Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Harlan County
Produced by
Connie Snyder.


Location and Natural Features | First Settlements | Organization
Early Events | County Seat Troubles


Alma:  Settlement of the Town | The Press of Alma | Local Interests
Biographical Sketches


Orleans:   Early History | Biographical Sketches
Republican City:   Early History | Biographical Sketches

Part 2


   This town is the county-seat of Harlan County, and is pleasantly located on the north side of the Republican on one of the gentle slopes of land rising from the bottoms to the uplands. This gives it one of the most beautiful town site locations to be found in the Republican Valley.


   The town site of Alma, on Section 33, Town 2, Range 13, west of the sixth principal meridian, was selected by Mark Coad, N. P. Cook, Thomas Murrin, and others of the Cheyenne Colony in the spring of 1871, and called Alma, in honor of a young daughter of N. P. Cook, by that name. After the fear of the Indians began to subside in the spring of 1872, there was a great rush to Harlan County. Men came to Alma with money, and resolved to build up the town. One of the party was chosen to go to Beatrice, where the United States Land Office for this district was then located, to enter the town site for the benefit of its occupants, but he endeavored to secure it in his own name. He was therefore dismissed, and Frank Shaffer appointed in his place. Shaffer also erected the first house on the town site about the same time, and it was built of logs. Mr. Broadball also built a sod blacksmith shop. During the same summer of 1872, Moore & Sappington erected the first store.

   Soon after the settlement at Alma, a post office was established here, and Joseph H. Painter was appointed Postmaster.

   Preparations were made to organize church societies. Services were held here previous to this time. The first sermon had been preached, July 4, 1871, in Foster's grove, by Rev. John Whiting, the pioneer minister of Harlan County. Mr. Whiting was an ex-soldier, and had lost an arm in the War of the Rebellion.

   When, in 1872, the building up of Alma was commenced, the imagination of its founders pictured to them a bright and prosperous future for the new town. High were the anticipations of its future greatness, most of them expecting it to become the metropolis of the county if not of the entire Republican Valley.

   Dissensions and quarrels, however, soon arose, and as a result the town was broken up. The county seat had been removed to Melrose. Shaffer moved his building to Orleans. Moore & Sappington sold their building to Mr. Jewell, and he moved it to Melrose. Joseph H. Painter, the postmaster, had been among the first to withdraw from the colony. He removed the office to his homestead about three miles west of Alma, where it remained for some time, and was known as Alma. Alma was now dead. Starting with such bright prospects, nothing now remained.

   When, by the decision of Judge Gantt, the county records were returned to Alma, preparations were again made to build up a town.

   In 1875; Frank Shaffer moved a little house from his homestead near by, which was the first building in the town after its resurrection. This building was used for county purposes, until John Guyer erected his store in 1877, after which this building was used as a court house until the building of a large court house, in 1880.

   The second building in Alma was Guyer's log hotel, built in 1875. The next building was a little house, built by Will Downs, the County Clerk, for a residence.

   For several years, there was but little improvement made in the town. The only buildings in the spring of 1879, were three very small houses, a store, the small one story building, with one little room, used as the court house, and a sod blacksmith shop. At this time, the town site consisted of forty acres. About this time, however, attention was being directed to this point, and as the railroad was in prospect, the town began to increase in size. On the 11th day of April, 1879, a newspaper was established by Borden & Livingstone and called the Alma Standard. This paper did more than anything else to attract attention to Alma as a favorable point for the upbuilding of a town. Except the first few weeks, when owned by Borden & Livingstone, Wm. R. Davis has always been editor of the Standard.

   Soon an addition of forty acres was made to the town and then forty acres more. Parties began to buy lots, and, about the 1st of May, building commenced. There was now one grand rush for Alma, and buildings were erected in all parts of the town.

