Furnas County | Early History|
County Organization and County Seat Difficulties
Farming | Stock-Raising | Flouring Mills
Crimes and Criminals | An Indian Scare
First Schools and Church Services
Present Condition of the County
Beaver City: Early History|
Beaver City of To-day | Biographical Sketches
Cambridge: Biographical sketches
Arapahoe: Biographical Sketches
FURNAS County lies in the southern tier of counties in Nebraska. It is twenty-four miles in extent from north to south and thirty miles from east to west. It is bounded on the north by Frontier and Gosper Counties, on the east by Harlan County, on the south by the State of Kansas and on the West by Red Willow County. The county contains 460,800 acres, of which 368,760 acres are susceptible of cultivation, the remainder being occupied by the beds of streams and the rough lands bordering them.
The streams of the county are the Republican River, flowing across the northern part of the county, from west to east: Beaver Creek, flowing in the same general direction and across the center of the county, and the Sappa, flowing a little north of east across the southern portion of the county, and uniting with the Beaver in the extreme eastern part of the county. These streams, with their numerous smaller tributaries, make Furnas a well-watered county. Most of these streams afford water-powered sufficient for manufactures.
Along the banks of the streams there is considerable natural timber. Though not of much value for building purposes, it is sufficient in extent to furnish an abundance of fuel. The principal kinds are elm, cottonwood, ash, maple, box-elder, hackberry and willow. There are also many thickets of wild plums and grapes.
Along the valleys of the streams are fertile bottom lands, while the bluffs or hills, that in many places intervene between the bottoms and the uplands, are covered with rich grass and furnish excellent pasturage. Then come the uplands themselves, which are gently rolling, and afford the finest of farming lands.
The completion of the Denver Extension of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, in Nebraska, opens a market to the mining regions of Colorado and the Territories, which must necessarily be a good one, and will insure good prices for farm products throughout the Republican Valley.
The first settler of Furnas County was Benjamin Burton, who, in the summer of 1870, pushed on far in advance of all civilization and settlements, and established a ranch at the mouth of Deer Creek, on the north side of the Republican River, about six miles above the present town of Arapahoe. The place of his settlement is now known as Burton's Bend, that name having been given to the bend of the Republican at that place. At that time there was no other settlement in the Republican Valley, except the ones just started at Red Cloud and Guide Rock, nearly one hundred miles distant. Here Burton lived with no near neighbors until the settlement of the county began the following year. Burton still resides at the place of his first settlement: he is one of the leading men of the county, and has been very prosperous.
But this was not the only settlement made in the county in 1870. In September of that year, Galen James made his way from the Melrose stockade, which had just been established in Harlan County, to the junction of the Beaver and Sappa, in the eastern part of what is now Furnas, but then known as James County. Here he built a dug-out and lived all alone, having no family or associates with him, and no neighbors, as he was the first settler in this portion of the Republican Valley, and only saw any white men when he made occasional visits to the stockade. For a year and a half he had no neighbors, but during the latter part of this time, there were a few families on the Republican in the northern part of the county, which he occasionally visited. James remained here about six years, struggling with adverse circumstances, but left the county and removed to Washington Territory a poor man.
The life of these two settlers of 1870, Burton and James, must have been a truly wild and exciting one, surrounded as they were by Indians, who had but a few months before been very hostile. Buffalo, deer, antelope and other kinds of wild game were very numerous, also wolves and other animals common to the Western prairies.
In the spring of 1871, Theodore Phillips settled with his family on the Republican River, at the mouth of Turkey Creek. This formed the nucleus of a large settlement that was soon made in this locality and known as New Era. Shortly after this, John and Benjamin Arnold settled near Dry Creek.
Early in the spring of 1871, a town company was formed at Plattsmouth, Neb., for the purpose of locating a town in the present county of Furnas and on the Republican River. An exploring party, consisting of Capt. E. B. Murphy, George W. Love, William Cunningham, W. R. Colvin, W. H. Orr, R. A. Van Orman, H. Taylor and John Hinchman was sent out at once. Upon arriving, they chose the present location of Arapahoe as a town site, and some of the party entered claims.
