Merrick County's 100th Year: 1858-1958




The early history of Merrick County seems to center about an old cottonwood tree, which in those "desert days", stood a lonesome but welcome sight on the north bank of the Platte River. Legend--such as so young a country as ours dares to aspire to--hints to us that the old "Lone Tree" was the place of assembly for the red man in the days of his undisputed possession. Beneath the shadow of the old cottonwood the Chief is said to have summoned his braves for consultation concerning a proposed hunt of the then plentiful bison. Or perhaps some lone traveler on his way east or west, used it as a guide on his way across the plains.

From a History of Merrick County,
1895, by C. E. Persinger

1541 - Coronado and his band of Spaniards from Mexico may have approached or crossed over the Platte into what is now Merrick County.

1720 - Pedro de Villasur, another Spanish explorer. with a small army, crossed the Platte River a short distance east of where Chapman now stands, proceeded east along the northern part of Merrick County down the Loup River valley, arriving at a point near where Columbus now stands, in August, 1720.

1790 - It was perhaps while George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were getting the U. S. Government started in the east that a certain cottonwood seed germinated in the Platte Valley about five miles southwest of where Central City now stands.

1833 - Lone Tree was known to travelers and explorers.

1840 - Indians held council under the Lone Tree.

1850 - Lone Tree was a famous landmark on the trail west.

1858 - Merrick County was established by the Territorial Legislature by an act passed November 5, 1858, which defined its boundaries. Henry W. DePuy of Dodge County, Speaker of the House of Representatives, sponsored the act and the county was named in honor of his wife, whose maiden name was Elvira Merrick. Elvira was named as the county seat. There was no such town at the time but it was proposed to lay it out about two miles south of where Clarks now stands. However, nothing ever was done about it, and no such town ever really existed. . . . Western Stage Company selected the Lone Tree as a station on its route.

1859 - Jason Parker took up squatters rights to land in Merrick County in April and brought his family in May, 1859, the first settler with a family in the county . . . . James Vieregg was the first homesteader in Merrick County, filing his claim on September 5. 1859. A few hours later the same day, Jesse Shoemaker and Chas. Eggerton also filed. Vieregg's claim was about nine miles southwest of where Chapman now stands, and Shoemaker and Eggerton located a few miles east of Chapman . . . . . Jesse Shoemaker's place became known as "Shoemaker's Point", an important station in the early days, and was the county's first post office opened in 1861 and discontinued in 1864.

1860 - Of the twelve men in Merrick County subject to military duty at the outbreak of the Civil War, seven enlisted. They were: Frank Jewell, George Thompson, Ed Parker, Joseph Whaley, Charles Hartley, Henry C. Martin and Benjamin Hurley. Each served his full term of enlistment, and none was killed or seriously wounded.

1861 - The first post office was located at Shoemaker's Point, with W. H. Mitchell, postmaster. Before that, settlers generally had their mail addressed to Columbus, from where it was forwarded to them by the kindness of the postmaster who had the stage drivers carry it in their pockets. . . . . . Mrs. John L. Martin of near Shoemaker's Point was the only physician between Columbus and Fort Kearney from 1861 to 1866. . . . . . The population of Merrick County was estimated at less than forty persons.

1863 - W. T. Burroughs was the first white child born in Merrick County, son of Mr. & Mrs. W. W. Burroughs (date of birth un-


certain). Richard Eatough and family settled on or near the present site of Central City in 1863. Their daughter, Mary, was the first white girl born in the county. Mary later became Mrs. George Wolcott. W. T. Burroughs died December 5, 1927. . . . For years the Lone Tree had been visible for twenty miles up or down the valley and it had been green and vigorous in 1860, but it withered and died in 1863. Numerous camp fires under it, carvings and posters nailed to its trunk and the extremely dry weather of 1863 probably spelled its doom. During a big windstorm in 1865 it crashed to the ground. Eugene Hilton, owner of the land on which the tree stood, said names had been carved on the trunk and lower branches up to a height of over thirty feet.. . . The Platte River was dry from August to November, the first time in known history of white man or Indian. It was a great hardship to settlers as they depended on the Platte for stock water and had difficulty digging water holes in the soft sand. The winds caused sand dunes six feet high to form in the dry bed of the river. The pioneers feared a landslide in the Rocky Mountains had shut off the Platte waters forever. . . . Frederick Heide was elected to the Legislature to represent Merrick and Hall Counties, and unorganized territory west.

