Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Lands

CB and Q Depot in Brunswick Nebraska, 1969

CB and Q Depot in Brunswick Nebraska, 1969

In 1860, the United States made land grants to the U. P. R. R. and the B. & M. R. R., giving them every odd-numbered section within twenty miles each way from the central lines of their respective roads when located. It came to pass after the lines were located that in certain places, especially at the junction of the two roads, near Old Fort Kearney, north of the B. & M. And south of the U. P., these two belts overlapped each other. It then became a question as to whose lands these sections were, lying in both belts. The Secretary of the Interior decided in favor of the U. P. R. R. Company. The B. & M. Company then claimed that the amount of land this decision deprived them of should be made good to them from lands outside their limits. This claim was acceded to, and, in 1871, these outside lands were selected and patented, lying chiefly north of the Platte, in Platte, Boone, Greeley, Howard, Sherman, Valley, Madison and Antelope Counties. After the lands were patented, but before the patents were recorded, a suit was brought, in 1873, by Judge Briggs, of Omaha, Neb., instigated by parties in Antelope County, in the United States Court, to annul the title and recover the lands, alleging that they were obtained by fraud. After considerable delay, a decision was rendered in favor of the company. The case was carried, on appeal, to the United States Supreme Court, and finally, on February 19, 1879, a decision was reached, affirming the title of the B. & M. R. R. Company to the lands. On account of this suit, the B. & M. neglected and refused to pay any taxes on these lands. They were willing to compromise by paying the taxes due for the years previous to the institution of the suit, and after the Supreme Court decision, but not for the time between these two dates. All the counties, except Antelope, compromised on this or some other basis; but Antelope County repeatedly refused to compromise. In 1879, the County Commissioners employed counsel to take charge of the case. In pursuance of their advice all these lands in Antelope were sold for the taxes for the years 1873 to 1878 inclusive, to the county under the provisions of a law passed January 30, 1867, and amended February 25, 1875.

About the same time, the company withdrew their lands from the market. Since then numerous efforts have been made by the company to compromise, but, although a majority of the people have been favorably disposed to a compromise of some kind, by which these lands would be again placed on the market and pay their portion of the taxed, yet there has always existed a party opposed to it, basing their opposition on the ground that the B. & M. Company had not yet offered to pay a sufficiently large per cent of the taxes that are still delinquent. This difficulty has retarded the settlement of the county, as most of the lands are choice, and about 60,000 acres in extent; has caused an unsettled feeling in regard to the final location of the county seat and injuriously affected the public school interests, as they are largely interested in the taxes which will ultimately be paid.

The County Commissioners, in 1881, commenced in the District Court proceedings of foreclosure of the tax certificates. These proceedings will bring the question to a settlement; the B. & M. lands will pay their proper share of the county taxes and be replaced on the market by the company. The total amount of taxed claimed as due by the county, including interest and penalties, is about $55,000. But, as a portion of this was illegally assessed, and, as another portion would doubtless be allowed the company in a court of equity, they have steadily declined to pay the full amount. In the spring of 1881, they offered $18,000, which was refused; in the spring of 1882, they offered $36,000, which was likewise declined, the attorney for the county demanding $45,000. The best information obtainable at the present writing indicates a settlement by the payment to the county of about $40,000.

This question settled, one of the chief obstacles in the way of rapid progress of the county will have been removed.

Other Retarding Influences

In addition to the conflict with the B. & M. Company over these lands, as above briefly outlined, may be mentioned the grasshopper visitations. In 1874, the plague was extremely devastating. Almost every green thing was eaten or destroyed, and, in some of the gulches, the grasshoppers piled upon each other to the depth of six feet, where different currents of wind had blown two clouds of them upon each other. In 1875, they were very destructive also, but not so much so as in 1874; in 1876, they came again, but in still more diminished numbers, since which time they have given the settlers no trouble whatever. Their failure to re-appear in succeeding years has been accounted for by some close observers from the fact that in 1877, the month of February was very warm, and consequently they were hatched out much earlier than usual; the weather in March was successively warm and freezing, thus many were frozen to death in infancy, and, April and May being very wet months, those that escaped the frosts of March, were drowned, and thus all the grasshoppers were, in 1877, destroyed by climatic changes before any eggs were laid.

One curious effect of the grasshopper visitation was the breaking-up of Pleasant Valley Precinct organization. The people nearly all left the precinct, and, as a consequence, the County Commissioners withdrew permission for the organization to exist.

Crimes And Casualties

The people of Antelope County, although suffering their full share of violent deaths, have been remarkably free from crime. There has been but one murder in the county. This occurred in the spring of 1871, in an altercation between R. A. Rollins and J. P. Fletcher. Mr. Fletcher insisted upon driving along a road, passing within a few feet of Mr. Rollins‘ door, which Mr. Rollins attempted forcibly to prevent. In the quarrel which ensued, Frank Cottle, an employee of Mr. Rollins, shot Fletcher, killing him instantly. Rollins was shot through the ear. Cottle was sentenced to the penitentiary for six months, but pardoned at the end of three. There was one other murder trial in the county, at Oakdale, on a change of venue from Holt County.

Besides the deaths mentioned in connection with out sketch of Clearwater, there have been two deaths by drowning — Dr. Elwood‘s child, in July, 1870, and William Clark, one of the first County Commissioners, May 24, 1873, in a slough between Oakdale and the Elkhorn; one, Frederick Whitwer, suicide by shooting, in the spring of 1872; in the succeeding summer, Mrs. Eldridge, by the explosion of a kerosene lamp; July 14, 1874, Mrs. Henry Rogers, either by the sun’s heat or that of a prairie fire, which she was fighting, or both; a little son of Spencer Smith, who was thrown from and dragged to death by a horse, and, September 9, 1875, Hugh McCombs, killed by lightning.

