The history of Nance County and thus of Fullerton is rich in its heritage of the vision and far-sightedness of its early inhabitants. It is a history filled with conflict, hardship, successes and failures. It has all the earmarks of the problems confronting any new settlement on the edge of the ever-advancing frontier line. One unique element of this early background is the Indian and his efforts to mold Nance County into a secure settlement.
The Pawnees are one of the great mysteries of prehistoric America. Unlike other Indian tribes, they have no legendary history which identifies them with early occupants of other parts of the country. And, their customs and traditions are unlike those of other tribes. They claim to have been created right where the palefaces found them and to have descended from the union of the morning star and evening star. For nearly 500 years these savage warriors are known to have offered annually the most beautiful young maiden of their race or of captive tribes as a sacrifice to their great ancestor, the evening star. The sacred pit where these maidens were buried was found in the Indian Hill vicinity near the southwest corner of Nance County. The Skidi clan of the Pawnees were the only Indians in
North America, north of the Rio Grande, who practiced human sacrifice.
The Pawnees were first heard of through the Illinois, the name being of that language. They were a versatile people who hunted and were industrious farmers, cultivating beans, corn, melons and other crops.
There was a sort of treaty in 1832, by which a right of way was granted to immigrants on the south of where the Indians were supposed to have prior rights. The line was to be the Loup River, but of course there was no real supervision or control, so the Indians roamed more or less at will, though they did, in 1839, cross to the north of the Loup. Two bands made their villages south of the Cedar which at that time was known to them as "Willow Water".
In July, 1843, some 700 Sioux attacked the Pawnees near Plum Creek, killing approximately 70 or 80 Pawnees. Immediately after the battle, the Pawnees left for their summer hunt and upon their return all four Pawnee tribes met at their village near the mouth of the Cedar River.
For hundreds of years Nance County had been the territory of the Sioux. They were skilled hunters and ferocious warriors who deeply resented encroachments on what they believed was their territory. However, in spite of this, under a treaty dated September 4, 1857, during the administration of President Buchanan, the Pawnees sold much of their land to the federal government, and were given in return the tract of land comprising the present territory of Nance County, with the exception of a few sections later annexed on the west. Fear of the Sioux discouraged the Pawnees from taking immediate possession of their newly-acquired reservation, and they
continued to make their settlement near Fremont, taking their usual buffalo hunt upon the plains during the summer, and exercising great care to avoid their enemy, the Sioux.
As early as 1840, near the present townsite of Fullerton, the county began to acquire an appearance of civilization, because missionaries appeared from time to time, and there were a few scattered settlers.
On May 11, 1857, four months previous to the grant of the reservation to the Pawnees, a band of Mormons, consisting of 110 families, led by H. J. Hudson settled upon a tract of land comprising a large part of the present townsite of Genoa, near the junction of the Beaver and Loup rivers. These people were from England, Scotland and Wales. On coming to America, they first settled near St. Louis, Missouri, but were persecuted because of their religious beliefs. They were caught up in the conflict in the Mormon Church at the time and chose not to follow Brigham Young as the leader of the church. They were anxious to obtain homes in a locality where they would be free from the trials of religious persecution.
The little group endured many hardships. They had few work animals and these were kept busy breaking up the prairie sod, while men and women worked together to construct crude homes of sod and logs. The settlers decided to erect a sod fence around their settlement, and a wall five miles in length and six feet high was constructed. After breaking all the sod in this enclosure, the settlers decided to enlarge their efforts and selected a site near the mouth of the Cedar River, where they broke about 300 acres of prairie sod. Some of the "dead furrows" of this breaking could be seen about one and one-half miles northeast of Fullerton well into the early 1900's.
In the summer of 1859 the Pawnees, unable to provide for their needs on their usual territory, plundered the Elkhorn Valley in a series of raids. They were reported as being in a "half-starved condition" and consequently in a mood to commit acts of thievery or violence that might give them temporary relief from their problems. A citizens' committee appealed to Governor Black for aid, but the Governor being absent, Secretary J. Sterling Morton was called upon to act in his place. Morton called upon Col. Charles May, Commandant at Ft. Kearney, for troops; but in the meantime Major General John M. Thayer set out for the scene of the trouble as the head of the light artillery company of Omaha. He was joined three days later by Governor Black and a portion of Company "K" of the U.S. Dragoons. Gathering south of the Elkhorn, near Fremont, they were later joined by volunteer groups from Columbus.
