History of Buffalo County
and Its People
by Samuel Clay Bassett
ORGANIZATION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IN BUFFALO COUNTY IN 1871 -- GEORGE H. SILVERNAIL PRESERVES RECORD IN HIS DIARY -- NOMINATE A FULL COUNTY TICKET -- A SPIRITED ELECTION -- 150 VOTES POLLED -- PATRICK WALSH ON AN INDEPENDENT TICKET ELECTED PROBATE JUDGE.
The first steps taken, looking to an organization of the republican party in Buffalo County, was on September 15, 1871.
It is a matter of tradition that when Patrick Walsh, Sergt. Michael Coady and Martin flattery sent to Governor David Butler a petition for the organization of Buffalo County in December, 1869, that in the body of the petition they declared that the petitioners are "good and true republicans," but it must be remembered that all three petitioners were born in Ireland, and those who enjoyed the privilege of an acquaintance with Patrick Walsh will also bear witness that "Paddy," as Mr. Walsh was called by his friends, had surely kissed the "Blarney stone" before leaving "Auld Ireland," and as Governor Butler was a republican, he doubtless thought it "wise" to belong to the governor's political party during the negotiations for an organization of the county. As a matter of fact, party lines cut no figure in the county until the coming of the colony to Gibbon in 1871.
Mr. George H. Silvernail has happily preserved a record of the birth of the republican party in the county. Under date of September 15, 1871, he wrote: "The republicans gathered at LaBarre's Hall (the LaBarre Building, a store with a hall on the second floor, stood where is now located the Babcock Opera House) and organized, elected an executive committee of five (5) who are to arrange a caucus for the nomination of a county ticket." The names of this executive committee are not given.
On September 23, 1871, Mr. Geo. H. Silvernail again wrote: "Went to county convention (the convention was held in LaBarre's Hall, at Gibbon); had quite a spirited time; (Jacob) Booth, chairman; S. C. Bassett, secretary. The ticket nominated was: (Rev. J. N.) Allen, probate judge; (Aaron) Ward, county clerk; Ed Oliver, county treasurer; C. Putnam, county superintendent; C. Clifton, sheriff; B. F. Sammons and W. F. McClure, commissioners; (A.) Collins, county surveyor. Dr. I. P. George, coroner. Precinct (Gibbon) ticket, D. P. Ashburn and J. M. Bayley, justices of the peace; Wm. McKinley and --- [sic], constables and myself (George H. Silvernail) assessor." On October 30th, Mr. Silvernail again wrote: "Went to Gibbon, qualified as assessor of Precinct No. 1, Buffalo County." The "spirited time" to which Mr. Silvernail refers to, was a fight, led by Mr. Ashburn in opposition to the nomination of Rev. J. N. Allen as probate judge.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
There was already considerable feeling against Mr. F. S. Trew, who had taken an active part in the colony affairs and it was charged, had assisted his personal friends to file on claims along Wood River and adjoining the town site of Gibbon, making the land office records show that these claims had been previously taken and thus depriving other members of the colony of an equal chance to secure these most desirable claims, when choice was determined by lot; also Mr. Trew was either deputy or acting county treasurer, having the use, as it was charged, of the county funds (there was no bank in the county at that date), Mr. Ashburn charged that the nomination of Mr. Allen was not being made in good faith; that Mr. Allen was then in Pennsylvania and would not return for some months, and therefore could not qualify and that the plan was for Mr. Trew to be appointed by the county commissioners to fill the vacancy. The office of probate judge was, with the possible exception of county treasurer, the most lucrative in the county for the reason that acknowledgments of legal papers were made before the probate or county judge, the bond required of a notary public that bondsmen should be freeholders and each sworn to be worth $2,000 above all exemptions, made it practically impossible to give such a bond, for there were there very few freeholders and a much less number that could qualify for such an amount as $2,000.
