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Hampton: Biographical Sketches
South Platte Precinct (Biographical Sketch)
Illustration: [View of Aurora and Court House.]
HAMILTON County is bounded on the east by York, south by Clay, west by Hall, and north by Merrick counties and contain three hundred and fifty-seven thousand one hundred and twenty acres of the most fertile lands of the state, of which two hundred and thirty-seven thousand eight hundred and six acres are taxable.
The county agriculturally considered is located in the garden portion of the state and nature has left it one of the most beautiful counties in its landscape upon the face of the earth, and no county in the state takes rank in advance of Hamilton in an agricultural point of view. By reference to the map it will be seen that the great Platte River washes its northern boundary, and that four of the principal rivers of the state head in it, and are sufficiently apart to give a gentle undulating surface rising with a gradual swell, from the banks of the streams to a point equi-distant between them; with this formation natural drainage is displayed in its highest state of perfection. The beds of the creeks and water courses are shallow and much depressed, and sloughs of standing water are here comparatively unknown. Nearly all of the smaller streams furnish water about two-thirds of the year, and the Blue River in the south part of the county furnishes mill power during the entire year, and the rain and snow fall, though not so great as in other portions of the State, are becoming more abundant with each succeeding year.
The climate does not vary much from other portions of the South Platte country. The spring brings with it moderate rains that seem to fall at just the right time, the summers are delightful, the warm rays of the sun being tempered by cool breezes that never fail in their coming, while the harvest season cannot be surpassed by any country,. The winters are mild and dry, with but little snow, and the bright warm sunshine makes them as compared to the vigorous snow and frost bound winters of the Eastern States very mild and pleasant seasons. Occasionally a severe storm of snow or a destructive wind visits this locality, but the history of the past records but few. The soil from two to three feet in depth and in many places much deeper, resembles a composite of artificial mould somewhat different from the prevailing natural soil, and is in all appearances like the finest garden mould, dark in color, easily worked, and eminently productive. It is not too porous, so that it will not hold water for the sustenance of vegetation, nor is it too compact or solid, holding all the water that falls upon it at the surface. It is of such a nature that the fibrous roots of trees and plants are found at a depth varying from five to twenty feet, and possesses the many good qualities which enable the husbandman to produce a variety of crops, and it never disappoints him where properly tilled.
There seems to be hardly a limit to the wide range of grains, grasses and vegetables, it will abundantly produce. There is not a domestic product of the soil adapted to this climate that fails of perfect development; even many of the semi tropical plants make wonderful showing when climate and altitude are considered. Winter and spring wheat, rye, corn, barley, oats, buckwheat, sorghum, flax, hemp, broomcorn, millet, hungarian , every variety of the potato, and all garden vegetables, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, plums, grapes, currants, and all the endless list of small fruits that grow in the medium latitudes, flourish in this country to almost perfection.
The exploring party of Gen. John C. Fremont, were probably the first whites who stepped upon Hamilton County soil. The Mormons came next in their long weary journey to Salt Lake, leaving their foot-prints in the shape of a long winding, deep beaten roadway now known as the "Old Mormon Trail." Subsequently the overland travel to Pike's Peak and California, first traveled by the military, and called the "Old Fort Kearney, or Pike's Peak trail." The former of these historic trails crosses the country on one of the continuous divides formed by Lincoln and Beaver creeks, and the latter winds through the beautiful Platte valley hugging the river quite closely.
At this period of history the Indian tribes, not then reduced by the encroachments of a more powerful race, passed their time in the hunt and chase, or in measuring their prowess with other tribes. This was a vast unexplored region with no inhabitants but the red men, and the buffalo, deer, elk and antelope. The wild gazelle, with silvery feet of romance and song, still roamed in happy freedom over the trackless oceans of grasses, and held undisputed sway over the mighty meadows of the boundless West. The first white man who took up his residence for even a temporary purpose in the country was David Millspaw. In the year 1861 he established a ranch upon Beaver Creek on the line of the "Old Trail," leading from Nebraska City to Fort Kearney. A portion of the "Old Mormon Trail" on Section eleven, Town ten, Range five. The next year, 1862, Messrs. John Harris and Alfred Blue, established the famous Deep-Well Ranch, thirteen miles west of the Millspaw Ranch. This was a popular stopping place among the freighters on account of a deep well that never failed in its supply of pure water. About this time J. T. Briggs established a ranch on the Old Fort Kearney trail near the Platte. These several ranches flourished until the advent of the great continental railway, and the iron-horse superseded the mule and ox team of the freighter.
