Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Produced by Diana Busing.

Part 1

*In compiling the history of Clay County, we are indebted largely to a history of the same prepared by Dr. M. V. B. Clark, of Sutton, and read by him on a Fourth of July occasion, 1876, portions of which are incorporated wholly as written by him, its authenticity having been ascertained to be unquestionable.

The history of Clay County does not date far back into the past. Only a few years have elapsed since the Territory it now comprises was an undivided portion of the "Great American Desert," uninhabited by civilized man, and, indeed, regarded as incapable of sustaining settlement at all. The bison, the wolf and the antelope alone were the monarchs, whose possessions were invaded only by occasional visitations from some roving bands of Indians.

To fix the date of advent of the first white man in this country is impossible, but it is generally regarded as most probable that one of the expeditions of "The Path-Finder" (J. C. Fremont) passed through this section in 1840, and this was the first time the soil was pressed by the foot of white civilized man.

A freight and stage route was established in 1849, leading from Atchison, Kan., to the Pacific Coast, by way of Fort Kearney, and passed through this county. It was on this route, and more as a station than as a permanent establishment, that the first permanent settlement was made by James Bainter, in 1864, who built a ranch on the opposite side of the river from where the village of Spring Ranch now stands. It was also a relay station for the celebrated "Pony Express." This institution, which did such excellent service as a carrier of news before the advent of the railroad and telegraph, deserves more than a passing notice as a matter of historical interest.

The design of it was to afford a speedy mode of transporting letters and dispatches and it was admirably managed Letters were frequently carried from Atchison to Sacramento, a distance of 2,000 miles, in eight days, and, on one occasion, dispatches were sent from St. Joseph, Mo., to Denver, Colo., 625 miles, in fifty-nine hours, the last ten miles being made in thirty minutes.

The means employed were ponies and riders, the animal being kept on a full run between stations, which were twenty-five miles apart, and, upon one messenger reaching a station, whatever the time of day or night, or the condition of the weather, another, ready mounted and waiting, took the little mail-sack, and, plying whip and spurs to his steed, dashed off wildly for the next post.


The first white settler upon the territory now known as Clay County was John B. Weston, since Auditor of the State of Nebraska, who settled some time in 1857 and built a log house at Pawnee Ranch, on Section 16, Town 5, Range 8, on the Little Blue River, in Spring Ranch Precinct.

In the early summer of 1870, Peter O. Norman and his brother, natives of Sweden, settled and built a dug-out on the creek, and were the first white settlers in School Creek Precinct. In October, 1870, John Kennedy came from Ohio and settled and built his dug-out on Section 2, Town 8, Range 5, in the north part of the precinct. January 27, 1871, Albert K. Marsh settled and built a log house on the creek below the Normans. His wife was the first white woman in the precinct. A. A. Corey settled on the creek near the Fillmore County line, early in 1871, and built a log house, At that time the creek was heavily timbered. In the same spring, J. Steinmetz and the Ballzer boys settled on the prairie on Section 34. F. F. Brown, Charles W. Brown, George Brown and R. G. Brown came April 10 and took up a section of land, excepting one eighty, and are among the early settlers in School Creek. W. Cunning and wife settled on the northeast quarter of Section 34, May 4, 1871, spending four weeks under a wagon bed before building his dug-out. Mrs. Cunning was one of the earliest white married women who came into the town. R. L. Garr and family settled the same year. W. F. Bemis settled in September, 1871. The Normans built a frame house in 1871 out of elm boards, which they sawed out with an old-fashioned whip saw.

The Conants, William and his brother T. Van Tress, came in and settled May 1, 1871, and were the first settlers in Lincoln Precinct. They built sod houses. W. T. McNight came in and settled, August 14, 1871.

May 10, 1875, D. A. Smith shot and killed Orin Conant. The dispute arose about a claim. Smith was afterward indicted for manslaughter, but, on a final trial, was discharged.

Glenville Precinct was first settled by Daniel Fitch, a frontier trapper, in 1871. Later, by J. W. Small and Leroy S. Winters. The St. Joe & Denver Railroad passes northwest through this precinct.

