Tekamah, the county seat, is located in the southeastern part of the county, partly on the bottom lands of the Missouri, and partly on the contiguous bluffs. The name was given to it by W. N. Byers, one of the early transient settlers, the privilege of naming it having fallen to him by lot. He gave it the name Tekamah in commemoration of some place in the Far West, which he had visited, or in which he had resided. The first claim made on the present site of
Tekamah was by B. R. Folsom, W. N. Byers, J. W. Patterson, H. C. Purple, John Young, Jerry Folsom, Mr. Maynard, William T. Raymond and Mr. White, in the name of the Nebraska Stock Company, on October 7, 1854. This party of pioneers left Council Bluffs, Iowa on October 2, and, after passing through Omaha, the site of the deserted Mormon city of "Winter Quarters", now Florence, reached the site of the present city of Fontanelle, on October 5. There they found Dr. H.
M. Clark and two other men, who had one hour before arrived there, in behalf of the Quincy Company, had staked out their claim, and were preparing to erect "the first tenement west of the Missouri," according to Mr. B. R. Folsom. They, on October 7, reached the present site of Tekamah and staked out their claim, "four miles square." Then they returned to Council Bluffs, reaching there on October 9.
The first permanent settlement in Tekamah was made on April 19, 1855, by B. R. Folsom, Z. B. Wilder, John B. Folsom, Niles R. Folsom, William F. Goodwill (who remained permanently), and a few others (among them W. N. Byers, who named the town), who only remained a short time.
A few weeks subsequently, F. E. Lange, W. B. Beck and Deidrick Fees and wife joined the first settlers. Mrs. Fees was the first white woman to come into the county. On the 18th of July, following, a little colony from La Salle County, Ill., which had settled upon claims just north of Silver Creek, moved to Tekamah, doing this for safety upon hearing of the killing and scalping of the two white men, Porter and Demaree, near Fontanelle. Fear of the Indians was very great in those days, and greatly retarded the development of the country. This colony consisted of G. M. Peterson, T. Thompson, John Oak and George Erickson, and their families--twenty-four in all.
Tekamah was incorporated as a city very early in its history, on March 14, 1855, and became the county seat at the same time. Olney Harrington was made Postmaster in 1855. Miles Chillcot opened the first store in 1856. Michael Olinger arrived in the fall and built a blacksmith shop. The first child born was in the fall of 1855, to Mrs. Thomas Thompson, who died in childbirth. Hers was the first death, and the child lived but a few days. The first marriage was that of Lewis P. Peterson to Miss Elsa Thompson, in the fall of 1855. The first school was taught by J. R. Conkling in 1857. The first sermon was preached on Sunday, November 5, 1854, by a Methodist minister. Rev. William Bates preached in July 1855, also a Methodist; and the Rev. Jacob Adriance, of the De Soto Circuit, was the first regular preacher. In August 1856, a Methodist Episcopal Church was organized by Rev. L. F. Stringfield. The first physician was J. R. Conkling, of Chicago, who located here in 1857, and was a brother of the present editor of the Burt County News, A. T. Conkling. The first lawyer was J. H. Smith, who came in 1862. The first newspaper was the Burt County Pilot, established in 1871, by J. Y. Lambert, and which was moved to Blair in 1874. The next was the Burtonian, established in 1872, and edited by G. P. Hull, who is still its editor. G. P. Thomas and wife reached here in 1856.
Tekamah has one graded school, with four teachers, and one ward school. The principal school building is a fine two-story frame, costing $5,000, and located in a pleasant park of nearly two acres.
There are now in Tekamah five church organizations, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran and Episcopalian--all but the last having church edifices.
Tekamah is on the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad, which affords fine shipping facilities. In 1880, the United States census gave it a population of 776. It is now estimated at 1000. The town contains various business establishments, and some of its enterprising businessmen have recently erected fine brick blocks. It has good hotel accommodations, the last hotel being a fine two-story brick, erected in 1880.
There are in Tekamah five general stores, two hardware, three drug and three millinery stores, two agricultural implement depots, two elevators, four blacksmith shops and two lumberyards, four physicians and five lawyers. Under the operation of the local option law, Tekamah has now no licensed saloons, and contains an orderly, enterprising and intelligent population.