Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Produced by Linda Werts.

Part 2


In the summer of 1863, the fierce Sioux started on a raid of murder and destruction through the Platte Valley. From Fort Kearney eastward to Omaha, the whole country was wild with fear and apprehension. For a time, it seemed as though the settlements would be broken up. Mr. Martin's ranch, south of the Platte, near Grand island, was attacked, and two young boys narrowly escaped a horrible death by riding post haste to Fort Kearney on a single horse, pursued by a band of red devils, one of whose barbed arrows passed through the side of the younger brother and transfixed itself in the back of the elder boy in front of him. They both lived, although the Indians killed and horribly mutilated one of Mr. Martin's field hands.

A few miles farther east occurred the massacre of the Campbell family. The whole valley was wild with horror and Columbus became a harbor of refuge. The rush was intensified by an isolated case of massacre previous to this date, which occurred on the Loup River, near the Pawnee Reservation. David Anderson, of Columbus, thus relates the circumstance in the long chapter of horrors:

"Pat Murrey, whom everybody knows, had a contract to put up hay for the Government troops then stationed at the Pawnee Agency. The hay-making party consisted of Pat's brother-in-law, Adam Smith, and several hired men. They ate and lodged in tents on the meadow beside the Looking Glass Creek. Pat and his good wife superintended, Mrs. Murrey preparing the meals. One evening about sunset, Pat being absent that evening at his farm near Columbus, and just after the whole force had quit work, repaired to the tents and picketed the teams on the grass near by, there came riding from the adjacent hills a file of about a dozen Sioux Indians. In their usual friendly way--most friendly in expression when most murderous in purpose--they saluted the company, but most especially the hostess of the tents, in the usual elliptic 'How!' of the Pawnees, which was well known to them, and in extending the right hand. Still using, for a blind, other Pawnee terms, they pointed to their empty stomachs, saying, 'Chewowwow.' which means 'Eat! eat!' But, while they were devouring the food which Mrs. Murrey, in her kindness, had given them, one of the hay-makers, an old man, who, on the Western plains, had learned many Indian dialects, perceived, from their undertalk among themselves, that they were Sioux, and so informed Mrs. Murrey. After eating enormously, as only hungry Indians ever do eat, they unceremoniously picked up the hay-makers' guns, as if out of mere curiosity. The old man confronted them in their own language, when they immediately declared their peaceful intentions toward the whites, but admitted that they intended to raid on the ponies of the Pawnees. But the plan had all been preconcerted, and, while some still curiously handled the hay-makers' weapons, others untied the lariats of a fine span of mules. Adam Smith resisted, and the old man remonstrated in the Sioux tongue. But instantly, at signal, the whole party was attacked, and the old man tomahawked and scalped. Adam Smith, in his attempt to resist the taking of his mules, was pierced with eight deadly arrows, and fell helpless to the ground. Others fell, mortally wounded with barbed arrows. Only one--a boy--escaped, and hid in a hay-cock near by. The brave Mrs. Murrey seized a pitchfork and tried to save the horses of her husband, but was quickly pierced with five arrows and fell helpless to the earth. The savages fled with all the teams. After they had gone, Mrs. Murrey crept to the body of her brother-in-law and extracted some of the arrows from his yet breathing body. She also removed two arrows from her own flesh, but that was all she could do, except to creep away into the tall, damp grass, which was yet unmown, and there lie and suffer throughout the dreadful night. Help was not distant, but it was now dark, and no one of the hundreds at the agency near by--Pawnees, agents, employes or the military--knew anything of the tragedy until the boy, at early dawn, carried the news. Of course, all hastened to the scene. All were taken to the house of an old citizen, Mr. Saunders. Adam was expiring. Others were in hopeless agony, and soon died. Mrs. Murrey was tenderly removed to her home near Columbus, and, after long treatment and much suffering, recovered. The military pursued the fugitive devils, but, as is usual in such cases, without success.