After a long and tiresome trip, the explorers returned to Plattsmouth and made a favorable report, upon which a small party was organized to make a settlement there. This party consisted of George W. Love and family, H. M. Crum, Henry Brainard, O. Moreoff, Lewis Davis, W. R. Colvin and G. W. Colvin. They arrived on the 6th day of July, 1871, and, on the 18th of the same month, the town site of Arapahoe was surveyed on a tract of land about half way between Elk and Muddy Creeks. George W. Love and G. W. Colvin were left to hold the claims and town site, and the remainder of the party returned to the East. H. M. Crum had taken a claim early in the spring, the first one entered in the county, and he remained until August, when he proved up on his claim, and returned to his original home in New York.
There was but little settlement made in 1871, but, in the spring of 1872, there was quite an immigration. There were upward of 150 settlers came that year, and most of the best land along the streams was taken up. The first post office was established at Arapahoe in the spring of 1872, with George W. Love Postmaster.
The first settlers to follow James in the settlement of the south part of the county were Eugene Dolph and John Mitchell, who settled on the Beaver and Sappa, in April, 1872, after which time until fall, the settlement along these two streams progressed rapidly, and the most of the valuable land was settled as far up as the present town of Beaver City. This town was located October 9, 1872, by J. H. McKee and Jacob Struve, and a post office was established.
In May, 1872, Carlos A. Wilson, James A. Gibson, J. R. Johnson and John Soaper passed on up the Beaver and began the settlement known as Wild Turkey, and afterward, Wilsonville, in the western part of the county. In the spring of 1873, a post office was established there, with Miss Jennie Plumb, Postmistress; but, in August of that year, L. M. Wilson built a store in the settlement, and the post office was then removed there and called Wilsonville.
There were, of course, no crops raised to speak of in 1872, as the land had to be broken up for the new farms. During this year and before crops could be raised, the settlers had to go from 100 to 150 miles, to Jewell and Republican Counties, Kan., for food and supplies, and, there being no bridges, the streams had to be forded. This was many times very difficult, and many privations were endured during many of those trips.
The first birth in the county was that of a child of Frank Griffith's in June, 1872, and before there was a physician in the county.
The first marriage in the county was that of Benjamin Luce and Miss Lanver, some time in 1873. The license was issued and the ceremony performed by H. W. Brown, the first County Judge.
There was also a great deal of trouble in getting mails by the settlers of 1872, as for quite a long time the nearest post office was at Alma, twenty-five miles distant, and at first some of the boys would take turns and bring the mail every Sunday, after which it was carried by a man hired for the purpose. It was carried to Beaver City by him until early in 1873, when a route was established by the Government.
In the early days of settlement, and until the building of the railroad, in 1880, all goods had to be hauled from points on the line of the Union Pacific Railroad. The nearest point was Plum Creek, about sixty miles distant from Beaver City, and most of the shipping was to and from this point. The other points where considerable trade was carried on were Hastings, 115 miles distant; Kearney, eight five miles distant, and Lowell, ninety miles distant.
In 1873, the settlement of the county continued to progress with great rapidity, and extended throughout all parts of the county, and improvements on the new farms were made to a great extent. A large crop was planted on the land broken the year before.
The first Fourth of July celebration was held in 1873, both at Beaver City and Arapahoe. At the former place, Dr. Hobson made the address, and at both places a grand celebration was had, not differing much from the celebrations common to new countries, where people, before unacquainted, but all having interests in common, meet to form new acquaintances and associations.
The boundary lines of the county were fixed by act of the Legislature of the State, February 27, 1873, and named in honor of Robert W. Furnas, then Governor of Nebraska. The Governor's proclamation calling for an election of officers preliminary to the organization of the county was dated march 3, 1873, and Arapahoe was designated as the place of voting. An additional proclamation, dated March 13, 1873, was issued, setting off a second precinct in the southern half of the county, and designating Beaver City as the place of voting. The date of election at each point was named to take place on the 8th day of April, 1873.
