Edited by Barbara Bonham
The first white men to set eyes upon the Republican River Valley were, in all likelihood Spanish soldiers under the leadership of Franciso Vasquez Coronado, who marched north out of the valley of the Rio Grande in April, 1541 to search for the Kingdom of Quiveria. Though some historians argue whether Coronado actually came as far north as Nebraska, the fact remains that early one autumn morning in 1874, George PRATHER, who homesteaded seven miles north of Riverton, on his way to lariat his cow, stumbled over a strange pair of objects. Authorities later identified them as Spanish Stirrups.
Whatever the fascinating story that lies behind these mementos of Coronado's long march, no attempt was made to settle the area for the next 300 years. It remained the favorite hunting ground of the Indians and their hostility kept settlers away. However, the descriptions of its fertility and beauty, taken back East by hunters and trappers who frequented the area, aroused much interest, and in 1866-67, a party headed by PORTER and CROWEN attempted to make a settlement on Sections 29 and 30, Township 2, Range 16 west. This was slightly north and west of the present site of Naponee. The settlement was short-lived. Because of the hostility of the Indians, it was soon abandoned. At this time, there was no white settlers within 100 miles to the east ward, and on the north, no settlements nearer than those on the Platte River.
Despite the failure of the PORTER-CROWEN settlement, the beautiful valley continued to lure men who dreamed of making a fortune in land speculation, and those others, perhaps more numerous, who wanted little more than a chance to own their own farms. A few men of this latter type began moving into the area following the establishment of the Antietam Post south of where Bloomington now stands. One settler is believed to have homesteaded near the post though his name is not known. J. M. RAY took a homestead in 1869 near the present site of Naponee, and a Mr. BARNEY homesteaded about the same time approximately four miles northwest of the same site.
In 1870 a determined effort was made by a group of people to found a settlement in that part of the Republican Valley, which now comprises Franklin County. An organization, called the Rankin Colony after its leader, a Colonel RANKIN, had been formed for the express purpose of the colonization and settlement of Western Nebraska. Subsequently, a group broke away from this colony to form a separate organization which they named the Republican Valley Land Claim Association. This was also called the Knight Colony after one of its principal members. The officers of this association were Major MILLS, of Omaha, President; C. J. Van LANINGHAM, Vice-President; R.D. CURRY, Treasurer; J. GRAHAM, Secretary; David VAN ETTEN, Surveyor; and William H. RILEY, Assistant Surveyor. Their plan was an ambitious one. In the fall of 1870, this party located a plot of land on the north side of the Republican River on Center Creek, and laid out a town there with the intention of securing the location of the county seat when the county should be organized. The town was called Franklin City.
On the 26th of November of that same year, settlement of the town began when a number of persons arrived with C .J. VAN LANINGHAM to locate on their homesteads. These people were the first actual settlers in the county. Satisfied with their land claims, they began at once to build houses to shelter them during the remainder of the winter. The first house erected was one of logs and sod and housed the C. J. VAN LANINGHAM family. Mrs. Katie VAN LANINGHAM was the first white woman to create a home in the county, and her two children were the first to live here.
Two months prior to the settlement of Franklin City, another colony had chosen a site some miles to the east but had not yet settled there. This colony had been organized that same year in Omaha, also for the purpose of locating a settlement somewhere in the Republican Valley. An exploring party was selected and money raised with which to provision it.
On the 14th of September, 1870, James W. THOMPSON, W .C. THOMPSON, Richard BECKWITH, John CORBIN, Isaac CHAPPEL, and Barnett ASHBURN, the men who made up the party, started from Omaha. They reached the Republican Valley without incident and passed the new settlement of Red Cloud, which was struggling to get a foothold in the valley. From here they party exercised the greatest precautions against an attack by the Indians. They were not molested, however, and J. W. THOMPSON explored a creek which was later to bear his name. He found it to be a good mill stream and well-timbered, with fine bottoms on either side. He began making plats and maps of the area. After inspecting the country as far west as Turkey Creek and finding it rich in wild game of all kinds, the party returned to Thompson Creek and selected claims near its mouth.
It was October when they returned to Omaha. On the strength of their enthusiastic descriptions of the valley, many persons went to Beatrice to file homestead claims at the United States Land Office on land they had never seen. Barnett ASHBURN filed the first claim in what subsequently was to become Franklin County. The creek, J. W. THOMPSON had explored, was named Thompson Creek, and the group that hoped to establish a settlement there began calling itself the Thompson Colony.
During the winter of 1870-71, the Thompson Colony held regular meetings in Omaha at the home of Michael O'SULLIVAN. Among those attending were J. W. THOMPSON, William C. THOMPSON, William McBRIDE, Barnett ASHBURN, J. H. HUNTER, Henry BAKER, Bedford OWNEY, H. and James BANKS, William BOWERS, Thomas POMEROY, S. TAYLOR, Richard BECKWITH, and John AULD.