The results of the military actions can best be summed up by examining the report that General Thayer wrote describing the campaign.
"The troops came upon the Indians and the Indians surrendered. The line was formed, the cannon planted and the chiefs of all the different bands came forward, throwing down their arms and raising white flags. The interpreter was directed to communicate with them, and they asked to have a council. They acknowledged that their young men had committed these depredations, offered to give them up, and did surrender six of them. Two of them were shot while trying to escape the next day." Eight of the marauding Indians were killed by the settlers, but no whites suffered death in the historic so-called "Pawnee War".
In the 1857 treaty, the Pawnees ceded all their lands from the Niobrara on the north to the Platte on the south, and from Shell Creek on the east to the Rocky Mountains on the west - with the exception of the territory comprising Nance County - for a consideration of a yearly annuity of $22,000 in cash plus numerous educational and vocational training programs. The tract of land retained by the Indians was, until 1879, familiarly known as the "Pawnee Reserve", and was always considered by these Indians the very cream of their broad possessions.
Late in the summer of 1859, after the Pawnees had finished their annual hunt, and after the so-called "Pawnee War" on the Elkhorn, the tribe decided to locate on their reservation, and accordingly a government agent was appointed to plan with the Pawnee in providing suitable winter quarters. In September, 1859, 3,100 Indians - all that was left of the once celebrated Pawnee tribe - arrived at Genoa with the agent and other employees of the government.
H. J. Hudson and the Mormon settlement at Genoa at once made overtures of peace to the Indians through their agent. His idea was that, having settled on a portion of the land given to the Indians before the treaty was made, it was the duty of the government to protect the settlers in their possessions and remunerate the Indians by an equal or greater amount of land in some other area. The agent informed Mr. Hudson that the Indians demanded their entire territory, and unless the site of Genoa was speedily vacated they could not be restrained and bloodshed might be expected.
The little band of Mormons left their homes and relocated three miles southeast of Genoa. They quickly built rough sod houses and gathered large quantities of hay for feeding stock during the rapidly approaching winter. Just when everything had been made relatively secure against the winter snows, a prairie fire whipped by gale-like winds destroyed all they had. The colony disbanded. Some went to Utah; others returned to the East; but a large number settled in and about Columbus, Nebraska.
Directly after the departure of the Mormons from Genoa the Pawnees set up their village just southwest of the present site of Genoa and within the sod enclosure built by the Mormons.
In 1863, the government decided to put up a school building in which to educate the young Pawnees in the "arts and sciences of civilization". Upon the completion of the school building, a dinner was given by the agent to dedicate the new structure; and while all hands were having a feast, a large force of Sioux warriors, intent on plunder, rode into town. Thirty Pawnees were killed in a cornfield east of the school house while trying to save their ponies, and one soldier was killed in the fight that followed.
In the summer of 1870, the Sioux and the Pawnee had a pitched battle at the mouth of Cottonwood Creek, and from 200 to 300 Pawnees were buried on the battleground the following day. A short time later, while nearly 300 Pawnees were hunting in the Republican Valley, they were pursued by a band of Sioux, surrounded, and literally cut to pieces, only two or three escaping. It is quite clear that the Pawnee had little chance to live secure and unthreatened lives in Nance County.
In addition to threats from the Sioux, the Pawnee were constantly annoyed by the settlers from Merrick and Hamilton counties, who were attracted by large areas of cedar and oak timber along the Cedar River. Occasionally as high as 20 teams of woodcutters would be in the timber at one time, and the Indians, concluding it was an unwarranted infringement upon their rights, planned to punish the offenders. One day in mid-winter, a large number of men from near Central City were devastating a choice piece of forest about a mile west of the town site of Fullerton, when a group of about 200 swooped down on them and captured a number of the group. It was reported that they would have been literally cut to pieces if they hadn't offered their most vehement promises never to show up in the area again.