"While the alarm was spreading in the West like the prairie flames before the wind, a sudden shock was given in advance of all real danger, perhaps, by a statement quietly made by a freighter, who had been resting his ox teams a few days in the angle between the Platte and Loup Rivers. About noon one day, this freighter stated that, in looking after his oxen down in the thicket, he suddenly came upon a band of forty Sioux concealed in a thicket and armed with the best of weapons; that, having been long and widely acquainted with the Sioux tribes, and knowing these to be of that people from their general features and their dress, he addressed them in their language, gave them his name and place and occupation, and was at once known by some of the party; that they then, upon his promise of secrecy, and leaving the place and pushing out of the way, revealed to him their plot of cleaning out the whole Platte Valley, that these forty men were only spies sent forward by 500 braves encamped up the river, to make observations and report the best points of attack; that, after promising secrecy, the thing looked to him so horrible that he felt bound to let us know, so that we could prepare for the emergency. Thus, reporting to a few who were at the time working at the little mill over there, and also to Mr. Barnum, who still resides there, he pushed on up the road. This rumor went that afternoon up and down the valley by telegraph, and by runners on swift ponies; also the German and Irish settlements on Shell Creek. A few of the bolder class made a cautious reconnoissance up and down the rivers that afternoon, and for several days following, but found no decided traces of the lurking foe. The stampede from Wood River began to cross the Loup and pour down the valley into and much of it onward through Columbus. The whole country was wild with alarm. The settlers came pouring in that evening. But next day it was a sight strange and painful, indeed; for hither came nearly every living being and thing--men, women and children, with food and bed; cattle and horses--pell-mell, crowding into the little village, and filling every square yard of space in the buildings, and in the gardens and streets. That day, an organization of Home Guards was effected, with Captain, Lieutenants, Corporals and all. Sentinels were posted at night, and patrols were sent abroad through the day. And so, for ten dreadful days and nights, Columbus--that is, the old town--with Mrs. Baker's hotel as headquarters, was garrisoned and guarded--a promiscuous mass of men and brutes huddled together within a little stockade of fence-posts, set edge to edge in a trench. The belief in a present actual raid of the reds was not strong or general, but in such case of danger, so appalling in its nature, however uncertain in its degree, apprehension is fearful and suspense is dreadful. During the day, it was quite endurable, for no approach of the foe could be without due notice, and even a strong force would be received with telling effect. But when the evening shadows fell, anxiety marked every face, and even stout-hearted men acknowledged their solicitude.

"Below Columbus, very few left their premises, for that point was quite an outpost of defense, where Mr. Lo and his braves would be welcomed, should they come, 'with bloody hands to hospitable graves.' Many, however, sent their wives and children down the valley to Fremont, Elkhorn and Omaha, the men remaining to guard their huts by day, and dream at night of scalping-knives, etc. * *

"The spring of 1864 marked a new era in the history of the plains, and introduced a new feature in our frontier warfare. To protect the surveys then being made for the proposed line of the Union Pacific Railroad, the Government established a line of military posts all the way to the mountains. By presents and a wholesale free pass on freight cars, the company made fast friends of the Pawnee tribe, and an order was issued by the Government, at the request of the company, for recruiting a company of Pawnee scouts to operate along the line, in concert with and auxiliary to the regular troops. The honor of commanding this new force was given to Frank North, one of the earliest settlers of Columbus. With the title of Major, he selected his subordinates--Captain, Lieutenant and others--from the hardy young men of Columbus, his trusted associates, giving some of the lower offices to the Pawnees. Together, they made a formidable force, and became a terror to the hostile tribes."

A slight addition to the above very complete and interesting account of this awful season is that the Home Guard which was organized consisted of J. S. Taylor, Captain; E W. Arnold, First Lieutenant; J. A. Baker, Second Lieutenant; J. B. Beebe, orderly Sergeant. Also that J. L. Martin, now of Merrick County, dubbed the military stockade at Grand Island "Fort Sauer Kraut," that at Columbus "Sock-it-to-'Em," and at Elkhorn, "Fort Skedaddle."


Platte County was first organized from Dodge in 1855, and was twenty-four miles square, including Sections 17, 18, 19 and 20 north. of Ranges 1, 2, 3 and 4 east, of the Fourth Principal Meridian. In 1858, it was made to include, in addition, all of Monroe County on the west not included in the Pawnee Indian Reservation.

Monroe county had been created in August, 1857, and officers elected, but during the winter of 1858-59, a petition extensively signed by citizens of both Platte and Monroe Counties, induced the Legislature to consolidate them.

