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History of Clay County

The following is taken from the Andreas History of Nebraska

Early Settlement
County Seat Contests
Official Roster
County Buildings
County Associations
Storms and other Calamities
Statistics of Progress

The history of Clay County does not date far back into the past. Only a few years have elapsed since the Territory it now comprises was an undivided portion of the "Great American Desert," uninhabited by civilized man, and, indeed, regarded as incapable of sustaining settlement at all. The bison, the wolf and the antelope alone were the monarchs, whose possessions were invaded only by occasional visitations from some roving bands of Indians.

To fix the date of advent of the first white man in this country is impossible, but it is generally regarded as most probable that one of the expeditions of "The Path-Finder" (J. C. Fremont) passed through this section in 1840, and this was the first time the soil was pressed by the foot of white civilized man.

A freight and stage route was established in 1849, leading from Atchison, Kan., to the Pacific Coast, by way of Fort Kearney, and passed through this county. It was on this route, and more as a station than as a permanent establishment, that the first permanent settlement was made by James Bainter, in 1864, who built a ranch on the opposite side of the river from where the village of Spring Ranch now stands. It was also a relay station for the celebrated "Pony Express." This institution, which did such excellent service as a carrier of news before the advent of the railroad and telegraph, deserves more than a passing notice as a matter of historical interest.

The design of it was to afford a speedy mode of transporting letters and dispatches and it was admirably managed Letters were frequently carried from Atchison to Sacramento, a distance of 2,000 miles, in eight days, and, on one occasion, dispatches were sent from St. Joseph, Mo., to Denver, Colo., 625 miles, in fifty-nine hours, the last ten miles being made in thirty minutes.

The means employed were ponies and riders, the animal being kept on a full run between stations, which were twenty-five miles apart, and, upon one messenger reaching a station, whatever the time of day or night, or the condition of the weather, another, ready mounted and waiting, took the little mail-sack, and, plying whip and spurs to his steed, dashed off wildly for the next post.


The first white settler upon the territory now known as Clay County was John B. Weston, since Auditor of the State of Nebraska, who settled some time in 1857 and built a log house at Pawnee Ranch, on Section 16, Town 5, Range 8, on the Little Blue River, in Spring Ranch Precinct.

In the early summer of 1870, Peter O. Norman and his brother, natives of Sweden, settled and built a dug-out on the creek, and were the first white settlers in School Creek Precinct. In October, 1870, John Kennedy came from Ohio and settled and built his dug-out on Section 2, Town 8, Range 5, in the north part of the precinct. January 27, 1871, Albert K. Marsh settled and built a log house on the creek below the Normans. His wife was the first white woman in the precinct. A. A. Corey settled on the creek near the Fillmore County line, early in 1871, and built a log house, At that time the creek was heavily timbered. In the same spring, J. Steinmetz and the Ballzer boys settled on the prairie on Section 34. F. F. Brown, Charles W. Brown, George Brown and R. G. Brown came April 10 and took up a section of land, excepting one eighty, and are among the early settlers in School Creek. W. Cunning and wife settled on the northeast quarter of Section 34, May 4, 1871, spending four weeks under a wagon bed before building his dug-out. Mrs. Cunning was one of the earliest white married women who came into the town. R. L. Garr and family settled the same year. W. F. Bemis settled in September, 1871. The Normans built a frame house in 1871 out of elm boards, which they sawed out with an old-fashioned whip saw.

The Conants, William and his brother T. Van Tress, came in and settled May 1, 1871, and were the first settlers in Lincoln Precinct. They built sod houses. W. T. McNight came in and settled, August 14, 1871.

May 10, 1875, D. A. Smith shot and killed Orin Conant. The dispute arose about a claim. Smith was afterward indicted for manslaughter, but, on a final trial, was discharged.

Glenville Precinct was first settled by Daniel Fitch, a frontier trapper, in 1871. Later, by J. W. Small and Leroy S. Winters. The St. Joe & Denver Railroad passes northwest through this precinct.

W. H. Chadwick and J. D. Moore came together and located on Section 12, Town 7, Range 7, May, 1871. L. J. Starbuck and B. F. Hocket came and settled on Section 2 at the same time. These were the first settlers in Lynn Precinct. They all built sod houses, Hocket building his first. M. L. Latham and C. D. Moore came soon after. Mr. Latham was the first Commissioner from the Harvard Precinct. At that time there were plenty of antelope on the prairie.

A. D. Peterson, a native of Sweden, settled in Lewis Precinct in the spring of 1870. Louis Peterson and Jonas Johnson, of the same nationality, came in soon after. John S. Lewis, of Virginia, after whom this precinct was named, settled April 20, 1872.

The first election in the precinct was for member of Constitutional Convention, in May, 1875; all the precincts in the county at this time adopted name, it being the first election held after the county was divided into sixteen precincts. Lewis then polled thirty-nine and now polls sixty votes. I. C. Christianson, a Dane, was the first of that nationality in the precinct; this was November 1, 1873; the Danes now number about sixteen in the county.

Luther French, native of Ohio, settled permanently on the north one-half of the northwest quarter of Section 2, Town 7, Range 5, in 1870, and was the first white settler in Sutton Precinct. Soon after, he built a dug-out, logging it up on the inside, covering the roof with bark and shingling it with dirt. His first neighborly call was soon after the house was finished, by Capt. Charley White, of Indian fame, and Miss Nellie Henderson, who came on horseback eight miles from the West Blue and chased down and caught an antelope on the way. Mr. French was the first Postmaster in Sutton and the second in the county. He laid his homestead out as the town of Sutton, August 10, and sold it November 1, 1871, to I. N. and M. Clark, who came from Illinois and Ohio respectively. H. W. Gray and son, with G. W. Bemis, came from Iowa May 4, 1871, and settled on Section 2.

That same spring, William and Henry Smith, the Brownells and Hollingworths, and J. S. Schermerhorn, James Vroman and the Angbergs came, soon after Mr. French.