The colony was bound by no rules. The members were held together only by a mutual desire, that of establishing homes in the fertile and beautiful Republican Valley. At the meetings, plans were made for moving families and households, for the building of new homes in the valley, and the matter of how to protect themselves from the Indians was carefully considered. Lacking money to arm themselves, they applied to Governor David BUTLER for the arms and ammunition necessary to defend the colony. The Governor informed them that in order for him to comply with their request, they would have to organize a militia company. This they did at once, electing T. S. BUTLER, captain; J. H. HUNTER, first lieutenant; and W. C. THOMPSON, second lieutenant. They were then duly enlisted in the Second Nebraska Cavalry, the Governor issued commissions to the officers elected, and ordered that they should be armed and placed on a war footing immediately.
Now it was urgent that the colonists be on their way. The six months' period allowing homesteaders to settle on their claims had already expired. Moving to their claims, however, posed a serious problem. The colony lacked teams and wagons and the money with which to buy them. An attempt had been made during the winter to join with another colony, the Bruce Colony, which also had plans to move West and which was much better off financially, but the effort had failed. By March, the Thompson Colony was able to acquire only three teams, and it was 300 miles to their destination. Tow of these teams belonged to Barnett ASHBURN. He loaded them with goods and started out with part of the colony accompanying him. Many of them walked the entire distance. The contingent arrived on Thompson Creek about the middle of March, 1871.
During the second week in march, William McBRIDE started out with his loaded ox team, accompanied by J. H. HUNTER, Michael O'SULLIVAN, and Henry BAKER. This group arrived on Thompson Creek on March 27, 1871, and found the ASHBURN party already engaged in building the first house on the creek. In April the first ground was broken.
A third settlement was being made in the county about the time the Thompson Colony was establishing itself. This settlement was established by Richard WALTHER, A. WALTHER, and R.B. WERNER on Turkey Creek where Naponee now stands.
Another colony from Omaha, composed entirely of Negroes, was located late in the spring of 1871, on a creek about midway between the Thompson and Knight Colonies. They called the stream on which they settled Lovely Creek, a name which it still bears. Like many of their fellow pioneers, they had great plans for the future of their settlement. They laid out a town on the southeast quarter of Section 35, Township 2, Range 14 and called it Grant. Ash poles, to which were tied strips of hides, marked the sites of proposed buildings and businesses. They began to build a brick yard, and a court house was planned. They were all young men and active, but very poor, and had but one team among them. Their money was soon gone, and though each had taken a homestead claim, they left the country sometime during the summer. On August 8, 1972 Thomas SHOEMAKER settled on their proposed town site and began to farm there.
Though this fourth colony was short-lived, the other three appeared to be permanent. The time had come to organize the county. Petitions were filed and on February 14, 1871, Governor Butler issued a proclamation calling for an election of county officers, to be held the third day of the following March.
At this election, the following officers were chosen to fill the duties of their respective offices for the short term to expire the first of the following January:
Matthew LYNCH, Clerk; C .J. VAN LANINGHAM, Judge; Ernest ARNOLD, Sheriff and Surveyor; James NEWSHAM, Coroner; John E. SIMMONS, Treasurer; Richard WALTHER, Superintendent of Schools; W. B. POWELL, Commissioner; James KNIGHT, Commissioner; Charles VINING, Commissioner.
All of these men accepted their offices except W. B. POWELL, who lived just outside the county line in Webster County and so could not legally serve. Barnett ASHBURN was appointed to fill the vacancy.
One of the things required of a newly organized county is that it designate a county seat. Franklin County declared its county seat to be Waterloo. This village, located one-half mile west of the present site of Bloomington, had its beginnings in 1870, when George O'BANNON placed a store there. Until then, Waterloo, although advertised as a town, had existed only on paper. Soon after O'BANNON's store opened, however, other buildings were constructed and it soon became a village in fact.
The designation of Waterloo as county seat must have been a blow to the founders of Franklin City, for it had been their intention, in laying out their town, that it would one day be the county seat. They were well aware of the immense profits that could be made in such a situation. A section of land at the government price was usually $800. Counting eight lots to the acre, this section could be broken up into 5,120 town lots. Such lots were selling for $100 each back East.
That the founders of Franklin City were determined to secure the county seat is shown by the manipulations which they began, following the organization of the county, even though their settlement at the time consisted of nothing more than scattered homesteads.
In May, 1871, quarrels and dissensions having broken out among the projectors of Franklin City, another group formed and, calling itself the Plattsmouth Town Company, laid out a town one mile east of Franklin City. George O'BANNON thereupon sold his store in Waterloo, moved to the site picked by the Plattsmouth Town Company, and opened a store there. C. J. VAN LANINGHAM, one of the original members of the Franklin City group, and now county judge, arranged to have county records placed in O'BANNON's store. It can be assumed that there was some sort of an agreement made with O'BANNON because, once this action was taken, a false claim was made that this was the village of Waterloo, county seat of Franklin County. Thus began a bitter fight which lasted for five years.