   Before houses could be erected, it was difficult for the new comers to find places of shelter. The only hotel was the little log-house built some years before, and the news paper office was only twelve feet by fourteen in size. To give some idea of the lack of accommodations, and the extent to which the town was crowded, we give the following from the pen of Wm. B. Davis, editor of the Standard:

   "We boarded at the "Old Log Cabin" hotel, with a kitchen and one other room, which was bar-room--without, however, bar and fixtures, entirely on the cold-water plan--reception-room, dining-room, wash-room and bed-room, all in one. When it became necessary to avail our weary selves of 'tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep,' we, with fifteen or twenty more, selected the soft side of our plank, rolled ourselves in a blanket and got as far under the table as we could, so as to avoid being trampled on by the later comers. And then at crack of dawn, all had to 'get up' that 'the table might be set' for the hungry travellers and boarders. There was no discrimination. Turn out we must, whether or no. And then came along a large party of editors from Iowa--out on an excursion to see our beautiful valley and State--of course they called on us. One says, 'You don't publish this paper in here?' 'What an idea,' says another; and another ridiculed the fact 'of a newspaper being published in such a burg and such an office.' We were not abashed, but exhibited our 'flowing sheet' and showed the party that we did all our work 'at home.' But we were afraid to go out and invite them to stop, for fear they would take us at our word, and then we would have had 'no place in the inn' to take them to. We knew that was already full to overflowing, and our hospitality had to be smothered and held back."

   So rapidly did Alma improve that by September, upward of fifty business houses and residences had been erected, and all was life and energy. Building was kept up, until the first of January showed a total of nearly one hundred buildings erected during the year. A bridge had been built across the Republican River, and the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad completed. Alma now compared very favorably with the other towns in the county.

   Early in 1880, trains began running regularly on the railroad, and the town continued to grow though not with the rapidity of the previous year. This year the first and only church was built. It was built by the Methodist Episcopal denomination, and is a comfortable and commodious building. During the summer of 1880, a large and substantial court house was erected here, by a subscription of money for the purpose, by the citizens of Alma, and presented to the county. This year was the date of the first village organization. The town was incorporated with the following as the first officers: Trustees; George A. Way, Chairman; Frank Shaffer, A. L. Burr, L. B. McManus, Samuel L. Roberts. Clerk, John A. Randall; Treasurer, James Bradford; Attorney, C. C. Flansburg; Marshal, J. Zerbe.

   Since that time the town has gradually improved. In 1881, a school-house, two stories high and forty-four feet wide and fifty-six feet long, was erected. For a village school house, it is imposing in appearance, and is pleasantly located on the brow of the hill, in the northern limits of the town.


   There are two weekly newspapers published here. The Alma Herald was an outgrowth of the Standard, which was founded early in the spring of 1879, by Borden & Livingston. It was then a four column, folio paper, and only lived a few weeks, when James Billings, Will Downs, John Dawson and John Guyer purchased the material and employed Wm. R. Davis to edit it, which he did in a creditable manner, and it did more than any other one thing to induce settlement in the vicinity of Alma.

   August 26, 1880, J. D. Hurd came to Alma and in partnership with J. M. Hiatt established the Alma Herald, an eight column, folio, paper. In the fall of 1881, Hurd purchased Hiatt's interest and continued to publish the paper until he was offered a lucrative position on the Daily State Journal at Lincoln, when he sold the paper to James Billings, the present editor and proprietor. The Herald is a bright and wide awake newspaper, and is well patronized by the citizens of the county.

   James Billings, the proprietor of the Herald, came to Nebraska in 1870, and located at Schuyler, Colfax Co., and in 1873 removed to Alma. He was for one year Deputy County Clerk, and in 1876 took the Black Hills fever and spent the summer, and returned, and for one year served as Deputy County Treasurer, and was in November, 1877, elected County Treasurer, and in 1879 re-elected. After settling up official business he embarked in the newspaper business as editor and proprietor of the Alma Herald. Mr. Billings was born April 23, 1848, In Smithville Flatts, Chenango County, N. Y. His parents soon removed to Chautauqua County, N. Y., where they resided until his removal to Nebraska. His parents were large dairy farmers, and with them he stayed until nearly twenty-one years of age. Then realizing the fact that an education was much needed, he went to Poughkeepsie where he attended school for a year, graduating in Eastman Business College in the meantime, then came west by Greeley's advice.

   He was married September 26, 1880, to Miss Dora E. Williams, of Exeter, Nebraska, and has one child, a daughter, born August 30, 1881, and named Hattie Florence.

   The Harlan County News is an ably edited newspaper published here by Flavius Macmillan. The News was established in Republican City, by its present publisher in 1875, and was published there until the fall of 1881 when it was removed to Alma.

