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Who's Who in Nebraska - Platte Co. History


Francis Dischner

from WHO'S WHO in NEBRASKA, published by Nebraska Press Association. Lincoln, Nebraska 1940.
Many thanks to Mr. Alan Beermann, Executive Director of the Nebraska Press Association and American Press Advertising service for permission to transcribe this wonderful piece of Platte county history for all to enjoy.
PLATTE County had its beginnings with the second territorial governor of Nebraska, acting Governor Thomas Cuming. When Nebraska was made a territory in 1854, President Franklin Pierce sent Francis Burt to the trading post at Omaha as the first territorial governor. Burt died after a short time in office, and Cuming, his secretary, assumed the position.

Cuming at once called an election and gathered about him as best he could a legislature which was representative of the territory. Cuming's legislature created eight counties, four on either side of the Platte river. The westernmost, known as Dodge, then included what was later Platte County.

In August 1857 Judge Smith of Fremont issued a proclamation calling for an election of county officials and the location of county seats. At that time Columbus was designated the capital seat of Platte County, and Monroe, to the northwest, government seat of Monroe County. As soon as a complete set of officers was elected for each county, agitation arose to attach Monroe County to Platte. John Rickley of Columbus and George W. Stevens of Monroe circulated petitions which were signed eventually by practically every voter in both political subdivisions, and the territorial legislature of 1858-59 acted favorably on the petition.

Columbus was founded as the result of the pioneering of twelve men, for the most part immigrants, who came together for the first time in Columbus, Ohio from which city the Platte County seat derives its name. The Columbus Town Company was formed and Vincent Kummer was named president. Five of the men, Jacob Louis, Michael Schmid, Adam Denk, Frederick Gottschalk and George Rausch were selected to pick a suitable spot for the town of Columbus; this site they hoped to find at the confluence of the Loup and Platte rivers. They located a site to their liking early in May 1856, and returned to Omaha, their base of operations, to report.

The company, in addition to the five men already mentioned, included Kummer, who continued as captain, Charles Turner, John C. Wolfel, Jacob Guter, Carl Reinke, Henry Lusche and John Held. They founded the permanent city of Columbus May 28, 1858.

Mrs. John C. Wolfel, the first white woman in the county, came on Oct. 7 with the second group of settlers who chose Columbus for their home.

The first winter, an early and severe one, found twenty-five persons in the little settlement. They might have starved had not a group of hardy venturers skated down the Platte to its mouth. They proceeded to Omaha and returned with sleds laden with provisions. Legend says a second trip was necessary to replenish supplies before the winter was over.

During the first ten years, 1856-66, comparatively little farming was done in the new county. Immigrant business provided the main source of revenue, as the little settlement was located on a favorite route to the west and a substantial ferry was located here. Everybody was selling something. An excellent market was provided for corn, oats, beans, and potatoes at Fort Kearny, 110 miles to the west, and many freight trains which originated at Columbus went as far west as the boom city of Denver.

Wheat was raised in a small way in Platte County. In 1868 one grist mill owner was able to grind all the wheat grown within a radius of fifteen miles and still had plenty of time left to go fishing.

Like all settlements already dotting the Platte river valley, Columbus was transformed from a wayside trading post into a promising town with the coming of the Union Pacific railroad. Construction gangs reached the county limits May 1866, and on June 1, tracks were laid in Columbus. The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad branch line from Lincoln to Columbus was built in 1879, and the present Norfolk, Albion and Spalding branch lines out of Columbus came a short time later.

Catholics erected the first church in Columbus in 1869. A Methodist traveling minister, Rev. Jacob Adrianne, is said to have preached the first sermon in Columbus on Sunday, May 16, 1858. A church society of Methodists was organized June 25, 1867. and the first Sunday School was formed in 1865.

When, in 1860, a census showed forty-six boys and twenty girls of school age living in Columbus, townspeople elected Michael Weaver, John Rickley. and George W. Stevens to the first school board. In December of the same year, Stevens opened the first school in what was known as "The Old Company House," original structure built by the first settlers in May 1856. The school in the "Company House" was short-lived, as a new town hall was erected in the spring of 1861, and the school was moved into it.


Columbus served as an important outfitting post, both to the west and to the Black Hills region as late as 1885. Proximity to the Pawnee Indian reservation at Genoa proved lucrative to the dealers in tanned buffalo hides and Indian curios. Thousands of pairs of prairie dogs were sold by enterprising youngsters to curious easterners returning to their homes via the iron rails.

