Settlement and Pioneers of Dodge County, Nebraska

First White Settlement

The first white settlement to be effected within what is now known as Washington County was that made about old Fort Atkinson, later called Fort Calhoun, hard by the west bank of the Missouri River in the southeastern part of the present limits of the county, in about 1819, when Fort Atkinson was constructed by the United States Government, and which event was made the subject of a well-attended centennial celebration at Fort Calhoun in 1919. Sometime after Lewis and Clark made their report on this section of the country, and prior to 1818, the first white men commenced to invade this territory as traders and explorers. The reader is referred to further articles on the settlement as shown in the various township and village histories of this work, wherein names and dates are entered into more in detail than is necessary in this connection.

The Second Settlement

After the settlement by army families and traders at Fort Calhoun vicinity, came the Fontenelle settlement in the western portion of the county, by the Quincy Colony, who settled under the auspices of the "Nebraska Colonization Company," in 1854. The account of this noted settlement is found in this work in the township history section. (See Fontanelle Township.)

The De Soto Settlement

The settlement made at and in the vicinity of De Soto, was made in 1854-55, and within a few months more than thirty log cabins were erected and soon occupied by newcomers. Just below that point the fleeing Mormon band (Latter Day Saints) in their flight from Nauvoo, Illinois, had stopped about 1846 and remained several years before going on to the Promised Land, Utah. Near De Soto lived their illustrious leader, Brigham Young and Orson Pratt, on land where later the De Soto flouring mill was built. The early gentiles found many brickbats left from the brick kilns burned by the Mormon settlers. (See De Soto history.)

Other Settlements

An account of other settlements in this county will be found in the several township and village histories in this volume.

Departed Pioneers

In August, 1920, historian W. H. Woods of Fort Calhoun, of the Old Settlers' Association, reported the following persons who had passed from earth's shining circle since last year, the same being Territorial pioneers, those who resided in Washington County when it was yet in the Territory of Nebraska:

Ephriam Gilliam
Herman Stork
James R. Hastings
George N. Weise
Oliver O. Fox
Mrs. Anna Ruwe
Mrs. Soren Asmussen
Anna H. Webber
Mrs. J. P. Wishart
Carl Otto Jensen
F. N. Gilliand
Oliver Bouvier
Mrs. Mary Teats
George Sutherland
Charles Osterman
Mrs. Cornelia Olsen
Mrs. J. W. Newell Sr.
Mrs. Mary E. Parker
W. G. Cunningham
Duane Brown
A. C. Jones
I. N. Branhall
Thomas P. Kennard
George W. Watson

Historic Items of Washington County

Mrs. May Allen Lazure, well-known to the people of Washington County, a few years since made this historic record of some interesting items on the early day history of the county, and from such writings we are permitted to quote freely:

Alfred D. Jones, the first postmaster of Omaha, tells in the Pioneer Record of the first Fourth of July celebration in Omaha and Nebraska, as well.

"On July 4th, 1854, I was employed in the work of surveying the town site of Omaha. At this time there were only two cabins on the town site, my post office building and the company claim house. The latter was used as our boarding house. Inasmuch as the Fourth would be a holiday, I concluded it would be a novelty to hold a celebration on Nebraska soil. I therefore announced that we would hold a celebration and invited the people of Council Bluffs, by inserting a notice in the paper, and requested that those who would participate should prepare a lunch for the occasion.

"We got forked stakes and poles along the river, borrowed bolts of sheeting from the store of James A. Jackson, and thus equipped, we erected an awning to shelter from the sun those who attended. Anvils were procured, powder purchased and placed in charge of cautious gunners, to make a noise for the crowd. The celebration was held on the present high school grounds.

"The picnickers came with their baskets, and the gunner discharged his duty nobly. A stranger in our midst was introduced as Mr. Sawyer, an ex-congressman from Ohio."

