Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Knox County
Produced by Deborah S. Avelis.


Surface, Soil and Streams | Indians | Accidents and Crimes
Early Navigation of the Missouri | County Organization
Lands | County Bonds | General Statistics
Santee Sioux Agency

Biographical Sketches
Niobrara:   Local History | The Flood of 1881
Biographical Sketches

Creighton:   Biographical Sketches
Bazile Mills:   Biographical Sketches
Pischelville | Millerboro | Other Towns

Illustration in Knox County: [Portrait of John C. Santee.]


Knox County was organized by the Territorial Legislature in 1857, and named L'Eau Qui Court, that being the French name for the river named by the Indians Niobrara--both names meaning, in English, Running Water. The name was changed to Knox by a statute passed February 21, 1873, which took effect April 1, 1873.

Knox County is bounded on the north by the Niobrara and Missouri rivers, and on the east by Cedar, on the south by Pierce and Antelope, and on the west by Holt County.

In area it contains about one thousand and fifty square miles, or six hundred and seventy-two thousand acres.


The valleys in the county are numerous but narrow, and comprise about ten per cent of the entire extent. A portion of the valleys is bottom land. The balance of the surface is gently and high rolling prairie, with frequent high bluffs along the streams, especially in the northern part.

The soil is generally exceedingly fertile, particularly in the valleys. Numerous boulders lie on the surface in many localities, and an immense thickness of massive chalk rock underlies the surface. Good brick clay is found, and a large quantity of brick has been made.

Knox County is drained by numerous streams. The Niobrara and the Missouri flow along its northern boundary, receiving various tributaries. The principal tributary to the former is the Verdigris, which empties into it about six miles above its junction with the Missouri; has a large number of branches, and waters about one-third of the county on the west. The Bazile waters the central portion, and flows into the Missouri west of the Santee agency, furnishing excellent water power. In the eastern portion Beaver and Bow creeks have their origin, flowing eastward through Cedar County; and in the southeastern corner the North Fork of the Elkhorn rises, and flows southward into Pierce. Springs abound, and good well-water is everywhere obtainable.


Previous to 1853 the "Niobrara country," included between Aoway Creek and the Niobrara River, and extending indefinitely westward, was claimed by the Omahas. During that year a treaty was concluded between them and the United States, by the terms of which they appear to have reserved this country as their future home; but wither from fear of the Poncas, or though the influence of interested parties, or from some other cause, they exchanged the "Niobrara country" for the "Blackbird country," and moved into the latter in a year or tow thereafter. This movement threw the "Niobrara country" open to pre-emption and settlement like other public lands.

No sooner were the Omahas out of the way than the Poncas, evidently instigated by interested parties, began strenuously to urge their claims to this famous country. Notices were posted up warning intending settlers that west of Aoway Creek neither their property nor their persons would be safe. The following inscription, which in 1856 was posted conspicuously on a board at Ponca, Dixon County, is a sample:

"I will not be responsible for injury done to white men or their property on this side Aoway Creek.

"Michel Sayre, Chief Poncas."    

Opposition to the settlement of the country continued on the part of the Poncas for a number of years, but strangely and happily without bloodshed. This is attributable, doubtless, no less to the prudent conduct of the early settlers as a body is this "Niobrara country" than to the natural friendliness of the Poncas themselves toward the whites.

The Poncas lived on the Niobrara bottom until May, 1858, when they were removed to the north side of the Niobrara River, in accordance with the provisions of a treaty concluded between them and the Government in the previous March. The struggle for the possession of the land was thus brought to a happy conclusion; but as the Indians were, after removal, in close proximity, all danger was not yet passed. "Scares" were frequent, and in the fall of 1859 "most of the people would collect at the hotel to sleep and put out guards. One night H. Westermann, Robert Hagaman and Walter W. Barnum were sent out on the second watch, and after walking around long enough for the first watch to get to sleep, concluded to go in and also go to sleep. No sooner had they begun to dream than a great commotion was heard outside. The alarm was immediately given, and preparations quickly made for an expected death struggle. On investigation, however, it was found that all the noise was caused by the arrival of Fred Riemer with an ox-team load of flour."

"In 1862 occurred a genuine Indian scare. This was the result of the Minnesota massacre, and while it turned out that the people were in little real danger, the incident illustrates the state of alarm in which they lived. All those living near Niobrara left, except William Lamont, William Bigham, H. W. Hargis, T. G. Hullihen and Antoine La Riviere. * * * * The scare was of short duration, and the people soon returned to their homes.