At that date, 1871, all voters were required to register in advance of the election, which for state and county was held on the second Tuesday in October. There was some question as to whether some members of the colony could vote at this election, as they had not been residents of the state for the required six months, especially those who did not arrive at Gibbon on April 7th, but Judge Maxwell, to whom the question was referred, advised that a voter leaving another state with the intention of making settlement in Nebraska, and actually making such settlement, could reckon his date of citizenship in Nebraska from the date of leaving his former home. Under this ruling voters who drove through from Wisconsin and even more distant states and who did not arrive in the county until June, 1871, registered and voted.
The election was held on Tuesday, October 10th; an independent ticket had been placed in the field. On this ticket was Patrick Walsh for probate judge, Oliver E. Thompson for sheriff and A. Collins for county surveyor. In those days candidates or their friends wrote the ticket, and early in the day it was discovered that the Trew party was fighting Ashburn for justice of the peace, and it also appears that the Ashburn party had placed A. Collins on the ticket for probate judge, and left his (Collins) name off the ticket as county surveyor. There was, as recalled, about one hundred and fifty votes polled and resulted in the election of Patrick Walsh, probate judge; Aaron Ward, county clerk; Ed. Oliver, county treasurer; O. E. Thompson, sheriff; B. F. Sammons and W. F. McClure, county commissioners, and Dr. I. P. George, coroner. In Precinct No. 1, D. P. Ashburn and J. M. Bayley were elected justices of the peace; William McKinley and, as is recalled, J. S. Chamberlain, constable, and George H. Silvernail, assessor. The county commissioners appointed C. Putnam county surveyor, and before the next election Patrick Walsh resigned as probate judge and A. Collins was appointed or elected to fill the vacancy.
In regard to the caucus mentioned by Mr. George H. Silvernail, so far as
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
can be learned, the first meeting of republicans on September 15th, was entitled to be termed a caucus and the executive committee selected was delegated to select and present a ticket to be voted for at the county convention held on September 23d, and that the county convention was not a delegate convention but a mass convention of republicans of the whole county, and therefore was not only the first political convention held in Buffalo County, but also the first republican convention held in the county."
MY FIRST STATE CONVENTION IN 1876 -- ELECTED DELEGATE AT COUNTY CONVENTION -- INTRODUCED TO FREE PASS SYSTEM -- JUDGE N. H. HEMIUP CANDIDATE FOR ATTORNEY-GENERAL -- GENERAL ROBERTS AND THE "TROJAN HORSE" -- T. J. MAJORS NOMINATED FOR CONTINGENT CONGRESSMAN -- BITTER FIGHT BY RAILROADS TO CONTROL CONVENTION -- CONVENTION IN SESSION FROM TUESDAY TO SATURDAY -- EDWARD ROSEWATER ATTACKED AND KICKED DOWN HOTEL STAIRS -- LIST OF BUFFALO COUNTY DELEGATES.
On Saturday, September 23, 1876, the Buffalo County Republican Convention for the election of delegates to the Republican State Convention, was held in Kearney and greatly to the surprise of the writer he was chosen as one of the delegates to the state convention. For months there had been a bitter factional strife in the republican party and usually designated Hitchcock and anti-Hitchcock, United States Senator Hitchcock being a candidate for re-election to the Senate and opposed by the railroad interests. Nebraska at that date had one Congressman and the nomination for Congressman was made at the state convention. Also there was to be nominated a "contingent" Congressman, and I smile to myself as I write the word "contingent;" how ambitious we all were in those days. Delays were intolerable; tradition, precedents, insurmountable legal obstacles were brushed aside as of little or no importance when additional recognition of our importance as a state was to be attained or another representative in the national Congress secured. I have often wondered how our "contingent" Congressman lived and paid expenses when thus serving the state at the national capital. He was never "recognized" by the speaker and of course was not on the congressional payroll. Doubtless it is best for all concerned that the unrevealed secrets as to how he lived and paid expenses be not revealed even in this generation. In the preliminary canvass in the county, L. R. More, a banker in Kearney, had been mentioned as a possible candidate for state treasurer. Mr. More was classed as a railroad candidate. N. H. Hemiup