Early History | First Things | Pioneer Reminiscences|
Organization | County Affairs | Railroads, etc.|
Superior: Local Matters | Mills | Biographical Sketches
Nelson: Churches | Biographical Sketches|
Hardy: Biographical Sketches|
Biographical Sketches: Elk Precinct
Biographical Sketches: Sherman Precinct | Liberty Precinct|
Bohnart Precinct | Alban Precinct | Nora Precinct
Nuckolls County was organized and held its first elections June 27, in the year 1871. This county is situated in the southern tier of counties, about one hundred and forty miles west of the Missouri River, and is bounded on the north by Clay, on the east by Thayer, south by the State of Kansas, and on the west by Webster County. It was mapped out by the Territorial Legislature of 1858, and was named after a wealthy firm of merchants then doing business in Nebraska City.
The land is what is usually termed rolling prairie, and in many parts of the county is extremely picturesque. The soil is productive, being similar to most of the land south of the Platte River, often producing bountifully with less rain than other soils require. The native grasses are very nutritious, and the county has a wide reputation as a fine stock country. It is better timbered than most of the counties in Southern Nebraska, but the supply cannot last the increasing population long unless fuel is grown or coal found.
The county is quite well watered by never-failing rivers and their creek tributaries. The Republican River flows along the southern border of the county, and the Little Blue along the north, furnishing a water-power scarcely surpassed by any other county in the State. Liberty, Elk and Spring are the larger creeks, the Elk being the best timbered stream in the county. The bottom lands of the Republican and Little Blue are exceedingly fertile, and there are many fine farms on the uplands, which, however, are best suited for grazing. Fine brick clay, and an excellent quality of limestone is abundant in nearly all parts of the county.
The history of Nuckolls County commences with the "great trail" period for the overland route from St. Joe, Mo., to California that entered Nebraska on the south of Jefferson County, passed through the northern part of this or along the course of the Little Blue.
Settlements were attempted as early as 1858, about the time Jefferson and Thayer Counties received their first white settlers, but being almost on the extreme border of the frontier, the bold leaders in the van of westward emigration were not permitted by the savage occupants to see civilization established, but paid their lives for the security that is to-day so rapturously enjoyed by the citizens of Nuckolls County. These fertile hills and valleys were watered and sanctified by their blood, and among a few we were shocked by the little reverence paid to their memory -- ingratitude for the blessings that daily surround their paths and hover o'er their peaceful and refreshing slumbers. Credit belongs to those who came in 1870, but glory to those who came before.
The Mormons passed through the county along the course of the Little Blue on their hegira westward to Salt Lake, making the first road or trail in Nuckolls County, which was in 1858 adopted, straightened, bridged and used by the Government and in transporting supplies to the different military posts along the frontier, in the mountains and to California.
In 1859, Butterfield started the Pony Express over this road, which, considering the time and route, was a hazardous enterprise. The same year, Russell & Waddell started the Overland Stage Line and established stations along the route in Nuckolls, the most noted of which was Oak Grove.
B. S. Comstock is the oldest settler now in the county, arriving here as early as 1858, who, with his family and the other ranchmen along this route, deserves the credit and glory of opening Nuckolls County and the territory of Southern Nebraska and preparing the road for the establishment of farms and happy and prosperous homes by the coming tide of emigration.
In 1861, Mr. Comstock purchased Oak Grove, situated on the Little Blue, in the eastern part of the county, whither he moved his family, consisting of himself and seven children, four boys and three girls. Here he remained until 1867, through the severest period of the county's history, farming a little and keeping a ranch. The trials of the family and other settlers during this period can be found in the article on Indian troubles. Read them and you will acknowledge him and his sons and daughters, most of whom are still in the neighborhood of Oak Grove, as the heroes of the county.
Oak Grove Ranch was rebuilt in 1865, having been destroyed in the great raid of 1864, and the Comstock family were joined by two others that settled south of the Little Blue. The names of the families we are unable to discover. In 1867, during the Indian raids, the county was abandoned by white settlers, excepting a man by the name of John Lorrimer, who could not be induced to go. He was warned of the danger the fearful hazard of remaining at the mercy of so powerful and compassionless an enemy. He declared his intention of remaining, believing he was able to escape their fury. But in less than two weeks he fell a victim to the merciless tomahawk and scalping-knife, leaving in the hands of the Indians a good span of horses and his weapons of defense, with which they were better prepared to carry on their work of exterminating the pioneers.
