NEGenWeb Project
Kansas Collection Books

Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Richardson County
Produced by
Pam Rietsch.


Natural Resources | Early History | Stephen Story | A Severe Winter
Pioneer Hunters | Lynch Law for Horse-Thieves
The Half-Breed Line | The County Seat Troubles
The Killing of Davis and Meek | County Roster | the Epidemic of 1860


Claim Jumping | The Jayhawkers of '62 | The Underground Railway
The Grasshopper Scourge | Defunct Towns | War Record
Milling Interests | Railroads


Falls City:   First Permanent Residents | City Officials
Postal Business | The Press | Fire Record | Societies
County Buildings


Falls City (conts.):   Banks | Manufacturing Interests
The Grain Business | Pork Packing | Falls City Hotels
Hinton's Driving Park | Public Schools | The Public School Building

 5 ~ 9:

Biographical Sketches:

PART 10:

Humboldt:   Early Events | Railway Interests | The Public School
Churches | The Press | Societies | Hotels | Banks and Bankers
Manufacturing Interests, Etc.

PART 11:
Humboldt:   Biographical Sketches
PART 12:

Rulo:   Charles Rouleau | Elie Bedard
Early Events | The Press | Business Interests | Churches
Societies | Biographical Sketches

PART 13:

Dawson:   Early History | The Cyclone | Societies | Churches
Business Interests | The Old Mill | Biographical Sketches

PART 14:

Salem:   Early History | Hotels | The Public Schools
Churches | Societies | Business Interests | Biographical Sketches

PART 15:

Arago:   Biographical Sketches
Biographical Sketches:
Porter Precinct | Ohio Precinct | Franklin Precinct | Liberty Precinct
Speiser Precinct | Barada Precinct | Preston

List of Illustrations in Richardson County Chapter
Richardson County Names Index

Part 1

   RICHARDSON County takes its name from Hon. William A. Richardson, of Illinois, who was the third Territorial Governor. The organization of the county bears the date of 1854, when it was created by proclamation of Acting Gov. Cuming. Upon the assembling of the first Territorial Legislature, in 1855, the county was re-organized in due form. When first created, it usurped a large amount of the space now embraced in Johnson and Pawnee Counties, but was within a few years cut down to its present size. It now contains 550 square miles.


   Water is found at various depths in the county varying from twenty to forty feet, in a large majority of places, to seventy-five to one hundred feet in the bluffs of the Missouri shore. The principal stream of the county is the Great Nemaha, the North Fork of which enters near the northwest corner of the county. At Salem, the North and South Forks unite in the main body, which, gathering constantly from smaller streams, empties into the Missouri near the Kansas line. Next in importance to this stream is the Muddy, which crosses the northern boundary a little west of the line of Falls City and meets the Great Nemaha at a point about ten miles from its mouth. Other small streams are Rattlesnake, Honey, Easley, Four Mile and Rock Creeks.

   Richardson County seems to overlie a large tract of coal veins of varying thickness. One of the first known outcroppings of coal was at Yancton on the Missouri. As early as 1856, the early settlers speak of crossing "at the coal banks near Yancton." At Four Mile Creek there is reported to be a vein of good quality, twenty-two inches in thickness, but, as it has never been worked, it is impossible to predicate much of its value. Just south of Rulo, S. B. Miles ran a shaft and spent a considerable amount of money, but failed to find coal in paying amount. About one mile below the mouth of the Great Nemaha, there is also a promising vein unworked. Ten miles east of Humboldt, there is a six-inch vein now being thoroughly worked; there is also one one mile north of Humboldt, on the farm of John Scott, showing a three inch vein. From a careful survey of what has been done in coal mining in this county, one can but feel that for the present the project of mining on a large scale cannot be remunerative. What may be developed by new processes or new discoveries of coal measures can only be said after the event.

   The first election in Richardson County, which then included what is now Pawnee County, was held in the fall of 1854, and resulted in the casting of ten votes. It was at this election that Col. Sharp, then living in Iowa, was elected to the Senate, and John A. Singleton, who had a family in Missouri, to the House of Representatives. The polling place was the log house of Level, the reputed first actual white settler.

