"The word "Nemaha" is believed to be Indian for "No Papoose." The translation appears reasonable. It has never been shown that Nemaha county was the permanent home of the aborigines. Scattered arrowheads have been found in years gone by but they indicate early hunting parties. There are no signs of loges. Literally, Nemaha County was a land of "No papooses" because the natives did not remain here long enough to raise families. Others have said that the name sprang from the presence of malaria which discouraged the Indians from living here. Still another interpretation is that "Nemaha" was applied to the county's principal stream and meant "muddy water."
The Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D. C. has a record which seems to prove that Spanish Don Coronado actually reached the Kansas-Nebraska line in Nemaha county in August of 1541. He found immense herds of buffalo and his mailed and clanking soldiers picked plums, grapes and mulberries. The land was called "Quivera." The story of Don Coronado's journeys has been chronicled by John Stowell, English born, who settled first at Wetmore, studied law, then came to Seneca, as a practicing attorney. Stowell called his book, "Don Coronado through Kansas." It was published in 1908. Stowell bought two cases of type and hired a compositor, the pages being set in his law office. The pages were then printed in the late Harry Jordan's Seneca Tribune office. Stowell did his own binding. The author was disillusioned. The book did not find a ready sale. Innumerable copies were given away. Contemporary writers, including Paul Jones of Lyons, Kansas, Margaret Hill McCarter of Topeka and Sister Hildalita Carl, O.S.B. have reduced Coronado's wanderings in "Old Quivira" to interesting narratives. Sister Hildalita's review of Mrs. McCarter's works was published by the Courier-Tribune this spring."
"Nemaha County was, of course, 'just a wee bit of the Louisiana purchase" which embraced more that 300,000 square miles, afterward to become 12 states and part of two other states, an area greater than the 13 original colonies."
"In 1764, the first fur trading post established at St. Louis. In 1821 Missouri became a state. In 1832 Ft. Leavenworth was established. In 1834, Congress declared all the territory west of the Mississippi, not included in Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana should be Indian country.
On March 3, 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska bill originating what was then called "Squatter Sovereignty."
Its effect on Nemaha County was direct. It appeared to abrogate pledges made 30 years before. Three thousand clergymen in New England sent a protest to Congress. While slave supporting Missourians in droves were crossing the border and settling near the state line, just as hardy Northerners entered the territory west of St. Joseph and north of the Kaw. First settlements were in Doniphan County, but the late fifties found the wooded valleys in Nemaha County dotted with rude shelters of pioneers. Came W.W. Moore in January, 1854 to found Moorestown, 9 miles north of Seneca, near Baker's Ford. Walter D. Beeles came in February, Greenbury Key in March. Thomas John C. and Jacob B. Newton settled south of Moore's in April. John O'Laughlin settled at Ash Point. Moorestown came later to be known as Urbana and is believed to have been the site of the first public meeting in Nemaha County. The purpose was mutual protection in holding claims. A Mr. Castle was president, George T. Bobst, secretary. Bobst, and his father, Christian Bobst, and a man named Robert Turner came from Ohio. In fact, they appear to have chosen land which afterward was found to be in Nebraska. Christ Minger settled north of Bern. His log cabin still stands on the old home place."
First outside advertising is believed to have been given Nemaha county by Senator Thomas H. BENTON of Missouri, who never lost a chance to extol the west. Some years before the first settlement, there was a tacit understanding that a strip of 20 miles along the Nemaha valley should be "neutral ground" to which the Indians had no claim. This, no doubt, was the reason why the first settlers stopped here. But the broad prairies and wooded streams of the county were traversed still earlier. General FREMONT is believed to have crossed the county in 1841 on the route of what afterwards became the California trail. Then in 1849, with gold in California, the westward march of empire began.
The Mormons came along the trail in 1847. In Salt Lake City recently, the writer sought information about the Mormon exodus. For years there has been a tradition that the Mormons drained Murphy's lake seven miles northeast of Seneca, ate fish and were poisoned and died. The historical section of the church had never heard the story; in fact, insisted that the main body of the Mormons journeyed to Utah by way of Council Bluffs and the Platte. There was, said the church, an Atchison party and this group must have been the one which crossed the county.
