Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Produced by Linda Werts.

Part 1


PLATTE County is the fourth in the tier of eastern counties, and obtains its name from the great river which washes twenty miles of its southern boundary, the valley of which includes fully one-sixth of the fertile surface. It is bounded on the north by Madison and Stanton Counties, east by Colfax County, south by Polk and Butler Counties, and west by Nance and Boone. Its natural features do not differ materially from those of the other sections to the east, situated in the Garden Valley of the Platte. The valley land is principally grown to grass, and is unexcelled as a stock-raising country. A few miles southeast of Columbus, the beautiful and broad valley of the Loup joins the Platte, forming a splendid and picturesque stretch of country. Here it is that the two rivers come together, making a noble expanse of valley land. Beyond this is a belt of low, undulating table-lands and the winding valley of Shell Creek. The general direction of the Loup River is from east to west through the southern portion of the country, Shell Creek being a branch which flows northwest and southeast, and waters the sections throughout the central sections thereof. Looking-Glass Creek favors the western and central parts, and Union the northeastern.

The soil, favorable to agriculture, consists of a deep, vegetable mold, the valley land being largely mixed with sand. In localities, sandstone is found in quite respectable quantities.

Platte County comprises 684 square miles, or 437,760 acres of land, being one of the largest of the eastern counties of the State. Of this amount, it has been estimated that fully four hundred thousand acres are tillable land, and 147,750 actually under cultivation. This is an increase over the figures of 1881 of fully 27,000 acres. The following statistics indicate the proportion of land sown to the different products upon which the county depends for it agricultural prosperity:

Wheat, 55,000 acres; average, 8 bushels; total bushels, 440,000

Corn, 7,500 acres; average, 30 bushels; total bushels, 2,250,000

Oats, 10,000 acres; average, 40 bushels; total bushels, 400,000

Barley, 1,200 acres; average, 25 bushels; total bushels, 30,000

Rye,200 acres; average, 20 bushels; total bushels, 4,000

Flax, 4,500 acres; average, 10 bushels; total bushels, 45,000

Potatoes, 1,500 acres; average, 100 bushels; total bushels, 150,000

According to the report of the Assessors for the year 1881, the total value of personal property in the county is $895,892; total value of all property, $2,243,677; number of horses, 4,331; cattle, 12,431; sheep, 4,719; hogs, 10,679. Acres of land undercultivation--wheat, 18,078; corn, 18,563; oats, 3,911. There are 1,527,280 forest trees still growing.


The advance agents of the Columbus Town Company were Fred Gottschalk, Jacob Lewis and George Rausch, who, in April, 1856, started out from Omaha to found a city. Passing North Bend, they reached the Loup, and marked the site of the future Columbus. Returning to Omaha, the Town Company was formed as follows: Vincent Kummer, Captain; Charles Turner, Surveyor; John C. Wolfel, carpenter; Fred Gottschalk, Jacob Lewis, Jacob Guter, Carl Rienke, Henry Lusche, Michael Smith, Adam Denk and John Held, privates.

On April 27, 1856, Isaac Albertson and E. W. Toncray located on Shell Creek, near its junction with the Platte, Range 4 east, having preceded the Columbus Company by a very short time. How they founded the far-famed Buchanan is detailed in the history of Colfax County. How and under what difficulties the town site of Columbus was finally reached and founded is thus detailed in I. N. Taylor's history of Platte County:

"Our Columbus party passed this spot a month later, and pressed on to their destination on the Loup. Of course, Gotteschalk and Lewis could point out the spot, for they had been there. The others, too, would readily recognize it, for the river had been described as a clear and placid stream, deep, but narrow, and abounding with fish. They halted at noon on the enchanting shore, and gazed with delight at the great fish lying far down in the quiet water. Wolfel, as boss carpenter, was enthusiastic, and could scarcely wait till dinner was finished before commencing the Loup bridge, and thus sealing the destiny of the new city against all rivals. Only Kummer was somewhat incredulous about 'that thing' being a 'river,' and he strayed away along the bank. Having rounded one end of the river--legend saith not which end--suddenly he confronted the camp from the opposite bank, at which surprising event the original explorers subsided, and the bridge-builder withdrew his proposition; and what is now known as 'McAlister's Slough' was left alone in its glory. Proceeding westward eight or nine miles, they came upon the veritable Loup, whose rushing tide and boiling quicksand put to shame the pretensions of McAlister's Pond. Here they wisely located, neither too far east nor too far west, as the whole sequel has proved, for the true crossing of the river on the permanent line of transportation over the plains.