In 1873 the Pawnees became tired of the reservation on account of the repeated and continued devastations by the Sioux and the destruction of their wooded possessions by the white settlers in Platte, Boone, Merrick and Howard counties, and asked to be removed to the Indian Territory now Oklahoma. Their request was granted, and in 1874 a part of the tribe was removed to the Territory of Oklahoma. In 1875 these were followed by the remainder, who were conducted to their new location by the agent, William Burgess. It was stipulated on their removal that the reservation lands should be sold for the benefit of the Pawnees; and on April 10, 1876, a bill passed by Congress requiring the land to be appraised and in due time offered for sale to the highest bidder, and not to be sold below its appraised value, was duly approved and a board of appraisers was
appointed. Thus Nance County is unique in that almost no homesteading was to take place here. All land had to be purchased by settlers or by investors for resale.
On April 25, 1876, Robert Compton and Lee Goddard settled at the mouth of Timber Creek and built a dug-out. They brought a large herd of cattle to feed on the luxurious grasses of the valley.
In July, Randall Fuller of Faribault, Minnesota, enroute to Colorado with a large herd of cattle, came through the reservation, and like Compton and Goddard, was extremely impressed with the many excellent features of the country. He decided to locate, and established his headquarters in the little nook below and a little east of what was formerly known as Buffalo Leap (now known as Lover's Leap). Here he built a small frame shanty.
The only thing that gave him much trouble was an army of fleas that pestered him nightly. They attacked him from all quarters, and filled him with an almost desperate anguish. When he was unable to endure the pests any longer, he went to Columbus and had a huge sack constructed, a little less than 12 feet in length, with a puckering string at the mouth, and when evening came he would crawl into "the sack", draw the puckering string tightly about his neck and snore defiance to the fleas and bed bugs until morning.
In August, 1876, the Crow brothers, Hart and Ed, with their sister, Mrs. H. H. Knight, all from Douglas County, Minnesota, reached Grand Island, enroute for Dawson County, and finding grass too poor for feed for their stock, retraced their steps by way of St. Paul to the reserve, where they found Mr. Fuller herding his stock on the present town site of Fullerton, who directed them to a fine location for the stock-raising business among the bluffs.
In the fall of 1876, shortly after the arrival of the Crow brothers from Minnesota, Andrew Johnson and a Mr. Knudson, from near Madelia, Minnesota, struck camp on the east side of the Cedar, Johnson about a mile above the site of Fullerton, and Knudson two miles. Hans Anson, a son-in-law of Johnson, settled at Council Creek. W. A. Davis also pitched teat at Council Creek, and commenced improvements by building a combination residence - a cross between a log cabin and a dug-out. Mr. Derrick located seven miles northwest of Genoa. James Scully, a well-to-do stockman, came onto the reservation that fall. This was the full extent of the settlement made in Nance County during the year 1876.
Late in the fall Randall Fuller returned to his home at Faribault, Minnesota, leaving his stock to be wintered by S. Y. Coffin of Platte County. In the winter, O. H. Crow and his sister, Mrs. Knight, returned to Minnesota, leaving Ed to care for the stock.
Another influx of immigration struck the reserve in 1877. In the spring of that year Clark Cooncey located his ranch on Council
Creek, and Andrew Erickson squatted near the mouth of the Cedar, on the east side. In September, Frank Hodges settled on the farm just below the mouth of Timber Creek. Eric Nelson and Andrew Thompson located between Council and Plum Creeks. In October, Henry L. Vandewalker, Frank S. Gay, William Barton and Jacob Piatt, with their families, comprising in all 16 people, settled on Timber Creek, around what was called the "big grove", being the largest body of timber in the county.
On August 16, 1877, the board appointed to appraise the reservation lands sent in their report to Secretary Schurz, by whom it was approved, November 17, 1877. The land was appraised at from $2.50 to $6 per acre.
In the summer of 1877, O. H. Crow returned from Minnesota, accompanied by his brother, Elmer. They brought a small herd of cattle. Randall Fuller also returned bringing another herd to summer on the rich grasses of the Loup and Cedar valleys. D. A. and George Willard, with an eye to the future, took squatter's possession of the town site of Genoa. The winter of 1877-78 was exceptionally open and mild, which made things much more tolerable for the settlers on the reserve.
