Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Jefferson County
Produced by Brenda Busing and Diana Busing,
members of the Jefferson County Genealogical Society.

In memory of Larry Swaney, JCGS member and host of the Jefferson County NEGenWeb page.
January 24, 1997

Part 1

JEFFERSON County was first set apart by the Territorial Legislature January 26, 1856, under the name of Jones County. Thayer, the adjoining county on the west, was designated as Jefferson at the same time. In 1864 Jefferson County organized by holding its first election at Big Sandy. February 18, 1867, an "act to enlarge Jefferson County" passed the Legislature, which untied Jones County to Jefferson. This gave the county 706,560 acres, which was deemed too large by the Legislature of 1870-1, and in 1871 an act passed providing for the division of Jefferson, which was effected in the fall by the election of two sets of officers, the Sixth Principal Meridian being the dividing line. The former Jones by the separation became Jefferson and the former Jefferson assumed the name of Thayer. Jefferson borders on the State of Kansas, and is the fourth county west of the Missouri. On the north it is bounded by Saline and on the east by Gage County, south by Kansas and west by Thayer County, containing 576 square miles or 368,640 acres of land, at an average elevation above the level of the sea of 1,200 feet.

From 1857 to 1864 Jefferson was attached to Gage County for judicial purposes, during which time there was several important criminal cases of this county tried in Gage. The Otoe Indian Reservation cut off twenty-four square mile from the southeast corner of the county, but was about the first land of that Reservation sold to actual settlers. The greater portion of it has been sold.


The principal stream of the county is the Little Blue river, running diagonally through the county form northwest to southeast. It is a beautiful stream, and yet more useful than beautiful, furnishing most abundant water power the year round. The current is rapid, but with a gravelly bottom the water is always clear. Like most of the streams of Nebraska south of the Platte River it receives its supply principally from that never-failing stream. It is about forty feet below the surface of the uplands to a gravel bed through with the water flows from the Platte, and consequently the banks and bottom of the Little Blue is lined with springs. About two miles from Fairbury there is one spring that furnishes a sufficient flow of water to run one moderate sized stone-buhr.

Big and Little Sandy Creeks water the northwest portion of the county, and afford many good mill privileges. Their tributaries to the east supplied by springs makes that portion well adapted to stock raising.

Rose Creek, a beautiful stream with numerous branches, flows in an easterly direction along the line that divides the first and second tier of townships, and empties into the Little Blue. It affords good water power that has been quite thoroughly employed from the earliest settlement. The first mill in the county was upon this stream. Cut Creek waters the northeast portion, which is not as abundant in running streams as the rest of the county. Rock Creek waters the southeastern portion of the county.

Jefferson has a fair share of the timber of the State, being favored with more than the counties to the west and with less than those toward the Missouri. The banks of the Little Blue are quite well timbered. Elm and cottonwood are most abundant, but oak, walnut and maple abound in certain localities. Most of the creeks have a fine growth of young timber, but if it were not for the care taken in timber cultivation the present supply would soon be exhausted. The county reports, for an equal area, the largest number of trees under cultivation. Nearly every farmer has a large grove of select varieties, including rapid and slow growth woods, and aggregating about 4,000,000 trees, besides many miles of honey locust and osage orange hedging.

Small fruits do well and are becoming to be very extensively cultivated, and although the apple, pear, peach, and kindred fruits have as yet not had time to be thoroughly tested, the result thus far is very satisfactory. There are reported under cultivation 15,240 apple trees, 944 pear, 19,656 peach, 2,406 plum, 4,624 cherry, and 75 acres of grapevines. In the Russian settlement there is an abundance of mulberries, the plant, however, is cultivated principally for the silk worm.

In various parts of the county are quarries of excellent limestone, from which a superior quality of lime is made. There are a number of red sandstone, but very little of it is sufficiently hard for building purposes, and that which is hard, is generally scaly or in thin layers. There are extensive deposits of potters' and brick clay of superior quality. The former is being used, and the latter is the principal mortar material used in building.