May 10, 1871, Henry Evans and wife came in and settled. Mrs. Evans was the first married woman in the precinct. J. R. Maltby came in the summer of 1871. On June 8, 1864, however, James Bainter had settled and built at Spring Ranch, and thus was the first permanent settler in the county. He took the first homestead in the county, in 1864, on Section 8, Town 5, Range 8, and ran the ranch on the overland stage route.

Mr. Bainter had a store and about $5,000 worth of goods, besides live stock, produce, etc.

A Pawnee Indian first brought him the news that the Sioux were coming and had attacked the other ranch above. He sent his family to Pawnee Ranch, about a mile east, then kept by the Ropers, and, mounting a fast horse, rode up to the river to meet them. He found them about nine miles up the river; after shooting at them at long range, he turned and ran his horse back, loosed his stock and went to Pawnee ranch. He soon saw the smoke of his store, house and stable and other improvements. Shortly afterward, Pawnee ranch was attacked by from 150 to 200 Sioux. There were with him in the ranch (a sod building with palisades around it) three other men, besides several women and children. They fought for three days, keeping the Indians at bay, and were materially assisted by Mrs. Bainter and the other women, who showed great bravery in assisting to watch the enemy and in loading guns for the men as fast as they were discharged. At last, Mr. Bainter succeeded in killing the Sioux chief, when they withdrew from that immediate vicinity. A large number of Pawnee Indians came up soon after, who were friendly, especially toward Bainter, and, with their assistance, the Sioux were driven off for that time.

The Sioux soon after attacked all the ranches along the Little Blue and Bainter and all the settlers were driven out; a large number of settlers and nearly all the stage-drivers were killed; also one wagon train of nearly sixty persons were slaughtered.

James Urquhart, Nicholas Nagle, Thomas Reed, Swingle and Schwab were among the early settlers.

      Leicester Precinct is situated in the northwest corner of the county and is watered by branches of the West Blue River. Among the first settlers were William Woolman, A. Woolman, Joseph Rowe and Stephen Brown, who came in the winter of 1871.

Miss Truelove Tibbles, an adopted daughter of Rev. William Woolman, was drowned accidentally in April, 1876, while attempting to cross one of the creeks in this precinct. The Coroner's inquest in this case was the third one in the county and the first one under Dr. Clark, then Coroner.

G. W. Briggs and George McIntire were among the first settlers in Scott Precinct. It is situated on the west boundary of the county directly south of Leicester. The Burlington & Missouri Railroad passes through the northern portion and the St. Joe & Denver Railroad cuts across a very small part of the southwest corner of the precinct.

Lone Tree Precinct is east of Scott and was first settled by John P. Scott in 1871, who was for some time the only settler between Spring ranch and School Creek. He settled near the "Lone Tree," from which the precinct received its name. He was Postmaster of White Elm Post Office in this precinct until the winter of 1872-73, when the office was moved to Fairfield. Charles Osborn was among the first settlers. The St. Joe & Denver Railroad crosses a considerable portion of the southwest part of this precinct.

Glenville Precinct was first settled by Daniel Fitch, a frontier trapper, in 1871. Later, by J. W. Small and Leroy Winters. The St. Joe & Denver Railroad passes northwest through this precinct. The town of Glenville is located in this precinct.

The settlement of Fairfield Precinct commenced at Liberty Farm ranch, at the mouth of Liberty Creek on the Little Blue. The first settler in the precinct was at the ranch and was agent of Wells, Fargo & Co.'s Pony Express. It was a post on their route from Atchison, Kan., across the continent to Pike's Peak and San Francisco, Cal. These posts were also the depots of the United States Overland Mail Service. So troublesome were the warlike Sioux in these days that the Pony Express riders were, when carrying on the business of the company, usually chased by them from one post to another; their custom was to ride always at full gallop through this part of the country, then considered a dangerous part of the route. The Indians repeatedly broke up the route and at times it was entirely abandoned to them. Some time in 1858, James H. Lemon kept the ranch and was succeeded by Benjamin Royce, who, with his brother John, natives of Ogle County, Ill., settled in the latter part of 1867. Ben was at that time a State militia man, in the United States service, and stationed at the military post at Kiowa, on the Blue, in Thayer County. He was in numerous battles between the Sioux and the settlers.

Soon after he took his claim, the Indians broke up the entire settlement along the Blue, stealing stock, burning the ranches and driving the settlers down the river to Kiowa.

In the fall of 1868 and spring of 1869, the Indians were driven back, and practically gave up their hold on the country, and from this time forward settlements took place with astonishing rapidity.

T. A. Shaw, John R. Lawhead, Cyrus Griffith, John R. Thompson and Reuben Peachy were among the early settlers. Mr. Peachy built and stocked a store some time in 1870. He was the first Postmaster appointed in this county after the re-establishment of the mail routes. The mail was brought from Hebron via Kiowa, Liberty Farm and Spring ranch, to the stockade at Red Cloud, on the Republican River.

Early in 1870, Richard Bayly, a worker in metals and one of the Commissioners of Clay County, settled on his farm at the mouth of Buffalo Creek and operated a blacksmith shop. H. J. Higgins settled soon after. Up to this time the settlements had been confined to the river and its tributaries, but, in the fall of 1871, the table-lands on either side of the Little Blue began to be occupied.

Alfred Mills built a water saw-mill on the river near the old Liberty Farm ranch in the year 1871. In 1872, a small run of stone was put in to grind feed. Among the early settlers coming in 1872 are A. S. Willis and his son-in-law, W. H. Frey, both Justices of the Peace.

W. A. Way came from Crete, and, after contesting the title right of James C. Vroman, who came the year before, extinguishing the title to the two eighties lying directly south of the original town, they laid it out in 1872 as the first addition to the town of Sutton.

Situated on three eighties at the northwest part of Section 2 is the town of Sutton, the county seat, the largest town in the county.

The Chandlers, J. Longstreth, A. S. Twitchel, Charles Moon, John D. McMillan and D. L. Herrick were among the early settlers.

