Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Hall County
Produced by
Kaylynn Loveland.

Hall County | Early History

Wild Game in the County | Indian Depredations | The Great Storm
Grasshoppers | Old Settlers | Saw and Grist Mills
Agriculture | Public Improvements


Grand Island:  Early History of Grand Island | U. P. Railroad Shops
Grand Island Buildings | Newspapers | Churches | Schools | Societies

 4 ~ 5:
Biographical Sketches:


Doniphan:  Doniphan Biographies
Wood River:  Wood River Biographies

List of Illustrations in Hall County Chapter

Part 2


   In the early years of settlement, wild game and the various wild animals generally found on the western prairies, were very plentiful. The principal game was buffalo, elk, antelope, deer and wild turkeys. The settlers secured a great part of their meat for provisions from the wild game. The first winter they passed in the settlement, however, game of all kinds was very scarce, as the winter of 1856-57 had been one of the most, if not the most severe and intensely cold season ever known in the west. Much of the wild game had perished during the severe storms, and the ground being constantly covered with deep snow, it was impossible for them to get food and many of them starved. Hence the great scarcity during the year or two succeeding.

   But these animals all increased rapidly and it was but a short time till there was an abundance once again. Of other wild animals there were wolves, foxes, wild cats, badgers, etc., an immense number. The wolves soon became so numerous as to become very troublesome, and measures had to be taken to destroy them. In hunting them they could not be destroyed fast enough to make any perceptible difference in their numbers, so the settlers resorted to poisoning them, and every winter quite a good business was carried on by many in securing wolf skins, which sold readily at prices ranging all the way from seventy-five cents to three dollars each. During one winter one man killed seventy-five large wolves on his premises, one of which was nine feet long. Being a somewhat eccentric individual he had his house covered both inside and out with wolf skins.

   A very good business was also done dealing in buffalo robes. In the early years of settlement these hides could be purchased from the Pawnee Indians, who visited the settlement twice each year on their return from their semi-annual hunts. These buffalo hides could generally be bought at prices ranging from two three dollars each, and were sold at about twice this price. For years the buffalo robes were the principal beds used by the settlers; and particularly so when trips on the road had to be made, when they had to camp out. For this purpose they made a bed, at once soft and warm, and easily carried. With the decrease of the wolves and foxes, wild turkeys, rabbits, quails, prairie chickens, and the smaller game of various kinds came in and in a short time became plentiful. With the exception of the wild turkeys this small game is still abundant. The larger game was found in numbers for many years, but after the country began to settle rapidly, it soon disappeared. Before this the hunters by their wholesale slaughter of the buffalo for their hides had thinned them out very fast.


   Up to this time the settlers had been on good terms with the Indians. The Pawnees used to pass through the settlement once or twice a year upon their hunting expeditions. Some of them, many times, stopped for weeks in the neighborhood. The Sioux also sent war parties after the Pawnees and followed the Platte through Hall County on the main route, but during the early years of settlement, no serious trouble ever occurred. Several fights between the Pawnees and Sioux had taken place not far from the settlement. In September, 1860, there was a heavy battle between these two tribes, on Grand Island, in sight from the settlement, but there was so little fear on the part of the settlers, that they did not stop hauling hay. They were so near that they could see and hear all that occurred.