was also a candidate for attorney-general. Immediately after adjournment of the county convention the writer was approached by the deputy county clerk and informed that in electing the writer as a delegate to the state convention it was understood that I should give my proxy to the station agent of the Union Pacific Railroad at Kearney and the deputy county clerk had the proxy made out and ready for signature. While the writer was pleased at being chosen a delegate he at once realized that he could not afford to go, as this was the year following the grasshopper raids and the expense of the trip would be too great under the circumstances, railroad fare being 5 cents a mile, making about fifteen dollars for the round trip. As the
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
writer had voted with the Hitchcock faction, he at once felt that this was a railroad scheme and refused to give a proxy to a railroad employe. This was on Saturday and the state convention was called to meet on the Tuesday following. On the next day, Sunday, Judge Hemiup sent word that transportation for the delegates had been arranged for and as this was the largest item of expense, arrangements were made to go. (Never to be forgotten even though left unwritten, in relating incidents of this character in the early settlements of the state is, that included in the word "arrangements" is the encouragement of the good wife and the personal sacrifice incident to such "arrangements" on her part and of the other members of the family, not only of the comforts but often of necessities of life.) Monday morning the pony was mounted and ridden to Lowell, some ten miles distant, and there left until the return, and taking the B. & M. at Lowell the writer was handed a round trip pass--his first introduction to the free pass evil. Judge Hemiup had secured headquarters at the Commercial Hotel but the writer being a member of the grange went direct to the office of the secretary of the state grange and arranged with the secretary, P. E. Beardsley, to make his headquarters there and to sleep on a table in the office and Mr. Beardsley was so kind as to bring blankets from his own home for covering. This delegate was not the only delegate to that convention who slept on the floor in a convenient office. Sleeping on the floor was no novelty to homesteaders in those days.
The Buffalo County delegates were Rice Eaton, A. L. Webb, L. A. Groff, L. B. Cunningham and S. C. Bassett. The convention was held in the academy of music, a hall on the second floor, lighted at night with numerous kerosene lamps and when filled with perspiring politicians and clouds of tobacco smoke is it any wonder that stomachs of homesteaders used to the broad prairies, fanned by gentle breezes, rebelled? The convention was called to order on Tuesday, at 2.30 P. M. There had been a spirited canvass by C. H. Gere and T. M. Marquette for chairman of the convention, resulting in Mr. Marquette being chosen temporary and Mr. Gere permanent chairman. A. G. Kendall and George L. Brown were named as secretaries.
There was also chosen a sergeant-at-arms and later additional sergeants-at-arms were appointed in order to protect the delegates from the numerous lobby which at times so swarmed about the delegates that it was impossible to proceed with the business of the convention. At 4 P. M., the convention took a recess until 7.30. L. R. More was balloted for as one of the candidates for lieutenant-governor, receiving twenty-two votes, but none from the Buffalo County delegation. The ballot on nomination for attorney general was not reached until long after midnight. The candidates were George H. Roberts, N. H. Hemiup and others. On the first ballot Judge Hemiup received seventeen ballots out of a total of 259. After the first ballot the Buffalo County delegation wished to withdrew Judge Hemiup's name, but to this the judge would not consent, saying that the "plan" was for him to get a few votes on the first ballot and then begin to gain and that he was "dead sure" of being nominated. On the second ballot Judge Hemiup received twelve votes and his delegation got into the band wagon, voted for General Roberts, who was nominated. It was then 3 A. M., but General Roberts being called for mounted the platform and made a speech of an hour's length and of this speech I can still recall the story which he told of the "Trojan
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
Horse." It cannot be recalled that the "Trojan Horse" story had any application to circumstances surrounding his nomination but whether it had or not we were all too tired and sleepy to care and at the close of his speech, 4 A. M, adjournment was taken to 9.30 A. M.