In February, 1872, John Yates made the first settlement in Sheridan Precinct and built a frame house. He was followed by Dennis Layhane, Richard Hillard, R. M. Mariner, a carpenter, and Patrick Nagle, a railroad man, and T. R. Elder. All these men were on their claims six weeks after Yates' settlement. A school district was organized in September, 1872, a house was erected in December, 1872. Joseph Tout, afterward American Express agent at Sutton, taught the first school, with sixteen scholars.

In February, 1873, a Methodist Episcopal Church was organized, Rev. Mr. Penny, pastor, with a membership of fifteen. A Union Sunday school was organized in June, 1873, with twenty-five scholars. The Superintendents have served in the following order: J. M. Ramsey, S. B. Montgomery, Daniel Michael and John Yates. The first birth was Johnnie Nagle, son of Mr. and Mrs. P. Nagle. Mrs. Nagle was the first woman in the precinct. The first death was an infant child of Daniel Michael.

From 1862 to 1869, there were no settlements along the Little Blue above Meridian, in Jefferson County, and no whites except a few adventurous hunters at Liberty Farm.

A portable circular steam saw-mill was brought into the county by J. Stover & Co. in the fall of 1871, and was the first mill in the county and remained till the fall of 1872. It was operated near the old Spring ranch, after which this precinct was named.

Peck & Meston, of Harvard, submitted a proposition to build a grist-mill at Spring ranch in consideration of $7,000 precinct bonds, to be voted under the Internal Improvement Act of the State Legislature. It was submitted to the people August 3, 1873, and carried. Afterward, the bonds were adjudged by the United States Courts to be illegal, a mill not being within the meaning of the act under which they were voted and issued. The mill was built, 28x40 feet, three stories high and with three run of stones, and commenced operations in August, 1874. It is situated on the Little Blue River, on the northwest quarter of Section 17, Town 5, Range 8 west. June 1, 1876, it passed into the hands of Alex Meston, one of the partners, and is being successfully operated by him.

      Albert Curtis was the first settler in Logan Precinct, and came on March 7, 1871. Following him came John Yandle, Riley Thurber, May, 1871, Wright Stacy, E. M. Isham, Nathan Tucker, A. Christison, the Pascall brothers, Fletcher Page. So rapidly did this precinct settle up that all these men had settled, built and commenced cultivating the land before June 1 the same year. J. B. Dinsmore, afterward County Clerk, settled in this precinct May 28, 1872. In July, came Ashley and Woodhead. M. J. Hull settled here November 1, 1871.

August 3, 1872, the first school district in the precinct was organized as District No. 21, with J. B. Dinsmore, Director; A. S. Harding, Moderator, and A. N. Walworth, Treasurer. The first schoolhouse was partly dug-out and partly sod, built by a "bee," everybody turning out to help. It was heated by a miserable old sheet-iron stove. The first teacher there was Josephine Reed, at $25 per month. District No. 24 was organized ten days thereafter; the first schoolhouse was built in this district. The Big Sandy Grange was organized in this precinct in the spring of 1873, Jonathan Sanderson, Secretary.

In July, 1872, Flavius Northrup came from Buffalo County, Wis., and settled in Marshall, and was the first settler in Marshall Precinct. He brought with him about seventy-five sheep, the first brought into the county for permanent rearage. When he first came, the wolves troubled the flock considerably, and, in the great snow storm of the following spring, many of them perished; but the flock afterward increased, and sheep-raising here is counted a success.

In September, 1872, W. S. Randall and his brothers, Addison and Warner, came in from Washington County, Iowa, and settled upon Sections 28 and 30, and have since erected comfortable frame houses.

W. S. Randall was a candidate for member of the Constitutional Convention of this State from Clay County, in April, 1875. He was put in nomination by a number of citizens, without reference to party, and was barely defeated by Dr. M. W. Wilcox.

William Tolle and J. Prawl came in from Missouri and settled October, 1872. This was in one of the center precincts in the county, now called Marshall with a post office at Marshall Center. Davis Post Office is also situated in Marshall Precinct.

In November, 1871, J. K. Sanborn made the first settlement in Edgar Precinct, and built a log house. A. F. and Jacob Ritterbush came in the spring of 1872, and settled on lands adjoining the town site of Edgar. Mr. Carr came in soon after. Henry Gipe pre-empted the land on which Edgar now stands. The first store in what is now Edgar was started by Ritterbush & Graham in a log house. S. T. Caldwell started the second store and Ritterbush & Mills the third. The first post office in that part of the county was established at Edgar. A. F. Ritterbush was the first Postmaster, W. A. Gunn the second and W. J. Waite the third Postmaster. Situated in this precinct, on the St. Joe & Denver City Railroad, is the flourishing town of Edgar, with a weekly newspaper; it is the third town in size in the county.

David D. Jones and family, from Columbus, Ohio, settled here June 7, 1872.


The first celebration in the county since its organization was at Sutton, July 4, 1872, H. W. Gray, President of the Day; Rev. A. Burlingame, Chaplain; A. C. Burlingame, Reader of the Declaration; R. G. Brown delivered the oration, followed by Hon. W. H. H. Flick, of the House of Delegates of West Virginia. It will be long remembered as one of the best we ever had.

At the celebration July 4, 1873, it being a union celebration between Harvard and Sutton, E. J. Moger, of Harvard, was President of the Day; Rev. A. Burlingame, Chaplain; Miss Anna Foster, Reader of the Declaration; Attorney General Roberts, Orator; T. Weed, Marshal.

      At the celebration July 4, 1874, Dr. W. M. Wilcox was President of the Day; Rev. A. Burlingame, Chaplain; T. Weed, Reader of the Declaration; Hon. John I. Redick, of Omaha, Orator; George Stewart, Marshal.

July 4, 1875, H. W. Gray was President of the Day; T. Weed, Chaplain; Mrs. I. N. Clark, Reader of the Declaration; the orators were R. G. Brown, J. E. Bagley, G. W. Bemis and George Nuse, the latter in German; James Sheppard, Marshal.

The Centennial celebration, July 4, held at Sutton, had for its officers; C. M. Turner, President of the Day; Rev. C. L. Smith, Chaplain; Dr. W. M. Sammis, Reader of the Declaration; Dr. M. W. Wilcox, Orator, followed by George Nuse in German, and N. Anderson in Swede; Dr. Martin V. B. Clark, compiler and reader of the history of Clay County.

