James W. Dolan of Fillmore County

An "Old Soddy" in York County, Nebraska
An “Old Soddy” in York County, Nebraska

James W. Dolan left Corning, Adams County, Iowa, February 1, 1871, reaching Lincoln, Nebraska, the same day. After learning about Government land at the U. S. Land Office at Lincoln, and that the first location where there was plenty of land was Fillmore County, he staged to Crete, the Burlington at that time extending no farther West than Lincoln. Arriving at Crete, in company with John F. Evans, an old army comrade, he traveled on foot Westward, following the grade stakes of the railroad. He leached the comfortable home of Warren Woodard in the evening, where he ‘.spent the night and the following day, looking at the Government lands in the vicinity, under the guidance of Mr. Woodard. He selected for his homestead the Northeast Quarter of Section 20, Township 8, Range 1, West. Walked back to Crete, then by stage to Lincoln, where at the U. S. Land Office he made a homestead filing on the above land, and preempted in the name of his brother William the Northwest quarter of the same section. This was about February 20, 1871.

On the 13th of April he purchased at Lincoln, lumber to build a house on the homestead. It was all hauled from Lincoln to the land in one wagon load with one team of horses. The total cost of the lumber, one window and one door, being $43.00. The hauling cost $12.00. The size of the house was 12×14 feet. Siding boards were used for the roof, being less expensive than shingles. The hardware cost $3.00. A young Englishman, Wm. Haimes, assisted in the building, he being the principal builder in the neighborhood at the time. Probably the entire cost of the house was $65.00 A box bed of boards was built in one corner of the one room dwelling. An empty nail keg and a soap box were used for seats. These along with the small board table included the furniture.

The black crickets were quite plentiful during the summer and entered the houses in large numbers. They enjoyed roosting on and chewing Mr. Dolan’s clothes during the night. It was his custom before dressing in the morning to give the clothes a good shaking to dislodge the crickets. One morning while performing this daily stunt, he disturbed a good sized rattlesnake that had entered through the floor during the night by way of an accommodating knothole. The snake replied to the shaking of the clothes with his rattlebox in no uncertain sound, so Mr. Snake had to be disposed of the first thing that morning. Rattlesnakes were not as numerous as crickets, but there were too many for comfort most of the time during the first couple of years in the settler’s experience.

His farming outfit consisted of one yoke of oxen, costing $135.00. One second hand farm wagon, $70.00. One 12 inch breaking plow, $29.00, and a limited supply of hand tools, spade, axe, hammer, etc.

He and his brother William dug a well some forty odd feet deep, to provide water, and broke up some 30 acres of prairie on their claims during the spring. This was mostly planted to corn, which notwithstanding the extreme dry season, grew and did fairly well and helped to inspire confidence, there being at that time much discouragement and doubt as to the country’s future. Some hay was cut in the slough, this was done with an Armstrong Mower (Scythe). The corn was also cut and saved with the hay for feed, this all came handy the following winter. During the summer for lack of work at home, he sometimes walked to Crete where he obtained work, assisting in the unloading of lumber, for which he was paid $1.00 per car load. During the summer of 1871 the B. & M. R. R. was extended from Lincoln to Hastings.

Through the efforts of Dr. H. G. Smith and Mr. Dolan, the Lincoln Land Co., located the town of Exeter. Mr. Dolan having served in the army in Company C, 18th Iowa, in which Company Mr. D. N. Smith, the Townsite Locater, had served as Captain and later as Chaplain of the Regiment, perhaps helped a little towards the accomplishment of this most desirable object.

Mr. Dolan wrote and circulated the petition that brought about the establishment of the Exeter Post Office, and of the appointment of Dr. H. G. Smith, Postmaster of the new town. He assisted in the organization of the Exeter School District, building the first school house, and served as Director on the School Board most of the time during his nine years residence.

In the fall of 1871, the new town being located, he disposed of most of his farm apparatus and engaged in merchandising with Dt. H. G. Smith as a partner. Together they erected the first building in the new town, the lower room of which was used as a store and Post Office. The upper room was used as a public hall, church, and generally for the accommodation of the neighborhood.

Later he disposed of his interests in the store to Dr. Smith and engaged in the lumber and grain business, erecting one of the best modern grain elevators on the Burlington line.

On the 4th of October, 1876, he was married to Ida M., the second daughter of Mr. A. T. Hager, who was also one of the early pioneers, an the first Treasurer of Fillmore County. In the spring of 1880, Mr. Dolan disposed of his business interests in Exeter and moved to Indianola, Nebraska, where he engaged in banking and real estate.

He served as a member of the School Board most of the time of his twenty-four years residence in the town. He was also a State Senator from that district in the Nebraska Legislature during the Sessions of 1883 and 1885.

In October, 1904, he moved to Los Angeles, California. His present address being 1747 Las Palmas Ave., where he will be glad to see any of his old pioneer friends.


Pioneer Stories of the Pioneers of Fillmore and adjoining Counties, by G. R. McKeith, Press of Fillmore County News, Exeter, Nebraska, 1915.

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