The most bitter fight of the convention was over the nomination of congressman, the principal candidates being Frank Welch, Gen. J. C. Cowan, C. A. Holmes, Guy C. Barton of Lincoln County and Leander Gerrard of Platte County. A majority of the Buffalo County delegation supported Gerrard and on the third ballot attempted to change from Gerrard to Welch, but were ruled out. On the fourth ballot Welch was nominated. T. J. Majors of Nemaha County was nominated for "Contingent" Congressman.
It is believed that the intense interest manifested and the extreme bitterness of feeling often exhibited at this convention has not been equalled at any succeeding political convention held in the state. It was at this convention that the railroad interests obtained a grip, a control of, an influence and a power in the politics of the state which was not loosened or relaxed for any appreciable length of time, no matter what political party was in power, until the abolition of the free pass evil in 1907. This convention did not adjourn until Friday, it being in session four days and all of one night, the last act of the convention being to adopt a party platform.
There were no end of caucuses held by the politicians in the headquarters room at the Commercial Hotel, and in connection with the holding of one such caucus the writer first "met" Edward Rosewater, editor of the Omaha Bee. Mr. Rosewater was not a delegate to the convention but took an active interest in all its proceedings. Going to the headquarters of Judge Hemiup in the Commercial Hotel during an evening recess of the convention the incident of "meeting" Mr. Rosewater occurred. The stairway in the Commercial Hotel at that date was at the rear of the office with a broad landing midway to the second floor. When I reached this midway landing Mr. Rosewater was being pushed and kicked by a large and powerful man from the head of the stairway, landing in a heap on the midway landing. I assisted him to his feet and inquired if he was hurt or injured. He said no and passed on as though nothing serious had happened. The man who did the kicking claimed that Mr. Rosewater had been listening at a door of a room where a political caucus was being held.
At this convention acquaintances were made and friendships formed, some of which have continued to the present time; others only terminated when the friend "passed over the river." Some of these men have been prominent in the state (were prominent at that time) and their friendship has not only been greatly prized but has been useful and helpful in many ways not at all concerned with political affairs.
Nebraska was young as a state in 1876, and was being rapidly settled so that no one, be he a political leader or not, had then what might be called a state acquaintance, hence it was, the men who aspired to leadership in the state, and more especially in the republican party, exerted themselves to become acquainted with delegates from out in the state in attendance at this convention. Not only did these would-be leaders welcome an introduction to such delegates but some of them sought such introductions and exerted themselves to further the acquaint-
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
ance. There was no cold formality on their part, but the greetings were hearty and genuine. Thus it was that the writer was introduced to scores of delegates, the names of only a few of whom can be recalled and these only for the reason that friendships dating from that time were formed, the value of which can not be determined or estimated, nor the time and place forgotten. Of the Buffalo County delegation Rice Eaton was editor of the Central Nebraska Press; L. B. Cunningham, editor of the Kearney Junction Times; L. A. Groff, an attorney-at-law; A. L. Webb, a dealer in hardware; and the writer, then and still a farmer.
S. C. BASSETT.
POLITICAL PARTIES IN BUFFALO COUNTY
In the year 1871 there was created an organization of the republican party in the county and such an organization has continued to the present time (1915) and at each election the party has had a ticket in the field under the heading "Republican Party." From the beginning the republican party had a regular precinct (at first, township later) committee and a county central committee and county chairman located at the county seat. Until the primary law was passed in 1907 delegates were elected at precinct caucuses, who attended a delegate county convention at which republican candidates were nominated for election to office. The republican party was a regularly organized political force in politics. Just when the democratic party became an organized force in politics in the county can not be recalled. For many years the county was overwhelmingly republican.
It is recalled that in Gibbon Precinct in the early history of the county there was only one democratic vote cast, and as election day approached this voter would write Dr. George L. Miller, editor of the Herald, a democratic daily published at Omaha, and Doctor Miller would mail a national and state democratic ticket on which this lone voter would write the names of local candidates. Until the Australian ballot was adopted in 1807 each political party looked after the printing and distribution to voting precincts of its own party ballots. There were instances where members of the opposition party stole the tickets after they were printed and, as in those days there was no telephone or quick means of transportation, distant country voting precincts were without ballots on election day. And strange as it may seem to the reader in his day and generation, such tactics were deemed not dishonorable on the theory "all is fair in love and war."
