A HISTORY OF BLOOMINGTON
by Florence Muckel
(reprinted with permission)
Just after the Civil War the United States Government in an effort to get the Country west of the Missouri River settled, sent soldiers from Fort Kearny with orders to travel south to the Kansas state line, establishing a route along the way and building an Indian stockade at a strategic point. They followed the old Meridian 99 to about the center of what is now Franklin County. Here they ran into a sand creek and rough ground. They decided that heavily loaded wagons could not hauled through there so they turned the route south and west, following the divide between the Big cottonwood and the Little Cottonwood Creeks. At this point in the Republican River they encountered quick sand and so went father west up the river about one-half or three-quarters of a mile until they found a place where a crossing could be safely made. This was the first ford across the river. The road they established was called the Brookline Road. This was used in later years for a mail route and stage coach line.
After establishing the road, the soldiers came back north and east to Meridian 99 north of the river. Finding plenty of wood and water here, they decided to build the stockade. It was placed at the southeast corner of what was later to become Bloomington and was named Antietam Post.
In 1867 the Government sent surveyors to the Antietam Post to survey the township lines and lay out a new county.
The railroad sent surveyors in 1868 to survey and stake out the right-of-way for the railroad. The railroad company chose a site for a town which they planned to make the county seat. It was surveyed to the southwest of the present site of Bloomington and was called Waterloo.
In the late sixties mail was carried here from Kearney on the Brookline Road. A post office was established in a man's home. This was west of Little Cottonwood Creek on what was called the Pugsley place and later the Tanquary place. The name was changed form Brookline to Brooklyn. Gideon Pugsley was later appointed postmaster. He moved the office about one-fourth mile north where it was placed in the Pugsley store late in 1871. It was again moved to the Waterloo town site but it retained the name Brooklyn until 1873. Later it was moved across the road and reestablished with the name Bloomington.
With the closing of Fort Kearny in May, 1871, Antietam Post was abandoned. Both posts, however, were kept open by local Civil War veterans who asked the state government for arms with which to form a state militia. The Fish family was homesteading near Antietam Post in 1871 and Wallace Fish's father, Robert Fish, was appointed head of the post for the year 1872. In 1873 the government rounded up the Indians and moved them out of the county. Thereafter there was no further need for the post and it was abandoned. Although no record can be found in Washington, D.C. concerning the Antietam Post, there is no doubt that it once existed.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS
The Village of Bloomington has had three names and each one a different location. Brooklyn, the first was on Little Cotton Wood Creek, Waterloo and then Bloomington.
The first town consisted of five buildings. A log grocery store was operated by a man named Rich. The "Bloomington Guard" newspaper in 1872 was published by J.D. Calhoun who also put in a sawmill at the foot of the hill.
In the late sixties the Republican Valley was a wide open range with wild game, herds of buffalo and Indians.
The United States soldiers stationed at Fort Kearny and the Cavalry of Co. C at Camp Cameron, just north of Naponee, told of the valley streams and plenty of land. Colin McRae and Pat Leonard, two of these men and McRae homesteaded where Camp Cameron had been and after the Civil War the lust of the pioneer headed West of the Missouri River.
Early in the year 1872, a company was organized at Brownville, Nebraska, for the purpose of selecting a site and locating, somewhere in Franklin County, a town which they hoped to make the principal town in the county. The company numbered among its members some of the best known men in the state. This group included H.M. Atkinson, later Surveyor General of New Mexico; Sol Males; Frank Vancil; J.D. Calhoun, and A.L. Rich. There was some difficulty over the selection of a name but finally, at the suggestion of Males, it was called Bloomington after the city in Illinois bearing that name. The family of Sol Males was the first to settle in Bloomington.
The town of Bloomington had progressed so far at the end of 1872 that J.D. Calhoun issued the first copy of his newspaper, the "Bloomington Guard." This was the first newspaper published in the county and in the Republican Valley. Calhoun also opened a sawmill, Mr. Rich opened a store, and a bakery was also started. The first post office bearing the name Bloomington was established in 1873 with Mrs. Males as the postmaster.
It was about this time that Michael O'Sullivan visited Rebecca Creek across the river from Bloomington and described the settlement that had grown up there.