W. H. Chadwick and J. D. Moore came together and located on Section 12, Town 7, Range 7, May, 1871. L. J. Starbuck and B. F. Hocket came and settled on Section 2 at the same time. These were the first settlers in Lynn Precinct. They all built sod houses, Hocket building his first. M. L. Latham and C. D. Moore came soon after. Mr. Latham was the first Commissioner from the Harvard Precinct. At that time there were plenty of antelope on the prairie.

A. D. Peterson, a native of Sweden, settled in Lewis Precinct in the spring of 1870. Louis Peterson and Jonas Johnson, of the same nationality, came in soon after. John S. Lewis, of Virginia, after whom this precinct was named, settled April 20, 1872.

The first election in the precinct was for member of Constitutional Convention, in May, 1875; all the precincts in the county at this time adopted name, it being the first election held after the county was divided into sixteen precincts. Lewis then polled thirty-nine and now polls sixty votes. I. C. Christianson, a Dane, was the first of that nationality in the precinct; this was November 1, 1873; the Danes now number about sixteen in the county.

Luther French, native of Ohio, settled permanently on the north one-half of the northwest quarter of Section 2, Town 7, Range 5, in 1870, and was the first white settler in Sutton Precinct. Soon after, he built a dug-out, logging it up on the inside, covering the roof with bark and shingling it with dirt. His first neighborly call was soon after the house was finished, by Capt. Charley White, of Indian fame, and Miss Nellie Henderson, who came on horseback eight miles from the West Blue and chased down and caught an antelope on the way. Mr. French was the first Postmaster in Sutton and the second in the county. He laid his homestead out as the town of Sutton, August 10, and sold it November 1, 1871, to I. N. and M. Clark, who came from Illinois and Ohio respectively. H. W. Gray and son, with G. W. Bemis, came from Iowa May 4, 1871, and settled on Section 2.

That same spring, William and Henry Smith, the Brownells and Hollingworths, and J. S. Schermerhorn, James Vroman and the Angbergs came, soon after Mr. French.

May 10, 1871, Henry Evans and wife came in and settled. Mrs. Evans was the first married woman in the precinct. J. R. Maltby came in the summer of 1871. On June 8, 1864, however, James Bainter had settled and built at Spring Ranch, and thus was the first permanent settler in the county. He took the first homestead in the county, in 1864, on Section 8, Town 5, Range 8, and ran the ranch on the overland stage route.

Mr. Bainter had a store and about $5,000 worth of goods, besides live stock, produce, etc.

A Pawnee Indian first brought him the news that the Sioux were coming and had attacked the other ranch above. He sent his family to Pawnee Ranch, about a mile east, then kept by the Ropers, and, mounting a fast horse, rode up to the river to meet them. He found them about nine miles up the river; after shooting at them at long range, he turned and ran his horse back, loosed his stock and went to Pawnee ranch. He soon saw the smoke of his store, house and stable and other improvements. Shortly afterward, Pawnee ranch was attacked by from 150 to 200 Sioux. There were with him in the ranch (a sod building with palisades around it) three other men, besides several women and children. They fought for three days, keeping the Indians at bay, and were materially assisted by Mrs. Bainter and the other women, who showed great bravery in assisting to watch the enemy and in loading guns for the men as fast as they were discharged. At last, Mr. Bainter succeeded in killing the Sioux chief, when they withdrew from that immediate vicinity. A large number of Pawnee Indians came up soon after, who were friendly, especially toward Bainter, and, with their assistance, the Sioux were driven off for that time.

The Sioux soon after attacked all the ranches along the Little Blue and Bainter and all the settlers were driven out; a large number of settlers and nearly all the stage-drivers were killed; also one wagon train of nearly sixty persons were slaughtered.

James Urquhart, Nicholas Nagle, Thomas Reed, Swingle and Schwab were among the early settlers.

Leicester Precinct is situated in the northwest corner of the county and is watered by branches of the West Blue River. Among the first settlers were William Woolman, A. Woolman, Joseph Rowe and Stephen Brown, who came in the winter of 1871.

Miss Truelove Tibbles, an adopted daughter of Rev. William Woolman, was drowned accidentally in April, 1876, while attempting to cross one of the creeks in this precinct. The Coroner's inquest in this case was the third one in the county and the first one under Dr. Clark, then Coroner.

