De Soto Township, Washington County, Nebraska

De Soto Township is situated on the eastern line of Washington County, with the Missouri River at the east, Fort Calhoun Township at the south, Blair Township at the west and Blair Township and the Missouri River at the north.

Its streams are the many small creeks including Long Creek, but there are no large streams, the Missouri River washes its northern and eastern shores, and thus originally there was much swampy bottom land, much of which has long since been reclaimed, however.

The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway runs diagonally from the southeast to the northwest parts of the township, with a station at the old Village of De Soto in section 27.

The population of De Soto Township, including the village has been at various times as follows: The village itself had in 1857 about 650; in 1890 the township and village had 277 population; in 1900 it was 370, and in 1910 was placed at only 313.

De Soto Village

De Soto is situated about four miles southeast of Blair, on the Missouri bottoms, and is a station on the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway (now controlled by the Northwestern system). It was platted in the autumn of 1854, by Dr. John Glover, Gen. J. B. Robinson, Potter C. Sullivan, E. P. Stout, William Clancy and a few others. No settlement was really effected until the following spring. It was incorporated as a town March 7, 1855, and during that season thirty hewed log houses were built there.

The first store was built by Dr. A. Phinney; the first postmaster was Potter C. Sullivan; the earliest mercantile firm was styled Kennard Brothers, established in 1856. One of the pioneers of the place was Judge Jesse T. Davis, who later moved to Blair.

Three banks were established at De Soto, the Bank of De Soto, the Waubeek Bank and the Corn Exchange Bank. The first soon winked out; the other two were never old enough to be called adults. For many years De Soto continued to be a lively place, was Washington County's seat of justice at one time, held it eight years, when Fort Calhoun recovered her lost prize again.

The population of De Soto in 1857 was about 650. A dozen saloons and as many stores flourished there for a number of years, but fate decided against the place and in 1881 there were not in excess of twenty people residing there. The Pike's Peak gold excitement in 1859-60, the building up of Blair and loss of county seat all tended to ruin the place.

It was just below De Soto where the fleeing Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois, settled in goodly numbers and remained several years. The early "Gentile" settlers found many brickbats from brick kilns burned by this Mormon colony. Brigham Young had a cabin on the ground where later stood the roller flouring mills, of De Soto. This mill was removed to Blair in 1876.

Among the newspapers published from time to time in De Soto, may be recalled by old-timers such papers as the Pilot, established in 1857 by Isaac Parrish; the Washington County Sun, established in 1858, by P. C. Sullivan: and the same year was issued the De Soto Enquirer, by Z. Jackson.

In 1883 the old site of once prosperous De Soto was being occupied solely by three families of farmers. Today it is only a small flag station on the "Omaha" line between Fort Calhoun and Blair.

Bell in his Centennial History of Washington County, usually considered quite accurate, states the following concerning De Soto:

The town of De Soto was incorporated by an act of the Legislature in March, 1855, having been laid out in the fall of the year previous by Dr. John Glover, Gen. J. B. Robinson, Potter C. Sullivan, E. P. Stout, William Clancy, and others. Judge Jesse T. Davis locating there in the fall of 1855, in March, 1855, a charter was granted E. P. Stout to run a ferry-boat across the Missouri River. Again in January, 1856, a charter was granted to William Clancy and P. C. Sullivan to establish and run a steam ferry and city bonds were voted to the amount of $30,000 to aid the enterprise. P. C. Sullivan was dispatched to the East to dispose of the bonds and procure a steam ferry boat. This project failing to pan out successfully the steam ferry enterprise was abandoned with the charter and subsequently in May, 1857, a flat-boat ferry was established by Isaac Parrish.

During the summer of 1855, thirty hewn log houses were built in the town and business prospects were encouraging. Dr. A. Phinney was the proprietor of the first store and Charles Seltz, who came down the river in a skiff from the mountains and stopped at De Soto in the fall of 1855 was probably the second merchant to locate in the town.

Harrison Critz and Z. Jackson each established a boarding house that year and P. C. Sullivan was appointed postmaster.

In 1856 Levi and Marsh Kennard, both later residents of Omaha, established themselves in the mercantile business at De Soto under the firm name of Kennard Bros.

In 1857 a Mr. Fake from Chicago brought a heavy stock of liquors to De Soto. Samuel Francis established a hotel and the Bank of De Soto entered upon a career of brilliant but rather short lived prosperity with Samuel Hall as president and George E. Scott, cashier. In the same year the Waubeek Bank was started with H. H. Hine as president and A. Castetter, teller, the latter doing all the business and in the following spring the Corn Exchange Bank was established by a Chicago firm with I. Tucker as teller.

Town property increased in price at a rapid rate and the old settlers used to point with pride to the fact that a Mrs. Johnson refused $1,500 in gold for a certain corner lot. In 1857 the place had ten or more saloons and nearly as many stores and a population of about seven hundred. Prosperity attended the settlers till the Pike's Peak and Cherry Creek gold excitement in the fall of 1857 when a majority of the men abandoned the town and journeyed to the newly discovered gold fields.

The first minister who ever preached regularly at De Soto was Rev. Jacob Adriance of the Methodist Church. This was in 1857, services being held in a building belonging to W. W. Wyman, then of Omaha where he edited the Omaha Times and was later postmaster of that city. He was father of the present (U. S.) Treasurer.

Early Pioneers at De Soto

Judge Jesse P. Davis and family
Harrison Critz and family
Hugh McNeely and family
George McKinney and family
Samuel Lewis
Z. Jackson
Potter C. Sullivan and family
Ephriam Sullivan and family
Davis McDonald and family
Porter S. Walker
Stephen Cass and family
James E. Smith and family
George W. Martin and family
Z. S. Martin and family
Jeremiah Barnhart
Michael Tobey
T. M. Carter
Leroy and Lewis Tucker with their families
Dr. Cutts and family
Con Orem
I. Tucker
M. B. Wilson
Alex Carter Jr.
Elisha P. Stout
Edward and Edwin Hayes
J. Bliss
A. Phinney
Henry Way
William Clancy
Jerry Sullivan
Charles Seltz
Roger T. Beall
_____ Grennell
George E. Scott and family
Samuel Francis and family
A. E. Allen
Frank Goodwill and family
H. Knapp and family
Charles Powell and family
A. Castetter and family
J. W. Damen
Thomas R. Wilson
Solomon Himeline
Constance Cachelin and family
W. H. B. Stout
Joseph Buga and family
George Oberst
Louis Bouvier and family
David Stout
George McKenzie and family
J. P. Ames
Doctor Glover and family
Ferdinand Bujeon and family
John Carrigan and family
Jacob Hill
J. T. McGiddagan

Nebraska AHGP

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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