   At the election in 1856, at which the first county officers were elected, ninety-eight votes were cast, and John C. Miller was elected County Judge; F. L. Goldsberry, County Clerk, and Louis Misplais, County Treasurer. In 1857, the population of the county had more than trebled, and 340 votes were polled. At this time, there were three election precincts--Archer, Salem and Speiser. In 1859, the voting list increased to over 800, and five precincts--Rulo, St. Stephens, Falls City, Salem, Speiser and Franklin--had been created.


   In 1854, two men named John A. Singleton and William Roberts took claims on the South Fork of the Nemaha, and one Short took a mill claim at the junction of the Nemaha, where Salem now stands. The other members of the party, William Goolsby, Farragus Pollard, James Goolsby, Jesse Crook and John Crook proceeded a short distance up the North Branch and staked out claims, but attempted no improvements, and at once started back toward the Missouri River. After getting lost several times, the party at length reached St. Deroin, on the bank of the river, and, by firing their revolvers, succeeded in attracting the attention of some men on the opposite side, who ferried them across to the Missouri shore. In the spring, the party returned, the first of their number being Jesse Crook, who moved with his family to his claim on the Muddy, April 17, 1855, and started the first prairie farm in the county. At this time the country about him was full of wolves, deer and wild turkeys, and the fish were so plentiful in the streams that they could be killed with clubs. Frank Leechman, the first male child born in the county, was born here in this year.

   In the summer of 1855, E. H. Johnson, with William Kenceleur, Charles Rouleau, Eli Bedard and Eli Plant, left Sioux City for the half-breed tract, in Southern Nebraska. Under the treaty of 1831, at Prairie du Chien, the wives of all the members of this party were entitled to a half section of land in the famous tract, and the chief object of the party was to secure these claims.

   On their arrival in the eastern part of the tract, the party found only two white inhabitants, both of whom were living with Indian squaws. One of these was F. X. Dupuis, who had married the widow of White Cloud, a famous Iowa chief who had recently departed for the happy hunting-grounds, and whose body lay in state in the great Indian burial-ground just northwest of where Rulo now stands. The other settler was Charles Martin, a wonderful man even among the hardy pioneers of the plains. Martin is described as tall and commanding in figure, Roman nosed, keen-eyed and straight as an Indian. For many years, as a trapper and hunter, he had traversed the pathless prairies amid swarms of hostile Indians, and had come unharmed from innumerable dangers. Shortly before 1850, he had come upon a camp which had lost its leader in a recent fight, and was about to propitiate the spirit by the sacrifice of a young girl, who was even then bound on the pyre to be fired. Martin, after reasoning in vain with the head men of the tribe, resorted to the means which have from time immemorial proved successful with savages, and purchased the girl, paying two tents and two horses for her.

   When found by Johnson's party, he had just returned from Salt Lake and intended a permanent settlement. This Martin put up one of the first stores in Rulo and was a partner of F. L. Goldsberry. In the summer of 1855, this party located Rulo, and the mill at the mouth of Muddy recently owned by Thacker & Davis, now Thacker. At this time, the party in an exploring trip of twenty miles northward, found no settlers save Stephen Story, who occupied a cabin near the site of his town, laid out a little later and known as St. Stephens.

   In 1856, the Johnson party, reinforced by Joshua Murray, moved to the mouth of the Muddy and engaged in the construction of a mill designed for use in getting out lumber for the new town and also for grinding grain. The saw-mill was completed and the flouring-mill nearly so, when the whole structure was destroyed by an incendiary fire. This was specially hard of the settlers, who were forced to pack all their provisions from the river, two miles distant.