   When the War of the Rebellion broke out and the troops were withdrawn from the West, the Indians began to be unruly, and in 1862, the settlers had their first trouble with them. Their first depredation was the massacre of the Smith family on Wood River, on February 5, 1862. Joseph P. Smith and his son-in-law, Anderson, were farmers, living together on Wood River, about twelve miles from Grand Island. On the above date they were hauling logs from the Platte, about two and one half miles distant from home. They were accompanied by the three sons of Anderson,--Alexander, fourteen years old; Charles, nine years old; and Willie, eleven years old. Anderson had taken one load of logs home and on his return to the woods where he had left Smith, the children, and two teams, he found the old gentleman and the two youngest children dead. Smith was lying with his face down on the ice; he was holding a boy with each hand and had seven arrows through his body. Charles had his neck broken and his skull mashed in. Willie was not quite dead and had his mouth and cheeks cut open from ear to ear. He died in a short time. Alexander was found some distance further away with his skull broken. The horses had been stolen. J. P. Smith and his family had come to Hall County, in the fall of 1861, from Lake County, Indiana, and had taken a farm and opened a small store on Wood River. The settlers started out at once in search of the murderers. Jesse Eldridge, with seven of the Wood River settlers, captured seventeen Sioux who were armed with bows and arrows. This capture was made about eighteen miles east of Fort Kearney in a dry channel of the Platte, where they were trying to hide. Captain Johnson at the fort, requested that they be turned over to him, which was done. After some time they were released. Johnson said he would rather see twenty farmers killed than one Indian, for fear of a general uprising. It was afterwards discovered however, that the Indians captured were not the murderers of Smith and the three children.

   For the next two yeas after the murder of the Smith family no trouble was experienced with the Indians; but some time during the summer of 1864, a band of Sioux were discovered in the bluffs near George Martin's ranch, about eighteen miles southwest from Grand Island, on the south side of the Platte. Two little sons of Martin, Nat. and Robert, were herding cattle, having but one pony. As soon as they saw the Indians they both mounted the pony and hurried to drive the cattle home. About one hundred Indians rode up and the boys left the cattle, and tried to reach home, and volley after volley of balls and arrows were fired after them. At first they were not hit but at last an arrow struck them, pinning them together. Still the brave little fellows stuck to the pony until the ranch was reached, when they fell off. As the Indians rode up one was about to scalp the boys but he was stopped by another. They then stole several cattle and horses, but were fired upon from the fortified ranch, and several ponies and one Indian were wounded. The boys were then taken in and cared for. The arrow by which they were pinned together was drawn clear through both bodies. Strange as it may seem, both boys recovered, and are now married and living in the county, well known and respected citizens.

   In August of this year, the war with the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians broke out, with the massacre at Plum Creek. The residents along the Platte from the mountains to Omaha were panic stricken, and even Omaha trembled at the reports of the thousands of Indians on their way down the Platte to destroy all that came in their path. Nearly every settlement in the valley was abandoned, and on August 13 and 14, as they passed through Grand Island, there was one continuous crowd for twenty miles. The fugitives were so frightened that they crowded hard on each other. Heavy loaded wagons of goods, droves of cattle and horses, people on foot, and people on horseback crowded down the valley in one solid mass of confusion and hurry.

   Though most of the settlements were abandoned, the settlers at Grand Island concluded to remain and fortify themselves. Before this, Wm. Stolley had built a log house twenty-four feet square with twenty-five portholes, a short distance from his residence, for the protection of his family. The first flag in the county was kept floating from this stockade. This flag had been brought into the county during the earliest days of settlement, but before this it had only been used for Fourth of July celebrations, and other great events of a similar nature. It is still in the possession of Wm. Stolley.

   At the above mentioned stockade, thirty-five persons soon gathered. Arms were collected here sufficient for seventy-two shots without reloading. Fifty pounds of powder were stored here and other ammunition in proportion, and a well was dug in one corner. A thorough militia organization was made, and cartridges were made and every precaution taken lest they be surprised. Other measures were then taken to make a complete fortification. A large cattle yard was erected and fortified. An underground stable for horses was constructed. The Stolley stockade protected only a small portion ot the settlement, and it was resolved to fortify the "O. K. Store," belonging to H. A. Koenig and F. A. Weibe, which had been established in August, 1862, and was located about one and one half miles from the present court house in Grand Island. On this new fortification, Wm. Thavenat, now in Missouri, was the engineer, and Dr. A. Thorspeeken was captain. A breastwork of sod was thrown up around the buildings, and each corner was provided with a tower of green cottonwood logs, which projected out so that any one crawling up under cover of the breastworks from the outside could be shot from above. As soon as this was completed, sixty-eight men and one hundred women and children were gathered here. Every day, squads of men were sent out in all directions to scout. Straw and brush were piled up to be used for alarm fires, in case of an attack. A requisition was made on the Governor the Territory, for arms, but he was unable to funish them at once, and when they did come, there were only seventeen muskets.

