Hitchcock County was named in honor of Phineas W. Hitchcock, who was United States Senator from Nebraska at the time of its organization. It is situated in the southwestern part of the State, and is twenty-four miles in extent from north to south, and thirty miles from east to west. It is bounded on the north by Hayes County, on the east by Red Willow, on the south by Rawlins County, Kansas, and on the west by Dundy County.
The county is very well watered. The Republican River enters the county from the west about ten miles north of its southern boundary, and flows across the county nearly in an easterly direction, and leaves it about six miles further to the north. This stream has several tributaries on both the north and south side. The Driftwood Creek enters the southern part of the county and flows northeast, entering the Republican in Red Willow County. Frenchman's Creek is a large stream, and rises in Colorado, and after flowing across Chase and Hayes Counties enters Hitchcock from the north and flows southeast, emptying into the Republican a short distance west of the eastern boundary of the county and at Culbertson. The Blackwood is a quite important creek, entering the Republican from the north. There are a number of small streams tributary to the above, which afford a good supply of water.
The bottom lands along the Republican River are from two to five miles in breadth, are level, and the soil is deep and fertile. Next come the bluffs intersected by cañons. These bluffs, however, are not usually very steep, and in some places the surface of the land rises gradually by step-like terraces to the upland prairies. The uplands themselves are comparatively level, with shallow draws, affording excellent drainage.
The soil in all parts of the county is deep and fertile, capable with a sufficient amount of moisture of producing excellent crops of all kinds of grain and vegetables. The bottom lands are covered with a heavy growth of wild grass. The bluffs or hills bordering the streams afford excellent pasturage for cattle, have a rich growth of grass, and in winter afford to some extent, a shelter from the winds and occasional storms. The uplands are covered with buffalo grass, and this county, like others near, is a portion of the great natural pasture of Western Nebraska.
Previous to the year 1869, the county was occupied only by the Sioux Indians and by wild animals. This was a portion of the great hunting ground of the Indians who used all their efforts to keep white men away. No part of the Republican Valley was ever visited save when, occasionally, a venturesome hunter would make short trips here, the briefest stay being attended with much danger. In 1869, the defeat of the Sioux by Gen. Carr, put an end to the troubles in the Republican Valley, and soon the cattle owners ventured to bring in their herds. It was not, however, until 1871 and 1872, that these were brought in, in great numbers. In the spring of the latter year, cattle were driven into this region by thousands. Sam Tate brought the first cattle into the county.
When immigration began to pour into the Republican Valley, the natural advantages of the locality now included in the limits of Hitchcock County, attracted the attention of farmers seeking a location.
In the spring of 1872 the first settlers who came for farming purposes, entered claims on Blackwood Creek, just east of the present town of Culbertson. During the year, settlers continued to come in, and farms were fast being opened up.
In the spring of 1873, the tide of immigration to the county continued, and settlements were made on all the principal streams of the county.
So rapidly was the population of the county increasing, that in the spring and summer of 1873, measures were taken to organize the county, and a petition from the citizens, for that purpose, was forwarded to Gov. Robert B. Furnas. The governor, on the 5th day of July, 1873, issued a proclamation, ordering an election to be held for the choice of county officers and for the location of a county seat. This election was ordered to be held on August 30. The Governor also appointed Thomas G. Le Grand, F. U. Martin, and G. E. Baldwin, Judges of Election; and W. Z. Taylor and B. D. Skinner, Clerks.
The election was held on the 30th day of August, 1873, at the residence of F. U. Martin on Section 14, Town 3, Range 31 west. The following were the first officers elected: Thomas Le Grand, W. W. Kelly and F. U. Martin, Commissioners; W. Z. Taylor, Clerk; J. E. Kleven, Treasurer; G. E. Baldwin, Sheriff; A. J. Vanderslice, Judge; J. H. Conklin, Surveyor; Daniel Murphy, Superintendent of Schools; J. H. Miller, Coroner. The county seat was located on the north half of Section 17, Town 3, Range 31 west, the site of the present town of Culbertson.
In the fall of 1873, the memorable fight between the Sioux and the Pawnee Indians, in which the latter were nearly annihilated, took place about eight miles west of Culbertson. The Pawnees were out on one of their grand hunts, and were attended with their squaws and papooses. In starting out, as was their custom, the Pawnees had boasted that they were going out to hunt the Sioux. While in camp here, they were surprised by their dreaded enemies. As a decoy, the Sioux had left their ponies, on the side of a hill where the Pawnees would see them, and think from the distance they were buffaloes. The decoy was successful, and as soon as the Pawnees were fairly started, another band of Sioux attacked the camp where the old men, squaws and papooses were left, and a wholesale slaughter commenced. The astounded Pawnees then rode back to the camp, pursued by the band from the hill-sides, only to find the lodges burning and the bodies of their women, children and old men, lying about in a terribly mangled condition, while their relentless foe was now pressing them hard on both sides. The overwhelming numbers of the Sioux soon compelled the Pawnee to seek safety in flight. Their loss was great. The troubles between these two tribes, who had always been inveterate enemies, were now at an end. This was the last battle fought between the remnants of what were once the two great tribes of Indians in Nebraska.