Sixteen years previous to the 4th of July, 1881, before the county was organized, part of the Second and Sixth Michigan Cavalry camped between Spring and Pawnee ranches, in this county, on their return from Salt Lake. Our townsman, F. M. Davis, County Treasurer, was in the Second Cavalry and took part in the celebration. They had speeches, etc., by "the boys," and two gallons of whisky with which to "cheer up, comrades, and be gay."


William H. James, Acting Governor of Nebraska, on a petition of citizen voters, issued a proclamation September 11, 1871, authorizing an election and designating the time and place of holding the same to elect a board of county officers, and locate the county seat. Accordingly, the first election in this county was held on the 14th day of October, 1871, at the house of Alexander Campbell, on Section 6, Town 7, Range 6, near the present water-tank on the Burlington & Missouri Railroad, east of Harvard. At that election, there were eighty-nine votes polled; fifty-six of these were cast for Sutton, making it the county seat. The Commissioners elected at that election were: A. K. Marsh, three years, P. O. Norman, two years; A. A. Corey, one year; John R. Maltby, Probate Judge; F. M. Brown, Clerk; J. Hollingsworth, Treasurer; P. T. Kearney, Sheriff; R. S. Fitzgerald, Surveyor; J. S. Schermerhorn, Superintendent of Public Instruction; J. Steinmetz, Coroner.

The first session of the Board of Commissioners was on November 4, 1871; at that meeting the county was divided into three equal parties and designated as Commissioner and voting precincts, and were named Harvard, Little Blue and School Creek.

The Commissioners precincts remain, but the voting precincts were increased to sixteen in the spring of 1875.

December 4, 1871, R. G. Brown was appointed Treasurer to fill the vacancy caused by the failure of Hollingsworth to qualify. At the December 4 session of the Commissioner Board, G. W. Bemis was appointed Assessor for School Creek, and resigned; J. C. Merrill was appointed to fill the vacancy; Charles Canfield for Harvard and John W. Langford for Little Blue Precincts.

The population in the fall of 1871, when the county was organized, is estimated on the basis of the vote then taken at 356. The census taken by the Assessors in the spring of 1876 was 4,797, and, in 1881, the population was about 12,000.


As is common in the establishment of new counties, much difficulty and controversy has attended the locating of the county seat of this county. With the first organization of the county, this was the "bone of contention" between competing sections. At that time the contest lay between Harvard and Sutton, the voting strength of the two places being almost equal.

An election for the removal of the county seat was held on August 14, 1875. The places voted for were Sutton, Harvard, Fairfield, and the center of the county. At this election nothing could be final, as the law in such cases required that when three or more places are voted for, the three receiving the highest-number of votes should be the places submitted to the vote of the people at another election, and the two receiving the greatest number of votes at this election should again be submitted to the people at a third election, and the one receiving three-fifths of all the votes cast should be the county seat.

Accordingly, Sutton, Harvard and Fairfield were the points submitted at an election held on September 20, 1875. On the count of the vote, that of Edgar Precinct, in favor of Fairfield, was thrown out for fraud. The vote was recanvassed October 5 by a board composed of J. B. Dinsmore, Cyrus Stayner and E. P. Burnett, and on a mandamus sued out by citizens of Harvard, the vote of Edgar Precinct was counted, the vote standing: Sutton, 497; Harvard, 391; Fairfield, 355. Another election was necessary to decide the matter between Sutton and Harvard, which was held on the 7th of November, 1876, and stood as follows: Sutton, 606 votes; Harvard, 802; neither place receiving three-fifths of all votes cast, no removal was effected. The attempt to remove the seat of government was not again made until January 9, 1879, at which time no change was effected. The law had been changed and now required that the place for which the highest number of votes was cast should be the county seat.

Another election was held February 20 of that year, and, upon the count of the vote by the election board, the vote of Harvard Precinct was thrown out on general principles of fraud, and because the returns were not good returns, not being certified and sworn to by the Judges of the Election, as is required by law, and for other informalities.

Harvard's enemies were jubilant over this result, and the County Commissioners made declaration that the county seat was at Clay Center, ordering the county officers to remove their offices, records, etc., to that place. In obedience to this order, all went, except E. P. Burnett, County Judge, who refused.

      On July 14, 1879, John M. Mills filed letters of impeachment before the Commissioners, against Judge Burnett, for his refusal to comply with the order made by that body. A summons was served upon Burnett to appear before the Commissioners and show cause for his non-removal. Burnett filed a long answer, setting forth his reasons for refusing. This, however, did not serve to satisfy the judgment of the Commissioners, and accordingly, on the 22nd of July, 1879, Judge Burnett was impeached from office. The office of County Judge was then declared vacant, and W. S. Prickett was appointed to fill the unexpired term. Soon after this action of the County Commissioners declaring the office of the County Judge vacant, a mandamus was issued by the Supreme Court compelling the County Clerk to remove his office and records back to Sutton. The Clerk obeyed his order, and the other county officers who had taken up their abode at Clay Center followed him and removed back to Sutton.

At the next meeting of the Board of County Commissioners held at Sutton about September 1, 1879, they passed a resolution expunging from their records the record of all proceedings against Judge E. P. Burnett; whereupon the Judge took possession of his office and records that had previously been ordered from him.

After the county seat had been declared to be at Clay Center, a party of men with teams and wagons proceeded to Sutton on a Sunday night, seized the county records, the Treasurer's safe, etc., loaded them into the wagons and took them to Clay Center, in the act of doing which one of the party lost a horse, having died from over exhaustion. Great rejoicing was indulged in over the result, by those friendly to the change, while the defeated Harvard party remained dejected and crestfallen. On the 31st of October, 1879, a celebration was held in Clay Center, a barbecue was prepared, speeches were made, songs were sung, bands of music played the march of victory and the day was spent in general jollification. From early morning, long processions poured in from all parts of the county, with flags, bands and banners bearing such mottoes as "Solid for Clay Center," "We Demand a Fair Count," "The Faithful Few," etc. The jubilation, however, was ill-timed, as was subsequently determined.