The elections held in 1858, by order of Judge Smith, of Fremont, resulted as follows:Platte County--Probate Judge, A. B. Pattison; Clerk, George W. Hewett; Recorder, J. P. Becker; Treasurer, V. Kummer; Sheriff, Cyrus Tollman; Justice of the Peace, C. B. Stillman; Constable, J. Guter; County Commissioners, Gustavus Becher, George Spaulding and Abram Root.

Monroe County--Probate Judge, Charles H. Whaley; Clerk, George W. Stevens; Recorder, G. E. Yeaton; Treasurer, C. Whaley; Sheriff, N. Davis; Representative, Leander Gerrard; Surveyor, P. Kimball; County Commissioners, H. Peck, C. H. Pierce and H. J. Hudson.

The first meeting of the County Commissioners was held December 28, 1857. Present--Messrs. Becher, Spaulding and Sarvis. The latter was elected Chairman. On motion, a Territorial tax of 10 mills on the dollar was levied on all real and personal property, the county tax being 6 mills; also a poll tax of 50 cents. The school tax was 1½ mills on the dollar; road tax 1 mill. At the afternoon session, the county was divided into three Commissioner's districts: No. 1 comprising all the territory bounded by the limits commencing at the southeast corner of Platte County, thence running north twenty-four miles, thence west eight miles, thence south twenty-four miles, thence east to the place of beginning. No. 2 commencing at the southwest corner of district No. 1, thence running north twenty-four miles, thence west eight miles, thence south twenty-four miles, thence east to the place of beginning. No. 3, all that part of Platte County lying west of District No. 2. Thomas Sarvis was appointed the Commissioner to represent No. 1; George Spaulding, No. 2, and Gustavus Becher, No. 3. After Thomas Sarvis had been "allowed the sum of $2 for notifying George Spaulding of special meeting," the meeting adjourned, as per the minutes of John Siebert, Clerk.

The regular meeting was held on Monday January 4, 1858, full board present. Mr. Becher presented a memorial from C. B. Stillman, John Siebert, J. P. Becker and nineteen others, praying for the location of a road from the north end of Washington avenue in the town of Columbus to Shell Creek, together with the bridging of said stream. January 5 was the day set apart for the purpose of viewing said road, it having been at first proposed by some slower going member than Mr. Sarvis, to put off the great, the glorious day until the first Tuesday in March.

At the meeting held in March, it was resolved to draw lots for twelve grand and twelve petit jurors to be selected from the people of Columbus and Buchanan Precincts. The next day, the Commissioners met and received a petition signed by John Reck, John Miller, C. B. Stillman and thirteen other citizens of Columbus, praying for the incorporation of the town. An act of incorporation was therefore passed proclaiming the site claimed by the Columbus Company, a town, to have "perpetual succession," and privileged thereafter to "sue and be sued, defend and be defended in all courts of law and equity." John Reck, Vincent Kummer, John C. Wotfel, Peter Meyer and Frank G. Becker were appointed Trustees, to hold office until their successors should be elected in May. Gustavus Becher, Michael Fry and C. B. Stillman were chosen Judges of Election, and Charles I. Stetson and John Siebert, Clerks thereof. At this same meeting, the county was divided into two road districts, the dividing line to pass directly through the center of District No. 1, comprising the territory lying to the west of the town. Jacob Guter was appointed Supervisor, and Daniel Hashberger the Supervisor of No. 2, the land to the east; said Supervisors to be held in bonds of $50 each for the faithful performance of their duties.

In May, the county was divided into five districts, Jacob Guter, Joseph Skinner, James Jeffries, Alex Albertson and Charles Reinke, Supervisors. The road leading from Washington avenue to Shell Creek was made a county thoroughfare.

The first financial report made in the county by the Commissioners presents the following appearance: Whole amount of indebtedness from August 1, 1857, to July 1, 1858, $141.66; from July 1, 1858, to July 1, 1859, $560.34, divided as follows: Election expenses, $16.49; county books, $285; freight on same, $15.25; printing, $30; copy of revenue law, $25; fees of Justices of the Peace, $3.25; fees of Sheriff, $12; witness fees, $6.60; surveying, $5; salary of Probate Judge, $50; salary of County Treasurer, $50; County Clerk's fees, $28.75; County Commissioners' fees, $33; which report was signed by Gustavus Becher, William Davis and George Spaulding.