"This creek has 13 settlers on it, who have altogether under cultivation about 200 acres of land. Their names are: G.L. Thompson, L.M. Moulton, J. F. Zediker, Mrs. Douglas, Dr. N.J. Whitney, the Johnson brothers, Mr. Sawyer, G.L. Cooper, and another.
"I crossed the Republican opposite Brooklyn, and after staying over-night at the hospitable abode of Mr. Pugsley, took the wagon road and traveled to the mouth of Rebecca Creek, where I entered the glen-like valley of the creek about a mile south of the river. Here and there as I went along were dwellings of thriving settlers but recently constructed, corn fields in full bloom, wheat patches ready for the sickle, cane patches in the act of getting ripe, watermelons in full perfection, with various kinds of squashes and other vines, potatoes, too, looked healthy, and in fact everything appeared as well as man could desire it."
The first Fourth of July celebration was held in 1872 in the cottonwood grove on the farm of J.F. Pugsley. There were 120 present, seven coming from Rebecca Creek south of the Republican River. J.F. Zediker read the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Zediker read an essay, "Nebraska Ten Years Hence". Other speakers were Jacob Groff, C. Delano, J.L. Thompson, J.F. Pugsley, Dr. A.J. Weston and Rev. Benton. Music was furnished by Judge L.M. Moulton and G.L. Pugsley.
With removal of the United States Land Office from Lowell to Bloomington in 1874, the town of Bloomington began to expand rapidly. Business and professional men settled here, and the town thronged with land-hungry people who arrived in search of farms and field claim on them at the land office. In October, 1874, the county seat was moved here from Franklin, and Bloomington became the busiest town west of Red Cloud.
As election was called for December 28, 1874 and January 30, 1875 to vote bonds for building bridges across the Republican River at Bloomington and Riverton. On March 4, 1875 the bids were opened and the contract for the Bloomington bridge was awarded to King & Son.
On May 13, 1878 a contract was given to A.A. Hathaway to build a county court house, the building to be completed by September of the same year. This building was used until the court house was moved to Franklin.
The town thrived steadily and the coming of the Burlington Railroad in 1879 was followed by the incorporation of the community as a village. Trustees were J.W. Deary, S.W. Switzer, Theo. Bodien, Ulbrich Koelmel, J.E. Chadwick, and E.S. Kelly.
For a time the railroad did not extend west of Bloomington, and it was during this period that the town served as supply point for 10 counties. Long trains of wagons, often as many as two or three hundred freighters a day arrived at Bloomington and loaded at the warehouses. The horses and oxen that pulled the freighters were fed on the old Pugsley place, which later became known as the Tanquary place and even later the Dean Dunn place. By 1894 Bloomington's population had reached over eight hundred.
Bloomington had four passenger trains besides Freight trains a day besides the little puddle jumper that ran from Hastings, daily. Train No. 14 made very few stops between here and Kansas City. Twice a week the stockyards were full of stock to be shipped to market.
There were also two grain elevators and a bucket shop. The Godsey House was just north of the Depot and roomed and fed a lot of people. Once a year the Kansas City Boosters came by train and were met at the depot by the merchants and escorted up town in grand style, band and all.
Bill Rutledge met all the trains in his hack and carried the mail and dray freight.
The Hellfrick house, one of the finest hotels in the valley was the stopping place for the traveling salesman with his trunks of merchandise to be shown to the merchants for several days at a time.
Until 1874 public school was taught outside the limits of the village. Mary R. Randolph Patterson came to Bloomington July 12, 1878 and was one of the first school teachers. In 1881 school was held in a building on the approximate site of the place now known as the Dietrich house. William Hart was the principal. A brick school was built in 1882 with F.M. Vancil as the superintendent. Fire, started by lightning, later destroyed the brick structure and a frame building was erected. A new school building was erected in 1925. Bloomington has always been pound of their school. The only Institute for teachers was held here every summer. The Normal School at Bloomington was attended by many teachers throughout the county.
The city water was furnished by an old enclosed red windmill just north of the present horses water trough across east of the present post office. There were three cisterns to hold extra water in case of fire. The old siren was on top of the Post Office Building. The curfew rang at nine o'clock and all the youngsters were off the street. All four sides of the City square were business places.
There were four large livery barns. Waldraths, where Waring Garage now stands. One north of the firehouse, one south of the Opera House and one just east of the schoolhouse.