The first licenses to sell liquor in Columbus were granted in 1861, and as late as 1875 the saloons, with their inevitable free lunch counters, were still open on Sundays. Free lunches passed on with the close of the nineteenth century. Saloon keepers argued the price of food was getting high, and besides, there were too many moochers who "filled up" by the simple expedient of purchasing only one five cent schooner of beer.

From the merger of two private banking houses came the Columbus State Bank, which opened Aug. 1, 1875, the second bank to be organized under state banking laws. It closed in 1931. Columbus today is served by two banks, the Central National, and the Columbus Bank.

Only one real Indian massacre* is known to have occurred in Platte County, although there were many scares during the first twenty years of settlement. In 1864 Pat Murray, large landowner west of Columbus, and his brother-in-law, Adam Smith, set up a camp along Looking Glass creek, on the west edge of the county, to cut hay for troops then stationed on the Genoa Indian reservation. Approximately twenty-five Arapahoe Indians invaded the camp, scalped an elderly man and riddled Mrs. Murray with arrows while she defended herself with a pitchfork. Mrs. Murray dragged herself to a nearby clump of tall weeds and spent the night in agony. She was believed to have been carried off by the Indians, but was found the next day. She partially recovered after many weeks, and lived several years.

*Author's Note: According to Andreas' History of Nebraska, the Indians above named were Sioux masquerading as Pawnees, rather than Arapahoes.

Descendants of the Murrays live in Columbus; Andreas spells the name Murrey.

Another Indian scarce which came shortly after the Looking Glass Massacre was never explained. A rider into Columbus reported seeing a large band of Indians in war paint not far from the junction of the Loup and Platte. He said they were Sioux. Amid great hubbub, the whole of Platte County, man and beast, was rushed into the town, around which a stockade was built. For two weeks, living conditions were very bad in the tightly packed village. Fear reigned supreme. A patrol was constantly at watch and bands of men searched the prairies by day for some sight of the Redskins. None was seen, and "Fort Sock It-to-Em" as it was called, soon ceased to exist. This was the last Indian scare in the county.

The slowness with which settlers came into the county is indicated by the vote cast April 22, 1867, eleven years after the founding of Columbus, to authorize a loan of $16,000 to erect a courthouse. Total vote cast for the entire county was 96 ballots for and 29 against. The building was completed in 1879 and served as the courthouse for 52 years. Platte County's present courthouse was dedicated June 26, 1922.

Of the score or more towns and dreams of towns during the past 80 years, nine municipalities exist today. They are Columbus, Humphrey, Cornlea, Creston, Tarnov, Monroe, Platte Center, Lindsay and Duncan.

Humphrey, like many Nebraska towns of that day originated because of a promised railroad. The town was platted Nov. 25, 1880 by the county surveyor, James E. North, one of the three famous North brothers, together with Major Prank and Captain Luther. Instrumental were S. H. H. Clark, proprietor of the land, and the Omaha, Niobrara and Black Hills Railroad Company, which was built in 1886.

The ground at Platte Center site was acquired and platted by the Union Pacific. Site of the village was a strong and prosperous Irish settlement. The Columbus-Norfolk branch of the Union Pacific reached Platte Center Dec. 9, 1879 and the postoffice was established soon after. The first building was erected in 1880.

Creston was laid out in 1886 by the Western Town Lot Company shortly after the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad Company built a line through the town. A large fire destroyed one side of main street in 1897 and several of the buildings were not rebuilt.

Duncan was laid out Oct. 24, 1871 by the Union Pacific as the proposed junction site for a branch line running to Norfolk. The Loup river north of Duncan was spanned and tracks were laid. The line was used less than a year because the crude wooden bridge went down the Loup with outgoing ice the following spring. The line was rebuilt along a different route.

Tarnov had its start through operations of the Union Land Company, which platted the townsite July 25, 1889 and named it Burrows. It is on the route of what was then known as the Sioux City and Columbus railroad.

Lindsay was platted by the Western Town Lot Company Nov. 8, 1886, and was incorporated as a village March 7, 1888. On the Scribner-Oakdale branch of what was formerly the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley railroad, now part of the Northwestern system, Lindsay is located in a rich agricultural valley which brought wealth to the village for years. Since 1934, Lindsay has been in the heart of the drouth-stricken section of Platte County.

Monroe is the second oldest settlement in Platte County. For some time it rivaled Columbus in the number of travelers crossing the river by ferry. Monroe County was annexed to Platte in 1859. For


a great many years Monroe was the leading town in the Nebraska crusade against intoxicating liquors. It was the seat of the Prohibition party in the state and the official organ of the party was published there. Edward A. Gerrard, who set up the town's present outline in 1889, specified that intoxicating liquors were to be forever forbidden within its boundaries.