Modern day persons confuse the Nemaha county trails. A few years ago the editor took pains to trace their course across the county. The California trail entered Nemaha county near Albany, north of Sabetha, crossed the Nemaha at Baker's ford, moved west across Turkey creek highlands and left the county at Ash Point, north of Baileyville and at a point still farther north. This trail did not touch Seneca.
The second road was the Ft. Leavenworth military trail to Ft. Kearney, Nebr. It entered the county in the vicinity of Granada, passed across Dr. Sam Murdock's Log Chain farm, thence west to a crossing of the Nemaha. The first crossing was Old Richmond, two miles north of Seneca. But Richmond's emigrant trail store was operated by a slavery sympathizer by the name of Woodward. Free state men didn't like him. When it came time to choose a county seat they threw their influence to Seneca and Seneca succeeded in diverting the trail. Thereafter Seneca became the crossing point and Maxwell Spring supplied cold water to tired wayfarers. At this crossing, some years later, a hostelry was built. It was operated by John Doyle. It was at this hotel that Hiram Mathews, a freighter, the father of C. E. Mathews, Seneca met Sarah Whitmore, Doyle's niece and the two were married.
From Seneca, the Leavenworth trail worked northwest. No doubt many travelers picked up the California trail at Ash Point and crossed the Blue at the nearest ford or ferry. The prairies were becoming crisscrossed with wagon trails by the early fifties, but St. Joseph and Leavenworth traffic, converging in Nemaha County, formed what became known as the Overland Trail. It was not, strictly speaking, the Oregon trail. The Overland Trail was a feeder to the Oregon Trail. The Oregon route was west out of Westport along the Kaw to the vicinity of Wamego, thence north through Westmoreland to Marysville.
Nemaha County free-staters capitulated to the slavery men in the first election. It was called by Gov. Andrew Reeder March 30, 1855 to select members of the territorial legislature and council. A day or so previous to election, one R. L. KIRK, a Kentuckian stopped over night in the Central City on the old Richard BLOSS farm and told all sundry he would be a candidate for membership of the House in the election at Moorestown. He then took a claim to establish residence. He was a pro-slavery man.
Election morning David R. ATCHISON and a gang of slavery men stormed the polls. All claimed to be prospective settlers, intending to take claims. Seeing how things were going, the bona fide free state men refused to vote and the slavery men had things their own way. The actual list of eligible settler voters at this election was composed of Geo H. BAKER, Jesse ADAMSON, Samuel and Thos. CRAMER, W. W. MOORE, W. D. BEELES, Samuel CROZIER, Samuel L. MILLER, Wm. BUNKER, Thos. and Horace M. NEWTON, H. H. LANHAM, John O'LAUGHLIN, Greenbury KEY and Uriah BLUE. All of these were free-staters except the CRAMERS and BUNKER. Using the same tactics elsewhere the pro-slavery men easily controlled the legislature. They enacted every kind of law they could think of to protect slave rights. These statutes came to be known as the "Bogus Laws of Kansas."
In all probability, the NEWTONs were among the more influential of the earliest settlers. The three brothers left Illinois in 1852, remained in St. Joseph until 1854, then came to the Nemaha valley. They may be said to have founded Central City, which stood on the former Richard BLOSS farm five miles northeast of Seneca. The old cemetery of this settlement can be seen today, long since fallen into disuse, its headstones toppled over and half-hidden by briars and tall grass. The village was laid out by a professional townsite developer by the name of DODGE who came from Iowa.
Elder NEWTON was a Baptist missionary and preached just as often as he could get the settlers together. He was then 58 years old, his family consisting of a wife six years his senior and two sons, Jacob B. and John C. The Centennial history says "he applied himself faithfully to the work of the ministry, passing through cold and heat, wet and dry, out day and night, often hungry, always poorly clad, but ever ready to do the work of the Master."
On Jan. 20, 1867 he preached his last sermon at Seneca, developing an earnestness that was noticeable, and a felicity of expression and a pertinency of comparison that challenged the deepest interest and attention. The next day he was stricken down with spotted fever and died on the 25th.
