History of Brown County 

     History has been defined as a "systematic written account of events." In presenting this sketch of some of the leading events of Brown County, Nebraska, I have endeavored to abide by that definition, though material of a reminiscent or narrative character may occasionally be included.

     Another writer has said, "History is not made by documents, but by human beings." The material I have collected and arranged for this sketch was, in the main, given to me by the early residents of this county. To them I shall always feel indebted for their assistance in compiling the facts which make up our county history. It is all inscribed in never-fading pictures on the memory tablets of our pioneers, those brave men and woman who endured the hardships of life in a new country that it might become a place of civilization. If this sketch serves to call to mind the efforts of these pioneers to found homes and to bring law and order to an uncharted wilderness, it will have served its purpose. To those who came in later years, I trust it may bring a slight understanding of what it means to be a pioneer.

     Let us try to imagine what this portion of Nebraska was like before the coming of the white settlers. A great expanse of prairie, slightly rolling, spread out on every side as far as the eye could reach, most of it covered with a rich growth of grass. Some varieties of this grass were tall with stiff, straight stems, some of low growth with delicate, curling blades. Here and there were running streams which were hidden in canyons or ravines where trees and shrubs were found, but until the edge of the canyon was reached the entire country appeared to be "a sea of grass," (2) which stretched ever on and on toward the setting sun.

     Over these vast plains wandered great herds of buffalo. In the spring and summer seasons they lived farther south, but came to this section for fall and winter grazing. The short grasses, dried by, the burning summer suns, kept their flavor and nourishing qualities, thus furnishing excellent winter feed for these magnificent animals (giving the name "buffalo grass"). The herds found water and shelter from winter storms in the canyons and the rough land near them. 

     Other wild animals were here in greater or less numbers -- deer, antelope, coyotes, wolves, bears, prairie dogs, rabbits, prairie chickens, grouse, ducks, geese and a few fur-bearing animals. All found suitable homes in the trackless wilderness. 

     The region was ideal for hunting grounds, and long before the white men came to use it for that purpose, it was visited by roving bands of Indians. In the remote past there may have been resident tribes but earliest records show it was claimed by the Oglala and Brute tribes of the Sioux nation who held all of what is now northwest Nebraska, as far east as Long Pine canyon. These two tribes, with their allies, the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, fought other Nebraska Indians who lived in the eastern and southern sections of our state, to prevent them from hunting on these choice grounds. (It is believed that one of the last of these battles occurred about one and a half miles north of Long Pine, as battle scarred trees, human bones and broken fire arms were found there by early settlers. 

     (3) It will probably never be definitely known just who the first white men were who saw the land now included in Brown county. After the settlements along the Atlantic coast became well established, several nations of Europe sent exploring expeditions into the middle west. Some were searching for gold and other precious treasure, some wished to claim the land for their governments, and others were led only by the love of adventure. 

     Sheldon's History of Nebraska gives this interesting account of the explorations by the Spaniards. One expedition led by a Scotchman, James Mackey, (Fr. Jacques Machey) reached the region of the North Loup river in 1795-96. He. continued westward to the great sandhill lakes of Cherry county, then traveleled northward to the Niobrara river which he followed down to where it joins the Missouri river. Mackey made an accurate map of the regions that he had explored which was published in Paris in 1802. On this map in the region of Long Pine creek is this inscription: "Mountains of sand, underlain by subterranean and invisible streams in the midst of which is a great canyon, two hundred fifty feet across and one hundred fifty deep, formed by the washing of the mountains." This map entitles lackey to the honor of being the first white man to explore the sand hill region of Nebraska. If others came they left no record of having visited this locality. 

     These early explorers were followed by men in search of new homes. Settlements were made along the Missouri River, and from these settlements the more venturesome ones followed up the rivers that empty into the Missouri for the purpose of hunting and trapping wild animals for food and furs. These were taken back to (4) the settlements and traded, bringing good profits to the hunters. It took only a few years of this systematic hunting to kill off the immense herds of buffaloes. They were slaughtered without mercy, the white hunters taking only the hides and the choicest cuts of meat. With the vanishing of these animals the main source of food was taken from the Indians, and they became very hostile to all white men who ventured to cross the borders into their hunting grounds.

     The discovery of gold and silver in California and other western states lured thousands of men from eastern states to try to reach the gold fields where they hoped to become rich by their findings. It is possible that some of these gold seekers may have crossed our country.