"Meantime, the preliminary work went on here. On the 29th day of May, 1856, the outlines of the town were determined, and the whole was soon blocked out. A rough log building was extemporized and roofed with grass. It answered all their purposes of dwelling, storage and fortification, and was long known as the 'Old Company House.'"

On July 25, Rickly and Kummer, representing the Columbus Town Company, and Capt. S. N. Fifield and A. J. Smith, the Pawnee City Company, with Col. Millar, of Omaha, and his surveying party, were on their way toward Columbus. Mr. Rickly started for Columbus, with Mr. Kummer, about noon on the 25th. He stopped with his friend that night at Elkhorn, Mormons and Indians being encamped there promiscuously. At noon on the 27th, they got to Columbus. After looking around, they set their stakes, laying out forty acres of timber land, seventeen rods from the bridge, on the creek emptying into the Loup Fork. In a few days, a tract of 760 acres, one and a quarter miles east to west and one mile north, to south on the west side of Columbus, was laid out. On August 1, the party returned to Omaha.

When the Pawnee City Company and the Columbus Town Company consolidated, the stock of the new organization was divided into 200 shares, 100 to be retained by each company. The consolidation, however, strictly speaking, was between the Elkhorn and Loup Fork Bridge and Ferry Company and the Columbus Town Company. This event, by which the two rival concerns agreed to join in the upbuilding of Columbus, occurred July 14, 1856, the articles of agreement being signed by the different officers of the two companies, and from that time on all worked for the common good. A. B. Malcolm was elected President; A. D. Jones, V. Burkley, V. Kummer and James C. Mitchell, Directors; James C. Mitchell, Secretary; and V. Burkley, Treasurer, of the consolidated company. After passing a resolution of encouragement to any one who should erect a steam saw-mill, the meeting adjourned until July 15, when A. D. Jones, the Secretary, was authorized to contract for resurveying and laying out the town of Columbus into about one hundred and fifty-five blocks, of eight lots each, 66x132 feet. On the 30th of August, the company entered into an agreement with John Rickly, at Omaha, by which he was to erect a saw-mill and shingle-mill in consideration for receiving eighteen shares of stock. The mill was to be of not less than thirty-two horse-power, and was to be in successful operation by the succeeding August.

Being in need of reading matter, and cash being not at hand, it was resolved, in January, 1857, to donate two lots to each of the following-named newspapers: Ohio States-man, Columbus Gazette, City Fact, Westebote, Cincinnati Commercial, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Volksfreund, Cincinnati Wahrheitsfreund, St. Louis Chronick, Nebraskian, Bellevue Gazette and Florence Courier. The origin of the American Hotel, erected by the Town Company, is found in a resolution passed in May, 1857, providing for an assessment of $25 on each share of stock, and for plans to be made for the erection of a $4,000 building. The contract was awarded to S. D. Kasserman for $4,396. John Wolfel superintended the building.

The company also loaned $75 to Jacob Ernst, that he might obtain the wherewithal to establish a blacksmith shop.

The mill went into operation August 1, 1857, and in September, the Town Company passed the eighteen shares of stock over to the mill company.

In July, 1858, the members of the company met to elect officers, when resolutions were passed charging the President, John Reck, with having struck out lots from a deed issued by the company; denouncing him for betraying the confidence placed in him by the company by receiving a bribe of three Cleveland shares; and finally discharging him from his position. The committee of the whole then arose. The last recorded meeting of the town company was held March 7, 1873.

The second installment of colonists started out from Omaha on November 5, 1856. They consisted of J. Rickly, J. P Becker,John Browner, Anthony Voll, Charles Bremer, John H. Green, William Distelhurst, Jedediah Mills, George Berne, Martin Heintz, the Quinns, John Haney and O. C. and Mrs. Wolfel.

Mr. Rickly luckily kept a diary in those days, thus the dates are fixed beyond dispute. His party left Omaha at 1 o'clock P. M. on the 5th, with three ox teams. They stayed overnight at Elkhorn, and spent the morning of the 6th at North Bend; also remained there during the day. They took dinner at Shell Creek on the 7th, and arrived at Columbus for supper, eating at A Denk & Co.'s house. They and A. Voll & Co. furnished the provisions. On the 8th, the entry is made, "Went hunting. Got one deer."