Where the opera house now stands was the finest furniture store run by W.C. Deary, later by Frank Waldrath. The entire front was glass windows so as to display the merchandise. Undertaking was done in the back of the store. The coffins were just rough boxes that were lined as needed. The children's were white and the adult' were black. The undertaking carriage or hearse is now in Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska.
Charlie Moffett purchased the harness shop from Blackledge. It was one of the best where he made the harness and also repaired shoes. The bog old wooden horse that modeled the harness and fancy fly nets and bridles is also in Pioneer Village. Oh, those beautiful lap robes and leather goods. Also those much used black-snake whips.
There were three big lumber yards. Some early carpenters were John Schegg, F. Ludeke, A.A. Hathaway, Bert Lovejoy, Charlie Taylor, Art Muckel, and Art Waldrath.
There were two banks, two newspapers published by Henry Holmes and Herb Crane. Commercial Hotel was moved from Lowell. The Helfrich Hotel, Nichols Hotel, Tremont House, The Godsey House, besides several rooming houses. R.H. Waring restaurant, west side of square. Peterson's Bakery and Lunch was of the best. He also carried the finest candies and good jaw breakers, licorice whips, stick candy with a ring, etc. No one has every equaled "Pete's" five cent pies. A good broom shop, Cole and Son opened in 1889. In 1889, Basil Schobel and Sheppard and Black built a double brick building, the upper floor south side used by the Masons which was organized April 4, 1879.
Attorneys at one time serving Bloomington and the vicinity were A.H. Byrum, J.P.A. Black, Wm. Dorsey, Geo. Marshall, Bert Miller, Geo. Prather, Geo. Losey, and Tom Robertson.
Blacksmiths' Shops Con Huber, Gus Barley and Hansen. You name any lodge or organization and Bloomington had them.
In 1928 the Bloomington streets were paved. The creamery was down by the depot. There were two brick yards doing big business. One on the west side road entering town on pavement, the other just north of the railroad tracks on Valney Douglas place.
There were seven churches in the Village at one time and each had their own church building and their houses of God were full of people each Sunday with three services on Sunday. Prayer meeting once a week and Choir practice. The Methodist Church was the first church building in the county and Mother Church of Holdrege District. The Catholic, Lutheran, Episcoplain, Presbyterian, Christian, Baptist, Mennonite, each had their own building. There were groups of Adventists and Millennium Dawn.
The town has had several newspapers under various ownerships. "The Argus" was successor to "The Guard" in 1887. At other intervals "The Prickly Pear" and "The Heart of Our Continent" were published. One of the early newspaper employees was H.M. Crane, who later published the "Advocate", and still later purchased the "Tribune" from H.B. Holmes.
In August, 1887 fire destroyed all of the buildings on the west side of the square, and in November of the same year the north side buildings were also destroyed.
The court held in the Court House will never be forgotten. Seeing the bailiff leading the file of jurors and the hearing of the call that Court was in session. Many hard cases have been tried in this Court House.
One of the much discussed crimes of early-day Bloomington was the murder of William Richardson of February 21, 1880, by Charles Wilkinson. Wilkinson was employed as a hotel runner by Jacob Barnett of the Tremont House. For several days he had been drinking heavily and behaving belligerently. On the day the crime was committed, he had spent a great deal of time with Richardson, whom he invited to accompany him to a restaurant for an oyster dinner. During the meal Wilkinson got into a quarrel with the proprietor of the restaurant and stabbed him in the back. He then went to the hotel for his pistol and started back to the cafe. Half-way across the street he met Richardson who had decided to follow him. Wilkinson began calling the other man a coward because he had not offered assistance in the quarrel with the cafe proprietor. He demanded that Richardson get down on his knees and beg pardon for his cowardice. When Richardson refused to do this, Wilkinson raised his pistol and began firing. Four of the five shots fired struck Richardson killing him instantly. Wilkinson then returned to the hotel where several men tried to arrest him. Jacob Barnett, proprietor of the hotel seized a double barreled shotgun, leveled it at Wilkinson, and demanded that he raise his hands. Wilkinson obeyed and was immediately secured. He was kept in confinement until the next term of the District Court, when he was tried. Because he had been drunk at the time he committed the crime, he was found guilty of second, rather than first degree murder and was sentenced by Judge Gaslin to life imprisonment.