Despite the mild winter, few of the settlers prospered. The nearest attainable market place was Albion, and Columbus was the nearest railroad point. The settlers traded fence posts with the farmers of Boone County at the rate of a load of posts for eight or ten bushels of wheat, which they would take to the Albion mill to be ground. Bob Compton furnished the settlers with plenty of juicy, grass-fed pork, and all who possessed firearms helped themselves to rabbits and prairie hens. Potatoes were hard to get, but cornmeal was plentiful, and milk flowed freely. Money was scarce, and Bill Bowman, claimed that "on his word as a Christian gentleman", for one whole year the closest thing to currency in his possession was a three-cent stamp.
Timber, as well as lush grasses, was one of the major assets of early Nance County. As early as the spring of 1875, news reached the Interior Department at Washington that the settlers of Merrick, Platte and Boone counties were stripping the reservation of its most valuable timber. Deputy U.S. Marshal Ball of Omaha was directed to take action against them and bring them before the U.S. Circuit Court, then in session in Omaha. The order was quickly obeyed, and more than 40 wood gatherers were rounded up for trial within three days. Several were captured in the very act of cutting down the timber. Others were drawing it home, and a few were arrested wholly on suspicion. The men boarded the train at Columbus enroute for Omaha. Each man expected that his neighbor would furnish testimony against him, but a general understanding was reached
before they struck Omaha, and when the day of trial rolled around, out of the 40 culprits who were called upon to testify, not one could testify of his own knowledge that a stick of timber had ever been unlawfully taken from the reservation land. And, a few pleaded guilty to the charge of taking loads of wood from other parties whom they supposed had procured the wood in Howard County. The result of the trial was the acquittal of all concerned, with a severe reprimand. On reaching home many of them immediately set out for the reservation after more wood.
During the fall of 1877, Randall Fuller secured the services of J. C. Knapp of Merrick County to make a survey of the original town site of Fullerton. Shortly before this event the Cedar settlement had been reinforced by the arrival from Minnesota of Martin McCrellis and family, who took up their abode with Crow Brothers, but shortly moved to Fuller's ranch. Most of the settlers constructed crude "dug-outs" or "soddies".
Several persons put in their time in November and December husking corn on shares south of the Platte River and by this means a fair supply of grain was provided for the stock. Those who assisted in the labor of transporting the corn over the unfrozen Loup, or via St. Paul, a distance, round trip, of over 100 miles expressed the opinion that every ear was "well earned".
As was earlier recalled, the winter of 1877-78 was remarkable for its mildness. The ambitious "squatters" improved their "spare moments" by laying in a supply of firewood and building timber, as the numerous ravines abounded with small groves. Nothing created any social opportunity save now and then a genuine country hoe-down at Compton's ranch, in which old and young took animated part. Bill Bowman, John Foster and others scraped the violins on these joyful occasions; and while the music was not remembered as being the most aesthetic, it was loud, and strong and durable, and the "time" was perfect.
Toward spring the settlers began to feel uneasy in regard to how and when the lands were to be disposed of and a petition was sent to Congress asking that they be opened for homesteads. But in April the edict went forth from the Department of the Interior that the Pawnee Reservation lands would be sold at auction at Central City, commencing the 15th of the next July. On the strength of the belief, or hope, that no one would bid against them for the lands upon which they had squatted, the settlers began making improvements of a permanent nature. A large amount of breaking of sod was done before the sale.
In the spring of this year, O. E. Stearns took formal possession of the land adjoining the town site on the east. Charley Wier, who came from Minnesota a few months later, claimed the land upon
which Mr. Stearns was located. It was the ground that he had selected the year before; but, as he could furnish no evidence in the way of improvements to justify his claims, Mr. Stearns concluded to exercise his sovereign right of "eminent domain" and "allow Mr. Wier the privilege of selecting some other spot".
