The Blockhouse at Tekamah

By Albert Watkins

The new courthouse for Burt County was dedicated on Tuesday, March 19, 1918. In an account of the dedicatory exercises, the Burt County Herald of March 22 quotes the inscription of a historical tablet which was placed in the courthouse, in part as follows:

"This new courthouse stands on the site of the old Blockhouse built by the United States war department in 1855 to protect the first white settlement in this county from Indian depredations." In the account it is said further that General John M. Thayer organized a military company at Tekamah, the members of which "were mustered into the regular United States army."

The first military organization in the Territory of Nebraska was formed in accordance with an admonitory proclamation issued by Acting Governor Cuming on December 23, 1854. The organic act of the territory declared that "The governor . . . shall be commander-in-chief of the militia thereof." But the first Legislative Assembly did not exercise its power to authorize the organization of a militia. This was first done by the second assembly, in 1856. So the acting governor's undertaking was legally premature. He directed that there should be two regiments, the First regiment by, for and of the North Platte section; the Second, by, for and of the South Platte.

The proclamation prescribed further that "Said companies shall elect their own officers, the regimental officers being commissioned by the commander-in-chief.

"Said companies are recommended to keep such arms and ammunition as they can procure, in good order and ready for service; also in the frontier settlements to . . . provide blockhouses for shelter, in case of attack, until word, can be sent to other companies.

"In pursuance of this proclamation I have this day appointed and commissioned regimental officers, viz: one colonel, one Lieut. Colonel, one major, and one adjutant for each regiment."

In a book named Executive Proceedings and Official Correspondence, Territory of Nebraska there is a partial record of the organization of this provisional militia, or rather the undertaking to organize it; for while I was writing the first volume of the history of Nebraska I cross-examined General Thayer about this incident, and he informed me that very little of practical importance was done. This record shows only the appointment of officers for the Second, or South Platte, regiment, "up to January 1, 1855"; but it discloses that on February 7, 1855, the acting governor commissioned Andrew J. Hanscom colonel of the First Regiment Nebraska Volunteers, William C. James lieutenant colonel, and Hascall C. Purple major; also, John M. Thayer brigadier general, and Anselum Arnold adjutant of the first brigade, as the entire organization, consisting of the two regiments, was designated.

Thus it appears that the war department of the United States took no part in the building of the blockhouse at Tekamah and that the local company of men who built it were part of a purely territorial and extemporized militia. General Thayer first entered the army of the United States soon after the beginning of the Civil War. The fact that he became a brigadier general in that war probably led to the confusion and misapprehension I have pointed out.

Nebraska AHGP

Source: Nebraska History and Record of Pioneer Days, Volume I, Number 1, Published Monthly by the Nebraska Historical Society, February 1918.

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