The surface of Jefferson County is very rolling along the streams, which becomes gently undulating as it recedes. There is very little, however, too hilly and broken for agricultural purposes. The disposition of hills and vales in many parts of the county produces beautiful landscape views. As you approach the streams there are numerous draws, but are generally very narrow. The soil is generally very fertile and exceedingly so in the bottoms, and well adapted to the cereals. The valley of the Little Blue, varying in width from a half to two and a half miles, is exceedingly fertile, and the encircling hills affording excellent grazing ground are very picturesque in certain portions of the year.

The surface of the country on the south side of Rose Creek is quite hilly and in places broken. This is used for grazing. The valley, though quite narrow in places, is quite fertile and has the honor of being the first occupied by settlers. Good water abounds in all parts of the county, and all wells that reach the layer of gravel are never failing.


From the "Centennial History of Jefferson County," written by Hon. D. C. Jenkins and read by him at the "Fairbury Centennial Celebration," July 4, 1876, we obtain most of the historical facts herein related. He was the oldest settler in the county at that time, and the facts can therefore be relied upon.

It is claimed that if a correct map of the United States is folded from east to west and then north and south that the creases or lines thus formed will intersect in Jefferson County, proving quite conclusively that the center of the United States is in this county; the "center of a country bounded on the east by the Atlantic, on the west by the Pacific, and by some claimed to be bounded on the north by the Aurora Borealis and on the south by the Day of Judgment."

It is believed by many that Coronado the Spaniard, in 1541-2, after leaving the Gila River and crossing the Rocky Mountains, passed down the valley of the Little Blue at least as far as Jefferson County, then taking a southwesterly course until reaching the head waters of the Rio Grande, whose course he followed to the Gulf. This is hardly probable, though not impossible, for it is evident that he entered the "Great American Desert," as it was for a long time called, the broad and fertile plains of Kansas and Nebraska. If this is a little doubtful, it is a fact that one of the routes of the pathfinders to the Rocky Mountains passed up the valley of the Little Blue, and was known as the St. Joe route.

In 1820, Maj. Long, of the United States Army, as he was making explorations on the western plains and what was then known as the "Great American Desert," found that it was the grazing ground of the buffalo, and remarked: "What on earth ever prompted the buffalo to seek the inhospitable desert of the Platte?" One reason was that they were driven from the east and their march, like that of empire, seems toward the west. Another is that these deserts were not inhospitable, but were to them as welcome a grazing ground as they are to-day to the innumerable herds of cattle that fatten upon their luxuriant grasses. From the Solomon River on the south to the Little Blue, including its valley, was for a long time the disputed hunting ground of various tribes of Indians, as these plains were the favorite grazing ground of the buffalo and pasture land of the deer. Hence it became the bone of contention between the different tribes, and many and fierce were the conflicts, each tribe determined to hold the mastery.

In 1832 one of the most desperate battles ever waged on the American continent between savage tribes was fought in Jefferson County, near the junction of the Big Sandy and the Little Blue rivers, within the borders of the contested hunting grounds. Sixteen thousand Indian warriors, it is said, were arrayed in deadly combat for three days, fighting as only savage men can fight when aroused by so many thousand voices shrieking that more than savage war cry. Their cry is so fierce and terrible that one shriek has been known to frighten white people to death, and many have been deprived of their reason. The Pawnees and their allies were arrayed against their deadly foes, the Sioux and their confederate tribes, and as both leading tribes were noted for their prowess and desperation in battle, the fearful conflict can be better imagined than described. After a desperate struggle of three days the Sioux were compelled to withdraw from the battle-field, but not until 3,000 of their braves had fallen in the fatal, fruitless struggle for mastery over the disputed country. But the Pawnees paid dearly for their victory, 2,000 of the warriors in their confederation having fallen before the arrow and tomahawk of the desperate Sioux. But the infuriated Pawnees sought revenge by burning 700 prisoners at the stake during the engagement.

The Pawnees were led by the celebrated chief Tac-po-hana, at that time one of the most crafty and daring chiefs of the Pawnee Confederation.

The Sioux and their allies were led by Oco-no-me-woe, of whom it is said Sitting Bull, of Black Hills fame, is a lineal descendant. He displayed unusual bravery, and his followers did not attribute their defeat to him.

