and it was nearly a month before he was able to return. In the meantime, the supplies on hand became nearly exhausted, and the villagers were in very straitened circumstances. The following incident will illustrate the severe extremities to which the occupants of "Pap's Cabin" were forced.

   It seems that Mr. Towle and his family occupied the east end of the "cabin" and J. B. Weston, Bennet Pike, Dr. H. M. Reynolds and Oliver Townsend the west end. These four bachelors had organized a joint-stock company, out of whose funds the necessaries of life were purchased. They took turns, week about, cooking and doing general housework, and it chanced to be Bennet Pike's turn to cook on a Sunday morning when there was nothing to cook. He lay in bed quite late, his comrades urging him to get breakfast, and he declaring in most emphatic terms that it could not be done in the absence of anything to cook. And it was discouraging to him to think of having to appease four sharpened appetites with a crust of bread. Their conversation being overheard by the occupants of the east end, the heads of that family held consultation in regard to dividing with the "boys," and it was decided to give them one of the two small pieces of dried beef in their possession. Mr. Towle took the beef off of a nail in the garret and passed over the floor to a point directly over the bed occupied by the inmates below, and, finding a hole large enough for the purpose, dropped it on Mr. Pike's breast, who exclaimed: "Thank God, the ravens are dropping us food." Thus supplied and encouraged, he soon prepared a bountiful repast, smoking hot, on the table. Many similar hardships and privations were endured by these early pioneers, which were not then enjoyed, but are now related as pleasures by the participants.

   The "camp" frequently got out of meat, and a good story is told of J. B. Weston and Bennet Pike in regard to their endeavor to procure this necessary article of food. These two Nimrods went coon hunting one day, and ran about thrusting their heads into the hollows of trees and logs to "see if the coon was there." The nature of the animal was discovered before an opportunity occurred for them to catch one, or they might have gone home that night silently conveying a truth spoken in Æsop's Fables, "experience teaches," etc.


   The first death in the county occurred in the winter of 1857, when M. W. Ross, one of the town company, was called home ere the hardships of his adventure had commenced. He passed away far from the friends of his youth, but among his new-found friends, whose fidelity was pledged on that memorable steamer, and had been kept inviolate. He took the first death homestead in this new country. In silence they built him the first windowless dwelling in their new land, and tearfully laid him to rest in that silent and peaceful city of the dead that never depopulates, which all must occupy, and where there is no difference save in the date of its occupation.

   To a family by the name of Cross, the first male white child in the county was born. This important event occurred in a dug-out on the banks of Indian Creek, in 1858. A mound there to this day attests the location of this habitation of primeval design.

   Miss Katie Towle was the first female child born in the county, and the renowned "Pap's Cabin" was the place of her birth. She is to-day an ornament to the society of Beatrice.


   To a citizen of Gage County belongs the honor of having secured the first homestead entered under the United States Homestead Law. The claim belongs to Daniel Freeman, and is on Cub Creek, four miles west of Beatrice. Some claim that Mr. Freeman must be mistaken about this matter, as there are about one hundred land districts in the United States, and hence it would be impossible for him to know anything about it; but the indicia on this patent establishes the fact beyond a doubt. The homestead law was enacted in 1862, and Mr. Freeman took his claim on the 1st day of January, 1863, the day the act went into effect. His patent is numbered 1 and is recorded in volume 1, on page 1, of the Records of the General Land Office at Washington. The evidence is, therefore, quite conclusive.

   The accompanying cut is a view of Mr. Freeman's farm:

   Mr. Samuel Clayton is the only survivor of the war of 1812 in Gage County.


