Nebraska Becomes a Territory

Early in the fifties a movement was begun which culminated in the organization of Nebraska as a territory. On February 10, 1853, a bill, organizing the territory of Nebraska, passed the house, but failed to pass the senate. On the 14th of December, 1853, the second bill was introduced in the senate, and on May 30 the organic act creating the territory of Nebraska was signed by President Pierce and became a law. The first territorial officers appointed by President Pierce were as follows: Governor, Francis Burt, of South Carolina; secretary, Thomas B. Cuming, of Iowa; chief justice, Tenner Ferguson, of Michigan; associate justices, James Bradley, of Indiana, and Edward R. Hardin, of Georgia; marshal, Mark W. Isard, of Arkansas; attorney, E. Estabrook, of Wisconsin.

Governor Burt reached the territory in ill health on the 6th of October, 1854, and proceeded to Bellevue. He took the oath of office October 16, 1854, but his illness proved of a fatal character, and he sank rapidly. His death occurred October 18, 1854, and the duties of organizing the territorial government devolved upon Secretary Cuming, who became acting governor. Practically the first official act in the territorial government was the issuance of a proclamation announcing the death of Governor Burt.

At the time of its organization, the territory was divided into eight counties, viz: Burt, Washington, Dodge, Douglas, Cass, Pierce, Forney and Richardson.

The official headquarters of the territory were located temporarily at Bellevue until the assembling of the legislature in January, 1855. There was intense rivalry over the location of the capital between Bellevue, Florence, Plattsmouth, Nebraska City and Omaha, but it was decided in favor of Omaha. The erection of a capital building at Omaha was commenced in the fall of 1855, which was completed by January, 1858. It was a commodious brick building.

In the fall of 1854 the first census of the territory was taken by virtue of a proclamation issued by the governor, and on December 12 of the same year the first election was held.

In March, 1860, the question of forming a state government was submitted to the people and defeated by a vote of 2,372 to 2,094.

The matter of state organization was again taken up in 1864. On April 19 of that year the enabling act passed by congress was approved by the president and became a law. Nebraska was now a state.

In the meantime settlements were being made by a sturdy and thrifty class of pioneers in various portions of the state, and the inhabitants settled down to peaceful pursuits of husbandry. Prom this time down to the present time we will here treat of only the most important points that have proven mile posts in the history of the state. For the more detailed mention of the different phases of the growth and development of the state we refer the reader to the special articles elsewhere in this volume.

The growth and development of the state and its settlement had only begun to reach substantial proportions when it was interrupted by the breaking out of the civil war in 1861. In May, 1861, Governor Alvin Saunders issued a proclamation calling for the immediate raising of a regiment of infantry. In pursuance to this, companies A, B, C, D, E, F and G, of the first regiment, were all sworn into the service in June, 1861. Three more companies were sworn into the service in July, and all these companies took their departure for St. Joseph. In August a call was issued for two companies of cavalry to join the First regiment.

In 1862 and also in 1863 a number of companies of cavalry were organized and mustered into the service. Additional companies of cavalry and infantry were organized in 1864 and sent to the front.

In 1864 and 1865 the Indians along the frontier gave the whites a great deal of trouble, and many depredations were committed. On July 25, 1865, an attack was made on Platte Bridge station by one thousand Indians.

In 1866 the state constitution was adopted by a vote of the people, and on March 1, 1867, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation declaring Nebraska a state. The first session of the legislature after the admission of the state into the union met May 16, 1867, under a proclamation issued by Governor Butler.

The first state legislature (186667) appointed Governor David Butler, Secretary of State T. P. Kennard and State Auditor John Gillespie a commission for selecting a site for the state capital. The commissioners commenced their search in July, 1867, and made a thorough examination of all territory designated by the act of the legislature, which embraced the counties of Lancaster, Seward and a part of the counties of Butler, Saunders and Saline. Seventy-two sections of land and twelve salt springs had been donated to the new state by the general government, and these were located by the governor within a radius of twenty miles of the Great Salt Basin. The balloting of the commissioners for the location of the state capital occurred July 29, 1867, and resulted in favor of Lincoln (then called Lancaster). “Work on the capitol building was commenced promptly. The building was sufficiently completed by December, 1868, for occupancy, and on December 3, 1868, Governor Butler issued a proclamation announcing the removal of the seat of government to Lincoln, and ordered the transfer of the archives of the state to the new capitol.

In 1869 the University of Nebraska was founded.

