History of the State of Nebraska
Chicago: The Western Historical Company
A. T. Andreas, Proprietor
Page 1487 (Beginning of York Chapter)
York County is situated in the centre of the most beautiful, and when all conditions are considered the best agricultural district to be found in the fertile and far-famed Nebraska.
Measuring from the center of the county it is ninety-two and one-half miles to the Missouri River, and from the same point it is sixty miles to the Kansas State line, while the Platte River is thirty-three miles north and thirty-six miles west in a direct line.
The county is as near the centre of the celebrated South Platte country as it is possible to locate the center of a section of country, the extent of which is so indefinite. The county is twenty-four miles square, and contains 575 sections or 368,640 acres of land. Upon the "divides" or plateaus the surface of the country is very level and smooth, slightly undulating, and as one travels towards the streams, he finds the surface traversed by numerous ravines or "draws," but very few of these are so deep or abrupt as to forbid of cultivation. They are a natural shelter for stock and in days gone by were the favorite feeding ground of the buffalo and elk. They produce the very best of wild native grasses, and are considered an advantage rather than a detriment. The faint outlines of the "buffalo paths" are still visible in many places and the appearance presented would indicate that immense herds once frequented these favorite haunts.
The West Blue River traverses the southern edge of the county, running in a zig-zag course, the general direction being east and west. This stream furnishes excellent natural water-power, and there are now located upon it some of the best flouring mills in the State, three of which are in the limits of this county.
Beaver Creek crosses the west line of the county near the centre north and south and runs nearly due east about half way across it, when it turns southward and runs in a southeasterly direction until it meets the West Blue River, about one and a half miles east of the county line in Seward County.
Lincoln Creek traverses the north half of the county from west to east and furnishes a number of good mill sites.
The Blue River, the least important of the four water courses, traverses the northeast portion. These streams are not "mighty rivers" but furnish abundant water for stock and drive machinery all the year round.
They are skirted by a belt of timber, in some places very light, and heavier in others. The valleys formed by them are picturesque and very beautiful, in many localities almost enchanting.
The soil throughout the entire county is uniformly rich and productive. The "divides" or uplands seem equally productive and fertile as the bottom lands of the valleys. Since the first settlements of the county an entire failure of crops has been unknown. There have been partial failures of one or more of the cereals, but there has always been a harvest, and after the first severe trials incident to the settlement of any new country have been surmounted, the county has been more than self-supporting. There is a copious rainfall every year, and the soil and sub-soil are such that the earth is always moist just below the surface.
No settlements were made in York County until the location of the Territorial Road, in 1861, from Nebraska City to a point on the line of the "Old Government" or "California Trail," forty miles due east of the present city of Kearney, familiarly called the "Old Freight Road," and more definitely known to early freighters and travelers as the Nebraska City Cut-Off.
It followed the natural "divides" of the county, running near enough to the creeks and rivers to obtain water for the ox and mule teams of the freighters.
This historic "Trail" entered York in the southeast corner, passing through West Blue, York and Baker Precincts on one of the continuous "divides" that cross the county, running in a general course east and west, and three miles south of the city of York. Along the line of this trail, at convenient points for obtaining water and fuel, numerous ranches were established. Five of these pioneer hotels were located in York County, the oldest being Porcupine Ranch, situated at Porcupine Bluffs, near the west line of the county. It was inaugurated in the year 1863, by Benjamin F. Lushbaugh, United States Indian Agent of the Pawnees, and was conducted by Samuel Kearney. It was also a relay station of the Overland Stage Coach, and twenty-seven miles west of Fouse's Ranch, located at Beaver Crossing, in Seward County.
The following year, 1864, Mr. Lushbaugh also established the Jack Smith Ranch, and placed in charge a Mr. Chapin, who kept it for a period of six months, when it passed into the hands of Mr. Smith, who remained proprietor until the freight wagons disappeared, and its mission was ended.
The McDonald Ranch was also established in 1864, and is named in honor of its original proprietor. This ranch was purchased by a Mr. Baker, in the fall of 1865, and operated by him until the close of the freighting business. It was located just east of Porcupine Ranch.
Antelope Ranch was situated only a few miles east of the McDonald Ranch, and was established in the month of November, 1865, by James T. Mathewson.
Next to the Jack Smith Ranch west was the ranch known as Jack Stone's Ranch, established in August, 1865, by George Chapman, but operated by him for only six months, at which time he transferred it to John McClellan, alias Jack Stone, and maintained by him until the business of freighting was abandoned.
Near the site of Mr. Smith's old ranch, on the bluffs, a few rods south of Beaver Creek, may be seen the grave of the first white man interred in York County. His death was tragic and brought on by his own evil intentions.
The victim was a driver in charge of the overland stage coach, and in passing over the road stopped at Smith's Ranch. He was, under the influence of "pioneer whisky,"
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