Hamilton County NEGenWeb Project

1890 History of Hamilton County

"Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Adams, Clay, Hall and Hamilton Counties"
A Brief Descriptive History of Hamilton County, and numerous
Biographical Sketches of the Citizens

The Goodspeed Publishing Co.
Chicago, Ill.

(Note: Only Hamilton County is available here)
(See the Hall County section on the Hall County NEGenWeb Project site.)

Hamilton County

Chapter XXVIII


O knew he but his happiness, of men
The happiest he! who, far from public rage,
Deep in the vale, with a choice few retired,
Drinks the pure pleasures of the rural life.-Thomson.

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    HAMILTON COUNTY is located in the finest agricultural section of the State, and is bounded on the east by Polk and York, on the south by Clay, on the west by Hall and on the north by Merrick Counties, the Plate River, flowing in a northeasterly direction, forming the boundary line between Merrick and Hamilton. It includes the territory lying between the east line of Range 5, and the west line of Range 8, and the south line of Township 9, and the Platte River, and contains 345,045 acres of land, of unsurpassed fertility and productiveness. The surface is gently undulating, rising in long, gradual "slopes," from the valleys of the streams, to the tops of the "divides," separating them. Four pricipal streams have their sources in this county, and flow in an easterly direction through it. The North Blue heads in Town 12, Range 7, and flows in a northeastern direction; Lincoln Creek, rising in the north part of Town 10, Range 8, follows closely along the town line, between Towns 10 and 11, to the east side of the county; Beaver Creek heads in the southwest part of Town 10, Range 8, and also flows in nearly a driect easterly course through the entire breadth of the county; and the Blue River flows eastwardly through the southern tier of townships. The latter stream is the most important, always containing a plentiful supply of running water,a nd having some excellent mill sites. The soil is a rich dark loam, from one to four feet deep, with an alluvial sub-soil extending to a depth of from ten to twenty-five feet. This sub-soil is strongly charged with comminuted silica, and is virtually identical with the celebrated

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Loess deposit of the Nile Valley. So long as this alluvial shall endure the fertility of Hamilton County's broad acres will be undiminished. Underlying this deposit is a bed of sand, which contains a never-failing supply of pure fresh water, which is easily reached by "boring," or by "driving." This water is of the greatest imaginable benefit, as it is carried to the surface by capillary attraction, and sustains begetation through ling periods of drouth, and keeps it green and vigorous under conditions which would utterly destroy it in most section of the country. The soil is eminently adapted to nearly all varieties of cereals and grasses, especially so to corn, rye, ats, flax, etc.; the cereals, and blue-grass, timothy, clover and millet, of the grasses; potatoes, garden vegetables; fruits, such as apples, pears, cherries, grapes, plums, and all the small fruits adapted to this latitude, flourish her to the highest perfection. As a reference to to the pages will show, there were in cultivation in 1889, 249,876 acres, and the large amount of products annually shipped out of the county attest their productiveness. The following is the total assessed valuation of the county, for the pupose of taxation, for the year 1889:

Burlington & Missouri River RR Co   315,896.55
Fremont, Elkhorn & MO Valley Co    49,600.00
Western Union Telegrahp Co545.60
Grand Total$2,132,793.65

    A conservative estimate of the actual value of the real estate of the county would probably be &7,500,000, farm lands ranging in value from $15 to $40 per acre.

    The following statement shows the increase of population from the settlement of the county to the present time: Census of 1870, 130; census of 1880, 8,267; census of 1885, 12,065; estimated poulation 1890, 14,500.

    The climate is unsurpassed by that of any section of the country in this latitude. Spring and summer are characterized by frequent showers of rain, while fall and winter are dry; comparatively little snow falling in this section. The hot sun of summer is rendered pleasant and agreeable by the cooling breeze which is almost constantly blowing. The rigors of winter are rendered much more endurable here than in other portions of the country by the extreme dryness of the atmosphere. No miasmatic influences prevail and malaria is comparatively unknown.