   Stephen Story, whose name is interwoven in the history of many of the most stirring scenes of the early days of the Territory, was a native of Vermont. Born in 1810, he moved with his parents to near Montreal, Canada, when only two years of age, and remained there until he became of age. He then started in life on his own account, as a lumberman, and, in a few years, drifted to St. Joseph, Mo., where he was employed by Joseph Roubideaux, the founder of the city. In 1844, he came to Richardson County and built a cabin above the point where he subsequently located St. Stephens. Nebraska at this time was in full possession of the Indians, and wandering bands stole Story's horses and anything else they could lay hands on. Discouraged by his losses, he went back to St. Joseph, and shortly after served in the Mexican war. Returning after the war, he caught the California fever, and was one of the Forty-niners who made the painful journey to the coast in search of unlimited wealth. After working in the mines for exactly one year, he threw down his pick with the remark that the anniversary of the day that saw his entrance should see his exit from the mining regions. Reaching St. Joseph in 1850, he remained until 1851, when he again came to Nebraska and took a farm at the present site of Arago. From here he went to the site of St. Stephens and started the ferry at that point. After running the ferry for a short time, Story and B. F. Loan started the town. In 1857-58, a colony of Germans from Buffalo, N. Y., came to the county, and to them Story sold the town site of Arago.

   In the early part of the war of 1861-65, there was great apprehension of a raid by the Indians, and a company was organized to repel any attacks. Story was Captain of the company and is said to have put them in fine form to meet whatever might threaten the county, but the Indians made no demonstration. In person, Story, like most of the men who made their mark in the early history of the State, was tall and athletic. He always wore long sandy hair and a full corn-colored beard, which, in his old age, when time had silvered them, presented a striking appearance. When the flat-boat had given way to the steam ferry, Story retired to a farm living three miles from Arago and one mile from St. Stephens, where he lived until three years before his death, when he moved to Rulo. In 1846, Story married a half-breed Indian woman, by whom he had two children, one of whom is now a well-known citizen of Falls City. On January 27, 1882, Stephen Story passed over to what is, even in the young state of Nebraska, "the great majority," and with him passed away forever much of the unwritten pre-Territorial history of Richardson County.


   The winter of 1855-56 was a very severe one and bore hard on the new -comers. About Christmas, 1855, the snow became very deep, and it was impossible to drive teams to the mill for supplies. Settlers were reduced to a diet of boiled hominy and venison, the latter being easily procured, as deer were plentiful, and, being unable to run without breaking through the crust, were easily taken. In this juncture, Samuel Bright, a German living four miles from Mr. Withrow, was sent to Salem to procure supplies of breadstuffs. He started about Christmas and reached the wilderness, near Honey Creek, at night, where he lost his way and wandered all night long in the bitter cold, crossing and recrossing Honey Creek and getting his top boots filled with water. On reaching the settlement, his legs were found to be frozen to the knee, and before his death, a few days later, actually dropped off. This strange fact is attested by many veracious old settlers now living. Bright died January 1, 1856, and news of the event was brought to the Withrow settlement soon after. In default of better materials, a rude coffin was constructed of old puncheons and scraps of old boards. A shroud was contrived by Withrow and the others took turns in digging the grave, in which nearly half of them were severely frost bitten.

   In February, 1855, William Withrow, who had been living at what is now called Marietta, on the east bank of the river, opposite St. Stephens, crossed over and took a claim on what is now known as Rattlesnake Creek. Arriving at his claim on March 10, he at once went to work, and broke ten acres of land that summer. This, with the assistance of one man, he planted in corn, and succeeded in raising a fair crop. In November, Withrow and his nearest neighbor, Jacob Spring, started for Missouri to obtain a winter supply of provisions. On their return, they were unable to cross the Missouri on account of the floating ice, and were obliged to leave their teams on the east side and cross in a canoe to the coal beds a short distance above Yancton. Here they were kindly treated, and Spring obtained a full grown cat, then a very rare animal in the Territory. They started out in a severe snow-storm for the settlement on the Muddy, but before they had gone half the distance, Spring was worn out, and declared his intention of lying down to die in the snow, at the same time showing the body of the cat, which he had carried on his breast for warmth, and which was frozen stiff. After great trouble, Withrow persuaded him to go on, and they reached Jesse Crook's claim utterly exhausted. It was not until six weeks later that they were able to bring their cattle across the Missouri, and during that time, they lived upon boiled corn, dried squashes, potatoes and turnips, but had no groceries of any sort.