   Except in county seat fights, where much bitterness is engendered on all sides, the press is moral and elevating in its tone, and it can certainly be said that the newspapers here are enterprising and readable, and that they are well patronized by a reading community.


   There is one good private banking house here kept by Bradford & Burr, which does a large business.

   There are two first class village hotels:--the Monitor House, J. B. Billings, proprietor; and the Shaffer House, Frank Shaffer, proprietor.

   The church societies are well represented though there is but one church building, and all the societies that are organized may be said to be in a flourishing condition.

   The citizens are generally moral, and religious institutions are liberally supported by both the members and those who are not. Those who are connected with no society are generally church attendants.

   The citizens are particularly wide awake on the subject of education, and nothing is left undone to further such interests. Not only are first class schools kept up, but all literary entertainments, and anything that tends to improve the mental condition of the citizens, either old or young, are encouraged, and money freely given in their support.

   The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is represented here by Alma Lodge, No. 81, which has a large membership and is in a flourishing condition.

   The Alma Lodge, No. 59, Independent Order of Good Templars, has a large and increasing membership and is in a flourishing condition.

   Alma is favorably located as a business point. To the north and to the south it has a trade for twenty-five miles and more. East and west it has its own legitimate trade. The bridge across the Republican at this point brings in a great deal of the trade from northern Kansas. Its railroad connection with the east, and the mining regions of the west, with all its other advantages and with its public spirited citizens, renders Alma a prosperous town. Many of the buildings are of a good quality, and the future prosperity of the village may be said to be well nigh assured.


   BRADFORD & BURR, Bankers. They purchased this business from L. R. Grimes, July 1, 1880, and carry on a general banking and exchange business; are also largely engaged in sheep raising, of which they carry some 800 head.

   James Bradford, of this firm, is a native of Kentucky; his principal business previous to coming to this State, was that of commercial traveler, which he followed for twelve years. He came to Alma in May, 1879, and at once engaged in general merchandise business, remaining in that until he sold out to engage in banking. Atwell Burr, the other partner in this bank, is a native of Illinois, and his occupation was that of an "actor." He came to Nebraska in 1871, and for eighteen months filled the office of Deputy City Marshal, and was also employed in the office of his brother, C. C. Burr, Attorney; remaining in Lincoln, in all, some three years, after which he again followed the stage until 1878, when he returned to Lincoln and was again connected in business with his brother. In the fall of 1879 be removed to Alma, and for a few months acted as a broker and loan agent; joining Mr. Bradford in this business in July, 1880

   JOHN DAWSON, attorney-at-law, was born in Ireland in 1851, emigrating to America in 1859, and resided in Green County, Wis. At sixteen years of age he began business life as a school teacher, following it in Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and Texas. In 1874, he began to read law at New London, Mo., and was admitted to the bar at that place in 1875; he then followed teaching for some years, during which time he read law, and was admitted a second time to the bar at Emmetsburg, Iowa, in 1877, where for some months he practiced and also taught school. In March, 1878, he came to Alma and at once opened an office for the practice of his profession. He was appointed County Attorney in 1879; re-appointed early in 1881, and resigned the following October.

   FLETCHER & COURTRIGHT, attorneys-at-law. This firm was formed in March, 1882, for the purpose of conducting a general law and real estate business, and on March 1, they opened a branch office at Sacramento, Phelps County, this State. Elijah F. Fletcher was born at Indianapolis, Ind. May 20, 1837, and was reared on farms in Illinois and Iowa, and also farmed for himself in Macon County, Mo. He enlisted January 19, 1862 in Company F, Second Missouri Cavalry serving three years and four months. He began the study of law at Callao, Macon Co., Mo. in 1866, and had considerable practice in that county before he was admitted in 1872 to the bar at Keytesville, Missouri, after which he practiced in New Cambria, Missouri. He came to Alma in October, 1879, and practiced alone until the formation of this firm. Orlando B. Courtright, the junior partner of the firm, read law for several years, and was admitted to the bar in April, 1877, at Butler Centre, Butler Co. Iowa.

   C. C. FLANSBURG, attorney-at-law, was born in Henry County, Ill. in 1857, and at 16 years of age began business life as a clerk in mercantile business, following it for a few months, after which he turned his attention to teaching school. In 1874 he went to the State University of Illinois, remaining there as a student for three years, after which he read law for two years, and was admitted in June, 1879, at the Supreme Court at Ottawa, Illinois. He came to Alma in July, 1879, and at once began the practice of his profession at this place. He has been attorney for the Town of Alma for past three years.