   On August 22, 1864, Maj. Gen. Curtis arrived with a cavalry regiment and one ten-pound cannon. The General inspected the fortifications and praised the settlers for their skill in the work. Believing the settlement at Grand Island to be safe, Gen. Curtis pushed on to Fort Kearney, but left the cannon for the use of the settlers. The cannon is still in Hall County, and is the one used at Fourth of July and other celebrations there. Soon after the visit of Gen. Curtis, a detachment of twenty men, of Company E, Seventh Iowa Cavalry, under Capt. J. B. David, was stationed at the fortification, at the "O. K. Store," to help protect the settlement from the Indians. But there was never any attack by them. There were, however, a great many depredations committed by the soldiers themselves. Several of them took grain and cattle by force, and it was impossible to secure their punishment. It is said that one of the settlers afterward received payment for the destruction on his property, through the personal intervention of Gen. Grant. But none of the others ever received any payment for the damages done. There was general happiness throughout the settlement when they were afterwards ordered away to a station on the Loup River, familiarly known among the old settlers and soldiers as Fort Desolation, on account of the loneliness of the station, there being no settlements in the region.

   Another party that did not leave the county was Squire Lamb, familiarly known as "Pap," who with his son Henry and three men , remained at the stage station on Wood River, about eight miles from Grand Island. Lamb was the pioneer stage man of this part of the Platte Valley, and was at all times cool and collected and always ready for a fight should the Indians make an attack.

   Further than big scares, there was never much trouble with the Indians east of Fort Kearney, and those who left the valley so hurriedly in August of 1864, soon returned.

   On July 24, 1867, there was another murder by the Indians. On this date a band of Sioux visited the ranch of Peter Campbell, a Scotchman, about ten miles south of Grand Island, on the south side of the Platte River. No men were at home. After gaining an entrance they killed Mrs. Thurston Warren by a gunshot, and her little boy with an arrow. Two nieces of Campbell, aged seventeen and nineteen years respectively, and two twin boys, four years old, were captured and carried off by the Indians. Several months after, the government bought these captives from the Sioux by the payment of $4,000 and the release of a squaw and papoose, who had been captured at Elm Creek by Ed. Arnold and the Pawnee scouts.

   At the time of the attack on Campbell's ranch, a German, named Henry Dose, who lived a short distance away, was killed and scalped and his house plundered and his stock stolen.


   On Sunday, April 13, 1873, there commenced one of the most terrible storms ever known in the state. The early spring had been warm and vegetation had started rapidly. On the above date there came up a severe thunder storm accompanied by a heavy wind. After a while the temperature began to fall rapidly, the rain changed to snow; and then began in earnest one of the most terrible of snow storms ever known in the western prairies, lasting three days. The storm was so blinding, that it was certain death for any one to venture a few rods from the house. So heavy was the snowfall and so violent the wind, that drifts were formed from fifteen to twenty feet in height, and packed so compactly that they did not melt away for several weeks. In this storm great damage was done to the trees of the county. Both fruit and forest trees were so badly injured that great numbers of them died. A great many cattle perished. One man lost seventy-four, another lost one hundred, and many lost all or nearly all of their stock. Dead birds were everywhere found, and the bodies of a great many deer, and other wild animals, were found scattered over the prairie.


   Since the settlement of the county in 1857, the grasshoppers have appeared no less than eight times.

   In August, 1862, they committed their first ravages. Considerable damage was done, though there was nothing like a complete destruction of crops. Again on August 1, 1864, they appeared in large numbers, though but little damage was done.