Conflicts and disasters were to play a common role in the history of the Fullerton area. One of the greatest fears of the early settlers was of prairie fires. One day in April of 1879, when the wind was blowing strongly from the southwest, a careless traveler in the Loup Valley started a fire which swept with terrible velocity over the divide, directly onto the Crow boys' big ranch. Hart Crow was at Genoa that day, it being his turn to bring the neighborhood mail, and Ed was alone. As the fire passed over the bluffs above the ranch a young man who had seen the approaching smoke arrived upon the scene, and these two persons made a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to stop the flames. Their large herd of cattle happened to be at a safe distance, but the horses and hogs about the sheds were liberated with great difficulty. A fine young mare had been hitched to a sapling a few rods away, where she seemed perfectly safe, but the heat from the flaming sheds became so intense that she was roasted alive. Several attempts were made to cut the animal loose, and each proved futile on account of her rearings and the inability of the men to endure the heat for more than a few seconds at a time.
All the household goods, rifles, saddles, harness, wagons, implements and tools went up in smoke. The fire was whirled over the river and all the hay in the meadows vanished in flames. The total loss was nearly $1,000. That night Ed and Hart slept beneath the roof of a neighboring "soddy", homeless.
On the 15th of July - the opening of the land sale - the settlers of the reserve were on hand at Central City to secure
Early Day Land Office.
possession of the lands upon which they had squatted. They were to be sold at auction, one-third down, the balance in two equal annual installments, interest at six percent. It was rumored that a syndicate of eastern land speculators would be on hand to bid against the settlers, and a good deal of uneasiness was felt by those who had ventured to make improvements, but the scare proved to be without much foundation. The settlers bought their lands at the appraised value.
The Willard brothers, D. A. and George, purchased the town site of Genoa and all the government buildings, except the "big brick", for $3,500. Randall Fuller bought seven quarters, including the original town site of Fullerton. Other settlers secured from one to two quarters, with the exception of a few who decided to wait awhile. Frank Hodges bought a half-section below the mouth of Timber Creek. The sale lasted four days, and a comparatively small amount of land was disposed of.
In the latter part of July, from excessive rains in the northern part of the state the Cedar River became a seething flood, and for a week it was impossible to cross with a team of horses. O. E. Stearns operated a small ferry boat for passengers at the old ford northeast of town, but horses had to swim. A short time after the flood subsided malaria fever appeared in several families living near the river. Alfred Bixby was stricken down with congestive chills, and died on the 21st of August, aged 68 years. It was the first death of a resident white person on the reserve. The funeral services were held on the 23rd, Rev. J. N. Dressler of Merrick County officiated.
Shortly after the land sale, Luther Hull, John Simons and sons, George W. Davis and others, made settlement on Timber Creek, and Wylke Durkee secured a quarter-section in the Beaver Valley and took immediate possession. During this year the first white child was born on the reserve to Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Williamson. Rev. C. Starbuck, a Congregational minister, dispensed the Gospel to the few settlers in and about Genoa.
More prairie fires damage the reserve from time to time. George McChesney lost his entire crop of hay twice in succession, but instead of giving up, kept right at work cutting frost-killed grass; and what the hay lacked in quality he made up in quantity, so that his stock lived through the winter adequately.
A brother of O. E. Stearns had located at the mouth of Plum Creek, just in season to secure hay for wintering 100 head of cattle, when a heavy fire swept down from the northwest and burned every stack on the farm. Scully also lost heavily, and the same fire, continuing in an easterly direction, destroyed thousands of dollars worth of property, and burned two persons to death, a mother and child, in the Shell Creek Valley.
Communication was difficult at its best in early Nance County, and always painfully slow. The nearest post office being Genoa, the settlers of the town-to-be along the Cedar took turns at carrying the mail. In the winter of 1878 the Cedar River post office was established, with O.E. Sterns as postmaster. The government refused, however, to furnish a mail carrier, though it did issue a sack for carrying mail. Everyone on the reserve who could possibly be mustered into the service, was sworn in as mail carrier, but for a small consideration Johnny Johnson was hired to perform most of the service. On April 15,1879, Frank S. Gay received his commission as postmaster of the newly created Redwing post office in another part of the reserve.
