Howard County | Natural Features and Products | First Settlements
Organization | Early History
Howard County in 1874 | Gov. Brisbin's Statistics
Progress of the County | The Flood of 1881
The Murder of Lubin Paxton | Present Condition of the County
St. Paul: Early History | Improvements | A Frightful Tragedy
Newspapers | Societies | Churches | Other Matters of Interest
St. Paul : Biographical Sketches (cont.)
Dannebrog | St. Libory
List of Illustrations in Howard County Chapter
The first term of the District Court was held in February, 1874, in the new schoolhouse at St. Paul, Judge Samuel Maxwell, presiding. But little business came before the court. There were, however, two attorneys admitted to the bar:--John C. Lewis and P. Hirst.
On the 14th day of February, one-fourth of the town site of St. Paul was given to the county, to accumulate a fund from the sale of, for the purpose of erecting county buildings, on condition of the permanent location of the county seat here.
In the spring of this year a very large acreage of crops were planted and in the early part of the season everything looked favorable for an immense crop. The accessions to the settlement of the county continued as in former years and considerable prairie was broken.
Until the 17th of July, 1874, everything moved on quietly and pleasantly and the settlers were jubilant over their crop prospects, but on the above date, the grasshoppers, passing over in clouds from the southwest, began to descend in swarms, and in a short time everything that was yet green was literally covered with the ravenous pests. The living clouds passing over were so dense that the light of the sun was obscured. They were so thick on the fields that they were piled one on another. The fields were perfectly black with them. They remained for three days and went on to the northeast. In a few days, however, they returned from that direction and once again everything even to the tough prairie grass was covered. After remaining three days they again rose and were drifted away by the winds to the southward. With the exception of a little early wheat, everything was completely destroyed. The stalks of corn were eaten nearly down to the ground, and all small grain down to the very roots, and some root crops, such as onions for instance, were literally burrowed out of the ground. Thus the farmers saw their fond hopes of a bountiful crop blasted, and they saw suffering if not starvation during the coming winter, staring them in the face.
In the summer of 1874, two grist mills were built in the county, one at Dannebrog, on Oak Creek, by Lars Hannibal, and the other at Kelso, by C. Crow. The first flour ever manufactured in the county was made at the mill of the latter, December 20 of the same year.
In the fall of 1874, there was an attempt made to remove the county seat from St. Paul to Dannebrog, and it was decided to bring the matter before the voters, at the annual election to take place the 13th of the following October. The election campaign on the county seat question was a hotly contested one. In the preceding May, a newspaper,--the Sentinel,--was established at Dannebrog, by W. H. Mitchell, who used his paper in the interests of that town, while the Advocate at St. Paul entered the campaign in the interests of that town. At the election, the county seat was located at St. Paul, by a vote of 226 for, to 206 for Dannebrog. A County Commissioner was also voted for at this election, but the result was a tie vote between the two rival candidates, and J. H. Packer was afterward appointed. Soon after the election, Dannebrog undertook to contest the election, and the case was brought before Justice of the Peace, Baxter, who dismissed the case and here the fight ended. There has never since been any dissatisfaction with the location of the county seat at St. Paul.
The winter of 1874-75 was a hard one for the citizens of Howard County. The grasshoppers had destroyed all the crops except a little early small grain, and nearly all were left with a supply insufficient to meet their necessities. The greater number of the settlers had come to the county poor, and though the crops of the preceding years, since the settlement of the county, had been good,--it must be remembered that the new settler opening up a farm finds it impossible to accumulate a supply for the first few years. Besides this, a great number of the settlers had either come in this year or the one previous; and as yet neither had received any crop whatever. Thus, it will be seen that the citizens of the county were in a desperate condition, with no feed for their teams, no money to procure clothing for themselves and families, and nearly out of provisions. The money of the greater number of the settlers was soon nearly all spent and when they at last saw suffering and starvation staring them in the face, they made application to the State Aid Society for help.
Accordingly, Gen. Brisbin, of army and literary fame, came to the county to examine as to its true condition. A mass meeting of the citizens was held, at which Gen. Brisbin presided, and a committee consisting of J. N. Paul, H. N. Smith, and Wm. R. Stitt were elected to distribute aid throughout the county wherever needed. The supplies distributed by this committee were as follows:
Tea, 111 pounds; sugar, 614 pounds; salt, 280 pounds; peaches, 20 pounds; wheat, 17,340 pounds; barley, 21,198 pounds; oats, 3,400 pounds; potatoes, 4,272 pounds; beans, 1,600 pounds; pork, 1,004 pounds, meal, 36,200 pounds; corn, 26,660 pounds; flour, 3,400 pounds; apples, 180 pounds; hominy, 40 pounds; lard, 1,090 pounds; clothing, 9 boxes; supplies, 6 boxes; garden seeds, 2 boxes.