Another murder, this one in 1899, provided the new jail with its first occupants. Truman Tooman and W.S. Cole were charged with the murder of John Phillip Kriechbaum on a farm south of Lookout Mountain. Wm. Dunn was the sheriff at the time and Paul Amman was deputy. Mr. Kriechbaum was in possession of a large amount of money acquired in the sale of a herd of fat cattle and hogs. When the murderers discovered that the money was not in the house they became angry and murdered him. They buried him in his own hog pen but his dog gave the grave site away.
This old native Nigger rock jail is as good as the day it was built and could tell many, many stories of its occupants. Earl Lantis helped his father haul rock from across the river. Also yellow rock for Harman Bank.
In 1881 T.K. Hansberry began work on the race for mill on Big Cottonwood Creek. The machinery was run by ropes in place of leather belts. A two-mile mill race with a sixty-foot full on Big Cottonwood furnished the power equal to thirty horsepower, sufficient to run three sets of stone. In 1913 an electric plant was built at the mill and Bloomington had electric lights.
In 1883 wool growing was an important industry around Bloomington. A Wool Growers Association had been created with John Hobs as president. The members owned among them some 40,000 sheep. The wool was sold to the woolen factory in Franklin where it was processed and made into blankets, yarn, and other woolen goods.
Summer Camp Meetings were held in the Hager Grove Poor Farm where the needy lived and were cared for and if they were able, worked on the farm to earn their living. (Much different than the Welfare of today.)
The following descriptions of businesses operating in Bloomington in 1883 were taken from "Leading Industries of the West":
By 1894 Bloomington's population had risen to over 800. Stock companies came to town for a week at a time to present plays. Summer chautauquas were held on the court house square, dances in private homes, horse races on the track north and east of town, and concerts by a uniformed band once a week in the square. Bloomington was also known as a big gambling town. Out-of-town gamblers arrived for a stay of a week or more.
In World Ware I, Franklin County raised a company of boys from the War, Company K, 4th Nebraska Infantry. After the Ware was over Paul Hartt Legion Post No. 145 was able to get a German Howitzer, 155 mm. captured in drive in France in 1918, it was a 1917 model of Krupp Gun Works Arms Factory made in Germany. As a gift it was delivered to New York by the U.S. Government. The Legion Post was required to pay the freight from New York to Bloomington. It took a lot of work and man power to mount this cannon. Fred Voight's four big draft horses hauled it up to town and it was placed on a circular cement brick foundation in the northwest corner of the Court House Square. It draws a lot of attention and tourists take its picture. The freight in a box care of C.B. Railroad and mounting on stand was around $200.00. Taylor and Muckel contractors and builders names are on the cement base. History of Gun by Verne Dunn. In 1942 they wanted to salvage the gun for scrap but the boys refused as this is a memorial for many.
The oldest men living on their original farm homes are Ernest Thompson and George Stangman. In town are Mrs. Pearl Cox, her father, John Schegg built this home before he was married. J.U. Malick son of Dr. Malick lives in their brick home.
Mr. and Mrs. Art Muckel are the oldest married couple. They were married at the Bloomington Courthouse by Thomas Robinson, April 8, 1916.
Bloomington social affairs were the talk of the county. Its leading families entertained lavishly and invitations to the parties were highly coveted. Mr. McGrew, the banker, kept three Negro servants - a chauffeur, a kitchen maid who was not allowed in the front part of the house, and a parlor maid. An impressive sight was that of Mrs. McGrew emerging from her mansion each afternoon, dressed to the nines, entering her carriage to be taken by the chauffeur for her afternoon drive. The McGrew home is where James Donovan now lives.
The Dr. Sumners had the first auto. It was a high wheeled buggy car called the Mary Ann. When Leuie Efflin, the chauffeur cranked the car it could be heard all over town and all the kids ran to see it.
When the first aeroplane by the Wright Brothers was shown at the County Fair in Franklin for ten cents a look, it started the boys building their own plane. Many arms were broken and bruised by these kids jumping out of the hay mow with opened umbrellas. Many of Mother's bed sheets went into the act.
The Grand Army of the Republic is represented by Antietam Post which has a large membership (Heart of our Continent Magazine, 1884).
