Fremont Township, Dodge County, Nebraska

Before the "Township Organization" obtained in this county in 1886, what was known as "Fremont Precinct" existed, and Fremont City was within such subdivision of Dodge County. Fremont Precinct included present Platte Township, and other additional domain of the county and was created a precinct by the County Commissioners in 1857. The first election was held at the house of Barnard & Koontz. The judges were E. H. Rogers, Jackson Davis and A. McNeil. Much of the early history of the "beginnings" in Dodge County transpired within Fremont Precinct. At this time the Township of Fremont simply contains the territory covered by the incorporated city, but like North Bend, has its representation on the board of county supervisors, same as all other outside townships.

Early Days in Dodge County

[In 1884 on the occasion of the farewell services held at the old Congregational Church at Fremont, a reminiscence was written and read by pioneer E. H. Barnard. Now that thirty-six years have passed and the "new" Congregational Church is styled the "oldest church in town" these historic items seem more interesting than ever to many present-day readers, hence the story is here repeated.]

When in the early autumn of 1856, from the bluffs near Elkhorn City, my eye first beheld this portion of the great Platte Valley, I thought I had never seen so goodly a landscape. For many miles the windings of the Elkhorn and Platte rivers were outlined by a fringe of timber, bounding the valley on either side, while the meanderings of the now classic Rawhide Creek were so distinctly traceable by an occasional clump of trees and bushes. The sight filled me with rapture and made the blood fairly bound within my veins. In all my life I had never seen it's like and I never expect to again. Here was this grand and beautiful fertile country spread out like a pretty map at my feet. And what made it the more fascinating was the fact that it was all unoccupied except by the Indians and wild beasts. What wonder that those who saw this valley then should be seized with a strong desire, as was Moses of old, to go in and possess the land?

Well, we went in, a few of us, and just here the poetry of the narrative ends. Instead of the flesh-pots of Egypt, made ready and waiting for us, we found privations and hardships on every hand. Nobody had been in advance to build us houses and dig us wells, to lay out roads and build bridges, schoolhouses and churches, nor men to plant groves for us. We had all these things to do ourselves. The man who has a good house to live in while he builds a better one does a good thing, but he who builds a shelter while he himself is unsheltered does quite a different thing, and just what the first settler in a new country always has to do. Everything had to be done in way of building before we could begin to live, and all the while we were preyed upon most persistently by flies and gnats in the daytime and flees and mosquitoes by night. Insect life was animated and held high carnival, and I can assure you there is quite a difference between the music of the festive mosquito just outside the screen and the same voice, and bill, too, on the rim of your ear, as some of you may know. Well, we did not have screens then, or any place to hang them either, which was worse. And further, besides all these impediments and pull-backs we had the Indians to pacify. All this, however, was expected, and as long as money held out to buy provisions with, we were content. The first human habitation, so far as is known, was built upon the very spot where a part of this church now stands. I say human habitation because it sheltered men, and you may regard it as an inhuman place to live in when I tell you that it was built of logs about twelve by sixteen feet and covered with hay. It was occupied first as a boarding house and afterwards as a hotel, furnishing lodgings to as many as fifteen on one occasion overnight. Such was the first building in the City of Fremont. In due time it gave place to this edifice, and now that we are to remove the old building from this site, how fitting that a monumental church should be erected in its place, thus marking the precise spot where that first cabin stood.

The first winter which followed was one of great severity, and a large portion of the stock which had been brought into the settlement in the fall, having nothing to eat but hay, mostly cut in October after it had been struck by the frost, perished.

I well remember that one of eight oxen brought here by Mr. Heaton, or perhaps I might say that brought him and his effects here, only three survived. And here I want to relate a little incident. One of the most respected citizens, then as now, built a sled, an ox-sled, rather large, as it was intended to haul house-logs on, and as the weather was bad he was delayed in his work so that the vehicle was not completed until midwinter. Then all was ready, and when he hitched his oxen to it, they had become so poor and the snow was so deep and the sled so very heavy that they were unable to stir it out of its place. How handy it would have been if he could have had a span of those fat Percheron horses, of which Fremont now boasts, to put in their places. But then we did not have Percheron horses.

During the winter provisions had to be brought from Omaha through snow drifts that were well-nigh impassable. It used to take a week to make a trip and sometimes much longer. On one occasion toward spring when there was a crust on the snow strong enough to bear the weight of a man in most places, a couple of sacks of flour were brought over from Fontanelle on a hand-sled to piece out till our regular supplies could be got from Omaha. The winter was tedious, both in its monotony and its weather. But in the spring all was bustle and stir in the settlement. Every man in health had good courage and hope. Considerable prairie was broken up in time for corn planting. The sod corn was of the variety known as squaw corn, from the fact of its having been planted by the squaws prior to our coming to the country. It was similar to Nevada corn, except that the kernel was softer. It was all colors and when ground or beaten into meal was the most perfect specimen of variegated colors imaginable.