An investigation was made, the vote reviewed by a canvassing board and, under a mandamus from the Supreme Court, the vote of Harvard Precinct, which had been thrown out, was counted in, and the result showed that no change had been made in the location of the county seat. The Commissioners were then compelled to countermand their hasty actions and order the officers and records back to Sutton. An election was then held on November 7, 1879, at which time the change was effected by a comparatively legal vote, and resulted in favor of Clay Center by a majority of 100 votes, the vote being 1,967, for Clay Center and 1,867 for Harvard, and thus a just and final determination of the matter was made.

During all these campaigns, much spirited work had been done. Much personal abuse, calumny and vituperation was indulged in by both parties, in speeches, through the press and in numerous printed circulars of various kinds and character, and a feeling of bitterness and hatred was engendered both between individuals and sections, which will require a long time to obliterate. The Burlington & Missouri Railroad, always hating Sutton, took active part against that place in favor of Harvard, omitting nothing to detract from the advantages of the one and add to those of the other. Various negotiations were made by the road with the citizens of Sutton, by which they were to receive certain favors as a town, in consideration that they voted for Harvard for the county seat, but a failure on the part of the company to comply with the agreement, released the citizens from obligations under it. As an instance of the extent to which the railroad company went in this matter, they even took up the "editor's pass," held by F. M. Comstock and J. S. Le Hew, editors of the Clay County Globe, at Sutton, whose influence was given in favor of their own town and Clay Center and against Harvard.

With the last election, the location became permanently fixed, and, notwithstanding the feeling of enmity that yet remains with some, there are but few in the county who are not satisfied with the result, believing it to be just and equitable to all concerned.


Beginning with the organization of the county, the following persons have been elected as the officials of Clay County, with the date of service, the term of office being two years, excepting the office of Commissioner, which is three years, one being elected each year:

1871--Commissioners, A. K. Marsh, A. A. Corey, P. O. Norman; Treasurer, J. Hollingsworth; Clerk, F. M. Brown; Surveyor, R. S. Fitzgerald; Coroner, Jacob Steinmetz; Superintendent of Schools, J. Schemmerhorn; County Judge, J. R. Maltby; Sheriff, P. T. Kearney.

1872--During this year Surveyor Fitzgerald died; Hollingsworth failed to qualify, and R. G. Brown was appointed to fill his place. The Commissioner elected this year was J. B. Dinsmore, who failed to serve out his term, having resigned to accept the office of Sheriff the following year. A. Tracy was elected to fill the unexpired term of J. Hollingsworth.

1873--Commissioners, Ezra Brown, A. K. Marsh, R. Bayly; Treasurer, F. M. Davis; Clerk, F. M. Brown; Surveyor, J. F. Fleming; Coroner, M. V. B. Clark, M. D.; Superintendent of Schools, D. W. Garver; County Judge, E. P. Burnett; Sheriff, J. B. Dinsmore.

1874--Commissioner elected, C. M. Turner; Commissioners, Ezra Brown, C. M. Turner, R. Bayly; Treasurer, F. M. Davis; Clerk, J. B. Dinsmore; Surveyor, M. S. Edington; Coroner, M. V. B. Clark, M. D.; Superintendent of Schools, F. W. Broobank; County Judge, E. P. Burnett; Sheriff, O. P. Alexander.

1876--Commissioner, F. Northrop.

1877--Commissioners, F. Northrop, Ezra Brown, R. Bayly; Treasurer, W. S. Randall; Clerk, E. E. Howard; Surveyor, W. A. Gunn; Coroner, M. V. B. Clark, M. D.; Superintendent of Schools, I. D. Newell; County Judge, E. P. Burnett; Sheriff, A. J. McPeak.

1878--Commissioner elected, W., R. Hamilton.

1879--Commissioners, R. Bayly, F. Northrop, W. R. Hamilton; Treasurer, G. H. Van Duyne; Clerk, W. J. Keller; Surveyor, L. A. Varner; Coroner, J. G. Nuss; Superintendent of Schools, I. D. Newell; County Judge, E. P. Burnett; Sheriff, J. P. Nixon. The county having the necessary population, D. T. Phillips was elected Clerk of the District Court.

1880--Commissioner elected--C. Stayner.

1881--Commissioners, R. Bayley, W. R. Hamilton, C. Stayner; Treasurer, G. H. Van Duyne; Clerk, L. F. Fryar; Surveyor, L. A. Varner; Coroner, J. G. Nuss; Superintendent of Schools, I. D. Newell; County Judge, E. P. Burnett; Sheriff, J. P. Nixon.


Court House.--A court house, and the first in the county, was built at Sutton, that being at that time the county seat, in the winter of 1871-72. It was a two-story frame, the upper story being used as a court-room, and the offices were located in the lower story.

At the election held February 20, 1879, the question whether a three-mill tax should be levied for building a court house was put to the vote of the people, and was carried. During that year, it was declared by the Commissioners, upon the determined result of the election of February 20, that Clay Center was the county seat, and preparations were made immediately by those favoring that location to have it moved to that place. In May, W. D. Young built a large frame house, which he rented to the County Commissioners for a court house, to be used until another could be erected. Upon a subsequent investigation, it was found that Clay Center was not the county seat, and the officers were ordered back to Sutton, and thus Clay Center, as the county seat, with all the preparations that had been made, stood tenantless. As soon, however, as the location was fixed, all arrangements were made for the building of a court house, the evident intention of those favoring Clay Center as the county seat being to erect such costly buildings as to render any further removal impracticable, except with much outlay and expense to the tax-payers of the county, and thus to clinch the determination of the present site.

The contract to erect a court house was awarded to W. D. Young in February, 1880, the estimated cost being $11,000. Work began upon the building the 1st of May, and it was completed by November 1, costing, including furniture, "etc.," and fixtures, "etc.," $22,000, or double the estimated cost. It is a large two-story brick, sixty-four feet long by forty-seven feet wide, and upon the center of the roof rests a substantial dome. In the second story is the court room, 40x47 feet, adjoining which are the jury room, judge's and witnesses' rooms. On the first floor are the county offices, those being constructed with fire-proof vaults, for the security of the records, the Treasurer's office being also supplied with a burglar-proof safe. The building is of appropriate architecture and commands a fine appearance.