This was the Waterloo of the great plains and gave the mastery of this country to the Pawnee nation. This they never relinquished. They became the most warlike and powerful tribe on the plains, a terror both to the feebler tribes and the early settler.

Mr. D. C. Jenkins, from whom we received this tradition, received it in 1870 from Monsieur Mont Crevie, an old French trader, who claimed to have spent forty years of his life among the Indians of the plains and mountains and had married a squaw in every tribe where he could find one that would have him. Owing to his extensive relationship he must have had a thorough knowledge of the various tribes and been well posted in their traditions, and since we can not find any contradictory evidence we must credit it. The facts as herein stated were further corroborated by an old blind Pawnee warrior who claimed to be the only survivor of the terrible conflict. This is, however, incorrect, for it is quite probable that many of them were quite young and would now be only about sixty years of age.

The great overland route to the mines, from St. Joseph and Kansas City, passed diagonally across Jefferson County from the southeast to the northwest, consequently this county has the honor, if it is honorable, of witnessing and enduring its share of the trials and horrors to which the whole route was subject. The early settlers were for years living in constant fear, and only by the most careful watchfulness, and many think by the interposition of divine Providence, were a few of them spared to see the dawn of peace and season of prosperity. As a fact given to substantiate the Providential clause above we will give one incident related to us by Rev. Ives Marks of whom we will have more to say further on.

He was building his log cabin on the banks of Rock Creek in 1862, and had it raised nearly to roofing when seven Indians appeared and watched him for about fifteen minutes and then went away. He thought all was well then, but presently they returned. He was at one end of the enclosure when five of them stepped in at the door and drew their bows to shoot. He was terrified and they said nothing. Looking up to Heaven he said "God save," and immediately but slowly they lowered their aim until their arrows pointed towards their feet, and without further demonstration, they left him alone. Such was the overpowering gratitude of his heart that he wept and thanked God that he interposed in his behalf to save his life.

For many years the banks of the Little Blue were the forts and battle grounds that saved and protected the settlements in the counties east of Jefferson. Innumerable almost are the depredations made upon the pioneers in this locality, only the most noted of which can be given here in detail.

This county was the scene of many of the exploits, narrow escapes and deeds of reckless daring of Dan Patterson, "Wild Bill," "Buckskin Charlie," "Utah Jerdon," the McCaulases and many others that as frontiers-men and men of invincible and often fool-hardy courage, have acquired a world-wide reputation.

History has nothing to do with charity, but the historian of the county having known these men and knowing their relatives, in his accounts threw the mantle of charity over many of their evil deeds, and therefore we cannot truthfully set forth their lives.

In 1857, soon after the opening of the mines in the mountains, ranchmen began to establish themselves along the trail made by freighters and emigrants, for the purpose of furnishing supplies to the trains. These supplies consisted of flour, bacon, beef, hay, corn, oats, in fact nearly everything that man or beast eat, drink or wear. Every day brought the ranchman new customers, seldom having the same twice, and as varied as was his customers so was the variety of his stock.

According to Johnson and tradition there were settlements made along the Little Blue as early as 1854. Jack Nye, according to the former, having the honor of being the first to locate within the present limits of Jefferson County. His residence was brief as was that of those who came in 1855-56-67. Being constantly harassed by Indians, losing their personal property and many their lives, they were compelled to go to the more secure settlements to the east. The first permanent settlement in the county was made by Daniel Patterson, on Big Sandy, near where it empties into the Little Blue. Here he built a cabin, and the place for a long time was known as Daniel's Ranch. His days of usefulness in the county were few, being the first settler to die in the county, dying a year and a half after his arrival at Big Sandy. But the settlement that he established was never afterwards deserted, it being one of the two places along the Little Blue that withstood the Indian raid of 1864.

Monsieur Mont Crevie was the next settler who cast his fortune with Mr. Patterson. The first experiments in agriculture in Jefferson County were made by these men in the way of raising vegetables in a corral. They said it would be impossible for them to raise anything outside of a corral, although the Indians raised an abundance of hair on the bald prairies.

Hon. D. C. Jenkins was the third, coming in 1858, and is the oldest settler now in the county, followed in a few weeks by the Helvys, who with Mr. Jenkins, have been most prominently identified with the history of the county, doing much to add to its growth and prosperity.