On the 11th, he "picked out the lot nearest the ferry for the saw-mill, and put a stake there." Again, on the 12th: "Had lots of Indians and prairie fires around us. We distributed twelve muskets on receipt, and left the book with Becker." The next day, Messrs. Rickly, Green and Mills went back, having made a contract with J. P. Becker and J. H. Green for nine hundred to one thousand logs, at $5.50 per 1,000 feet. Arrangements were then continued for the equipping of the mill, which, as stated, he started August 1, 1857.

Mrs. Wolfel, the lady mentioned above, had lived in Columbus, Ohio, and was induced to emigrate to Columbus, Neb., to cook for the boys. The inducement was the donation of a share of stock, equal in value to ten lots.

Those who remained in the county during the terrible winter of 1856-57 were this lady and her husband, A. Voll, J. P. Becker, J. Browner and C. Bremer, who boarded at the company's house; Jacob Guter and John Held, M. Smith and Jac Louis, A. Denk and F. Gottschalk, H. Lusche and C. Reinke. who bunked together in pairs, each couple occupying a log house.

In the spring of 1857, John Rickly and his son, John J., brought with them the former's young daughter, Caroline, who was the first unmarried girl introduced to Columbus. She did the cooking for her father and brother, was plucky, and that her usefulness was appreciated is evident from the fact that she afterward became the wife of William B. Dale.

The Ricklys had emigrated from Columbus, Ohio, to put in operation the saw and grist mill. On August 30, 1856, a special partnership was formed, and John Rickly appointed manager of the mill. As elsewhere stated, the mill was put in operation August 1, 1857, and gave the town its first decided lift.

In March, 1857, Dr. Charles B. Stillman and George W. Hewett walked from Omaha through the deep drifts which then covered the county, and settled in Columbus. Patrick Murrey and Patrick McDonough came in April and located "to stay." They came from Pennsylvania afoot. The following from Mr. Taylor's pamphlet further narrates incidents and facts in the early settlement:

"The heralding of the Irish element which has since figured well in the county annals, and was soon followed by the first installment on Shell Creek west of the meridian. Michael Kelly, Thomas Lynch, Patrick Gleason and John Dennan led the way. From Omaha out, they had constant battle with the rear guard of that big snow. At Rawhide, below Fremont, that rear guard literally closed around and captured them.

"On the 1st day of May, 1857, Leander Gerrard, in behalf of himself and his father's family, stuck his stakes on the Looking Glass, near the center of Monroe County (now a part of Platte, as I have said), having a sharp eye, no doubt, financially and politically speaking, to county seat, if not also to State capital considerations. Gerrard made quick, timely tracks--the only kind he ever makes--back toward the United States Land Office. While on his way down, his claims were jumped by Whaley, Pierce and Baty, a party from New York; then by Ray, Swicker and Henderson; then came the Mormons and jumped them all. But Gerrard, Whaley and Ray ousted the Mormons, establishing their claims by the 10th of the month and the Mormons moved up higher and commenced settlement at Genoa, on the Beaver. This ground is just beyond the limits of our county, but I must say, in passing, that three separate but co-operative colonies of these people, called respectively the Alton, Florence and St. Louis, comprising together over one hundred families, commenced improvement under all the embarrassment of extreme poverty, but in religious hope of an auspicious future, on that enchanting spot. They inclosed with ditch and sod fence 2,000 acres of the richest land in Nebraska, and broke and planted 1,200 acres, and a Nebraska sod crop saved them from starvation. Such a sod crop never grew before nor since on the plains. Many a single potato was as large as a common man's foot, solid and good, and was a full meal for one. Before the crop was at all ready for use, the people were on the verge of famishing, living some of the time on nothing but cucumbers and parsley.

"But in the year 1857, the United States Government surveyed and confirmed by treaty to the Pawnee tribes of Indians a reservation fifteen by thirty miles in area, commencing at the mouth of the Beaver and extending westward along the Loup. This of course displaced the colonies, and they scattered, some east, some west. A few, however, remained in the country, and they still remain. of these are Henry J. Hudson, Charles Brindley, James Warner, Moses Welsh, the heirs of Peter Murie, Mrs. Carl Reinke, Mrs. Freston, and the families of each and all of these."