     Missionaries were sent to the Indian tribes in the hope that they might be taught the principles of the Christian faith and the ways of civilized living. These devoted men came from the white settlements along the Missouri river or from their homes in the eastern states. All of these venturesome men, whatever their purpose in coming -- the early explorers, the hunters of wild game, the gold seekers, and the devout missionaries, left slight traces of their travels. A trail through the tall grass, ruts made by wagon wheels, ashes left from a campfire, all told a story to the white, men who came later. 

     In time these dim traces of travel were followed by other men making a well marked route, known by a name to direct other travellers. Slight traces of these old trails may still be seen in places. The earliest of these is probably the "Sawyers Trail." It was begun in 1865 by a United (5) States government expedition for the use of freighters taking supplies and mining machinery to Virginia City, Montana, where gold had been discovered. Its eastern terminus was Niobrara (at the mouth, of the Niobrara River) and passed across Brown County a few miles south of that river. 

     The "Calamus Trail" entered Brown County near, the southeast corner. Its eastern terminus was Fort Hartsuff (near Ord) It followed up the North Loup river, then the Calamus river to its source in Moon Lake, then on west through the sand hills to the forts in the western part of the state. It was used chiefly as a military route for United States troops passing from one post to another. In later years a government post was maintained on the north shore of Moon Lake, affording a stopping plane for travellers and also a place for securing supplies. (Moon Lake was at first named Post Lake from the fact that this government post was located on its shores. Branches from Calamus Trail led to other places, and these trails and the last traces of the supply post may still be found by diligent search.) 

     The "Gordon Trail" was made in the sring of 1875 by a large company of gold hunters from Sioux City, Iowa, who were trying to enter the Black Hills against the orders of the government. The expedition kept to the south side of the Niobrara river in order to evade United States troops from Fort Randall (South Dakota), who had been ordered to prevent them from entering the Black Hills. The troops overtook the Gordon party near the present site of Gordon, Nebraska, and destroyed the wagons and other property of the miners who were all placed under arrest and taken to Fort Randall. (There were twenty-nine wagons with four-horse teams, so their (6) trail was well marked. It passed north of Long Pine, then followed quite closely the present route of U. S. Highway No. 20 across the county, passing just north of the court house and crossing Bone creek northwest of Ainsworth. This trail and other routes followed by early freight wagons are sometimes called "Black Hills Trails.") All of these dim reminders of by-gone days tell us a story of brave men who ventured into a wilderness, the leaders of a migration that later came in a never ending procession. 

     In 1857 Lieutenant G. K. Warren of the U. S. Army was sent to explore the Niobrara river. He was equipped with a few wagons drawn by eight-mule teams and a small force of men. The object of the expedition was to find a practical route for freighting army supplies from Fort Randall to Fort Laramie. That he did not find such a route is a matter of history, though his reports show that he made a thorough exploration of the country adjoining the Niobrara and Keya Paha rivers. (If this expedition left a "trail," I have yet to hear of it.) 

     Another class of men sometimes came into this wild, new country. They planned their travels carefully that they might leave no trails for others to follow. They were outlaws who lived by stealing horses from farmers in Iowa and eastern Nebraska. The stolen stock was brought to this lonely country and hid until a safe market could be found for it. The canyons afforded good pasture and safety, Plum creek being well adapted to this purpose. (It was there that the notorious "Doc" Middleton and his band of horse thieves had headquarters, though his home was near Mariaville in what is now called Middleton canyon. The remains of a corral on Hazel (7) Creek, Middleton hill said to have been his "lookout" on Plum creek and Doc's lake in Cherry county are reminders of his residence here in early days.) 

     All the northwestern portion of this state was at one time known as "unorganized territory" and was given the general name "Sioux County" though there were no county officers. The only government it had was administered from the military posts. The Nebraska state government gradually took this over after 1867 when the territory was admitted to the union. As scattered settlements were made the "unorganized territory" was divided up and counties established. Large companies of settlers came to O'Neill in 1874-'75. Holt county was organized in 1876, and for a few years the land which later became Brown county was attached to Holt for purposes of taxation. 

     Cattle ranches were the first settlements made in northwest Nebraska. The surplus stock from these ranches was bought by the United States government at good prices, so the business was a profitable one for a few years. To the west of Brown county several large outfits were found very early, previous to 1880. Boiling Springs ranch owned by Carpenter and Morehead; the JP ranch on the Niobrara about twelve miles, below Boiling Springs; the Newman ranch twenty-one miles west of Boiling Springs; and the Hunter ranch about due south of where Gordon is now located. The herds owned by these outfits were driven into this country from Texas over the old "Chisholm Trail". They were the Texas longhorns, a breed no longer seen in this state.

     These ranchers were in continual warfare with the Indians and many lonely (8) graves are found in the hills along the Niobrara river where rest the remains of cowboys who were shot and scalped by Sioux. 

     Each year the Sioux became more dissatisfied and warlike. Many treaties were made with them by commissioners sent out by the United States government, but they were made only to be broken, both the government and the Indians being equally faithless. Due to the loss of their buffalo herds, the Indians were starving. They blamed the white settlers for their troubles, and as these troubles increased so did their hatred of the white race, though in earlier days the Sioux were friendly to white men. 

     By terms of a treaty signed in 1868 the Black Hills had been ceded to the Sioux Indians. After gold was discovered in the Hills in 1874 no further efforts were made to keep the white men out of the Hills. The Indians had broken their part of the treaty, and the government knew that the mines would never be worked by the Indians, so the entire agreement was set aside. (The Sioux are still trying to collect large sums of money in payment of their claims to the Black Hills.)

     Fort Hartsuff near Ord, Nebraska, was built in 1874 to protect settlers of the Loup Valley from Indians and outlaws, but it was too far away to afford any protection to the country along the Niobrara. Congress decided to locate the Sioux on reservations where they could be kept from wandering and committing depredations on the incoming settlers. In the fall of 1876 the United States government sent commissioners to the Sioux headquarters in western Nebraska to ratify a treaty which was signed by Chief Red Cloud of the Oglalas and Chief Spotted Tail of the (9) Brule Sioux. The Indians agreed to remove to land reserved for them in South Dakota. Each Indian was given a small sum of money, beef and other supplies every month and heads of families were given free title to one hundred sixty acres of land. The Brules were located on what is now called the Rosebud reservation; the Oglalas farther west, at Pine Ridge. The construction of the agency buildings was begun in 1878. This move drew the attention of home seekers to North Central Nebraska, as the removal of the Indians gave people confidence that their lives would be safe from attacks. A railroad was heading in this direction which was an added inducement to those looking for land.

     Again the Indians failed to live up to the terms of their treaty and were continually wandering from their reservations, robbing and killing any white men they could find. As an added safeguard it was decided to send troops to keep the Indians in bounds.

     In 1879 General Crook of the United States army, commanding the department of the Platte was ordered to select a suitable place for a new fort. He made a visit to the region, and recommended a point on the Niobrara river south of the Rosebud agency. The post was established April 22, 1880 by Major John J. Upham of the 5th U. S. Cavalry. Three companies of his regiment and one company of the 9th Infantry were the first troops to be stationed there.

     The post was named Fort Niobrara. The buildings were mostly of adobe brick. The other materials used in their construction and supplies for the soldiers were brought by large freighting outfits from Neligh, then the western end of the (10) railroad. These outfits consisted of ten to twenty heavy freight wagons with twelve yoke of oxen on each wagon with trailer. Some smaller freighting outfits did a thriving business hauling supplies for the new military post, and for ranchers who established themselves nearby. They in turn did a good business selling their cattle on hoof to the government to feed the soldiers and for the monthly beef issue to the Indians. (Ft. Niobrara was abandoned in 1907, troops were removed and all the buildings disposed of but one which is now used by the U. S. Game Preserve which has its headquarters on the site of the old Fort near Valentine.)

     Immediately after the troops were sent to Fort Niobrara a government mail stage made regular trips twice each week. John and George Berry had the contract for this stage line. The Bassett home in Long Pine Canyon was a stage station in charge of John Danks. Bone Creek post office at the Cook and Tower ranch served a large scope of country for mail. (This ranch house was near the present city limits of Ainsworth on the northwest, where the Gordon trail crossed Bone, Creek. Ed Cook was postmaster, Mrs. Nannie Osborne, deputy). 

     After the Morris bridge was built across the Niobrara river near the present site of Carns the freighting outfits sometimes crossed there paying one dollar for the privilege. Continuing their journey on the north side of the river to Fort Niobrara and western ranches they avoided fording Pine, Plum, and other creeks, but when they returned with empty wagons they usually followed the road which crossed our county (through Twp. 30 to Atkinson.)

     (11) The Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley railroad began building westward in the late 70's. Each year it pushed farther into the new farming regions. To supply the needs of the new settlers the railroad carried freight, mail, express and passengers to its western terminus, Oakdale, then Neligh which it reached in 1880. 

     In the late 70's the cattle men came ahead of the railroad. They were attracted by , the rich, abundant grasses of the " prairies which offered excellent range for their herds, with water, shelter and firewood to be found in the canyons. As a rule these ranchers held a "water front" on some running stream and had no legal title to the land as it had not formally been thrown open for settlement. Government surveyors had been at work for several years blocking out the land in sections, townships and ranges so that records of each man's land could be kept. They began near the Missouri river in the southeast part of the state, and each year pushed a little farther west and north. Great dangers and hardships were suffered by the surveyors while on duty in the new country. Robert Harvey of St. Paul, Nebraska, was in charge of the work in this portion of the state.

     The winter of 1880-'81 has gone into history as one of the most severe that was ever known. The prairies were covered with snow so deep that the cattle could not graze on the buffalo grass on which the ranchers relied for their winter feed. The snow came early in the fall and laid on the ground all winter. It was so deep that the cattle could not travel, and at times a crust of ice covered the surface of it making travel impossible as the (12) cattle sank into the snow and thousands of head starved to death, sometimes in sight of the hay which ranchers had put up to be fed when the cattle could not graze. Of the 3,000 head on the Cook ranch only 800 were left in the spring. Other ranchers had similiar losses and were obliged to close out, thus leaving the fertile prairies open to settlement by the farmers who came a few years later. To these hardy frontiersmen much credit is due for their efforts to establish cattle ranches in this country to which it is so well adapted. Had they understood the climate they could have protected their stock from blizzards as is now done and saved themselves from losses.

     Among these early ranchers were Cook and Tower on Bone creek, A. M. Brinckerhoff at the mouth of Pine creek, G. W. Howenstein, J. W. Roselle, James Abernathy and G. W. Kirkpatrick. 

     The first survey for a railroad was made on the north side of the Niobrara river. This fact may account for the early settlements along the Niobrara and Keya Paha Rivers. 

     The newcomers who followed the cattle men were mostly farmers with a few doctors, lawyers, preachers and merchants, all seeking the free land that could be obtained under the homestead law. The head of a family or any citizen twenty-one years of age could obtain one hundred sixty acres of land by living on it for five years and making a few improvements (building a small home and plowing a few acres of prairie. There were also small fees to be paid amounting to about $18). There were two other methods of obtaining a quarter section of land; the timber claim law which required that ten acres must be set to living trees; (13) and the pre-emption, claim which required six months residence and the payment to the government of $1.25 per acre. Some ambitious homeseekers obtained land by all these methods. 

     These early settlers arrived in true pioneer style, some driving the entire distances from their former homes in covered wagons, with a few cattle and chickens and their household necessities ready to begin life on "the claim". Others came by rail to Oakdale or Neligh (and later to O'Neill or Long Pine), then took transportation from there with freighters or others who kept suitable outfits for such journeys. 

     The railroad reached Long Pine in 1881. It was then called the "Sioux City & Pacific." A good sized town soon sprung, up and many newcomers built homes in the canyons of Pine and Willow creeks nearby. In the spring of 1882, the railroad pushed westward. Two preliminary surveys were run, one north and one south of where it was finally built. A townsite was surveyed about a mile north of the present site of Ainsworth, but abandoned when the line of road was changed. The station was named in honor of "Captain" J. E. Ainsworth of Missouri Valley, who was in charge of the construction. The first train arrived in Ainsworth June 11, 1882. 

     Later in the summer the road was completed across the present limits of the county and a station established on the homestead of John Berry. It is very probable that the name, Johnstown, was in his honor. A postoffice had been established in 1881, two and one half miles north of Johnstown. It was called "Evergreen" and Harrison Johnson was postmaster.

     Webmaster Note: Along the edge of the book a handwritten note said " A few years later it was called the Fremont & Elkhorn & Missouri Valley, later purchased by C & NW." I am assuming she is referring to the railroad.

     (14) New settlers came in great numbers in the spring and summer of 1882. A general feeling prevailed that the organization of a county should be attempted. To make the journey to O'Neill on county business was very inconvenient and expensive, and all filings had to be made at O'Neill or Valentine. As the population increased the need of county government was keenly felt. 

     In December, 1882, Frank Sellors and Merritt Griffiths circulated a petition asking that the coming legislature pass an act establishing a new county from unorganized territory lying west of Holt county. The boundaries as set forth in the petition included what is now the three counties, Brown, Rock and Keya Paha, and was a tract forty-eight miles from east to west and sixty-four miles north and south. It had been under the jurisdiction of Holt county for some years. 

     Two bills defining the boundaries of Brown county were introduced; one in the senate by Moses P. Kinkaid of the twelfth district; the other in the house by Frank North of the twenty-third district. The bills were practically the same and both were introduced on January 9, 1883. Kinkaid's bill passed the senate on January 24th without a dissenting vote, but was lost in the house, that body having already passed North's bill on February 8. The senate passed this bill on February 14 and it was approved by Governor Dawes on the 19th. From the fact that there were not less than five members of the legislature of '83 by the name of Brown, and that the petition mentioned no name, it was decided to call the new county "Brown." Loup and Cherry counties were organized the same year. 

     A committee consisting of Ed. Cook, (15) T. J. Smith and Leroy Hall went to Lincoln in the interests of the new county. The result was the appointment by Governor Dawes of the following named special officers on March 17:

 Clerk -- D. B. Short

Commissioners -- D. D. Carpender, Thos. Peacock, I. N. Alderman. 

     Ainsworth was named the temporary county seat. I have been told that when the news of this action reached Ainsworth, the rejoicing was strenuous and pronounced. These special officers met April 5th and took the oath of their respective offices. In May the county was divided into three commissioner districts and the following precincts were organized and voting booths established in each; Kirkwood, Bassett. Thatch, Long Pine, Griffiths, McGuire, Ainsworth Johnstown and Keya Paha. J. L. Harriman was appointed superintendent of schools and the Western News, T. J. Smith, was made the official organ. A special election was called for July 19, when county officers as follows were elected:

Clerk -- C. W. Stannard. 

Judge -- S. G. Sparks. 

Treasurer -- John Staley. 

Sheriff -- John Sullivan. 

Superintendent of Schools -- W. G. Townsend.

Coroner -- Albert Palmer. 

Surveyor -- R. Strait followed by Dennis Collins, then W. S. Collins. 

Commissioners -- First district -- P. A. Morris; 

Second district -- D. B. Short; 

Third district -- D. D. Carpender. At this same electron Ainsworth was made the permanent county seat.

     John Sullivan having failed to qualify, Jasper Stanley was appointed sheriff. John Sullivan and Ed. Cook were (16) appointed stock brand inspectors. On August 9th, the commissioners rented the east ten feet of Reed's hall for the use of the county officers for $10 per month, with the privilege of using the balance of the hall when necessary for a court room. This hall was the second story of the old Snell building, on the east side of Main street, which was destroyed by fire a few years ago. A few pieces of furniture were purchased for the use of the new officers, also a safe costing $550, books for county records, material for bridges and a few roads were laid out. February 28, 1883, the sum of $300 was set aside to build a bridge over the Niobrara river at Mead's ranch. The balance of the cost of the bridge was to be met by subscription and the site was donated. J. S. Carnahan was appointed foreman of the work. A similar plan was adopted for bridges at Brinkerhoff's and Morris' bridge and the same amount of money set aside for each. The bridge at Mead's ranch was accepted and opened for use December 9, 1885. in the meantime the county had purchased from Mrs. Osborn a ferry boat for which they paid $96.70. This ferry boat was sold soon after to Mead and Stokes who did a thriving business.

     At the general election of 1883 these special officers were re-elected with the following exceptions: Clerk, B. H. McGrew; treasurer, J. A. Plympton; sheriff, H. J. Simpson; coroner, J. H. Spafford. J. F. Burns was appointed county attorney at a salary of $100 per year. In June it was found that the assessed valuation of the entire county (now three counties) was but $649,195.75, of which the railroad and telegraph companies was $240,115. A levy for taxation was made of (17) 9 mills general, 4 bridge and 2 road. The new county was now in fairly good running order. The usual perplexing problems came up to annoy and create factions. The bridge question seems to have been quite satisfactorily handled. The bridges over the Pine, Plum and Bone creeks, in addition to those over the Niobrara, were among the early under takings. The care of prisoners occupied much attention, and consumed not a little of the county funds, as it was necessary at first to send them to other counties to be kept. In June, 1883, Mrs. N. J. Osborn gave to the county a small building to be used as a jail, which by installing steel cells and being remodeled met the needs of the county until 1889, when $1,000 was set aside to build a jail and sheriff's residence; $600 was added to this sum later for the completion of the building.

     Establishing roads was another problem on which many citizens were busy, also the changing of precinct boundaries and establishing new precincts. The county commissioners were beseiged with petitions on these subjects at almost every session. One of the first precinct divisions made was that of Keya Paha (the entire county) into Burton and Keya Paha precincts. The care of the insane and the poor, the soldiers' relief work, the county printing, the claims of the rival agricultural societies at Ainsworth and Long Pine, the salaries of the minor county officers, such as the superintendent of schools, county attorney and the county physician were some of the questions the commissioners had to deal with at that early date.

     (18) But all these matters, faded into insignificance before two great questions, namely, county division, and the building of a court house. As early as October, 1883 residents of the eastern part of the county petitioned for an election to vote on county division, the new county to be called Elkhorn. A year later, October 14, 1884, a petition was presented, signed by Ralph Lewis, John A. Plympton and 243 other voters asking that the question of detaching a portion of Brown county and erecting the same into a new county to be known as Keya Paha county, be submitted to a vote of the people at the next general election. The new county was to include all that part of Brown lying north of the center of the channel of the Niobrara river, and containing 25,471 acres; the petition was granted and at the general election on November 4, a majority of voters favored the division. Twice in 1886 and again in 1887 petitions were before the commissioners asking that an election be called to vote on the question of making the eastern portion of Brown into a new county to be called Elkhorn. On August 1, 1888, a petition was presented, asking that the question of county division be submitted at the general election in November. The new county was to be called Rock and the boundaries were defined as they now stand. It took 37,352 acres from what remained of Brown, leaving 40,491. The election was called and the majority of voters favored the division. Then began a long drawn out controversy between the two counties as to the division of the property held in common, such as safes, steel jail cells, lumber, coal, wood, county records, and even the grounds on which the court house stood. For two years the matter (19) remained unsettled, and though the commissioners of the two counties held many joint sessions an agreement was not reached until 1890, and all points in dispute were settled except the right of Rock county to hold an interest in the court house site. This matter was taken into district court and then carried to the supreme court with the result that Rock county won her contention. The other vexed question was the permanent location of the county seat and the building of the court house. Ainsworth had been named as the temporary county seat, but before the division of the county into Rock and Brown Long Pine was much nearer the geographical center, east and west.

     In January, 1884, Mrs. Osborn deeded to Brown county the block of ground where the court house now stands on the condition that it be used for a court house site. This gift materially strengthened Ainsworth's claim to become the permanent county seat. Meanwhile the commissioners had found Reed's hall ill adapted to use as a court house. In June 1884, the main hall of the Ainsworth opera house, later the Osborn hotel, was rented for $25 per month till Brown county should build a court house. The rent was later reduced to $20 per month. 

     In 1886 a building on the east side of Main Street, then a skating rink locally known as the "bustle buster," was purchased by the commissioners for $1200 from J. W. Alden, who with Henry Woodward, P. D. McAndrew, Leroy Hall, L. K. Alder and S. P. Hart bound themselves to move the building to the southeast corner of the court house square and fit up four public offices in it without expense to the county. This contract was (20) cancelled a few months later; and Brown county was still without, a court house.

     On August 31, 1886; the first decided step was taken toward building a courthouse. It was plain to be seen that it would be impossible to carry an election by the necessary two-thirds majority to bond the county for a building. A petition was signed by more than fifty residents of Ainsworth precinct asking the commissioners to call an election for the purpose of voting precinct bonds in the sum of $10,000 for building a court house on the court house square. Ainsworth, was presented to the commissioners and granted. Accompanying the petition, was a bond pledging the cost of the said election if the required two-thirds majority could not be obtained. Two elections were held, the second being necessary on account of an irregularity. The majority favored the bonds which were issued by the commissioners.

     Plans and specifications for the building were prepared by W. D. Vanatta and Co., and the usual procedure of asking for bids was followed. The contract was let on October 3, 1887, to Wm. Whitticar, Frank Whitticar, W. D. Vanatta, J. B. Finney and Lew Williams, for the sum of $9,750. In payment they took bonds issued by Ainsworth precinct. The bond given by the contractors for the faithful fulfillment of the contract; was signed by S. Backey, R. S. Rising, Altschuer and Rippey, and Ed T.; Cook A. Rathburn was employed by the county as superintendent of construction. He was succeeded later by W. H. Baldwin. West Point brick were used for the building at a cost of $13 per thousand. It was completed and formally accepted by, the board of commissioners on November 22, (21) 1888. The following year $1,000 was set aside to purchase furniture for it. 

     In July 1889, it was struck by lightning and as a result some repairs were necessary. From time to time a few repairs and changes have been made but in the main the building stands practically as it was built. A small sum of money derived from renting it was set aside in April, 1890, to purchase trees for the court house square, an enterprise which we highly appreciate today. 

     While the work of erecting the court house was in progress a petition was presented signed by 1228 voters asking that the county seat be relocated. As this number was more than three fifths of all the voters in the county, the petition was granted and the election called for July 10, 1888. On the same date an election was held to decide the question of issuing bonds in the sum of $18,000 to be used in paying off the indebtedness of the county, which had been accumulating since its formation. Strenuous efforts had been made to collect the delinquent taxes but the debt steadily increased. The election resulted in the issue of the bonds and the county seat remaining at Ainsworth. 

     For a few years, during the 80's the tide if immigration flowed steadily until there was claim shanty on almost every quarter section of tillable land. The years 1884 and 1885 were marked by an unusual rush of newcomers. A few cattle ranches had been opened in the sand hill sections, but at that time the grass was very sparse, and only in the valleys was the growth heavy enough for grazing. This was probably due to the frequent prairie fires which swept over them.

     The normal, yearly rainfall of Brown (22) county is about 24 inches (23.98 as shown by the average all-time records). Although no records were kept the early settlers say rains were plentiful and that harvests were abundant, especially wheat which was of excellent quality. In 1884 and again in 1888 a carload of wheat shipped from Ainsworth took the first prize offered by the Chicago board of trade as the best grade received there during those years.

     Garden products grew with almost no cultivation and were also of excellent quality. Food was plentiful for those who were willing to put forth even ordinary effort. The late P. D. McAndrew once wrote of our early settlers: "Brown county received a large contingent of Uncle Sam's nobility and very best citizens, full of faith, zeal and energy, who went to work in dead earnest, and soon proved to the satisfaction of everyone that this is a white man's country". 

     It is true that these pioneers had a great many hardships to endure, many handicaps to overcome. But few of the comforts and none of the luxuries was the rule. Small houses, many of log or sod, a restricted social life, few churches and schools, yet on the whole everyone seemed contented and happy. The blizzards and extreme cold of winter, the heat, cyclones hailstorms and prairie fires of summer, Indian scares, rattlesnakes, cattle rustlers, horse thieves and other "pests" or annoyances were overcome or endured. 

     Courts were soon organized; law and order prevailed with but a small amount of crime and lawlessness. Vigilance committees were active in some sections and several lynchings took place, but the greater portion of the people felt secure (23) in their new homes. They had faith in this country, believing that the good crops would continue. They had faith in the integrity of the new county of Brown and its officers. They had hope that the future would bring its blessings in easier living, better schools, more roads and bridges and a broader, pleasanter life for their children. 

     As they saw their new location they could note signs of progress on every hand. Building materials were very high but as settlers made final proof on their claims the log cabins, dugouts, soddies and small frame "shacks" that had done service for dwelling and school houses were replaced by well built structures of lumber. The general trend, was toward a building that would endure. 

     The county income from taxable property was very uncertain, but the county officials did well with the tax money that could be collected, and a general improvement in roads and bridges was to be seen each year. 

     But this progressive spirit was very suddenly checked when, crops began to fail for lack of rains. In 1890 many farmers failed to raise enough to feed their stock and family, and appealed to the county for relief. The county in turn, appealed to the state. Small amounts of money received afforded some help for the needy, but there was need for very rigid economy everywhere.

     The dry seasons continued and each year more families were obliged to ask for relief. Many became completely discouraged and left the county. Farms were deserted, stock was sold at low prices, given away or turned out to die. Banks began to fail, which made times more strenuous for the county, the farmer and (24) business man. Many firms were forced to close their doors. By 1895 the population had dwindled to about one half of what it had been before the dry years. 

     No one starved, but there would have been great suffering had it not been for the aid from outside the drouth-stricken counties. Supplies of food and clothing in car load lots were distributed in "Relief stores" to all who would accept them. These were sent by people of eastern states. Our own citizens gave generously of their time and money to those less fortunate, and the state furnished seed grain so that the farmers who had the courage to put in another crop each spring were enabled to "Carry on." 

     One of our early homesteaders, Charles N. Swett, once wrote a very vivid word picture of farming conditions during the drouth years. (Mr. Swett, now deceased was granted the first patent for land now included in Brown county, to be issued from the Valentine land office. His patent (or deed) was dated August 13, 1883.) His description follows:

Drouth Years 1893-4-5

     "About one-half of each homestead was broken up by 1893. Crops had been good, and you would find lots of cattle south; with some north and west of town. In 1893 the drouth started in July. It was dry and hot. Corn that year averaged about five to six bushel, small grain about fifteen bushel. In the spring of 1894 it was very damp. Wheat stooled on the ground, and, got very thick. Again the drouth hit in May and June the wheat died before it headed out. Corn tasselled out, but tassels fell off, and there was not an ear in the entire field. Some wheat made two bushels per acre. No oats were cut. In (25) the heat of the day corn would roll up like a cigar; at night would uncurl and look fine. 

