Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Gage County
Produced by
Brenda Busing, Diana Busing, and Lori Laird.


Climate, Soil and Rainfall | Water Courses | Natural Products
Early Settlements | Indians


Pioneer History | First Things | Additions to the County
Early Modes of Travel

Progress of the County | Official Roster

Beatrice:   Robert Emery | Educational | Town-Lot Steal | The Press
Churches | Post Office | Societies | Bank

 5 ~ 7:

Beatrice Biographical Sketches:


Blue Springs:   Public Schools | Churches | Societies
Biographical Sketches


Wymore:   Biographical Sketches
Liberty:   Biographical Sketches

PART 10:

Odell:   Societies | Biographical Sketches
Holmesville:   Biographical Sketches
Adams:   Biographical Sketches

PART 11:

Caldwell:   Biographical Sketches
Biographical Sketches:
Grant Precinct | Holt Precinct | Highland Precinct | Clatonia Precinct
Nemaha Precinct

List of Illustrations in Gage County Chapter

Part 1

   GAGE County, joining Kansas, is in the third tier of counties west of the Missouri River. On the north it is bounded by Lancaster, on the east by Johnson and Pawnee Counties, on the south by Kansas and on the west by Jefferson and Saline Counties. It is six townships in length north and south and four in width and contains 864 square miles, or 552,960 acres. The county was created by the Territorial Legislature of 1855, and organized in July, 1857. It contained at that time only sixteen townships, but in July, 1864, old Clay County was dissolved and Gage received eight additional townships on the north. It occupies a central position in the most fertile district west of the Missouri River, and is claimed to be the richest agricultural county in Nebraska, besides being abundantly supplied with building stone and the most extensive waterpower in the State--that of the Big Blue River. What is now the southern row of townships was the fertile Otoe Indian Reservation.


   The surface is a beautiful rolling, undulating prairie, the hills rounded and easily tilled and broken only in a few places along the river. The climate is pleasant and healthful but he that would desire more in the way of soil and water would exhibit unpardonable ingratitude toward his Creator and could not be satisfied with any country unless he was provided with slaves to till his land, gather his harvest and prepare it for his palate. There is, however, no country that supplies all the wants of man. This is surely a wise provision, but yet it is felt more or less here as a misfortune. The most noticeable failing here as elsewhere in the State is the scarcity of fuel. The forests are not extensive and coal has not been found in sufficient quantity. But Gage is near the rich coal fields of Missouri, and, therefore, has the advantage of the counties still farther west. It is considered healthful, in fact the elevation is such that the country is thoroughly drained, diminishing the causes of malarial sickness, and yet the land is not so undulating as to be very materially injured by washing. The winds blow constantly and quite strong, which is a sign of a healthful climate. The earlier settlements and claims were all made along the streams, because at that time the uplands were deemed unfit for farming purposes and that they would be always used for grazing. Although the bottom lands are much richer, the highest knolls have proven to be very fertile, and there is scarcely an acre in the county that cannot be profitably cultivated. The soil of the uplands is a black loam or mold, that is fine, free from stone and lumps and exceedingly friable. It is from one to four feet in depth, will average three feet, and is intermingled with those mineral elements that make it especially adapted to the cereals, the yield being bountiful and the quality superior. The surface soil of the valleys is the black alluvium, generally found in the bottom land of the prairie States, from five to twelve, and, in many places, twenty feet in depth, is exceedingly rich and practically inexhaustible. For some time and by may now in the Eastern States, it is believed that Nebraska is merely an inhabitable desert, that it affords bare subsistence to its population, but that is fatally erroneous, which the following geological facts must prove, especially of the eastern half of the State. The soil of this portion of the State has the loess deposits basis to a depth of from five to two hundred feet, instead of the usual lime or free stone basis. About 80 per cent of this deposit is silica, ground to the consistency of fine dust, and is also rich in the lime carbonates and phosphates, and is pronounced by eminent geologists one of the most desirable and valuable soils for agriculture in the world. Prof. Aughey, of the State University, says that it is nearly identical in chemical properties with the loess deposits of the Rhine and Nile Valleys and the plains of Burgundy, which hundreds of years of constant cultivation have in no wise depreciated in productive capacity. Prof. Aughey says of this soil in Nebraska:

   "It can never be exhausted until every hill and valley which compose it are entirely worn away. Owing to its fine comminuted silica, of which the bulk of the deposit consists, it possesses natural drainage in the highest degree, absorbing water like a huge sponge, and in time of drought sending up moisture from its greatest depths, by capillary attraction, for the needs of vegetation. This is the reason why, over all the region where this deposit prevails, the natural vegetation and cultivated crops are rarely dried or drowned out."