G. W. Briggs and George McIntire were among the first settlers in Scott Precinct. It is situated on the west boundary of the county directly south of Leicester. The Burlington & Missouri Railroad passes through the northern portion and the St. Joe & Denver Railroad cuts across a very small part of the southwest corner of the precinct.

Lone Tree Precinct is east of Scott and was first settled by John P. Scott in 1871, who was for some time the only settler between Spring ranch and School Creek. He settled near the "Lone Tree," from which the precinct received its name. He was Postmaster of White Elm Post Office in this precinct until the winter of 1872-73, when the office was moved to Fairfield. Charles Osborn was among the first settlers. The St. Joe & Denver Railroad crosses a considerable portion of the southwest part of this precinct.

Glenville Precinct was first settled by Daniel Fitch, a frontier trapper, in 1871. Later, by J. W. Small and Leroy Winters. The St. Joe & Denver Railroad passes northwest through this precinct. The town of Glenville is located in this precinct.

The settlement of Fairfield Precinct commenced at Liberty Farm ranch, at the mouth of Liberty Creek on the Little Blue. The first settler in the precinct was at the ranch and was agent of Wells, Fargo & Co.'s Pony Express. It was a post on their route from Atchison, Kan., across the continent to Pike's Peak and San Francisco, Cal. These posts were also the depots of the United States Overland Mail Service. So troublesome were the warlike Sioux in these days that the Pony Express riders were, when carrying on the business of the company, usually chased by them from one post to another; their custom was to ride always at full gallop through this part of the country, then considered a dangerous part of the route. The Indians repeatedly broke up the route and at times it was entirely abandoned to them. Some time in 1858, James H. Lemon kept the ranch and was succeeded by Benjamin Royce, who, with his brother John, natives of Ogle County, Ill., settled in the latter part of 1867. Ben was at that time a State militia man, in the United States service, and stationed at the military post at Kiowa, on the Blue, in Thayer County. He was in numerous battles between the Sioux and the settlers.

Soon after he took his claim, the Indians broke up the entire settlement along the Blue, stealing stock, burning the ranches and driving the settlers down the river to Kiowa.

In the fall of 1868 and spring of 1869, the Indians were driven back, and practically gave up their hold on the country, and from this time forward settlements took place with astonishing rapidity.

T. A. Shaw, John R. Lawhead, Cyrus Griffith, John R. Thompson and Reuben Peachy were among the early settlers. Mr. Peachy built and stocked a store some time in 1870. He was the first Postmaster appointed in this county after the re-establishment of the mail routes. The mail was brought from Hebron via Kiowa, Liberty Farm and Spring ranch, to the stockade at Red Cloud, on the Republican River.

Early in 1870, Richard Bayly, a worker in metals and one of the Commissioners of Clay County, settled on his farm at the mouth of Buffalo Creek and operated a blacksmith shop. H. J. Higgins settled soon after. Up to this time the settlements had been confined to the river and its tributaries, but, in the fall of 1871, the table-lands on either side of the Little Blue began to be occupied.

Alfred Mills built a water saw-mill on the river near the old Liberty Farm ranch in the year 1871. In 1872, a small run of stone was put in to grind feed. Among the early settlers coming in 1872 are A. S. Willis and his son-in-law, W. H. Frey, both Justices of the Peace.

W. A. Way came from Crete, and, after contesting the title right of James C. Vroman, who came the year before, extinguishing the title to the two eighties lying directly south of the original town, they laid it out in 1872 as the first addition to the town of Sutton.

Situated on three eighties at the northwest part of Section 2 is the town of Sutton, the county seat, the largest town in the county.

The Chandlers, J. Longstreth, A. S. Twitchel, Charles Moon, John D. McMillan and D. L. Herrick were among the early settlers.

In February, 1872, John Yates made the first settlement in Sheridan Precinct and built a frame house. He was followed by Dennis Layhane, Richard Hillard, R. M. Mariner, a carpenter, and Patrick Nagle, a railroad man, and T. R. Elder. All these men were on their claims six weeks after Yates' settlement. A school district was organized in September, 1872, a house was erected in December, 1872. Joseph Tout, afterward American Express agent at Sutton, taught the first school, with sixteen scholars.