The next attempt at settlement was made two years later, 1869, by Philip and Henry Michaels at Oak Grove. Previous to this the Government had sent soldiers into the county, but they were of little advantage then as the county was empty of white settlers.
In 1870, Thayer County becoming quite well settled, and soldiers being stationed near the Nuckolls County line, the Indians were less bold and troublesome and were moving westward. The coast being comparatively quiet, settlers became more numerous.
Adam Simington, James and William Beacham, Louis Schum and D. W. Montgomery came in that year and were followed in 1871 by R. Hollingworth, A. R. Downing, C. C. Fletcher, E. L. Downing, Joseph Allen, Joseph Hannum, Mr. Naylor, E. Vanderword, J. M. Cook, G. D. Follmer, E. C Davis, James Campbell, James Roberts, George A. Felton, Dr. Schenk, E. Reed, M. Morris, J. Fletcher, Flavius Naylor, F. Werner, John Marshall, W. P. Trent, A. Wiggin, W. R. Fuller, H. Abbott, James Candy, Rufus Culp, J. G. Graham, J. Downer, S. W. Doss, Isaac Fisher, Frank Yaw, J. E. McClimans, C. W. Goodman, A. I. Edwards, Thomas Johnson, Joseph and Willis Henby, R. J. Harmon, C. W. Uplinger, J. M. Clules, William and Robert Loudan, and Louis and William Crabil, Peter Younker, Andrew and Joseph Bonhart, Charles Mills, Thomas Downing, John Curry and L. M. Unger.
These, or most of them alt least, may be considered as the fathers of the organization which was effected later.
The first permanent settler in the county was B. S. Comstock, locating at Oak Grove, on the Little Blue, with his family in 1861.
The first marriage ceremony in the county was performed March 6, 1872, by Judge E. A. Davis, being about his first official act. The contracting parties were Mr. J. C. Bunker and Miss Martha Johnston. Being his first attempt, Mr. Davis desired to show dispatch and said: "Since there is no prescribed law in Nebraska for marrying people, I pronounce you husband and wife."
The first death occurred on Spring Creek in 1872, and the person so soon called from her new home was a Miss Jasperson.
The first white child born in the county was Ella, daughter of Adam Simington, in the spring of 1872.
The first sermon in the county was delivered in the summer of 1872, by Rev. Mr. Penny, of the Presbyterian Church.
The Elkton Sunday School was organized June 12, 1872, being the first in the county, by four members, R. Hollingworth, C. C. Fletcher, Joseph Carlon and Maggie Follmer.
There are now about sixteen church religious organizations in the county.
Besides those at Superior and Nelson, there are Presbyterian and Methodist at Elkton, Presbyterian at Henrietta, Christian at Ox Bow, Methodist Episcopal and Presbyterian at Nora, Roman Catholic at St. Stephen's, which number about seventy families. It was organized by Father Ferdinand Lechleitner, but now in charge of Father B. Kuppenbender.
The last buffalo was killed on the Republican bottom, just below Superior, in 1875, by William Crable.
The first Fourth of July celebration was held at Oak Grove about two weeks after the first election in 1871. On that day, a few of the settlers gathered and were quite demonstrative. Seeing that they were not threatened by the Indians, and beholding such a grand prospect for a great county, of fertile and well-watered lands, filled with happy and prosperous homes, they rejoiced that Columbus had crossed the Atlantic, and that fortune had favored this new nation with so grand and memorable a day as the 4th of July. The lone prairies that had so long been familiar with the savage war-whoop, heard for the first time the salute from musketry, and the joyous shout and hurrah of America's 4th of July.
When the first court was held in Nelson, there were only two houses in the town, and they were overrun with boarders.
The second day, Judge Weaver was hearing the case of a horse-thief. When court adjourned for the night , it was evident that the Judge would have to send the fellow to Lincoln for a few years.
That night the Judge, Sheriff, the thief and his lawyer and some others occupied the same room. The thief awakening in the night, and finding all asleep, except perhaps his lawyer, saw his best chance to get "clear" and silently betook himself from the overcrowded bed-room and left for parts unknown, taking with him the Judge's boot worn on his crippled foot. The Judge was so annoyed and discomfited without his boot, that he declared he could acquit the man if he would only return this important article.