     In 1895 crops were little better. Just raised enough so the people managed to get through. People left Brown county by wagon loads. Very few farms occupied on Bone. Creek. Some couldn't get away because they couldn't sell what they had. A cow wouldn't bring $15, and shoats sold for 50 cents to $1.00. 

     "In 1893 and '94 aid was sent to this county food supplies and clothing. R. S. Rising and J. Kingery were the committee in charge. Rations were issued to all who were in need, just enough to last one week. Dan Woodward had charge of the store with Rising and Kingery over him. 

     Those who left here found good crops around O'Neill and Neligh, but west of here was as dry or dryer than here. Not a great deal of stock died as there was some moisture in the spring, and one found some hay in the low ground of the south country. Hogs were turned out in the oats and corn, and most of them butchered while they were shoats. Ainsworth had no side walks during these years. There were a few stores. During these trying times many stores closed and and their owners left town. In the fall of 1894 about 300 people were all that remained in Ainsworth.

     ----Charles N. Swett. 

     (Ainsworth's "Relief Store" was located at the northeast corner of Third and Main streets: Mrs. L. K. Alder, Mrs. Adeline Smith and Rev. T. W. DeLong were ethers who worked in the store.)

     Those who stayed in Brown county were well repaid in time for so doing. Gradually the rainfall increased and the labor of the farmer was rewarded by good crops. Very slowly prosperity returned, (26) but only by the strictest economy and most diligent labor were the debt ridden people able to pay off their obligations. The same was true of the county. Payment was often deferred but never defaulted.

     A few of the former citizens returned to the homes they had left. Each year a few new settlers came, but not until after the turn of the century was there ever another rush of immigration. The central and northern portions of the county were fairly well settled as here is our richest farming land. The sand hill regions, considered suitable only for grazing were largely government land with here and there an isolated ranch home.

     In 1904 a new law was passed permitting a homestead of 640 acres to be acquired by five years residence thereon and placing improvements upon it to the value of $800. This was called the "Kinkaid law," honoring the congressman from this district who secured its enactment -- Hon. Moses P. Kinkaid of O'Neill.

     This law proved of great value to all of northwest Nebraska and its passage resulted in the settling of the sand hills in a very few years. Again a flood of new settlers, sometimes called "Kinkaiders," came into our county, and a most prosperous period followed their coming. The population was greatly increased, live stock, grain and other personal property was almost doubled in a very short time. Small but prosperous cattle ranches with a few acres in grain and other produce soon covered the sand hills sections. The dairy business sprung into prominence and has proved to be a source of great revenue for this county. 

     Several new precincts were formed, schools and postoffices established, roads (27) laid out and a few bridges built. What had been regarded by some as a hopeless wilderness became a region of comfortable homes. Even the land itself, underwent a change in character and appearance due to the fact that prairie fires no longer were allowed to sweep over it. Vegetation still increases yearly and by its decay the soil is changed and enriched. As these deposits increase the appearance of the sand hills is changed and the soil becomes more productive.

      Thus did the Empire of Brown have its beginning and thus has its growth and development been brought about. No events of great public importance have been staged within her borders, yet all events which have here transpired have a vital meaning to us, her people. Only the bare facts of her history are here inscribed. Her life's story, (as noted in the first paragraph of this brief outline), is, to be found only in the hearts and minds of  those hardy pioneers who brought into being this commonwealth in which we should take great pride. We see it now, not as "a sea of grass stretching toward the setting sun, but as a well settled farming and grazing country, dotted with homes of contented, law-abiding citizens. A fine highway, U. S. No. 20, has replaced the old "Gordon Trail" and other dim reminders of olden days; well kept county roads and other highways in process of construction intersect at frequent intervals. The lonely road ranch is superseded by neat towns and modern residences; the country post office has been replaced by rural free delivery of mail, keeping our citizens in touch with the rest of the world, this service being supplemented by telephones and radios. We are no longer isolated unless from (28) choice as our transportation facilities meet all needs. Thousands of beautiful shade trees, many groves and parks break the monotony of the prairie landscape and in other ways add to our comfort and pleasure. 

     It is useless to multiply words. Let us rather note its present value, not only in dollars and cents (which in 1937 was found to be $6,520,915 for purposes of taxation) its suitability for homes, its healthful climate, pure water, resorts for hunting and fishing and many other advantages which may be found if we will but observe them. 

     One of our most famed Nebraska authors has written of our land: "The land belongs to the future. How many of the names on the county clerk's plat will be there in fifty years? We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it -- for a little while." (Willa Cather -- in "O Pioneers!")

     As we grow in knowledge of the past our courage to meet the future should be made stronger or our pioneers will have lived in vain.



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