In February, 1873, a Methodist Episcopal Church was organized, Rev. Mr. Penny, pastor, with a membership of fifteen. A Union Sunday school was organized in June, 1873, with twenty-five scholars. The Superintendents have served in the following order: J. M. Ramsey, S. B. Montgomery, Daniel Michael and John Yates. The first birth was Johnnie Nagle, son of Mr. and Mrs. P. Nagle. Mrs. Nagle was the first woman in the precinct. The first death was an infant child of Daniel Michael.

From 1862 to 1869, there were no settlements along the Little Blue above Meridian, in Jefferson County, and no whites except a few adventurous hunters at Liberty Farm.

A portable circular steam saw-mill was brought into the county by J. Stover & Co. in the fall of 1871, and was the first mill in the county and remained till the fall of 1872. It was operated near the old Spring ranch, after which this precinct was named.

Peck & Meston, of Harvard, submitted a proposition to build a grist-mill at Spring ranch in consideration of $7,000 precinct bonds, to be voted under the Internal Improvement Act of the State Legislature. It was submitted to the people August 3, 1873, and carried. Afterward, the bonds were adjudged by the United States Courts to be illegal, a mill not being within the meaning of the act under which they were voted and issued. The mill was built, 28x40 feet, three stories high and with three run of stones, and commenced operations in August, 1874. It is situated on the Little Blue River, on the northwest quarter of Section 17, Town 5, Range 8 west. June 1, 1876, it passed into the hands of Alex Meston, one of the partners, and is being successfully operated by him.

Albert Curtis was the first settler in Logan Precinct, and came on March 7, 1871. Following him came John Yandle, Riley Thurber, May, 1871, Wright Stacy, E. M. Isham, Nathan Tucker, A. Christison, the Pascall brothers, Fletcher Page. So rapidly did this precinct settle up that all these men had settled, built and commenced cultivating the land before June 1 the same year. J. B. Dinsmore, afterward County Clerk, settled in this precinct May 28, 1872. In July, came Ashley and Woodhead. M. J. Hull settled here November 1, 1871.

August 3, 1872, the first school district in the precinct was organized as District No. 21, with J. B. Dinsmore, Director; A. S. Harding, Moderator, and A. N. Walworth, Treasurer. The first schoolhouse was partly dug-out and partly sod, built by a "bee," everybody turning out to help. It was heated by a miserable old sheet-iron stove. The first teacher there was Josephine Reed, at $25 per month. District No. 24 was organized ten days thereafter; the first schoolhouse was built in this district. The Big Sandy Grange was organized in this precinct in the spring of 1873, Jonathan Sanderson, Secretary.

In July, 1872, Flavius Northrup came from Buffalo County, Wis., and settled in Marshall, and was the first settler in Marshall Precinct. He brought with him about seventy-five sheep, the first brought into the county for permanent rearage. When he first came, the wolves troubled the flock considerably, and, in the great snow storm of the following spring, many of them perished; but the flock afterward increased, and sheep-raising here is counted a success.

In September, 1872, W. S. Randall and his brothers, Addison and Warner, came in from Washington County, Iowa, and settled upon Sections 28 and 30, and have since erected comfortable frame houses.

W. S. Randall was a candidate for member of the Constitutional Convention of this State from Clay County, in April, 1875. He was put in nomination by a number of citizens, without reference to party, and was barely defeated by Dr. M. W. Wilcox.

William Tolle and J. Prawl came in from Missouri and settled October, 1872. This was in one of the center precincts in the county, now called Marshall with a post office at Marshall Center. Davis Post Office is also situated in Marshall Precinct.

In November, 1871, J. K. Sanborn made the first settlement in Edgar Precinct, and built a log house. A. F. and Jacob Ritterbush came in the spring of 1872, and settled on lands adjoining the town site of Edgar. Mr. Carr came in soon after. Henry Gipe pre-empted the land on which Edgar now stands. The first store in what is now Edgar was started by Ritterbush & Graham in a log house. S. T. Caldwell started the second store and Ritterbush & Mills the third. The first post office in that part of the county was established at Edgar. A. F. Ritterbush was the first Postmaster, W. A. Gunn the second and W. J. Waite the third Postmaster. Situated in this precinct, on the St. Joe & Denver City Railroad, is the flourishing town of Edgar, with a weekly newspaper; it is the third town in size in the county.