   On July 8, 1866, grasshoppers again visited the county, though they did but little injury. Again in 1868 there were a few, but no damage was done. In 1869, myriads of them came down and nearly all the corn in the county was destroyed, but the yield of small grain was good. On May 22, 1873, they came in with a heavy southwest wind, in immense numbers, though very little damage was done.

   Again on July 20, 21 and 22, 1874, they came in swarms, forming clouds so thick that the light of the sun was darkened. They remained for several days and everything that was yet green was completely devoured. Many of the settlers had relied on the corn crop alone and this was entirely destroyed. Those who had in a variety of crops, were successful in saving the most of their small grain, which was, with the exception of a few late fields, already ripe and was not touched by the grasshoppers. But the new settlers who had but lately come here, and as yet had secured no crop, and of course were the least able to lose, had nearly, if not quite all, their grain destroyed. Great suffering was the consequence. With a long winter before them, and without food, without clothing, and without money, starvation and death stared many families in the face. However, Congress and the State Legislature made appropriations, and aid societies were promptly formed, and assistance in shape of grain, provisions, and clothing were sent hither, in liberal quantities, from all parts of the United States, and though many privations were endured, the settlers managed with this aid to live through the winter and the next summer until another crop could be raised.

   Again on June 24, 1875, a few grasshoppers appeared and did some damage. From August 8 to 10 of the same year they again visited the county and considerable damage was done, but yet there were sufficient crops to keep the settler from suffering. This year some disease seemed to have been contracted by the grasshopppers, and they were to be seen scattered all over the ground, where they had fallen dead when flying. On examination it was found that a small maggot had bored into their vitals, thus killing them. Though there was no suffering this year among the settlers, it was hard times, and the strictest economy had to be practiced by the farmers.

   In 1876, there was still another visitation by the grasshoppers, but they were not very numerous and but little injury was done.

   Since the last named year, the grasshoppers have never again appeared in numbers sufficient to do any damage, and as with the cultivation of the soil, moisture increases, and as the grasshopper naturally shuns a moist climate, the settler have little or no fear of another visitation by the ravenous pests.


   Among the original settlers in the county in 1857, who are now living here are Fred. Hedde, a leading business man and large property owner in Grand Island; and Wm. Stolley, an extensive farmer near Grand Island. The latter is one of the leading men of the county, and a few years ago wrote an able and interesting history of the county, to which the writer of these pages is much indebted for historical facts; these in many instances are here given in the same order of arrangement as in the history referred to.

   Besides the above named gentlemen there are other first settlers in the county and the immediate vicinity. These are, Cay Ewoldt, Henry Joehnks and wife, Christ Menck, Henry Schoel, Marx Stelk, Peter Stuhr, Henry Schaff, and Hans Wrage, who are all the owners of fine and well cultivated farms in the immediate vicinity of the city of Grand Island. There are also Fred. Doll and wife, living on a fine farm in Howard County; Christ Andresen and wife; Wm. A. Hagge, and Detlef Sass; all living in Grand Island; and Mrs. Anna Thompson, nee Steer, living with her husband on a farm, near Grand Island.

   Of the others among the first settlers, seven who were named on another page, went back to Davenport and never returned. The five Americans also left the colony during its earlier history. Some have died. Fred. Vatge committed suicide. Johan Hamann was upset from a wagon on the railroad track, in front of a moving train of cars, and was run over and killed.

   Of the pioneer women of the county, Mrs. Henry Schoel died some years ago. Mrs. Doll lives with her husband in Howard County. Mrs. Joehnks and Mrs. Andresen live with their husbands in Hall County, Mrs. Wm. Steer returned with her husband to Davenport, several years ago. Miss Anna Steer, the one unmarried lady, who came with the first settlers, is the wife of John Thompson and lives on a farm about five miles west from the town of Grand Island.


   The first saw mills were built in 1863, one with wind power at Grand Island; and the other with water power at Wood River. After that time a number of saw mills were built previous to the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1866, soon after which they were abandoned on account of a lack of trees. There was no natural timber in the county except along the Platte and its islands, on Wood River and a little along Prairie Creek. The timber land on the island was withheld from market, by the government, and at the time of the building of the railroad, this was nearly all cut off by the Union Pacific Railroad Company, to be used for railroad ties and for fuel.