County Jail.--The first jail built for the incarceration of criminals in the county was in 1876, and was a small wooden structure. When the seat of government was supposed to be permanently fixed at Clay Center, steps were at once taken by the Commissioners to erect a court house and jail. The contract to build a jail was awarded to F. A. Pyle and W. D. Young on April 1, 1879, the main building to be 24x36 feet in linear dimensions and 12 feet high, to which should be a wing 24x26 feet in size and 14 feet high--the whole to cost, when completed, $2,250. Before work was commenced under the contract, a temporary injunction was sued out before Judge Weaver by citizens of the county, retraining work upon the building until a final determination of the vote upon the location of the county seat. Upon a recanvass of the vote, it was found that the county seat was still at Sutton, but at the election of November 7, 1879, it was changed to Clay Center. Work, therefore, began upon the jail building in January, 1880, and was completed during that spring, costing $2,200, being a wooden structure, the main part of which is twenty-four feet wide by thirty-eight feet long and one story high; on the rear of this is a wing twenty feet wide by forty feet in length, in which are the cells, which are lined with steel cages. It is a very neatly constructed building, being tastefully furnished, and has capacity for the "accommodation" of several "guests."

Poor House--The people of Clay County, out of their abundance, have always found charity for their poor and needy. For the comfort of those who are unable to care for themselves they have made suitable provision. In May, 1874, the County Commissioners bought a quarter section of railroad land, two miles east of Clay Center, for a poor farm. A house was built in February, 1880, and is a two-story frame, the main part being 24x26 feet, to which a two-story wing, measuring 20x26 feet, is appended. The farm, a fine body of land, is in a fair state of cultivation, and the institution is run under contract by A. C. Masterson, who receives a half share of all that is produced upon the farm and $3.50 per week for the support of each inmate, of whom there are now twelve.


The iron horse, which in the West heralds the advance of civilization, made its first appearance in Clay County in the autumn of 1871, when the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad in Nebraska was completed to Sutton, at which place a settlement was made in the summer of 1870. During the summer of 1872, the St. Joseph & Denver City Railroad (since changed to the St. Joseph & Western) was completed, and the young county was traversed by two well-equipped lines of railroad, affording facilities for transportation which the pioneers of other States did not enjoy for many years. Both of the roads, however, were constructed more for the purpose of obtaining large grants of land from the Government than as lucrative enterprises in themselves. The Burlington & Missouri River road runs across the northern portion of the county, nearly east and west, and the St. Joseph & Western enters the southeast corner and passes through the county in a northwesterly direction. By means of theses lines of railway, the people of the county are supplied with all desirable conveniences for travel and the transportation of products to the best markets both East and West.


The Clay County Agricultural Society was formed April 15, 1872, at the Court House in Sutton.

A. K. Marsh was chosen President, and J. M. Ramsey, Secretary.

Annual fairs were held, ever since its establishment, at Sutton, until 1881, when the exhibition took place at Clay Center, the county seat.

The fair grounds, embracing forty acres of land, are owned by a stock company composed of about fifty of the most wealthy citizens of the county, and the use of these grounds is extended to the society for making their exhibits. The grounds are supplied with a large floral hall, which is the only permanent building that has yet been constructed.

So far the society has not failed to make a creditable exhibition, even during the disastrous years of the grasshopper plague, and has always paid up the premium list in full, and at present has a balance in the treasury.

A meeting of the society was held March 4, 1882, in the court room at Clay Center, at which the following officers were chosen:

D. Leitch, President; J. E. Kenyon, First Vice President; E. Austin, Second Vice President; N. G. Perryman, Third Vice President; A. P. Randall, Vice President; C. Shetler, Vice President; A. J. McPeak, Secretary; G. H. Van Dryne, Treasurer; T. R. Elder, Superintendent; Jesse Eller, Marshal. Board of Directors: George Schwartz, of School Creek; J. A. Davis, of Lincoln; N. M. Huling, of Harvard; S. V. Phelps, of Leicester; A. M. Lathrop, of Inland; Thomas Wood, of Lynn; P. McMartin, of Lewis; Thomas Thorpe, Sr., of Sutton; E. D. Kessler, of Sheridan; C. Eller, of Marshall; D. Nettleton, of Spring Ranche; W. T. Newcomb, of Fairfield; H. C. Hart, of Edgar; Riley Thurber, of Logan; John C. Ward, Center, Director at Large.

Clay County Sunday School--On Thursday, February 11, 1872, a Union Sunday School was organized at the residence of T. Weed by the Rev. Mr. Jones, a Congregational minister, who was laboring in this county under the auspices of the A. M. H. M. Society.

T. Weed was chosen Superintendent, and Charles Moon, Assistant Superintendent; Dr. Martin Clark, Secretary, and John R. Maltby, Treasurer. The charter members were I. N. Clark, Dr. Martin Clark, J. R. Maltby, W. Cunning, and T. Weed and wife. The first session of school was held in a small frame building standing near where Mr. Wittenberg's store now stands. This same building is now owned and used by J. M. Gray & Co., as a lumber office. There were only seven persons present at this session of school. The school remained in this building until spring, when the Clark Bros. kindly donated their hall for its use. This building is now known as the Clark House.

It remained in Clark's Hall until a schoolhouse was built east of town, which was occupied until the court house was built, where it was held for about two years, and then removed to Grosshans' Hall, remaining there until the Congregational Church was built in 1876. While in Grosshans' Hall the M. E. friends withdrew, forming a school of their own. The first Sunday School concert was given in Clark's Hall. The subject was the stories of the Bible. Miss Letta Gray conducted the singing, and the Rev. D. B. Perry, now President of Doane College, came from Aurora, walking part of the way, to attend and take part in the concert. This first concert was quite a novelty in the new community. It was quite a success. The hall was filled, and an instructive and entertaining time was enjoyed.