David D. Jones and family, from Columbus, Ohio, settled here June 7, 1872.


The first celebration in the county since its organization was at Sutton, July 4, 1872, H. W. Gray, President of the Day; Rev. A. Burlingame, Chaplain; A. C. Burlingame, Reader of the Declaration; R. G. Brown delivered the oration, followed by Hon. W. H. H. Flick, of the House of Delegates of West Virginia. It will be long remembered as one of the best we ever had.

At the celebration July 4, 1873, it being a union celebration between Harvard and Sutton, E. J. Moger, of Harvard, was President of the Day; Rev. A. Burlingame, Chaplain; Miss Anna Foster, Reader of the Declaration; Attorney General Roberts, Orator; T. Weed, Marshal.

At the celebration July 4, 1874, Dr. W. M. Wilcox was President of the Day; Rev. A. Burlingame, Chaplain; T. Weed, Reader of the Declaration; Hon. John I. Redick, of Omaha, Orator; George Stewart, Marshal.

July 4, 1875, H. W. Gray was President of the Day; T. Weed, Chaplain; Mrs. I. N. Clark, Reader of the Declaration; the orators were R. G. Brown, J. E. Bagley, G. W. Bemis and George Nuse, the latter in German; James Sheppard, Marshal.

The Centennial celebration, July 4, held at Sutton, had for its officers; C. M. Turner, President of the Day; Rev. C. L. Smith, Chaplain; Dr. W. M. Sammis, Reader of the Declaration; Dr. M. W. Wilcox, Orator, followed by George Nuse in German, and N. Anderson in Swede; Dr. Martin V. B. Clark, compiler and reader of the history of Clay County.

Sixteen years previous to the 4th of July, 1881, before the county was organized, part of the Second and Sixth Michigan Cavalry camped between Spring and Pawnee ranches, in this county, on their return from Salt Lake. Our townsman, F. M. Davis, County Treasurer, was in the Second Cavalry and took part in the celebration. They had speeches, etc., by "the boys," and two gallons of whisky with which to "cheer up, comrades, and be gay."


William H. James, Acting Governor of Nebraska, on a petition of citizen voters, issued a proclamation September 11, 1871, authorizing an election and designating the time and place of holding the same to elect a board of county officers, and locate the county seat. Accordingly, the first election in this county was held on the 14th day of October, 1871, at the house of Alexander Campbell, on Section 6, Town 7, Range 6, near the present water-tank on the Burlington & Missouri Railroad, east of Harvard. At that election, there were eighty-nine votes polled; fifty-six of these were cast for Sutton, making it the county seat. The Commissioners elected at that election were: A. K. Marsh, three years, P. O. Norman, two years; A. A. Corey, one year; John R. Maltby, Probate Judge; F. M. Brown, Clerk; J. Hollingsworth, Treasurer; P. T. Kearney, Sheriff; R. S. Fitzgerald, Surveyor; J. S. Schermerhorn, Superintendent of Public Instruction; J. Steinmetz, Coroner.

The first session of the Board of Commissioners was on November 4, 1871; at that meeting the county was divided into three equal parties and designated as Commissioner and voting precincts, and were named Harvard, Little Blue and School Creek.

The Commissioners precincts remain, but the voting precincts were increased to sixteen in the spring of 1875.

December 4, 1871, R. G. Brown was appointed Treasurer to fill the vacancy caused by the failure of Hollingsworth to qualify. At the December 4 session of the Commissioner Board, G. W. Bemis was appointed Assessor for School Creek, and resigned; J. C. Merrill was appointed to fill the vacancy; Charles Canfield for Harvard and John W. Langford for Little Blue Precincts.

The population in the fall of 1871, when the county was organized, is estimated on the basis of the vote then taken at 356. The census taken by the Assessors in the spring of 1876 was 4,797, and, in 1881, the population was about 12,000.

Top of Page   Next

County Index    Contents    Kansas Collection