Sarpy County: Reminiscences of Sarpy | The Story of the Diamond|
Early Settlements | The Claim Club | Early Towns | Early Events
County Roster | Moving the County Seat | Education
Bellevue: Early History | Gov. Burt | Education | The Press|
Religious | Societies | Brick Maufacturing | Biographical Sketches
Papillion: Early Settlement | The County Court House | Churches|
Education | Societies | The Press | Hotels | Business Interests
Papillion (cont.): Biographical Sketches|
Springfield: Biographical Sketches|
Plattsford Precinct | Richland Precinct | Forest City | La Platte
List of Illustrations in Sarpy County Chapter
SARPY County was named in honor of one who, in the early days of Nebraska's history, was a central figure--Col. Peter A. Sarpy. Although containing the oldest settlement in the State, Sarpy County was among the last of the river tier to be organized, having up to February 1, 1857, been a part of Douglas County. It is surrounded on three sides by water; on the east by the Missouri, and on the south and west by the Platte. The principal river is the Papillion, originally known as the Papio, which has two well-known branches, the Little Papillion and South Creek, the South Fork of the Big Papillion. The Big Papillion flows in an easterly direction and empties into the Missouri. All other streams in the county tend to the south, and swell the waters of the Platte.
Louis and Clark, in their famous expedition in search of the head-waters of the Missouri, reached the mouth of the Platte River on July 21, 1804, and the next day explored the country to the north and west, and camped on the level bench on which Bellevue was half a century later located.
The following year, Manuel Lesa, a Spanish adventurer, came to Bellevue, and on climbing the bluff to the plateau, was, as the story runs, so struck with the natural beauty of the spot, that he exclaimed "Bellevue," and unwittingly christened the town.
It is probable that other parties visited the junction of the two great rivers between the date just given and 1810, but if such was the case, they have left no record. In 1810, the American Fur Company, which was always in the van of civilization, established a trading-post at this point, and placed Francis Deroin in charge as Indian trader. Deroin was succeeded by Joseph Roubideaux, familiarly know as "Old Joe" to all the early settlers, and later the father of St. Joseph, Mo. In 1816, John Carbanne succeeded Roubideaux, and held the position until superseded in 1824 by Col. Peter A. Sarpy.
[Portrait of PETER A. SARPY.]
In the Omaha Herald of December 8, 1874, appear reminiscences of Peter A. Sarpy, by "Duncan," who first met him on April 1, 1855. He then appeared to be about fifty-five years of age, and was rather below the medium height, with black hair, dark complexion, well-knit and compact features, and a heavy beard that had scorned a razor's touch for many a year. His manner was commanding, his address fluent, and, in the presence of the opposite sex, he was polished and refined. He had been agent of the American Fur Company at Bellevue since 1823.
He preferred the freedom of the Western prairies to the gaiety and refinement of civilized life, and was never happier than in visiting the rude wigwams of the Omahas encamped around the old trading-post, who regarded him with respect and veneration. To one of their number, Nokome, he was more than once indebted for the preservation of his life when attacked by hostile Indians. She was his reputed wife, and exercised unbounded influence with the tribe, who were often feasted by her at his expense.
The conversation turned upon the action of the Governor in removing the capital from Bellevue to Omaha; the killing of Hollister by Henry, and other topics of interest in the newly organized Territory of Nebraska, and as Sarpy portrayed in glowing colors the noble traits of these Indians and the injustice and wrong they suffered at the hands of the white man, he was interrupted by a tall, gaunt-looking specimen of humanity, who approached him and said:
"This talk about the Indians, as good, brave and intelligent, may suit you traders, who have been enriched by exchanging your gew-gaws for their valuable buffalo robes, and defrauding them of their annuities; but I have lived among them, too, and I know them to be a lying, thieving, treacherous race, incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, and the sooner they are exterminated the better it would be for the country." Sarpy advanced to the front of the speaker and in an excited manner addressed him as follows: "Do you know who I am, sir? I am Peter A. Sarpy, sir, the old horse on the sand-bar, sir! If you want to fight, sir, I am your man, sir; I can whip the devil, sir! If you want satisfaction, sir, choose your weapons, sir! Bowie knife, shot-gun or revolver, sir, I'm your man, sir!"