The next concert was given in the schoolhouse. The subject was Bunyan's Pilgrim, Mr. Perry taking the part of pilgrim. Mrs. G. W. Bemis conducted the musical part, using a melodeon, borrowed for the occasion of Mrs. R. G. Merrill. This melodeon was the first musical instrument ever landed on the banks of School Creek, excepting the inevitable fiddle. This concert was more widely advertised than the first one, and drew an immense crowd, and was an event in the annals of the new town. People came from the Blue on the north, and from all the county around. The house held but a small part of the crowd. The night was warm, and people sat in wagons around the house; the program was carried out in full, and all went away well pleased. There have been twenty-eight teachers since the organization of the school, viz.: Mrs. T. Weed, Mrs. Corey, Mrs. Charles Moon, Mrs. George Cunning, Mrs. W. Cunning, Mrs. George Brownell, Mrs. A. S. Twitchell, Mrs. E. P. Burnett, Mrs. C. F. Graves, Mrs. A. Higginbotham, Mrs. J. B. Dinsmore, Mrs. Goodrich, Miss Phoebe Dewstowe, Mrs. Pruyn and Mrs. J. Rowley, Mr. I. N. Clark, J. R. Maltby, E. H. White, Father Burlingame, S. B. Montgomery, W. E. Thompson, S. M. Emerson, C. F. Graves, J. D. McMillian, A. G. Sherwood, A. S. Twitchell and E. P. Burnett.

There have been six deaths of members of the school, viz: Father Burlingame, Farris Brownell, Mrs. Farmer (nee' Dewstowe), Nellie Marsh, Mamie Clark and Lizzie Galletly.

There have been seven accessions to the church from the Sunday School, viz: Mina Marsh, Ella Twitchell, Jessie Galletly, Mary Galletly, Margaret Galletly, William Galletly, and Farris Brownell.

Soon after the organization of the school, a committee of three ladies were selected, viz: Mrs. Dr. Clark, Mrs. W. Cunning and Mrs. T. Weed, to solicit funds for a library. Mrs. Dr. Clark could not serve on account of domestic duties, and Mrs. I. N. Clark served in her place. They raised $43 in two hours' time. The largest amount given by any one was $5, and the smallest 50 cents. One saloon-keeper, Mr. Curran, gave $3, and Dennis Lynch, another saloon-keeper, gave 50 cents; Mr. Lynch said, "Yis, ladies, I don't belave yer docthrine, but I'll give ye 50 cints anyhow." When taking into consideration the small number of people here at that time (there were only about forty, all told), we think they gave liberally. The money was expended for books, which, together with fifty volumes donated by the A. M. H. M. Society, made a fine library. The school has distributed about 15,000 Sunday school papers in ten years, and has raised about $300 for expenses. We had the largest and most successful school while we were in Grosshans' Hall that we have ever had. There were a large number of boys in school at that time, who have since graduated. There was a hearty co-operation among parents and the teachers and officers; without this, no school can succeed.

In looking back over the last ten years, it seems that more might have been done, and yet some progress has been made. This was the first Sunday school organized between Crete and the Rocky Mountains that we have any record of.

Medical Society.--The Central Nebraska Medical Society was instituted June 24, 1876, at the village of Sutton. The society comprises the counties of Clay, Fillmore, York and Hamilton, and at its organization contained fifteen members, which have since been increased to twenty-five. The officers elected by the society at that time were: Dr. J. R. C. Davis, of Aurora, President; Dr. M. V. B. Clark, of Sutton, Secretary and Treasurer.

The object of the association is to regulate the practice of medicine within this territory, having adopted a fee bill, and also for mutual exchange of ideas on the theory and practice of medicine. None, except physicians of the regular school, are admitted to membership. The present officers of the society are: Dr. William Knapp, of York, President; and Dr. A. O. Kendall, of Sutton, Secretary and Treasurer.

Regular meetings are held quarterly at the towns of Sutton, Fairfield, York and Hamilton, respectively.

Old Settlers' Association.--On the 8th day of October, 1880, several of the old settlers of Clay County met in Sloat's Hall, in the village of Harvard, for the purpose of forming themselves into an association. A society was formed under the name of "The Pioneer Settlers' Association of Clay County," and a constitution and by-laws were adopted, and the fee for admission of members fixed at 25 cents.

The objects of the society were for the taking of steps to commit to record for preservation the early incidents of the settlement of the county, and to perpetuate pioneer reminiscences. For this purpose, a historian was chosen as one of the regular officers of the association, whose duty was to gather and put in proper shape all matters of historical interest pertaining to this county. The first officers elected were as follows: I. N. Clark, of Sutton, President; George Noble, of Fairfield, First Vice President; C. J. Martin, of Clay Center, Second Vice President; M. J. Hull, of Edgar, Historian; H. E. Goodall, of Lynn, Secretary; D. N. Nettleton, of Spring Ranche, Treasurer; T. R. Elder, Officer of the Day.

The following-named gentlemen were appointed a committee to obtain signatures, and work up the interests and advancement of the society: J. B. Dinsmore, of Sutton, J. J. Walley, of Edgar; L. Brewer, of Fairfield; Samuel Sloat, of Harvard; L. N. Bryant, of Spring Ranche.

The next meeting was held on the first Tuesday of December, 1880, but owing to the inclemency of the weather the attendance was small. The membership at this time was increased to forty. Nothing of importance was transacted at this meeting more than the adding of assistant historians to the list of officers. So far, but little has been done by the association toward carrying out the objects of its formation.


Sunday night, April 13, 1873, there commenced a storm that will be long remembered by the early settlers of Clay County. It had been raining through the day, and just before dark the wind veered from southwest around to northwest--the rain increasing. Long before light, Monday morning, the rain changed to sleet; and at daybreak--the morning still dark--the air was filled with what seem like solid snow; so wet was it, and carried so swiftly by the gale, that it was almost impossible to move against it; it would wet a person through like rain in a few moments. All day Monday and Monday night, Tuesday and Tuesday night, it snowed, the storm increasing all the time until Wednesday morning. Many banks of snow were as high as the houses, and many of the draws, creeks and rivers, were level full of snow. Driven before the gale, almost the entire live stock of the county perished in the snow. In School Creek Precinct, Mrs. Kelley and child were trying to go a few rods to a neighbors, got lost, chilled and froze to death in the wet snow; before starting out, she remarked that she would die with her child is she could not get through with it alive. They were both found dead after the storm.