The first mill in the county--a combination of saw and grist mill--was in running order by August 1, 1857. The Columbus Company offered eighteen shares of the town stock as an inducement for its location. It was finally established on the Loup, south of the present bridge, John Rickly being its manager. He and his son were thus drawn to this locality. From twenty to forty men were employed, about one thousand feet of lumber being cut per hour. Lath and shingles were also turned out, and corn was ground, but no elevators or separators were anywhere in sight. It was a steam mill, and was operated until February, 1860. During that month, a destructive freshet swept away the lumber and undermined the mill. Mr. Rickly was expecting, at the time, additional machinery from the East for his grist-mill. Starting out after his scattered lumber, he had but just returned from his search when he was told that his mill was burning. Starting for the scene of the conflagration, when he arrived at the Loup he found the information only too true. The mill was burned to the ground, and the machinery for the grist-mill was never replaced. The saw-mill, however, was kept in operation until 1872, being moved to the town, as the country was, up to that time, quite thickly wooded.

It is said that, when the Pawnees first came in sight of this mill, in full blast, they fled in dismay, warriors, squaws, papooses and all, to their village, twenty miles distant, reporting that an evil spirit had conspired with the pale-faces, and had prepared an engine of torture and death for them; that the demon had actually taken possession, and was breathing out fire and hot breath from his nostrils, and eating great logs with his iron teeth.

In 1868, F. A. Hoffman built a steam flour-mill, but his boiler and engine, being without a substantial foundation, sank in the quicksand out of sight- but to "memory dear." The mill was abandoned, and thereafter the good water-powers of Shell Creek were brought into use.

In 1869, J. P. Becker and Jonas Welsh built a grist-mill eight miles northeast of Columbus, just over the county line. It is still in operation, and has four run of stone. In connection with it is a farm. The property is valued at about $12,000.

In 1877, Joseph Bucher built a grist-mill on Shell Creek, about six miles north of Columbus; two run of stone.


In a suit brought before Justice Corson, of Schuyler, in 1862, the parties hailed from Columbus, some of them being well known. F. Stevens, in December, 1862, swore out a complaint against John Rickly, Jr., John Rickly, Sr., and E. Ahrens, for assault and battery, which is said to have taken place in the store of Rickly & Co. The paper set forth that the senior assaulted complainant with a cleaver, the junior with a pitchfork, and Mr. A. with a club, and prays that the defendants may be dealt with according to law. Subpoenas were issued for L. M. Beebe, George Clothier, Hiram Bennett, George Bennett, Charles Curtis, Charles Small, David Anderson and H. M. Kemp, to appear as witnesses. Of course, as in all such cases, the witnesses did not all hear Mr. Rickly order Stevens from the store; neither did they agree as to whether Stevens gave Mr. Rickly provocation for an assault; whether the door was actually burst open or not by the party called upon to put Stevens out; whether tumblers and things were slung round. In fact, no two witnesses seemed to be sure about anything, except that J. Rickly, Jr., got his pitchfork from the south-east corner of the room. After looking the matter over, Justice Corson granted an appeal to the defendants who appeared--the Ricklys--but overruled a motion made by them that there be a non-suit granted upon the ground that there was nothing proven in the testimony that the assault was committed in Platte County. This is the last heard of the suit. It was nolled, however, as Mr. Rickly informs the world.

One of the first crimes committed in Platte County, and the one in which pioneer justice was meted out without delay, occurred in January, 1867.