I had a life-long acquaintance with one of those early picnickers, Mrs. Rhoda Craig, a daughter of Thomas Allen, who built the first house in Omaha. She often told the story of the first Fourth of July celebration there. Their fear of the Indians was so great that as soon as dinner was over, they hurried to their boats and rowed across to Council Bluffs for safety.

Another pioneer woman was Aimee Taggart Kenny, who came to Fontanelle with her parents when a small child. Her father was a Baptist missionary in Nebraska, and his earliest work was with the Quincy Colony. I have heard her tell the following experience: "On several occasions we were warned that the Indians were about to attack us. In great fear we gathered in the schoolhouse and watched all night, the men all well-armed. But we were never molested. Another time, mother was alone with us children. Seeing the Indians approaching we locked the doors, went into the attic by means of an outside ladder and looked out through the cracks. We saw the red men try the door, peep in at the window, and then busy themselves chewing up mother's home-made hop yeast, which had been spread out to dry. They made it into balls and tossed it all away."

John T. Bell of Newberg, Oregon, contributed the following: "I have a pleasant recollection of your grandfather Allen. My father's and mother's people were all Southerners and there was a kindliness about Mr. and Mrs. Allen that reminded me of my own folks back in Illinois. I often stopped to see them when going to and from Calhoun mill.

"I was also well acquainted with Mrs. E. H. Clark, and Rev. Mr. Taggart and his family were among the most highly esteemed residents of our little settlement of Fontanelle. Mr. Taggart was a man of fine humor. It was the custom in those early days for the entire community to get together on New Year's Day and have a dinner at the 'College.' There would be speech-making, and I remember that on one occasion Mr. Taggart said that no doubt the time would come when we would all know each other's real names and why we left the States. "The experiences of the Bell family with the early Nebraska days were ones of privation. We came to Nebraska in 1856, quite well equipped with stock-four good horses and four young cows which we had driven behind the wagon from Western Illinois. The previous winter had been very mild and none of the settlers were prepared for the dreadful snow storm which came on the last day of November and continued for three days and nights. Our horses and cows were in the stable made by squaring up the head of a small gulch and covering the structure with slough grass. At the end of the storm when father could get out to look after the stock there was no sign of the stable. The low ground it occupied was leveled off by many feet of snow. He finally located the roof and found the stock alive and that was about all. The animals suffered greatly that winter and when spring came we had left only one horse and no cows. That lone horse was picking the early grass when he was bitten in the nose by a rattle snake and died from the effects. One of those horses 'Old Fox' was a noble character. We had owned him as long as I could remember and when he died we children all cried. I have since owned a good many horses but not one equalled Old Fox in the qualities that go to make up a perfect creature.

"After the Civil war my brother Will and I were the only members of our family left in Nebraska. We served with Grant and Sherman and then went back to Fontanelle, soon afterward beginning the improvement of our farm on Bell Creek in the western part of the county. By that time conditions had so improved in Nebraska that hardships were not so common. I was interested in tree planting even as a boy and one of the distinct recollections of our first summer in Nebraska was getting so severely poisoned in the woods on the Elkhorn, when digging up young sprouts, that I was entirely blind. A colored man living in Fontanelle told father that white paint would cure me and so I was painted wherever there was a breaking out with satisfactory results.

"Later the planting of Cottonwood, box elder, maple and other trees became a general industry in Nebraska and I am confident that I planted 20,000 trees, chiefly cottonwood. To J. Sterling Morton, one of Nebraska's earliest and most useful citizens, Nebraska owed a debt of gratitude. He was persistent in the advocating of planting trees. In his office hung a picture of an oak tree; on his personal cards was a picture of an oak tree with the legend 'Plant Trees'; on his letterheads, on his envelopes was borne the same injunction and the picture of an oak tree. On the marble door step of his home was cut the picture of an oak tree and the words 'Plant Trees'; on the ground glass of the entrance door was the same emblem. I went to a theater he had built and on the drop curtain was a picture of an oak tree and the words, 'Plant trees'; today the body of this useful citizen lies buried under the trees he planted in Wyuka Cemetery, near Nebraska City."

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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