The election was held in both places on the date appointed. The returns of the election at Arapahoe arrived at the office of the Secretary of State, at Lincoln, in due time. These returns named Arapahoe as the county seat. The returns from Beaver City were delayed on the route by a heavy snow storm that stopped the mails while en route for their destination. Therefore, they did not arrive at the office of the Secretary of State until after the day appointed for canvassing the votes. At the appointed time, the returns from Arapahoe were opened and canvassed, and the Secretary of State issued certificates of election to be a set of officers elected there, and found that place to be the location of the county seat according to these returns. The election returns from Beaver City, which named that place as the county seat, arrived at their destination after the canvass was completed and were not opened by the canvassers. A writ of mandamus was then served on the Secretary of State to compel him to canvass the vote from Beaver City and issue certificates of election to the candidates who received the highest vote from the combined returns of Beaver City and Arapahoe, and to designate the county seat at whichever point received the greater number of votes. A writ of mandamus was soon after issued by the District Court of Harlan County, and served on the County Clerk and other officers receiving the first certificates of election from the Secretary of State.
The first county officers elected were William B. Bishop, C. W. Mallory, James Parmetier, Commissioners; N. M. Ayers, Clerk; H. W. Brown, Judge; A. Coppom, Surveyor; Wickliffe Newell, Treasurer; Matthew Johnson, Sheriff; B. F. Whitney, Superintendent of Schools; A. A. Plumb, Coroner.
From the time of the election in April, and the troubles growing out of it, a bitter political war has been kept up between the northern and southern parts of the county.
On the first election following the preliminary organization in the spring, which took place October 14, 1873, Beaver City received the majority of votes for the county seat of Furnas County, and it was so declared when the votes ere canvassed. A contest was then commenced by the Arapahoe people, who claimed that it was located at that place by the election in April previous, when the first certificates were issued by the Secretary of State, with Arapahoe as the county seat.
On the 24th day of April, 1870, the first term of the District Court for this county was held at Beaver City, Judge William Gaslin presiding. At this time, a writ of mandamus had been served on the County Clerk, to show why he did not hold the county seat at Arapahoe. At the time of the first session of the court, no decision was reached, but at a term of the District Court at Juniata a decision was made by Judge Gaslin in favor of Beaver City. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court, where the decision of the lower court was affirmed. The Arapahoe people appealed it to the Supreme Court, who decided it at Beaver City, where it has ever since remained.
Ever since the first election in the county, the troubles between the north and south parts of the county have been kept up. So much bitterness was engendered that each party was constantly on the alert lest something should be done by the citizens of the one locality that would work against the interests of the other. In every county election much suspicion and jealousy was manifested and money spent freely to accomplish the object in view by each party. Lines were not drawn between the two great political parties of the day, but it was simply one continuous warfare between Arapahoe and Beaver City. Whenever a convention was held, all was contention and strife, and it was no uncommon thing for the defeated candidates to organize a bolt and get their friends around them to try to defeat the regular nominees. But taken year after year, the result of the elections may be said to have been favorable to both sections, and on the whole the county has been fortunate in securing efficient and faithful officers, whichever section of the county they represented. Though the sectional bitterness and strife was kept up for so long, there is now a prospect that the two portions of the county will work together harmoniously, as in the election of 1881 the two sections came together in friendly relations and worked to secure the election of candidates agreeable to the voters of the entire county. In the future, therefore, it seems probable that the old quarrels and dissensions will be considered at an end.
As a result of the political dissensions, there have never been any county buildings erected. For county offices the rooms that could be secured for the least rent have been selected. First, a little room so small that it would hardly contain the officers, was used. Next, a room fourteen feet wide by sixteen feet long, and unfinished on the inside, was taken. The next move was to a room in the hotel. From there the offices were removed to a large room over a drug store, which afforded an excellent view of the court house square. At the next move, they went to a small building on the west side of the public square. Every removal has been to little better quarters, and a good court house is now talked of.
There has been but little necessity for a County Poor House, as there have never been more than two paupers in the county, and they have been let out on contract to some citizen who takes care of them for a fair rate of compensation.