The overland stage coach made its appearance in 1863, and Prairie Camp, a relay station was established during this year. It was situated six miles west of the Millspaw Ranch.
The first permanent settlement made in the county was made in the Blue Valley, near the south line of the county. Jarvie Chaffee and George Hicks settled upon Section thirty-four (34), Town nine (9), Range six (6), within the present limits of Orville Precinct in the month of June, 1866. Mr. Chaffee built a dug-out which was the first residence constructed in the county, its size being ten feet by twelve. In the month of January, 1867, James Waddle and John Brown made settlements on Section twenty-six (26), Town nine (9), Range (5), Farmer's Valley Precinct. They with their families were the next to make Hamilton County their home, and built the first log-houses. J. D. Wescott , C. O. Wescott, N. M. Bray, Michael Steinmentz, arrived in May of this year, and located in Farmers' Valley Precinct. Mr. Steinmentz settled on Section twenty-eight (28), and the others upon Section twenty-four (24), Town nine (9), Range five (5).
In the month of June, 1867, James Cameron, Robert Lamont settled on Section twenty-six (26), Town nine (9), Range six (6), and John Harris took up a claim on Section twenty-eight (28), Town nine (9), Range five (5), Cameron and Lamont in Orville Precinct, and Harris in Farmers" Valley.
The following October James Cummings and William D. Young settled on the Blue, the former on Section twenty-six (26), and the latter on Section thirty-four (34), Town ten (10), Range five (5).
In the month of February, 1868, George Proud settled on Section twenty-six (26), Town nine (9), Range six (6), and in December John Salmon, Alexander Salmon, James Rollo and Frank Dickson made settlements. The Messrs. Salmon made their claims on Section twenty-eight (28), Mr. Rollo on Section thirty (30), Town nine (9), Range five (5), and Mr. Dickson on Section twenty-six (26), Town nine (9), Range six (6).
In April, 1869, S. M. Hunter and Philip Hunter settled on Section thirty-four (34), Town nine (9), Range five (5), and in the month of June, John Laurie settled on the claim of John Harris, Section twenty-eight (28), Town nine (9), Range five (5).
The first settlers on Lincoln Creek were Martin Werth and family, William Werth, August Werth, locating on Section twenty-four (24), Town ten (10), Range five (5), in October, 1869. Jacob Erickson also settled, about this time on Section twenty-two (22). The following spring of 1870, S. W. Spafford and family, and N. P. Spafford, settled on Section thirty-two (32), and Henry Spafford on Section thirty-four (34), Town eleven (11), Range six (6). L. W. Hastings and James McBride settled on Section two (2), Town ten (10), Range six (6). In the fall of 1870, G. C. Boyce, Noah Brotherton, William S. Boyce, S. F. Ganis and R. E. Boyce came out here from Iowa to locate, but returned and came out the next spring.
J. M. Fodge, G. Haner, A. P. Hendrickson, A. Mogenson, J. M. Sechler, John Mathews, J. C. Ratcliffe, J. P. Elliot, John Hagerman, P. C. Culver, John Tweedy, D. Grant, C. H. Kimball, John and Christopher Hazelbaker, made settlements during the spring and summer of 1871, and in the fall of 1871 Messrs. Fodge and family made settlement on Section thirty-two (32).
The Blue valley in the north part of the county was settled by W. L. Whittemore in 1870, who took up his claim on Section two (2), Town twelve (12), Range five (5). B. F. Webb also settled on Section twelve (12), Town twelve (12), Range five (5). T. W. Manchester, M. Vanduzen and others located here in 1872.
John Danhauer settled in South Platte Precinct in 1871, Stephen Platz and James Odell in 1872.
Mr. Hewitt settled in the extreme northeast corner of the county on Section twenty-four (24) Town ten (10) Range five (5) in 1872 and shortly after J. W. Ward, C. Thurman, James Foster and C. Foster, who took up their claims in Bluff Precinct.