As the time approached for the convening of Nebraska's lawmakers in Lincoln, the question of what disposition would be made of the reserve became an all-absorbing one. Some thought it would be sliced up like a piece of cake and apportioned to the several adjoining counties. Merrick County wanted all south of the Loup. Boone County would like the balance, but there was opposition to that particular division because the annexation of any new territory on the south, would endanger the stability of Albion as the county seat. Also, many prominent citizens there stood to lose wealth by the probable resulting decrease of real estate values there. The majority of the residents there, thus, were in favor of making the reservation into a county itself. Building on this conviction, George Willard canvassed the reserve for the purpose of raising funds to engage in an active lobbying effort in the legislature to enact a bill providing for a new county. Over $100 was subscribed by the citizens.
Among those who visited the reservation in the fall of 1878 were Brad D. Slaughter and J. H. Edgington. Mr. Slaughter was living in Lincoln at the time, and came out to look the reserve over with a view to locating. He was very favorably impressed with the "lay of the land", and fully decided to become a resident in case the territory was organized into a county, instead of being sliced up and divided among the neighboring counties.
J. D. Edgington, who at the time owned a large farm not far from Council Bluffs, Iowa, came out partly to view the country, and largely to hunt deer, which at that time could be found in large numbers on Timber Creek and its branches. He was very successful in his hunt, "killing a wagon load of them" in a few days, and was so impressed with the many advantages the county offered for farming and stock-raising, the beautiful scenery and remarkable "fine wagon roads for so new a county", that he decided to sell his Iowa possessions at the earliest opportunity and move to "God's country".
In view of the prospect that a new county might be organized from the reservation, the Willard brothers, in January of 1879,
circulated a petition in and about Genoa to the governor, asking that the temporary county seat be located at Genoa, that C. D. Rakestraw be appointed temporary clerk, and that the new county be named Delane, in honor of D. A. Willard, chief owner of the town site of Genoa.
About this time Randall Fuller returned from Minnesota, and having been informed of the status of affairs, circulated a petition in the Cedar and Loup valley asking that the temporary county seat be located on the northeast quarter of Section 14, Township 16, Range 6; that A. L. Bixby be appointed clerk, George W. Chesney, Orson E. Stearns and Andrew Thompson be appointed commissioners pro tem, and that the county be called "Nance", in honor of "His Excellency the Governor". The idea of naming the county after the governor was suggested to Mr. Fuller by Alfred Bixby the previous summer. O. E. Stearns accompanied by Mr. Fuller, carried the petition to the governor in person, and Mr. Stearns, who was acquainted with the governor, presented the case to him in such a manner that he was left in little doubt as to what advantages would result from the county's organization. B. D. Slaughter, who was chief clerk of the Legislature's House of Representatives at this time, drew up the bill for a new county, and realizing the popularity of the governor, inserted a clause in the bill that the county was to be named after him, thinking thereby to capture votes for the measure. His expectations were realized, for the bill passed on February 4 with but one dissenting vote.
In May of 1879, B. D. Slaughter and his father made a trip to the reserve, now soon to become Nance County, and on the 19th of May at the residence of O. E. Stearns, an agreement was entered into with Randall Fuller for the purchase of half-interest in the town site by Mr. Slaughter who then returned to Lincoln and brought his wife out to see the country; traveling several hundred miles back and forth across the North Nebraska regions before reaching the Cedar at the new town site. They reached here June 18, and at once made a contract with Fuller for a half-interest in the northeast quarter of Section 14, Township 16, Range 6 West of the 6th principal meridian (now Fullerton).
On the 21st day of June, the board of commissioners appointed by the governor met and read the following order:"Whereas, a large number of citizens of the unorganized county of Nance have united in a petition asking that the said county be organized, and that Orson E. Stearns, George S. McChesney and J. W. Whitney be appointed a board of county commissioners, and that DeWitt Eager be appointed special county clerk for said county, for the purpose of forming a permanent organization, and that the Northeast Quarter of Section 14, Township 16, Range 6
1885 Scene of Fullerton
West, be designated as the temporary county seat of the said county of Nance, and it appearing that the said county contains a population of not less than 200, and two or more petitioners are taxpayers and residents of said county; Now, therefore, I, Albinus Nance, Governor of the State of Nebraska, in accordance with the memorial of said petitioners, and under and by virtue of the authority in me vested, and in pursuance of the statute in such cases made and provided, do declare said county to be temporarily organized for the purpose of permanent organization, and do appoint and commission the persons above named as the special county commissioners and the person above mentioned as the special county clerk, and do declare the place above named and described as the temporary county seat."