There was a second election Oct. 1, 1855 to select a territorial delegate to Congress but again this county’s free-staters refused to vote. They were convinced the cards were stacked. This proved true in a third instance -- a constitutional convention called by antislavery men to meet in Topeka to form a free-state constitution. The county sent no delegate. It would almost seem the settlers were doubtful of the integrity of their own kind. The free state constitution was adopted by a huge majority in balloting Dec. 15 but there was one precinct which did not count -- Leavenworth, in which the Missourians made away with the ballot box. This may have been the original inspiration for the Kansas City election frauds.
Jan. 15, 1856 there was an election of legislators under the Topeka constitution but the Centennial historians could find no record of Nemaha County having voted at all. This was the legislature which chose Jim Lane for U.S. Senate.
The stormy Lane was closely identified with east Nemaha County in the anti-slavery struggle. Lane was engaged in the lively pursuit of bringing in free-state men to offset Missouri’s border ruffians. Checked at the Missouri River, he used the Sabetha area as a port of entry from Nebraska. On Aug. 7, 1856 he arrived at the border with 400 immigrants from Iowa. The Lane road struck Brown County at Pony creek, following a line west and south to Topeka. Lexington, three miles southeast of Sabetha, was an important way station. For some time , it was recognized as Sabetha on the maps. At a later period the Lane road became a branch of the "Underground Railroad" over which John Brown led slaves to freedom.
The pro-slavery men never located in Nemaha County in numbers. Slaveryites held an election for delegate to Congress Oct. 6, 1856 but Nemaha county cast only five out of the 4,376 ballots polled.
This is where Cyrus Dolman begins to figure in early day history of Seneca. He was elected representative in the pro-slavery legislature, getting 12 votes. Dolman came from St. Joseph and he and others started a town where the Ft. Leavenworth trail crossed the Nemaha on what is now the Haverkamp place, two and a half miles northeast of present Seneca. They called it Richmond.
The Newtons and H. H. Lanham built the first structures in Richmond. There was a combined store and hotel operated by a slavery man by the name of A. G. Woodward.
Richmond was Nemaha county’s first seat of government. The very first county warrants were issued there. But Richmond had the stamp of slavery on it and free-state men would have not of it when it came to decide between Richmond, Central City, Wheatland and Seneca as a county seat.
The Centennial History is authority for the statement that Seneca was first staked out by a man of the name of J. B. INGERSOLL in 1857. INGERSOLL seems to have dropped out of the picture after he had called the place "Castle Rock." The name is obscure. There is not rock in this vicinity which resembles a castle. The town was promoted by a company composed of Charles G. SCRAFFORD, Royal TORREY, and Finley and Samuel LAPPIN. They changed its name to Seneca. The true reason for the selection of the name, "Seneca" is lost though it may be some reader of these lines will be able to supply the information.
Charlie SCRAFFORD’s name is one to conjure with. He was Seneca’s first Babbitt. He was a builder and a speculator. He was a brother-in-law of Samuel LAPPIN. Finley LAPPIN was Samuel LAPPIN’s father. Later Sam LAPPIN and Charles SCRAFFORD bought a large acreage of land from settlers who had thrown up the sponge and gone back east. They became, in fact, property poor. This is believed to have been the origin of Seneca’s first scandal in frenzied finance. In later years, Sam LAPPIN got into politics and was elected state treasurer. It was believed that he used state funds to tide him over embarrassing situations here.
LAPPIN fled to South America. He was never again in Seneca. His fate is unknown.
Prosecution of Charlie SCRAFFORD in connection with LAPPIN’s embezzlement failed, chiefly, it was stated, because of disappearance of court records which were to be used as evidence.
When LAPPIN absconded, suit was instituted against his bondsmen, SMITH, MULVANE and KNOWLES. LAPPIN and SCRAFFORD made assignment of their property here and George W. WILLIAM was appointed trustee to sell it to pay the state’s judgment.
