Saunders County NEGenWeb Project
Past and Present of Saunders County Nebraska, 1915



   By A. H. Meyer, E. H. Smies and T. M. Bushnell of the United States Department of Agriculture, and R. R. Spafford, R. R. Burn and R. J. Scarborough of the Nebraska Soil Survey.


   Saunders County is located in Eastern Nebraska, in the second tier of counties west of the eastern boundary. It is bounded on the north and east by the Platte River, on the south by Cass and Lancaster counties, and on the west by Butler County. From north to south the county is twenty-eight miles wide and its greatest length from east to west is thirty-two miles. It comprises 761 square miles, or 487,040 acres. The eastern limit of the county is twenty-four miles from Omaha, the metropolis of the state; the southern but fourteen miles north of Lincoln, the state capital.

   Saunders County lies in the glacial and loessial and river flood plains provinces. There are three distinct topographic divisions: (1) The uplands, derived from loessial and glacial material; (2) the alluvial terraces, deposited at a time when the streams Were flowing at a high level; and (3) the first bottom lands, embracing the recent alluvium of the Platte River and its tributaries.

   The upland occurs in two distinct areas separated by an old valley of the Platte River, which has been given the name of Todd Valley by Condra (Journal of Geology, June, 1903). The smaller area, a roughly ovate body about twenty miles long and six miles wide, occurs in the northeastern part of the county. At the northern end of this region it grades into a small plain which



is an outlier of the loess plains proper, so well shown in Butler County on the west. The remainder of the upland east of Todd Valley is rolling to steeply rolling. The slope between the upland and high terraces is fairly gentle, while that between the upland and Platte River first bottoms is very steep to precipitous. As the Platte River elbows around this body of upland it hugs very close to the bluff line, and in places it cuts sharply against the upland region. The highest point of this outlier is 1,360 feet above sea level on the remnant of the loess plains, or about 160 feet above the Platte River.

   The main body of the upland is west of Todd Valley, occupying the western and southwestern parts of the county, which are rolling to steeply rolling and have a distinct drift-hill topography. Northeast of Prague and north of Malmo this topographic feature gives way to a more gently rolling topography, and the same is true of a zone from three to four miles wide along Wahoo Creek below Wahoo. To the north of Plasi it merges into a steeply rolling to hilly zone, about five miles wide, extending along the western county boundary line. The transition from the upland to the first bottoms of the Platte River varies from a very steep slope immediately west of Morse Bluff to a rather wide dissected zone in the extreme northwestern part of the county. North of Wahoo the transition from the upland to the first bottoms is a very steep slope. Elsewhere there is a rather gentle slope through the second terrace to the first bottoms.

   The alluvial terraces or benches of Saunders County may be divided into a higher or second terrace and a lower or first terrace. With the second bench is included Todd Valley, which is practically of the same elevation as the remnants of terrace along the larger streams. This valley varies from six to eight miles in width, and its greatest length is about thirty miles. It leaves the Platte River first bottoms between Morse Bluff and a point where the Chicago & North Western Railway crosses the Platte River and extends in a southeasterly direction for about twenty miles, opening into the Platte River first bottoms again between a point four miles south of Yutan and Ashland. Todd Valley has a gently rolling to undulating topography and contains numerous marshy depressions and small knobs. It is evidently an aban-


doned valley of the Platte, as with the exception of Silver Creek, which may roughly suggest an old channel of the Platte River, there are no streams in the region, though a few large ones from the upland region have sought their way to the Platte River along the edge of this old valley. Where Todd Valley leaves the Platte River Valley proper it is about 60 to 100 feet above the latter, and where it enters again it is from 20 to 40 feet above. The old valley slopes to the southeast and has an approximate gradient of seven feet to the mile.

   The second terraces along the Platte River begin at Leshara and continue as narrow, disconnected areas until Todd Valley is reached. At Leshara they extend back for a distance of 2 1/2 miles along Otoe Creek. About 2 1/2 miles north of Yutan a second terrace leaves the Platte River Valley and joins the terraces along Upper Clear Creek, only to reconnect with the second terraces along the former stream. Another system of second terraces, which are at about the same elevation as those of Todd Valley, exists in the southeastern corner along Salt Creek. Remnant terraces of Todd Valley are found along Silver Creek and Wahoo Creek, below Wahoo. Above Wahoo definite terraces of the same height as the second benches extend along Wahoo Creek as far back as Weston. Corresponding terraces are found along Oak Creek at Valparaiso, along Rock Creek west of Ceresco, along North Fork Rock Creek, about five miles east of Ceresco, and along Dunlap Creek and Miller Branch. The first terraces are about fifteen to twenty feet above the first bottoms and have a very small distribution in the Platte River and Salt Creek valleys. In the northwestern part of the county, skirting the bluff line, is an alluvial bench whose front has been cut away by the Platte River. This bench has an appreciable slope toward the latter stream. The next first terrace along the Platte River occurs three miles south of Yutan. This bench level also occurs in several places in the southeastern part of the county. The largest of these is found at Ashland and extends along Wahoo Creek for about three miles. A number of smaller ones are found along the Salt Creek bottoms and one along the Platte River bottoms in the extreme southeastern corner. An outlier is found about a mile northeast of Ashland and a low bench at the south-