1864 - Hall County tried to "steal" a six mile wide strip off Merrick County. Representative Heide introduced a bill in the Legislature to take six miles off the west side of Merrick County and attach it to Hall County. On Friday night, January 29, John L. Martin heard about this bill being pushed through the Legislature. On Saturday a meeting was called and resolutions adopted denouncing Heide's action. Before night every citizen living within the strip had signed the remonstrance. By Sunday night all other citizens of the county had signed. By the time the petition reached Governor Alvin Saunders, the bill had already been passed and signed by the Governor, but a new bill repealing Heide's law was quickly passed four days before the Legislature adjourned. . . .

The organization of a county government and the first election was held in the fall of 1863, agitation for organization began. By spring they were ready for an election which was held on April 18. There were three voting places: Eagle Island for the Eastern Precinct; Lone Tree for the Middle Precinct, and Shoemaker's Point for the Western Precinct. Eastern Precinct polled six ballots; Middle, nine ballots; and Western twelve ballots. There was not much contest except for County Clerk, for which office W. H. Mitchell defeated W. W. Burroughs. Other officers elected were: T. F. Parker, Sheriff: Wells Brewer, Treasurer; H. N. Lathrop, Prosecuting Attorney; J. G. Brewer, Probate Judge; and Jason Parker, Jesse Shoemaker and George Gelston, County Commissioners. The legal part of carrying out the election was taken care of by Platte County officers. . . . During the 1860's and until 1875, there was no bridge across the Platte River from Merrick County. Duckings in the river were frequently experienced by those who tried to ford the stream . . . . "Billboard" advertising developed early. Molasses, flour, sugar, bacon, tobacco, cigars, whiskey, and other necessities were advertised on billboards at the stage coach stations. While Jason Parker was away for a time his son put out the following road sign: "130 miles to Omaha, 13 miles to Shoemaker's Point, 40 miles to Columbus, 70 miles to Kearney, 20 miles to Eagle Island. We came from New York. We are going to live here. There is no telegraph office you damn fool." It is recorded that upon the return of "Uncle Jason" the last sentence was immed-



Chas. Combs' original house on his homestead. built in 1864, about midway between Central City and Chapman near the river. Picture taken in 1904.

Compliments of
Plumbing and Heating


iately removed. . . . The first wedding in Merrick County was on Christmas Day, 1864, when Miss Viola Parker became Mrs. John M. Kyes. They were both from New York state. They settled on a farm in the Chapman vicinity. . . . . . 1864 was the year of a big Indian war scare. The Indians were getting restless and jealous because of the encroachment of the whites on their hunting grounds and because of the building of railroad and telegraph lines. So many of the white men being in the army, leaving only women and children on the homesteads, added to the worry and fright. Many families gave up their homesteads to return east. News came of attacks by Indians on immigrant trains and traders from Fort Kearney. This caused panic and Merrick County was nearly depopulated. Messrs. Brewer and Eugene Hilton were among the few who remained. Following the Civil War, most of the old settlers returned. In the meantime there had been many terrifying clashes and incidents with the Indians. The following items in a diary kept by John L. Martin show the danger of the time:

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 the valley.
June 24 - Went to Jim's (James Vieregg) and stayed all night.
June 26 - Started for home for assistance.

The item of June 21 refers to a fracas when several Indians came up where Mr. Martin and his son, Henry, were breaking sod, with a "double header" composed of two oxen and two horses. While Henry was occupied in fixing the chain by which the horses were attached to the plow, the Indians demanded one of Mr. Martin's oxen. Mr. Martin refused and started around the plow when the Indian attempted to stab him, and only failed because Mr. Martin jumped backward. Henry, at this juncture, threw the monkey wrench, which he was using, at the Indian and knocked him down. Then Mr. Martin jumped on one of the horses and started 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 men with guns in the house. The Indians, however, took with them much of the family's clothing which had that morning been washed and hung out to dry.

1866 - The railroad was built through Merrick County that year. Railway traffic took away much of the farmer's (settlers') markets for hay and grain which stage coaches and railroad workers had consumed--the first "farm surplus problem." In February, contracts were let for getting out all the railroad ties that could be obtained on the uncultivated islands in the Platte. . . . The first schoolhouse in the county was in District No. 1, built in October, of logs, with roof of willow brush and sod. The cost was less than $100.00. Money was raised by subscription. Miss Ellen Abbott (afterwards Mrs. Dodge) taught through the winter. In April she was paid $33.00 of public money. . . . The Union Pacific planned the location of towns about 11 miles apart between Columbus and Grand Island, as you find them today.

