How Once Upon a Time
Humble Homes
Were Built


"Thus it is our daughters leave us,
Those we love and those who love us,
Just when they have learned to help us,
When we are old and lean upon them,
Comes a youth with flaunting feathers,
With his flute of reeds, a stranger
Wanders piping through the village,
Beckons to the fairest maiden,
And she follows where he leads her,
Leaving all things for the stranger!"




OLLOWING the California gold excitement the possibilities of Nebraska began to be noticed and a few years later towns sprang up along the Missouri River. So many emigrants, following the old Mormon trail, crossed the Missouri at Kanesville that in 1857 James C. Mitchell, under the advice of Peter A. Sarpy of Bellevue, established a townsite at the old "Winter Quarters," or the present town of Florence, near Omaha. Several places of business and a bank were opened, and as tourists of the present time spin along the beautiful boulevard to the great pumping station of the water works for the city of Omaha, they pass the old bank of






Florence and are told the original vaults remain, although the building has been improved and enlarged. In the town park stands a grand old elm said to have been planted by Brigham Young.
     In 1853, William Brown, seeing the opportunity for a town site where Omaha now stands, secured one hundred and sixty acres on the west bank of the river, which he sold to others who platted the town of Omaha, which was reached from Kanesville, or Council Bluffs, by a ferry known to travelers as the "Lone Tree" Ferry, so named because of a lone tree on the Nebraska bank of the river.
     In 1853 the first settlers crossed to the present townsite of Omaha--the name being taken from the Omaha Indians and meaning "First upon the waters." Huts and dugouts were the first homes, but soon a house was built by Mr. Snowden at 12th and Jackson and used as a hotel.
     Indians, deer, wolves and buffaloes roamed over the prairies.
     The people, needing protection and the power to keep new settlers from jumping their claims, formed claim clubs. First claims of one hundred and sixty acres, the title to which rested in the Government, were taken, but under claim Club protection settlers tried to hold three hundred and twenty acres.
     The first claim cabin in Nebraska was built by Daniel Norton in 1853 between Omaha and Bellevue.






     Settlers began coming in so fast, it was evident that this vast country was of great value to the nation, and the people began to look to the question of legislation. After several attempts and failures to secure recognition, Stephen A. Douglas, in 1854, introduced into Congress the Kansas-Nebraska bill, which, from its slavery clause, tore the nation asunder, but finally passed both Houses, the slave question being left to the citizens, but before they were called on to adopt the Constitution, the slavery question was settled by the Civil War.
     Hadley D. Johnson, a provisional delegate to Congress from Nebraska, took an active part in changing the Nebraska bill so as to form two territories instead of one,--Kansas and Nebraska. A treaty was made with the Omaha Indians by which they ceded to the United States all the lands belonging to them, which were then opened to the white man for settlement. Great numbers of settlers came to the new country until the census of 1855 made returns of almost 5,000.
     Francis Burt of South Carolina was appointed the first Governor of the territory of Nebraska. Being a frail man, he died from the hardships of the trip soon after reaching Bellevue, the provisional capital of the new territory.
     The secretary of the territory, Thomas B. Cuming, became acting Governor on the death of Governor Burt, and set the political ball rolling at a vigorous pace. It was supposed that Bellevue would be the capital of the territory,






but the Presbyterian Mission demanded $50,000.00 for the land the Governor wished for capital purposes. Great rivalry existed among the towns as to the location of the capital, and great indignation was felt when the first legislature convened in Omaha on January 16, 1855, in a brick building built for the purpose on Ninth between Farnam and Douglas streets, the location of which was recently marked with a bronze tablet by the Nebraska Society of Colonial Dames.
     A mob gathered in the town threatening to prevent the assembly of the legislature--but order was restored, and the first session convened.
     Mark W. Izard was appointed Governor, and in his honor the first inaugural ball was given. There were nine ladies present, the Mesdames Thomas B. Cuming, Fenner Ferguson, J. Sterling Morton, Fleming Davidson, A. J. Hanscom, A. D. Jones, S. E. Rogers, George L. Miller and C. B. Smith.
     The colored servant of the Governor, having a high notion of the importance of his master, when he saw him coming, called out to the guests, "The Gubbernor approaches." There was one fiddler, and the agile powers of those who took part in the dance were taxed to the utmost, for some one in his zeal scoured the puncheon floor, and the intense cold caused a covering of ice to form, which presented a perilous surface more fitted for skating than dancing. Supper was served at midnight, and as






tables were scarce in those days, it was passed around, after which the Governor, with chattering teeth, made a speech and the first inaugural ball became history.
     Settlements were soon springing up here and there over the new territory.
     In 1854, J. Sterling Morton and his wife made Bellevue the end of their wedding journey, afterwards settling at Nebraska City, and from this time on were closely allied with the growth of the South Platte country.
     Soon the representation outgrew the first State House, and a new one was built in 1857 and 1858 on Capitol Hill, the site of the present Omaha High School.
     "In 1862 the Free Homestead Bill was passed by Congress and signed by Abraham Lincoln, which enabled thousands of men to secure free homes. The first homestead in the United States was taken in Nebraska a few miles from Beatrice.
     Territorial Nebraska lay between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains and between latitudes 40 and 49 degrees. The word, Nebraska, means flat or spread out.
     Nebraska has been called the mother of states, as 351,558 square miles of Nebraska territory produced the great states of Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, about three-fourths of the greater state of Wyoming, nearly all of the immense state of Montana and a considerable part of Colorado. The North and South






Platte sections in Nebraska were hostile to each other and bitter strife resulted. The South Platte country attempted to secede and become a part of Kansas, but by the Wyandotte convention this was averted, as the citizens of Kansas were having troubles of their own and did not care to annex a country largely democratic, so the southern boundary line of Nebraska remained and became fixed at 40 degrees of latitude.
     The location of the capital was a long fought question, and at one time the majority of the legislature went to Florence, attempting to settle the matter there, but the Governor refused to sanction their proceedings. At this time A. J. Hanscom was a powerful factor in the legislative body. He was noted for often adjourning legislatures by methods more characterized by their promptness than parliamentary proceedings.
     In 1860 conditions became such that a movement was started to secure statehood, and in 1864 a bill passed Congress giving the people of Nebraska the right to vote on a constitution, but owing to the Civil War, it did not seem wise to proceed in the matter, and not until 1866 was a constitution submitted to the people. The fight for its adoption was bitter, as the Democrats opposed it, and it was finally adopted by only one hundred majority. The bill was passed by Congress to admit Nebraska to statehood. It was vetoed by President Johnson--was passed over his veto, and on March 1, 1867, Nebraska became a state.






     The first State Legislature named a commission consisting of Governor Butler, Secretary of State, and the Auditor, to select not less than six hundred and forty acres of land on which should be located the state capitol, university and state penitentiary, the town to be called Lincoln. They selected a site in Lancaster County, and proceeded in 1868 to erect the state buildings of the new State of Nebraska, having secured nine hundred and sixty acres of land for state use.


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© 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller