"History and Stories of Nebraska"
by Addison Erwin Sheldon

Produced by Connie Snyder



First State Capitol at Lincoln, 1869.
(From photograph collection of A. E. Sheldon.)

Lincoln the New State Capital.-- The new state Nebraska had a new capital. During the long fight between the North and South Platte sections, the South Platte, being nearer to the settled states and farther from the hostile Indians, had outgrown the North Platte. Thus it had more votes in the legislature of 1866 which passed an act to remove the capital from Omaha.

The new capital was named for President Abraham Lincoln, and the name was given by its enemies. Otoe county had led the fight for removal of the capital from Omaha. Its members of the legislature had been opposed to President Lincoln. The North Platte members who wished to keep the capital at Omaha moved to make the name Lincoln, thinking that the Otoe county legislators would refuse to vote for a capital so named. But the ruse failed; their votes were cast for the bill and Lincoln became the name of our capital, instead of Douglas as was suggested in the removal bill of 1857.

The Three Founders of Lincoln.
(Courtesy of Nebraska State Journal.)

Three men, Governor David Butler, Secretary Thomas P. Kennard and Auditor John J. Gillespie, were appointed to locate the new capital, which was to be at some point within the counties of Saunders, Butler, Seward and Lancaster. On July 29, 1867, they selected the present site between Salt and Antelope creeks, which was then open prairie with only two or three log cabins.

The Great Immigration.-- When Nebraska became a state, the war between the North and South was over, the hostile Indians had been defeated along the frontier and thousands of immigrants poured west in search of free homes. They came in all possible ways, some up the Missouri River in steamboats, some on the railroads across Iowa, but more came in covered wagons, or "prairie schooners" as they were called, drawn by horses, mules or oxen. In these came the pioneers with their children; often with a box of chickens tied on behind, while a few cattle and the family dog brought up the rear. All the roads leading into and across Nebraska were white with these land ships, and soon the valleys and prairies of the eastern half of the state were dotted with dark spots, where they had anchored and the men and women in them had begun to break the prairies and build homes.

First Log House in Lincoln.
(From early painting.)

Log Cabins, Sod Houses and Dugouts.-- The houses of those days were very different from the houses you see in Nebraska to-day. The very earliest pioneers settled along the streams where there were trees and built log houses. Those who came later and settled upon the prairie had only one material with which to build and that was prairie sod. They cut the tough sod and piled it into walls, covering the top with poles, grass, sod and clay, leaving openings for the windows and door. There were more of these sod houses than of any other kind and they were very comfortable, being warm in winter and cool in summer. They were often called "dobies." Others made their houses by digging into a hillside, covering the top of the hole with poles, grass and earth, leaving a space in one end, usually toward the south, open for a door.

A Pioneer Dugout.
(From S. D. Butcher collection.)

These were called "dug-outs." The floors were often of the bare ground. These early settlers worked very hard to break land and plant seeds, build houses and dig wells. All they had was the good Nebraska soil. Of it they made their houses and barns and from it they raised all that they had to eat and sell. Very kind to these pioneers was this good, warm, rich Nebraska soil, for out of it blossomed the splendid farms and homes and children, and all that makes Nebraska so fair and prosperous to-day.

Governor David Butler.
(E. G. Clements collection.)

Governor David Butler Impeached.-- In 1868 David Butler was re-elected governor and again in 1870. He was very popular with the old-time pioneers whose many hardships he himself had shared. On the other hand he made some enemies by his bold aggressive way of doing things. In 1871, the charge of using state money for his own purposes was brought against him. He was tried before the State Senate, impeached and removed from office and in his place, the Secretary of State, Wm. H. James, became the governor. Governor Butler turned over land to the State which more than paid what he owed it. His trial caused great bitterness at the time and for many years after. He still retained the confidence of his friends and years after was elected to the legislature by the people of Pawnee County, his home.

Gov. William H. James
(E. G. Clements collection)

Railroad Building and Railroad Aid.-- There were no railroads in the South Platte region when the capital was moved there, and only the Union Pacific was building north of the Platte. In order to encourage railroad companies to build, Congress granted half the land on either side of the track for a number of miles to the company building through it. The other half was left for the settlers, but the homesteads inside of this land grant were cut down from 160 to 80 acres. In addition the Nebraska legislature in 1869 gave 2,000 acres of state lands for each mile of railroad. Many towns and counties also voted to give money to roads which would build to them. There was quick response to these liberal offers. The Burlington crossed the Missouri River at Plattsmouth in July, 1869. It was the first railroad to reach Lincoln a year later, and in 1872 it built its line to a junction with the Union Pacific at Kearney. The Midland Pacific was built in 1871 from Nebraska City to Lincoln and later built west through Seward, York and Aurora to Central City. It now belongs to the Burlington. The St. Joseph and Denver road entered Nebraska in 1870 and reached Hastings in 1872. All these lines were in the South Platte region. In the North Platte the Omaha & Northwestern road was built to Blair, the Sioux City & Pacific road was built from Missouri valley to Fremont and branches of the Union Pacific were begun.

Gov. Robert W. Furnas

Governor Robert W. Furnas.-- In 1872 Robert W. Furnas, Republican, of Brownville was elected governor He served two years, years of hard times and distress, and then returned to his farm and orchard at Brownville, there to become a leader in Nebraska agriculture during the forty years of his life which followed.

The Hard Times of 1873.-- Many hardships and discouragements were met by the new-comers. There were prairie fires, grasshoppers, droughts and Indian raids. Then hard times, called the panic of 1873, came to the whole country. Nearly all the Nebraskans were farmers. The prices of everything the farmer had to sell went down very low, so low that it would hardly pay to haul to market. As railroads were very few and far between most of the Nebraska farmers had to haul their produce a long distance, some of them fifty to a hundred miles, to reach a market at a railroad town. Wheat sold as low as forty cents a bushel, corn as low as eight cents, eggs five cents a dozen, butter eight cents a pound, cattle and hogs two cents a pound. For several years the settlers burned twisted hay and corn for fuel. Some grew discouraged and moved back east, but others stayed, worked harder, saved, and kept their homes.

Gov. Silas W. Garber.
(From Clements collection.)

Governor Silas Garber.-- In the four or five years following 1870, pioneers pushed out and settled the Republican Valley region in the southwestern part of the state. Prominent among these pioneers was Silas Garber, Republican, of Red Cloud, who was elected governor in 1874 and re-elected in 1876. During his term the present state constitution was adopted and the larger part of the Indians removed from the state.

The Removal of Sioux, Pawnee and Ponca Indians.-- In 1876 war with the Sioux Indians broke out on the Nebraska border. The chief cause of this war was the rush of white men into the Black Hills, the Indian country, for gold. The roads most traveled to the Black Hills led from the Union Pacific railroad across northwestern Nebraska, crossing the North Platte at Camp Clark bridge. Thousands of people traveled these roads and had frequent fights with the Sioux Indians who claimed all the country north of the Platte. When peace was made, the Sioux ceded all their land in western Nebraska and removed to South Dakota. The Pawnee and Ponca tribes were removed to Oklahoma in 1875 and 1877, and thus nearly all of northern Nebraska was opened for settlers.

The Grange in Nebraska.-- During these hard times, the farmer's movement took form in Nebraska. Too many middlemen, too little money, too high railroad rates and unfair taxes were among the complaints of the farmers. In the granges, which were secret societies meeting in the country schoolhouses, they discussed the evils of the times and plans to remove them. Open meetings to which all were invited were held. There was deep and earnest debate on hard problems. Women also took part in these meetings and in them the foundations of future farmers' movements were laid.

The Good Templars, Red Ribbon Clubs and Crusaders.-- 'The temperance movement also became active at this time and spread through a secret society, the Good Templars. It grew rapidly for a number of years and was aided by Red Ribbon Clubs and by the Crusaders, bands of women who prayed and sang in saloons and on the sidewalk in order to induce people to stop drinking. There was intense feeling for and against both the grangers and the temperance agitators. The effect of the debates held by them during the hard times was apparent through after years.