   It was in this winter that John Lakin, of Salem, who had made a trip into Missouri, lost his way in going from St. Stephens to Archer, and was so severely frozen as to lose several toes from each foot.


   William G. Goolsby, who died on his farm not far from Falls City, in the winter of 1881-82, was a companion of Jesse Crook on the first trip he made in Richardson County before finally settling. While Crook took a claim in the eastern part of the county, Goolsby went on to a point above Salem, but became sick and returned to Missouri with the firm conviction that he had seen more than enough of Nebraska. The return of spring seems to have modified his views, for, on Crook's return to Nebraska, in April, 1855, Goolsby was again his companion, and, in October, took possession of the farm on which he lived until the time of his death. The winter of 1855-56 was an exceptionally severe one, and precluded the idea of any kind of farm work, while the vast amount of game in constant view from his cabin door was a constant incentive to hunt. The idea of turning this supply to his advantage, save in supplying his immediate wants, does not seem to have at first occurred to Goolsby, for he sent to a Dr. Impey, of Missouri, an invitation to bring his dogs and see fine sport. The sporting doctor pleaded a press of other business, and finally Goolsby went to Missouri, and, returning with a pair of dogs, began the style of life which earned him the sobriquet of "the old wolf-hunter." In this winter, deer were so plentiful that droves of from fifteen to twenty were constantly in sight from his cabin door, and frequently as many as five separate gangs were to be seen at one time. Aided by his dogs, Goolsby brought down as many as seven deer in a single half day, and then desisted simply from inability to find a use for more meat. At this time, Goolsby had a cabin twelve by fourteen feet, which was stored full of meat, and supplied all the neighboring settlers. For two years, he continued the hunt as a means of living, and, in the intervals of the search for larger game, succeeded in at once earning the gratitude of the settlers for the wholesale destruction of the thieving wolves, and obtaining the name already mentioned. With the disappearance of the wild animals, Goolsby's occupation was destroyed, and he returned to the peaceful life of a farmer, which he pursued until his death.


   In the spring of 1858, the criminal law of the Territory was repealed. This was followed by an outbreak of lawlessness throughout Richardson and adjoining counties that called for energetic measures on the part of the people. Accordingly, a vigilance society of nearly two hundred members was organized, and the work begun of hunting down those who were availing themselves of the lapse of legal punishment to commit depredations. Horse-thieving was the prevailing crime, and to run down horse-thieves was really the main object of the society. At this time, Wilson M. Maddox was Sheriff, and he devoted himself energetically to his task When caught, the thieves were lashed to the trunk of some sturdy tree and flailed by the members of a committee appointed for the purpose. As the whips were hickory withes, about an inch and one-half at the handle, and as each member gave a certain number of strokes, the punishment must have been very severe. Men whose feelings had been more than slightly exercised by the loss of pet animals were not likely to grudge a little muscle in laying on the rod. That they did not is shown by the fact that many of the whips curling around the tree left a welt half an inch deep in the bark of the black oak.

   When a thorough drubbing has been administered, the subject was generally dismissed. In aggravated cases, however, the addition of a coat of tar and feathers was kindly placed on the victim. After such treatment, the horse-thief generally decided that Nebraska soil was not the best for his purposes.

   In one instance, matters went further than this. One Leavitt, living southwest of Falls City, could not be daunted from the field even by the worst punishment thus far inflicted, and Maddox was set upon his trail. Following him into Missouri, Maddox captured one of his partners at a farmhouse, and shortly after, corralled Leavitt in a large corn field. Stationing his men around the field, with instructions to fire when Leavitt broke cover, Maddox started into the corn-field to run Leavitt out. When the chase had led half way across, a guard in the rear discharged his gun, and thereby called the other guards to him, leaving an escape for Leavitt. After losing his man, Maddox returned to his home, and Leavitt was shortly afterward captured in Iowa by Missouri parties, but escaped. When again captured, he was brought to St. Stephens, and there tried in the presence of nearly two hundred people. After hearing all the evidence, a vote of the society was taken, and an almost unanimous verdict rendered that he be hung.