From the beginning there were two tickets in the field at each election, one republican, the others usually styled "Independent." The independent party for several years was largely made up of dissatisfied and disgruntled members of the republican party, dissatisfied and disgruntled because their friends were not nominated for office, for in local (county) politics the struggle was for county office, there being no principle at stake, on which the people were divided, as regards county government or county affairs.
The records seem to disclose that until the year 1891 the republican party regularly elected its candidate for county treasurer and it appears that of twelve men who have served as county treasurer since 1871, nine were republican, Lyman Carey being elected on the independent ticket in 1891. Of fourteen men elected as county commissioners from 1871 to 1883 (when township organ-
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
ization was adopted), with one exception, Patrick Walsh, all were nominated and elected on the republican ticket. Beginning with the year 1872, it appears that thirty-one men have served from Buffalo County as representatives in the State Legislature, and of this number it appears that twenty were nominated and elected as republicans, eleven as peoples independent or democratic.
The first to be elected on the independent ticket was Simon C. Ayer, who having been elected as a republican and served two terms as county clerk, ran as an independent candidate for the Legislature and defeated the regularly nominated candidate on the republican ticket, F. G. Hamer. This was in the year 1880.
It appears that sixteen state senators have served from the senatorial district comprising Buffalo County since the year 1872, and of this number ten were nominated and elected as republican, six as anti-monopoly, people's, independent or democratic. In the year 1888 Gen. A. H. Connor, who as a republican had been elected state senator in the year 1882, ran a an independent candidate on the independent ticket, as it might be termed, and was elected.
It appears that in the judicial district of which Buffalo County has formed a part since the beginning, there have been twelve district judges, of whom seven were elected as republican and five populist or democrat, the first of the latter to be elected being Silas A. Holcomb in the year 1801. At an early date in the history of Buffalo County both the Union Pacific and Burlington railroads took an active part in local as well as state politics. At the county seat town each company retained an attorney a part of whose duties was to take an active interest in local politics, this attorney often serving as the county chairman of a political party. On the recommendation of this attorney free transportation was given parties, in the county, of what is termed standing and influence, especially those of influence in matters political, and at times this attorney was supplied with such passes duly signed officially, all needed being to write the individual's name. It is recalled that in 1876 N. H. Hemiup of Kearney was a candidate for attorney general at the republican state convention, held at Lincoln, and to the delegates from Buffalo County as well as to Judge Hemiup and such friends (helpers) as he desired free transportation was issued by the Burlington. This is not mentioned as an isolated case, but rather to illustrate that the free pass system, and the interference of railroad corporations in Buffalo County affairs--politics--began at an early date in the history of the county and continued until the abolition of the free pass evil in 1907.
It is recalled that at an early day a republican rally was held at Shelton, and the county chairman, who was also pass distributer in the county for the Union Pacific, took a delegation of republicans from the county seat town to Shelton to attend the rally, and, as the saying is, "enthuse the boys." When the rally was over, hotel accommodations at Shelton not being ample, the county chairman and his party boarded an east-bound passenger train, rode to Grand Island, there took the west-bound passenger to Kearney, the passenger cars of the Union Pacific serving as a warm and comfortable lobby in which to lounge for a few hours, all free--to those of influence in affairs political.
For years in the history of the county rebates were granted by the railroads
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
to large shippers of grain and live stock as compared with the individual who shipped only an occasional car of each.
This rebate was of such advantage that grain elevators, for instance, had a virtual monopoly of the buying and shipping of grain and were enabled to take undue profits in the business.
Business men of influence, to whom free transportation was issued, had a distinct advantage over competitors not thus favored.
For instance, a man engaged in the milling business and selling his product over the state and having free transportation with which to seek customers, had a great advantage over a competitor not thus favored.