Old Settlers Society was organized, Spring 1879. Following officers, Daniel Brown, President; John R.H. Huffman, Secretary; S.W. Sheppard, Treasurer.
Masonic Lodge (Joppa Lodge, No. 79A), chartered by Grand Lodge of the state, was dedicated and consecrated, October 15, 1879 by R.W. Deputy Grandmaster R.H. Oakley of Lincoln.
EARLY DAY BUSINESSES
L.A. Siegel, ran the mill after Zulauf
Ed Holmes - Hardware
Mike Hersh - Hardware
John Kling - General Store
Walter Hayden - General Store
Pay Schobel - Big German Store
Al Feigly - General Store
Wm Dunn - General Store
Bloomington Equity Store
W. Koelmel - General Store
Mrs. Studevant - Millinery
Mrs. Bess Holmes - Ladies ready to wear
Jess Raper Barber Shop
The Todd Hunter Barber Shop, sold to Ed Lantz
Randolph Kirkbride Bank
O. E. Montgomery Bank
S. Y. Hartt Bank
George Green Lumber and Hardware
Jim Jones Creamery
Kern Hill Creamery
Schobel - Saloon
Meyers - Saloon
A. M. King Cigar Factory
Haynes House - Rooming House where Dorothy Paulson now lives.
John Green Smith - Rooming House
Lionel Bacon - Greenhouse
Rusher and Percell - Photographers
Hildreth Telephone Office was in what is now Chris Harger Home
Bob Walker - Sheriff for many years
The population of Bloomington at the time of the 1960 census was 180.
Mr. Pugsley was a native of New York State, lived some time in Missouri, and later in Florence, Nebraska. His attention was first called to the valley of the Republican in 1861 at Fort Kearny while he was on his way to Denver City, Colorado. Enlisting in the United States Army soon after, he gave it no more thought until 1865 when he was discharged from the service. In the fall of 1870 he, with some others, came to the Republican Valley to find a place where he could make a home for himself and family. He selected a place and brought his family here in May, 1871. In coming here Mr. Pugsley brought with him (besides his wife, two sons, and two daughters) two span of horses, two wagons, plows and various other agricultural implements, some cows, hogs and other animals, besides household furniture.
The Pugsley family, eventually numbering eleven persons, were the sole inhabitants of a community between Pugsley Creek and Big Cotton wood Creek which they called Brooklyn.
In 1873 he had under cultivation 30 acres of land, had a good house, stabling six horses, 18 hogs, with corn, wheat, oats, barley, vegetables of all kinds sufficient to meet the demands of his livestock and family until the next harvest. He was also at that time commissioner for the third district of Franklin County. At one of the Agricultural fairs held in the county, Mr. Pugsley had 64 different varieties of farm produce on exhibition and took the sweepstakes at the same fair.
In 1881, Mr. Pugsley left Bloomington and moved to Riverton where he bought a hotel.
LEVI D. HAGER
Levi D. Hager was born June 10, 1844 at Wallingford, Vermont. He moved with his family to Wisconsin when he was one year old. Eleven years later the family to Wisconsin when he was one year old. Eleven years later the family moved further west, settling in Dodge County, Nebraska, 8 miles west of where the city of Fremont now stands. During a blizzard in the winter of 1856, Mr. Hager's father lost his life. Levi Hager remained at home until he was 21, helping support the family. He came to Franklin County on June 3, 1871, and preempted a claim on Center Creek, 4 miles north of where the town of Franklin now stands. His claim was about half timber and half prairie and later, when the country became more thickly populated, he divided his woodland into small lots and sold them to other settlers who had no timber.
His first house was a 16x18 foot two-story log swelling in which he lived for seven years. The country was full of buffalo, deer, antelope, and wild turkey. He killed many buffalo, drying the meat and carrying it with him to eat while on long trips or in the field at work. He cut the hides into straps which he used to lariat his oxen. It was customary among the early pioneers to divide the meat of a buffalo with all of the neighbors, and in this manner the little neighborhood was kept well supplied with meat.
For the first few years Mr. Hager's nearest trading point was Lowell, fifty miles to the north. The round trip with oxen took four days. Since there was no water on the vast stretch of prairie between the Republican and Platte Rivers, known as the "Divide", he carried pumpkins which he fed to the oxen, thus quenching, in a measure, their thirst.