   It is the general verdict of the farmers of Gage County that its soil will stand more drought and moisture than any soil with which they are acquainted. This is quite conclusive, for they are not from one locality, but are from nearly all the States in the Union. There is no underlying rock or "hardpan" to keep the soil saturated until it is relieved by evaporation. The water soon sinks away, and, as the wind and sun dries the surface, the capillary property of the soil and its basis supply it with a sufficient quantity from below to keep it constantly moist without saturation. The evidence thus far is not conclusive, for unless the rainfall is sufficient, the soil will become useless without irrigation. It has been sufficient in the east half of the State to produce fair crops ever since it was first settled. There have been, however, a few localities where in some years they were a failure. This portion of Nebraska stood the drought of 1881 better than any other State. The crops of Gage County, while far below the average, were in excess of the home demand, and it is claimed, and reasonably, that the rainfall was less than in any other State where crops were a failure. The average rainfall of the eastern half of the State for the past twenty-five years is twenty-six inches, and for Gage County thirty inches. The conclusive argument if this, that the greater amount of this rain fall occurs when most needed, in May, June and July. The amount is yearly increasing and extending farther to the west, and it is believed that the whole State will have an abundant rainfall.


   The Big Blue River is the principal water-course of the county, draining about nine-tenths of the county; the rest, the northeast portion, by the Nemaha Branch. The Blue enters the county from the west, about the center of Town 5, and flows southeast. It is a beautiful and useful stream. In the spring and summer months its banks are picturesque. It has nine tributaries in Gage County, flowing in from the east and northeast, principal among which are Clatonia, Indian, Bear, Cedar, Mud, Plum and Wild Creeks, and six tributaries from the west, of which Cub, Bibbs and Cicily are the larger. These drain and water every township, making it one of the most thoroughly watered counties in the State. The Big Blue affords excellent milling privileges, having and abundant flow of water in the dry seasons of drought years. And it is not subject to freshets from the porous condition of the soil. It is fed by springs, principally from the north. This, together with the fact that the draws to the north and those east and northeast, contain unfailing springs, substantiates the theory that the country, being lower than the Platte River, is supplied with water from that unfailing river, which receives such a constant summer supply from the mountains of Colorado. That the wells, whose waters are exceedingly pure and healthful, are not affected by wet or dry seasons, is further evidence that the theory is correct. At any rate, the water supply is a feature of Gage County, of which its inhabitants are proud.


   Native timber is scarce through the State, but Gage County has the good fortune to possess more than nine-tenths of the other counties. The Big Blue and many of its tributaries have quite extensive strips of timber, which, together with its water supply, were the early inducements to settlers. But they would have been inadequate to supply the demand of its rapidly increasing population had not the early settlers turned their attention at once to the cultivation of forest trees. It is estimated that there are about 800,000 forest trees under cultivation, besides 140 miles of hedging. Their growth is exceedingly rapid, many of the early plantings ranging from five to ten inches in diameter. The growth of fruit trees is also very rapid. A great deal of attention has been given to fruit culture, and the results have been thus far very gratifying. The greatest trouble is that the bearing is irregular, and that many trees when they do bear exhaust themselves and die. Different countries require different methods for training young orchards, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that in time this county will be as certain and abundant in its fruit crop as it is now with its cereals. There are now about 40,000 apple, 2,000 pear, 45,000 peach and 12,000 each of plum and cherry trees, and 4,500 grape vines under cultivation. The smaller fruits are liberally cultivated and are quite prolific in production.

   In the southern portions of the county are extensive limestone quarries, producing a good quality of magnesian limestone. The stone for the old State House was quarried a few miles below Beatrice. The quarries occur along the banks of the Blue. A superior quality of brick clay is found. Brick, next to pine lumber, is the most important factor in building. And excellent quality of potter's clay is also found here.