This corn, while it was good for food, could not at that time be sold for cash nor even traded for other provisions, for the simple reason that there was not any cash or provisions in the country demanding it. It had a value, however. It was good to donate to the minister and for some other purposes! I have been particular to describe this corn because soon it became the staple article of diet in the little hamlet of Fremont. If it had not been for that little crop of sod corn there is no knowing what would have become of the colony. The settlement must have been retarded if not scattered permanently. This may seem strange to the present well-fed inhabitants of this prosperous city, but it should be remembered that like most first settlers in a new country, the first here were for the most part poor in this world's goods and it will be readily seen that the expenses incident to building houses and buying everything for a year's subsistence, and without any income whatever, were considerable, so that it was not strange that the second winter found most of the settlers with very lean or quite empty purses. One man who had spent all, applied to his grocer in Omaha for credit on a supply of groceries until he could raise another crop. He got an answer "Groceries are cash!" He offered to sell dry goods on time, but they were not needed.

Our friend came home without either and with Puritanic firmness sternly determined to stay and go without until such time as he could pay cash. That man was E. H. Rogers, afterward and for many years cashier and the presiding genius of the First National Bank of Fremont. How he and his family luxuriated in cornmeal that season I leave you to imagine.

I well remember the case of two families, father and son, living in one house on cornmeal alone for several weeks until, toward spring, their cow taking compassion on them graciously consented to add the luxury of fresh milk to their diet. I say luxury because I mean it. The necessaries of life are really very few and as a certain ex-judge of this county once expressed it, "They are mostly imaginary."

People sometimes get discontented and complain of hard times, simply because they are not quite as well off as some of their neighbors. They think they are frugal and saving, but what would they think of a regular diet of cornmeal and salt with variations and plenty of good water three times a day for ninety days or so?

One thing is evident, if the early settlers of Fremont are not all in comfortable circumstances it is not for any want of enforced lessons in practical economy for they certainly had them and plenty of them, and fully illustrated.

A little anecdote may serve as a pointer and to illustrate the style of those early days. A small boy recently transported from a house in western New York had taken his place at the table and was about to begin his repast when his grandma told him he had not said grace. The little fellow looked up with surprise and impatience: "I don't see what we have to give thanks for; we live in beggar houses and eat beggar victuals and have to sit on old trunks and three-legged stools instead of chairs." He couldn't see it and the old lady had to perform the duty for him.

In 1857, with many others, came a man with three P's which being interpreted read: Poverty, Perseverance and Pluck. He reached the little hamlet of log cabins on foot, worn, dusty and penniless, as did many another. He at once sought and found a place where he could work for his board and such board! Until he could do better. Well, he managed by hook and crook to keep soul and body together and by the next spring succeeded in borrowing money enough of some friend East to buy a breaking team consisting of two yoke of oxen and a plow, but before he had turned a furrow the Indians stole three of his oxen and while searching for them the other ox strayed of?, so he lost all and had the borrowed money to pay. That was a little discouraging, was it not? He might have sat down and wrung his hands and prated that the world was against him, or he might have packed his knap-sack and gone off cursing the country, but he did neither. He stayed and kept at it. That man today is at the head of one of the great commercial houses of this city and a bank president.

About the same time a family settled here from one of the western states. Some of the ladies called on the newcomers, as you know ladies do sometimes, and the hostess informed them that she had not been accustomed to such society or to living in such houses, with such furniture. "Why," she said, "Where I came from we had our houses painted on the inside and had painted furniture, too." As if the ladies of Fremont had never seen paint. The next spring there was a rush of travel to Pike's Peak and this very woman had tacked up on her house a sign which read: "Butter for SAIL Here." She was believed to be the first codfish aristocrat of Fremont, she does not live here now.

I have spoken thus of the humble beginnings, of the hardships and poverty and self-denial of those early days as in contrast to the present time that the dishonest and unfortunate may take courage by knowing what others have had to endure, that the lavish may learn to save, that the haughty may be humble, and that all may remember not to despise the day of small things.

Dodge County | Nebraska AHGP

Source: History of Dodge and Washington Counties, Nebraska, Rev. William H. Buss and Thomas T. Osterman, Volume 1, The American Historical Society, Chicago, 1921.

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