In addition, a most singular case of lightning stroke occurred, April 24, 1881, inasmuch as it did not result fatally. James M. Gillespie was holding up a piece of scantling, when the electric fluid passed down it, down his left arm, left side and both legs, shattering the scantling and throwing pieces of it thirty rods and stripping every particle of clothing, including shoes and stockings, from his person. He lay insensible nearly three days and was given up as dead by his friends, but, at the end of this long period, regained consciousness, and is now, with the exception of slight paralysis of his left side, enjoying usual health.

General Topics

The first Fourth of July celebration occurred in 1871, in a little elm grove about two miles from the present site of Oakdale. A few of the settlers from Madison County came up to participate. Dr. A. C. Elwood delivered the oration. A. J. Leech read the Declaration of Independence, and the Cedar Creek Choir furnished music for the occasion, Judge J. H. Snider being President of the Day. Remarks were made by Rev. Henry Griffiths, who had the day before arrived from England, having been just six weeks on the way.

There are fifty-eight school districts in Antelope County, thirty-five schoolhouses, sixty qualified teachers and about 2,000 children of school age. The value of schoolhouse sites is $800.; of schoolhouses, $7,000; of books and apparatus, $500, and of furniture, $2,000; total value of school property, $10,300.

In 1870, there were 150 voters, probably from 500 to 600 people; in 1875, the population was 1, 500; in 1880, 3,830, and, in 1881, 4,522, of whom 2,475 were males and 2,047 females. There were only two colored people in the county.

As showing the progress of the county, the following acreage of the four leading agricultural staples may be given. Of wheat, there were 3,776 acres; of corn, 7657 acres; of oats, 1,550 acres, and of barley, 572 acres.

On the tax duplicate for 1881, the following values of real and personal estate appear: Real estate, $238,722, and of personal property–horses, 2,107, valued at $55,608; cattle, 5,005, value, $48,688; mules, 177, value, $6,085; sheep, 1,139, value, $1,249; swine, 3,563, value, $3,204; vehicles, 704, value, $12,212; money in merchandising, $50,680; manufactures, $8,665; agricultural implements, $16,206; moneys and credits, $18,305; furniture, $5,304; other property, $27,086; real estate in Oakdale, $22,483; in Neligh, $36,296, making a grand total on the tax list of $550,792.

The farmers of this county have paid considerable attention to the planting of fruit and forest trees. Of fruit trees, the apple, plum and cherry are the principal species planted. All of these present a thrifty appearance, and promise large returns, where properly protected by groves of cottonwood or other trees. Peach trees have been to some slight extent experimented with, but, on account of the high altitudes and high winds, so far these experiments have been unsatisfactory. The number of fruit trees planted in Antelope County was about 15,000 up to 1882.

The principal species of forest trees planted are the cottonwood, box elder, maple and walnut. The total number of all kinds of forest trees planted, as returned by the Assessors, in 1881, was 640,000. They are planted in groves, usually in rows six feet apart each way, and cultivated with great care. Mr. A. J. Motter, living in St. Clair Valley, about six miles to the southeast of Oakdale, has a fine grove of seven acres, started in 1873, the larger cottonwood trees having now reached a height of about forty-five feet, and a diameter of over ten inches. The average height of these trees is thirty feet, and average diameter seven inches. The largest of his maple trees are twenty-five feet high, averaging fifteen feet. They were, however, frozen down to the ground in 1873, and eaten by the grasshoppers in 1874, so that the above figures do not show what would be the result of maple tree culture under favorable circumstances. Others have had, or might have had, at least, equal success.

There have been planted over 1,000 grape vines, mostly Concords, which yield prolifically, and the Wilson strawberry finds here a most congenial climate and produces a most delicious berry.

The Elkhorn “Pen And Plow.”

The initial number of this paper was published April 7, 1877, by I. N. Taylor. In the following October, one half interest was purchased by E. P. McCormick, who thus became co-editor and co-proprietor. In 1879, Mr McCormick became sole editor, and, in 1880, by purchasing Mr. Taylor‘s interest, sole proprietor. During the first two years of this paper’s existence, it was called the Oakdale Pen and Plow .It has always been Republican in politics, and has labored zealously for the promotion of the interests of the county and of Oakdale, the county seat.

The Board of Directors of this institution of learning organized October 13, 1881, by electing Rev. George L. Little, of Omaha, President; Rev. Harvey Wilson, Oakdale, Vice President; I. N. Taylor, Oakdale, Secretary, and S. S. King, Oakdale, Treasurer. On the same day, Rev. Harvey Wilson, who was at the time pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Dakota City, was chosen Principal of the seminary. The institution was incorporated October 22, 1881, and its first term of school opened in rented rooms, January 2, 1882. It is the design of the Directors to erect an elegant and commodious fireproof building, on elevated and sightly grounds, purchased for the purpose in the southwest corner of the town of Oakdale, the corner stones having been laid April 19, 1882.

The Grand Army Of The Republic

Post, No. 82, G. A. R., was organized at Oakdale December 17, 1881, and the following officers were elected: P. J. Wintersteen, Post Commander; O. Brittell, Vice Commander; W. W. Wilkenson, Jr., Vice Commander; D. E. Beckwith, Quartermaster; W. F. Conwell, Surgeon; D. F. Cole, Chaplain; N. B. Eggleston, Officer of the Day, and S. T. McNally, Officer of the Guard. The number of members at the time of organization was thirty-five. There are now fifty members.