   At present, there are about 85,000 acres of land under cultivation. Corn is the staple cereal, spring wheat, oats, barley, winter wheat and rye following in the order given. Corn is excellent in quality, and the yield in fair seasons is very great. In 1880, the average was about forty bushels per acre. The quality of spring wheat, although never so good as winter wheat, is considered as good as can be grown. It yields from ten to twenty bushels per acre. Buckwheat, flax, potatoes and onions do well. Hungarian and millet are the only domestic grasses grown to any extent. Timothy nor blue grass have thus far proven profitable, but the wild grass is considered nearly as good as blue grass for pasture and equal to timothy for hay. The yield is seldom as large, but the quality is considered by all as equal to and by many as superior to timothy hay.


   David Palmer, who met a sad fate by drowning, while swimming in the Big Blue, in June, 1876, was the oldest settler in Gage County. He came to the county in 1854 or 1855 with an agent of the Government, who came to the log house on Plum Creek to pay off the Indians. This was the first house built in the county. Mr. Palmer remained a resident of the county to the time of his death.

   In 1857, the most notable settlement was made, and under circumstances as romantic as their adventure has proven pleasant and profitable. On the morning of the 3d of April, 1857, the steamer Hannibal, then plying up and down the Missouri, between St. Louis and Nebraska City, as the sun was rising above the bluffs bordering the Mississippi Valley and dispelling the mists that were caused by an April shower during the night, cast off her lines and steamed away from the levees of St. Louis, freighted with a collection of 300 passengers as varied almost as their number and interesting enough to dwell on at this point. The weeping shower of the night, the misty dawning of the and the bright effulgence of full day were quite emblematic of the ambitious vision of many an adventurer on the memorable craft. There was the industrious and frugal "Scot" and his jolly cousin of the Emerald Isle; the ambitious "Briton" and the loquacious German, wanderers far from their native lands, searching for new homes on the broad prairie of the Republic of the New World. There were 200 deluded and misguided individuals on board, that were bound for some safe retreat in the broad West, where they could increase unmolested and create a new faction in the Republic and promulgate principles contrary to our public institutions and repulsive to the sense of decency of all the civilized and nine-tenths of the uncivilized nations of the world. Two hundred believers in polygamy were on that memorable steamer, seeking refuge from the sense of shame they felt in pure society. But thank God, that, though inferior in number, there were enough honest, honorable, pure and noble men and women to redeem that otherwise ill-fated cargo of human lives; enough germs of human and divine principle to counteract that evil influence and establish in the better part of this great West the foundation of a pure and advancing civilization; communities that the coming State would point to with feelings of love and admiration. For there were on board, besides their honored and welcomed cousins from over the sea, true, noble, high-minded Americans, educated, young and middle-aged, who had taken up as their forefathers had, the westward march of empire. There was the lawyer, with his pruned and sharpened intellect, coming to practice his profession, weigh out justice for his bread and grow rich out of the differences of his neighbors, thereby to teach them the lesson of forbearance. There was the physician, coming to relieve the aches and pains of his brother in a land he deemed more healthful than the one he had left behind. There was the speculator who could do but little harm and doubtless more good, and the artisan--thanks that he came. But above all, and most to be envied, was he who had come to stake out a portion of this land of sunshine, a portion of hill and vale and timber land, and there lay the foundation of the grandest, dearest place in all the world--a home, his castle and capital, of a dominion of which he should be president for life; whose broad and fertile acres, tilled by his own vigorous strength, should load his table with luxuries; a congenial hearth, around which his children and heirs should grow up in peace and plenty, bless his declining years, and have, when the years would bear him away, a noble heritage.

   This, then, was the motley cargo of human lives of the steamer Hannibal, on that memorable trip from St. Louis to Nebraska City. The voyage was long and wearisome. The river was high and the wind very often contrary, so that at night they would have made but little progress during the day, and some days they made no effort, but would tie up to the shore, when the passengers would pass the time on terra firma. The Missouri is full of snags, which made it dangerous to proceed in the dark, hence every night they would go into harbor whenever the dusky shadows would overtake them.

   The religious devotions of the Mormons on board and their camp-meetings on land, greatly relieved the monotony of the dragging hours.

   But the incident of that voyage to which the citizens of Beatrice look with most interest is the grounding of the steamer on a sand-bar opposite Kansas City. This was no new experience, but one that had grown monotonous by too many daily repetitions, yet it was the most serious accident of the kind on the voyage.