   This verdict Leavitt treated as a joke, not supposing that the vigilantes would go to extreme measures. He was soon undeceived, for the committee, pinioning his arms and chaining his legs with harness links, placed him in a wagon and carried him to a hollow about half a mile south-west of the town. Here Leavitt was made to stand upon a large box in the wagon, and the fatal noose placed about his neck. The wagon was then driven away. This occurred at about 1 P. M., and the body was left hanging until the same hour of the following day, and then cut down and buried just west of the tree which had served as a gibbet.

   Leavitt's fate had a great influence on other marauders of his class, and, in the language of an old settler, "horse-thieving became unpopular."

   Wilson Maddox, who tied the fatal knot, in default of any one who knew how to fasten it, but took no part in the execution, was several years later called to account for his share in the transaction, but was not even arrested. None of the other parties to the deed were ever molested, and it is believed that the principal actor has passed before another Judge, where absolute justice will surely be awarded him.


   The necessity for the provision of some place to which the half-breeds, who were largely the progeny of French adventurers, trappers and traders, could be assigned, was plainly evident earl in this century. It required but little logic to show that the lawful son of a Frenchman could not be subjected to the laws governing Indians of full blood, or forcibly amalgamated with a tribe, nor could the half Indian assume the full rights of his father. The half-breeds were a new element in Uncle Sam's cosmopolitan brood, and special measures were necessary to meet their case. Having decided on a modified form of reservation for this large class, it remained for the Government to select a fitting location for such a grant. It must be remembered that, at this time, all beyond the Missouri was "the wilderness." When, then, in 1839, the chiefs of the various tribes and the representatives of the Government met at Prairie du Chien, Wis., there was a vast amount of land which answered all the requirements of a good reserve, being watered and wooded, and abounding in game.

   The treaty setting aside the lands for the half-breeds in Richardson and Nemaha Counties was made between William Clark, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and Willoughby Morgan, a Colonel of the regular army, with deputations from the Sacs and Foxes, four bands of Sioux, the Medawah-Kantons, Sissetongs, Wahpetons and Wahpacootah, the Omahas, Iowas, Otoes and Missouris, on July 15, 1830. The provisions of the treaty read: The Omahas, Iowas and Otoes, for themselves and in behalf of Yancton and the Santee bands of the Sioux, having earnestly requested that they might be permitted to make some provision for their half-breeds, and particularly that they might bestow upon them the tract of country within the following limits, to wit: beginning at the mouth of the Little-Ne-mohaw River and running up the main channel of said river to a point ten miles from its mouth in a direct line; from thence in a direct line to strike the Great Ne-mohaw ten miles above its mouth, in a direct line (the distance between the two Ne-mohaws being about twenty miles); thence down said river to its mouth; thence up the meanders of the Missouri River to the point of beginning. * * * The President of the United States may hereafter assign to any of the said half-breeds * * * any portion of said tract not exceeding a section of 640 acres to each individual. * * * ." This territory was surveyed in 1857, and the domain of the half-breeds thus officially designated, but, before the line was fairly run, it was condemned as being incorrect, and a new survey ordered. The new line started at a point some distance farther up the Great Nemaha River, but preserved the original point on the Little Nemaha. The additional territory thus given the Indians was of little value, but the new line passing through the county seat, Archer, forever destroyed that thriving village. The existence of a county seat on an Indian reserve was an anomaly, and it was at once removed.


   In all new countries might makes right to a far greater extent than in those more fully systematized. The settlement of the river tier of counties, of which Richardson is the farthest south, so far preceded that of the tier lying next west, that the experiences of the former were not repeated in the latter.

   From the date of the organization of the county in March, 1855, when Archer was designated as the county seat, there was, indeed, a brief period of peace, but from the following year, when the county seat was removed to Salem, there was for nearly fifteen years a constant strife.