east point of Todd Valley about two miles north of Ashland. Both the first and second terraces are rather narrow and possess a distinct benchlike topography, though in places streams from the upland have cut drainage ways through them. The higher bench immediately east of Ashland is rather gently rolling and possesses all the characteristics of Todd Valley in having on it poorly drained areas and knoblike elevations.

   The first bottoms are rather extensive in Saunders County, covering about one-sixth of the total area. The largest area occurs along the Platte River, varying in width from a fraction of a mile to four miles. The next largest area is along Wahoo Creek and its tributaries. A considerable body lies in Salt Creek Valley in the extreme southeastern corner of the county and along the tributaries of this stream in the southern and southwestern parts. The topography of the bottom land is flat, though broken slightly in places by minor depressions, ox-bow lakes, cutoffs, old channels, overflow channels and sand ridges. In the northwestern corner of the county the Platte River first bottom is about thirteen hundred feet above sea level, while in the southeastern corner it is about one thousand and sixty feet above, this being the lowest point in the county. The highest points in Saunders County, about sixteen hundred and twenty feet above sea level, are in the western and northwestern part of the upland region. The range of elevation is approximately five hundred and forty feet.

   Saunders County is drained by three important systems -- those of the Platte River, Wahoo Creek and Salt Creek. The Platte River borders the county on the north and east. It is a broad, shallow, overloaded stream, characterized by numerous sand bars and low sand islands. Only a small portion of the county drains directly into it. By far the greater area is drained by Wahoo Creek, which extends in a southeasterly direction across the center of the county. The Salt Creek drainage system is confined to the extreme southeastern and southern parts and the southwestern corner of the county. The general direction of the drainage in Saunders County is to the southeast.

   The first permanent settlement in the region now embraced in Saunders County was made in 1856 in the vicinity of Ashland.


The county was organized in 1867, and after several changes in the boundaries they were fixed as they exist at the present time by an act of the Legislature approved in 1875. The county seat was changed from Ashland to Wahoo in 1873. Most of the first settlers came from Illinois, Missouri, Iowa., and the Eastern States. The population increased rapidly between 1865 and 1870, when many German and Swedish immigrants came in. The Germans settled in the northern and northeastern and to some extent in the southern parts of the county. The Swedes settled in the south-central part and the southwest corner. Some Bohemians, who came a little later, settled a portion of the western and northwestern parts. Besides these quite a number are of Irish, English, and American descent. The population of the county increased appreciably until 1900, but between 1900 and 1910, according to the census reports, it decreased from 22,085 to 21,179.

   Wahoo, the county seat, with a population of a little over 2,000, lies practically in the geographical center of the county. It is located at the junction of three railroads, in a rich agricultural section at the edge of Todd Valley, and is noted as a distributing point for farm implements and supplies. Ashland, with a population of 1,379, and Cedar Bluffs, population 600, are towns of next importance. There are many small villages situated along the railroads in different parts of the county.

   Saunders County is well supplied with railroads, few points being more than eight miles from a railroad station. The Manhattan branch of the Union Pacific Railroad reaches out from Valley, across the Platte River, traversing the county in a southwesterly direction. From Valparaiso the Central City branch of the same system extends into Butler County. The Chicago & Northwestern Railway (Lincoln branch) crosses the central part of the county almost due north and joins the Hastings line of the same system at the Platte River railroad bridge. The Hastings line of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway enters the Platte Valley in the northwestern part of the county and extends eastward until it joins the Lincoln branch. A main line of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad crosses the extreme southeastern corner of the county through Ashland, from which


point another main line of the same system extends eastward to Plattsmouth. From here also the Schuyler line extends northwest and the Sioux City branch north across the county.