When Platte County was first organized in 1857, the Commissioners held their meetings at the house of George W. Hewett. Afterward, when Gustavus G. Becker, Sr., was acting as Commissioner (commencing in 1861), the gatherings were held in the log house situated about two blocks south of the present court house. An act was passed by the Legislature in February, 1867, authorizing the County Commissioners to raise money for the building of a court house and jail. An election was held Aril 22, and the people voted in favor of issuing $16,000 bonds--96 for and 29 against. J. P. Becker was awarded the contract, completing the court house in 1868, at a cost of $18,000. The building is a neat two-story frame structure. The square includes A, B and C, formerly known as Columbia square. The southeast corner of the square was appropriated to the county for building the court house. The remaining three-quarters were re-surveyed, and the city assumed $3,700 of the court house debt. To pay the interest thereon, the city commenced to sell the lots. The balance of the square was finally sold to the county for $3,700.

The present county officers are as follows: County Clerk, John Stauffer; Clerk of the District Court, C. A. Newman; Treasurer, J. W. Early, Sheriff, D. C. Kavanaugh; Judge, J. G. Higgins; Superintendent of Public Instruction, J. E. Moncrief; Surveyor, L. J. Cramer; Commissioners, M. Maher (Chairman), Joseph Rivet, H. J. Hudson.

At the time Colfax County was organized, it contained two school districts--two log schoolhouses. Now there are over sixty school districts, and nearly as many school buildings, valued at $30,000.


The town of Cleveland, situated about three miles northwest of Columbus, was laid out in 1857, George W. Stevens, William H. Stevens and Michael Sweeny being active in "building it up." It went down with the city of Neenah, Buchanan and other paper towns. The next grand scheme which exploded with a crash was George Francis Train's Credit Foncier. It was to be operated on the same gauge as the Credit Mobilier, and when the latter went down the former fell, and George Francis cleared out. Some of the land which he purchased at the time (1866), is "still in the courts," The certificates of stock were salted mostly among Eastern capitalists. Several of them, however, are deposited with Leander Gerrard, and some of George Francis Train's notes are in his possession also, bearing the autograph of the eccentric agent, the peculiarities of whom were decided "dash" and confidence. He became proprietor of the present Hammond House, set apart a room for the President of the United States and chief executive of the Union Pacific, and otherwise conducted himself as no one else could.

David Anderson, who has given much valuable attention to the early times of Columbus and the Platte River Valley, has the following to say of the scheme: "At this convenient point in my story I will again introduce George Francis, who figured so conspicuously in those days. He did much to advertise Omaha and the Platte Valley. But the sequel shows that Train, like many others, has had his existence among men, to all present appearances, at least fifty years too soon. The much that he did was just so much too much. He spent his prophetic zeal for the Union Pacific and the whole Platte Valley, but chiefly for Omaha and Columbus. Hundreds, nay thousands, rushed to these points, thinking to invest in his city lots. But Train's lots were never in the market, and well it was for people; otherwise, people would have bought before the time. Train was seized with the one idea that the capital of the United States might, could, would and should be on the Transcontinental--International Highway and as nearly as possible in the geographical center of the Union. So he measured the maps in all directions of earth, heaven and hell. On the map of Uncle Sam he found Columbus within ten miles of the center; on the map of the world within one mile; and on the map of the universe exactly in the center. It was moreover, directly on the perpendicular line twixt the upper and the nether world, exactly under the zenith, and over the nadir--felicitous spot on which heavenly light could fall on 'Next President, America,' and from which all corrupt Congressmen 'who loved cards and wine and women,' might drop into the pit below. So he bargained for 800 acres of land and laid out the 'Capital Addition,' and began to locate the capstan, ropes and pulleys which would move the gubernatorial mansion of Nebraska, and the executive mansion of the Union, to Columbus. They did not move worth a cent, and not an inch yet advanced on their long journey; for as we said, George set his machinery at least fifty years too soon.

"As to the people of Columbus, their cool heads never became heated with these vagaries, and they kept on the even tenor of their way. Their expectations, however, were excited by the distinct intimations, if not the express promises of the controlling officials of the Union Pacific that Columbus should be the terminus of the first freight division of the road, and that here should be established a round-house and repair shops, etc., etc. And it was with this understanding that valuable property was conveyed to T. C. Durant, Trustee, for a mere nominal price, and the right of way given to the company through town and most of the county, and depot grounds in town were given to the road."


