Part 2: Fort McPherson | Indian Troubles | County Organization
Part 3: General History | The Indian War
Hunting Buffalo and Indians
Part 4: Visit of the Grand Duke Alexis | Stock-raising
Agriculture | Present Condition of the County
Part 5: North Platte: Early Reputation | Permanent Improvements
Part 6: Biographical Sketches (cont.)
Illustration: [View of North Platte - Lincoln County Court House]
LINCOLN County is located in the western central part of the State, nearly 250 miles west from the Missouri River in a direct line, with its southern boundary forty-eight miles north from the Kansas line. The county is fifty-four miles in length from east to west, and forty-eight miles from south to north. Its area is 2,592 square miles, or 1,658,880 acres. Its elevation above the level of the sea is about two thousand six hundred feet in the eastern part, rising nearly three thousand feet in the western part. The Platte River flows through the county from west to east; the South Fork enters the county but little north of the center of the county from south to north, and the North Fork some five miles farther to the northward. These two rivers flow in an easterly direction, nearly parallel, for about twenty-five miles, where the North Platte pursues a southeasterly course, flowing into the South Platte about six miles father to the eastward. After this, the river slows on as one unbroken stream only a short distance, when it again diverges, forming two broad and shallow streams some two miles apart, but coming together again in the eastern part of the county; thus they form Brady Island, which is about fifteen miles long.
Aside from the Platte, the streams of the county are not numerous, though there were enough to afford an abundance of water for stock. First, in the extreme western part of the county, a small creek called Clear Creek, enters the Platte from the northward. Then there is Birdwood Creek, entering from the north, which is a stream of considerable importance, with a flow of a good volume of water. There are also several small, clear running creeks fed by springs, which enter the Platte from the same side. Among these is Spring Creek, entering the Platte north of the town of North Platte, which is a particularly fine one, with a broad and fertile valley, and on which, some six miles north of the town, Mr. Lamplugh has constructed an artificial lake in which he is raising thousands of fish. On the South Platte are no tributaries of much importance in this county. There are two small streams, however, called sloughs, from their miry beds, that contain flowing water, and are of considerable length, with an abundance of water for stock or farm purposes. Fremont's Slough is the more important of these. In the south part of the county are two streams flowing southward - the Red Willow and Medicine Creeks - which are streams of considerable size and importance.
There is but little timber in the county. In the earlier history of the county was a time when the valleys of the smaller streams and the many cañons south of the Platte abounded in a growth of cedar timber; but the greater portion of this has already been utilized, and the remaining is fast disappearing.
It is supposed that the first white men who visited what is now Lincoln County were the brothers Pierre and Auguste Choteau, who were sent out from St. Louis to explore the Northwestern country with a view to the establishment of trading posts, for the purpose of securing furs from the Indians. But little is known concerning the explorations of the Choteau brothers, except that they passed up the Platte beyond the forks of the North and South Platte in the year 1762.
These explorations in the interest of the St. Louis fur companies were kept up for several years, and, in the 1780, an expedition was sent out to explore the country between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains. After spending some time in trade with the Indians and establishing trading posts, the party traveled to the northward exploring the Yellowstone country, and thence down the North Platte country, either in the year 1784 or 1785, crossing the Platte near Willow Island, in Dawson County; thence across the divides between the Platte and Republican Rivers; thence to the southward and to St. Louis.
These and following expeditions resulted only in trade with the Indians and establishment of a few temporary trading posts; therefore it is unnecessary to refer further to the occasional trips made up the Platte by traders.
Lewis and Clarke also traversed this county, though no point here receives special mention in their reports.
The first United States Government expedition was made in 1819, under Maj. Long, who traveled up the north side of the Platte, and crossed just above the forks of the two rivers; thence going up the valley between the two rivers for about two miles, and thence traveling south they passed over the present site of the town of North Platte, and crossed the South Platte about two miles below the town, probably near where the iron wagon bridge now is, and thence proceeded up on the south side of the South Platte. Titian Peale, the naturalist, now living at Philadelphia at an advanced age, was with this expedition. The Peale family, now living at North Platte, are relatives of his.