   The county has a transcontinental wagon road-the Omaha Lincoln and Denver Road-which crosses the southeastern corner. Most of the public roads follow section lines or land lines. All are dirt roads and little attention is given to the upkeep of the minor roads. The more important highways are dragged as soon as the ground permits after each rain, and are thus kept in a smooth condition. There are four long bridges across the Platte River -- at Morse Bluff, five miles northeast of Cedar Bluffs, Leshara and Ashland. There are no toll roads, though toll is charged at the Platte River bridge at Ashland.

   Direct railroad lines between the county and Omaha and Lincoln make these places the leading markets for the products of the county. Omaha and South Omaha take practically all the general farm products. Omaha, Lincoln and Fremont furnish good markets for the dairy products.

   Rural free delivery routes and telephone lines reach nearly all sections of the county.


   The mean annual rainfall of Saunders County is 30.21 inches, of which from 75 to 80 per cent occurs during the growing season, from April to September, inclusive. About 47 per cent falls during the three months of May, June and July, with the maximum during July. The normal precipitation for the driest months -- November, December, January and February -- is about three-fourths inch per month.

   Most of the rainfall in the summer months comes in the form of thunder showers, and the precipitation is very heavy within very short periods of time. Somewhat more than half of the total rainfall of May, June and July occurs in amounts of one inch or more in twenty-four hours. In a few instances five or six inches of rain have fallen within twenty-four hours. The rainfall during May and June is usually well distributed and drought


periods during these months are almost unknown. In July the distribution is not quite so favorable, though on the average rain falls about every four days during the months of May, June and July. During August and September there is considerably less rain than during the three preceding months, and the distribution is not nearly so favorable. Occasionally long droughts occur in the months of July, August and September.

   The average annual snowfall is about twenty inches. The snow seldom stays on the ground long.

   The mean annual temperature is 50.9° Fahrenheit. January and February are the coldest months, with a mean temperature of 23.8° Fahrenheit. July is the warmest month, with a mean temperature of 76.2° Fahrenheit, though August is only 1.5° cooler. The coldest day recorded in the county was -33° Fahrenheit and the warmest day 100° Fahrenheit, at Ashland.

   The average date of the first killing frost in the autumn is October 5 and of the last in the spring April 27. The date of the earliest recorded killing frost in autumn is September 12 and of the latest in spring May 19. There is a growing season of 161 days, which is long enough to mature the ordinary farm crops grown in the county.

   The prevailing direction of the wind for the average year is from the northwest. During the months of June, July, and August it is from the south or the southeast and from the middle of September to the middle of May from the northwest. Tornadoes, while uncommon, sometimes do damage, as in the case of the one that swept across the county in 1913.

   According to the Weather Bureau station at Omaha, the average relative humidity for Eastern Nebraska is quite regularly near 70 per cent, although in the afternoons during spring and summer it is sometimes below 20 per cent. The relative humidity is about 17 per cent lower at 8 o'clock in the evening than at 8 o'clock in the morning. On the average there are 170 to 180 clear days and 80 to 90 cloudy days, the remaining days of the year being partly cloudy.

   The following table gives the normal monthly, seasonal, and annual temperature and precipitation as recorded at the Weather Bureau station located at Ashland, Nebraska.


Normal monthly, seasonal, and annual temperature and precipitation at Ashland.


MonthMeanAbsolute MaximumAbsolute minimumMean Total amount for the driest year Total amount for the wettest year
December 27.7 69 -26 0.68 0.50 0.72
January 23.9 65 -32 0.59 0.26 0.58
February 23.8 80 -33 0.72 0.30 0.73
Winter 25.1       1.70 1.38 2.00

MonthMeanAbsolute MaximumAbsolute minimumMean Total amount for the driest year Total amount for the wettest year
March 38.2 91 -14 1.14 0.62 2.19
April 52.3 95 12 2.70 2.01 3.15
May 62.6 100 26 3.54 0.92 4.39
Spring 51.0       8.23 3.55 8.88

MonthMeanAbsolute MaximumAbsolute minimumMean Total amount for the driest year Total amount for the wettest year
June 71.5 104 41 5.01 4.52 5.03
July 76.2 109 49 5.08 0.61 11.79
August 74.7 105 40 4.05 0.12 5.50
Summer 74.1       14.14 5.76 21.81

MonthMeanAbsolute MaximumAbsolute minimumMean Total amount for the driest year Total amount for the wettest year
September 67.2 103 23 2.85 0.52 4.33
October 54.9 97 15 2.52 2.23 6.05
November 38.8 80 -14 0.25 0.22 0.76
Winter 53.6       5.84 3.29 10.60
Year 50.9 109 -33 30.21 14.30 42.67

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