A short time after this action, an influx of people began to pour into the new settlement near the confluence of the Loup and Cedar rivers. Some actually camped along the rivers until suitable shelter could be built.
Randall Fuller went to work immediately erecting the first building in what was to become the City of Fullerton, the old Pawnee land office of Slaughter and Lindsay. In working on this building the scaffolding broke and Mr. Fuller fell about 12 feet, striking his head and shoulders, and receiving injuries from which he never fully recovered. The next house was put up by Jacob Smith, who had purchased a nearby farm. This was followed by J. W. Dresser's store building, erected by himself, H. E. Reynolds, (the first contractor and builder in the town), W. C. Phillips and a Mr. Seeley. The cellar was excavated by two of Andrew Thompson's sons, at 75¢ each per day - high wages at the time. N. C. Judson then constructed his store, and Mr. Slaughter, while on his second trip to the county seat, made arrangements to have another structure built. In the latter part of June, M. S. Lindsay, a young graduate of a law school, came from Waco, York County, to grow up with the new country. There being no opportunity for a lawyer at the time, he took a job with Tiffany and Dresser as cook, afterward worked through harvest in Polk County and haying in Nance, then entered into co-partnership with Mr. Slaughter in the land and law business combined.
About this time Dr. J. S. Christison, finding Columbus a little too thickly populated with "saw bones", decided to locate in the new county, and settled at Genoa. He was the first physician to locate in the county.
In the latter part of August, Mrs. Tiffany commenced keeping a boarding house in the building owned by I. A. Beagle, and occupied by Wilson Brothers as a store. In September the first school meeting
was held in front of the old Pawnee land office. Those present were Slaughter, Tiffany, Dresser, Noah Judson, Hosea Judson, Rev. R. G. Adams and Jacob Smith. Arrangements were made whereby Hosea Judson agreed to build a school house, on the condition that Fuller and Slaughter should donate a lot, which was done, and the building constructed. Miss Cora Judson was engaged to teach the school, at a salary of $2 per student for the term.
Also in August, John N. Reynolds, an attorney at Columbus, put up a building in town and S. L. Sturtevant built a store which he stocked with groceries and dry goods. Samuel Buckner, Fullerton's first Jewish resident, engaged in a small general merchadise (sic) business in the Beagle building. Later in the fall C. H. Gilmore located and erected a building to be used as a restaurant and dwelling, which he also stocked with drugs.
During this period in Nance County's history the question of the permanent location of the county seat was agitating the minds of the residents in the rival villages of Genoa and Fullerton, and the Willard brothers for Genoa and Brad Slaughter for Fullerton were working diligently to secure the quota of "actual settlers" necessary to make their "election sure".
The first political convention ever held in Nance County was called at Genoa, on September 10, 1879, to nominate candidates for the several county offices, to be elected the ensuing November. In October, Fullerton held a similar convention and put in nomination their candidates for the same county offices. The results of all these activities were reported in the last week of October in the first edition of the Nance County Journal. It was begun by A. E. Verity with an old newspaper outfit including a wooden press. The six column folio had a subscription list of 50.
Tuesday, November 4, 1879, the first election in Nance County was held in due form, and among the results was the following vote for county seat:
Genoa 98 Fullerton 89 East side of Cedar River 15
On Monday following the election, the county commissioners met at the Pawnee land office to canvass the returns. During the interval between the election and the date of this canvass, M. S. Lindsay applied to Judge Donaldson of Merrick County for a writ of injunction to prevent a count of the returns of Genoa on the grounds of fraud. When Genoa's vote was reached, the writ was served, which suspended further action for the time, and the board adjourned.
