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Merrick County
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The Nonpareil - Mar. 24, 1898  


History of Merrick County

• From "the beginning" until the year 1895.



MERRICK COUNTY. -- 1858-1870

LetterS our readers have probably discovered before this time, the work of the historian of the frontier days is mainly one of compilation. The gathering of the fragments contributed by various ones of the early settlers, and the arrangement of these fragments into a somewhat more connected whole, is of more interest to both the old and new-timer than would be a mere synopsis by the author of the leading events of those days. So without further apology we give to the public again, after a lapse of twenty-four years, the account, first, of the legislative establishment of the county, as told by John L. Martin,1 and, secondly, Wells Brewers' account of the political organization of the county.2 Mr. Martin's record reads as follows:

   In the autumn of 1858, the Legislature passed an act defining the boundaries of newly established counties and establishing the county seats. This act first brought Merrick County into being, defining its boundaries and fixing the county seat at "Elvira." At the time of the passage of this act, Henry W. De Puy was Speaker of the House of Representatives, being "the gentleman from Dodge County." His wife's maiden name was Elvira Merrick, and it was in honor of both himself and his lady that the county was named Merrick and the seat of justice located at "Elvira." The act was approved November 4, 1858, but to this day no one has ascertained exactly where "Elvira" was situated, unless that it was "beautifully located upon a paper in the office of Dr. Henry, of Omaha, and supposed by the fortunate possessor of corner lots, to be about two miles southwest of the present town of Clark's, the old military road." It is contended, however, by "old-timers" who settled in that part of the county, that it was the design of the parties interested to locate the county seat upon or near the land now owned and occupied by the family of C. B. Hartwell, about two miles southeast of Clark's Station. As no one "dabbled" heavily, however, in Elvira real estate, it is of no particular importance, except as a matter of historical curiosity and conscientiousness, whether the exact location of the paper county seat is fixed more closely than on Dr. Henry's wall, in Omaha. In 1858, it would have been impossible to do more toward informing people where was their county seat, as the central part of the State was not then surveyed.

   Mr. Brewer thus tells the story of the county's political organization and early experiences:

   In the winter of 1863 and 1864 the question of organizing the county first began to be agitated. John L. Martin was the first to move in the matter. The question was discussed for some months, pro and con, among the settlers. There were those who opposed the measure. Their reasons for so doing were, in the first place, that the step was unnecessary; that the few settlers settled along the road could get along as well without a county organization as with; that if an organization was effected it would remain for years a dead letter, there not being inhabitants enough to run the machinery of a county organization; and finally, that if such all organization should be effected, and kept up, the expense, falling upon so few, would be enormous and burdensome; far overbalancing all the benefits that could possibly arise. On the other hand it was contended, in reply, that the expense of a county organization could be absolutely nothing if the people chose to make it

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so; the officers could perform what little service would be required of them free of charge, and that the benefits of organization would be that election precincts would be established, and we would then enjoy the privilege of voting at the election--a privilege of itself worth all the trouble and cost of organizing. The question finally prevailed. Those opposed really took no active steps in opposition. A petition was forwarded to the commissioners of Platte County, the nearest organized county east, praying that a special election be called for the election of county officers, as provided by law. The petition was granted and the eighteenth day of April, 1864, fixed upon as the day of holding the election.
   A week previous to the election day, a meeting was called for the purpose of selecting candidates for the various county offices. This meeting was held it the residence of J. G. Brewer, and was more generally attended than any meeting of the kind that has since been held in the county, and yet, for all that, the crowd in attendance was not large. The difficulty experienced at this meeting was altogether different from that which usually attends meetings of this kind. Generally the difficulty is to find offices for the candidates; on this occasion it was to find candidates for the offices. However, even at that early day, this difficulty was not

   1History of Nebraska, p. 1113.
   2Courier, 1874.

   NOTE.--As no bridge crossed the Platte within the boundaries of Merrick County until 1875, such items as the following, taken from the Courier of June 18, 1874, and April 10, 1876, were not at all uncommon:

   " 'DUCKED.'--One day last week, while a number of Hamilton County homesteaders who had been over to this place to do some trading, were crossing the Platte in a boat on their return home, their vessel capsized, pitching the whole party into the water. Quite a large amount of groceries and other goods which the party had purchased while here were either lost or damaged by the soaking they received, and one man by the name of Cunningham is said to have lost his pocketbook, containing $125 in greenbacks. It is supposed the accident was due in a great measure to the large amount of 'tanglefoot' which the party had taken 'on board.' Fortunately the water was not deep where they capsized; or the consequences might have been much more serious.