There has been but little use for a jail, the number of criminals having been few, and these have either been guarded in a dug-out by the Sheriff with a shot-gun, or sent to the Plum Creek Jail. But for safety and convenience, the dug-out and shot-gun plan is the most approved one. Besides, in the words of ex-Sheriff Frank H. Nicholson, it furnishes amusement and business for the Sheriff and his deputies in guarding them, and affords them a companion with whom to play euchre and seven-up. If the prisoner has money, they are sure of a liberal supply of cigars, ice cream, candy and nuts; but if he is poor, the Sheriff is expected to furnish the smoking tobacco, and that is expected to answer for refreshments.
As to the adaptability of the county for crop-raising, the preceding seasons have shown that, owing to various causes, this alone is not to be depended on. The soil is good, but many seasons have been unfavorable. The experience of the old settlers shows that rye, millet and this variety of grains are a sure crop every season. Next comes the wheat crop, of which there is hardly ever a total failure. Corn is the most uncertain crop. When the season is favorable the yield is immense; when not, the crop is very poor. There is no doubt that with the increase of moisture, as the country grows older, this is destined to be a superior country for crop raising, but for the present, to insure prosperity for the farmer, he must, of necessity plant a variety of crops and combine stock-raising, and thus make sure of an ample reward for his labors, even if some varieties of crop be cut short.
The County Agricultural Society was organized in 1875. Three county fairs have been held, at which the display of produce and live stock was large and varied. Furnas several times sent products to the State fair, and some premiums have been received therefrom.
There have been heavy winds and storms, but none of them that were hard enough to do any damage to speak of, except hail storms, that frequently extend over a long strip of territory and do a great deal of damage to growing crops. The yield of crops has also been cut short many seasons by long periods of extreme dry weather. For the past two years, chinch bugs have also appeared and done considerable damage in some localities. In the earlier years of settlement, grasshoppers did a great deal of damage to the crops. The year 1874 was the first time that there was a great acreage of crops planted, and while there were still prospects for a good yield, the grasshoppers appeared and destroyed every growing thing. This was repeated again in 1875 and in 1876. Both these years nearly all the crops of the county were devoured, but one of these seasons, though along the river and as far south as Beaver Creek the grasshoppers came in numbers so immense as to hide the sun, it so happened that they did no damage whatever south of this creek, and good crops were raised there. Dark and dreary days followed this general destruction of crops for the three successive years, but generally the settlers kept up good courage and made the very best of a bad matter. While the crops were fast being devoured many jocose remarks were made. One of the leading farmers of the county had his large tobacco patch completely devoured, and then he said the grasshoppers sat on the fence and begged him for a chew. Similar remarks in the midst of ruin were common, and all felt a little more cheerful for a few moments at least. But the three years of successive failure of crops from this cause were too much for many of the poor farmers who had but little wealth at first. Starvation and suffering stared them in the face if they remained; therefore they left the country. But even then a spirit of humor prevailed, and it was common to see the sides of the white-covered emigrant wagons ornamented with trite, if not elegant, sayings of either prose or poetry, of which the following are fair specimens, such as "Going East to visit my wife's relations," "From Sodom, where it rains grasshoppers, fire and destruction," and other selections of a like nature. Those who remained in the county were at a loss to know what to do to relieve their suffering families. A few cases of starvation were relieved by aid from their sympathizing neighbors. Flour was from $4.50 to $5 per 100 pounds. Illustrative of the many incidents that took place was that one prominent citizen who only had 50 cents left with which to buy provisions, and his family suffering at home. He first tried to get work, but failed; then tried to obtain credit, and could not, and was standing in a melancholy mood, trying to think what he could do, when a man presented a petition, asking for aid for a starving family. The husband and wife were both sick for want of food.
In reply to this petition, the merchants each gave 50 cents to aid them, and the individual referred to also contributed his last half dollar. Such incidents of sacrifice were frequent occurrence. Aid societies were formed and aid solicited from the East, which soon began to arrive in immense quantities. Over 500 teams were waiting at Plum Creek for relief at one time. In 1881, there was another partial failure of crops, owing to dry weather, and another attempt at relief caused some commotion, though it never amounted to anything.