    Occasionally the county has been visited by severe snow storms termed "blizzards," which usually continue from twelve to forty-eight hours. They are characterized by a high north wind, while the air is filled with a whirling, driving, sifting mass of snow. Probably the most severe of these storms was the celebrated "Easter storm" of April 13, 1873, which raged with great fury during three days. The air was filed with a blinding cloud of snow, which was so dense as to render objects at a few yards distance entirely invisible. The weather was not cold and the snow wa wet and heavy. Consideralbe stock perished during this storm, but no lives were lost in this county, although some of the adjoining counties were not so furtunate. The storm was very seriously felt by the settlers, as they wee in many cases poorly provided, not only with proper shelter for stock, but even in the matter of shelter fo their families. One can hardly appreciate the hardships to which the early settlers of htis county were exposed, certainly not one who has come here within the last decade. The conditions now are so entirely different that it is difficult to ralize that scarce a score of years ago this was a boundless plain, unmarked by the hand of civilization.

    Where now are seen peaceful farms and hamlets, with herds of cattle and horses quietly feeding in the green meadows, vast herds of buffalo, elk, deer and antelope were wont to roam, when first the feet of the settler trod these plains. These herds contributed liberally to supply the larder of the pioneer, however, and were highly appreciated at a time when the nearest trading point was Nebraska City. They soon disappeared, however, before the advance of civilization, and the last great herd of buffalo left in 1869 to return no more. Elk, deer and antelope remained a little longer,

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and ten years after the disappearance of the buffalo, occasional bands of antelope could be seen.

    Hamilton County of to-day, whose beautiful surface is covered by well-improved, productive farms, and busy, thriving cities and villages, was but a few years ago the hunting grounds of the Indian, who "untrammeled by law" pursued the immense herds of buffalo, elk, deer and antelope, which fed on the luxuriant grasses, with which bountiful nature had carpeted her valleys, hills and sloping plains.

    The first white men to encroach on the domain of the savage was the Indian expedition of Gen. Kearney, in 1835, which crossed this county on the line of the old trail between Lincoln and Beaver Creeks. J. P. Elliott, one of the first settlers of Aurora Precinct, accompanied that expedition. In 1842 the exploring party of Gen. John C. Fremont crossed the county, and they were followed five or six years later by the Mormons, in their long, weary journey from Nauvoo, Ill., to Salt Lake. A deep, wide, "trail" marked the course of their march. This wa known as the "Old Mormon Trail," and was the route traveled by the freight and stage lines, between Nebraska City and Fort Kearney, until the building of the Union Pacific Railroad superseded these modes of conveyance. One of these transportation companies tried the experiment of drawing the freight wagons by a steam road engine. The experiment proved a failure, but it served to give the old trail a new name, that of the "Steam Wagon Trail."

    "Ranches" were established along the trail, for the accommodation of freighters. The first of these ranches established in this county was that of David Millspaw, on Section 11, Town 10, Range 5, in the year 1861. The next year, 1862, John Harris and Alfred Blue established the famous "Deep Well Ranch," on the Beaver, two miles and a half north of the town of Bromfield. In 1863 an overland stage line was put in operation between Nebraska City and Fort Kearney, and "Prairie Camp," a relay station, was established six miles west of the Millspaw Ranch. A second trail crossed the county following the Platte bottom. This was first traveled by the military, and subsequently by the "forty-niners," and was called the "Old Fort Kearney," or "Pike's Peak Trail." About 1862 J. T. Briggs established a rance on this trail ner the Platte. These several ranches flourished until 1867, when the advent of the iron horse supplanted the ox and mule team of the freighter. Traces of these old trails can be seen at this day, but they are rapidly disappearing under the plow of the husbandman.

    The first settlement made in the county for the purposes of agriculture was made on the Blue River, near the south line of the county, by Jarvil Chaffee and George Hicks, who settled on Section 34, Town 9, Range 6, in the month of June, 1866. Mr. Chaffee built a "dug-out," which was the first residence constructed in the county its size being 10x12 feet. In January, 1867, James Waddle and John Brown made settlements on Section 26, Township 9, Range 5, in Farmer's Valley Precinct. These, with their families, were the next to make Hamilton County their home, and they built the first log-houses in the county. J. D. Wescott, C. O. Wescott, N. M. Bray, Michail Steinmetz, arrived in May of the same year, and also located in Farmer's Valley. In the month of June, 1867, Robert Lamont and James Cameron settled on Section 26, Town 9, Range 6, and John Harris took a claim on Section 28, Town 9, Range 5. In October of the same year, James Cummings and William D. Young located in Farmer's Valley Precinct.

    In the month of February, 1868, george Proud settled on Section 26, Town 9, Range 6, and in December John Salmon, Alexander Salmon, James Rollo and Frank Dickson made settlements. The Messrs. Salmon made their claims on Section 28, Mr. Rollo on Section 30, Town 9, Range 5, and Mr. Dickson on Section 26, Town 9, Range 6.