After receiving this assistance some also received help from their friends in the East and with this the citizens got through the winter and lived during the next summer. Many privations were endured, but we find no account of any intense suffering for want of food.
A few of the settlers left the county on account of the destruction of crops by the grasshoppers, but their places were more than filled by the new settlers in the spring of 1875. Though the new comers did not equal in numbers those of the previous two years, they took claims and began making improvements at once.
Among the new settlers was the Polish Colony under the leadership of John Barzynski, who had been connected with the Polish Catholic Gazette in Chicago. This colony settled in the vicinity of Kelso and organized a church society, and Barzynski laid out a town called New Posen. The settlement flourished, but no town was built up.
During July and August, the grasshoppers again appeared and great damage was done to the growing crops. Extensive crops had been put in, but these being cut short a second time, the settlers again found themselves in desperate circumstances.
The result of the annual election held on the 12th of October, 1875, was as follows: Commissioners, G. W. Peck and C. T. Kenyon; Judge, Lawrence Fleming; Clerk, A. G. Kendall; Treasurer, Charles Jackson; Sheriff, F. W. Crew; Superintendent of Schools, T. McNabb; Surveyor, Robert Harvey; and Coroner E. S. Chadwick.
The winter of 1875-76 was a very mild one. Owing to the. partial failure of crops the past year. a few of the settlers left the county; but the majority remained. Daring the winter it was found that unless aid could be obtained, many would be in a suffering condition before another crop was raised. Therefore a committee, consisting of John C. Lewis and P. Hirst, was authorized to go east and solicit aid for the needy settlers. The expenses of this committee were to be paid from the county poor fund.
In addition to this, some time after, Capt. J. A. Force was sent out, for the purpose of soliciting help to enable those who were in needy circumstances to get seed for their farms, feed for their teams, and provisions for their families until the next crop could be gathered. Capt. Force was very successful and brought back several hundred dollars with him. This money was judiciously distributed.
On the 5th day of March, 1876, the first serious crime was committed in the county. A young man named Cyrus DeVry, was shot at by John Crummy. DeVry was driving home his cattle and when near the North Loup bridge he was met by Crummy who began shooting at him. Some of the shots took effect but did not prove fatal. Crummy was arrested at once and was tried on the 27th of the following April before Judge G. W. Post, found guilty and sentenced to the penitentiary for four years. This was the first penitentiary convict from Howard County.
In the spring of 1876 there were crops of all kinds planted and the farmers again went to work with a will.
This spring the eastern part of the county, known as Gage Valley, was settled by Alonzo Gage and others. Previous to this time, this valley had been but little known on account of the high divides or rough table lands that separated it from the settlements.
In 1874 a settlement had been formed at the forks of the South Loup and South Branch, and sometime during this spring, a bridge was completed across the river at this point.
During the summer of 1876 the German Catholic Church was built at St. Lisbon.
The first suicide in the county was that of Miles Randall, an old man of seventy-two years of age who poisoned himself with strychnine, on the 3d day of July, 1876.
The celebration on the Fourth of July in 1876 was a grand affair. Nothing was left undone by the citizens of the entire county to contribute to its success. The celebration was held at St. Paul and the attendance was large. For sociability and enthusiasm, this celebration has never been excelled in the county. Speeches were made, and a history of the county prepared by Hon. Robert Harvey, was read by him. This history was ably written, and from a perusal of it the writer has been assisted materially, in collecting material on the early history of the county.
In the summer of 1876 the grasshoppers again damaged the crops.
From that time until the present the county has steadily continued to improve. Settlement has increased from year to year, till now the county has a population of upward of five thousand. This population is made up from almost every Northern and Eastern State of the Union. Added to this are settlers from almost every nationality. Since the early settlement of the county there has been a steady growth of German, Danish, Swedish, Polish and Bohemian citizens. The Danes have ever continued to hold and settle the territory in the vicinity of Dannebrog; they are a moral and law abiding class of people. They are sprinkled in with other nationalities and are not clannish, but associate with all classes and make up the solid portion of the southwest part of the county. The settlements of the Swedes are generally scattered in among those of the Danes and they, too, are a thrifty and valuable class of citizens. The German and Scotch people are located in the western part of the county; and there are also Germans in the south part. These are generally a solid and substantial class of farmers who are growing wealthy each succeeding year and form a strong element in the social development of the county. The Bohemians and Poles are located near the central part, and occupy the finest and best tilled of farms. The Americans are sprinkled all through the county, but are mainly in center, north and east. All these citizens are of an exceptionally good class, and continue to draw recruits from their late homes.
