1890s Sod House in Southern Boone County

Early History of Boone County, Nebraska

“About five years and three months ago,” said the Rev. Mr. Bollman, in his Centennial sketch, “in the spring of 1871, the first white men visited Boone County with a view to permanent residence. Previous to this time, no white man, except Government Surveyors, adventurers, explorers, or daring trappers had ever trod the flowery landscape of these delightful valleys, or paused in admiration on our extensive table-lands, at the almost boundless prospect. In all these beautiful regions, the various bands of roving Indians and the native wild animals were the only occupants, and the only sounds were the notes of birds, the war-whoop of the savage or the answering howl of the wolf to his mate. For here unscathed the fox and wild cat alike made their dens while herds of deer, elk and antelope unmolested fed upon the luxuriant grasses of these extensive plains.” But a change came over the spirit of the dream of these prairie regions, and the irresistible tide of Western emigration soon penetrated the fertile valley of the Beaver, and the dwellings of civilization began to appear in this section of the “Great American Desert.” The first company who ever passed up the valley with a view of locating consisted of six men–S. D. Avery, Ralph Vorhees, Robert Hare, James Hare, and two others, who never located, and whose names have been forgotten.

It had been organized at Columbus by Sam Smith, who, some years before, had gone through the valley in pursuit of a band of Indians and some stolen horses. The men enjoyed the beautiful prospects and were fully convinced of the value of the land, but were quite as certain that civilization would never penetrate the region, and returned to Columbus. The prospects for the early settler were not flattering. On the south was the Pawnee Reservation, and on the north the roving bands of Sioux. Boone itself, the center, was a stamping ground for both tribes and the scene of many depredations committed upon each other.

After some searching in other sections, Mr. Avery concluded that he would again try his fortunes on the Beaver, and soon a second party, consisting of himself, John Hammond, the two Hares, William Prescott and one other, who did not remain, arrived at the center of the county, where Albion is now located. This company had also been organized at Columbus, and consisted of twelve members, part of whom were to come up and pre-empt the land and the others were to bear the expense. Avery pre-empted one of the quarters of the present town section. The other three were taken in the names of John Stauffer, Robert Kummel and Rev. Henry Wilson, of Columbus. The others who had come up in the party located east of and adjoining the town. This party then returned and still no actual settlement had been made. The 13th of April, 1871, marks the arrival of the first actual settlers. The party consisted of fourteen men from Columbus, as follows: S. D. Avery, Albert Dresser, N. G. Myers, W. H. Stout, W. H. Prescott, John Hammond, Thomas Smith, Julius Day, Charles Bassett, John McGould, Bobert Hare, a Mr. Walkup and the “two Missourians.” The two latter were never known by any other name and soon returned from a country, which they declared would never settle up. The day following, another solitary individual wandered into the county, following the trail of the first party as he supposed. After a night on the prairie and a return to the “Pawnee House” for a new start, Ed Dwyer succeeded in reaching the camp of the fourteen men near Albion, and has since been one of the active men of the county. On the same day on which he arrived, work was begun on a dugout.

Of the different views held by the members of the party as to the proper method of construction, the unpropitious circumstances which attended the “raising,” and the blizzard which greeted the early settlers, a good account is found in the essay read by Mr. Dwyer at an anniversary, in 1878:

“Next day, all our united efforts were centered in building a sod-house on the claim taken by Need Myers. The location was on the bank of the Beaver about east of the present town of Albion. The confusion at the building of the tower of Babel wasn’t a circumstance as compared with the different views each had as to how the thing should be done. There wasn’t a man in the outfit that had ever seen a sod-house built before, and, as usual in such cases, each and every one of us firmly believed that we knew just how the thing should be done. There was one thing we all did agree on, and that was that in laying the sod the hair side should be laid uppermost. Well, we crowded things that day and got the wall up five feet, and when we came back to renew our labors next morning, we found a portion of the wall had got tired and was gently reclining flat on the ground. Although every one present knew some one else was to blame for it, yet we went at it again, and that night, after bracing it up with poles and tipping the breaking plows against it, we retired within the walls for the night, happy once more. You observe we had no roof on the institution, and some time in the night a terrible northwest zephyr bore down on us. The air was black with flying dirt; everything movable was carried away; we had to tie our hats on with long prairie grass and handkerchiefs. Our wagon cover was found about three months afterward in the Beaver, somewhere near where Mr. Stevens now lives. That storm continued in all its fury for three days and nights, and that little party were compelled to shin it across the Beaver on a fallen log, taking refuge in the wood cañon back of the present location of Sackett & Crouch’s mill. But that party was a happy one. They soon built a long shed, army style, covered it with brush and prairie grass, and, after they had got things ship-shape, the principal part of their time was employed in frying flap-jacks, singing songs and dilating on the future prospects of Boone County. The howling storm didn’t interfere with our appetites in the least. We had a large fallen tree in front of our “dog tent,” which served for a back-log; wood was plenty, and, although the wind howled over our heads, it couldn’t reach us, and almost any time in the night some hungry individual would be up running that frying-pan. When at last the storm had quieted down, the rest of the party went to work and finished the sod-house, and your essayist left on a reconnoitering trip down the valley.”