   To relieve the tedium of the time, some enterprising spirit among the passengers made a proposition that they resolve themselves into a sort of committee of the whole for the purpose of an interchange of "views" and "experience" in frontier life. This was joyfully received , more as a means of diverting the time than for any good that might result from such a pastime. The organization was soon effected, a chairman elected and resolutions passed. Several hours were consumed by the speeches, many of which would be profitable to reproduce here, but there was one man that was not there, the short-hand reporter, the rescuer of so many impromptu speeches, that otherwise would have early been consigned to oblivion, as were those speeches by his absence.

   But the most novel and beneficial result of that hasty and temporary organization was the permanent organization there, among that heterogeneous boat-load of strangers, of a company or colony for the purpose of locating in Nebraska. It was the uniting of a common purpose of thirty-five individuals on that steamer, under a written constitution and by-laws. Coming from different States and lands and meeting as strangers two weeks before, the discovery of similar designs made them friends and united them in mutual interests. Their modest visions of a great State in the near future undoubtedly grew into majestic proportions by this mutual union and interchange of "views," and we think we may say "visions," most of which thus early have been realized, and of that number but few can say their expectations were too extravagant, for thankful gratification fills the hearts of those who remain. As they revert to these old scenes and incidents, they become enthusiastic and with pride relate them in glowing colors to the historian or prospective citizen.

   Among the thirty-five signers to that written agreement, are many that have risen to eminence and all into the grateful respect and memory of a great State. Some have left their comrades to protect and enjoy the civilization they had helped to plant, and wandered still farther on toward the West. Others have completed their mission and sleep in honored graves. Among the number were J. B. Weston, who afterward became State Auditor; Judge John F. Kinney, of Nebraska City; G. T. Loomis, J. R. Nelson and Albert Towle, prominent citizens of Beatrice; the lamented Dr. H. M. Reynolds, Bennet Pike, of St. Joe, Mo., and also the lamented John McConihe, once well known in Omaha. An exploring committee, consisting of J. B. Weston, Bennet Pike and H. F. Cook, who joined the company at Nebraska City, Dr. Wise, Judge Kinney and others, were sent out from Nebraska City to select a location and report at a meeting of the company at Omaha on the 22d of May following. The committee divided into two parties, one going directly west from Nebraska City and the other southwest. The one going west traversed Otoe, Lancaster and Seward Counties, passing over the very ground where Lincoln now stands; the other explored Johnson, Gage, Jefferson and Saline Counties, passing over the present location of Beatrice, which was the finest location they discovered and which was afterward selected. A meeting pursuant to appointment was held in the office of the Secretary of the Territory, in Omaha, at which all the members of the company were present except one, who was ill in Council Bluffs. The committee, after a careful discussion of the different desirable locations, agreed upon the one in Gage County, which was accepted by the company, and all the arrangements were there perfected for organizing and settling the town, which was named Beatrice, in honor of Judge Kinney's daughter. The location cannot be surpassed in the State, nor the name changed to more fully express its loveliness.

   "The name is certainly a poetical one, and suggests that the company of thirty-five hardy pioneers who braved the dangers of frontier life and founded and fostered the city of Beatrice, embraced quite a number of sentimental and chivalrous young gentlemen. It is supposed that the name was originally derived from that of the beautiful woman whom Dante has immortalized in his poems; but whether the derivation in this instance is correct or not, we feel justified in giving a brief sketch of the romantic and melancholy life of this lovely person, for the purpose of adorning our story and adding a fresh charm to the name of this beautiful little city. Beatrice Portinari was the name of this woman. She belonged to a Florentine family and was quite a child when Dante, then nine years old, saw her for the first time. She had on a dark red dress with ornaments suited to her age, and her appearance made a deep and lasting impression upon the susceptible mind of the boy. Nine years later, he met her again, dressed all in white, in company with two elderly ladies. She cast a glance at the poet, who, trembling and amazed, stood aside; she courteously bowed to him, and from that time she became his inspiring muse." Her appearance no doubt was the means of changing the course of his life, and leading him to earthly immortality, through the melody of his song. "But such a lovely being could not stay long on earth. God seemed to have created her for one of his angels, and was soon to call her to heaven. Such was the surmise of her lover, which was early realized. She was only twenty-four, when, in 1290, death overtook her beautiful form, when this lovely temple was disinhabited by her more lovely soul. By her death, earth lost a jewel, which was heaven's gain, while she won a crown. Beatrice's soul always glides around the poet, whose pure ideal of love is a perpetual worship. She is the emblematic personification of divine wisdom. As Beatrice Portinari was the inspiring muse of Dante, arousing his genius and filling the world with his name and his fame, so may we hope that the same beautiful name belonging to our city, with the lovely landscape forming panoramic views, surrounding it like a halo of glory, will give it greatness and renown as one of the cities of our beloved land, long before the second centennial of its existence shall be thought of."