Mr. Hager's possessions when he arrived in Franklin County consisted of one yoke of oxen, a half interest in a cow, some provisions and three dollars in cash. Crops were almost a total failure during the first four years due to drought and grasshoppers.
In May of 1879 he disposed of his old-pre-emption claim on Center Creek and purchased a quarter section of railroad land on the "Divide" in Macon township. He also filed a timber claim on a quarter section across the road from his newly purchased land. This claim bore the distinction of being the first final proof filed under the Timber Claim Act.
The first house built on the new claim was a 12 by 16 foot sod house in which Mr. Hager and his family lived for six years. He then built a brick house which was one of the finest homes in the county at that time.
Mr. Hager was married on March 21, 1872 to Lilly B. Thompson. This union resulted in the birth of four children -- Ida, Frank, Mary and Ebbert.
Mr. Hager held various local offices, among them justice of the peace of Franklin precinct in 1872, and county commissioner for a three-year term beginning in 1877. He was class leader in the Methodist Episcopal Church and director of his school district for many years.
CHARLES H. DOUGLAS
Charles H. Douglas was born in Oswego County, New York on March 13, 1839. His paternal grandfather, Sanford Douglas, was a native of New York and a volunteer soldier in the War of 1812. Charles Douglas' paternal great-grandfather was a soldier in the Revolutionary War.
Charles was reared on a farm in Oswego County and moved when 21 to Lake County, Illinois. A year later, upon the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in Company II, 63rd Illinois Regiment. He participated in several battles before being captured. He spent the remainder of the war in various prison camps. When the war ended he settled down to farming in Lake County, Illinois. In November, 1879 he came west and settled in Franklin County, taking a homestead claim on Section 15, Township 1, Range 16 west, now known as Turkey Creek township. He also bought a quarter of railroad land in Section 13 and the right to a timber claim in Section 22, the same township and range. He lived in a 12 by 16 foot dugout long enough to prove up his homestead claim.
Mr. Douglas married Charlotte Stebbins of Lake County, Illinois on August 25, 1861. Six children were born to this union.
Mr. Douglas held a number of local offices, among them clerk of his township and justice of the peace.
URIAH H. MALICK
Uriah H. Malick was born in Van Wert, Ohio, in 1851. He came to Nebraska on March 9, 1861 and located in Seward County where he farmed for three years. Following this he attended the University of Nebraska, graduating from there in 1874, and subsequently practicing in Sutton for three years. The doctor then attended the Louisville Medical College for eight months and afterwards the College of Physicians and Surgeons. He came to Bloomington in June 1878, and at once entered upon the practice of his profession in connection with which he also operated a drug business. Dr. Malick was President of the Republican Valley Medical Association.
Basil Schobel was born in Germany on June 12, 1851. He learned the trade of brass finisher and machinist, serving as an apprentice for four years, and following it for two years as a journeyman. He emigrated to America in November, 1871, and followed his trade at Troy, New York, Cincinnati and Hamilton, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for over five years. He then made a trip through Michigan and Minnesota and out to the Black Hills of South Dakota. He came to Nebraska in December, 1877, and was employed for almost eighteen months in the shops of the Burlington & Missouri Railroad Company. From there he went to Lincoln and engaged in business as a gun smith. After remaining there six months, he moved to Bloomington where he opened a billiard hall and saloon.
SIMON W. SWITZER
Simon W. Switzer was born in Columbia County, Ohio, January 29, 1846, was reared on a farm, and for several years taught school. He attended Mount Union College in Ohio, graduating in 1869. He also attended for a time the law school at Ann Arbot University in Michigan. He was admitted to the bar at Carrollton, Ohio, April 17, 1871, after which he practiced law in Panora and Red Oak, Ia. for about two years. He came to Nebraska on November 4, 1873, and located in Kearney, where he was for five years engaged in the practice of law. In the fall of 1876 he was elected to the State Legislature from Buffalo County. He was appointed Register of the United States Land Office at Bloomington on August 15, 1878. He was also a member of the first board of trustees for the village of Bloomington.