He snapped his pistol at the lighted candle on the table, a distance of about three paces, which left us in total darkness, when the stranger availed himself of this opportunity to make his exit by the side door, glad to have escaped the unerring marksman, who might have extinguished him in like manner.
The following anecdote of Peter A. Sarpy is furnished by Hon. J. Sterling Morton, and shows a phase of the old settler's character which few even of those who knew him appreciated:
The beautiful bluffs that rise so majestically from the Missouri at Bellevue, Neb., where, shimmering in the morning sunlight, and the deep verdure that covered them that summer day, made them look, while the dew lay still upon them, like a string of gigantic emeralds just fallen from the clouds. The air was still, and supreme solitude locked the landscape in hazy, drowsy rest.
Col. Peter A. Sarpy met me up back of the old Mission House, by the grave of the great Omaha Chief, Big Elk, that morning. He was buoyant, and his eye glistened with the exuberance of health and good spirits. He was dressed neatly, and upon his breast I noticed for the first time a solitaire diamond, which gleamed and flashed with striking brilliancy.
"Colonel," said I, "you have been adding to your jewels," and, looking steadily at the gem, "is that something new?"
"Oh, no, my friend," said he; "that is old, very old, and I will tell you all about it, if you will listen, and what is to come of it in the hereafter if you will."
Signifying my assent with great alacrity, Col. Sarpy proceeded as follows:
"Many, many years ago, when St. Louis was a village, my good Catholic mother died--may God rest her soul in peace--in that town. We children followed her remains to the cemetery, and laid them quietly in the grave, and wept until our eyes could weep no more. And then, shortly after, I came up here to Nebraska among the Indians to trade, and my brother, John B., remained in St. Louis.
"But, a few years ago, I went down to that city to purchase goods, and one afternoon, after I had been there several days, my brother said:
"Peter, I want to see you privately in the counting room to talk about the dead." And so I went in and John B. said:
"Peter, this city is growing very rapidly. It is stretching out to the south and the west and the north. It needs more room, and the old graveyard where our mother is buried, must be given. up. We must move her remains to another resting-spot, and we will do it together while you are here; we will do it to-morrow."
"And so the very next day we went out to mother's grave, and carefully we brought the coffin to the light and lifted it up tenderly onto a bier. It was sadly decayed. It looked like punk-wood. The top was moved a little to one side, and I could not restrain a desire to look in. As I did look, the sunlight streamed in, and I saw something gleaming there. At once I remembered the diamond which my mother had worn always, and which had been buried on her breast, and I reached in and took it out, and this is it which you now see.
"It is mine now, and when these bright days come I feel young again; and, remembering my mother, I put it on and wear it, for it makes me a better man.
"It is a charm, sir, and the memories which it brings to me are brighter and richer and more precious than all the gems in the world, for they are the sacred recollections of a Christian mother, a holy woman, whose teachings were purer than any diamonds that ever glowed.
"And now, while men think I am only an old Indian trader, who sees nothing in the future, who believes in no destiny for this beautiful Nebraska of ours; I know, sir, that not many years will come and go before I, too, will be called to another life in another world. And then these fertile lands, these vast plains will have been settled up, and somewhere in this Missouri Valley, perhaps in sight of where we now stand, a great city shall have been builded up, and there will ever and ever go up hence a hum of contented industry. Then I may have been in my grave many years, and with me will have rested in darkness this gem. And, having no children, no kinsmen, as the land fills up with many people and the cities grow, very likely, sir, some day they will come to you, as they did to brother John about our mother, and say:
"Here, sir, your old friend, Peter A. Sarpy, sir, is in the way; the city needs room, sir, and you must take his old bones away.'
"And if so, do it; do it decently and kindly, as I know you will; but remember this diamond. Peep into my old coffin; it is a pure gem, sir, first-water, and will surely flash whenever your eye can see. Then you reach in, I'll be still, and snatch the diamond out and put it on and wear it.