A Mr. Butterfield, a wholesale merchant of Atchison, Kan., and his daughter, came up to Oak Grove in 1863 on a visit, and to participate in a buffalo hunt. A very stylish and exceedingly nice young man from the East, by the name of Ensworth, stopping at a neighboring ranch, became deeply enamored of Miss Butterfield, and was paying her marked attention. One day he called at Oak Grove, attired in his best dress suit, to see the young lady, and on finding that she had attended the buffalo hunting party, determined to follow. So, leaving his coat, as the day was excessively warm, he started in pursuit, riding a handsome black mare, of which he was as proud as of his apparel. He came upon the party, consisting of Butterfield, Munger, a mail agent, George and E. S. Comstock, two of his daughters and Miss Butterfield, just as they were prepared to partake of their dinner. They had captured a buffalo bull calf, which wearied with its fruitless efforts to escape, had lain down by the wagon to which it was fastened by a long lariat. Young Ensworth rode up to the wagon, which was about five or six rods from where the party were awaiting his coming before commencing their repast, and fastened his horse. The young captive sprang to his feet, for the moment surprised, as the young man stood before him stroking him on the forehead. But doubtless reeking for revenge, and indifferent upon whom he obtained it, the young buffalo bull, lowering his shaggy head, quick as a flash, made for the young Ensworth, who stood facing him, with all his fury, thrusting his head between the young man's handsomely attired legs, and carrying him with great speed toward the party, all of whom were breathlessly awaiting the result. This first buffalo ride could not be protracted long without serious results. Reaching the end of his lariat, the stopping was even more sudden and terrific than his starting; but the momentum young Ensworth had gained carried him on back over the young bison's head, but the sprouting horns catching in the young man's pantaloons, retained that necessary part of his toilet. The male portion of the party were carried away by hilarious emotions, while the female portion turned away, we may say, bewildered, trying to repress their desire to laugh but in vain. One of them laughed, and the others were compelled to join in the expression of mirth, Miss Butterfield saying, "It is too dreadfully comical. I must laugh, or I'll be sick."
In his embarrassed condition, the young man fled to the opposite side of the wagon, where he was joined by Mr. Butterfield, a man over six feet in height and quite portly. He had an extra pair of pantaloons in the wagon, which Ensworth for the time borrowed. But his slim legs (for he was little over half the size of Mr. Butterfield) felt out-doors in their temporary habitation, and after lapping them over about five inches at the waist, and turning them up at the bottom, his appearance so disparagingly contrasted to what it was with his well-fitting doeskins, that he could not meet the eye of her who has so touched the chords of his heart, and without listening to the entreaties to remain, he sprang upon his horse and retreated.
A love match was ended, and the young man returned to his lodging, if not crestfallen and with diminished stock of pride, at least without feasting with his love and minus a very fine and artistically fashioned pair of doeskin pantaloons, but richer in experience.
In 1863, Bierstadt, on his return from his travels in California, stopped at Oak Grove for rest and recreation. He desired to see an enraged buffalo so that he could the better paint the picture of one charging in his gigantic fury. Accompanied by a writer for the New York Evening Post, George and E. S. Comstock, they proceeded to the grove, about a mile west of Superior, where they found buffalo. The succeeded in getting a large bull separated from the herd, when they shot him, after the artist had seated himself for the purpose of sketching the scene. The bull not being very ferocious, Bierstadt desired to have him wounded again. One man stood ready to make a fatal shot should it become necessary, while another again wounded the monster. Infuriated with pain and bleeding at the nostrils, he made for his assailant, but perceiving the artist, he turned toward him. Bierstadt, dropping his work, took to his heels, The bull struck the temporary table at which Bierstadt had been sitting, shattering it and strewing the artist's utensils far and wide, but did not check his speed toward the fleeing artist, who, frightened nearly out of his wits, perhaps was making the "best time" of his life. Seeming to know that the object he was pursuing was the author of his pain, the bison, bellowing terrifically, had so nearly overtaken the artist, that he snorted blood and foam upon him before the fatal shot was fired which brought the bull to the ground and saved Bierstadt from a terrible death. Bierstadt was in imminent danger, for had the gun missed fire or the aim been less accurate, in a moment more he would have been gored to death.
