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Merrick County
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The Nonpareil - June 2, 1898


History of Merrick County

• From "the beginning" until the year 1895.




(Concluded from last week)

   Mr. N. R. Persinger, who was secretary of the relief committee which the visits of the "hoppers" necessitated, has furnished us with the following account of their second coming and going:

   To us from eastern homes, who had known grasshoppers only as a kind of after-harvest crop, it was a wonderful experience to see them flying through the air, looking like snow flakes, thistle down, or cottonwood seeds, and so compact that for a whole day the sun shone hazily, as if shining through smoke. The wind was from a little west of north, but later changed so that it came directly from the south, and then the cloud descended and lighted upon the earth in unnumbered billions. They covered the ground so nearly that their red legs gave a reddish tint to the surface of the earth. As a person walked along, in their efforts to keep away from him the grasshoppers flew up and away, keeping a circle around him, those in front rising and circling around and lighting behind the moving person. If by any chance a grasshopper was injured, cannibal-like the other hoppers pounced upon him and soon ate him up. They seemed especially fond of the tender corn blades and all kinds of vines and vegetables. in the corn fields they gathered on the stalks and blades until every hill of corn looked as if loaded down with a swarm of bees, and in less than half a day a field of thrifty corn would be denuded of every blade and shoot, and only the bare stalk be left standing. They would eat the wheat, oat and barley straw off just below the head, and strip every blade from the stalk. The evening of the day following their falling down upon us witnessed cultivated fields despoiled of all promise of harvest. It seemed strange, awful, mysterious to us, but not for some time did we fully realize the awful calamity that had come upon us. The county was new; nearly all of our people were beginners in life, and had staked their all upon the raising of a crop, while many had gone into debt for their farming implements and even for their living. To be left with nothing to pay their debts or even to live upon until another crop could be raised, was a serious matter and it required great courage, economy and faith to live through it. I will not comment upon the disposition of the charity that was so wonderfully shown to our people, but the memory of it brings the warm blood rushing into our hearts even to this day.

    We will close the account of the grasshopper years with a final quotation from Mr. Steele, as found in the July 8th, 1875, issue of the Courier whose purchase Mr. Steele "never had occasion to regret."
   It is in the nature of a farewell ode, and reads as follows:

"When the hoppers homeward fly,
Every eye with joy is gleaming;
And we watch them through the sky
Watch their wings so whitely gleaming
To the northward, to the westward,
To the red man's reservation
our farewell-in fact, our best word
Is a hearty imprecation."

Section break



LetterN the Lone Tree Courier of January 25, 11875, appeared the following account of a transaction by which J. G. Brewer had become a debtor to Merrick County in the matter of a mill property:

   In January, 1872, Merrick County, by a vote of its people, loaned its credit to Mr. J. G. Brewer for the term of ten years, upon the condition that he should construct a water power from the Platte river and erect a grist mill on section 31, township 13, range 6, and operate the same as a public grist mill, grinding for toll, not to exceed the rate of one-sixth. To secure the county against possible-loss, and as a guaranty that the conditions of the contract should be faithfully performed, the said Mr. J. G. Brewer executed a mortgage to the county on his homestead, located on the aforesaid section 31, conditioned that, at the end of ten years, he would pay to the county the amount of the principal and interest of the aforesaid bonds. The undertaking was at that time wholly an experiment. Many of the best informed men on such subjects thought a failure inevitable. All were aware that Judge Brewer ran the risk of losing all that he possessed in the world. But the-want of a grist mill was so great, and so completely. was the county secured against loss, that when the question was submitted to the people, the proposition carried by a large majority. The result was that the undertaking succeeded beyond the expectations of the most sanguine. More than a year sooner than the limit of time specified in the proposition the water power was constructed and a mill with one run of stone (as stipulated in the proposition) was erected and running; grinding for one-sixth toll.

   Such was the history of Judge Brewer's first "mill proposition," and the forerunner of. a second which caused nearly as stubborn a battle as did that of the ill-fated Midland Pacific. It is with the record of this second proposition that we propose to concern ourselves in this chapter.

    Three years after the making of the first contract with Merrick County, Judge Brewer laid before the people a second proposition, viz.:

    That if the county would cancel the mortgage it held against his homestead, and release him from his obligation to pay the bonds, he would extend his race to Lone Tree station and build a grist mill of not less than three run of stone, on or before the first day of September, 1876, and that he would operate the same as a public grist mill, grinding for the legal rates of toll. The sum and substance of the proposition was that the county give Mr. Brewer, as a bonus for the extension of his race to Lone Tree station and the erection of a mill there, the sum of $6,000.