Stock-raising, however, is the principal resource of the county. Cattle and sheep do well. The winters are generally short, mild and dry, and but little feed is required. Buffalo grass, with which the prairies are covered, cures on the ground, and unless in exceptional periods, when it is covered with snow, this makes the finest of grazing during the winter. A blue stem grass is found on the bottom lands that makes good hay. When sheds are needed, they are to be constructed cheaply from poles and the wild prairie hay. If a richer feed than hay is required, millet and mammoth grass grow luxuriantly and the yield is immense. Each year, the farmers are giving more attention to stock raising, and they find that combining this with the raising of grain insure greater success. A great many cattle and sheep have been brought in the present year (1882). Nearly every one is going into stock-raising, if only on a small scale, and this must insure the future prosperity of Furnas County.
There are four flouring-mills in the county. The first one was built by Monell & Lashley, of Lincoln, in the winter of 1873-74, on Beaver Creek, about one mile from Beaver City. This mill was built after receiving encouragement from the citizens of Beaver City in the shape of property, and at first was a saw and grist mill combined, the latter portion having two run of buhrs. It has been improved a great deal since that time, with many additions made to facilitate the manufacture of flour. The saw-mill was afterward removed to New Era, and a small grist-mill, with one run of buhrs, built. Preparations are now being made to enlarge the New Era Mill. Edward Anguish was the pioneer mill man along the Republican River in the north part of the county. In 1874, he built a flouring-mill on the Muddy Creek, about one-half a mile from Arapahoe. Enos Clark soon afterward bought the mill and made some additions. The stream was found to be a poor one for mill privileges, as in dry weather it was too low, and in seasons of high water it was so rapid and turbulent that the dam was frequently washed out. In 1881, it was abandoned. Mr. Clark then erected a large brick mill, also on the Muddy Creek, near Arapahoe, but the water is obtained from the Republican through a race about a mile in length. This is the largest and best constructed mill in the Republican Valley. There is another flouring-mill on Medicine Creek, near the village of Cambridge. This mill was commenced in 1877 and completed in 1879. This mill site is a good one, and the mill turns out an excellent quality of flour.
There have been but few criminal events of note in the history of the county. In 1876, an orphan boy was herding cattle for Mr. Hart, and was found lying dead on the prairie, just across the line in Kansas. The body bore marks of violence, and at first it was supposed he had been killed by Indians. But subsequently it was thought that he was murdered by white men in this county, and his body then taken to the place where it was found.
The next criminal event was the foul and brutal murder of Mrs. Colby, a widow, by Willard Sawyer. On coming here, they pretended that Sawyer was uncle to the woman. They secured homestead claims adjoining and lived together on her claim. After a time, he became jealous of her from some cause or other, and one night, having planned to murder her and commit suicide, he wrote a letter, stating that she was a widow and that he had deserted a family to live with her. He probably killed her while she was preparing to retire, as she found partially undressed and blood scattered over the bed. From all appearances, there must have been quite a struggle before she was overpowered, when he dealt her a blow on the head with a hammer, mashing her ear and crushing her skull. There was but one room in the house. He left her lying dead on the floor, while he ransacked her trunk and burned what letters and jewelry he could find. He then remained with the body until 8 o'clock the next morning, spending the time in writing some more letters. He then went out and borrowed a gun, returned to the cabin, put the muzzle in his mouth, fired it, blowing one side of his face off. From the effects of this wound he died that evening.
Some time after the above event, a German bachelor named Rosier was poisoned by a man named White and his wife. The Whites were keeping house for the German, and killed him to secure his property. They buried his body under a manure pile, where it was afterward discovered and the Whites were brought to trial. The man was convicted and sent to the State penitentiary for life, but the woman was acquitted.
These are the only great crimes ever committed in the county. Other crimes have been comparatively few in number and have been generally of a trifling nature.