S. K. Butler and Henry Jennings are also among the early settlers who came to Hamilton County with the heavy frosts of many years resting upon their honest faces, but showing as much youth and vigor in subduing its fertile soil as many of the younger settlers. Mr. Platz brought quite a herd of cattle with him, but most of them perished during the Easter storm of 1873, while that tremendous storm of snow and wind was sweeping over the country. Among the older settlers of the extreme west side of the county are Charles Tompkins and family, Jacob Jeffers and family and Mrs. Charlotte Ward, who arrived and camped on their homesteads on Section four (4) Town ten (10) Range eight (8). Mr. Tompkins says they were quite surprised one day to see twenty-five Indians riding toward them as they were all busy at work upon their houses, but they proved to be Omaha Indians, and after giving them something to eat they passed on leaving them their scalps for which they were very thankful.
The next settlers were H. B. Hall and Rev. A. D. Tremball. Mr. Hall settled on Section twenty-eight (28), and Rev. Tremball upon Section thirty-two (32) Town eleven (11), Range eight (8) and S. P. Cowgill, another early settler, located upon Section four (4) Town ten (10) Range eight (8).
The first settler in Hamilton Precinct, formerly a part of Deepwell Precinct, was G. K. Eaton, who took up his claim in the spring of 1872 and shortly after was followed by H. B. Miller, Robert Eyres, S. B. Gebhart, B. F. Isaman and Samuel Miller.
A post office was established here in 1874 under the name of Hamilton and afterwards changed to Alvin. Benjamin Abbott was appointed Postmaster.
The southwest part of the county embracing Scoville and Union Precincts was settled in 1871. Union, by M. Farrell, D. Kensinger, J. E. Jackett, A. V. B. Peck, W. H. and C. M. Garrison, taking up their claims on Sections twenty (20) and twenty-eight (28), Town nine (9), Range seven (7). Scoville by D. A. Scoville and D. W. Garrison, who held full possession until the spring of 1873, when they were joined by A. Murdock, J. M. Livingstone, T. D. Case and S. N. Case. Messrs. Scoville and Garrison settled on Section twenty-four (24), Town nine (9), Range eight (8). In the fall of 1872 there was quite a sensation created in this precinct, caused by a party of men hunting antelope. The report of their guns frightened a woman into the belief that the Indians had made a raid upon the settlement. Taking her two small children she fled from her home, partly dragging them across the prairie spreading the news of carnage and desolation among the settlers as she went, and finally concealing herself in an old sod stable.
Brave men were soon under arms willing to die for their homes and families. The women after the first occasion of alarm had passed, showed themselves worthy, and quietly went to work running bullets and preparing ammunition for their husbands, who were out waiting to give the first Indian that appeared a warm reception. After a time the true state of affairs were discovered and after a hearty laugh all returned to their homes and peace and quiet once more prevailed.
The first settlers on Beaver Creek were R. M. Hunt, Samuel Yost and S. B. Chapman in 1870, and very soon after they were followed by J. W. Jones, H. M. Graham, Henry Newman and Franklin Jacoby. A little incident that happened to Mr. Hunt will show what constant fear the early settlers were under. Mr. Hunt was at work in the field and becoming very thirsty went to the creek a few rods distant to get a drink. He had no dish with him so he laid down on the bank to drink from the stream. After quenching his thirst, the sun being partly behind and over his head, cast his shadow upon the water; being an old man and in a new country, with nothing to attract his attention but the herds of wild antelope and elk, it would be natural to suppose that his mind would dwell upon the Indians that were frequently seen in those days, and to imagine all sorts of barbarism and cruelty committed at their hands. Upon seeing his shadow in the water, imagination pictured to his mind a wild blood-thirsty savage crouched down in the tall grass that grew in the water before him, just ready to spring at him with his favorite scalping-knife in his hand and a demoniacal grin of satisfaction on his face at the prospect of lifting the old man's hair. Mr. Hunt rose upon his knees with the fire of younger days sparkling in his eye, determined to sell his life as dearly as possible, struck out right and left with his clenched fist in such a violent manner that he was fairly lifted upon his feet, when a thought struck him that after all discretion would be the better part of valor and accordingly he "lit out" as fast as his legs could carry him.
