The first territorial officers were appointed under the provisions of the organic act, by President Pierce, as follows:
Francis Burt of South Carolina, governor
Thomas B. Cuming, of Iowa, secretary
Tenner Ferguson, of Michigan, chief justice
James Bradley, of Indiana, and Edwin R. Hardin, of Georgia, associate justices
Mark W. Izard, of Arkansas, marshal
Experience Estabrook, of Wisconsin, attorney
Governor Burt reached the territory, in ill health, on the 6th of October, 1854, and proceeded to Bellevue, where he was the guest of Rev. Wm. J. Hamilton at the Old Mission house. His illness proved of a fatal character, and he sank rapidly until his death, which occurred October 18, 1854.
“With the death of Governor Burt the duties of organizing the territorial government devolved upon Secretary Cuming, who, by virtue of his office, became acting governor. The first official act performed in the territory by an executive officer was the issuance by Governor Cuming of the following proclamation:
“It has seemed good to an all wise Providence to remove from the territory by the hand of death its chief magistrate. Governor Francis Burt. He departed this life this morning at the Mission House in Bellevue, after an illness protracted since his arrival, during which he received the most faithful medical aid and assiduous attention. His remains will be conveyed, on Friday next, to his home in Pendleton, South Carolina, attended by a suitable escort. In this afflictive dispensation, as a mark of respect and affection for the lamented and distinguished executive and a sign of the public sorrow, the national colors within the territory will be draped in mourning, and the territorial officers will wear crape upon the left arm for thirty days from date.
“Given under my hand at Bellevue, Nebraska Territory, this 18th day of October, A. D., 1854.
(Signed) T. B. Cuming, Acting Governor of Nebraska
The official headquarters remained at Bellevue until the assembling of the first territorial legislature in January, 1855, when Omaha became the seat of government. The machinery of the territorial government was set in motion in 1854. In October the acting governor issued a proclamation, by virtue of which the first census was taken. It was completed November 20, 1854, and gave the territory a total population of 2,732. Of this number 13 were reported as being slaves. There were 929 white males over twenty-one years of age reported. Immediately after the census was completed, an election was held, at which a delegate to congress and members of the first territorial legislature were chosen.
The territory was divided into eight counties, viz: Burt, Washington, Dodge, Douglas, Cass, Pierce, Forney and Richardson.
Burt County was bounded as follows: Commencing at a point on the Missouri river two miles above Fort Calhoun, thence westwardly, crossing the Elkhorn river one hundred and twenty miles to the west boundary of lands ceded to the United States, thence northerly to Mauvaise River and along the east bank of the same to Eau Qui Court or Running Water, thence easterly to the Aaoway River and along the south bank of it to its mouth, and thence southerly along the Missouri river to the place of beginning. This county was subdivided into two voting precincts one called the Tekamah precinct, at the house of General John B. Robinson, who with W. N. Byers and B. R. Folsom formed the board of election, W. W. Maynard and N. C. Purple clerks, and the second precinct called Black Bird, located at the Black Bird house, with Frederick Buck, Dr. Shelley and John A. Lafferty, judges, and Lorenzo Driggs and William Sherman, clerks.
Washington County was bounded as follows: Commencing at a point on the Missouri river one mile north of Omaha City, thence due west to the dividing ridge between the Elkhorn and Missouri Rivers, thence northwesterly twenty miles to the Elkhorn River, thence easterly to a point on the Missouri River, two miles above Port Calhoun, and thence southerly along said river to the place of beginning. There was one precinct of voting in this county. It was at the post office at Florence, or “Winter Quarters.” Anselam Arnold, Charles How and William Bryant were appointed judges of election, and Henry Springer and William More; clerks.
Dodge County was bounded as follows: Commencing at a point on the Platte river twenty miles west of Bellevue, thence westerly along Platte River to the mouth of Shell creek, thence north twenty-five miles, thence east to the dividing ridge between the Elkhorn and Missouri Rivers, thence southerly to the place of beginning. The voting place was at the house of Dr. M. H. Clark in Fontenelle precinct. The judges of election were William Kline, Christopher S. Leiber and William S. Estley; the clerks, William Taylor and E. G. McNeely.