1867 - John L. Martin was chosen as first County Superintendent of Public Instruction. . . . Horse stealing was still considered a capital crime by many people in Merrick County. . . . . Indians caused considerable trouble by much stealing of livestock and other property.

1868 - Two boys, fifteen and sixteen years of age, were murdered by Indians January 6, 1868. They were Christian Goettche and Christian Thramm. They were living with Thramm's uncle, John Vieregg. The day before the murder, Vieregg and H. A. Klingenburg, accompanied by the two boys, started on a hunting trip from their homes near Chapman. They were headed for the Loup River and camped for the night between the Loup River and Elk Creek. The next morning a blizzard began, but Vieregg and Klingenburg wanted to try for an elk before starting back home. They left the boys at the camp. When they had gone a short distance they heard shots at the camp, and returned, finding that the boys had been murdered with their own weapons. The horses and all camp equipment were gone. They found tracks of seven Indians in the snow. The graves of the boys are on the William Johnson farm southwest of Chapman, and were marked some twenty years ago by descendents of Merrick and Hall County pioneers, This is the first recorded murder of white people by Indians, although there were many instances of fighting and bloodletting on both sides with knives, guns and other weapons. . . . First building boom began in 1868 in Lone Tree.

1869 - The railroad found coal in the western states to use as fuel for their locomotives, and suddenly stopped buying cordwood from local woodcutters. With this rich source of income cut off, there was a wave of business


failures in Lone Tree. Some merchants closed up shop and moved to the farm.

William Shoulders and John Sanford were murdered June 15, 1869, by Indians who had stolen a mule from the Samuel McCathron farm, and two horses from the John L. Martin farm. The Indians were sighted on the south bank of the Platte River. Shoulders, who was employed on the McCathron farm, and Sanders crossed the river. As they were landing on the south bank they were seen to hurriedly jump back into the water, as several Indians on horseback galloped up and fired on the two white men. A rescue party was formed, and six young men crossed the river. They found only the remains of a recent campfire, and a fresh human scalp, recognized as that of Shoulders. The bodies of the two men were never found.

1871 - July 5, 1871, a "great" tornado crossed southern Merrick County in an easterly direction. It lifted roof from the Lone Tree depot, destroyed a part of Bryant's Hotel, smashed a blacksmith shop, many small houses, a good part of Traver & May's lumber yard and one life was lost. When EInathan Phelps' home a mile east of town was hit and destroyed, Mr. Phelps and four children were eating supper, They were carried some eighty feet in the air and cast to the ground about eighty yards from where the building stood. The dead body of Mr. Phelps was found hanging in the limbs of an uprooted cottonwood tree, while his children were found lying in the debris near him. The children all recovered without suffering serious injury Household furniture was scattered as far as two miles away The first court house was built in 1871. Before that time the county officials kept their official records and books chiefly in their homes There was only one house in Clarks and that was the Union Pacific section house.

1872 - The first newspaper was published March 21, 1872, at Lone Tree, 'The Merrick County News," Henry Kelsey, editor.

1873 - The famous blizzard of April 14, 1873, caught the pioneers unaware, as they had been accustomed to balmy weather in Nebraska springtimes. One death resulted at Lone Tree. A young man named Barnhouse started out from the Central City House to the printing office and became bewildered in the terrible wind and snow. A search party went out to find him, with hands joined to keep from getting lost from each other. They went south a mile and returned in the face of the blizzard but found no trace. After the storm, the boy's body was found frozen in the ice of the Platte River near Parker's Island only a short distance from a clump of bushes, whose protection might have saved his life. Tom Kelly, west of Lone Tree went to his barn to feed his stock and stayed there all night rather than face the storm back to the house. N. R. Persinger on his homestead nine miles north of Lone Tree went out in the storm with an arm load of hay for his horses. As he went around the corner of the barn the wind threw him down and rolled him and the hay over and over. He righted himself again but his cap had disappeared. Two miles away the cap was found lodged against a neighbor's barn. The finders, thinking a lost traveler had been frozen to death on the prairie, were alarmed and frightened. There were probably several deaths in the county caused by the blizzard of 1873.

1874 - The "Grasshopper Years" were 1874 and 1875. It was disaster for the pioneers. The great hordes of grasshoppers arrived July 21, 1874, early in the forenoon. About five days later they left borne by a high wind from the north, after they had devoured every green plant. They "darkened the sun at midday." Rising to fly away "the sound was like thunder or the beating of waves on a rock-bound coast," "at night one could hear them eating in a cornfield." The numbers were so vast that they "actually stopped trains by forming in swarms on the rails, so that the drive wheels of the engine could not secure traction." There was joy when the hoppers left, but many families were ruined financially by their voracious appetites.