   A portion of the company started the day after organizing, as stated, to commence operations on the town site, which was then four days' journey from Nebraska City, with but a few scattered settlements intervening over what is now a thickly settled and wealthy country.

   A little later in 1857, a settlement was made about seven miles north of Beatrice, on Steven's Creek, in what was then Clay County, by Judge H. W. Parker, now of Beatrice, John Pethod, Sr., C. C. Austin, H. B. Austin, Frederick Roper, H. J. Pierce, J. H. Butler (afterward killed by the Indians), A. G. Markly, G. W. Phelps, M. C. Kelley (who was also killed by the Indians in Jefferson County a year or two later) and about ten others. A part of these had explored a number of counties in Kansas and farther west in Nebraska, but found the place where they settled the most abundantly supplied with timber of any place they had yet visited, and on that account, together with a good supply of water and excellent grazing field close at hand, were induced to locate. In the spring of 1858, they were joined by others. They then brought a steam engine, boiler and saw-mill fixtures from Nebraska City, which proved a very difficult and wearisome task, as there were no roads and the streams were not bridged. They erected a saw-mill and in connection had one buhr for the purpose of making corn meal. They at once set to work to secure the trade of westward-bound emigrants by laying out roads and bridging the streams between their settlement and Brownville and Nebraska City. They were not very successful, however, as their rival settlers of Beatrice conceived the same design and went so far as to go east and pilot trains across to their place where they had a ferry boat to convey them across the Big Blue. The Beatrice folks were very successful, for they not only got the bulk of the trade that would have otherwise passed north of them, but the old St. Joe trail that entered the State about the middle of Jefferson County was divided so that a large portion of the travel came through Beatrice and again struck the trail near Fairbury.

   The settlement on Stevens' Creek, which, however, now bears the name of Indian Creek, increased slowly, and soon many of them joined the Beatrice settlement. Their mill was afterward sold to the Government and was conveyed to the Otoe Reservation.

   There is a bit of interesting history in connection with the change of the name of Stevens' to Indian Creek. The settlers of Beatrice, although an honorable and respectable class of American citizens, representative Americans, we may say, were, nevertheless, human, They were jealous of their worthy rival to the north. They were for some time fearful that the tide of emigration would change and pass through their section. In that event, it would be disastrous to them, and it was evident that the Stevens' Creek settlement was making desperate efforts to accomplish the same. Hence, the people of Beatrice would not accept the name given to the creek that joined the Big Blue at their place; and for a long time it went by the name of Stevens' Creek above, and near its mouth by Indian Creek. The Beatrice settlement was permanent, and thereby are now gratified to look on the map of their county and not be confronted by a rival name. In 1864, Clay County was dissolved, and this portion united with Gage, at which union of lands the hearts were joined also in one common purpose.

   Not long after, or about the time of the last-mentioned settlement, another was made at Blue Springs, about ten miles southeast of Beatrice, on the Big Blue. This location was a good one and increased rapidly in population, and, considering the advantage of the county seat that Beatrice has had, Blue Springs has kept pace in advancement. Yet, until recently, Blue Springs had the benefit of the Otoe Indian trade. This settlement will be considered further in connection with the history of Blue Springs.

   Early in 1858, John Adams, George Gale, John Hillinan, the Shaws, J. S. P. and William, J. Lyon, Joseph Stafford, F. Proudfit, L. and William Silvernail, L. Hilderbrand, Vol Kebler, J. Fisk, Frank Fillmore and others settled in the northeast corner of the county on the bottom lands of the Nemaha Branch. This has grown to be a very rich settlement, it being embraced in the Fifth District, which is the third largest grain shipping point on the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad, between Atchison and Lincoln.