Although Charlie SCRAFFORD’s name was tarnished at the time he went a long way to lift whatever odium was attached to his connection with the LAPPIN case. He continued to make Seneca his home and it was he who built many substantial structures which are standing today. Charlie SCRAFFORD was associated with John A. GILCHRIST in the construction of the Hotel Gilford in 1891 and 1892. It then had approximately 30 rooms. A few have since been cut up into smaller rooms and a 5-room addition was built, it facilities now being 45 bedrooms and two apartments.
SCRAFFORD was a promoter in White Cloud, a friend of CHIEF WHITE CLOUD, who is still living. SCRAFFORD also pioneered the town of Summerfield.
It was Charlie SCRAFFORD, who built the rambling brick residence in south Seneca, now owned by Dr. C. M. CRANDALL and no longer in use. The German influence in architecture is seen in its steeply pitched gables. It contains today two marble fireplaces that antique lovers would become delirious about. Charlie SCRAFFORD built the old A. L. SCOVILLE home, now the property of Mr. and Mrs. Balie KEITH, the Royal theatre building, the Kampert drug store. George A. SHAUL, a later builder, often paid tribute to SCRAFFORD as Seneca’s all-time best booster. An oil painting of this virile citizen, the work of artist Roy A. RODGERS, is in the Seneca library.
Speaking of Richmond, it may not be generally known that F. J. MARSHAL, one of its incorporators under Act of the territorial legislature, was then a member of the Marysville Town Company. The Marysville Company had a charter to keep a ferry at the crossing of the Ft. Leavenworth-Ft. Kearney trail over the Big Blue. This place became Marysville, named for MARSHALL's wife. MARSHALL had a trading post there as early as 1851. A. G. WOODWARD, the Richmond storekeeper, was in similar business on the Blue at Oketo in 1848. Others who were the incorporators of Richmond were David and Richmond GILLASPIE, John and James DONIPHAN, R. C. BISHOP and James E. THOMPSON, Cyrus DOLMAN, James O'DONOGHEN, August LEISI, John DONALDSON and Daniel VANDERSLICE.
Mention of the ferry on the Blue recalls the interesting story in the Centennial history about MOORE and BEELES of Urbana, who built a toll bridge across the Nemaha a half mile below Baker's Ford. These thrifty settlers then felled a huge elm tree across the ford to divert traffic to the bridge. The next sprng there was a freshet. Down stream came the elm tree and smack against the toll bridge. The bridge owners were "hoisted by their own petard."
Nemaha county's attitude about slavery was demonstrated in the election under the Lecompton constitution. Dec. 21, 1857, F. J. MARSHALL of the Richmond and Marysville town companies was a pro-slavery candidate. George W. SMITH, free-state. Brown and Nemaha voting together gave SMITH 223. MARSHALL 80. As matter of record, L. R. WHEELER of Rock Creek Township was the only slaveholder in the county. He held two until 1859.
There was an old, old story that when it came time to vote on the county seat, Capt. John E. SMITH, sowed oats in the California trail where it forked to Richmond, thus diverting traffic directly west into Seneca. This is possible but it seems more likely that Richmond lost caste because it wanted to make Kansas a slave state. Men felt keenly about this matter. Central City, being composed of liberty lovers, threw its influence to the new town. The Centennial history insists this was one reason why Seneca found favor. Central City looks askance at Richmond for another reason. It was too close. Central City, at one time believed it would get the St. Joseph & Denver City railroad. The first right of way, was in fact, surveyed in the valley of Deer creek. Wheatland, staked out a few miles south of Seneca, never got beyond the planning stage.
The first election was held April 14, 1858. The contesting towns were Central city, Richmond, Seneca, Wheatland, Centralia and Ash Point. The result is not stated but it served as an elimination contest and some dropped out. There is mention of another election in May and still another in June. In the June election the struggle lay between Richmond, Seneca and Wheatland. There was a dispute about the vote from Graham Township and a decision rested with the county commissioners. Two commissions split and then George GRAHAM, chairman, cast the deciding ballot in favor of Seneca.