FRANK M. VANCIL
Frank M. Vancil was born in Sangamon County, Illinois, in 1840. His father was one of the early pioneers of central Illinois, and young Vancil was reared on a farm, attending the meager schools which existed in those days. Energetic and ambitious, he fitted himself for teaching and , as soon as he was able, entered Shurtleff College, Upper Alton, where he took a select, course. Leaving college in 1864, he again entered the schoolroom, reading law in the intervals. After being admitted to the bar he came West in 1869 and took charge of the Brownville (Nebr.) Democrat, then one of the leading journals in the state. Not finding the paper a paying investment, he sold out and returned to Fulton County, Illinois, where he married Emma Argo of Vermont and took up his residence in Brownville, engaging in the mercantile business.
In June, 1872, he came to Franklin County, then a wilderness, helped stake out the town of Bloomington, purchased a fine piece of land nearby, and acted as farmer, nurseryman, teacher and lawyer. He was deputy county treasurer in 1877 and came within one vote of being elected to the office at the general election although he was a Democrat and the county was predominately Republican. He took charge of the Riverton High School in the fall of 1880 with Mrs. Vancil as assistant and brought it up to one of the best schools in the valley. Having been elected County Superintendent of Schools in the fall of 1881, he opened his office in Bloomington and was employed as principal of its schools. As educators, Mr. and Mrs. Vancil had no superiors in the common schools in the state and they commanded the highest salaries of any teachers in the valley.
H. M. CRANE
H. M. Crane was born in Michigan and was brought by his parents to Nebraska in 1871 when he was 10 years old. He learned the printing business under Congressman Laws of the Orleans "Sentinel", beginning in 1876, and in 1880 he started the "Republican Valley Echo" at Franklin but sold out in 1884 and moved to Keya Paha County where he founded an other newspaper. He returned to Franklin in 1886 and bought back the "Echo" which he again sold in 1888. In 1889 he published the Trenton "Torpedo", and finally settled in Bloomington in 1889 where he bought and began publishing the "Argus." In September of 1890 he bought the good will of the "Echo" and consolidated the two papers under the name of the "Republican Valley Echo."
Ernest Thompson was born in February, 1875 on Center Creek, a few miles north of the present Willie Versaw farm. Bloomington was a thriving town in those days and Franklin was only a small settlement on the west side of Center Creek, known as Waterloo. He recalls that the Fourth of July celebrations in Bloomington generally featured a sham battle by former Confederate and Union soldiers in their old Civil War uniforms. He can also remember that when they took grain to the Bloomington elevator the grain was lifted to the top by machinery powered by a horse that walked in a circle.
His father helped freight lumber from Kearney for the Bloomington court house. It was a three-day trip. The men would drive to what was called Walker's Ranch, a few miles this side of the Platte River and put up there for the night. The next day they would go into Kearney, load up with lumber, and return to the ranch for another overnight stay. The following day they would return to Bloomington.
Once, when he made such a trip to Kearney, he left a freshly killed deer hanging from the corner of his log house. At that time there were still a number of gray wolves in the country. When the scent of the freshly-killed deer drew them howling to the house, Mr. Thompson's mother sat up all night protecting the meat with a shotgun.
Education was acquired wherever it was available. At one time Mr. Thompson attended school in Bloomington in the St. Nichols Hotel, which was located just south of the present George Strangman place. It was no longer being used for a hotel, but housed several families, the school teacher, and the school. The students were not divided into grades, taking any reader for which they were ready.
In 1893 and 1894 he attended the University of Nebraska where he took some army training under John J. Pershing who was commandant there at that time.
A PIONEER LETTER
(This letter appeared in the "Bloomington Advocate-Tribune" on September 26, 1935. The writer was not identified) Bloomington, Franklin County, Nebraska, October 25, 1874.
"Dear Uncle, I received your letter of October 14th today. Very glad as usual to hear from you. We are all well, or nearly so.
Last week I hired a mowing machine a day and put up another stack of hay. I think I shall put up yet another stack. My stacks are about 3 or 4 tons each. Yesterday I and the boys took oxen and went down to Sand Creek about six miles northwest of here, and got a load of poles to use about my house and stable. I shall have to get several more loads. We get Willow and cottonwood. Last week I worked four days plowing fire guards around my two farms. It is a very difficult job to draw furrows perfectly straight, half a mile long, with 2 yoke of oxen, but we did it very well.
One night last week a pack of wolves came and caught every hen and chicken we had in the world.