When Bierstadt had gained sufficient breath to speak, he said, "That's enough; no more buffalo for me."
The account given by the reporter in the New York Evening Post, it was thought for vividness, could not be surpassed, but when Bierstadt's picture of an enraged buffalo bull pursuing a man was completed, it seemed more a reality than a picture.
Cuts of this painting have since been used in geographies to picture the American bison for the benefit of the future aspirant for the Presidency.
Next to Thayer County, Nuckolls suffered from Indian raids and depredations more than any county in Southern Nebraska. Of a large number that tried to settle permanently in the county previous to 1869, there are but B. S. Comstock and his family left to tell the story. Mr. Comstock says he could not be induced to seek another frontier.
In the great raid of August 7, 1864, which extended from Gage County to Denver, Colo., Oak Grove, the home of Mr. Comstock, was the only place in Nuckolls that held out against the Indians.
To every station and settlement in that carefully planned and skillfully executed raid, was allotted a certain number of Indians, and, as Oak Grove Ranch was quite formidable, forty well-armed braves were sent against it. At the time of attack, Mr. Comstock was over twenty miles away, but, besides his family, there were five or six men at the stockade. At noon, the Indians came to the ranch, leaving their horses about a quarter of a mile away. They were permitted to come into the ranch and get dinner, with their bows hanging already strung to their backs, which is a sure sign of malicious intentions. They had finished their dinner and received each a portion of kinnikinnick tobacco and some matches, when, without the least warning, they in concert drew their bows and commenced shooting the white occupants of the ranch, and, but for the presence of mind and dexterity of one of Mr. Comstock's boys, they would have killed all the men and part of the women, carrying the rest into a more dreadful captivity. a Mr. Kelly, from Beatrice, was there, and had a fine revolver in a belt at this side. He fell at the first discharge of arrows, and two or three rushed to secure the revolver, but young Comstock secured it and shot the foremost aspirant for that deadly weapon. The prize he coveted became his executioner. At the report of the revolver, the Indians rushed for the door as though an army was at their heels, but three of them never did get out of the door alive, as that revolver had fallen into skilled and determined hands. Kelly and Butler were killed outright; two men by the name of Ostrander--one of whom died--and a boy, were wounded, and most of the others had their clothing pierced with arrows. The Indians rushed for their horses, and, while they were away, the dead and wounded were removed to the second story of the house, the main door bolted, and a person so stationed, with a gun, about the building, which had two additions, that all points of it were protected. The attack occurred about noon. After they surrendered their first advantage, which they gained by their "friendly game," they were unable to get close enough to the house to even set it on fire, but they rode around the premises until after dusk, shooting and yelling. One Indian rode a white horse, and, just before leaving, made two very near approaches to the house. One of the men had decided to shoot him if he again returned. Mr. Comstock was on his way home, also riding a white horse. It was now too dark to distinguish one man from another. Mr. Comstock rode up just about the time for the Indian to return, and the gun was raised to shoot, when one of Mr. C.'s daughters remembered her father was riding a white horse, and to be certain she shouted "Father, is it you?" Receiving an affirmative reply the man lowered his gun, and Mr. C. was spared the reception of a bullet designed for an Indian.
Mr. Comstock had always befriended the Indians, which, he thinks, that day at least saved his life. He had just reached the brow of a hill as he met a man descending. The man had only reached the bottom when he was attacked by Indians in the brush beside the road. The Indians must have seen Mr. C. as he passed only a moment before, and spared him because of the favors they had received from him.
About five miles east of the grove, Ulig, a boy about eighteen years of age, was met by two Indians. One shook hands with him while the other pierced him with a spear, and when he had fallen they took his whole scalp. The boy was riding a much better horse than theirs and could have escaped had he known of their evil design. But such is an Indian's warfare. He is never brave if he is in danger. He will take no chances, and when he has the advantage he never shows mercy, but delights in seeing his victims in torture.
They left the poor boy there on the dry prairie in the scorching sun to die slowly and with excruciating pain. O, how many generations under the benign influence of civilization it would take to change such savage natures till the finer attributes of the heart would predominate!
Horrible as is the above fact it is outparalleled by what is to follow.