"On an other occasion, the presence of one Jim Brown became distasteful to the settlers, and an Indian attack for his benefit was resolved upon. About midnight the attack commenced. A party sallied forth and succeeded in driving the Indians away, but returned with one wounded man and the body of H. Westermann, a pretended corpse. Next morning Brown was taken to see the "corpse" laid out on the counter, but would only look in through the window. He immediately started for civilization, and did not stop until he had reached St. Johns, in Dakota County. He there informed the people that the Sioux had attacked Niobrara, killed H. Westermann, mortally wounded another man, and had probably killed and scalped all the rest, as they were still in the vicinity when he left." (These quotations are from a pamphlet history of Knox County by Solomon Draper, of Niobrara.)

In justice to the Indians; it should be said that the depredations and outrages committed by them upon the whites were not always committed through mere wantonness, nor for the purpose of driving away the settler; but were sometimes committed for the purpose of avenging themselves for real or fancied wrongs. If one white man had in their opinion wronged them, it was (and is) their custom to avenge themselves on any, and usually the first, white man they met. As a result of carrying out this principle, the old settlers of Knox County believe that many innocent white men and women have unjustly suffered for the sins of the agents of the Government, who have had in charge the distribution to the Indians of annuities, or the fulfilling of contracts of various kinds,--where an opportunity was offered such agents of enriching themselves out of moneys or other property belonging to the Indians. And this belief is no doubt based on fact.


Most of the accidental deaths in Knox County have been caused by lightning. In 1860 " Dutch Fred" was killed in this manner while chopping wood, near Bazile Mills. In 1867 an Indian teepee on the Bazile, in which there were seven Indians, was struck, and all were killed except a babe which remained uninjured in its dead mother's arms. In August, 1873, T. G. Hullihen's house was struck and set on fire. Mrs. Hullihen was seriously injured by the same stroke, and is still suffering from the effects.

In 1865, a son of T. N. Paxton was drowned in the Missouri.

There have been two murders by white men and four by Indians. In 1857, Rudolph Grasso, in a quarrel, shot Charles Rohe through the heart, at Frankfort. In 1859, at Niobrara, Frank West, while intoxicated, deliberately shot and killed a Ponca Indian. In 1869, James T. Smull was shot and killed while alone on his claim. The perpetrators of the murder were never discovered, though they are believed to have been Indians. In 1870, two children of Thomas Brabenec were killed by Indians, as elsewhere related, and during the same year Alexander Cook was killed by Indians, as was believed. They were arrested, but as the crime could not be fastened upon them they were discharged. In September, 1881, William Selkirk was shot and killed at a dance at Niobrara, by John Schumacher. Schumacher was tried for murder in the second degree, in April, 1882. This was the first murder trial in the county, and resulted in the acquittal of the accused.


As Knox was, until the recent addition to Nebraska of that portion of Dakota Territory lying between the Missouri and Niobrara rivers and south of the forty-third parallel of north latitude, the highest up the river of any part of the State, it is proper to introduce a brief sketch of the early navigation of that river in connection with the history of Knox County.

Previous to its settlement in 1856, the Missouri had been navigated but little. Until 1832 boats had been drawn up the river by the cordelle, or towing line, in the hands of hardy voyageurs. From Independence, Mo., to Fort Benton, a distance of 3,000 miles, the most incessant and persevering exertion was required to stem the turbulent current of the Missouri. On account of the shifting channel it was frequently necessary for these adventurous voyageurs to plunge into the water, regardless of heat, cold or exposure, and cross the river, in order to find depth of water sufficient to float the boat. Obstacles were numerous, delays frequent, and hardships grievous to be borne.

In 1832, the cordelle was reduced from 3,000 to 700 miles, the American Fur Company sending up a steamboat that year to Fort Union, six miles above the mouth of the Yellowstone. For a number of years subsequently, the Fur Company sent up a steamboat annually to Fort Union. In 1850, the El Paso ascended as high as the "Round Butte." 300 miles above Fort Union. In 1859, the Fur Company sent up the Chippewa, a boat of very light draft, under Captain John B. LaBarge, for the purpose of testing the navigability of the Missouri as high as the Great Falls, which it reached within a few miles.

From this time the cordelle became a thing of the past; but up to 1864 the Fur Company's steamers were the only ones to ascend the river. In that year Montana began to attract considerable attention, and a number of boats ascended the river, carrying passengers and freight, under individual auspices. The number of boats increased yearly. In 1867, forty steamers ascended the river. At the present time the passage of a boat up or down the river is no uncommon thing.


The county was first organized by an act of the Territorial Legislature during its session of 1856-1857, and in the following fall the first election was held, at which forty-two votes were cast. The following officers were chosen: Commissioners, George Detwiler, Fred Riemer and D. B. Dodson; Probate Judge, James Tufts;; Clerk, R. M. Hagaman; Treasurer, J. Austin Lewis; Sheriff, James Ogg.