The court house of Howard County was built in the year 1878. It is a large and substantial frame building, and cost about $4,000.
Though railways had been expected at the time of the first settlement in the county, it was not until the latter part of May, 1880, that the first railroad was completed into the county. This was a branch of the Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad, from Grand Island to St. Paul. Previous to this time all the crops of the county had to be hauled to Grand Island as the nearest market. During the present year the railroad has been built entirely through the county up the west side of the North Loup River.
The winter of 1880-81 was a bitterly cold one, and the snow storms were frequent and severe. The winter began in October and it was cold weather incessantly until the next spring. Never in the history of the county had such a snowfall been known as during this winter.
In the spring when the snow began to thaw and run off in streams of water, every stream in the county was soon overflowed. The creeks and rivers rose to an unprecedented height. For more than a week the water had been running over the ice, and on March 25, 1881, the ice began to break up. A gorge was formed above the Dannebrog bridge, which broke and the bridge was soon gone. In the afternoon the whole river broke up, above the St. Paul railroad bridge, and by about six o'clock it was broken in two in the center, but one half of it swung around so that it was left high and dry on the bank. The wagon bridge soon went out a span at a time. One span was left on the bank five feet higher than the ordinary high water mark. For several days these floods on the South Loup kept up and much damage was done; not only were all the bridges damaged or swept away, but much farm property, in the valleys of the creeks and rivers.
On Thursday, the 31st day of March, the ice in the North Loup River began to break and for two or three days an immense amount of damage was done. A gorge was formed above the North Loup bridge about three and one-half miles from St. Paul. When the gorge began to form above this bridge, Cyrus DeVry hurried to town to procure assistance to try to save the bridge. C. Crow and Z. T. Leftwich provided ropes, and a party of men went to the river bank, to try to save the bridge if possible. A raft was made on a small creek, and four men--C. Crow, R. Crow, F. Lowe and A. A. Kendall crossed over. They then fastened the remains of the bridge with ropes but this was of no use, the rushing ice swept it all away.
The floods continued for several days and much damage was done. Wilson & Co's. large flouring mill was carried away on Friday, and the water poured in an immense volume down the mill race. One span of the bridge lodged in DeVry's timber. J. P. Gordon, who lived eighty rods from the river, was compelled to remove his family from his farm on account of the danger from high water. The house of John Wilson, was surrounded by water, and he was compelled to get his goods out through the roof. On Oak Creek the bridge at Kelso was taken out. On Crow Creek the mill-dam belonging to Crow & Leftwich was washed away. At Metcalf's mill the race was cut to save the mill. Three of the bridges on the Loup that were washed away cost the county $19,000. On one of these bridges when it commenced to go were several persons, among whom were Mr. and Mrs. S. A. Spencer, Mrs. W. C. Atwater and A. A. Kendall, but all escaped safely to land.
On Sunday, while crossing the North Loup, at the site of the bridge, Daniel Prall was drowned. A rope had been stretched across the river and several men were trying to keep the remaining spans of the bridge from giving way. Several men--Cyrus DeVry, Daniel Prall, F. Carey, and J. Fisher, were in a boat returning from the north end of the bridge to the south side, and were drawing themselves across by aid of the rope. By some means the boat upset, throwing all into the river. By clinging to the rope all but Prall was saved; but he became frightened, got himself entangled in the rope and was drowned. This was the only life lost during the floods.
On June 8, 1881, a most appalling crime was committed in the county. On the above date Lubin Paxton was murdered by Henry Tedrhan, a young Pole. seventeen years of age.
Lubin Paxton was ploughing in a field some distance from the house. He was about twenty-one years of age, small of stature and very quiet and inoffensive. He had only met Tedrhan once before, and then no acquaintance had been formed. Tedrhan going to the field where Paxton was working entered into conversation with him and when Paxton's head was turned, he drew a small pistol from his pocket and shot him through the head. Then fearing his victim was not yet dead, he got a neck yoke and pounded him over the head, mangling the skull fearfully. After this the monster tied a rope around the neck of the body and made the other end fast to the plow and drove the horses on a short distance.