    In April, 1869, S. M. Hunter and Philip Hunter settled on Section 34, Town 9, Range 5, and in the month of June, John Laurie settled on the claim of John Harris, Section 28, Town 9, range 5.

    The first settlers on Lincoln Creed were Martin Werth and family, William Werth and August Werth, locatin on Section 24, Township 10, Range 5, in October, 1869. Jacob Erickson also

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settled about this time on Section 22. The following spring of 1870, S. W. Spafford and family and N. P. Spafford settled on Section 32, and Henry Spafford on Section 34, Township 11, Range 6. L. W. Hastings and James McBride settled on Section 2, Township 10, Range 6. In the fall of 1870, G. C. Boyce, Noah Brotherton, William S. Boyce, S. F. Ganis and R. E. Boyce, came out here from Iowa to locate, but returned and came out the next spring.

    J. M. Fodge, G. Haner, A. P. Hendrickson, A. Mogenson, J. M. Sechler, John Mathews, J. C. Ratcliff, J. P. Elliott, John Hagerman, P. C. Culver, John Tweedy, D. Grant, C. H. Kimball, John and Christopher Hazelbaker, made settlements during the spring and summer of 1871, and in the fall of 1871 Messrs. Fidge and family made settlement on Section 32.

    The Blue Valley in the north part of the county was settled by W. L. Whittemore, in 1870, who took up his claim on Section 2, Township 12, Range 5. B. F. Webb also settled on Section 12, Township 12, Range 5. T. W. Manchester, M. Vanduzen and others locted here in 1872.

    Mr. Hewitt settled in the extreme northeast corner of the county on Section 24, Township 10, Range 5, in 1872, and shortly after J. W. Ward, C. Thurman, James Foster and J. A. Foster, who took up their claims in Bluff Precinct.

    S. K. Butler and Henry Jennings are also among the early settlers who came to Hamilton County with the heavy frosts of many years resting upon their honest faces, but showing as much youth and vigor in subduing its fertile soil as many of the younger settlers. Mr. Platz brought with him quite a herd of cattle, but most of them perished during the Easter storm of 1873, while that tremendous storm of snow and wind was sweeping over the county. Among the older settlers of the extreme west side of the county are Charles Tomphins and family, Jacob Jeffers and family, and Mrs. Charlotte Ward, who arrived and camped on their homesteads on Section 4, Township 10, Range 8.

    The next settlers were H. B. Hall and Rev. A. D. Tremball. Mr. Hall settled on Section 28, and Rev. Tremball upon Section 32, Town 11, Range 8, and S. P. Cowgill, another early settler, located upon Section 4, Town 10, Range 8.

    The first settler in Hamilton Precinct, formertly a part of Deepwell Precinct, was G. K. Eaton, who took up his claim in the spring of 1872, and shortly after was followed by H. B. Miller, Robert Eyres, S., B. Gebbart, B. F. Iseman and Samuel Miller.

    A post-office was established here in 1874 under the name of Hamilton and afterward changed to Alvin. Benjamin Abbot was appointed post-master.

    The southwest part of the county embracing Scoville and Union Precincts was settled in 1871; Union, by M. Farrell, D. Kinsinger, J. E. Jackett, A. V. B. Peck, W. H. and C. M. Garrison, taking up their claims on Section 20 and 28, Town 9, Range 7; Scovill, by D. A. Scovill and D. W. Garrison, who held full possession until the spring of 1873, when they were joined by A. Murdock, J. M. Livingstone, T. D. Case and S. N. Case. Messrs. Scovill and Garrison settled on Section 24, Town 9, Range 8. In the fall of 1872 there was quite a sensation created in this precinct, caused by a party of men hunting antelope. The report of their guns frightened a woman into the belief that the Indians had made a raid upon the settlement. Taking her two small children she fled from her home, partly dragging them across the prairie spreading the news of carnage and desolation among the settlers as she went, and finally concealing herself in an old sod stable.

    Brave men were soon under arms willing to die for their homes and families. The women, after the first occasion of alarm had passed, showed themselves worthy, and quietly went to work running bullets and preparing ammuniton for their husbands, who were out waiting to give the first Indian that appeared a warm reception. After a time the true state of affairs was discovered, and after a hearty laugh all returned to their homes, and peace and quiet once more prevailed.