In 1864 soldiers brought to Niobrara to protect the settlers from the Indians proved to be a far greater scourge than the Indians themselves. They conducted themselves with almost entire disregard of the rights of person and property. The people were compelled to leave their homes. County Clerk H. W. Hargis took the record of the county to Omaha, and he never returned. No one remained in Niobrara the next winter but William Lamont. During the time of desertion the county was without officers and practically without organization. In the spring of 1865 the settlers gradually returned and in the fall an election was held resulting as follows: Commissioners, T. G. Hullihen, Leonhard Weigand and William Lamont; Clerk, Henry Sturgis; Treasurer, Fritz Bruns; Probate Judge, T. N. Paxton.

Knox County has been represented in the Legislature by the following gentlemen: Senate, J. W. Perkins, elected in 1880; House of Representatives, James Tufts, elected in 1859; R. M. Hagaman, in 1861; Kelley W. Frazer, in 1867 D. J. Quimby, in 1872; T. G. Hullihen, in 1876; and B. Y. Shelley, in 1878.

The present county officers are as follows: Commissioners, William Saunders, Sylvanus Harden and Justus Loeber; Probate Judge, Charles Cooley; Clerk, Vac Randa, who has served almost continuously since 1871; Treasurer, Charles J. Kadish; Sheriff, Neal Walters; Coroner, Dr. J. B. Hoover; Superintendent of Schools, T. J. Buckmaster; Surveyor, Otto E. C. Knudsen, who has served continuously since October, 1870.


About one third of the land in the county, outside the reservation, or about one hundred and eighty-five thousand acres, is subject to homestead, or pre-emption entry. Considerable quantities of it are being taken up by a thrifty, well-to-do class of farmers, mostly Americans, who have sold their farms in older States, and are investing the money thus obtained in personal property here and in improvements on farms that are practically presented to them by the Government. There are also about four thousand five hundred acres of University lands in the county, and the larger portion of six townships in ranges two and three west is owned by non-residents.


Knox County, like most of its neighbors, has been at different times afflicted with the bond question. On the 19th of April, 1877, the electors of the county, by vote of 255 for, to sixty-eight against, voted $77,400, in bonds , to the Covington, Columbus & Black Hills Railroad Company, to be donated to them on certain conditions. The bonds were issued and placed in the hands of John H. Charles, Sioux City, Iowa, as Trustee. The company failing to comply with the conditions upon which the bonds were voted, never became entitled to them, and through the exertions of Mr. Vac Randa the county re-obtained possession of them and they were destroyed.

Subsequently the electors of the county, by a vote of seventy-two for , to two against, voted $5,500 in bonds for "improvements in the village of Niobrara," but on account of a defect in the law under which they were voted, they could not be certified to as legal by the proper State officers, and hence were not put on the market.

On November 2, 1880, the question of issuing bonds, in the sum of $15,000, for the purpose of building a court house, was voted on and lost.

As a consequence, Knox County is free from bonded indebtedness.


Knox County has thirty-eight school districts, thirty-five schoolhouses, forty qualified teachers, and 1,500 children of school age. The school sites are valued in the aggregate at $500, the school houses at $12,000, furniture at $5,000, and books and apparatus at $3,500, total value of school property in the county, $21,000. The school houses are generally well built and convenient structures, especially in the southern portion, where the farmers are making great improvements generally, and in the eastern part, where there is considerable land owned by non-residents.

For 1881 the taxable valuation was as follows: acres of improved land, 4,123, value $21,674; unimproved, acres, 159,338, value $352,133; improved village lots, 118, value, $21,428; unimproved, 2,138, value, $15,253; horses, 1,580, value, $43,665; cattle, 5,326, value, $55,429; mules, 116, value, $4,491; sheep, 549, value $1,042; swine, 1,043, value, $2,468; vehicles, 546, value, $10,130; money in merchandise, $26,356; in manufactures, $2,023; in agricultural implements, $8,301; credits, $4,852; furniture $2,981; telegraph property, $135; other property, $25,101; total valuation $597,462, against $458,222 in 1879.

In 1860 the population of the county was 152; in 1870, 261; in 1875, 1,524; in 1880, 3,766; distributed among the precincts as follows: Bohemian, 411; Central, 238; Creighton, including the village of Bazile Mills, with a population of 428, 795; Eastern, 416; Niobrara, 849, including Niobrara Village, 475, and the Santee Agency, 126; Verdigris, 536; Western, 421. The population at the present writing is estimated at about 5,000.