On the 10th of December, in the district court of Osceola, Judge George M. Post issued a peremptory mandamus commanding the commissioners of Nance County to meet and canvass the entire
returns, including the votes of Genoa precinct which were excluded by the injunction. In pursuance of the order the commissioners met on the 13th of December to finish the count, which they did, but the result was not made public at once.
C. D. Rakestraw, the temporary county clerk by appointment from Governor Nance, resigned. The commissioners then unanimously appointed J. N. Reynolds to replace him. After this appointment the recount proceeded and when the count was completed, the vote for county seat was:
Genoa 56 Fullerton 89 East side of Cedar River 15
It should be noted that similar changes took place in the voting for county commissioners resulting in Fullertonites being elected to the County Board of Commissioners.
In conformity with this result, which was brought about by throwing out 42 votes from Genoa precinct, it having been roughly estimated by the Commissioners that it represented "about" the number of illegal votes cast at Genoa, and "just" the number necessary to make the election of the Fullerton ticket complete, Clerk Reynolds issued certificates of election in accordance with this result, and the county government was declared to be complete and in running order. In the meantime the candidates of the Genoa ticket, relying on the face of the returns as lawful evidence of the rightness of their intentions, were sworn into office.
On January 5 the new board met pursuant to adjournment, with Burgess and Patterson present. They were arrested and taken before justice Edgar Tiffany, who released them on their own recognizance to appear the following Tuesday and answer to the complaint of usurpation of office. They didn't appear.
On the 13th of January, both boards met in regular session. The Fullerton commissioners held their session in the old Pawnee land office, the Genoa board tried to get the use of Josh Brown's store. Failing in this, they sought refuge in the bar room of the City Hotel, then kept by George Rogers, and on being refused, they went to George Odell's livery barn where they began their meeting in a vacant stall. Having just begun their meeting, they were arrested by W. H. Bowman "in the name of the commonwealth of Nebraska" and taken before Judge Lindsay. Andrew Thompson was brought to trial on the charge of usurpation of office and after a due trial, a fine of $150 was imposed, and the prisoner ordered remanded to the jail at Central City until the fine should be paid. The judge finally agreed to suspend the fine if Mr. Thompson would pay the costs, amounting to $11, and give bonds in the sum of $5,000 not to appear in the role of a county commissioner again or call the board together as its
chairman. The bond was executed and the prisoner was released. Thus ended a spirited conflict between Genoa and Fullerton in the race to become the permanent seat of government of the newly formed Nance County.
With the settlement of the county government affairs and the arrival of spring in 1880, Fullerton experienced a boom that has been equaled in few instances in the State of Nebraska. As a business place it was but one year old, and yet it had a population comparing favorable with any of the old cities in the vicinity. Although the county was not as well settled as those surrounding, nearly all kinds of business were represented.
In 1880, Dr. J. F. Johnson moved from Hamilton to Nance County, and resided here until his death. In 1881 and 1882, J. N. Reynolds, A. Edgington and J. H. Fee moved here and laid out the additions which bear their names. Although lumber and all goods were freighted overland, building was carried on expeditiously. John Russell and family came to Nance County in 1882, hauling household effects across the country from Lincoln and fording the Loup River.
The only serious epidemic the people of the county ever experienced was the outbreak of diphtheria in 1884, when 30 succummed (sic) to the dreaded disease. There were many cases in this territory during the season, and the efficient medical service of the county's two pioneer doctors was credited with the prevention of far greater loss of life.
The next few years saw Fullerton grow rapidly. Slaughter and Lindsay continued to be the agents for the sale of the Indian lands, with Mr. Lindsay acting as county judge. N.C. Judson, the oldest merchant of the place, carried a complete stock of groceries, and was appointed postmaster, operating that office in a corner of his store. Numerous, more diversified stores began to open their doors. By 1888, the town boasted over 40 businesses and professional offices and was about to graduate its first high school class.
Fullerton had weathered the test of Indian conflict, prairie fires, epidemic, and political rivalry. Like all frontier towns had to, it met and overcame each of them with courage and determination. It sustained the pioneer ethic of hard work and nurtured an optimistic eye for the future which lingers into the 1980's, and shows every promise of being perpetually maintained.
- Compiled and written by Rodger Bassett.
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© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 by Ted & Carole Miller