The pioneer railroad, of course, the father of all those lines which are now making Columbus and Platte county a commercial center, was the Union Pacific road, which reached this locality in June, 1866. The work of track-laying was not rapid until the construction train struck the Platte Valley and its junction with the Elkhorn. The Columbus Republican of June, 1875, has the following, descriptive of the track-laying through that city in June, 1866:

"The Union Pacific track was laid from Omaha to Ogden by one party--the Casement Brothers, of Painesville, Ohio--J. S. and D. T. Casement, familiarly called by the boys Jack and Dan. They were a pair of the biggest little men you ever saw--about as large a twelve-year old boys, but requiring larger hats. To give some idea how the thing was done Sunday, June 1, 1866, and why it was done on Sunday, is, however, the object of this sketch. The thing to be done was to lay the ties and fasten the rails to them, ready for the locomotive. Of course, only one pair of rails could be laid at a time, for they must be laid on the iron chairs in continuous line, end to end, and then spiked fast to the ties. This was done just as fast as four men could take the rails from a low truck close behind, and lay them down on their chairs. Two stout athletes to each rail, one pair to each side, swayed forward and backward from the loaded truck to the place awaiting them. This motion of two pairs of men, which was nearly as regular as the pendulum of a clock, governed the movements of the whole corps. To that motion everything had to conform, just as every wheel in the clock has to conform to the oscillations of the pendulum. The track-layers' train was a movable village crawling along the track a few feet at a time, as the rails were laid. It comprised the rail truck in front, then the engine and tender, and after this the provision car, kitchen, dining-car, wash-room, sleeping bunks, granary, and lastly, the daily supply of material. The occasion of the track-laying through the town on Sunday was this: The track-layers were under contract and bonds to complete the track to the 100th-mile post by a certain day, the 5th or 6th of the month, and their time was short. The progress of the work must necessarily be impeded somewhat in crossing the Loup. Two miles of track, including the original plat of Columbus, were laid that day. We were not excessively pious hereabouts in those days, and the whole city, men, women and children, about seventy-five in all, went out, and, for an hour or two, watched the passing industrial pageantry. Perhaps it was for some atonement of this desecration of our soil that the Superintendent, a few months later, donated the freight of the first car load ever brought to Columbus for any party not an employe, consisting of the whole bill of pine lumber, for the Congregational Church."

On the 14th of June, 1879, the county voted $100,000 bonds to aid in the construction of the Atchison & Nebraska Branch of the Burlington and Missouri Railroad. The line was completed June 25, 1880, and opened up the whole region of country to the south and southeast. Although but seven miles of road was built in Platte County, the benefits of the connection were so apparent that her citizens responded in the liberal spirit noticed above. The branch to Columbus is generally known as the Lincoln & Northwestern Railroad, taking in its route from Lincoln, Seward and David City. The northern and northwestern sections of the State were thrown into close connections with Columbus by the completion of the Omaha, Niobrara & Black Hills road, running from that city to Norfolk and Albion, eighty-one miles. The completion of this line was duly celebrated June 16, 1881, by a large and enthusiastic public gathering, at which Judge J. G. Higgins, presided. Madison, Boone, Nance and Platte Counties shook hands, and bound themselves together with iron bands. There was a grand parade, and general "carryings-on."

Among the early railroad schemes, which would have developed Columbus and adjoining country, had capital and capitalists been "lying around loose." was the Yankton & Columbus line. The design was to take the Sixth Principal Meridian as the guiding line of the survey, Columbus being east of the meridian and Yankton west, and just 100 miles north to the south bank of the Missouri. The company was incorporated in December of 1868, with officers as follows: John Rickly, President; W. W. Brookings, Vice President; Will B. Dale, Secretary; Charles H. Whaley, Treasurer; W. W. Brookings, Newton Edmunds, J. R. Hanson, John Rickly, Will B. Dale, Charles H. Whaley and S. L. Holman, Directors. The nineteen original incorporators subscribed to $25,000 of stock each, but the company did not meet with sufficient encouragement of a substantial nature after the road was surveyed to continue its building; although the project was undertaken in all seriousness, it seemed to be ahead of the times. Mr. Rickly, whose name heads the list of officers, paid the surveyors' expenses and several attorney bills, and was a personal sufferer.