   An act approved by the Territorial Legislature on February 9, 1857, provided for an election to determine the county seat of Richardson County, and appointed the first Thursday of April, the same year, the time for balloting. This election resulted in the defeat of Falls City, and the choice of Salem as the county seat. The county offices were not, however, moved to Salem at once, and before their removal an election for the permanent location of the county seat had been held, the contestants receiving an equal number of ballots each, and the election being virtually undecided. Although the first election had resulted in the choice of Salem, many of the appurtenances of the county seat had not been removed to that point, and when the final and third election had resulted in the selection of Falls City, they took up their permanent abode in that place.


   Among the most exciting episodes of these tumultuous times was the double murder which grew out of the election of 1860. Feeling ran high, and the passions of the contestants were at a fever heat. Old slights and manifold petty injuries seemed to the inflamed imagination deadly wrongs, and it needed but a touch to waken inert to deadly hatred. The polls were held in Falls City, at a little office near the southwest corner of the square and opposite the old hotel. Here Dr. Davis and Thomas J. Meek became involved in a personal discussion, and a shot was fired wounding Meek slightly in the thigh. The contestants were then separated, and Dr. Davis retired to a room in the hotel, where shortly Meek forced his way, breathing vengeance. He was met at the door by Dr. Davis, and two pistol shots rang out almost simultaneously, and both men fell mortally wounded. It was supposed by some that each was the victim of the other's fire, but later developments showed that Meek was shot by a Dr. Dunn, an intimate friend of Dr. Davis. There are various versions of this sad affair, and each old settler has his own, but we have given that which seems to be the best authenticated.


   The first Probate Judge of Richardson County was J. O. Miller, who was appointed by Acting Governor Cuming, and confirmed by the first Territorial Legislature with the other officers so appointed. The following persons have held the office from the organization of the Territory to the present time: J. O. Miller, 1854-56; William Trammell, 1856-58; J. C. Adams, 1858-60; Charles F. Walther, 1860-68; William Van Lue, 1868-70; L. Van Dusen, 1870-72; William Mast, 1872-74; S. A. Fulton, 1874-75 as Probate Judge, and 1875-78 as County Judge; Frank Martin, 1878-80; J. R. Wilhite, 1880-82, and is elected to serve until 1884.

   County Clerks.--The list of County Clerks embraces those who were elected as Registers of Deeds, and is as follows: F. L. Goldsberry, 1856-58; J. R. Trammell, 1858; James T. Wright, 1858-59; A. J. Deshago, 1859-60; W. H. Mann, 1866 to August 1870. J. Ward was appointed to serve the unexpired term of Mr. Mann, and was in office from August 20, 1870, to 1871; A. Falsken, 1871-73; L. A. Ryan, 1873-75; Ruel Nims, 1875-77; W. H. Hay, 1877-81; George H. Pearson, 1881-83.

   County Treasurers.--The following is a list of those who have handled the funds of the county in the responsible office of County Treasurer: Isaac Crook, 1856-65, F. A. Tisdel, 1865; D. R. Holt, 1865-71; P. B. Miller, 1871-75; F. W. Miller, 1875-77; John W. Holt, 1877-82; J. R. Cain, 1882.


   The early summer was signalized by the advent of the most fatal and contagious disease which ever visited the county. This was the bloody flux, something resembling acute dysentery. The disease was supposed to have started at Rulo, having been brought here by emigrants on some river steamer, but it was not confined to that town, and spread rapidly till only the sparseness of the population prevented a strong likeness to the scenes of the plague in London. In Salem, as many as sixteen died from this disease in one week, but at the other settlements it was not as bad, Falls City hardly having any cases. In the newspapers of the time it is magnified beyond all due proportion, but a careful investigation of the matter robs it of much of its terror. It was an epidemic, and caused many deaths, yet ran its course rapidly and disappeared so quickly as to leave little impression on the memory of the busy pioneers.

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County Index    Table of Contents

Index of Illustrations in RichardsonCounty Chapter
  1. [View of Falls City.]
  2. [Residence of Hon. P. W. Birkhauser.]
  3. [Central Hotel, S. Grable, Prop.]
  4. [Portrait of Isham Reavis.]