   The grist or flouring mills now in the county are the steam mill at Grand Island; the water power mills at Wood River; Schaup's mills, about three miles west of Alda; Blunks' mills about two and one half miles southwest from Grand Island on the Platte; and Bussell's mills in the northwestern part of the county. All of these mills manufacture a good quality of flour and are in a prosperous condition.


   The Agricultural Society of Hall County was organized at an early date and is in a flourishing condition. This society owns a tract of land, just to the northwest of Grand Island which is finely laid out and arranged as their fair grounds. The annual fairs are well attended, and not only by the citizens of Hall, but from adjoining counties. The exhibit of stock, grain, and vegetables is always good, and the citizens of the county seem to take pride in making these annual fairs a success.

   The main industry of Hall County is, of course, farming. With crop raising is usually combined the raising of hogs and cattle or sheep, and by this course the farmers are fast accumulating property, as well as improving and beautifying their homes.


   The railroad facilities of the county are: the Union Pacific Railway, extending through the county along the north side of the Platte River; and the branch of the Omaha and Republican Valley Railroad which extends north from Grand Island via St. Paul to North Loup; and the St. Joseph & Western Railroad, of which Grand Island is the terminus.

   The government surveys were made in Hall County during July and August of 1866.

   In July, 1869, the Union Pacific Railroad was completed to this county, and from that date begins an era of rapid progress for the county.

   On February 13, 1869, the State Legislature passed an act allowing O. A. Abbott, H. A. Koenig, John Wallichs, and Wm. H. Platt to dam the Platte River, but as it is simply impossible to construct a dam of any kind of material across the Platte, that could stand, it is probable that this act was passed in spirit of levity. At any event no attempt was made to dam this river except in a profane sense, which had doubtless been done hundreds of times by the early settlers that were compelled to ford it before the days of bridges.

   By 1870, the county had become quite well settled, and immigration was fast pouring in. The population in 1860 had been but 116, but now it had increased to 1,057.

   About this time public improvements commenced. On the 21st of May, 1870, bridge bonds for $15,000 were voted for the construction of a bridge across the Platte. The contract was let September 6, 1870. The bridge was located in Town 10 and Range 9, and was completed in March, 1871. It consists of nine distinct bridges crossing as many channels of the Platte.

   Court House bonds were voted on February 15, 1872, the contract let for the building, on July 17, 1872. The court house was completed June 28, 1873, and was a large and substantial building. On the day of completion, the county offices moved in, and it has ever since been occupied as the county building.

   In 1872, the citizens of Hall County were astounded to find that Charles Ruelberg, the County Treasurer, was a defaulter, to the sum of $6,000. When this was discovered, Ruelberg fled, but was captured and brought back, but by some means he escaped punishment, and the county never recovered the money.

   On the advent of the railroad in the summer of 1866, the county began to be settled with rapidity, by an enterprising class of farmers, and this was kept up and a vast acreage of land put under cultivation, until the grasshopper ravages of 1874, when there came a period of reaction. From 1874 to 1878, the progress of the county was slow. A large number of business firms had been established and during these hard times many of them failed. Since 1878, however, the progress of the county has been rapid, and the population of the county is now more than ten thousand. Crops of all kinds, since 1876, have yielded abundantly, and there has been no year in which the grain yield has approached a failure since 1874.

   The public improvements of the county have kept pace with its settlement. The streams of the county are well bridged. A bridge was early built across the Platte at a cost of $15,000.00, which was followed by many other bridges in various parts of the county and on the different streams wherever needed.

   The court house was completed in the summer of 1873 and cost $20,000.00. The public square, in which it is located, is nicely laid out and well ornamented by forest and shade trees. It is in fact a small park with the court house in the center. This building is a fine one, and a credit to the county, and fitted up with the county offices below and the court room above.

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