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Merrick County
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The Nonpareil - Mar. 17, 1898  


History of Merrick County

• From "the beginning" until the year 1895.




   Judge Brewer at once located on the farm which yet bears his name, but after a brief stay his brother Wells returned temporarily to Michigan. The names of Messrs. Vieregg and Brewer, thus early associated with the history of our county, have been prominent in all its later development, as will be found in subsequent chapters. To Mr. Wells Brewer, especially, we are indebted for the large portion of the facts concerning our early history.
   But for the present we shall leave them to the mercy of the yet uncivilized Indians, while we follow the movements of the first family


which made Merrick County its permanent home. On January 1st ,1860, Jason Parker drove the stakes which bounded his newly acquired possessions, and in March brought his family out to share the fortunes of the great west. Mr. Parker's original claim lies just west up the river from the farm now occupied by Mr. Frank Parker, Sr., a son of Jason Parker.
   For the history immediately following Mr. Parker's introduction into Merrick County life we are again indebted to the "History of Nebraska," which tells the story as follows: "The next accession to the county's population, but not a permanent one, was occasioned by the erection of an imposing structure on Eagle Island by one Bill Hufftalen. It was built of hewn logs and roofed with actual shingles! The ambition of its owner, however, seems to have leaped his pocketbook (or something), for the ranch building had scarcely been finished when it was purchased by the Western Stage Company. Major Hartwell afterward came into possession of it. The 'Lone Tree Ranch' changed hands several times in the course of the year, and another establishment was in complete operation at Warm Slough. Half a mile west of Lone Tree, Lew Hill operated a ranch a short time. He was a stage driver by occupation, a road agent of the stage company, and, on account of some irregularity, he 'got notice to quit.' It was just above this claim that J. G. Brewer had erected his cabin. The next settler after Mr. Brewer whose personal record is a part of the county's history, is John L. Martin, who had during 1860 been living at Shell Creek. In May, in 1861, he settled upon a claim about a mile and a half southeast of Chapman, where he remained until the time of his death in 1893." During the whole of his lifetime Mr. Martin was a conspicuous figure in the political history of the country. His wife was no less prominent, although in another way, being for five years the only physician between Columbus and "Fort Kearney,"
   James Huteson, who had put in the winter of 1860-61 on Parker's Island, in the spring of 1861 moved north to the place now his home and started a ranch. In the same year Mrs. Mary Hilton2 came to Merrick County and took possession of the stage house. Soon afterward the family built a ranch house across the road from the Lone Tree, and still later moved up the river. Their final settlement was made on the southern portion of the land now occupied by Mr. Eugene Hilton. With the few other immigrants who have escaped the recorder's pen, the number of Merrick County's inhabitants at the close of the year 1861 was less than forty. In 1863 Wells Brewer returned from Michigan and settled in the county, and with Richard Eatough,1 who in the same year settled near the present situation (on this side of the river, however) of his son James, completed the list of early settlers so far as we shall attempt to enumerate them in the present chapter.

1At the time of his death (1877) the Courier commented as follows upon the surroundings of Mr. Eatough's early life.
   He was one of the oldest settlers in the state. Where now stands Central City, he a few years ago mowed hay for his stock He saw the whole growth of this village. When he came the Union Pacific railroad had not been commenced. There was no village--not a single store. Hay was mown at pleasure in any part of the ground now occupied by Central City.

2Mrs. Fanny Combs, in a late note to The Nonpareil, tells the circumstances of her mother's coming to Lone Tree, which were as follows: In 1856 Mr. and Mrs. John Hilton sold their home in Maine and started for the West, to build a new one. Mr. Hilton came by wagon and Mrs. Hilton by rail to Illinois and from thence to Iowa, where they tarried for the winter. In the spring of 1857 they moved on to western Iowa. During their residence there Mr. Hilton went to New Orleans for work, was taken sick there, and returned home to die in a few weeks of a congestive chill. During the winter Mrs. Hilton's house and other possessions were destroyed by fire, and the two boys, Charles and Eugene, came to the west for work. In 1862 Mrs. Hilton and the rest of the family followed, and moved into the stage station one mile west of the old Lone Tree. In 1863 they erected a log house just across the road from the old tree itself. Mrs Hilton was well know from the time of her coming until after the town was laid out, by reason ...

   The stretch of country which is now included in Merrick County was never the scene of as tragic occurrences as were the counties on the west; yet Merrick County was not without its stirring, and sometimes really dangerous, incidents of frontier life. We have at hand two or three examples of what the early settlers were called upon to pass through. The first is contained in the record of daily occurrences as recorded in the diary of J. L. Martin, and reads as follows:

   May 29.--Sioux (300) here; stole muslin.
   June 5.--Indians here. Bartley stabbed.
   June, 6.--Indians drove away cattle.
   June 9.--Military company camped here.
   June 21.--500 Indians here; tried to stab me.
   June 23.--Report 1000 Indians coming down valley.
   June 24.--Went to Jim's [James Vieregg's] and stayed all night.
   June 26.--Started for home for assistance.

