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Otoe County Farm entrance 1930s

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Renovation and History

Source: Nebraska City News-Press, Nebraska City, Otoe Co., Nebraska, Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Scouts Clear Pauper Cemetery
By Dan Swanson, News-Press

Joshua Goebel assembled volunteers from Boys Scouts Troop 246 Thursday to clear Otoe County’s pauper cemetery.

"Located on high ground at the edge of what once was the Otoe County Poor Farm, Goebel said a 1927 report indicated there were 30 graves there.

"After removing enough dead-wood to fill three pickup trucks and mowing the waist-high grass, the scouts found two remaining headstones. Goebel said he suspects they were placed randomly.

“The people who didn’t have enough money would work here and when they died they were buried here,” he said.

"David Hotsenpillar, one of 13 scouts to help with Goebel’s Eagle Scout project, said the cemetery was worth a morning’s work for the troop. “There are not a lot of people out here, but it’s nice to show respect for the people who are out here.” He said.

"The cemetery, located southwest of Dunbar, was part of a poor farm owned by the county from 1872 to 1949.

"A news article published Sept. 19, 1937, chastised voters for refusing to sell the farm. “Twenty-three gray haired men and women crowded into nine small rooms. Living together in sickness and health. Taking turns in a solitary bath to keep clean.  Eddying in and out of a narrow recreation room, wherein no more that a half dozen may sit at one time,” the newspaper said.

"The house, erected in 1886 by John Dunbar, also housed some younger people who worked on the farm. The majority of the work was done by the farm superintendents, however.

"In that year, Otoe County Commissioner Van Antwerp announced the county would provide only temporary relief to the poor. “If they cannot support themselves, they will be sent to the poor house,” he said.

"Three colored children were among the farm’s first inhabitants. In 1896, an abandoned nine-year-old boy was sent to the farm.  In that year, Superintendent J. B. Haney reported that the farm had 14 inhabitants. The farm had two mules, 12 cattle, 14 fat hogs, 74 stock hogs, 1,000 bushels of corn, 28 bushels of wheat, 500 bushels of oats, 75 bushels of potatoes, 15 bushels of apples and 15 tons of wheat straw.

"Harvey Heiser bought the farm from the county in the 1950’s and his family farms it still today. Among the people believed to be buried at the cemetery are Jesse Powers, Malinda Powers, William Woodward, Horace Howard, William C. Williams and Otto Sander. Williams died at the age of 89, after 30 years on the farm.

"Goebel said the scouts plan to care for the cemetery for the next three years."

Jesse Powers 1910-1901 and Melinda Powers 1844-1889

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Burial List (under development)

  1. Horace Howard ()
  2. Jesse Powers (1810-1901) See his details in 1900 census.
  3. Melinda Powers (1844-1889) See "Emma Powers" details in 1900 census.
  4. Otto Sander ()
  5. William C. Williams, died at the age of 89, after 30 years on the farm.  See his details in 1900 census.  In 1910, "Will Williams" was 81 years, 1910-81=1829, 1929+8=1918, estimated dates (1829-1918).
  6. William Woodward ()
  7. James Douglass born Sept. 1798 Delaware county New York, died Dec., 1886 [he was 82 yrs in 1880 census]
  8. Mary Douglass, 2nd w/o James Douglass, widow of William Hugh
  9. open for  more names

Note 7:  James Douglass was born September, 1798, in Delaware Co., New York. 
His first wife was Flora Leet who died in the spring of 1870, prior to the 1870 census.  She is included
in the Otoe Co., 1870 Mortality Schedule.  James is listed as a widower.  He married Mary (Molly) Hugh,
widow of William, in 1872.
James was listed in the 1880 census with Mary, 20 years younger than him.  He was listed as very feeble. 
In the 1885 state census, he was listed as blind and bedridden. "Mollie" was listed as being one year
younger than on the 1870 census.  She was also listed as bedridden.  The were enumerated with Girard and Joella Case.  James homesteaded (certificate #466, Application #1036) the S1/2NW1/4 and N1/2SW1/4 of Section 28, T8N R11E containing 160 acres.
James had a son Seymour James Douglass residing in the same area. He had several children, among which was Leon F. Douglass, born in 1869 in Otoe County. He went on to become a prolific inventor and a co-founder of the Victor Talking Machine Co, along with Eldridge Johnson.
When the Douglass and Thorn(e) families came to the area in 1866, they lived in dugouts/caves on the river. James Douglas had been a millwright in most of the earlier census enumerations. There is a story about a falling out between James and his son; James lost his land and eventually ended up on the County Poor Farm. James had mortgaged his property to help his son and the son never paid back his father. I do have copies of the probate records relating to James. At that time, of the five children of James and Flora, only Seymour who moved to Lincoln, and William who stayed in New York, survived him. My ancestor was son Justus Gideon Douglass who died as a result of the Civil War. Daughter Flora died in Wisconsin and the second daughter, Maria L., wife of James Thorn, died in Syracuse, Otoe County. The obituary for James in the Syracuse Journal, states that James had mortgaged his property to aid his son Seymour. The obituary on microfilm at the Nebraska City library: December 24, 1886 of the Nebraska City News: article on front page "ASPHYXIATED AT THE POOR FARM", telling about how James Douglass died as a result of asphyxiation from coal gas. There had been a problem with the furnace which was under the bed of James. Workmen opened up the floor to reach repair the furnace and "failed to close the aperture." There was another man in the room who survived. There was a coroner's inquest. Mary had died a "few days prior" to James of Typhoid Fever.

"I just visited the Otoe Co., website and was thrilled to see that there is interest in the Otoe Co., Poor Farm Cemetery. My ggg grandfather, James Douglass and his second wife, Mary, are buried there. If you check the local paper on microfilm at the library, there are front page stories about how he died. He died in December, 1886.  James' first wife, Flora, is buried in the Wyuka Cemetery in a plot that was owned by James Thorn,  son-in-law, who was politically active in Otoe County and was involved in the Constitutional Conventions for statehood.  His wife (Mrs. Thorn) is buried in the Wyuka Cemetery by Mrs. Douglass.
"In 1994, I tried to find the cemetery and the poor farm records. No luck at the court house or library, they did not know where the records were.  Someone mentioned a law suite regarding the property a number of years earlier and thought the records were around then  (Do not know the year of the lawsuit).  I wrote to the Nebraska State Historical Society in Lincoln, but, they did not have the records.  I also tried to find the cemetery site but was unsuccessful.  While on the research trip, I was put in contact with Margaret Masters and she was living on the land that was homesteaded by James.  I would be most interested if his [James Douglass] grave could be determined as I would love to visit the site." submitted by Dorothey Douglass Sherman, 2/2006.

1880 Census NE []
Dwelling 89, Family 104, Sycracuse township, Otoe county
James Douglass, W, M, 82, married, "vary feeble", N.Y., N.Y., Ireland
Mary Douglass, W, F, 62, wife, married, housekeeper, Ohio, Pensyl., Pensyl.

Notes on possibles
"... 1896 ... farm had 14 inhabitants...."

"... 1927 report indicated there were 30 graves ...."

"... 1937, ...Twenty-three gray haired men and women...."

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Other Information

open for additional information

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