1875 - The town of Lone Tree became officially "Central City," after quite a fight. Those in favor of the change argued that the name, Lone Tree, was inappropriate because the town was located five miles from where the tree had stood, and, besides, the name Lone Tree seemed to implicate that there was only one tree in the vicinity, suggestive of a barren country

1878 - Early in June, 1878, Merrick County was visited by another tornado more severe but not as fatal as the 1871 tornado. Some buildings ruined or badly wrecked in Warm Slough area and Central City were: schoolhouse in District 27 was caught up, dashed to pieces and scattered like chaff, Stewart's residence; Joseph Gray's house; other buildings and livestock lost; but almost miraculously, all families were unhurt.

1879 - The County voted for a proposal which led to the building of the Burlington & Missouri Railroad from Lincoln to Central City, after


about seven years bitter negotiation and argument. The project had started in 1872 with negotiations with the Midland Pacific for construction of such a line. The road was completed by June 1, 1880. The Burlington extended its line northwestward in 1887, which resulted in the founding of Archer and Palmer.

1880 - Merrick County felt that it had passed its "Pioneer" stage. . . . Blowing up a Central City saloon intensified a local temperance fight. . . State G. A. R. reunion held at Central City.

1882 - Year of the big hailstorm over much of the county. . . . and even a worse one in 1884.

1886 - The Nebraska Central College, a new Methodist College, opened for classes.

1887 - The Burlington Railroad built its line from Central City northwest through the county, and Archer and Palmer were started as towns.

1888 - The year of the big blizzard, January 12. No lives lost in Merrick County but many harrowing experiences. Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Miller of Mead Precinct lost their way when returning home. Their team floundering around, stumbled into Prairie Creek, and Mr. and Mrs. Miller got wet, They found a deserted house and spent the night inside. It was 35 degrees below zero. They suffered severely but got home alive the next day. L. C. Haft, loading hay from a stack, burrowed into the stack, pulled his two dogs in after him, and spent the night quite comfortably. Mr. Bice, teaching school near Chapman, spent the night in the schoolhouse with his students.

1892 - One of the first associations in Central City was the Municipal Improvement Association, organized on May 11. The object was to organize Central City and vicinity into a sanitary district. . . . . At the meeting of the City Council held on May 19, the lighting problem of Central City was solved, when the Council voted to purchase thirty gasoline lamp posts.

1896 - The Loup River was at high flood stage, the first known to white man. It flooded the low lands and swept away the bridge north of Palmer Again, 51 years later, on July 7, 1947, it carried away the approach to the bridge and changed the channel enough that the bridge had to be lengthened 180 feet.

1903 - On June 16, the Commercial Club of Central City was organized, with 25 citizens present. President--G. H. Gray; Vice-President--B. J. Hilsabeck; Secretary--P. S. Heaton; Treasurer--E. H. Bishop.

1904 - On February 20th, a group of fifteen old settlers met at the office of J. G. Holden for the purpose of organizing the Old Settlers Association of Merrick County. The constitution stated that an annual meeting should be held between July 1 and October 1. Eligible to membership were all persons who were residents of Nebraska prior to 1880: Officers elected were:

President . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Charles Wooster, Silver Creek
1st Vice President & Vice President for Central City . . . . John Kyes
Vice President for Central Township. . . . . . . . . . . . Frank Jewell
Vice President for Mead Township. . . . . . . . . . . . . . C. Newcomer
Vice President for Midland Township. . . . . . . . . . . .J. B. Templin
Vice President for Loup Township. . . . . . . . . . . . . .Andy Templin
Vice President for Chapman Township. . . . . . . . . . . . Dan Donovan
Vice President for Prairie Creek Township. . . . . . . . . T. N. Gosnel
Vice President for Vieregg Township. . . . . . . . . . . R. W. Campbell
Vice President for Prairie Island Township. . . . . . . . P. C. Neilson
Vice President for Lone Tree Township. . . . . . . . . . Henry Vanhusen
Secretary. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Joe A. Hayes
Treasurer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Neil Withrow
Executive Committee. . .... . . . . . . . H. V. Persons and G. A. Clark

1911 - At a special election on May 31, Merrick County voters approved the bond proposition which bound the county with an indebtedness of $100,000.00 for the erection of a new county court house. The first court house was erected in 1871 and served the county for forty years. It was built at a cost of $18,000.00 The ceremonies for the cornerstone laying of the new building were under the direction of the Masonic Lodge and were celebrated May 22, 1912.