Irish, German, Swede, Bohemian, Russian, Danish, Polish and French Colonies.-- In this period from 1870 to 1880 many colonies of settlers came to the state. Irish colonies settled Holt County in 1874 and Greeley County in 1877. Germans settled in Madison, Stanton and Thayer counties in l867-l870. The Swedes settled in Polk and Saunders counties about 1870 and in Phelps and Burt counties about 1880. Bohemians founded colonies in Knox, Colfax, Saunders and Saline counties about 1870. Russian Germans began to settle Jefferson County about 1874 and extended their settlements into Clay and Hamilton counties. Danish, Swedish, Bohemian and Polish colonies found homes in Howard and Valley counties. French settlements were made in Richardson, Nemaha, Antelope and other counties. Each of these nationalities added a new element to Nebraska life, making our population more varied and interesting. Each has done well its part in building a great state.

Constitution of 1875 with Signatures.
(Photo from original in Statehouse.)

The New Constitution.-- There was a call, as the state grew, for a new constitution. The first one had been framed in haste by the legislature in 1866. A convention met at Lincoln in June, 1871, and made a new constitution in forty-seven days. In its most important parts it was modeled on the Illinois Constitution of 1870. When the people voted on the new constitution the vote stood 7,986 for and 8,677 against. It was defeated chiefly because it taxed church property and gave railroads their right of way only while they used it for running trains. The demand for a new constitution kept growing. In 1875 another convention met in Lincoln which framed another constitution very much like the one of 1871. It was adopted by the people in November of that year by a vote of 30,202 to 5,704. This is our present constitution and is sometimes called the "Grasshopper Constitution" because it was made in a year of grasshopper plague and hard times.

The Great Prison Rebellion.-- On January 11, 1875, the convicts in the State Penitentiary, three miles south of Lincoln, rose in rebellion, took the warden and inside guards prisoners and armed themselves with guns. Led by bold and desperate men, it was their plan to dress themselves in citizens' clothes and escape after dark. The outside guards gave warning. Citizens of Lincoln and a company of United States soldiers from Omaha surrounded the prison. A number of shots were fired. Mrs. Woodhurst, the warden's wife, persuaded the rebels to surrender, and what is called "The Great Rebellion in the Penitentiary" was over.

Passing of Hard Times.-- Slowly the years from 1873 to 1878 with their hard times, Indian wars, grasshoppers, droughts and great prairie fires, passed and better days came, bringing better crops, better prices, and hope to the hearts of those who had endured so many hardships. With these better days came a host of immigrants to the state.

Gov. Albinus Nance.
(From Clements collection.)

Governor Albinus Nance.-- In 1878 Albinus Nance, Republican, of Osceola, was elected governor and re-elected in 1880. He was called "the boy governor," being thirty years of age when chosen. During his four years in the office there was a revival of business, and railroad building, and a turning of the tide of immigration toward the North Platte region.

Settlement of Western Nebraska.-- By the year 1880 the people of Nebraska, full of hope and energy, started to settle the western half of the state which at that time was nearly all wild land. The Burlington built its line up the Republican valley and across the plains to Denver. The Northwestern, then called the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley, started its long extension up the Elkhorn River and across the sandhill region to the Black Hills. The Missouri Pacific came into the state from the southeast and before the next ten years were ended, the Rock Island pushed its line across Nebraska to the Rocky Mountains. All was again activity. Long lines of white covered wagons were again on the road for the grassy valleys among the sand hills and the smooth plains of the great table-land beyond. New towns were started. The population of the state more than doubled between 1880 and 1890.

During these years the northwest and southwest corners of Nebraska, and also the smooth high plains in the western part, were being settled. The sandhill region was the only part of Nebraska remaining unsettled, and even there the valleys at the heads of the rivers and around the sandhill lakes were dotted with houses.