In July, 1869, the county voted to issue $80,000 bonds to the Sioux City & Columbus Railroad, in case ten miles should be built within one year. The officers of this corporation were: President, William Adair; Vice President, George B. Graff; Secretary, James Stott; Treasurer, J. P. Eckhart; Directors, J. G. Ogden, C. F. Eckhart, William Adair, C. H. Whaley, J. F. Warner, James Stott and George B. Graff. An estimate of the cost for the first ten miles was made at $54,000, but this enterprise also fell through on account of lack of funds. This line was also "ahead of time," but none the less feasible had the country been more thickly settled.

The first ferry established in the vicinity of Columbus was by the town company, although it was ostensibly under the management of the Elkhorn River, Shell Creek, Loup Fork and Wood River Bridge and Ferry Company, an organization sufficiently imposing in name to overawe any competitors. Dr. Malcolm was President, James C. Mitchell, Secretary. Capt. Fifield (who also kept a ranch), Sam Bayless, A. J. Smith and Samuel Curtis, were also interested parties. Capt. Smith was principal owner.

In the winter of 1858-59, John Rickly, who was in the full tide of his prosperity as a saw-mill operator, objected to being "feed" $3 every time. He brought a team over the Loup and resolved to establish a rival institution. The Elkhorn River, Shell Creek, Loup Fork, and Wood River Bridge and Ferry Company had been using a common rope for their motive power. Mr. Rickly thereupon applied to the Territorial Legislature for a charter to operate a cable (wire) ferry. No doubt it would have been obtained, had not Mr. Mitchell found an opportunity to appropriate it to his own use. As it was, Mr. Rickly obtained a permit to operate his ferry, but was bought out by the rival concern (with a long name), receiving, among other items of compensation, a life-grant to use their ferry gratis. The case passed to J. E. North and Mr. Franer. The franchise next came into possession of the Loup Fork Bridge and Ferry company, consisting of O. P. Herford, J. H. Green and John I. Redick. Mr. Green bought out his partners. In 1863, the pontoon bridge was put across the river. In 1864, Messrs. Becher & Becker experimented in the business of ferrying. In June, 1869, the contract for building the bridge across the Loup was awarded, and the bridge built at a cost of $7,000. This gave place to another, which was carried away during the spring freshet of 1881. The disastrous flood came down the river March 19, 1881. No such sight had been witnessed since 1867, when the waters covered the bottom lands south of the city. At this time, the city was under water from the "bench," south of Eleventh street, the regular bed of the river. Eight spans of the Loup bridge were swept away, two of them floating down the river as gently and unconcernedly as though they had been feathers. The culvert, on the Union Pacific track, west of the depot, was damaged, also much of the track was undermined and carried off. The bridge between Duncan and Lost Creek was greatly damaged. Of the fine bridge across the Loup, but two spans remained standing. The present structure was at once thrown across the river.

The first bridge across the Platte River, and the structure now standing, was built through the enterprise and energy of the people of Platte County, and was completed in November, 1870. It is 1,716 feet in length, and cost $25,000.

The mail was first carried from Columbus to Omaha, by John Rickly, per ox team. The first mail arrived on July 4, 1857. The day and circumstance was made a matter of rejoicing, George W. Hewitt being orator of the day. There was quite a crowd, but the male element predominated most decidedly. Mrs. Wolfel, Mrs. Meyers, Mrs. Dale and Miss Caroline Rickly were there, and the prodigies in the line of cooking turned out were something tremendous in the eyes of the army of the hungry. When Mr. Rickly was unable to accomplish the journey himself, he deputized his son, John J. The Postmaster's "fund of revenue" consisted of 60 per cent of the sale of stamps. Next in the line of Postmasters came F. C. Becher. The Great Western Stage company had, in the meantime, commenced carrying the mail by way of Fontenelle, the frequency of the journeys being increased to semi-weekly to Fort Kearney and daily to Omaha. The former change was made in 1859, and the latter the next year. This company, it will be remembered, was a branch of the famous pony express, and Columbus felt that she was at last in regular communication with the outside world.

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