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Sheridan County History


By Mrs. Fred (Betty E.) Evans, Hay Springs, Nebraska
from "Recollections of Sheridan County, Nebraska"

Sheridan County gets its name from the Civil War general Philip H. Sheridan. Principal Indian tribes at that time were the Sioux, Pawnee, and Cheyenne. A band of the Sioux, known as the Brule (Broo-la) Indians, lived on Beaver Creek. Here in 1871 was established the Spotted Tail Agency named for the Indian Chief Spotted Tail. Spotted Tail disappeared after a few years and in 1874 Fort Sheridan was established on Beaver Creek not far from the agency's previous location. This was on the Creek north and east of Elmer Cilek's house. In 1881 Fort Sheridan was discontinued.

Sheridan County was originally a part of Sioux County. Sioux county was a great block of unorganized territory with no administrative, judicial, or tax set-up. Because it had no organization "set-up" it was attached to Cheyenne County to carry out any taxation, administration, etc. This vast territory extended from Holt County to the Wyoming line.

The first white settlement was made on White Clay Creek approximately twenty miles northwest of the present site of

Rushville. Most of the first settlers took "squatter's rights" upon the land, filing later at Valentine after the U.S. land office was established in 1881.

On July 1, 1885, Gov. James W. Dawes proclaimed the new County of Sheridan, the same being a strip 69 miles long and 36 miles wide off the east edge of Sioux County. These boundaries had been defined by an act of the Legislature approved the 25th of February of the same year a county seat election was held, the four contestants being Gordon, Rushville, Hay Springs and Clinton. Rushville had a plurality, but no place had a majority. Rushville had 919 votes and Hay Springs had 839, a majority of 80. But a story had come in that Hunter precinct which was for Rushville, had voted many illegal votes; that the ranch had voted its payroll for years gone.

This story may or may not have any foundation in fact -- "It was stated that John Riggs was bringing in the returns from Hunter ranch when he met a friend and stopped to talk. The friend had said, "It looks like Rushville has lost out." Riggs asked how far it was behind Hay Springs and was told, "about 200 votes." Riggs is said to have remarked that he guessed he would have to go back to the ranch and get some more votes. The facts are that the returns from Hunter precinct gave 226 votes for Rushville. The canvassing board, consisting of Abel Hill, Clerk, James W. Loofbourow, and William

Waterman, refused to count the extra-ordinary vote, but by some process of selection did county 42 of the votes and rejected 184. This action gave Hay Springs 837 and Rushville 735.

The county commissioners declared Hay Springs the successful candidate and ordered the seat of county government to be moved to Hay Springs. Rushville partisans resented what they termed unauthorized proceedings and went into court. It resulted in a pre-emptory writ eventually issuing been the State Supreme Court. Samuel Maxwell was the Chief Justice and Guy A. Brown the Clerk. This writ ordered the canvassing board to reconvene and canvass the vote as moot in having no authority to go behind the returns. This opinion, made nearly a year after the election, gave Rushville the permanent county seat, and during this time it had been the temporary seat of government.

The towns soon became incorporated after the county was formed. Rushville was first on October 9, 1885, with Gordon and Hay Springs incorporating on November 19, 1885. The first trustees of the village of Hay Springs were William Waterman, A. McKinney, George Millard, George Ballet, and J. E. Brown.

At Hay Springs the early doctors were Dr. Anderson, Dr. A. N. Sheffner, Dr. Stanley Clements, and Dr. Albert J. Molzahn and Dr. Bowman.

The railroad was first built only to Valentine. The settlers could travel this far by train but from there on they had to travel by team. One of the first of these was the Rev. J. A. Scamahorn, a Methodist minister. Judge Tucker, the U. S. Commissioner at Valentine, had gone to the Louisville Exposition. While staying at his hotel he met the Rev. John A. Scamahorn of Indiana, who was suffering from a stomach ailment to such an extent that his doctor recommended a change of climate.

Judge Tucker sang the praises of Northwestern Nebraska to such an extent that the following autumn, 1883, six or seven men, Scamahorn and his friends, came out and looked the situation over. They liked it and returned with glowing reports and during the winter of 1884, 104 people, men and their families, made the journey with their possessions to Valentine, camping there until they could move farther west by means of teams of oxen and horses. Most of our old times came to Sheridan County by this method, in the early days of 1884 and the few following years. James Evan, Fred's grandfather, came from Kankakee, Illinois by team in 1884. At Valentine one of his horses died and he walked the rest of the way, filing on a homestead 6 miles south and west of Rushville, proving upon it.

Later he walked back to Kankakee, Illinois, bought a team of oxen and drove back to Rushville. Soon his wife and son, E. R. Evans, or Rex as he was called, filed on a released claim and homesteaded it. This quarter is the quarter that the buildings are on, on the Evans home place, which Rex Evans still owns and operates.