"The years will roll on and the people will still flood in, and this shall be one of the grandest gardens of the world, and you will have grown old, too, and become a citizen of some great city away out on what we now call the plains, and then death will rap at your door and you, too, will come into that other life in that other world. Tell your boys to bury this stone with you. But not many years more will have followed the trail of those which have already gone into the shadowy hunting lands, before the boys will be called upon by the authorities to move your bones also; you will have gotten in the way, too, and they'll tell the boys to move the old man--move him and make room for the City of the Plains.
"Tell the boys, when that time comes, to reach into your coffin again and take this glistening jewel out from the grave.
"Tell the oldest to put it on and wear it, and be buried with it, too, leaving instructions for its re-resurrection again.
"And so, sir, we'll keep this diamond glittering among the generations to come. It shall be buried and raised and worn and buried again, until finally it shall be buried for the last time away off in some of the islands of the Pacific, where the West shall have been found and settled in full, and finally perfected.
"I tell you, sir, this cry for 'Room! more room!' for the living, for the many peoples, for the great cities, will never, never cease!
"And let this diamond go on from grave to grave, from generation to generation, gleaming and flashing forever like a star, in the shield of one who shall always be a pioneer in the vanguard of progress and civilization."
He stopped his speech, and in silence we walked to the old trading-post. But there was the element of prophecy and the irresistible power of prescience in that summer morning talk of Col. Sarpy, which makes it ring in my ears and thrill in my veins even unto this day.
He looked into the future as into a mirror, and saw the face of to-day and to-morrow as clearly and plainly as a child sees trees and flowers shadowed in a pure brook.
In 1823, the Indian agency which had previously been established at Fort Calhoun, where Lewis and Clark held a council with the Indians, was removed to Bellevue, and was known in Government reports as the "Council Bluffs Indian Agency at Bellevue." Traders for hundreds of miles north and west brought their furs to this post, where the Indians came to make their purchases and sit in council with the "pale face." An attempt was made to foster civilization among native tribes, especially with the Omahas, Otoes and Pawnees. For this purpose, three blacksmith shops were established, as also other auxiliaries of civilized life, but with the usual result-- failure.
In 1846, the Presbyterian Board of Missions resolved to establish a post in the West, and the Rev. Edward McKinney was selected to choose a suitable point. He arrived in the fall of the same year, and, after careful observation, finally settled at Bellevue, where he erected a log house as his residence and headquarters. In the following spring, Walter Lowrie, Secretary of the Board visited Bellevue, and formally located the mission. The building was begun at once and completed in 1848. A school was also established, and children of Omahas, Otoes, half-breeds and Poncas were taught the rudiments of elementary science by D. E. Reed, who arrived the same fall, and with the missionary and his family constituted the mission force.
Previous to this date, a school had been established some distance up the Platte, on Council Creek, by Messrs. Dunbar and Ellis, but, owing to the Indian hostility, was abandoned, and the agents returned to Bellevue, which place is also noted as being the Council Bluffs of 1848, a name afterward appropriated to a city opposite Omaha.
During the same year (1847), the Mormons made Sarpy's a rallying point for their final departure to the "promised land," and a company under the leadership of Brigham Young crossed the river between St. Mary's and Bellevue on a ferry-boat owned by Gen. Sarpy. In 1849, the gold excitement attracted thousands thither on their way to the far Pacific, bringing much trade and giving an impetus to the growth of Bellevue. In the fall of the same year, the "Nebraska Post Office: was established, but two years later the name was changed to Council Bluffs, to correspond with the name of the agency.
In 1852, Maj. Barrown, Col. Stephen Decatur and others conceived the idea of laying out a town, but it was not until February 9, 1854, that a company was organized for that purpose, and the agreement signed by the following-named persons: Peter Sarpy, Stephen Decatur, Hiram Bennett, Isaiah N. Bennett, George Nepner, William R. English, James M. Galeswood, George T. Turner, P. J. McMahon, A. W. Hollister and A. C. Ford, who were the original proprietors of the town, and were known as the "Old Town Company." But there were no settlements in the West at that date to support a town, and the city proved to be an elephant on the hands of the incorporators. Most of the land owned by the company passed into other hands, and the company itself dissolved by the process of natural decay.