This was the first house in the county, and the hardy band of pioneers all lived together in the little room (14×18 feet) about two weeks. At the end of that time, S. D. Avery and John Hammond went to Columbus for lumber, and soon returned with six teams and loads. On the road, a bridge was constructed across the Beaver, about two miles above St. Edward, which was the first in the county. Work was immediately begun on a frame building, and in May it was completed. It was located in the center of Section 22, being the first frame building and the second building of any kind in the county. It has experienced many changes since that early period. At first, it was a hotel, known as the “Frontier House,” then a store building and finally a residence, and is now used as such by Mr. Avery. Elections have been held in it, the County Commissioners have used it for courthouse, and people have gathered there to attend divine worship when Rev. Mr. Bollman was their pastor. The next frame house erected was a little one by Mrs. Rice, since Mrs. Loran Clark, who came early in 1871, and took the quarter, which had been pre-empted by Rev. Mr. Wilson.

Here it was that the first school was held and was taught by Miss Sarah Rice, in 1872, when six or eight scholars attended and $20 per month was considered ample compensation. At this time many other buildings were being erected in all parts of the county. Of the original company who came together, Dresser had located just across the creek north of town. The Hares stopped a mile east of town, where they now live. Stout took his land on the west side adjoining the town site, and Smith located next to him. In June, S. P. Bollman and his son Calvin arrived from Virginia and took a claim two and a half miles northwest of town. Rev. Mr. Bollman had been a minister for many years and often held religious services in various places in the county. After building her house, Mrs. Rice had returned to Columbus, and was there married to Loran Clark, who came into Boone in the fall of the year.

In May of 1871, Elias Atwood and son, Theodore Tilson and William Comstock located three miles west of town. A little later, Joe Green, Albert McIntyre, Charles Downs and C. M. Selby located in what is known as Milwaukee Valley. In June, George Crites and Mark Mattison located. Alex. and Ralph Voorhees stopped at Voorhees Valley, four miles east of town. Ed. Dwyer settled near St. Edward. The first men on the Cedar were the Robinsons, an old man and four sons, who located at Dayton. In the spring of 1872, Messrs. W. H. Randall, Barnes, Garrett and Van Camp pushed ten miles farther up the Beaver and located. In the same spring, the Roe brothers settled in Roe Valley. Others settled occasionally, but no very rapid immigration took place. The winter of 1871 was not intended to encourage the settlers much, as it was one of the most severe ever experienced in this section. The snow piled in so deep that communication with the outside world was next to impossible. It required a week for all the force the settlers could muster to shovel a road from Albion to Boone, a distance of six miles.

For many this was the first experience with the “blizzard.” The effects of one are thus described by Mr. Dwyer:

“When I succeeded in digging out from under my blankets that eventful morning, I had the pleasure of hunting for my boots through about three feet of snow that had found its way into my dug-out. So, after taking a general survey of the premises, I concluded to vacate and went up to Baldwin’s dugout, an institution 9×10; there, too, I found snow over everything. In that single room I found Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin and their two small children, a bed, a cooking stove, two or three trunks, some other household furniture and a large span of horses. And for two or three days and nights we all camped in that dug-out about as close as sardines in a box. Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin and family occupied the bed, and your essayist put in the nights stretched on a couple of trunks. Mrs. Baldwin had only arrived in the country a day or two before, and I remember that the piercing cold and her children’s sufferings caused her to shed tears. Our friend Farrell was also snowed under, and when I called round to see him all that was visible of his little dugout was the chimney. When I peered down that avenue and asked him if he didn’t know he was snowed under, his answer was: “No, I have just been reading one of I. N. Taylor’s immigration pamphlets and learn that it never snows in Nebraska.”