During the years 1872 and 1873 settlers poured into the county from all parts of the country, many coming from Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa, and some from New England. Every available homestead was taken up. Since that date settlers have continued to arrive with each succeeding season transforming its fertile soil from mere uninteresting plain of rolling billowy prairie, into a very garden, inhabited by an intelligent and well-to-do people, possessing every social advantage enjoyed by communities having greater opportunities, and hoary with the frosts of nearly a century.
From the little handful of eighteen sturdy pioneers, who assembled at the house of John Harris, only twelve years ago, on the banks of the Blue to organize the county, their followers have increased, year, by year, to a population of over nine thousand, and an assessed valuation of $1,507,090.62.
The first frame house was erected by F. H. Clark in 1870, the lumber being hauled from Grand Island.
The first birth in the county took place at the Millspaw Ranch, a son to John and Rosy McClellan and grandson to David Millspaw. This transpired in the fall of 1861 and two years later the first death took place at this same ranch in the removal of the above mentioned child in the summer of 1863, and was buried on the prairie near the site of the old ranch.
The first birth on record was a son to C. O. Wescott (Orville Wescott) from whom the town of Orville, received its name.
The first marriage was that of Phillip Hart to Elizabeth Ellen Verley, August 21, 1870, by Robert Lamont, Probate Judge. The first death was that of the wife of J. D. Wescott.
The first election was held at the house of John Harris on the Blue, May 3, 1870.
The first case tried in the district court was a divorce suit at a term of this court, presided over by Hon. George B. Lake. Mr. E. W. Denio and Mr. Darnell were the counsel retained, and were the first lawyers who practiced in the county.
The first Fourth of July celebration was held, in the year 1870, in a grove on the southside of the Blue, the property of Mr. J. D. Wescott. The oration was delivered by B. D. Brown, the orator of the day, it being his first attempt, and also the first oration listened to in the county.
The first crime committed was the murder of a Mr. Johnson, of Illinois, in August, 1870. In company with Mr. F. Sawyer, of Lincoln, Nebraska, he had been looking at the county, and it is supposed Sawyer murdered him for his money, while they were returning to Lincoln.
Johnson's body was found several days after, lying on the prairie in this county, and Sawyer was arrested on suspicion at Lincoln and brought back to Hamilton County for preliminary examination, which took place before Justice of the Peace John Brown, at the house of James Waddle, about the 1st of September. He was bound over, and sent to Lincoln for safe keeping, where he was discharged from custody on a writ of habeas corpus.
The first post office was established in 1870, on the Blue, at the house of Robert Lamont, who was appointed postmaster, under the name of Verona.
In the spring of 1871 a second post office was established on Lincoln Creek, at the house of S. W. Spafford, with S. W. Spafford as Postmaster--called Spafford's Grove.
A weekly mail was received from Seward via York to Grand Island.
L. W. Hastings was the first mail contractor, and upon one of his trips quite an amusing incident occurred.
It happened upon one dark night in the winter of 1871 and 1872, as he was journeying westward from York to Aurora, that he lost his way. The roads were travelled but little, and the snow blown by the winds filled the tracks as fast as they were made. After groping about in the dark for some time, he took a star for his guide, hoping to reach Lincoln Creek and follow it home. All at once the horses came to a full stop, and refused to go any farther. He urged them, applied his whip with vigor, but still they refused to move. He got out of his buggy, and found he had been trying to make his horses climb a dug out, owned by Mrs. Fodge. He found the steps leading down and knocked at the door; a voice within called out, "Who's there?" "Answer me, where am I?"
From inside--"You are there at the door." "Yes, I know, but where am I?" "At the door, I say." "Yes, but what part of the country, I mean?" "In Nebraska." "Yes, I know, but which way from Aurora?" "Oh, you are east from Aurora," The mail carrier, getting desperate, cried out, "Well, open this door and see if you can tell me the road to Aurora.": "Oh, you are lost are you?" Whereupon they put him upon his course, so that after being started twice, he went on his way, rejoicing.
The first school district was organized September 27, 1870. Joseph Stockham was elected director, and the census return of the district recorded the names of thirty-nine children of school age.
The first schoolhouse was built of logs by subscription, each settler furnishing a log, and two old bachelors bought the windows and two pine boards for a desk, the seats being made of split logs. It was situated on Section thirty-four (34); Town nine (9); Range five (5).