A heavy snow-storm occurred through this section of the State in November, 1871. The snow fell with bewildering rapidity and drifted into massive heaps, covering buildings and blockading roadways. During the storm, a man by the name of McGoon, living three and a half miles south of the town of Harvard, started on foot for that place, accompanied by his son. So thick did the snow fall, blown swiftly by the winds, that it was with difficulty they could maintain their course in the direction of the town. Upon nearing the town, the old man became fatigued and bewildered, and was unable to keep up with his son, who could not afford his father any assistance, and pressed on to secure his own safety. Blinded and overcome by the shifting snow, the old man lost his way, and upon search being made, as soon as it was safe to venture out, he was found on the edge of town frozen stiff.

In the summer of 1881, a severe hail-storm passed across the northern part of the county, coming from a northwest direction. The storm was accompanied with a heavy wind, blowing in a circular motion, and hail fell for about three-quarters of an hour, covering the ground, and was carried, with the water, into heaps. Extending over a course five miles in width, crops were beaten into the ground by the hail and entirely destroyed, resulting in great loss to many.

On the 14th of November, 1872, a fire broke out from a dug-out, and spread over a large territory in the vicinity of Harvard, and reaching to the property of E. J. Moger, burned his implements and tools, also a stable, in which were four valuable horses and two cows, all of which perished in the flames.

Some time later, as the section men on the B. & M. Railroad were burning a fire brake along the south side of the track, the wind carried some fire to the opposite side of the track, which caught in the grass and began spreading. A heavy wind was blowing, and the fierce flames rolled swiftly through the thick carpet of dead grasses, consuming houses and all combustible material that lay in their course. The wide spread burnings were unmanageable, and were not extinguished until they had burned over a wide scope of country, extending northward nearly to the Platte River, destroying property to the value of several thousands of dollars. The railroad company at once dispatched agents to the burnt district to ascertain the condition of things and to assess the damage to settlers, whose losses were adjusted and paid, to the satisfaction of all.

In July, 1874, swarms of grasshoppers came from the northeast in such countless numbers as to make the sunlight dim. So swiftly did they destroy the crops, that a forty or an eighty-acre corn-field would not last them more than two hours. The rank growing corn would literally bend over to the ground by the weight of grasshoppers. Potatoes, garden vegetables, and crops of all kinds, excepting wheat and barley already harvested, sugar-cane and broom-corn, were swept out of existence in every part of the county in the short space of two days. Not a bushel of corn was raised in the county. The year before, settlers burned corn--it being only 15 cents a bushel. The grasshopper year it was shipped from Iowa and brought $1 per bushel. The people had nothing but wheat and barley to eat and feed their stock. When winter set in, many of the settlers had no money, no fuel, and scarcely anything to eat. Want and starvation was upon them, when, by the timely aid of the Eastern States, the settlers were rescued from actual death by starvation. In the fall of 1874, a committee to procure and distribute aid was formed at Sutton, consisting of C. M. Turner, Chairman and distributing agent, with F. W. Hohmann, R. G. Merrill, George Stewart and J. Steinmetz.

Mr. Turner went to Omaha at his own expense and secured from the State Aid Society the power to constitute Sutton an aid supply depot. Parts of Fillmore, York and Hamilton Counties were included in this aid district. There were distributed from Sutton depot four carloads of coal, four carloads of miscellaneous supplies, including flour, meal, bacon, dried apples, sugar, etc. Lieut. Brown, of the Fourth United States Infantry, from Omaha Post, assisted by Mr. Turner, distributed a large lot of army clothing to the most needy.

The committee to procure and distribute aid was formed at Harvard before that at Sutton. Harvard was a distributing point for Edgar, also for Hamilton County, and distributed large quantities of supplies.

An aid society was formed at Edgar, which drew its supplies from Harvard (W. A. Gunn, President, and M. J. Hull, Vice President), and did the principal part of the work. There were distributed about three carloads of coal, one carload of miscellaneous supplies, besides one-half carload of United States Army clothing.


The first district was organized in December, 1872. The three earliest teachers in the county were W. L. Weed, District No. 2, Thomas M. Gregory, District No. 5, and Laura M. Bancroft, District No. 6; Mr. Gregory taught the first school commencing about the first of December, 1861, before the district was organized. There are at present sixty-nine districts and seventy-four schoolhouses. Of these schoolhouses, sixty-eight are furnished with patent seats and furniture. The districts were originally organized on a basis of nine government sections to the district, but have been modified to some extent, smaller districts being called for as the population increases.

Directors' reports for the last year (1881), just sent in to the County Superintendent, furnish the following statistics:

Number of children of school age in the county-- 
Total value of school property.....$53,991 46 
Number of teachers employed........        89 
Total of wages paid teachers.......$20,548 71 
Total cost of running schools  
(teachers' wages included).......29,953 26

Every district in the county had schools during the year. Fifty-seven districts had six months and more school during the year and sixty-three districts had four months and more.

In the organization of the county, the districts, or most of them, were bonded for the building of houses, purchase of furniture, etc. This indebtedness has been disappearing quite rapidly in the last few years, and the entire indebtedness of the county is now $13,092.91. This will probably all be discharged in two years more.

Reviewing the history of Clay County, it is justly astonishing to note the rapidity with which it has sprung from an uninhabited waste in 1870 to the thickly populated and comparatively wealthy community it now is, with its many fine farms, numbering thousands of improved and fertile acres, and its several thrifty, growing and prosperous towns. The county is regarded as one of the most fertile in this section of the State, and with its excellent natural resources, railroad facilities, good government and industrious people, there is no reason why this county should not become one among the wealthiest and most important counties in the State.

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