   At the time the county was organized, the north boundary line thereof was the township line between Towns 4 and 5, six miles north of Beatrice, which formed also the south boundary of Clay County, the two counties having been organized about the same time. A settlement was started on Indian Creek, hereinbefore mentioned as the Stevens' Creek settlement. About nine miles north of Beatrice, a town was started and named Austin, in honor of one of the company by that name. Here Mr. Austin erected the first saw and grist mill in the county, but after operating it a year or so, it proved a financial failure, owing to the more favored settlements to the south that were on the line of Westward-bound emigrant trains. The mill was taken down and Mr. Roper purchased the buhr-stones for the mill at Beatrice. The removal of the mill resulted in breaking up the settlement, and from that time nothing was heard of the town of Austin. The division of Clay County in 1863, between Gage and Lancaster Counties, doubtless hastened the calamity to Austin more than the loss of the mill.

   John Cadman, who had that year been elected to the State Legislature from Clay County, took with him a petition from the residents of the northern and southern parts of the county, praying to be disorganized and united to the counties above mentioned. The petition was granted and Gage received six additional townships on the north, making it thirty-six miles long by twenty-four in width, as at present.

   The Commissioners of Lancaster and Gage held a meeting at the house of H. W. Parker, County Clerk of Clay County, near the town of Austin, July 26, 1864, and made a final settlement of the affairs of the county. The document setting forth the terms of this settlement was signed by Fordyce Roper, T. H. Dobbs and William Tyler, Commissioners of Gage County, and John W. Pray, of Lancaster, and attested by Oliver Townsend, Clerk of Gage. At the time of this settlement between the two counties, the assessed valuation of Clay County was $36,129.82, of which $22,647.82 fell to the share of Lancaster and $13,452 to Gage. The debt of Clay was $295.11, which was paid by a special tax on the property formerly embraced in that county. There have been efforts made to restore Clay County by some citizens of the Clay County District. But so inexpedient and unprofitable an event is not likely to happen, as it would cost that section no less than $50,000, besides the annual expense of running the business of a county..

   Some time prior to the above-mentioned event, Messrs. Roper and Parker, the most prominent men in that settlement, had removed to Beatrice. They entered heartily into the interests of their new place of residence, and have been prominently connected with the business enterprises of Beatrice. In 1857 and 1858, settlements were made on Bear and Cub Creeks, but we have not been able to learn the names of all the settlers. Those on Bear and Indian Creeks near Beatrice were Joseph Proud, Ira Dixon, Samuel Jones, John Pethoud, John Wilson, George Mumford and others of this familiar name here; a family by the name of Austin, M. C. Kelley, J. H. Butler and Orr Stevens, who settled in town, in addition to the members of the town company, whose names appear upon the records of the county in connection with the organization of Beatrice. Samuel Kilpatrick, who was familiarly known as "Uncle Sammy," and whose death occurred in 1875, together with S. Y. Coffin, Thomas and Joseph Cline, William Webb, Charles Buss, F. R. Roper, J. B. Roper and others settled on Cub Creek about the same time.


   The first mail route through Gage County was established in 1860 from Nebraska City via Beatrice to Marysville, Kan., and Joseph Saunders was the first mail carrier. It was a semi-weekly mail and was carried on horseback. The streams were not bridged and in high water Mr. Saunders was obliged to swim them. His manner of doing this was to tie the mail-sack on the back of the horse and then take the animal by the tail and be drawn across by him. He brought the first United States mail into Beatrice on the 3d day of October, 1860, and it was one of the most important events in its history. There was great political excitement through the United States at this time, and Mr. Saunders says that as he rode up to the office with the mail, he met an eager expectant crowd waiting for the news.

   There were at that time but four offices between Nebraska City and Beatrice, and he was frequently compelled to act as Postmaster in opening and closing the mails at intermediate points along the route. He relates that he experienced much danger in crossing the Otoe Reservation. At one time he was surrounded by eighteen redskins, all drunk, and was obliged to take a drink of whisky with them before he could get away. The only objection he had to the treatment was that the flask contained a huge dead fly that sickened him. At another time, he laid down to take a nap on the prairie to rest himself and his horse, and while sleeping an Indian crept stealthily up to him, and, stooping down close to his ear, gave an unearthly war-whoop, which caused him to make the biggest jump of his life. As soon as he realized his situation, he discovered the rascal leaning back and laughing at his fright and consternation. Mr. Saunders is the oldest Nebraskian within the limits of Gage County, having landed in the State twenty-seven years ago.