The reservation occupied by the Santee Sioux Indians, lies in the northern part of Knox County, and about midway between the east and west boundaries. It lies wholly in Ranges 4 and 5 west, and in Townships 31, 32, and 33. In extent it is a trifle over 180 square miles, or 115,076 acres.

For the most part, the surface is very rugged and uneven, the hills in some instances rising from 400 to 500 feet above the level of the Missouri, for which reason only on-fourth of it, or 25,000 acres, admits of cultivation; but all of it is well adapted to grazing, except in a few places where the hillsides are nearly perpendicular and bare. There is some timber on the Missouri bottom, along some of the creeks and in some of the gulches, consisting principally of cottonwood, elm and oak, but there are also limited quantities of walnut, ash and cedar. The soil is excellent and produces a luxuriant growth of grass, and in favorable seasons, good crops of the cereals.

The Indians who occupy this reservation, are a part of the great Sioux nation. They were the authors of the great Minnesota massacre in 1862, after which they retreated to the northwestern plains. After wandering around a few years, a part of them, 1,350 in number, came to this reservation in 1866, it having been withdrawn from market by order of the President of the United States, February 27, 1866, under authority of an act of Congress approved March 3, 1863.

From 1866 to 1868, the Santees were in charge of the military; in 1868, Asa Jenney was appointed agent over them; in 1870, Joseph Webster was appointed agent; in 1875, Charles H. Searing; in 1876, Isaiah Lightner, farmer at the agency, took charge, acting as agent until July 1, 1878, when he was appointed agent, and still retains the office, all of these being members of the Society of Friends.

The Santees, when brought to this reservation, were uncivilized, almost entirely so. Their progress for the first eight years was slow. They preferred to live in tents, to dress in their accustomed costume, and to use the tomahawk and scalping knife, In 1874, there were but two houses on the reservation with shingle roofs, and but few with board floors. In 1877, there were, of the 153 houses built, 50 with shingle roofs and nearly all had board floors. The red men gradually put off their Indian costume, until they now all dress in citizen's clothing. The women were slower to make this change than the men, owing to the fact that they were on a lower plane than the men in their native state.

In farming they have made considerable progress. A few years since, their farming operations had to be carried on under the immediate supervision and direction of a white man; now they do their own plowing, planting, reaping, gathering and threshing without aid, and although there is room for improvement, the same may be said of most of the white farmers of the State. The young men handle the various farming tools and implements with facility, the old men remain awkward. In 1881, they raised 1,127 acres of wheat; 883 acres of corn, 30 acres of oats, 503 acres of potatoes; total 2,543 acres under cultivation. There are 150 families engaged in farming. The women still assist to some extent with the field labor, but it is being gradually recognized more and more that women's work is in the house, not in the field. The had in 1881, 428 horses, 9 mules, 548 cattle and 156 swine. During the year the Santees were three-fourths self-supporting, one-fourth being contributed by the Government. They are making some progress in the industrial arts, performing all their own carpenter work and blacksmithing and making brick in large quantities.

There are three boarding schools at the agency. One supported by the American Board of Foreign Missions, under the supervision of Rev. A. L. Riggs. This school is as old as the mission, but was converted into a normal training school in 1870. From this time to 1880, there were 391 pupils in attendance, 258 males and 133 females. Of these, 71 males and 42 females advanced beyond the primary grade, a few obtained some knowledge of geometry, algebra, bookkeeping and United States history, and 13 took up the study of theology.

The Presbyterian Church at the agency, followed the Santee Indians from place to place until it finally found a permanent home among them here. When organized at Niobrara in 1866, on account of its many wanderings, it was called the Pilgrim Church. At that time it numbered more than 400 member; but as time passed some were drawn away to the Episcopal Church, some went to Fort Wadsworth, a large number went to Flandreau, on the Big Sioux River in Dakota, and still others have gone out as missionaries to various Indian tribes, leaving the membership now about 170. At the time of its organization at Niobrara, it was under the charge of Rev. John P. Williamson, as missionary, and Rev. Artemas Ehnamani, a native Indian pastor. The latter is still in charge.