In 1835, Col. Henry Dodge visited this country in the United States Government employ, with an expedition of 117 men, for the purpose of inducing the Arickaree Indians, occupying this region, to abandon their wild life and become civilized, he having authority from the Government to extend aid to them should they accept the offer. Col. Dodge camped with his men at Cottonwood Springs, afterward called Fort McPherson, and endeavored to hold a council with the Indians; but they, fearing the soldiers, fled to the slightly timbered region at the head of Fremont slough. On the 5th day of July, however, Col. Dodge succeeded in holding a council with them at this place, near what is now known as the Scherz farm, some ten miles southwest of the town of North Platte. As before stated, the object was to induce the Indians to accept a reservation; but about the only result of the meeting was the usually liberal amount of presents made by the whites, and the profuse promises of good will and friendship on the part of the Indians.
In 1843, Col. J. C. Fremont, making his expedition up the Platte, celebrated the Fourth of July of that year in what is now Lincoln County. Traveling up the south side of the Platte until he reached the forks, he crossed the South Platte here on the 2d day of July, at the place which is now the farm of Alex Struthers, some two miles from the present town of North Platte. Here he camped for the night, and on the following morning he made a cache of pork and other provisions, near the river, that he might get them on his return trip, thus saving the trouble of carrying them. A cache is formed simply by burying the articles desired to be preserved and concealing the place in such a manner that it would not be found by those unaware of its existence. On this day he marched west between the rivers, camping for the night about eighteen miles west from the forks, near what is known now at Keith's ranch. The next morning, July 4, the party all arose at early dawn to celebrate the Nation's birthday; but the weather was damp and murky, and a gloom was cast over the spirits of this little band. The customary salute, however, was fired. Breakfast was prepared, and Col. Fremont, wishing to revive the spirits of his men and at the same time afford a little better breakfast than usual, issued a liberal allowance of whisky, and soon the men brightened up, and a regular Fourth of July celebration was held. Nothing, however, of particular interest transpired, except that Col. Fremont relates that they witnessed with some interest the attack of a number of wolves upon a buffalo calf. Several of the buffalo bulls tried to protect the calf, but were unsuccessful, and it was soon worried to death. This camp was near the present railroad station of O'Fallon's.
During the year 1844, travel up the Platte River became quite frequent, and the first building in the county was erected by a Frenchman (name unknown.) Near the present resident of Mrs. Burke, at Fort McPherson. This building was constructed of cedar logs, with iron doors, and was used as a sort of trading ranch, but was abandoned in 1848, and a cache made of a plow, wagon and many other articles, which were discovered several years afterward.
In 1848, Capt. Stansbury made a topographical expedition through the country; but in his reports no special mention is made of this county further than a general report on the Platte Valley.
In 1852, a man by the name of Brady settled on the south side of the island now bearing his name, and built a house of cedar logs about one-forth of a mile from the present residence of Mrs. Burke. Brady is supposed to have been killed some time during the following year by the Indians.
In 1858, the first permanent settlement in the county was made at Cottonwood Springs, and the first building was erected in the fall of that year by Boyer & Robideau to be used as a trading ranch. The place was named Cottonwood Springs, rounded by a heavy growth of cottonwood trees, comprising a tract of about one hundred acres.
In the same year (1858), another trading ranch was started at O'Fallon's Bluffs, located on the south side of the river and some miles above the town of O'Fallon's.
About this time, a number of these ranches were established at convenient distances all the way from Fort Kearney to the mountains. But to return to the settlement at Cottonwood Springs. Dick Darling began the erection of the second building here in the summer of 1859, but it was purchased by Charles McDonald, who completed it in the fall of that year, and during the winter of 1859-60, he put in a large stock of supplies for freighters and emigrants, and in fact a supply of everything that would sell to white men or Indians. During January, 1860, he removed his wife here from Omaha; hence Mrs. Orra McDonald was the first white woman to settle in the county. She lived here about three years before there was another white woman living at Cottonwood, though during 1860, several white women came to the county with their husbands. Mrs. Davis, living a few miles from Cottonwood, was the second white lady to locate in the county. Mrs. McDonald is now living at North Platte, where her husband is engaged in the banking business. She is one of the most intelligent and refined of ladies, and the writer is indebted to her for much information concerning the early history of the county.
In the spring of 1860, J. A. Morrow built a ranch about twelve miles west of Cottonwood, and the mail company established another mail station near, on Box Elder Creek.