During the year 1873, a great deal of land had been broken up, and in the spring of 1874, this was planted out to crops. A great many new settlers came in and built houses and broke prairie to open up their farms. But the summer of 1874 was dry, and the grasshoppers appeared in such myriads that all growing crops were destroyed. So poor were the settlers, and so completely discouraged were they, that nearly all of them abandoned the county. So many left that in 1875, there were only nineteen votes polled.
After the desertion of the county by the farmers, the stockmen who had left when the influx of settlers began, again returned. Until the year 1879, they had possession of the country, and immense herds of cattle found pasturage here. So nearly deserted was the county by the farmers, that in 1878 there were but five who attempted to raise crops in the entire county. These were all on Blackwood Creek; there were some, the very first settlers of the county, who kept on trying year after year, having firm faith that this would yet prove a good county for agriculture. In 1878, the county was almost literally covered with one solid mass of cattle, and only a few acres of land were now utilized for anything but grazing purposes.
There have been but a few events of a startling nature, in the history of the county. In its earlier history there were frequent Indian scares, but no injury was ever done the settlers. In the fall of 1876, two horse-thieves were killed near Culbertson. For some time, horse-stealing had been going on to a large extent in Central and Western Nebraska, from a large and well organized band of horse-thieves. On this occasion, some horses had been stolen in another part of the State, and two of the thieves were pursued to this county. Here the thieves were pursued buy the citizens of the county. The chase was kept up all day, there being a great deal of shooting done by both parties. The thieves in their desperate efforts to escape stripped themselves of their clothing and urged their horses on to their utmost speed, until they fell dead from over exertion. The thieves then hid in a wolf-hole, still armed and prepared to defend themselves. When found by the citizens, they were watched carefully, and at last as one raised his head to look around, he was shot dead. As his companion was trying to drag in the body, he exposed himself, and he too was killed. This put an end to all trouble with horse-thieves in this county.
In the fall of 1878, when the Cheyenne Indians escaped from their reservation, to visit their old Nebraska home they, after passing through Kansas committing many atrocities, passed near here. The settlers were naturally very much frightened, but no one was harmed in this county, though George Rowley was killed on Stinking Water Creek. Rowley was the only man murdered by the red men in Southwestern Nebraska.
In 1878 and 1879, there were again a rush of settlers to the county, homestead claims were entered, land ploughed, houses built, and all the various improvements incident to opening up new farms went on rapidly. Again the cattle men had to move further back. During the year 1879, a great deal of land was brought under cultivation, and the large herds of cattle began to disappear from the county. In 1880, the immigration was kept up, and a large number of claims were entered. Crops were planted and improvements continued to go on. The yield of grain however was very light. Again in 1881, crops were planted, but few having left the county on account of the poor yield of the year previous. Quite a large number of new settlers also came to the county this spring, and began opening up farms; but again the crop was almost an entire failure, and many abandoned their homesteads and left the country. There is a large colony of Russians, on Frenchman Creek, near Culbertson, who are becoming much discouraged with the continued failure of crops, ever since their arrival in 1878, and contemplate a location elsewhere. Whether or not the raising of grain will ever pay the settlers of the county is hard to decide at present. The soil is good, in fact remarkable for its depth and richness, but in the past the climate has been too dry; there has not been sufficient rainfall, unless in exceptionally wet seasons, to enable crops to mature. There is no doubt that the moisture and rainfall increase as the improvements increase, and it is highly probable that in a few years this is destined to be one of the best agricultural counties in Southwestern Nebraska.
The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad,--In the fall of 1881, The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, from the Missouri River to Denver, was completed to Culbertson, and trains began running regularly to this point. In March, 1882, trains began running westward as far as Akron, Colorado.
There are no public buildings in the county other than school-houses. Instead of a courthouse, the upper story of the store of W. Z. Taylor at Culbertson is occupied by the county officers.