In July, 1854, the Indian title expiring by treaty, the town and surrounding country were opened to pioneers, and, in October following the Government officers appointed by President Pierce arrived. These included Francis Burt, Governor, and T. B. Cuming, Secretary, the former surviving but ten days after his arrival, leaving the Territorial Government to be conducted by Mr. Cuming, who offered to locate the capital at Bellevue on the donation of one hundred acres of land, but the Rev. Mr. Hamilton, who had taken charge of the Presbyterian mission, refused, and the first Territorial Legislature, which convened at Omaha January 16, 1855, sealed the destiny of Bellevue in that connection.
Many new-comers were daily added to the town, prominent among whom were S. A. Strickland, who began the erection of the Benton House; F. Calkins, W. W. Wiley, C. D. Keller, S. D. Bangs, Col. R. Lovejoy, James Gow, H. T. Clarke, M. S. Martyn, C. E. Smith, J. A. Thompson, J. S. Allen, Watson brothers, John Finney, Dr. Upjohn , L. B. Kinney and others, not forgetting Esquire Griffin, who was the first Justice of the Peace in Bellevue. He was an eccentric character, with peculiar notions of the dignity of his position. In appealing to his legal knowledge, he was accustomed to recite: "If the court understands herself, and she thinks she does, the law is about so and so." His form of an oath was also peculiar, rounded as it was with a "financial period." Commanding the witness to hold up his right hand, he proceeded. "You do solemnly swear that the evidence you shall give in this case shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as you shall answer to the great day -- twenty five cents."
In 1855, there was an Indian scare. It having been reported that the savages had stolen thirty head of horses, everybody turned out to hunt the thieves, armed with such weapons as they could obtain. The Bellevue and Omaha delegations met at Saling's Grove, and while they were deliberating upon the best plan of pursuit, the Indians actually stole seventy head of cattle near the mouth of the Platte, and escaped by the camp of the whites. Further pursuit was at once abandoned.
Until 1857, there was little to attract attention or emigration. In that year, Col. Benton established a steam ferry, and the county of Sarpy was created. The latter originally formed the south part of Douglas; but, by some "political necessity," it is said, was erected into a separate county by the Territorial Legislature of this year. It contains 152,000 acres, and lies in the form of a crescent, being bounded on the east by the Missouri River, on the south and west by the Platte River, and on the north by Douglas County. It has a breadth from north to south of eight miles at the narrowest point, thirteen miles at its extreme width, and about twenty-one miles at its extreme length. To the west there is a succession of divides or rolling prairies, intersected with small streams and ravines. This break in the surface destroys the monotony so common in portions of the West, besides being of great advantage for agricultural and grazing purposes, no artificial drainage being necessary. Southward, the bluffs of the Platte are plainly visible, marking distinctly the northern border of Cass County. To the east are the bluffs on the Iowa side of the Missouri, from two to five miles distant. The belts of timber along the water-courses, and occasional groves in interior positions, all add to the beauty of the scenery.
The county is watered by Little Papillion, Big Papillion, South Papillion and Elkhorn Rivers, Walnut, Buffalo, Goose and Weather Creeks, while the Missouri River bottom is of but little value, owing to the radical changes made periodically in the channel.
There are numerous islands in the Platte, and several groves in the county, the latter being situated generally near some water-course. The soil is a rich alluvial loam and sand, that can be worked at any season, when once under the plow. The climate is delightful, and the productions include all the cereals and fruits indigenous to this region.