The railroad corporations made no discrimination as between political parties in the distribution of free transportation. It mattered not to the corporation whether the officer elected to office or the citizen of the county active and influential in political affairs was a member of the republican, democratic, populist, farmers' alliance or independent party.
A representative or senator-elect of the Legislature received in his mail a free pass over the railroads of the state good for a year. A judge in our District Court was tendered free transportation over lines of railroad in the state. The county sheriff, county treasurer, all state officers, officers of the State Board of Agriculture, of the State Horticultural Society, speakers at farmers' institutes, and with scarce an exception such free transportation was accepted and made use of.
In the year 1884 Joseph Scott, who had served as clerk and treasurer of Buffalo County, was a candidate for state commissioner of public lands and buildings at the republican state convention held at Omaha.
The delegates to the convention from Buffalo County, some fifteen in number, Mr. Scott and the Midway Band of Kearney were accorded free transportation by the railroads to attend the convention.
And as an illustration pertaining to methods and customs in politics in those days, as showing how political conventions were run, nominations made, Mr. Scott related that officials of the republican state committee informed him he could have the nomination as state land commissioner on condition that he would contribute $500 to the campaign fund of the committee. Mr. Scott agreed, and as soon as nominated he gave the treasurer of the state committee his personal check for that amount.
Under the caucus and convention plan of making nominations of candidates, the Republican County Central Committee of Buffalo County expended from five hundred to fifteen hundred dollars in a campaign to elect the nominees of the party. This money was contributed not only by candidates for office, but by active and enthusiastic members of the party who took great pleasure and delight in the success of the party.
This money was expended in what was recognized to be a legitimate manner, expenses of campaign speakers, holding of campaign rallies, rent of halls, advertising in newspapers, means and methods to enthuse the voters and the hiring of teams on electron day to haul voters to the polls. Like expenditures were made by the opposition or independent or democratic party, but as a rule in much less amounts.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
The interference of corporations in the political affairs of the people, as the years came and went, became a great and growing evil, and in Buffalo County, as in other counties of the state, there grew up a party pledged to oppose such abuse of power and influence.
At the first the party was known as the anti-monopoly or populist party. In a county history it is not possible to go into the merits of the controversy which involved other questions, such as the free coinage of silver on the ratio of sixteen ounces of silver to one of gold as a basis of money value; the question of the general Government loaning money on grain warehouse certificates. This party was largely made up of farmers, but the democratic party, being a minority party, fused with the populist party in the election of county officers and it might be added, state officers as well. In Buffalo County the leaders of the anti-monopoly party movement were (as recalled from memory) J. E. Miller, C. A. Borders (familiarly known as "The Tall Cottonwood of the Divide"), Emory Wyman, A. Steadwell, David Nichols, George N. Smith, A. J. Scott, W. L. Hand, Phelix Hayes, John A. Hogg, Dea Wenzell, Fred A. Nye, John Stebbins, F. Gaylord, L. L. Hile, Lyman Carey, A. H. Boltin and W. L. Green, and the movement gained such headway as to result in the election of H. H. Seely county clerk in 1891, John Nutter sheriff, Lyman Carey treasurer, and in 1892 George N. Smith state senator and John Stebbins and David Nichols representatives in the Legislature.
The power and influence of the anti-monopoly, farmers' alliance, populist party in the county was not of long duration, but later much of the strength of these parties fought their political battles in the county under the leadership of the democratic party, giving to that party strength and prestige.
In the history of partisan political parties in Buffalo County, in a general way, it can be said that in all the years the republican party has been the dominant party, maintaining year by year a county organization; that the democratic party, while in the minority, has at all times had the courage of its convictions, maintained a county organization, striven to elect of its members to county and state offices, ever willing to fuse with other organizations in the effort to defeat, for office, the nominees of its traditional enemy in politics, the republican party.