   "We learn that Mr. Paro, who lives on the other side of the river, (Platte), met with quite a narrow escape from drowning, while attempting to cross the stream with his team last Saturday night. He was in the water quite a while, and the horses were extricated with some difficulty."

found to be insuperable. Candidates were found, and a ticket made out. The nominees were as follows: County Commissioners, Jason Parker, Jesse Shoemaker and George Gelston; Sheriff, T. F. Parker; County Clerk, W. H. Mitchell; Treasurer, Wells Brewer; Prosecuting Attorney, H. N. Lathrop; Probate judge, J. G. Brewer. The county was divided into three precincts, the Eastern, Middle and Western. The election in the Eastern precinct was held at Eagle Island stage station; in the Middle precinct at the house of Jason Parker; in the Western precinct at the house of Jesse Shoemaker. Although, at the meeting which nominated the candidates, everything seemed to pass off harmoniously, yet there must have been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction somewhere, for on the election day a new ticket was gotten up with a new set of candidates, so far as new candidates could be obtained, for nearly every man in the county was already a candidate for one or more offices. The fight was a particularly strong on the office of County Clerk, Mr. W. W. Burroughs being the candidate on the new ticket. The returns of the election were made to the County Clerk of Platte county. In the Eastern precinct six votes were cast; in the Middle nine and in the Western twelve. All the regular nominees were elected. Certificates of election were issued by C. B.


The house is Uncle Jason's ranch. John Kyes holding the reins; beside him is the stage agent
Thompson, while Ede Stout, of Chapman, stands between Uncle Jason's daughter
Viola on the right and a Miss Hurley on the left.

Stillman, county clerk of Platte County. H. N. Lathrop took the oath of office before some officer authorized to administer the same in Columbus, and came up and qualified the Probate judge, who, in turn, administered the oath to the other officers elect, and the county organization became an accomplished fact.
   The first meeting of the Commissioners was a special one called by the County Clerk and held some time in May. The business transacted was nominal, merely, aside from approving the official bonds of the county officers. The organizing of a new county, and the transacting of county business, in those days, was very much like navigating the pathless ocean without chart or compass.. The laws on that point were very crude and contradictory. Scattered as they were throughout the various session laws of territorial legislature and the Organic Act, the labor of hunting them up was no slight affair. But there was this redeeming feature about it. Everybody was free and easy in regard to the nice points of the law in those days. There was no U. P. Railroad Company to sue out injunctions, and no Grand juries to indict if the strict letter of the law was not complied with. Yet no serious blunder occurred in the organization of the county, or in the management of its affairs for years. Perhaps this may only be owing to what is usually termed good luck. Perhaps, too, it may, in part, be owing to the fact that the temptation to malfeasance in office was not so great then as now. No officer then made money out of his office; no one made a living off the county; no one defrauded the county, for the county had nothing to be defrauded out of. Official, honesty was, for a time at least, a necessity. But the time at length came when that necessity no longer existed: The time came when there began to be money in the treasury, and yet, for a long time thereafter, the officials managed the county affairs as carefully, as economically and as honestly as they did their own private business.

   In the year 1864 considerable excitement was stirred up by the attempt of Hall County to "steal" a portion of western Merrick County. The course of this contest, which was not without reason on the part of Hall County, in that it was not well that Grand Island should be on their extreme eastern edge, is best told in the words of Judge Martin, who was himself a most prominent actor therein:

   In the winter of 1863-64, Frederick Hedde, of Hall County, was a member of the Legislature, elected from Merrick and Hall Counties, and the unorganized territory west of them, receiving a total of thirty-one votes. At this session, Hedde introduced a bill to attach six miles of Western Merrick County to Hall County. On Friday night at 10 oclock, January 29, 1864, John L. Martin received a letter from Hedde, telling him that the above bill had been introduced and passed a second reading. This matter required prompt action, and on Saturday a meeting was held and resolutions adopted, denouncing Hedde's action. Before night a remonstrance against such a course was signed by every citizen living within the six-mile strip. On that afternoon, and during Sunday, the remonstrance was presented to every citizen of Merrick County, signed and forwarded to Gov. Alvin Saunders, who received it ten hours after having signed Hedde's bill. A new bill was immediately introduced, repealing Hedde's, and was bitterly fought by Dr. Renni, Chairman of the Committee on Counties, and by Hedde himself. But the new bill passed the House, and was signed by the Governor four days before the Legislature adjourned sine die.


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