On the 10th of May, 1869, there occurred an event which marked one of the most important mile posts, not only for Nebraska alone, but in American history as well – the completion of the Union Pacific railroad to Ogden. On that day two oceans were united, a continent was spanned by iron bands, and a revolution was accomplished in the commerce of the world. The event was observed in Omaha by a grand celebration.

In 1871 articles of impeachment were formulated against Governor Butler. The trial began March 14, and resulted in an order for his removal from office. On September 19 of this year a new constitution was submitted to a vote of the people and rejected.

The first serious devastation by grasshoppers occurred in July, 1874. In 1875 a new constitution was adopted by a vote of the people. In 1878 the state historical association was organized.

In 1882 a great strike took place on the Burlington railroad, resulting in serious rioting which required the militia to quell.

In 1890 an Indian insurrection occurred at Pine Ridge agency, which assumed such serious proportions as to require the calling out of the national guards. The census of this year gave Nebraska a population of 1,058,910.

In 1894 began the “famine period.” The hot winds in July of this year throughout practically the whole state parched all vegetation, causing virtually an entire failure of crops of all kinds. The crop failures (18941895) resulted in great suffering in the western part of the state. In January, 1895, the legislature passed a relief bill, appropriating fifty thousand dollars for the relief of the western sufferers. This was followed in March of the same year by an additional appropriation of two hundred thousand dollars.

In 1898, shortly after the breaking out of the Spanish American war. Governor Holcomb issued a proclamation calling for volunteers and as a result of this the First and Second regiments were mustered in at Lincoln May 9 and 10, 1898. The Third regiment was mustered in at Fort Omaha on July 7 of the same year.

One of the important events of recent years in Nebraska that should be mentioned was the opening of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition at Omaha j June 1, 1898.

The foregoing covers the most important events ‘ that would be considered as marking epochs in the history of the state. It may be said that the principal setbacks which the state has suffered were those caused: First, by the civil war in 18611865, which temporarily delayed the settlement and development of this region by the drawing into the service of the government many of the able bodied men from all parts of the country. But the delay was only temporary, and the emigration set in with renewed force immediately after the close of hostilities, and many of I the war veterans found their way to Nebraska to settle down to peaceful avocations. Second, the occasional outbreaks of the Indians in early days may be said to have been one of the causes which for a time most seriously delayed and interrupted the growth of the .state, as many living in the eastern states were deterred from emigrating to Nebraska through fears of the Indians, aroused by the occasional outbreaks and the sensational rumors that were current in the east. The third great interruption to Nebraska’s growth was from the grasshopper raids of the “seventies.” Fourth, the drouth and consequent failure of crops which occurred about 1894 proved a serious setback to Nebraska as well as to the entire western country.

These, however, may all be justly considered as being the usual and ordinary setbacks that must be met in the development of any new country. With these exceptions it may be said that the forward progress of the state has been steady and rapid. The seasons have come and gone, leaving bountiful crops to enrich and supply the wants of all, and prosperity reigns supreme throughout the length and breadth of the state. The changes that have been wrought are truly marvelous, and as these things of only half a century are contemplated, one can scarcely realize or comprehend that the wonderful results of time’s marvel working hand are the achievements of a period so brief as to be within the remembrance of men who are still living. Turn back, as it were, the leaves of time’s great book to but a half century ago, and the stranger would have gazed upon a landscape of great beauty, selected by the red men as their camping ground, with that singular appreciation of the beautiful which nature made an instinct in the savage. These vast and rolling prairies were as green then as now; the prairie flowers bloomed as thickly and diffused their fragrance as bountifully. It was the home of the red man with scarcely a trace of civilization. But today, what a contrast! Then all was as nature had formed it with its variegated hues of vegetation in winter a dreary snow mantled desert, in summer a perfect paradise of flowers. Now all traces of the primitive are obliterated. In place of the tall prairie grass and mangled underbrush one beholds the rich, waving fields of golden grain. In place of the dusky warriors’ rude cabins are the substantial and often elegant dwellings of the thrifty farmers, and the “iron horse,” swifter than the nimble deer, treads the pathway so recently the trail of the red man. Cities and villages, the peer of those which have been centuries in building, have sprung up as if by magic; civilization and progress are apparent on every hand: schools and churches adorn the former prairies, and the result is a prosperous land filled with an enterprising, intelligent and happy people.

Source: Compendium of History Reminiscence and Biography Of Nebraska, Alden Publishing Company, Chicago, 1912

Compendium of Nebraska

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