    The first settlers on Beaver Creek were R. M.

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Hunt, Samuel Yost and S. B. Chapman, in 1870, and very soon after they were followed by J. W. Jones, H. M. Graham, Henry Newman and Franklin Jacoby.

    During the years 1872 and 1873 settlers poured into the county from all parts of the country. Since that date settlers have coninued to arrive with each succeeding season, transforming its fertile soil form a mere uninteresting plain of rolling billowy prairie into a very garden, teeming with a busy population of intelligent, well-to-do people, possessing every social advantage enjoyed by communities having greater opportunities and hoary with the frosts of a century.

    From the little handful of eighteen sturdy pioneers who assembled at the house of John Harris barely twenty years ago to organize the county, their followers have increased to a population of nearly or quite 15,000, and their possessions to an assessed valuation of over $2,000,000.

    While the early settlers were never rally molested by the Indians, they were in constant apprehension of a visit from these turbulent denizens of the plains, and the slightest indication of their advent served to call the little band of brave men together, armed for the fray. One or two incidents will serve to illustrate this. In the fall of 1868 a stranger dashed up to the door of "Jarv." Chaffee's dug-out, his horse covered by foam, and said he had been chased six miles by a band of Indians. The alarm was at once spread down the river, and in a short time a doaen men were assembled, well armed and mojnted. Among them were Charles White, Robert Henderson, Alex Salmon, Hugh Ketchum, Rober Waddle, Norris M. Bary, C. O. Wescott, Dan George, R. Fairbanks, John Harris and Alex Laurie. They at once started up the river to meet the foe. After riding for several hours, scouring the "draws" along the river, night overtook them, without their having seen andy traces of Indians. they ahd reached what i snow Scoville Precinct, and concluded to camp there till morning, which they did, sitting down on the prairie and holding their horses. During the night they were disturbed by observing some kind of animal prowling around through their camp. Investigation reveled the fact that it was one of their own number, Alex Salmon, moving around on his hands and knees. Asked what he was looking for, he replied that he was "hunting a hole in which to put his picket pin, so he could go to sleep."

    The next morning, no signs of Indians being seen, they decided thaty the stranger had been lying and returned to their homes. The same day a party of Indians attacked the ranch of Mr. Wall, a few miles farther west, in Hall County.

    On another occasion Mrs. James Waddle was alone at her home with her children, when she observed a party of horsemen coming over the hill toward the house. As this was off the line of travel, she concluded at once that the strangers were Indians, and determined to defend her home and little ones to the death. The house consisted of two rooms, the front or main room being built of logs, and the rear being a "dug-out," with a door connection them. Instantly putting the children in the dug-out, she placed a large meat barrel in the open doorway, then arming herself with several revolvers, and Bob's rifle, she concealed herself in the barrel and awaited the attack. When the party came up she was relieved to find they were whites, a band of "gold-diggers," on their way to California. With her characteristic hospitality, for which she is so deservedly famous, she supplied their inner wants, and sent them on their way rejoicing.

    The following events are of interest, as being connected with the early history of the county: The first birth which occurred in the county - but before its organization as such - took place at the Millspaw Ranch in 1861, a child to John and Rosy McClellan, and grandson of David Millspaw, and the first death occurred at this same ranch, in the removal of the above-mentioned child in the summer of 1863. It was buried in a lonely grave on the prairie, near the site of the old ranch.

    The first birth on record was Orville Wescott, a son to C. O. Wescott, and the first death was that of the wife of J. D. Wescott. The first marriage was that of Philip Hart to Elizabeth Ellen Verley, on August 21, 1870, the ceremony being performed by Robert Lamont, probate judge.

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    The first Fourth of July celebration was held in the year 1870, in a gove on the south side of the Blue River, the property of J. D. Wescott. The oration was deliverd by B. D. Brown, and was the first oration delivered in the county.

    The first crime committed was the murder of a Mr. Johnson, of Illinois, in August, 1870.

    The first post-office was established on the Blue, at the house of Robert Lamont, who was appointed postmaster. The post-office was named Verona, and continued under that name until its removal to Orville City. In the spring of 1871, a second post-office was established on Lincoln Creek, at the house of S. W. Spafford, with S. W. Spafford as postmaster. A weekly mail route was established, L. W. Hastings, contractor, from Seward to Grand Island, via York and Spafford's Grove, and in the spring of 1872 another office, called Williamsport, was established at William Werth's place. Later this office was moved to the house of G. W. Hiatt on the "State Road," the town line between Townships 10 and 11.