Miss Jennie Laurie taught the first school with ten pupils in attendance, and was paid by subscription, the settlers contributing money or wheat as best they could, in the winter of 1870-71. During this winter a short time after the school-house was built, it caught fire, and was partly burned one evening, after there had been a social gathering of the settlers. After all had repaired to their several homes, two sturdy pioneers, Mr. John Harris and Robert Waddle happened to notice in their wakeful hours about midnight, a bright light in the direction of the schoolhouse, and further investigation proved that this pioneer educational edifice was in flames. They hurried to the scene. Mr. Waddle, possessing a spirit of caution, remained upon terra firma, while Mr. Harris organized himself into a hook and ladder company, and mounted the roof of the burning building. He reached the roof in safety, and while standing in this perilous position, his clear musical voice rang out upon the midnight air, "Brave John stood on the burning deck, whence all but him had fled---;" but the words were scarcely said ere the poles burned away and precipitated him into the interior of the building, together with a mass of burning timber, sod and dirt, with every conceivable way of escape blockaded, except to scale the perpendicular walls which was all but impossible. He soon made his way out through a window remarking as he appeared, "I guess brave John better get out of here." But Mr. Waddle was not idle after his friend disappeared; he went to work with a will, pouring water upon the flames, and being reinforced by Mr. Harris, the fire was soon extinguished. In a few days the building was repaired and the school going on as usual, with no serious damage done to the impromptu fire company.
Rev Mr. Colwell preached the first sermon in the county, at the house of James Waddle, in the spring of 1869. His labors cover a period of about three years.
The first church organization was effected at the house of R. M. Hunt in Beaver Precinct August 12, 1871, consisting of the following members: Ruth M. Hunt, S. B Yost, Stephen Pollard, Alvira Jones and F. Ann Doty. It was called the Aurora Baptist Church, but was reorganized later.
Unity Presbyterian Church, Monroe Precinct was organized by Rev. N. C. Robinson, Synodical Missionary, June 4, 1875, and has a membership of thirty-four.
Avon Presbyterian Church, Bluff Precinct, was organized by Rev. H. M. Giltner, August 11, 1876, who became its pastor and had charge until he was succeeded by Rev. J. H. Patterson in September, 1877, who was in charge until September, 1881, since which date the church has been supplied.
There are also church organizations of the Methodist Episcopal Church in several parts of the county, as follows:
Whittemore Class, Otis Precinct, organized by Rev. C. L. Smith at Whittemore Schoolhouse attached to the Stromsburg Circuit.
Van Wormer Class, Orville Precinct, organized in the spring of 1873, attached to Aurora Circuit.
Soward Class, organized in the month of June, 1873, attached to St. Joe Circuit in Union Precinct.
Boagg Class, also in Union Precinct, organized in February, 1875.
W. K. Ream organized a class at the Klumb Schoolhouse in the winter of 1875--76 and another at the Fairview Schoolhouse in the summer of 1876.
Rev. Clement Aldridge organized a class at the Cain Schoolhouse in the summer of 1881.
Rev. C. L. Smith organized a class at the Hoffman Schoolhouse in the month of February, 1876.
In the winter of 1870 Mr. James Rollo had the misfortune to temporarily lose his eye-sight. At this time he was living in a small dug-out, on the Blue River. The winter being quite severe, the settlers in the immediate vicinity proposed to make a chopping-bee and cut, score and hew the logs for a new house. Mr. Rollo decided to celebrate the event by giving his friends what was considered a rare treat in those days of bachelorhood, a huge cake. Mr. John Harris was solicited, and accepted the appointment of cook, and one Sunday morning found him hard at work in Mr. Rollo's dug-out, fulfilling the duties of his appointment. The ingredients used in preparing the cake were: two pounds and a half of sugar, two dozen eggs and flour in proportion. They were stirred together with all the skill he possessed and put to bake in an old bake oven at 9 A. M. After six hours of careful watching it came out in all its greatness fully as large as a half-bushel.
On Monday the settlers gathered and soon their busy axes made the little timber-grove ring. At noon the work was well under way and all hands suspended operations to sample the cake. A gallon of sorghum was served as a relish, brought on in an old coffee pot, and all made a hearty meal, carrying the fragments to their several homes.
At the present time, in many of the dwellings of those who participated in the event, may be found a well-kept and cherished relic, a piece of this well remembered cake.