Cyrus DOLMAN of Richmond was the first probate judge; James E. THOMPSON of Richmond the first sheriff, Edwin VANENDERT, address not given, the first treasurer, Jesse ADAMSON of Nemaha, David MAGILL of Capioma and Peter HAMILTON of Red Vermillion the first commissioners. David P. MAGILL was the first postmaster at Capioma in 1857. David M. LOCKNANE at Granada; Isaac H. STEER at Richmond; John E. SMITH at Seneca; A. W. WILLIAMS at Sabetha; George GRAHAM at Albany; George L. SQUIRE at Centralia; H. H. LANHAM at Central City. A mail route was then in existence from St. Joseph to Ft. Kearney via Marysville. Seneca got its mail from Central City. Centralia from Seneca.
For the purpose of the record, we list Nemaha county settlers who were here as early as 1855 or not long after:
CAPIOMA: Samuel Magill, James G. McAlister, William E. Barnes, Sneathon Vilott, Hugo Fox, Patrick Haud, John M. Ford
GRANADA: D. M. Locknane, Jas. Haigh, Uriah Haigh, George B. Searles, Augustus Woltley, Jacob Geyer, Frederic Shoemaker, Thos. S. Wright
TURKEY CREEK - Hiram Burger, Henry Medcalf, Joshua P. Brown, George Goppelt, George Frederick, Edward McCaffrey
ROCK CREEK: Jabez Brown, Arch Moorehead, Z. Archer, Levi Joy, Wm. Z. and Robert Carpenter, Isaac Ferguson, L. R. Wheeler, Thos. C. Priest, Joseph Haight, John L. George, Wm. C. Grahate, L. P. Hazen, A. W. Williams, James Oldfield, David Taber, John Ellis, Edwin Miller, Elihu Whittenhall, Wm. B. Slosson, N. H. Rising & Son
NEMAHA and CLEAR CREEK: Thos. Carlins, Michael Rogers, Peter McQuaid, Andrew Brewer, Alex Gillespie
RED VERMILLION: The Randels, Shepherds, Tobias Spatter, Jas. Hannum, Samuel Sandys, Jacob Jacobia, Peter Hamilton
NEUCHATEL: The Bonjours and Simons
HOME: The Armstrongs, Hezekiah Grimes, Samuel Mitchell, Geo. L. Squires, Dr. John S. Hidden, A. W. Slater, Stephen Barnard, Jos. W. Franks, T. A. Campfield, Drs. J. J. Sheldon, D. B. and N. B. McKay, R. Mosier, Wm. J. and Timothy McLaughlin
ILLINOIS and TENNESSEE CREEKS: L. J. McGowen, Wm. M. Berry, the Dennis and Roots families, Wm. R. Wells and sons, Thos. Rich, Isaac Pliss, Thos. Carter, Wm. Hickey, James F. Long, the Hills, Hawleys, Wm. M. Houston, John S. Doyle, Alonzo Whitmore, Elias B. Church.
Preemptions of land in this county were made up to the fall of 1860, the land office then being at Kickapoo. When the sales were completed that year it was estimated four-fifths of the land in the county had been purchased. There followed homestead entries and railroad grants but by 1876 there was almost no free land left.
Figures on the population are available for 1867, the year Seneca was born. In January, the second territorial legislature was in session with Geary as governor. Of the times he had a strong pro-slave legislature. In February the legislature provided for a convention to frame a constitution. Delegates were to be elected so a census was taken of the districts. Nemaha county then had a population of 512 and voting strength of 140. Cyrus Dolman, pro-slavery, was one of the delegates from this, the second district. The free-state men did not even vote. Had they voted they could have controlled the legislature since only 2,200 votes were polled all told. Nineteen Kansas counties were completely disenfranchised by the pro-slavery census takers.
In the election for delegate to Congress and state legislature in October, 1857, the Kansas settlers measured their strength for the first time. Free staters triumphed and in Nemaha county the free state candidate defeated his opponent 145 to 30. It was the free-staters first real victory in this county since in previous elections they had often abstained from voting. In this election, the slavery candidate Ransom made an address at Wheatland and had largely persuaded the settlers in his favor. However, William R. Wells, father of Abijah Wells, returning from Powhattan where he was doing carpenter work, influenced the settlers to change their vote.
Whatever sentiment there was for slavery in Nemaha county seems to have dwindled rapidly. When the vote on the Lecompton constitution was announced in January 1858 it was found Nemaha county had voted 238 to 1 for a provisiour against slavery.