Young Paxton not returning as soon as he was expected, in the evening, his brother Charles mounted a horse to go and call him. Upon his arrival he found the dead body of his brother in the state described, but the team and wagon were gone. Returning to the house, he imparted the sad news to the family. Though horror stricken and frenzied with grief, but little time was lost till a party was organized to search for the murderer. After considerable search, one horse and the wagon were found. The next day the other horse was found near Beebe's ranch. Suspicion being directed toward young Tedrhan, the party went to the home of his father, to see if he could be found. The young fiend was coolly engaged in planting corn. Seeing the party riding up he started to run, and though he was on foot and his pursuers on horseback, he was chased for three miles before he could be caught, and then he had hid in the grass. He was then taken back to the house and questioned, but at first denied all knowledge of the crime. A pair of old overalls were found that were stained with blood, and covered with horsehair as if they had been used in riding a heated horse. These overalls were found to be his, but still he denied knowing anything about the murder, After a while, however, he was induced to confess the crime, which he did in all its details, and as coolly and unconcernedly as if describing any usual event of life.
It is not known positively what motive actuated him to commit such a horrible deed. But he had sometime previous been working for a man from whom he had stolen articles of considerable value and had agreed to let the amount of his wages, which was only a few dollars, go toward paying for them. He did not dare to tell his father about it and when the old gentleman wanted the money, the boy told him he had not yet received his pay and was sent every few days to ask for the money, but would return with some excuse or other, saying he would have to wait a few days longer. It is supposed he killed young Paxton either expecting to find money about him, or for the purpose of taking the team off and selling it, and by thus getting the money, to prevent his father from finding out his former theft. The boy was half an idiot and it is probable that he had formed such a plan. After running off with the team, however, fearing detection, he left it.
Henry Tedrhan was after his capture confined in jail at St. Paul, but during the fall managed to escape, and by disguising himself somewhat, he went to Grand Island and obtained work with a farmer near there. During the winter he went to that town and was met on the street by the sheriff of this county, who recognized him and brought him back.
At the April term of the District Court he was tried before Judge Post and plead guilty to murder in the second degree, and was sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary for twenty years. The judge gave him this light sentence on account of his imbecility.
The population of the county numbers over 5,000.
There are eight voting precincts, viz: St. Paul, Cotesfield, Dannebrog, Fairdale, St. Libory, Kelso, Spring Creek and Warsaw.
The officers of the county are: Commissioners, J. B. Williams, Fred Olsen, J. L. Johnson; Judge, Paul Anderson; Clerk, C. C. Robinson; Treasurer, N. J. Paul; Sheriff, O. M. Goldsberry; Superintendent of Public Instruction, G. W. Scott; Surveyor, G. T. Kendall; Coroner, P. K. Watters; Representative in the Legislature, J. F. Frederick, of Dannebrog.
Post offices.--There are fourteen post offices in this county, the names and location of which are as follows: Brooks, in the south part of the county between the forks of the South and Middle Loups, thirteen miles from St. Paul; Cascade, in the northeast part, north of the North Loup, ten miles; Cotesfield, northwest thirteen miles; Dannebrog, southwest nine miles; Dannevirke, northwest of the county seat fourteen miles; Gage Valley, eight miles east; Glasgow, thirteen miles northeast; Kelso, twelve miles west; Loup Fork, southwest eleven miles; St. Libory, southeast ten miles; St. Paul, the county seat in the center of the county; Tynerville, eleven miles west; Warsaw, six miles west, and Wola, eight miles northwest.
Schools.--There are forty-five school districts in the county, nearly all of which are provided with substantial and pleasant frame houses, and all these districts are in a thriving condition. The census of 1881 gives the number of children of school age in the county as 1,621. Each settlement has its school house.
Churches.--There are now in the county seven substantial and commodious church buildings. Three of these are of the Catholic denomination--a German Catholic Church at St. Libory, the Bohemian Catholic at Warsaw, and the Polish Catholic near Kelso in the western part of the county; a Presbyterian Church at St. Paul; and another at the Scotch settlement on Oak Creek, in the western part of the county. A Methodist Church at St. Paul and another at Warsaw.
Productions.--The farm products are of a great variety. Wheat, how ever, is the principal crop, of which in 1881 there was 19,760 acres planted. On an average of twelve bushels to the acre, this gives 237,120 bushels as the yield for that year; 193,200 bushels of this grain was shipped from St. Paul before January 1, 1882. There were 9,027 acres of corn planted, which yielded more than 300,000 bushels. There were 3,439 acres of barley sown which yielded over 14,000 bushels. Of oats there were 3,439 acres which yielded over 100,000 bushels. The potato crop was light, yet the yield was more than 30,000 bushels in the county. Other crops produced fully as well.
The assessor's report for 1881, showed that there were in the county 1,963 horses, 321 mules, 4,413 cattle, 1,277 sheep, and 2,020 hogs. This showing has been increased largely, as every year the farmers are devoting more attention to stock raising. Sheep thrive exceedingly well and are a valuable source of revenue. The richness of the wild grasses and healthfulness of the climate makes stock raising particularly profitable.