The Helvys settled on Little Sandy and are still in that neighborhood.

About the same time a settlement was commenced on Rock Creek by Newton Glen, and in 1860 a prosperous settlement was commenced on the head waters of Swan Creek by a colony of hardy, enterprising Germans, all of whom have met with abundant success, and many have become wealthy from the product of the soil.

Among other early pioneers who are still residents of the county may be mentioned George Wisell, H. M. Ross, Rev. Ives Marks, W. T. Brawner, William Babcock, William Smith, Edward Howks, the Bakers, J. B. Mattingly, T. J. Holt and the McCaulas boys, and many others. Many more came quite early but made only short stays, being anxious to remain in the van of the westward march of occupation.

Eighteen hundred and sixty was the year of the memorable drouth, which, however, did not materially affect the citizens of Jefferson County, as at that early date they were all in one way or another engaged in the overland traffic. All those engaged in supplies found this their most profitable season.

Eighteen hundred and sixty-one, two and three, were seasons of plenty. Ranches and stations began to multiply, travel and traffic increased rapidly and all were prosperous.

In 1864 the county was organized, although there were only thirty-five actual settlers. They managed to cast seventy-five votes. Gage County some time before secured the passage of a law enabling them to collect revenue west of them about as far as Denver. the citizens of Jefferson therefore concluded that they would enjoy the benefit of that law for a season and deprive Gage of some of her profits, consequently it was deemed necessary to cast seventy-five votes, and it is said nearly every citizen held an office.

Jefferson, when organized, claimed the same jurisdiction to collect revenue that Gage County had exercised, and going even a little further and levying contributions on Spotted Tail's Empire. The revenue was used principally to purchase their flour, sugar, coffee and tobacco. County orders were drawn for eighty and ninety dollars for stationery where eighty or ninety cents would have paid for all the stationery needed for a whole year.

In 1865 the organization of the county was localized by the legislature, from which time the political history commences--the scramble for the best offices. The county has always been Republican, and as such is the banner county of the United States, having cast a unanimous vote for Gen. Grant in 1868. It has always had a large Republican majority. This fact is confirmed by the fact that there is not a Democratic paper published in the county, yet there are one or two independent, or perhaps they may more truthfully be called, neutral, newspapers which deny all political preferences.

The Little Blue, a weekly newspaper established in 1868 by D. C. Jenkins and M. J. Kelly, was the first paper printed in the county. It was printed at Jenkins' Mills, a half mile below Steele City. It was first a quarto but was soon changed to a six-column folio, but was discontinued after 1871. It was Republican in politics, but was published more to advertise the county and secure settlers than to promulgate it principles.

The first mill in the county was built on Rose Creek, near Thayer County, in 1863, by Rev. Ives Marks. Although not very extensive it was the only mill in the county until 1867, at which time D. C. Jenkins built a mill just below Steele City on the Little Blue. Marks' Mill, as the place was for some time called, where Mr. Marks located, became quite a business point, assuming in a few years the name of Rose Creek. There was soon sufficient business for two run of buhr's, three stores of general merchandise, two blacksmith shops, one harness shop, one hotel, two livery stables and a pottery. Mr. Marks built a schoolhouse and organized a United Brethren Church. The Republican branch of the Burlington & Missouri Railroad passed to the north of this isolated but flourishing village, and the place is returning to its native wild appearance.

The first sermon preached in the county was by Rev. Ives Marks, of the United Brethren denomination, in 1862, and he has been preaching in Jefferson and adjoining counties ever since that time.


In 1867 the grasshoppers, together with the Indian trials, caused great suffering to the settlers, especially those engaged in farming. The raid was, with the exception of `64, the most severe in history of the county. But the greatest grasshopper scourge occured in 1874, which beggars description.

In the latter part of July, 1874, the grasshoppers came in such vast numbers that the sun seemed veiled by thin clouds, and when they descended they made a noise similar to large drops of rain. In many places it was impossible to walk without stepping upon them. In a few hours after raiding upon a flourishing garden, every sign of vegetation would disappear. Some tried to protect choice vegetables by covering them with carpets and linen table cloths, but they would gnaw holes through the covering in a few minutes and then have a feast on "stolen fruit." In a few hours after occupying a flourishing corn field the bare stalks would stand forth like the "quills upon a fretful porcupine," and gradually they would disappear altogether. In the evenings they would gather upon the sides of houses and in a great many places actually blocked up porches and passage ways.