In the fall of 1854, the famous Claim Club was organized, and William Gilmer elected President. The original aim of the club was to secure the peaceful adjustment of all cases in which claims in this then unsurveyed country overlapped each other. Erelong, its attention was found to be more needed in the support of bona fide settlers from "jumpers," who sought to make might right. Many secret expeditions were made for the better enlightenment of those who persisted in defiance of the warning of the club in holding claims not justly theirs, and the person enlightened might be considered lucky if he got off with a lashing from hickory saplings in the hands of the stalwart visitors. Among the last acts of the Claim Club at Bellevue was the attack on an old man named Payne, and his sons. The offense of the parties arrested was no less than that of many who, in one way or another, had been given short shrift by the club, and, although an era of different feeling was about dawning, the club felt that positive action must be made. It was decided to tar and feather the jumpers, and, as the club conveyed them by the window of the Benton House, a woman tossed out a large feather pillow for this use. Arrived at the river, the Payne party were ferried over; and, while they waited uneasily for the application of their punishment, were nudged by one of the vigilantes, and asked, "Can you run?" In the language of an old member of the club, "They lit out." Although the club lasted until 1858, this is the last expedition which called it out.
Spread upon the records of the county are the records of still-born towns in great numbers, with those which finally achieved existence.
Among the earliest of these was Fairview, laid out in 1856, by Rev. C. C. Goss. It had a town site of 160 acres.
Plattford was laid out about this time by the Plattford Town Company, and was a port of entry. There is in existence a beautiful view of this town, in which large steamers are lying at its docks, and the streets are crowded with people.. They town site raised a fair corn crop in 1881.
The city of Hazelton came forth full fledged at about this date, being created a town by the petition of a majority of the taxable residents, and O. F. Parker, William A. Guyer, Samuel Darnall, Ralph H. Hall and H. L. Hall were appointed Trustees.
On August 18, 1858, an act incorporating Forest City was passed, and it was allowed to hold elections and have a Mayor and police. Barney Scott, Peter Forbes, M. I. Shields, William Sayles and George B. Ackley were appointed Trustees.
The earliest record of the proceedings of the County Commissioners of Sarpy County bears the date of February 7, 1857, and gives the boundaries of the county, then recently separated from Douglas, as follows: "Beginning at a point in the middle of the main channel of the Missouri River, due east of a point in the main channel of the Platte Rivers, where the same disembogues into the said Missouri River, thence up the main channel of the Missouri." * * The boundaries of the county have never been altered.
On June 30, 1857, appears the petition of Louis Gramlich, and twenty-five others, asking for a road from Bennett's Ferry, at Cedar Island, thence by Saling's Grove and the Otoe Mission, to intersect the road from Omaha to Fairview.
In the following August, the County Commissioners, who had been meeting at the Benton House in Bellevue and adjourned to the office of W. H. Cook, divided the county into two election precincts, and the County Clerk was ordered to give notice of election in Bellevue, at the Bellevue House, and in Sauntee at the house of Simon Rouse.
At the meeting held September 22, 1857, a loan of $100 was ordered for contingent expenses, and the County Clerk was ordered to endeavor to sell a bond executed for that amount. As will be seen by the moderate amount sought, money was anything but plentiful in these early days. This fact is attested by a statement of expenditures published just two months before, in which the account footing $2,261.96 is followed by the laconic statement, "No money in the county treasury up to the present time. Stephen D. Bangs, County Clerk."
On April 5, 1858, the county was divided into eight road districts. The same year the number of election precincts was increased to three--Bellevue, Plattford and Forest City.
On October 29, 1859, the Commissioners received an application from Axel Slaght, keeper of the Larimer Hotel, at Larimer City (La Platte), for permission to sell malt and spirituous liquors. This was granted upon payment of a fee of $25, and giving bonds of $500.
In this year an assessment was made, and showed that the county had 99,769 acres of land, valued at $341,663; capital in merchandise of $8,100; in manufacturing, $535; and stock, $5,250. It had also 257 horses, 11 mules, 987 neat cattle, 518 swine, and 58 sheep. The total valuation is set at $534,803.
The first election of county officers held in the county after its separation from Douglas, took place on May 25, 1857, by order of the Probate Judge of Douglas County. At this election, George Jennings, L. B. Kinney, Stephen H. Wattles and Ira Day were Judges of Election, and Stephen D. Bangs and Ira Day, Clerks. This election resulted in the choice of the following officers: W. H. Cook, Probate Judge; C. D. Keller, Register of Deeds; Stephen D. Bangs, County Clerk; W. S. Wiley, County Treasurer; H. A. Longsdorf, Superintendent of Schools, and John M. Enoch, Sheriff.