Cornlea was platted by the Western Town Lot Company Sept. 30, 1886, along the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley railroad, and was incorporated as a village Oct. 28, 1902. Like Humphrey and Tarnov, Cornlea has a predominating Catholic population.

The Mormons had a brief and sad experience in Platte County. Leander Gerrard drove his stakes into a rich plot of ground on Looking Glass creek, north of Monroe, May 1, 1857. While he was enroute to the U. S. Land Office to make his filing, Whaley, Pierce, and Baty jumped his claim; this was in turn jumped by Ray, Swicker, and Henderson, and finally by the Mormons. On his return, finding his land so much in demand, Gerrard drove a bargain with Ray and Whaley, and drove the Mormons out. They moved on to Genoa, where they founded a farming settlement, one of the finest in the state at that time. They enclosed 2,000 acres with a ditch and sod fence, and planted 1,200 acres. But in the early sixties the U. S. government decided to put into effect a treaty signed in 1852 with the Pawnee Indian nation. In this treaty the government had set aside the land taken over by the Mormons as a reservation for the Pawnees, and so the Mormons were again scattered, several settling in Columbus.

The first newspaper printed in Platte County made its appearance in Columbus on June 21, 1866 as The Golden Age, with C. C. Strawn as editor. Only twelve issues appeared; then the paper died from a mortgage attack. In 1869 0. T. B. Williams started the Platte Journal, purchased in 1879 by Moses K. Turner, who changed the paper's name to The Columbus Journal. Turner's first edition appeared May 11, 1879. From the Columbus Journal developed the Columbus Daily News which The Columbus Telegram purchased from John I. Long in 1924, at which time the present Columbus Daily Telegram appeared.

Almost from the beginning of Platte County in 1856, there was talk of harnessing the Loup river, first to provide irrigation and later, for electric power. Probably the first attempt of any importance came in 1874, when the local chapter of the National Grange voted to sponsor a collection of $100,000 to build a "huge water power plant on the Loup near Columbus." History leaves no trace of how far the plan got before it died.

After a series of dry years Platte County seriously talked irrigation again in 1893, and the Columbus Canal and Power Company was formed. Rain came and the project again died a happy death. In 1903, H. E. Babcock, for whom Lake Babcock near Columbus is named, entered the picture with his Nebraska Central Irrigation Company. Babcock dreamed of a 100-mile canal commencing on the Loup west of Columbus and running to Ames, where water would run back into the Platte. Three power plants were to be built.

Nebraska Power Company secured the water rights in 1911 and later Henry L. Doherty, the electrical financing wizard, planned a string of power plants to stretch from Columbus to near Omaha. H. J. Hollister of Chicago purchased the water rights in 1914 and announced start of the project. The World War broke out, and the subject was again forgotten. In the spring of 1932, Phil R. Hockenberger, Columbus real estate dealer and a native of the city, conceived the idea of resurrecting the power plant project with funds to be secured from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

Hockenberger interested Harold Kramer, Columbus coal dealer, in the project. A series of mass meetings was held in 1932, a fund of $11,000 raised, and largely through the work of a group of Columbus businessmen, Senate File No. 310, enabling act for the creation of public power districts, was passed by the 1933 Nebraska legislature.

The Loup River Public Power district was organized June 2, 1933, to include the county of Platte, and to be operated by a board of eleven directors, who named Charles B. Fricke, president; Dr. J. E. Meyer, vice president and C. C. Sheldon, treasurer. Hockenberger was one of the directors, and today is its first vice president. Harold Kramer was selected general manager. The RFC loan application was transferred to an application to the Public Works Administration. The WPA allocated its first loan and grant of $7,300,000 on Nov. 15, 1933, and purchased the first bonds of the Loup power district June 28, 1934. Construction started a few days later. The Loup district canal system extends thirty-five miles from five miles west of Genoa, where water is taken from the Loup river, to six miles southeast of Columbus, where the water empties into the Platte.

The district's hydro project consists of power plants at Monroe and Columbus and a giant system of high-voltage transmission lines extending over much of eastern Nebraska. Generation and sale of electric power has been in progress for more than two years.

On Sept. 25, 1939, voters of Columbus approved a franchise to the Northwestern Public Service Company. The franchise was to be operative only upon its transfer to the newlycreated Consumers Public Power District.

Transfer of property of the Columbus division of the Northwestern Public Service Company Was effected Oct. 15, 1939, marking the beginning of public ownership of the electrical distribution systems in Columbus, Platte Center, Monroe, Tarnov and Silver Creek. All these municipalities are part of the Consumers Public Power District with headquarters at Columbus. Electric power is purchased from the Loup River Public Power District.


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