The very first church was organized and the first services held in Sheridan County near Gorgon by the Rev. Scamahorn. This took place in front of his home, a tent, in May 1884. This was the first Methodist Church west of Valentine. The service was opened with the hymn, "Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Jehovah," then a prayer was offered, and the Twenty-third Psalm was read, and then the latter part of the 4th Chapter of St. John. The next hymn was "Rock of Ages," after which Rev. Scamahorn preached to his audience who were seated upon the ground, on the woodpile, and on wagon tongues. The text chosen was "Then Simon Peter answered and said, 'To whom shall we go? Thou hast the word of Eternal Life.'" Following the service the first church was organized; there were .... members; it was a Methodist Church. Thirty years thereafter the First Methodist Church was built at Gordon at a cost of $15,000. Rev. Scamahorn added much to the life at this time. He served Valentine, Chadron, Crawford and Gordon as pastor and for six years was the presiding Elder of the District.

The earliest church of Hay Springs was the Congregational organized in 1885 with the Rev. R. H. Gammon, Methodist pastor both at Hay Springs and Rushville. He was the father of Lew Gammon, a well-known rancher living sough of Hay Springs.

Rev. Scamahorn's party was not the only party who came west. Six men from Pawnee City, Nebraska, came to a region just north of Rushville in 1883 and five of them took claims. They were Bruce Hewitt, J. C. Morrison, Louis Ertel, and George E. Morey.

In those days every vicinity tried to bring in new settlers. Rushville did quite a bit of boasting -- their best boast was the one about the climate being so good that they had to shoot a man in order to start a cemetery.

The homes of the early settlers were tents, dugouts and sod houses. I remember when I first came to Hay Springs (1931-1932) there was still a sod house standing. It was east of the road going south between the 16-mile corner and Alliance. I know of one sod house that is still being used -- it has been stuccoed -- the only difference between it and other housed is the very wide window casings. The house is completely modern and very warm and free from drafts.

Going back to the religious aspect, they tell the story of Elder Martin who used to come to Rushville from Ord to preach to the people. The only building he found large enough to hold his service in was the saloon. There he held services with the respectful attention of all who happened to be there.

I enjoyed Charley O'Kieffe's description of his mother making baking powder biscuits. As taken from his book "Western Story," their source of fuel in the very early days was buffalo chips. This was his description (his mother went through this several times a day): Stoke the stove (buffalo chips); get out the flour sack' stoke the stove' wash your hands; mix the biscuit dough; stoke the stove; wash your hands; cut out biscuits with top of B.P. can; stoke the stove; wash your hands; put pan of biscuits in oven; keep on stoking stove and washing hands until biscuits are done.

This process was more or less followed in any cooking procedure, especially with one requiring the use of the oven. What must we think? Are we glad of our Twentieth Century life?

And so the lives of our early pioneers were woven and our county of Sheridan came to be. How thankful we are that there were men who were not afraid of poverty, and who had the integrity to follow their beliefs and ideals, so that today we enjoy the results of their having lived.


Paper given at Utopia Woman's Club of Hay Springs in 1959 or 1960 (approximately) by Mrs. Fred Evans.

Researched by Mrs. Evans from such sources as: issues of Nebraska Farmer (Special 100th Anniversary issue, January, 1959); articles in Midland Magazine of Omaha World-Herald under "Bygone Nebraska"; History of Nebraska by Morton & Watkins, Western Publ. & Engraving Co., Lincoln copyright 1918; Information Service of New York, N.Y.


By Mae Manion
from "Recollections of Sheridan County, Nebraska"

In June, 1885, Rushville's prominent leader, James Loofborrow, and others called upon the Nebraska Governor, James W. Dawes, to create by proclamation Sheridan County. The Governor proclaimed the new county, a strip 69 miles long and 36 miles wide at the east edge of Sioux County. Sheridan County was named after the Civil War General Phillip H. Sheridan.

Rushville was named the temporary county seat. The new county was divided into three commissioner districts and ten voting precincts. The clerk, James W. Loofborrow, was ordered to issue call for an election and to prepare ballots in the ten precincts.

The first elected officers were: Judge C. Patterson; Treasurer, A. McKinney; Superintendent, S. S. Murphy; Clerk, Able Hill; Sheriff, John Riggs; Coroner, Jas. F. Parker; Surveyor, Solomon V. Pitcher; and commissioners T. B. Irwin, G. T. Morey and J. D. Woods.

On September 8, 1885, the county seat question was submitted to the voters. Rushville, Gordon and Hay Springs were up for the seat. In the finals, Rushville and Hay Springs were the contestants. There was the usual bitterness that accompanies and contest between these town.

Fraud was apparent in this election. Hay Springs had a majority, but the Hunter precinct with only 40 eligible voters had 226 votes cast in favor of Rushville. The votes from Rushville exceeded the limit by 130. Hay Springs had 243 more votes than voters and in Gorgon 65 fraudulent votes were cast.

These charges of fraud and corruption during the election brought the issue to court. In 1888 the Nebraska Supreme Court decided in favor of Rushville. Rushville, in the northern one-third of Sheridan county, is almost at the midpoint of the east-west boundaries. Gordon is 14 miles to the east, and Hay Springs is 12 miles west. The Supreme Court couldn't have made a better choice.

The early Court House was in the Hoyt building. The county leased this brink building from Mr. Hoyt. The lower floor was divided into rooms for county offices: County Judge, Treasurer, County Clerk, and Clerk of the Court. The District Court was held on the top floor. It also served as the town's theatre and dance hall. The annual Fireman's Ball, graduation exercises and class plays were held there.


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Tuesday, 10-Mar-2009 20:09:31 MDT