   HON. GEO. S. FISHER, counsellor at law was born in Boston, Mass., in February, 1825. He began business life at Ottawa, Ill., where he read law with T. Lyle Dickey, and was admitted to the bar in 1845, was then for three years associated with Mr. Dickey in general law office. In 1846 he enlisted in Company I, First Illinois Infantry, and served over a year in the Mexican war. In 1848 he became associated in a law office with George H. Norris, and in 1852 they opened the Bank of Ottawa, and conducted it for some six years. Mr. F. went to San Francisco in 1859 and practiced law; two years later was appointed U. S. Consul to Japan, where he resided until 1867, when he returned home. In the fall of 1868 he went to Georgia where he purchased a plantation, and improved the same, erecting mills, etc.; here he also practiced law. In 1870 and 1872 was unanimously tendered Congressional nomination; declining both times, but ran as one of the Republican presidential electors of Georgia in 1872. In 1874 was appointed U. S. Consul General to Syria, remaining there two years, after which he returned to Washington, D. C., and again gave his attention to the practice of law. He came to Alma in 1879, and has since practiced at this point. He was appointed United States Court Commissioner and Examiner in Chancery, in November 1879, and he still holds that office.

   A. D. GARDNER, Deputy Treasurer of Harlan County, was born in Chicago, Ill., March 20, 1848, and reared in Cook and Kane Counties, and was at times employed in furniture factories. During the war he removed to Marion, Iowa, and was for two years engaged in dealing in agricultural implements, afterward, for nearly two years employed as collection agent for the "Home Sewing Machine Company;" subsequently farmed for several years; was then for some time incapacitated from business by ill-health. In March, 1878, he came to Nebraska, remaining in Jefferson County attending to some land business; he came to Alma in the following July, and at once engaged in the furniture business, conducting the same up to February 1, 1882. He was appointed to his present office January 20, 1882.

   J. M. HIATT, attorney-at-law, was born in Henry County, Ind., in 1838, and reared on a farm. In 1857 he began the study of law at Newcastle, Indiana, and was admitted to the bar in the year following; afterwards he practiced at that place. He enlisted in August, 1864, in the Nineteenth Indiana Infantry, and was promoted to Captain of Company D, One Hundred and Forty-seventh Indiana Infantry, March 9, 1865, serving until August following. He then practiced law at Newcastle, Ind., and at Oskaloosa, Iowa, for some fourteen years. He came to Alma in March, 1879, and at once opened an office for the practice of his profession at this place. In September, 1881, he admitted Orlando A. Russell to a partnership, and they also conduct, in connection with law, a real estate and loan office.

   JOEL A. PIPER, clerk of Harlan County, was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1851, and came with his father to Nebraska in April, 1868, and assisted him in farming in Nemaha County, and was also employed some in teaching school. He came to Harlan County in 1872; homesteaded and pre-empted 320 acres in Washington Precinct, and still resides there, largely engaged in farming and stock raising; has now 480 acres of land. Mr. Piper was elected sheriff of the county in 1875, superintendent of Public Instruction in 1879 and clerk of the County in the fall of 1881.

   W. H. PRICE, hardware merchant, was born in Brownville, Pa., September 1, 1852, and reared in Putnam County, Ill., and for some years carried on a large farm and was engaged in stock raising. He came to Nebraska in 1876 and engaged in hardware business at Fairbury in firm of "Price Bros.," they also had a branch house at Marysville, Kan. Mr. Price sold out his interest in that firm and came to Alma, August 1, 1879, at which time he opened this business. He is a practical tinner, and carries a fine stock of hardware, stoves, etc., valued at about $3,500; he has a fine store, and is popular, having the largest trade in this line of business in the town.