The summer that followed was also one of misfortune for the settlers, for their crops were entirely destroyed by the grasshoppers. In the spring of 1872, the first post office was established in the county and was known as the Hammond Post Office. The first Postmaster was Albert Dresser, and the mail was carried by Michael Welch, on horseback. No bag was necessary, as his pockets were capacious enough for all matter that the week brought to the county. In August 1873, the office was moved and the name changed to the Albion office. W. H. Gamadge was Postmaster for two years, and was succeeded by Hiram Rice, the present officer. This year also marks the birth of the first child in the county — Clara Boone Mattison. Her name has a patriotic ring to it and shows that at least one family had confidence that Boone would yet be a name to be proud of. In the spring of the year, Elias Atwood, Sr., lost a child — the first death in the county. The winter of 1872-73 developed nothing new in the history of the county, until April of 1873, when one of the worst storms known here occurred. Rev. Mr. Bollman thus describes it:

“On Easter Sunday of 1873, there began with heavy rain, accompanied with thunder and lightning, a storm which continued for three days. Shortly after nightfall on the day it commenced, it changed to snow, and, for forty-eight hours, the fall of snow, driven by a fierce northwest wind, was so thick that most of the time a person could not see ten feet from them. Persons could not, in some instances, find their own barns; some were lost and narrowly escaped perishing from exposure. Much stock in the country perished in barns, the snow penetrating and filling them entirely; stock and portions of herds were driven miles before the storm and many perished. The snow packed so firmly and drifted to such an extent that ravines and considerable streams were effectually bridged by it, and loaded teams were driven over them on the drifted snow.”

The summer of 1874 again brought the dreaded grasshopper, and again crops of all kinds were devastated. A great many who were able sacrificed everything and left, but the vast majority, who would have been glad to do the same, were unable to. Aid was received and distributed, and the people lived through; 1875 fully repaired them, for the yield of everything was abundant and since that time the growth of the country has been gradual but permanent.

Situated as it was between the Pawnees and the Sioux, Boone has not escaped some Indian scares, although fortunately nothing more serious ever occurred. In 1871, the Pawnee agent sent up word that a band of Sioux were coming and were committing depredations. All the settlers gathered at the Frontier House, except Elias Atwood and his son, who had just arrived and were camping in their wagon. The reason that Mr. Atwood gave for not joining was that if he was killed, he wanted to be killed at home. No Sioux ever appeared, and, after a day or two, the company disbanded. In 1873, a party of Sioux did actually visit the settlement and stole some horses. A company, headed by Albert McIntyre, followed and came in sight of the Indians, but there were too many of them and the horses were never recovered. The next year, 1874, another scare was gotten up among the people north of town by the report of a couple of boys, who had an arrow which they claimed had been shot at them. A few families gathered at Mr. Boardman‘s house and prepared for defense. S. P. Bollman, believing there was nothing in it, remained at home. In the morning, Calvin Bollman rode over to visit the camp, and, on approaching, gave the war-whoop, which caused much consternation. No Indians ever appeared, and after that no real fright was ever felt, although the Indian tribes often met in conflict, and much thieving was done among them.

3 thoughts on “Early History of Boone County, Nebraska”

  1. I find all of this very interesting and a delight to read. I would be interested obtaining a copy of this book to read more about the history of Boone County and Albion. Can you tell me the name of the book, and the author, and if it is available at the Albion Library? Thank you. Jacquie Brugman

  2. Merrill McFayden

    Very interesting. My great great grandfather was Ralph Voorhees. My grandfather was named after him, Ralph McFayden, son of Wm Charles and Sarah (Voorhees) McFayden.

  3. Patricia Grudzinski

    I have an ancestor who lived in Boone County in 1880. After years of searching I found the following article about his death.
    Nebraska Albion Boone County News Thursday , May 12th , 1881
    The angel of death also paid a visit to this valley (Timber Creek), and as a result I have to chronicle the death of a good man Robert Mooney died April 22nd 1881 aged 73 years. He was born in the state of New York; had been a resident of Nebraska 4 years. Services were held by Rev. Maloy, of the M. E. church text from John 14-2. Mr Mooney was buried on Easter Sunday, at Dayton. My question is where is the Dayton cemetery? Are there markers there and if so is there a marker for Robert Mooney? Any information you could give me would be most appreciated!

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