   Mr. Henry Martin informs us of the particulars relating to the entry of June 21st. Henry and his father were breaking with a "double header" composed of two oxen and two horses. While Henry was occupied in fixing the chain by which the horses, who preceeded the oxen, were attached to the plow, several Indians came up and demanded one of Mr. Martin's oxen. Mr. Martin refused and started around his plow, when an Indian attempted to stab him, and only failed because Mr. Martin jumped backward. Henry at this juncture threw the monkey wrench, with which he was working, at the Indian and knocked him down. Then Mr. Martin jumped on to one of the horses and ran for the barn, Henry, following on one of the oxen. They ran the stock into the stable and then made for the house, where they frightened the Indians away by running around in the house and shoving their three rifles through the various loop holes, thus leading the Indians to believe there were several in the house. The Indians, however, took with them a considerable of the family wardrobe which had that morning been washed and hung out to dry.
   The others occurred a little later in the same year, and are thus described in a recent letter from Mrs. J. G. Brewer, now of La Porte, Texas:

   I have been alone with over a thousand Indians and received no harm; then again a few have conducted themselves in such a manner as to frighten a hundred brave women. In one instance, I had brought about $5 worth of dry goods of a peddler and laid them on a bed. The Indians were camping on the Island, and some of them came into the front room of our house while I was in the kitchen. I could not get them out of the house for a long time, and then the goods were gone. In the evening the hired man and myself went to their camp, and they ordered us to go away. The hired man went as fast as he could to the house, leaving me alone. I told the Indians I must have my goods before I left the tepee, for I knew they had them. They set up a great howl and threatened me every way--by stripping off their blankets, pulling out their knives, and getting their bows and arrows ready. I think I was too frightened to move; at least I did not, until they took me by the arms and put me out of their wigwam.
   Then I went home alone, as Mr. Brewer was gone. These statements may appear trifling to those who read this history, but let them be placed under the same circumstances, and they would find it no laughing matter.
   There was a Mr. Hill living half a mile from us, and one day as I was looking down the road (being alone so much I got in the habit of watching) I saw there were Indians around his house. I was perfectly satisfied that I would recieve (sic) a call. After a little I saw Viola Parker (now Mrs. John Kyes) running toward me, screaming. She said they were using Mrs. Hill horribly. Not a man was to be found. Mr. Brewer was in Omaha, the hired whoisit?man was hunting for a lost cow. We decided we could do himspacer no good, and so ran as fast as we could up the road, our hair streaming in the wind and making us appear very much like squaws. After going about three miles we met our hired man. We were nearer dead than alive. He assured us that he would protect us, and after resting a little while we started for home. When we arrived, Mrs. Hill was there, wailing and crying, her clothing nearly torn from her body and great locks of hair pulled from her head. On our way back we had met the Indians, and dangling at their sides were bed quilts, pans, pails, cheese boxes that were used for tomato and cabbage plants, and various other things from our houses.
   Soon after a party of them came to our place and commenced taking things from the walls and stealing things generally after we had fed them well. But Mr. Brewer ran foul of them and made them throw off their blankets, and tried to kick the worst one out of doors. The Indian thereupon drew a small gun from some concealed place and pointed it at Mr. Brewer. Charley Hartley (the hired man) saw the performance (Mr. Brewer did not) and jumped at the Indian, knocking the gun from his hand. The contents of the gun lodged in the wall about 2 inches from Hartley's head. Hartley was very indignant, and so were the Indians, as was plainly shown by their constant "worrying" of us, and returning for revenge, however petty. It was terrible, not knowing how soon we might be scalped. Our windows and doors were always left unbolted, as it seemed the safest way. To be sure we had the consolation that there were large "trains" camping near us, with a goodly number of men armed to the teeth, and the stage company also ran their coaches twice a day and were a good deal of company, serving to draw our attention from the horrors of such a life.
   Soon after the last event I was alone with our brave Hartley, who was standing on the outside of the house, making pins to fasten the logs together for an addition to our then one-room house. He came hastily to the door and called out, "Look quick; the Indians are coming." I glanced up the road and saw about forty-five of them, one riding in advance. This one rode his pony on to Hartley, with force enough to knock him down. As soon as he recovered himself he struck the pony such a blow as to fell it to the earth. The Indian was so surprised that he tumbled off his horse, which ran away. By that time the others had arrived. Then commenced the din of battle. It was to all appearances a terrible fight, their whips cracking, some of them shooting, the clashing of all their implements, the roaring of their horrible dialect, and occasionally a horrible oath in fair English. I could hear Hartley swearing profusely, and striking with the log pin. He called loudly to me to hand him the gun, but I would not. He was so mad that he tried to break down the door. I thought it was the Indians, and oh, how I prayed for deliverance. Fifteen minutes was the time occupied, but it seemed like hours. At last all was quiet but a terrible clanging at the door. I supposed Hartley was killed, for they had made fuss enough to kill fifty men. I thought my time had come and nearly fainted, but managed to say I would not open the door. How relieved I was when I heard Hartley say, "For God's sake let me in; the bloody devils are gone." I opened the door, and what a sight! His hair (which was about three inches long) was standing straight up, his shirt nearly torn off, and vest gone--one of the Indians had worn it off. He flew at me with the exclamation, "D---n you, Mrs. Brewer, why didn't you hand me that gun? You don't know how badly I wanted to kill one of them red devils." I said, "If you had killed one of them they would have killed you, and then what would have become of me?" "Oh, they would have taken you with them--such a brave, lovely person!" But he afterward acknowledged it was best for all of us that I did not give him the gun. The Indians were on a war expedition to the Pawnee reservation, and in four days they came back again. They ordered bread and milk. We gave them all the milk there was, but they thought we had more, and made an examination. I satisfied them by showing the place it was kept and the empty pans. Then Mr. Brewer and myself and Hartley had to shake hands with the whole forty-five. it took us half a day to wait on them. They thought Hartley very brave not to be afraid of so many of them. They told him to come with them and they would let him have a Sioux wife. But he was still determined to have his revenge and kill one of them. This proved a very great detriment to us all, and was the cause of our losing all we had in the world, as will be shown later.


© 2000, 2001 by Ted & Carole Miller