Robert Wilson and Ransel B. Grant were employed by John Rickly in hauling wood for the Union Pacific Railroad. They got into a quarrel over the measurement, Wilson claiming that Grant had taken some wood from his pile and put it on his own. Their quarrels had been growing in heat for some time, and, upon the day in question, Wilson walked up to Grant and shot him through the lungs. The tragedy occurred south of the Union Pacific track, near Speice & North's office. Having committed this heartless murder, he went to the store of John Rickly and found him ongaged in settling up some accounts with an employe. Being busy at the time, Mr. Rickly did not look up, but, without preface or hesitation, Wilson said, "I've shot a man, --- ---- ye; I've got $1,700, four wagons and fourteen yoke of oxen. Take me before Bill Little, of Omaha. I don't want to hang here. I killed a man in Indiana, and had $1,400, and got clear." Mr. Rickly did not believe him at first, thinking the man crazy, but, as he persisted, took the murderer into a building which he owned near by, and locked him up with his dog and bottle of whisky. Pretty soon, the sheriff, John Browner, came along. He had been notified of the murder and was shown to the temporary lock-up. The three then went to where the murdered man lay and put him upon a lumber wagon. Wilson thereupon mounted the vehicle and muttered his satisfaction, scowling at the dead body and half shaking his fist at it. George Grant, brother of the murdered man, became acquainted with the facts in the tragedy in the afternoon. He bought a large coil of rope the next day, and, throwing it around his body, marched all over town, even as far out as the brewery block, shouting, in a loud voice, "Who'll avenge the blood of my brother?" It happened that, upon the very day of the murder, Leander Gerrard went to the Grant brothers to see about some stock. While there, the conversation turned upon the character of the murderer, and it may be that, at the very time the tragedy was occurring, George Grant was speaking a good word for Robert Wilson. In the afternoon, however, he heard of the murder, starting out that day to wake public sentiment. Calling upon Mr. Gerrard, he tried to induce him to sign the "death warrant," which appears hereafter, but that gentleman attempted to dissuade him from his rash resolve. A Coroner's inquest was held before Justice Hudson upon the day of the murder, and the regular trial fixed for the next morning.

The trial finally took place before Justice Hudson, upon the afternoon of the day succeeding the murder. The court-room was crowded, the "death warrant" having been extensively signed. Wilson, trembling at the fate which he knew awaited him, had already conveyed the information to the court that $500 awaited him if he (the prisoner) were allowed the privilege of "sloping" But Mr. Hudson knew what public sentiment meant in those days, besides being bribe-proof, and kept his eye on the murderer. O. T. B. Williams was the prosecuting attorney, and C. A. Speice and C. C. Strawn--the latter editor of the Golden Age, Mr. Speice being Williams' partner in the law--attorneys for the defense. It is needless to say that the court decided to hold him for murder in the first degree.

Hardly had the decision been announced before a rush was made for the prisoner, who, knowing what was coming, tried to break away from the Sheriff and the court and reach the back door. The authority for this proceeding was the death warrant already referred to, which was as follows:

COLUMBUS, N.T., January 16, 1867.
We, the undersigned, citizens of Columbus and vicinity, having become duly informed of all the circumstances connected with the shooting of Ransel B. Grant by a person calling himself Robert Wilson, and being fully satisfied that the murder was without provocation and brutal in its character; and knowing the uncertainty of the law in this Territory; and there being no safe place of confinement in this county; therefore, for these reasons and others which might be mentioned, we are firmly of the opinion that justice requires that the said Robert Wilson ought to be executed without delay.

Although the court threw himself before the prisoner, he was seized by violent hands himself; ditto the Sheriff and Deputy, Wash Fulton. A rope was thrown around Wilson's body, and he was dragged along the road toward a large tree a few rods southeast of the court room. When first taken from the Justice's office, he lost his hat in the scuffle. His old bull-dog, his close companion, settled there and remained for two or three days, allowing no one to approach--not even a team. The murderer was dragged to the tree, which is still standing, and hauled up over the limb, exclaiming the while. "Boys, you don't give a fellow any chance!" But his antecedents were sufficiently known to turn the edge of any little feelings of pity which might otherwise be caused by his conduct. In fact, it had been his boast that he had killed his man in Indiana, or in Bowling Green, Ky., and that his money had bought him off. He had threatened the lives of several before he shot Grant, and, with a "yank," he was pulled up between heaven and earth. His body was taken down and dragged to the Loup amid general rejoicing. A hole was cut in the ice, and the corpse pushed in head first--which was the last of Robert Wilson, the murderer of Ransel B. Grant. So disrespectful was the treatment of the villain by the people of Columbus that they did not even vouchsafe an examination of his person to ascertain where he had deposited the $1,700. But, in pursuance of a decision of an Arbitrator's Court, consisting of Messrs. Leander Gerrard and C. H. Whaley, all of Wilson's property in Butler County went to the widow of the murdered man, while all his effects found in Platte County were divided among the legal fraternity.

This affair, and its subsequent results, formed one of the most exciting and excitable episodes which ever stirred the blood of Platte County. The famous death warrant, published above, has never before been made public, but, since fifteen years have blown over, there is little danger of its signers being called to account by the more stringent legal formalities of the present day.

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