Four miles above Oak Grove, at the Narrows, on the Little Blue, a family of ten by the name of Ubanks had settled a few months before that terrible 7th day of August 1864. They were Germans from the Eastern States and totally ignorant of Indian warfare and the best means of coping with them.
When they were attacked, they left their log house and rushed for the timber and underbrush near by, only two reaching a place of concealment--Mrs. Ubanks, wife of one of Ubank's sons, and a Miss Laura Roper, who happened to be at the place on a visit. Nine were killed, scalped and stripped of their clothing. The household goods were either carried away or destroyed. The fate of the two women was quite as horrible as that of the nine. They would perhaps have escaped, as they had remained some time in the brush without being discovered, but the babe Mrs. Ubanks held in her arms, from the heat, hunger or fright cried out once, and the acute ear of the invader heard it, and they were soon taken to that beastly captivity which awaits women captives at the hands of Indians.
Towards evening of that first dreadful day of captivity, Mrs. Ubanks was trying to comfort the little stranger in this strange world, who was hungry, the mother not being able to provide enough milk, having starved herself and suffering, but it could not be comforted. She held its parched lips to the bosom so full of love, but now empty of food for that young life, in vain. Not fearing danger, the little one cried, its only speech for more, and as the fond mother held it tenderly to her breast to soothe as best she could, a pitiless, merciless demon of an Indian thrust through that little skull the murderous tomahawk. What pen or brush can portray the attributes of such a monster, or the agony of that young mother. Only mothers can imagine the grief of her broken spirit.
After six months of bondage we know not how to describe, they were exchanged for some Indian prisoners. About the same time, as 700 head of oxen were feeding after a hard day's travel, they were stampeded by a party of Indians, and run across the river. They were followed by seventy-five soldiers from Kearney the day following. There were about seven hundred Sioux and Arapahoe Indians; but the one small cannon was broken by the first discharge, and the soldiers were compelled to retreat, in which they lost eleven men killed and several wounded.
In 1865, two families by the name of Milligen and Mudge settled in the northern part of the county. Late in the fall, the men were away for provisions. At night some Indians came to the house and drove the two women and four children from the house, giving them so much time to get away or die. The traveled south fourteen miles to the narrows. There were several inches of snow on the ground, and their sufferings were intense.
In 1866, every settler was driven from the county.
In 1867, there was a fight on Elk Creek, between soldiers and Indians. One man by the name of Constable was killed. The Indians outnumbering the soldiers seven to one, the latter retreated.
At the head of Liberty Creek, in 1868, there was a battle between the sixty-five Otoes on one side, and forty Cheyenne-Sioux. It lasted for several hours, and resulted in favor of the Otoes, who obtained six ponies and five scalps from their adversaries.
In the northeast part of the county in 1868, a man by the name of Haynie was killed, and his daughter, a girl of fifteen, was taken prisoner by the red-skins. The girl was carried across the Republican River into Kansas. Just below Superior, on the Kansas side of the river, they camped for the night. When they had their council meeting, Miss Haynie was assigned to a bed with two Indians, for safe keeping. Wearied with their day's journey and debauchery, about midnight they all fell soundly to sleep; but the poor unfortunate girl could not sleep if she desired. When all seemed soundly asleep, she sat up for a moment; the two savage beasts not awakening, she ventured to raise to her feet, and stepping noiselessly over the slumbering demons, she made her escape from the camp. Proceeding down the river for about two miles, she waded across that treacherous stream, and reached the Nebraska shore. The Republican is a broad, shallow stream, with a bed of shifting quicksand for a bottom, and it is a wonder she had not perished either by sinking in the sand or drowning.
In the morning the red devils started in pursuit; but the brave girl, faint and with bleeding feet, reached a protected settlement in Thayer County, only about half an hour before the Indians came in sight, following her trail.
A man by the name of Thain, living in the eastern part of the county, was the last man murdered by the Indians in Nuckolls County. He was surprised by a band of marauding Pawnees on the 7th day of May, 1870, murdered, scalped, and robbed of his horses. Thain's Branch, a tributary of the Little Blue, on which he lived, received its name in honor of him.
No one has been executed for murder in Nuckolls County, but there should have been, in at least one instance. In 1862, a man by the name of Jesse Ewing settled at the Narrows. He was of a rash and fiendish disposition. He killed a man in cold blood, below Oak Grove; but he left the county at once, and has never been heard of since.