Now, about the Indians. Well, I do not think you need to feel uneasy about them in the least. We have lived here over six months and not one has seen an Indian yet, although they are very troublesome over in Kansas, about sixty miles from here. They have killed a number there. There was a band of about three or four hundred went up the Republican , through Bloomington, twelve miles south of here, a short time ago. They were going out fifty or sixty miles further west to hunt buffaloes. They all appeared to be friendly.
I shot an antelope yesterday, but did not kill him. They are plentiful but very shy. Buffaloes are not as plentiful as they were the fore part of the season. We can see game almost any time, but it is so far off that we cannot often tell what it is: for an antelope one mile off, and a buffalo two miles off, and a team three miles off, all look alike. The buffaloes are much larger animals than I supposed they were. There have been several killed in this settlement this season, some of which would weigh about 2,500 pounds! And about 9 feet high to the top of his hump!
Grasshoppers. Well, they did clean us out this year in a hurry. We had a seven weeks' drought, which lasted until after the middle of July, and then there came a fearful rain storm on Saturday afternoon. Just before it commenced to rain there was a violent north wind, accompanied by a roar which sounded like a heavily loaded train of cars, and the sky was nearly as dark as night. We soon ascertained that the roaring and darkness was caused by grasshoppers. They literally covered the ground in three or more depths. By the next Monday noon their work of destruction was done and they left as suddenly as they came. The Indians and the oldest inhabitants and wise men generally predict that we shall have no more grasshoppers for seven years to come.
Wood we can get quite plentiful by cutting it and drawing it from 3 to 6 miles. Water we haul from 1 to 3 miles.
On the weather the coming winter I will keep you posted. Last winter they say was about an average of winters here. The mercury was below zero but three days last winter; the first day, 2 degrees below; the 2nd, 3 degrees below; and the 3rd, 1 degree below; and there were very few days that it was anywhere near zero. It is not the severity of the cold that people complain of here. It is the fierce winds and driving storms which sometimes last for three or four days, when if a person gets away from the door, he cannot find his way back; yet hundreds of cattle were wintered here at Bloomington last winter without a mouthful of either hay or grain. They say snow falls here sometimes a foot or two in depth, but it lies but a few days and then goes off. We lived in a tent about two months, and there came a fearful tornado that threw down our tent and smashed most of our dishes and scattered everything we had in every direction. Some things went half a mile, some we never found. This all happened in the night, with the rain coming down in torrents, it was impossible for us to stand on our feet. The only way we could keep ourselves form blowing away was to lie flat on the ground in the water and cling to the posts.
Now, I will describe the mode of building a sod house. We generally select a little mound or knoll, on which to set a house, and then stake out the required dimensions for the inside of the house. We then go to some wet piece of land where blue stem grass grows to get our sod. We then plow the sods one foot wide and three inches deep. We then take a spade and cut the cods in sections, just two feet in length, thus making brick that will weight about seventy pounds each. We lay each sod grass side downwards, and make our walls just three feet in thickness. We lay them up in brick joints the same as a brick mason does a brick wall. Each laying is shaved perfectly smooth and leveled on top and the cracks are packed full before the next laying is put on. Thus, you see, it makes a very warm house and a very solid house, and after being plastered on the inside, a very neat and comfortable house.
Come and take a homestead. There are several nice claims vacant yet. Section 33, Town 4, Range 16 west, joining me on the west is yet vacant, also the northwest quarter of Section 34, Town 4, Range 16 west, joining me on the north is vacant. Both are just as nice farms as ever lay out the doors and can be had for fourteen dollars each. Oh, come. How I wish some of my folks would come and take them, or if you do not want a farm, come and buy a lot or two in Bloomington. You can get lots now for from twenty dollars to sixty dollars apiece that, in five years, will be worth more hundreds of dollars than they cost now. Bloomington is destined at no distant day to be an important city. It has all the requisites of a great town. It has the great Republican River and valley. It is the center of one of the greatest farming regions of the entire West. It has the United States Land Office. It is the county seat of Franklin County. It has one railroad under construction and the route for a second one surveyed. They are about to establish a state normal school there. When I came here last April there were but 3 buildings in Bloomington and now there are over 50 and about 20 others in the course of construction. It is beautifully located on the north bank of the Republican, on a beautiful plateau."
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