On June 4, the oath of office was administered to W. H. Cook, Probate Judge, by the Clerk of the Supreme Court, acting under instructions from Gov. Cuming. The Probate Judge was also authorized to administer the oath to the County Clerk, and he in turn to all the other officers elected. The Judges, who have held office since that time are: L. B. Kinney, 1859-61-63; W. R. Watson, 1863-65; H. Rogers, 1865-67-69; James Gow, 1869-71-73-75-77; Samuel Walsh, 1877-79; James Gow, 1879-81; M. Langdon, 1881-83.
From his first election, Stephen D. Bangs held the position of County Clerk until 1863, when J. E. Pray was elected and served one term. He was followed by George L. Burtch, 1865-67; George A. Oliver, 1867-69; John Q. Goss, 1869-71; W. C. McLean, 1871-73; J. E. Campbell, 1873-75-77-79; G. W. Thompson, 1879-81; Louis Lesieur, 1881-83.
This list of County Treasurers is as follows: W. S. Wiley, 1857-59; Andrew I. Pollock, 1859-61; D. Lerch, 1861-63-65-67-69-71; W. Robinson, 1871-73-75; W. D. Rowles, 1875-77-79; S. F. Burtch, 1879-81; J. E. Campbell, 1881-83.
That the various offices conveyed more honor than wealth to the incumbent is seen by a record of the County Commissioners bearing date July, 1858, and awarding S. D. Bangs, County Clerk, $191.73 for fees and services during the year. At the same time $50 each was paid to the Probate Judge and the County Treasurer.
Papillion became the county seat of Sarpy County only after a bitter fight of considerable duration. Bellevue, it must be remembered, was the original county seat and for a number of years after its settlement the only town of appreciable size in the county. As long as this state of affairs continued, as long as Bellevue could muster her voters by hundreds against the scores of any others aspirant, she was secure. But when, after the action of Gov. Cuming, the State capital was removed to Omaha, and the bulk of the adventurous population followed, the opening wedge which should topple her from her vantage was driven.
In the palmy days of the city of Bellevue, a suburb had grown up on the plateau back of the town, and then the civilization had worked westward. Sarpy Center, and later, Papillion, had risen from the position of "cross-roads" to the dignity of villages, although the latter has never been formally incorporated. It was not long after affairs had reached this position before the acute politicians of the younger towns realized the dawning possibility of securing to their respective homes the prestige and profit of the county seat.
The first movement looking to this end was made in the fall of 1874, the words "for removal" and "against removal" being deposited at the time of the regular October election to decide the question of the right to remove the county seat. The balloting having resulted in a majority for removal, a special election to decide what point should become the county seat, was called for September, 1875. Prior to this election, it was decided that the two points having the greatest number of votes should be left to fight the matter out, all other candidates retiring. The contestants for the honors were Bellevue, Sarpy Center and Papillion. Upon counting the vote, it was found that Sarpy Center had a clear majority, and that Papillion stood second. This, of course, resulted in the retirement of Bellevue.
The next political move would seem to be the choice, at the regular October, 1875, election, of one of the two remaining contestants, but Major Spearman, of Sarpy Center, introduced a new feature, which came near cleverly upsetting the plans of the Papillion party. This new move was the introduction in the Legislature, of which he was a member, of a bill appointing Sarpy Center the county seat, and doing away with all the necessity of another election. This bill was with difficulty defeated, and at the ensuing election Papillion became the county seat, a position which she bids fair to hold for many years to come.
The public schools of this county have an enrollment of 1,656 scholars, of whom 911 are males and 745 females. The teachers employed number thirty-nine. The expense of maintaining the schools during the year ending on April 2, 1882, was $14,833. The amount of money invested by the county in school buildings is $31,740. This is represented by three stone, two brick and thirty frame school buildings.