1913 - On April 24, the court house was dedicated with ceremonies conducted by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. A large crowd was in attendance with high officers of lodges from many Nebraska towns. The Central City band led the parade, which started at 1:00 p.m. After dedication rituals, the speakers of the day were introduced. They were: Judge Lucas, J. Easton of St. Joseph, Missouri, and Judge


W. H. C. Rice, Central City. It was the first building in the state to be dedicated by the I. O. O. F . . . A highlight in Merrick County was Booster Day, October 8. 1913, in the interest of the Lincoln Highway. Dr. Edward Glatfelter, Past President of the Platte Valley Transcontinental Highway Association, served as chairman of a committee which induced Lincoln Highway to use the Platte Valley route. The caravan, which was going from coast to coast in behalf of the highway, accepted the invitation to come to Merrick County and was met by a large delegation. Approximately 300 visitors and members composed the caravan, which spent several hours in Central City, with dinner being served in the basement of the new court house by members of the Central City Woman's Club. Despite the fact that the cars ploughed through mud and roads were in bad condition, the Association chose this territory for the Lincoln Highway. In 1913, Dr. Glatfelter organized and presided over the only Lincoln Highway Association meeting held outside of Detroit.

1917 - No other organization during World War I could take the place of the American Red Cross and in that organization the Merrick County Red Cross has just reasons for being proud of the work it did. The organization of the Merrick County Chapter was put in motion by Miss Nettie Jewell, chairman of a committee appointed by the Woman's Relief Corps. On May 4, representatives from the various women's organizations of the county met at Cuddington Hall for an organization meeting. Clarks made application for a branch on June 13; Silver Creek on July 9; Palmer on July 9; Midland on July 9. Archer on July 9; and Chapman on August 24. The largest membership on record during war time was 4107, which did not include the hundreds that joined through the Junior societies. The total amount raised for united war work purposes in the county was $21,883.60.

1918 - In January, a Home Guard Company was organized in Central City, with C. E. Clark as captain and a membership of 110.

1928 - The American Legion Drum & Bugle Corps, Lone Tree Post No. 6, were winners of a drum and bugle contest held at state convention of the American Legion at Grand Island, in June of 1928. Twenty-nine members were in the corps.

1929 - Hards Memorial Library, a gift to Central City and surrounding districts, from the late Mrs. Melvina C. Hards in memory of her husband, was dedicated on September 27. Open house was held during the afternoon and the dedication program was given in the evening. The library was presented to the City by Elmer E. Ross. Acceptance for the City was given by Mayor E. H. Bishop and acceptance for library board by the Rev. Roy S. True. Mrs. Herbert Lock spoke on "The Cultural Value of the Library."

1932 - At the meeting of the Merrick County Early Settlers Association held at North Park on August 17, the Merrick County Hospital Society was organized. The following five early settlers sponsored the society and donated the funds necessary for that year - Dr. Fred Fouts, Mrs. O. T. Bishop, Nettie Jewell, Mrs. Ida Willhoft and Joe A. Hayes. Mrs. O. T. Bishop, being daughter of James Vieregg who was the first homesteader in Merrick County, was elected President; Joe A. Hayes, settler in Merrick County in 1872, Secretary; and Nettie Jewell, Treasurer. Mrs. Ida Willhoft and Dr. Fouts were named on the Board of Directors. A constitution and by-laws in conformity with the State Historical Society were adopted. Antique articles collected by the Association are still on display in Hards Library club room.

A tornado swooped down suddenly one very hot day in early summer, and demolished the Standard Oil tanks along the tracks in Palmer, and tore up a good portion of the S. A. Foster Lumber Yard. It suddenly raised and spared most of the remainder of the town. Headed northeast, it hurled a two-by-four from the lumber yard through the front window of Linder's Hardware store, which is now the post office building.

1935 - A big Union Pacific express and mail train was derailed in June, at the west edge of Chapman. Most of the cars were upside-down or on their sides along the side of the track, and rails torn loose. No lives lost.

1936 - On January 16th, the snow had begun in the gloaming, and busily most of the time for six weeks continued heaping the hills and highways --especially the highways. After snow plows and men with scoops had opened roads, it was not unusual for the snow to be banked six to eight feet high at the side of the opened track for a distance of 40 to 80 rods.


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