Douglas County was bounded as follows: Commencing at the mouth of the Platte river, thence north along the west bank of the Missouri River to a point one mile north of Omaha City, thence west along the south boundary of Washington county twenty miles, thence south to the Platte River, and thence east to the place of beginning. Two precincts or places of voting were established one at the brick building at Omaha City and the other at the Mission house at Bellevue. David Lindley, T. G. Goodwill and Chas. B. Smith were appointed judges of election, and M. C. Gaylord and Dr. Pattee clerks, in the Omaha precinct. Isaiah Bennett, D. E. Reed and Thomas Morton were appointed judges of election, and G. Hollister and Silas A. Strickland clerks, in the Bellevue precinct.
Cass County was bounded on the north by the Platte, east by the Missouri, south by the Weeping Water River to its headwaters, thence westerly to the west boundary of lands ceded to the United States, and thence by said boundary northward to the Platte. Two precincts were named one at the house of Colonel Thompson, the Kenosha precinct, with J. S. Griffith, Thomas B. Ashley and L. Young judges, Benjamin B. Thompson and William H. Davis clerks; the other at the house of Samuel Martin, with James O’Neil Thomas P. Palmer and Stephen Willes judges, and T. S. Gaskill and Levi G. Todd clerks.
Pierce County (now Otoe) was bounded as follows: Commencing at the mouth of Weeping Water river on the Missouri, thence westward to its headwaters, thence due west to the west boundary of lands ceded to the United States (one hundred miles), thence south twenty miles to the north line of Farney county, thence due east along the Farney county line to Camp creek and along the north bank of said creek to the Missouri river, thence northward along the River to the place of beginning. The single precinct was located at the house of Major H. P. Downs. The judges were William C. Fowlkes, Simeon Hargous and Henry Bradford; the clerks were James H. Cowles and James H. Decker.
Forney County (now Nemaha) was bounded as follows: Commencing at the mouth of Camp creek, thence to the headwaters of the same, thence due west to a point sixty miles from the Missouri river, thence due south twenty miles, thence east to the headwaters of the Little Nemaha river, thence along said river to the Missouri, following the Missouri northerly to the place of beginning. One voting precinct, known as Brownville, was established at the house of Richard Brown. Richard Brown, Allen L. Coate and Israel Cuming were appointed judges of election, and A. F. Benedict and Stephen Sloan clerks.
Richardson County was bounded as follows: Commencing at the northwest corner of the “Half Breed Tract,” thence westerly along the Little Nemaha River, thence westerly to a point sixty miles west of the Missouri River, thence south to the fortieth parallel, the boundary between Kansas and Nebraska, thence east to the Missouri River, thence north along the Missouri and west ten miles to the southwest corner of the “Half-Breed Tract, “thence north to the place of beginning. Two precincts were designated one at the house of William Level in precinct No. 1, with John Purket, Robert T. Archer and James M. Roberts judges, William V. Soper and John A. Singleton clerks. Precinct No. 2 was at the house of Christian Bobst, with Henry Shellhorn, Henry Abrams and William J. Burns judges, Christian Bobst and W. L. Soper clerks.
Another county designated as Jones County was to be created under the first division of the territory, but certain irregularities in the surveys decided Marshal Izard to report adversely to the measure. This county would have included the southernmost section of the territory from sixty miles west of the Missouri river westward, from the north corner of Richardson County as then established along the Platte, to the one hundred and third degree of west longitude, thence along the southwest boundary of Richardson County.
Another county composed of what is now Sarpy (then commonly spoken of as the “burnt district”) was designated under the name of Omaha, but for some reason no official promulgation of its creation was made, and the section became a part of Douglas County.
The following apportionment of councilmen and representatives was made in accordance with the census returns of November 20, 1854, viz:
Burt County, one councilman, two representatives
Washington County, one councilman, two representatives
Dodge County, one councilman, two representatives
Douglas County, four councilmen and eight representatives
Cass County, one councilman and three representatives
Pierce County, three councilmen and five representatives
Forney County, one councilman and two representatives
Richardson County, one councilman and two representatives.
The first general election for members of the legislature and a delegate to congress was held on December 12, 1854.
Source: Compendium of History Reminiscence & Biography of Western Nebraska, Alden Publishing Company, Chicago, 1912