At the general election, November 7, 1881, there were 220 votes polled in both Hitchcock and Dundy Counties. The latter county is attached to the former for elective purposes. The present officers of the county were elected at that time. The official roster of the county is as follows: H. D. Roub, Henry Wolf, and Robert Bush, commissioners; W. Z. Taylor, clerk; J. M. Wood, treasurer; Jack Wood, sheriff; J. M. Williams, judge; L. J. Carrington, surveyor; Joseph Snyder, superintendent of schools; and B. M. Vastine, coroner. Of the above officers, W. Z. Taylor, has been clerk ever since the organization of the county.
The population of the county is a little more than 1,000.
The first school district was organized February 21, 1876. This district comprised all the north one-half of the county. No other district was organized until 1879, in which year there were four added. In 1880, one more was organized, and in 1881, three more, making nine school districts in the county at the present time. The most of these are now in a flourishing condition. There are in the county 335 children of school age, and there are twelve school teachers holding certificates. The salaries of teachers range all the way from $20 to $40 per month.
This town is the county-seat of Hitchcock County, and derives its name from the well-known Indian agent of that name, who died a few years since.
The town is situated on the east side of Frenchman Creek, at the point where it enters the Republican River, or rather on the second bottoms, ascending from both these streams, and less than one mile from either. A fine view of both river and creek can be had from the town site. To the north of the beautiful terrace on which the town is located, are hills, or rather low bluffs which add much to the picturesqueness of the location. Between two such large streams, the town has no lack of water privileges.
The first newspaper in the county, the Culbertson Globe, was established in the spring of 1879, by W. Z. Taylor, and Nat. L. Baker was employed as editor. This paper was published in the spring of 1880, when Baker took the material and started the Clipper. At this time Taylor started another paper called the Sun, and employed R. D. Graham as editor. During the same summer Baker failed and returned the material. Since this time the Sun has been the only paper published here.
In April 1881, John P. Israel came from Ottumwa, Iowa and took charge of the Sun, and has since remained its editor. He was born at Flora, Clay County, Illinois, September 8, 1860. When a boy, he began to learn the harness-maker's trade with his father. In 1876, his father having purchased the Wayne County Republican, he worked on that paper as a local editor. He then worked at the printer's trade until 1878, when he went to Ottumwa and worked as a printer and as a clerk in a store until April, 1881, when he came to Culbertson to take charge of the Sun.
Crime.---There has been but one murder committed in Culbertson since its foundation. On December 27, 1881, Charles Dill shot and killed Sam Esman. Dill was keeping a drug store, or in other words a saloon for the sale of intoxicating liquors. Sometime previous to the shooting, Dill had some trouble with Esman and an associate, Tom Hill. The two latter were cattle herders. Sometime after the first difficulty, the establishment of Dill was raided in the night, the windows broken in, and several shots fired into the building. This he attributed to the two men. Some time had elapsed since this occurrence, when Esman entered Dill's saloon for a drink of whiskey. Dill greeted him pleasantly, and as he turned to speak to acquaintances the saloon keeper reached around behind the bar, took out a pistol, put it close to Esman's temple and fired. The shot took effect, and the wounded man lived but a few hours. Dill was arrested, indicted, and is now awaiting trial.
The Church.---The first and only church organization is a society of the Methodist Episcopal denomination, which was organized by Rev. Allen Bartley, of Indianola, in February, 1882.
Culbertson has a population of about 150, and the following business houses are established here: Two general merchandise stores, one hardware store, one drug store, two hotels, one restaurant, three livery stables, one flour and feed store, one auction house, one bakery, one lumber yard, one blacksmith shop, and one meat market. There are also one barber shop, one newspaper, and two physicians.
The first settlement was made here in February, 1873, by W. Z. Taylor, Samuel Tate, J. E. Kleven, and C. A. Gesselman. No town had been laid out, but this point was chosen on account of being at the confluence of the two important streams of the county.
At the first election in the county, August 30, 1873, this location was chosen as the county-seat of Hitchcock, and from that time it has been considered as a town.
Soon after the election, and early into the fall of 1873, W. Z. Taylor, the County Clerk, started the first store, in a small building which is now a part of the Taylor Hotel, and used as sort of a kitchen.
About the same time, the first post office was established and called Culbertson, with J. E. Kleven appointed as the first Postmaster. Mr. Kleven continued to hold this position until his death, December 2, 1881. He was also the village blacksmith, and carried on a farm from the date of his first settlement here, and was one of the historic five who continued to try crop raising during the unsuccessful years, when crops were cut short, in the earlier years of the history of the county.
The first birth in the town or in the county was that of Henry Kleven, son of the Postmaster, born in 1874.
The first death was that of Sylvester A. Kerley, which occurred in the summer of 1874.
In 1876, the first school-house in the county was built on Taylor Ave., and the first school in the county taught during the same summer by R. H. Crisswell, an attorney of Red Willow County.