The Episcopal Church is beautifully situated at the eastern part of the agency. Twenty-two years ago a mission was established among these Indians in Minnesota, Rev. S. D. Hinman, missionary. At the time of the massacre the mission was broken up, and missionary and lady associate in the work fled for their lives, and made good their escape. Rev. Mr. Hinman followed the Indians to Crow Creek, and afterwards to Bazile Creek. Subsequently he erected a building about forty rods east of the location of the present one, which in 1870, was demolished by a tornado. This impoverished the mission, but a determined effort was made to raise funds, and the result was that in the fall, the building now occupied, was erected substantially as it now stands, at a cost of about twenty thousand dollars. It is used for both mission and school. The school was converted to a girl's boarding school in 1874, and placed under the charge of Miss Clara Kerbach. In the fall of 1878, Miss Amelia Ives was placed in charge, and still occupies the position, There are about thirty-five girls in attendance and their progress is in the main satisfactory. Rev. Mr. Hinman remained in charge of the mission until March, 1878, when he was succeeded by Rev. W. W. Fowler, who still remains in charge.

There is also an industrial school supported by the Government, under the care of the Agent, and in charge of Rev. George R. Oake. The schools are all doing good work, and receive scholars from other agencies.

That the Indians here are steadily improving does not admit of doubt. They do much toward supporting their own poor, are making great improvement about their homes, in their dress, and in their diet. They more highly value education, and are anxious that their children shall enjoy its benefits, that they may become more like white people. They look with some reverence upon the marriage relation and value the religious solemnization of the ceremony. Some live together as husband and wife without being married, but it is generally those who have separated from former companions, and can not be married again because they have not been divorced, there being no law, State or National, by which Indians can be divorced, nor indeed under which Indian marriages can be legalized.

Politically, they have made great advancement. In 1874, they discontinued the tribal system, and established among themselves a republican form of government. At that time the reservation was divided into four electoral districts, and two Councilors elected from each. Since then four Councilors have been elected annually, and this body constitutes the executive body of the tribe, consulting with their constituents in all cases of grave importance.

In population they steadily decreased for a number of years. In 1866, they numbered 1,350; in 1873, 800; in 1879, 736; in 1880, 764; in 1881, 767, and in February, 1882, 769-368 males, and 401 females. The children of school age numbered 250.

In 1877 some twenty Indians made settlements and improvements on the high table land near the head of the branches of the Bazile Creek, where water can be had only from cisterns and wells, thus making a great departure from Indian custom. They took their lands in severalty, and in passing through the settlement, a traveler would almost take it for a white man's settlement.

One obstacle to the more rapid progress of the Santees is their inability to acquire a title to their lands. They have not at present any assurance that they can remain here, and are averse to opening up and making improvement upon farms that a white man may possibly take from them. Thus they labor under the discouragement of doubt. It would certainly seem to be a great oversight, if not indeed criminal neglect on the part of the Government of the United States, that this state of things should have been permitted to continue so long. They should be made owners of their lands in severalty, not necessarily in fee; indeed preferable by a certificate which would defend them in possession of the lands, but under which they could not convey title to them.

In regard to their advancement in civilization, Isaiah Lightner, who has had charge of the agency for five years, said, in his report to the Commissioners of Indian Affairs for 1871, "I believe the majority of the Santees, to-day, are in advance of many who are recognized as citizens, and would make better neighbors and more loyal citizens." The main obstacle in the way of their moral advancement is the want of a law regulating marriage and divorce among them; the main obstacle to their industrial advancement is the want of a law conferring upon them in severalty, a certain but inalienable tenure to their lands. There is some reason to believe that such measures will soon be adopted and as soon as this shall be the case, Indians, schools and missions will labor with a certainty of accomplishing all possible good.

The Government buildings at the agency consist of two industrial school buildings, eight dwelling houses--two log, two brick and four frame--three work shops, one office, two warehouses, one machine-shop, one saw-mill, one smoke-house, one ice-house, one jail, physician's office, harness shop, two granaries; one grist-mill and dwelling ten miles from agency.

In 1873, about three hundred of these Indians removed to Flandreau, Dakota, taking up and settling upon homesteads--leaving the reservation on account of the insecurity of the land title.

The Ponca Indians occupy a reservation north of the Niobrara, on that portion of Dakota Territory transferred to Nebraska in the winter of 1881-'82, by the Congress of the United States. The number 172--males, 77; females, 95.

Iapi Oaye, or the Word Carrier.-This newspaper has its editorial office at the Santee Agency, its publication office in Chicago. It was established in May, 1871, by Revs. S. R. Riggs and J. P. Williamson. In 1877 the latter was succeeded by Rev. A. L. Riggs, son of S. R. Riggs. The Word Carrier is an eight-page paper, four wide columns to the page, good clear print, and illustrated. It is printed partly in English and partly in the Dakota language. It is a valuable aid in civilizing the Indians, and is highly prized by them. About twelve hundred copies are circulated weekly, mostly among them, and numerous contributions are furnished by them for its columns. These contributions are principally in the form of correspondence and news notes, but occasionally an article on some more abstruse subject is prepared.

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