The cause for the establishment of all these ranches was the increased travel and freighting carried on over this route during the great rush of emigrants and gold seekers to the Rocky Mountains and to California. Of course it was necessary that ranches be built at convenient distances in order that these freighters and emigrants could be furnished with supplies. These ranches, at first some distance apart, were soon increased in number until it was generally only from ten to twelve miles from one station to another, many of the more important of these having two or three or perhaps several trading ranches. Mail and stage lines were established along the route, and, in 1861, Edward Creighton, of Omaha, completed his telegraph line, and for many years, until the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad, the entire route was one grand rush of business, a constant stream of travel pouring up this valley. To give some idea of the extent of the freight and emigrant business along this route, it may be said that it was not uncommon event to be able to stand at the door of one of these ranches and count from seven hundred to one thousand of the wagons pass in a single day; indeed, Mrs. McDonald tells the writer that she one day counted more than nineteen hundred wagons passing the settlement at Cottonwood.
To show the reader something of the magnitude of the business transacted along this great overland route, we will say that one firm alone engaged in the freight business operated 6,250 wagons, with a team force of 75,000 oxen, and with a capital invested of $2,000,000. This firm was Russell, Majors, Waddell & Co. When it is considered that this is the business of one firm alone, it will be seen that the travel, taken all together, assumed considerable proportions.
The wagons used for this purpose were built specially by a St. Louis firm and were constructed with a storage and carrying capacity of 7,000 pounds, to haul which, when loaded, required from eight to ten yoke of oxen, according to the strength of them.
A train of wagons consisted of twenty-five wagons in charge of the following officers: The wagon-master, who acted as captain; then the assistance wagon-master, the extra hands, the night-herder, the cavallard driver, whose duty it was to attend to the extra cattle. Besides these there was a driver for each team, making a complete force of thirty-one men for a train. The water-master is called the "bull-wagon boss," the teamsters or drivers "bull whackers," and a train a "bull outfit," Every man is expected to be thoroughly armed, and to know where to "fall in" when an attack is made.
The trade with the Indians was also a source of profit for the ranchmen, they exchanging their goods and various ornaments for buffalo, beaver and other furs. The ordinary price of a buffalo robe was at first only about $1, so the traders made an immense profit in the transaction. Firearms and ammunition were also greatly in demand by the Indians, and for these they would pay an enormous price, exchanging ponies or furs for them.
The practice of offering presents to the Indians was commenced at an early date, and so fond were they of presents that they would only trade with those who made them handsome presents. But in order to find who would give the most liberally, when a tribe came in to trade, the chiefs would visit all the trading houses, and whatever hours of the day or night it chanced to be, the family of the trader was expected to prepare what they termed a feast-that is a bountiful supply of coffee and something to eat; and while the red men ranged themselves in a circle drinking coffee, they wore a kind of sack suspended from their shoulders into which the trader was supposed to pour flour, sugar and other articles of food. Sugar was especially prized by them. These feats many times cost the trader from $50 to $100, and then he was left by no means sure that his would be the store selected by them to do their trading; but whenever he should be successful, he well knew that his profits would be large, for the entire band would make their purchases of him. With the extremely high prices charged, he knew that before the band left, his business and his profits would be enormous.
At this early day, the herds of buffaloes roaming over these prairies were immense. It was estimated that they were sufficient in number, adding their probable increase, to furnish meat for the people of the entire United States for many generations to come, were they not promiscuously slaughtered, but only killed for food. Though the Indians consumed an immense number annually, one buffalo to each lodge being required daily, yet they were not improvident enough to engage in wholesale slaughter. The calves were generally born from May to July, after which time for a few months the Indians never killed the cows. Could this have been kept up, buffaloes would still have been abundant; but their wholesale slaughter by hunters for sport and for their furs have rendered them nearly extinct, and the bones of hundreds of thousands lie bleaching on the prairies, monuments to the reckless improvidence of the white man.
During the year 1861, the Creighton Telegraph Line was completed through the county. In June of the same year the first white child was born in the county. His name is William H. McDonald, and he now resides with his parents at North Platte. He is a bright young man, and some years ago prepared a brief but readable historical sketch of the town of North Platte.