In the fall of 1878, when the Cheyenne Indians escaped from the Indian Territory and were making their way in a straight line for their old reservation in the northwest part of the State, they stopped in Beaver Creek across in Kansas and committed many foul murders. As soon as the news of this reached Furnas County, the citizens, and particularly those in the southern part of the county, were terrified. Scouting parties were organized to keep watch for the coming of Indians. Frank H. Nicholson undertook to raise a company along the Beaver as soon as the first alarms was sounded, but so many of the settlers having no fear at that time, he gave up the project, but made a requisition on the Governor of the State for 100 guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. A second stampede of the settlers was caused by the report of three men that 2,000 Indians were already within five miles of Wilsonville, in the western part of the county. This time the fright was a general one, and many who had been so brave when the first alarm began to subside, were now the first to flee. The settlers west of Beaver City almost in a body came tearing down the valley, stopping for nothing but to load in their families. Many of them did not stop until they got out of the county and far down the Republican Valley. Preparations were at once made to protect Beaver City. A wagon corral was made on the public square, the horses and women were placed inside and guards stationed all around to prevent a surprise. Many of the settlers hurried to Beaver City. Herds of cattle were driven to the eastward with the greatest possible rapidity. In the town, when the citizens were collected together, they, without stopping for sleep, proceeded to get out their old rusty guns, which had not been used since the disappearance of the buffalo, about five years before, and the time was spent in getting their arms ready for a fight. This state of affairs lasted little more than twenty-four hours, however, when it was learned that the rumor of the approaching Indians was without foundation. There was not a red man within a hundred miles. The reported 2,000 Indians were 2,000 Texan cattle driven by the cowboys. On account of the Indians, who were expected to be farther west along the Texas trail, the cattlemen had chosen a route much farther to the east, and, in the minds of the already excited settlers, the cattle were in the distance mistaken for Indians.
Mr. Byron F. Whitney was the first School Superintendent. The first school taught in the county was at Arapahoe by Mrs. Julia Love, in 1873. It was a subscription school, tuition $1 per month, and was held in the large two-story, unfinished building known then as "Town House." Thirteen pupils were enrolled. The inclemency of the weather and unfinished state of the building, caused the school to close at the end of the first month. The first public school was held in District No. 6, in a room of Mr. Brown's house, on Beaver Creek. Mr. William Harmon was School Director, and Mrs. Lucy Brown, teacher. The wages were $20 per month. School commenced in January, 1874, with fourteen pupils, and was taught for a term of three months. The first examination for teachers was held December 20, 1873.
The first school district organized was No. 1, on Sappa Creek. Districts 1 to 10 were organized by Mr. Whitney, but only two of them, Districts Nos. 6 and 8 perfected the organization by having the required three months of school during the year.
The first religious services ever held in the county were in February, 1873. The sermon was preached by Elder Mayo, of the Missionary Baptist Church, who was known in Western Nebraska as the joking preacher, from his passion for fun or a rich joke. The place of holding these services was at the residence of Gabriel Martin, about eight miles below Beaver City. Elder Mayo is well known by the early settlers of the county, who remember him not only for the enthusiasm manifested in his sermons, but as a companion in sports, fun and in hunting. The Elder has a strong passion for hunting, and never loses an opportunity; therefore is popular with the pioneers of the county.
The population of the county at the present time is about 7,000. The county may be said to be in a prosperous condition, though the crops have been light many years. The farmers are now giving some attention to stock-raising, and, combining this with crop-raising, always insures success in Western Nebraska. With the gradual change in seasons as the settlement of the county progresses, and with the superior quality of the soil of the county, it would seem that Furnas County must of necessity make one of the most prosperous counties of Southwestern Nebraska.
The present county officers are Melville Stone, County Judge; William H. Phelps, Clerk; George S. Prime, Treasurer; John Hill, Surveyor; J. C. Metcalf, Sheriff; Nellie H. Rankin, Superintendent of Schools; A. D. Howard, Coroner; C. R. Draper, Marion McDonald and A Hipshire, Commissioners.