On July 28, 1872, an election was held to relocate the county seat. The authentic Waterloo received the majority of votes, but the spurious Waterloo claimed that the ballots of one precinct were lost and refused to concede the election.
O'BANNON and VAN LANINGHAM were ordered to return the records to the original site. When they refused, men from Bloomington, as the original settlement of Waterloo came to be called, stole the records one night and carried them back to Bloomington. At Center Creek, an accident occurred and some of the records, unfortunately, were lost. The creek was swollen by a recent rain, the men had difficulty driving the wagon across, and many of the records were washed downstream. One book was never recovered. Although as many of the records as possible were rewritten, some from memory, those first records of the county remain incomplete.
Nevertheless, the county records reached Bloomington and there they remained, though Franklin, as the second Waterloo came to be called, insisted that it was the official county seat. A law suit was filed by Franklin in its attempt to recover the records, but District Judge GANT, of Beatrice, ruled that Bloomington was the legal county seat.
During the summer of 1874, the Federal Government decided to move the United State Land Office from Lowell to some point in the Republican Valley. When several towns began competing to secure its location, a tacit understanding developed, at least on the part of Franklinites, that should Bloomington be given the Land Office, she would surrender the county seat to Franklin.
Bloomington won the Land Office, but that fall several points in the county declared that they wanted the county seat and a bitter campaign was fought. At the October election the following points were contesting: Bloomington, Macon, Riverton, Franklin, and a point slightly southwest of Franklin on Section 2, Township 1, Range 15 west. Bloomington received the greatest number of votes and retained the county seat until 1920 when, after another bitter fight and election, the county seat was moved to Franklin.
In May, 1871, while the Plattsmouth Town Company was laying out a new town which they claimed was Waterloo and which they insisted was the county seat, a post office, the first in the county, was established in Franklin City. J.A. PERRY was appointed postmaster, and a postal route was established between Franklin and Kearney Junction. Mr. Perry, interested in the new town of Waterloo, moved his post office there. Since the post office bore the name of Franklin, the new town was always known by that name, although it always appeared in the books of the Plattsmouth Company as Waterloo. Neither of these towns was ever platted or filed on the county records.
By this time settlement of the county had begun in earnest. On Lovely Creek, Thomas SHOEMAKER, John HANNA, and a Mr. ROBERTS were among the first settlers.
Center Creek was first settled by Messrs. VAN LANINGHAM, VAN ETTEN, THOMPSON, HAGER, HAINES, BUSTER, ASHBY, HUNDT, HARMON, CHAPMAN, HUCHISON, and CURRY.
On VINING Creek, Messrs. VINING, BASS, DURANT, BLACKLEDGE, HAMMOND, BAETZ, and CAVE were among the first.
On Turkey Creek, among the first were Messrs. SPRAGUE, HEALEY, MARSTON, YOUNG, Walter BROWN, J. M. BROWN, BERLIE, LLOYD, STREETS, RAY, PHILLIPS, BUSH, EDGERTON, the WALTHER brothers and Mrs. WATKINS.
On Crow Creek, Mr. STANLOWE settled in 1871, and Messrs. GAGE, BROWN, NOVINGGER, STOVER, HAWKES, KENT, and CHALFANCE, in 1872.
Rebecca Creek was first settled by G. L. THOMPSON, L. M. MOULTON, J. F. ZEDIKER, Mrs. DOUGLASS, Albert DOWD, James DOUGLASS, Albert DOWD, James DOUGLASS, Elam DOUGLASS, Dr. M.L. WHITNEY, and the JOHNSON brothers.
On Cottonwood Creek, the first were Messrs. NIXON, Enos J. HAINES, E. HAINES, PILGERS, BASS, SCHAEFFER, J. W. and Jacob DEAREY, Owen W. DAVIS, Harold and Jay KEISER.
J. F. PUGSLEY, Sr., came out from Omaha in the fall of 1870 and selected claims for himself and his sons near the mouth of Cotton Wood and Pugsley Creeks, and in May, 1871, he brought out his wife, two sons and two daughters. The first settlers on Pugsley Creek were Gideon PUGSLEY, POGO, MORTON, STEWART, Reverend C. R. TOWNSEND, and Charles H. TOWNSEND.
As can be seen, the county was becoming well-populated. It began gradually to acquire many of the aspects commonly associated with civilization. The first sermon was preached in June, 1871 at the home of Judge VAN LANINGHAM by Rev. John W. WHITING, a one-armed ex-soldier. The church services were held under a large cottonwood tree a few rods from the house. Thirty to forty persons were present.
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