Old John Brown of Osawatomie, the martyr of Harper's Ferry, spent his last night in Kansas in Nemaha county. That was February, 1859. Brown, with three other men, was running a party of 14 escaped negroes over the underground railroad, following the same route by which Sen. Lane had brought 400 free state men into Kansas from Nebraska.
When he reached Straight Creek, in Jackson county, Brown was besieged by 150 pro-slavery men, finding refuge in a log cabin of Dr. Albert Fuller. Later Fuller was a practicing physician and surgeon dentist at America City. Brown stood by his guns and for days, held off attack. He was relieved by Col. John Ritchie and a company of free-staters from Topeka. Ritchie escorted Brown, his three friends and the slaves to Albany. Pres. Buchanan had a standing offer of $300 for Brown. Gov. Stewart of Missouri promised to give $3000 for him. He went directly from Nemaha county to Harper's Ferry where his execution became one of the sparks which touched off the Civil War.
The first term of school taught in Nemaha county was at Central City where Mortan Cave had 22 pupils. Some of them were non-residents of the county, boarded with friends and kinfolk. A little later J. C. Hebberd made the first report on school matters to the territorial superintendent. There were then six organized districts with 180 persons between the ages of five and 21.
In 1860, the county had been divided into 20 municipal tonships with three commissioner districts. The first district was the north 10 miles, the second the middle and the third the south 10. The commissioner districts could not have coincided with the townships, but that is unexplained.
The population in 1860 was 2551.
On June 15, 1860 ground was broken for the Central Branch then called the Atchison & Pike's Peak railroad. It was built through Nemaha county in 1866. The St. Joseph and Denver City railroad, now the Union Pacific, came through in 1870.
Things were tough in Nemaha county in 1860. It was the year of the first great drought. The Centennial history speaks of a deadly wave of heat in late summer, "like that of a simoon." Today, Nemaha County would call it a "hot wind." All the vegetation except that protected by timber of the terrain, burned crisp. Kansas raised almost nothing and a relief agency sprang up at Atchison, supported largely by contributions from the east. F. P. Baker of Centralia, worked in the Atchison office and was able to send much in the way of supplies here.
Kansas achieved statehood Jan. 29, 1861. The county officers at that time were: Commissioners: John Ellis, D. M. Locknane, and Byron Sherry; county treasurer Samuel Lappin; county assessor N. B. McKay; attorney F. P. Baker; superintendent, F. P. Baker; probate judge, Thos. S. Wright; clerk of court, J. C. Hebbard; sheriff, John S. Rodgers; coroner, D. B. McKay, surveyor, James Parsons.
April 15, 1861, Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to preserve the Union and Nemaha County responded nobly. Nearly all the volunteers of this county became members of the 2nd, 7th, 8th, 11th, 13th and 15th regiments. Cap. A. W. Williams organized a company of 150 volunteers in August, 1861. Most of them were later sworn in s members of the 8th Kansas. George Graham also organized a company, many of these becoming members of the 9th and 13th Kansas.
Albert H. Horton of Atchison was commissioned district judge Oct. 31, 1861 and on Nov. 11 convened the first term of court held in this county. It was held in a building at the corner of Duane and Castle streets (now 5th and Castle.) In 1876 the then Mayor, Abijah Wells built a residence on that corner. Prior to 1861 court was held in Brown County.
The first court house of this county stood on Lot 4, Block 74. This property is now occupied by the rooming house of Mrs. Alice Davis. This lot is historic for more than one reason. The rooming house is the very building erected by John E. Smith which served as a way station of the Pony Express and lodging house on the Overland trail. It formerly stood on the corner occupied by the Knights of Columbus building which only this summer of 1938 was suitably marked for its historic interest.
The first court house burned in December, 1860. Into smoke and ashes went the records of the county commissioners and of the county clerk. The first notable trial, at the November term in 1861, was the case of Josiah Blancett who was charged with the murder of Thompson Wilson. Then as now and evermore, the law was hedged about. The case against Blancett was dismissed because the indictment was faulty. It failed to state that the murder was committed in Nemaha County.