The records seem to disclose that since the year 1871 there have been elected to office in Buffalo County, of members of the State Legislature, board of county commissioners (not of the board of county supervisors) and of county officers, approximately one hundred and sixty-eight officers. Of this number the records seem to disclose that 70 per cent were elected as republicans on a republican ticket. Of the remaining 30 per cent (which might be classed as nominated and elected on an independent ticket) the records seem to disclose that approximately eight per cent were nominated and elected as democrats on a county democratic ticket.
The following is a copy of a letter written in the year 1899 by Hon. J. E. Miller, a state senator representing Buffalo County. It is of great value as a matter of political history both in Buffalo County and the State of Nebraska. The suggestion as to the abolition of the free pass evil thus made in 1899 became the law of the land in Nebraska in the year 1907:
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"Senate Chamber, Lincoln, Neb., January 28, 1800. "Mr. Geo. F. Bidwell,
"General Manager F., E. & M. V. R. R.,
"Omaha, Neb: .
"Dear Sir--Enclosed please find complimentary ticket which has been presented to me by a representative of your road and which I herewith return unsigned and unused, and I would most respectfully request that you make a record to such effect on your books.
"While I take this action I do not wish to infer that I am ungrateful for this distinguished favor. In explanation of my action I have to say, first, there is a constitutional provision for defraying the traveling expenses of the members of the Legislature equal to the cost of three trips to the capital.
"I am led to believe that the quite general custom, prevalent for many years, of public servants accepting free passes on the railroads, has not to any appreciable extent saved to the state the cost of transportation. On the other hand, it has no doubt been a source of revenue to the members of the Legislature not contemplated in the constitution.
"Second--It has been affirmed, and generally believed, that the acceptance of free passes by public officers and legislators is intended to have, and does have, a soothing influence on those who make or enforce the laws regulating freight and passenger rates in the state.
"Whether public opinion is right or wrong, I shall not attempt to say. But you will readily see that the practice leads to a great public scandal, involving the managers of our great railways as well as the government of our fair state.
"It is further alleged that a great host, commonly called 'visiting statesmen,' importune the railroads for free transportation that they may congregate at the capital, where, 'tis said, they confuse the minds of the legislators, and cause them to do things they should not do, and leave undone the things they should have done. The custom of honoring public officials and prominent men with complimentary tickets, while probably small in the beginning, has grown to such proportions that I verily believe the railway managers would welcome a law that would relieve them of that which is surely a great source of loss to them, and which would compel each individual to bear his just share of the operating expenses of these public highways.
"I would not prevent you from making reduced rates to excursionists (other than visiting statesmen), or from transporting free the employes of the roads, or those in destitute circumstances.
"I would respectfully suggest that you petition the Legislature, now in session, to enact such a law with suitable penalties attached.
"Should this suggestion meet with your approval, I am at your service, and shall be glad to be honored as your spokesman in presenting the same to the Senate, of which body I have the honor to be a member.
"Very respectfully yours,
(Signed) "J. E. MILLER."
THE ANTI-MONOPOLY MOVEMENT IN NEBRASKA AND IN BUFFALO COUNTY.
Hon. James E. Miller
In order to properly understand the conditions that gave rise to this movement it can best be described as a protest against railroad domination. . It began in the early '70s and soon swept over this and other western states.
In order to induce ralroad [sic] building through a sparsely settled country, the United States Government donated to the Union Pacific and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad companies each alternate section of land for twenty miles on each side of their right of way. At that time Nebraska had few settlers, and these were mostly near the Missouri River.
When these roads were pushed west, settlers took homesteads and timber claims on the remaining sections. A junction of the roads on the north side of the Platte, a few miles west of old Fort Kearney, was effected, at the present site of the City of Kearney. This caused a rush of settlers to Buffalo County in the early '70s. They were generally people of limited means. Very few eastern men with good homes could be induced to sell out and invest in the great American desert. Those of us who still remain can compare our present prosperous condition with that of the earlier years of drouth, grasshoppers, hail and chinch bugs and gold bugs, and can tell our children and grandchildren some great tales of those early days.