So great was their number that in several places they were seen to overturn watermelons and pumpkins in the scramble to get a taste of the tempting vegetables. They ate window netting, curtains, and honey-combed chimneys. The most plausible reason some think, given for their attack upon brick and mortar chimneys was for the purpose of sharpening their teeth for the more woody and fibrous vegetables.

These facts, which after a most thorough investigation, we found to be correct, were after all not so difficult to credit as this one that they actually stopped trains, both freight and passenger. But we were compelled to credit this as it has been testified to, at least by one hundred eye witnesses we have found.

They are very oily and they would gather so thickly upon the rails that the drive wheels would slip and revolve without moving the train. After motion was secured sand had to be constantly applied to the rails to secure the wheels.

These facts seem to be incredible, but before penning them, for our own satisfaction and to be truthful in our statements, we made a thorough investigation to be positive that they were not exaggerated, and finding none to contradict and many to affirm, we give them space as facts.

The disappointment it brought to the settlers who had come here to establish homes can not be expressed. Many were reduced to a suffering condition, but the number by many of the reports at the time were greatly overestimated.

The faith in the country was so shaken that it has not yet entirely been re-established in the minds of all those that have remained, and we presume it never will be in the minds of those who, in despondency, returned to their old homes, as many did. There are those remaining that are living in fear and have resolved to retrace their steps should the scourge again visit their new homes.

The drouth of `81 was not felt so severely here as in many localities that have even more rain, as the soil is not so easily effected by drouth as many others. Good crops have been harvested here where there had been no rain for nine consecutive months.

The greatest flood known in the county, occurred in 1869, when the Little Blue and its tributaries reached their highest water mark. The Marks Mills on Rose Creek and some houses on the bottoms were carried away. Freeport, then a village of about twelve houses, situated three-fourths of a mile south of Steele City and on the opposite side of the Little Blue, was inundated and completely destroyed.

Perhaps the worst calamity that ever visited Jefferson County was the small-pox plague. This commenced in the latter part of January, 1879, and raged for six weeks with great fatality. It appeared in its malignant form, there being three cases of the black pock, the most exaggerated and fatal form of the disease. We had been told, though we know not whether the statement can be verified, that these were the first cases of the kind in the United States.

In January, 1879, a child in Fairbury died of a peculiar and uncommon disease, with which the doctors were not familiar. The child died, and no one believing it to be small-pox, there was a large attendance at the funeral. Although many were friends of the family and went through sympathy or as a duty, yet many went through curiosity to see the child that had so mysteriously been called to its better home. It was a case of small-pox, and a number who were at the funeral soon came down with the terrible disease. This was its commencement, but it visited all parts of the county before it was checked. There were about 6,000 inhabitants of the county, ninety-eight of whom had the small-pox either in its lightest or severest type. There were forty cases in Fairbury, and there doubtless would have been more had the one-third of its population that fled at the outbreak remained. Dr. A. M. Kinnamon, who had fifty-eight of the ninety-eight cases, was called in consultation over the second case, pronounced it small-pox, but was opposed by the other two physicians. This was a fatal mistake of the two doctors, as it not only injured their reputation, but aided the spread of the disease. Dr. Kinnamon never had the disease, and only took whisky as a preventive. He had the three cases of black pock, and if we are not mistaken, he is the first doctor since the days of Dr. Sydenham that has witnessed a like spectacle. The patients were taken with excruciating pains in the spinal column. Their agonies were so great that they prayed for death, and begged for some one to kill them. The pox was a black maculae, the size of a man's hand, and raised. The blood seemed to be sedulated beneath the skin. The victims of this most terrible form of the most fearful contagious diseases known to man never recovered nor did death come soon enough to them. M. D. Goco, Mrs. C. Karshner, and Frank Palmer were their names.

There were thirty-seven deaths out of the ninety-eight cases; fifteen deaths were in Fairbury out of forty cases.

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