   In 1859 and 1860, settlements were made directly east of Beatrice, near Pawnee and Johnston Counties. But these having never secured a railroad outlet nearer than Beatrice, have not increased as rapidly as the more favored sections in that direction.


   Gage County has been very fortunate in having no serious Indian troubles; the battle-fields of Indian warfare are in the counties to the west and north. They were annoyed by the pilfering of many of the friendly Indians. The Stevens' Creek settlement had some clothing stolen, and a steer belonging to H. W. Parker was driven off. The Indians were followed, but were not overtaken. The carcass of the steer was found with all of the desirable meat stripped off. In 1864, there was quite a disastrous scare occasioned by a half-crazy individual, called "King Fisher," who set fire to the prairie and reported the Indians were coming. It was at the time of the raids on the Upper Big Blue, Big Sandy and Little Blue Rivers, when so many of the settlers in that section were massacred. There was little cause for great excitement in Gage or the eastern part of Jefferson County. It, however, resulted in a perfect stampede among the women and children, who hastily secured such conveyances as were at hand and took flight toward the Missouri, many of whom never stopped until they reached the river.

   The settlers from the west came pouring in and were corraled around the old mill for ten days. The excitement was intense, and the women and children were terrified. But the men proved their title to bold pioneers, for they immediately organized into a company and went out to meet the Sioux, who were raiding down the Little Blue and killing all the settlers they could overtake. It proved disastrous to their number, but doubtless more lives were saved by their bold and praiseworthy action. Had they remained at home the raid would have been more desperate and widespread. They met a band of the Indians on the Little Blue and defeated them, with a loss of three of their number. The encounter was not of long duration, but desperate while it lasted, and resulted in securing more safety to the other settlements in the counties of Jefferson, Thayer, Nuckolls, Clay and Fillmore. The price that Gage County paid for the relief and security of her neighbors was the lives of two of her respected and honored citizens, namely, M. C. Kelley and J. H. Butler. They sleep in honored graves, but live in the memory of a grateful people. Their heroic and unselfish action will ever be repeated around the hearthstone of a people reaping the sweet harvests of their sowing, by father to children to many far-off generations. Patrick Burke was killed at this time; his wife is now residing in Beatrice.

   In 1854, a treaty with the Otoe and Missouri Indians was made, George W. Manypenny being the agent of the Government. In 1855, they occupied their reservation, which extended ten miles north of the State line, commencing two and a quarter miles west of the southeast corner of Gage County and twenty-five miles west from that point. It included 250 square miles of the finest land in Nebraska. These Indians never gave the early settlers any trouble other than pilfering. Ar-ke-kee-tah was the grand chief, and was the one most instrumental in making the terms of the treaty. He was the most generous and high-minded of the tribe. He was well known by the settlers and was universally respected by them.


   In 1879, a new treaty was made, whereby the Indians were to sell their lands and remove to a reservation in the Indian Territory; 130,000 acres were put on the market, and have been selling rapidly at appraised prices. There is a bill now in Congress providing for the sale of the remainder--the eastern portion of the reservation. The Indians removed to their new homes in July, 1881.

   In 1863, 500 Cheyennes crossed over from the Republican River to Mill Creek in the Otoe Reservation. Their design was to intimidate the Otoes and secure stock. If they were refused, they intended to fight.

   The settlers collected, having guessed the design of the hostile Indians, and went to the aid of the Otoes, but before they reached the principal village, the Otoes, thinking that discretion in this instance was the better part of valor, had granted the request of the invaders, who hastened away with their booty as the settlers appeared in sight. They committed some depredations to the settlers along their route.

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Index of Illustrations in Gage County Chapter
  1. [AR-KE-KEE-TAH.]
  2. [First Homestead in the United States.]
  3. [View of Beatrice, Neb.]
  4. [Smith Brothers, First National Bank.]
  5. [Portrait of Nathan Blakely.]
  6. [Residence of Col. L. W. Colby.]
  7. [Portrait of William Lamb.]
  8. [Residence of William Lamb.]
  9. [Portrait of A. S. Paddock.]
  10. [Portrait of Chas. L. Schell.]
  11. [Portrait of J. E. Smith.]