At this date there were no laws regulating freight and passenger rates, and the roads were determined that there should not be so long as they could prevent it. In order to accomplish their purpose it behooved them to take charge of the political machinery of the state, which was done after the fashion which worked so well with the United States Congress in the Credit-Mobilier scandal. They dictated who should fill the state offices, the court judges, members of the Legislature, and especially who should represent us (them) in the United States Congress. To accomplish this required concessions to a number of easy-going politicians who would be useful in controlling the nominating conventions of the dominant party. These "concessions" were granted according to the ability of the men to use them. The most common was the free annual pass on all roads in the state. This made it an easy matter for them to attend conventions. The elevator companies had to be protected from the competition of private shippers. If any shipper should complain as to the rates, he could be easily put out of business. The elevators were permitted to trade unsight and unseen for a private shipper's grain in course of transit and substitute a lower grade and quality, and generally of less weight.
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The writer shipped the first car of wheat from Poole. It was of his own raising. It was very good wheat, clean and dry. When it reached Chicago it was in another car, had been exchanged, probably at Omaha. It was smutty, damp and dirty. Sold as rejected. This was no isolated case, as I found by inquiry of other private shippers, who said that any car of good grain that they shipped was sure to be exchanged and often fell short in weight.
The farmers were familiar with these conditions, and vigorous protests were made to the Legislatures, and laws to prevent discrimination and for lower freight rates were demanded. These protests brought relief only in platform promises. Legislators, with annual passes in their pockets, had very dull teeth. It was soon discovered that protests and demands had but little effect; that it would be necessary to take political action.
The earliest concerted action that I can discover was a secret gathering of alliance delegates from this and surrounding counties at Kearney to consider what action to take. The Knights of Labor were called in. A rather stormy session was held, one part favoring the securing of control of the dominant party (then republican), pointing to the fact that the grangers of Iowa, led by Governor Larrabee, had succeeded in passing drastic laws and overthrowing railroad domination. The other faction said that that could not be done in this state, and they won out by a small majority. All of the alliances in the state were notified of this action, and all but one endorsed the plan and organization was pushed all over the state. The movement was called, in derision, "moonshiners." It soon took the name of anti-monopolist, and was afterwards officially named "The People's Independent Party." As indicated above, it was a fight to loosen the grip the railroads had on the business and politics of the state; to lower freight and passenger rates and secure better service. In order to build up a strong party, conventions were held and tickets nominated. Literature was distributed. A general campaign was started. Public meetings were held and good speakers secured. The farmers flocked to the schoolhouses and groves to hear what the party proposed to do. All realized that conditions were very bad, yet many were attached to their party ties, and had all confidence that these wrongs could and would be righted by their party. The first campaign was a defeat. But, like the suffragists, they were not discouraged and kept up the agitation, and finally became a power to be reckoned with. However, the enemy was strongly entrenched. Free passes were distributed to the legislators, state officers and in some cases even to the district judges. It was a notorious fact that when a United States senator was to be elected, a large company of trained lobbyists were quartered at the capital to work for the railroad candidate. What was accomplished? Very much locally, in the state and in the nation. We secured control in the county, senatorial district, elected the district judge, and by 1907 swept the state, electing the state officers. Had a majority in both branches of the Legislature. We also elected the Congressman from this (Sixth) district five times in succession. Also elected William V. Allen to the United States Senate. At one time there were six members of Congress from this and other states. We were responsible for the reduction in freight and passenger rates. Passed laws preventing discriminations, and cut off pass bribes.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
It required years to accomplish this. It has added to the good name of the state. Increased its prosperity. The two railroads are not in the hands of receivers. They, too, are prosperous. Perhaps they found it good policy to deal fairly with their patrons. We are now friends, and are proud that we have two of the finest and best equipped railroads on the continent.
Nationally, we led the fight against the giant monopolies controlling the large industries of the country. We forced both old parties to gradually adopt our principles and almost duplicate our most radical platforms. We accomplished the reforms that we desired. We are proud of our record. We have now virtually dissolved. Like the once despised abolition party, which was responsible for the overthrow of slavery, our work of agitation brought results.