    The first school district was organized September 27, 1840, with Joseph Stockham as director. The census return of the district recorded the names of thirty-nine children of school age. A log school-house was erected by the settlers. Two pine boards served as desks, and split logs as seats. It was located on Section 34, Township 9, Range 5, with Miss Jennie Laurie (now Mrs. A. M. Glover) as teacher. E. J. Waddle, Esq., of Aurora, was a pupil in this primitive educational institution. He says, "The seats were made by splitting green box-elder, full of sap, which they could never get warm." Quite a number of the old settlers yet remain, and continue to till the soil, many of them being in comfortable circumstances, and some having accumulated respectable fortunes; among them are the following, with a statement of important official positions which they have occupied in the county: Jarvil Chaffee, James Waddle, J. D. Wescott (county clerk, 1870 to 1874), H. M. Bray (commissioner, 1870 to 1875), George Proud, James Rollo (coroner, 1870 to 1872), Alex Salmon (coroner, 1872 to 1874), John Laurie (superintendent, 1870 to 1872), Martha Werth, James McBride, John Mathews, John Hagerman, P. C. Culver, T. W. Manchester, John Danhaure, J. M. Hewitt, O. Thurman, Jacob Jaffers, G. K. Eaton, Robvert Eyres, B. F. Iseman (county commissioner, 1875 to 1878; is a member of the present board, his term expiring January, 1893), Benjamin Abbott, M. Farrell, D. Iensinger, J. M. Livingstone, T. D. Case, J. W. Skelton, W. J. Carver, Frank Jenison, W. H. Hardin, F. C. Putnam (State Senator, 1885 to 1887; commissioner, 1887 to 1890), Ed Huling (commissioner, 1879 to 1882, and member of present board, his term expiring January, 1891), Edward Nugent (commissioner, 1873 to 1878), Jonathan Foster (commissioner, 1879 to 1881), Samuel Yost, J. W. Jones, C. O. Wescott (treasurer, 1870 to 1874), P. C. Housel (commissioner, 1873 to 1875).

     The following-named pioneers of the county have abandoned the peaceful pursuit of agriculture, to engage in other occupations: N. P. Spafford, merchant, Aurora; L. W. Hastings, editor Republican, Aurora; George Hauer, Hampton; John Tweedy, postmaster, Aurora; C. H. Kimball, retired, Aurora; S. B. Gebhart, constable, Aurora; A. B. B. Peck, postmaster, Bromfield (served as commissioner from 1878 to 1880); D. A. Scovill, police judge (served as State Senator in 1879 and 1880, and is one of the present members of the Legislature, his term expiring January 1, 1891, also served one term as sheriff from 1876 to 1878); S. B. Chapman, merchant, Aurora; Henry Newman, retired, Aurora; J. F. Glover, retired, Hamilton (served as commissioner in 1871 and 1872); William Glover, merchant, Aurora; Robert Lamont, drayman, Aurora (served as first probate judge in 1870 to 1872); T. A. McKay, retired, Hamilton (served as treasurer form 1878 to 1882); Robert Waddle, meat market, Aurora; E. J. Waddle, banker, Aurora; T. B. Johnson, editor and publisher, Stockham (served as Representative in 1877 and 1878, and in 1881 and 1882); Joseph Stockham (was commissioner from 1882 to 1885); Gen. Delevan Bates, banker, Aurora (served as superintendent in 1876 and 1877, has also served the city of Aurora as treasurer, councilman and mayor);

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R. W. Graybill, attorney at law, Aurora (was Representative in 1879 and 1880).

    The following-named settlers, who were prominently identified with the early history of the county, have passed over the river and settled in that country "from whose bourne no traveler ever returns:" John Brown, John Salmon, Phil Hunter, G. C. Boyce, James M. Foster, J. S. Foster, S. K. Butler, Alex Laurie (one of the members of the first board of commissioners), S. N. Case (died while serving as commissioner in 1885), R. M. Hunt, William D. Young, William Werth, John H. Helms, James Laurie (died April 18, 1886, while serving as county clerk).

    A strong feeling of fraternity exists among the "old timers," which has led to the formation of old settlers' organizations in several portions of the county; this feeling will no doubt continue until the last "old settler" has passed into hereafter.

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