   JOHN A. RANDALL, Deputy Clerk of Harlan County, was born in Mercer County, Pa. in 1850, and was reared on a farm in Jefferson and Washington Counties, Iowa. At twenty years of age he began business life as a school teacher, following that occupation for about a year in Jefferson County, then was employed as a clerk in mercantile business in Abingdon, Iowa. In 1874 he went to Fremont County and engaged in general merchandise business, remaining there until he came to Nebraska in the fall of 1879. He was for a short time employed as a clerk in Sutton, and came to Alma in January, 1880, at which time he engaged in general merchandise business and followed the same for nine months; was appointed Deputy Clerk of the County in November, 1880; serving until the May following, was then appointed County Treasurer, holding that office until January 4, 1882, after which he assisted the new treasurer for some three months. He was appointed to his present position April 1, 1882.

   SAMUEL L. ROBERTS, general merchant, was born in Clark County, Ohio, in 1845, and followed farming as an occupation in Warren County, Iowa, and Cass County, Missouri, until he came to Nebraska in June, 1874. Mr. Roberts homesteaded 160 acres in Harlan County, and for eighteen months devoted his time to farming the same, he then "proved up," sold out and removed on to Methodist Creek, this county, where, he pre-empted 160 acres, residing there for nearly three years; this he then sold and purchased 200 acres in the same County where he was for a year engaged in raising stock, etc. In May, 1880, he came to Alma and read law, also acted as Justice of the Peace. In the following November he engaged in this business in company with C. O. Smith, who retired in January, 1882. Mr. Roberts was appointed a member to the Town Board at its incorporation, and Treasurer of the town in May, 1882.

   HON. SAMUEL SADLER, physician and surgeon, was born in Tuscarawas County, Ohio in 1834. He studied medicine with Dr. F. Knowles, of Keokuk, Iowa, for a year, then with Dr. Martine, of Callaway County, Missouri for two years, and with Dr. Cleveland, of Keokuk, for some months; also attended college of physicians and surgeons at the latter place, graduating in the spring of 1864. In connection with his studies he also practiced medicine during the war in the United States Hospitals in Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa. In the spring of 1865 he went to Bucklin, Missouri, where he practiced for eight years. In 1873 he came to Nebraska, located at Hastings, continuing his practice at that place for about eight years. In 1876 he was elected to the State Senate to represent the Twenty-third District. The Doctor came to Alma in the spring of 1881, and at once opened an office for the practice of his profession, in connection with which he also conducts a drug store.

   FRANK SHAFFER, proprietor of "The Shaffer House," was born in Somerset County, Pa. in 1845, and reared on farms in Illinois and Iowa. He enlisted in August, 1862, in Company C in Thirty-second Iowa Infantry, serving three years and three months. He lost four brothers in the war. After leaving the army, he farmed in Black Hawk County, Iowa for two years, subsequently was engaged in hotel and livery business at Parkersburg, Iowa. Mr. S. came to Nebraska in March 1871, homesteaded and pre-empted 320 acres near the town of Alma, on which he resided for a year or more. In April, 1871, he, in company with others, under style of "Alma Town Site Company," surveyed and laid out the town of Alma. In the spring of 1872 he engaged in drug and also livery business at Orleans, this County, carrying on both for two years; and during that period carried the United States mail from Lowell to Redwillow. In 1875 he engaged in livery business at Alma, and still continues the same, and has for some three years; also been engaged in implement business, and dealing in grain and live stock. On February 10th, 1882, he purchased this hotel property; has improved it throughout, adding a large addition, bath rooms, etc., and has now one of the best furnished hotels west of Lincoln.

   WELLS WILLITS, real estate, was born in Wayne County, Indiana, in 1827, and was reared on a farm until twenty-one years of age. Removing to Mercer County, Illinois, he attended the preparatory department of Knox College at Galesburg; then employed as a clerk in Mercer County, remaining with one firm for five and one-half years. In 1854 he engaged in mercantile business in New Boston, carrying it on until 1875, and during eighteen years of that period also conducted a pork packing business. In 1864 he erected a flour mill there and conducted it for twelve years. Mr. W. was Mayor of the town for two years. He came to Nebraska in May, 1878; remained in Crete for a short time, coming to Alma in July following, and laid out an addition to the town; since which time he has been engaged in attending to his real estate interests and raising and dealing in live stock. He took up a homestead of 160 acres in this county, and commuted the same in April, 1882, besides this, he is the owner of about 200 town lots, and since May, 1882, has been associated with his son, Edward L, in mercantile business. Mr. Willits was elected chairman of the Town Board, in April, 1882.

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