   The first regular stage route for carrying the mails was established by the Kansas and Nebraska Stage Company in 1868. The route was from Brownville and Nebraska City via Tecumseh and Beatrice, and James Berry, P.C. Rice and Mrs. N. Bush were the passengers on the first stage.

   Before the Government mail route was established, the settlers would take turns of going to Nebraska City for their mail. One pioneer relates that in November, 1858, he started for that place, a distance of sixty miles, and reached Tecumseh at noon. The next usual stopping place was at Widow Price's, on Spring Creek, but, reaching that place early in the afternoon, he concluded to go on. The roads in those days in many places were hard to discover without good daylight. Shortly after leaving the widow's, a drizzling rain commenced, and night came on more suddenly than he had calculated upon. He lost the road, and, coming upon two haystacks, he concluded to remain there, as very likely it would be the most comfortable place he could find. Making a hole in one of the stacks opposite the storm-beaten side, he wrung his blanket and socks, turned his boots upside down to drain, and, wrapping himself up in his blanket, covered with dry day, he settled down for a good night's rest. We will let him state the rest: "I did not want any supper. I had lain there about an hour and was getting warm and drowsy, when I was startled by the barking of a dog, and thought perhaps there was a house near that I had overlooked, but before I concluded to look for the house, the little dog was joined by about a thousand more. They seemed to be in front, behind, and, in fact, all around me. By that time I concluded they were wolves and were going to make a meal of me. I commenced to shake, I was awful cold, it came all at once, my hair felt like pins; I could not get into a position to feel easy, comfortable and warm; I wasn't scared; oh, no; I was only cold and hungry and the wolves acted as if they were hungry, with a good deal better prospect of a meal than I had. I wasn't scared; oh, no; I didn't even feel like trying to make an effort to escape. But I now feel inadequate to the task of expressing clearly how I did feel. Now and then the wolves would stop, and I would think they had concluded to let me alone and hunt up some other fellow, when they would start up their subduing, soothing howls again. I did not want to sleep; I appreciated too well their energetic music, and then it would have been ill-mannerly to go to sleep on such unusual serenaders, and such a free concert is afforded but to few and generally only once in a lifetime. They were industrious and stayed till break of day. As I was not to be scared with wolves, I got up shortly after the sun did, to drive them away and look for the house I supposed near by, but neither were to be seen. The wolves were doubtless insulted by my reserved manner, but I am sure I appreciated their effort, at least their farewell and departure. I found I was near the road, so I proceeded on my journey, and took a late breakfast at Kearney City. After breakfast, I went on to the post office, and, after a day's rest, returned, taking two days for the trip back, as my ambition was somewhat subdued. The mail for all of Gage County I carried on that one horse, in my coat pocket. As I look back to those days, it seems like a dream."

   "Pap's Cabin" was a favorite resort in those early days. Everybody seemed at home there. A good story is told of David Butler, who afterward became Governor. It was during the war, and he was a recruiting officer. He came to the Beatrice settlement and was in the cabin. In the evening, as he was talking with Mr. Towle, the young men commenced to come in, and each one saluted him as "Pap." About ten had gathered, when Mr. Butler asked Mr. Towle to take a walk. They went some distance and sat down, when Mr. Butler commenced talking about the war and explaining how badly the Government was in need of troops, and hinted about the size and ability of the "boys" of his family. Mr. Towle listened attentively and showed great interest in the matter. When Mr. Butler thought he had sufficiently discussed the question, he asked him if he would not spare some of his boys, and Mr. Towle said he would spare all his boys. "How many have you, Mr. Towle?" he asked. "Why, bless you, man, mine are all daughters and I have not a boy to my name," was Mr. Towle's reply.

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