    This proposition was readily approved of by a large number of the citizens of Lone Tree, and disapproved of by about the same number. Some thought Mr. Brewer would be compelled by pressure of business and competition to erect the mill at Lone Tree before many years, even if the county should compel the payment of 'the original bonds', while some even claimed that the county should no more donate several thousand dollars to Mr. Brewer and his enterprise than to any other business man of the town. From the beginning, and even through change of editors, the Courier advocated the acceptance of Mr. Brewer's second proposition. In the same issue in which the statement given above occurred was also the following strong article in favor of the project:
   The demand for another grist mill is now almost as imperative as it was for one two years ago. We have a large scope of country here, rapidly increasing in population, causing an ever increasing demand for the staple article of flour; also the production of wheat is rapidly increasing. We must have more mills. Brewer's mill cannot more than half supply the wants of our people even at the present time; what will be the condition of things in that respect in a few years to come? We cannot see that any valid or reasonable objection can be raised to the proposition, except such as are engendered by that local jealously which would envy the prosperity of any locality except our own, even though we may share in that prosperity, though possibly to a less degree. We admit the proposition that the county, like an individual, ought to drive a good bargain on all occasions and opportunities. Which then is to the best interests of the county--to have this proposed improvement with all its manifold direct and indirect sources of profit and prosperity,--or to have at the end of ten years the six thousand dollars in bonds, with the accruing interest? This is looking at the question in its "business" aspect, and makes no account of the fact that the. people of the county have already received the amount of those bonds in the shape of having their grinding done at a reasonable toll instead of having to make long and tedious journeys of days and weeks, and then being compelled to exchange wheat for flour at the miller's own terms. Some may object to the movement on the grounds that it is voting money into Mr. J. G. Brewer's pocket. This, we think it will be admitted, is taking a very unbusiness view of the case. To be influenced by any such motives is to let our own narrow prejudices and jealousies stand in the place of our own interests and the public good. .... But the undertaking will not be so much to his personal advantage as at first sight may appear. The water power will be an expensive one; it will cost far more than it ordinarily costs to construct water powers. The amount donated will barely be sufficient to cover the extra cost, and this being the case it is morally certain that without municipal aid the thing will never be done.

   For some weeks the matter was agitated quite thoroughly, and, judging from articles appearing in print, with results favorable to the acceptance of the proposition. The additional use, to which the mill race might be put as an irrigation-course in a dry season was made much of, and sentiment bade fair to turn quite satisfactorily in Mr. Brewer's direction, when the renewal of the Midland Pacific project gradually drove the mill proposition into the background.

   In the early part of January, 1878, however, Mr. Brewer renewed his proposition. The only change in it appears to have been a raise of two "burrs" in the capacity of the mill, making it in the proposition of 1878 a "water power mill with three run of burrs." During the time just preceding the revival of the last proposition the legal status of the original bonding of the county for the mill had been investigated and it was now declared unconstitutional, as the law did not permit the bonding of the county for the aid of private enterprises. This brought a new factor into the settlement of the question, and by the Courier it was made use of especially. In the issue of that paper for February 28, 1878, the editor--at that time R. F. Steele--wrote as follows:

    The call for an election on the proposition of Judge Brewer is before the people for their consideration. . . . . We cannot but feel that in this project there is much to interest every tax payer in the county. Leaving all personal objections out of the question the proposition means to the residents of this county another mill with five run of burrs, or nothing. It means the benefit of a splendid water power running into Warm Slough and furnishing two good mill sites below, with water privileges for other mills and manufactories, or nothing. We say now what the future will prove, and that is, that Merrick County will never realize ten cents on the dollar from the mortgage on Judge Brewer's property. And this will be through no fault of his, but soley from the fact that this county, or any other, cannot legally loan its credit to a private enterprise. It is unconstitutional and void. No man will receive one penny back in taxes or save one penny in taxation, should the proposition be defeated. It is, as we have said before, a mill with five run of burrs--or nothing

    But at the election of March 30th, 1878, the people of the county declared themselves unwilling to contribute, the $6,000 and accumulated interest for another mill. The cause of this defeat was, as shown by the vote, mainly local jealousy. Lone Tree, Midland and Silver Creek Precincts gave majorities for the proposition; Chapman, Clarks, Prairie Creek, Central, Loup, Vieregg, Prairie Island and Mead gave majorities against it. The total vote was 681--308 for and 373 against. The result of the election was announced in the Courier by an inverted rooster and the following in display headings: "$12,000 gone up the spoutt Merrick County concludes to donate that amount to Judge Brewer, and by a vote of 373 to 308 decides that for the illegal vote of 1872 we shall have NOTHING! A brilliant stroke of financial policy!"

    The prediction of the Courier was fulfilled, and the negative vote lost Lone Tree not only the new mill, but also caused Merrick County the loss of its $6,000 bonds and accrued interest, as the bonding was finally declared illegal and Mr. Brewer freed from the payment thereof. We have gone quite deeply into this chapter of Merrick County's history for two purposes: First, to show the intense interest which all public enterprises excited among the people at large; and, secondly, to indicate anew a truth which, we are sorry to say, has been often enough realized to have taught us its danger--the fact that local jealousies are more detrimental to a people's growth than the hostility of outside influences. The history of the "Mill Project" of 1872-78 is an interesting one, and we believe we have not unduly exaggerated its importance in devoting so much space to it.


© 2000, 2001 by Ted & Carole Miller