EARLY HISTORY OF CHERRY COUNTY, NEBRASKA

FORT NIOBRARA


     (23) From the time the very first white settlers landed on the Atlantic Coast of what is now the United States, one of the first necessities was the building of block houses for defense against the Indians. Later, military forts replaced the block houses. As the settlements moved westward across the United States, military forts were built at strategic points to protect them. Nebraska, like other states, had this form of protection. Because the land which is now included in Cherry County joined the Rosebud Indian Reservation on the south, one of these United States forts was established on April 22, 1880, on the Niobrara River four miles east of the present city of Valentine. It was named Fort Niobrara and the first officer in charge was Major John J. Upham who was then in command of troops B, D and F of the Fifth Cavalry and Company B of the Ninth Infantry. As finally laid out by Congress the military reservation around Fort Niobrara consisted of fifty-four sections of land.

     The buildings at the Fort were made of adobe, the clay for which was found near the place where the buildings were to be erected. Wood was used for fuel and kerosene lamps furnished light. Later, substantial frame buildings replaced those made of adobe and the Fort was enlarged to accommodate an entire regiment.

     Mail and supplies for the Fort were brought from Neligh, Nebraska, the end of the railroad at that time. John and George Berry had the contract for carrying the mail. Supplies were hauled in freight wagons drawn by oxen. The Jewett bull train was the chief freighting company. The train consisted of from ten to twenty teams, each "team" being

Hauling wood to Fort Niobrara with oxen in 1886. They are fording the Niobrara.

(24) made up of twelve yoke of oxen. There were smaller companies or "outfits" as they were called which also did freighting for the new Fort.

     When the railroad reached Thatcher in 1882 mail and supplies were taken to Fort Niobrara from that place. The above mentioned John Berry won the 1,000-mile race from Chadron to Chicago during the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893.

     The Fort was a most valuable asset to the settlers as they came into the county. It provided a market for cord wood, hay, grain, poultry and dairy products. Many women added

A country store, David Stinard, owner, 2 miles east of Fort Niobrara. This store furnished the settlers with a market for wood which Mr. Stinard sold to the government for fuel at the fort.


to the family income by doing laundry for the soldiers. The soldiers often sold clothing to civilians for small sums. The author, while teaching at Thatcher in 1890, purchased for the sum of one dollar a fine new cloth coat with regulation brass buttons. It was not an uncommon sight to see civilians of that day dressed in soldier's clothes.

     Fort Niobrara was officially abandoned on October 22, 1906. The troops were transferred to other localities. A 16,000-acre tract of the military reservation was retained by the government for a national game preserve on which small herds of buffalo, elk, deer, antelope and long-horned Texas cattle roam today. The hills along the Niobrara River afford a natural shelter for these animals. They are cared for by a (25) superintendent employed by the government for the purpose. During the winter they are fed from stacks of hay placed on the reservation. How different is the lot of these animals from that of their ancestors who formerly grazed in countless numbers on the open prairie!

Buffalo on the game preserve near Valentine. There are also deer, antelope and long-horned cattle.


     That portion of the fifty-four sections of the reservation not retained for the game preserve was opened by the government for settlement on October 13, 1913. Congress provided that eligible persons who wished to obtain a homestead in this area should be in Valentine on any day between that date and October 26 to make their "drawing" as it was called. The provisions of the "drawing" were widely advertised. Special trains brought in thousands of homestead seekers. A force of twelve notary publics to take the applications was organized under the supervision of William E. Haley. The building used was Bethel Hall, now known as W. C. T. U. Headquarters, still on Main Street. The application office was kept open day and night.

     Each person who wished to make an application wrote his name, address and age on a slip of paper which was put immediately into an envelope and mailed to the General Land Office in Washington, D. C. More than twenty thousand such slips were filled out and sent to Washington where they were deposited in a large revolving container and thoroughly mixed. On an appointed day the proper officials drew them out one by one. The first slip drawn was numbered one, the second two, the third three, and so on. The person whose slip was number one had the first choice of a homestead; the one whose slip was number two had the second choice; the person whose slip was number three had the third choice, and so on. Each (26) person whose name was on a "lucky" numbered slip was notified by mail to appear at the proper legal place and make the regular filing for a homestead. Mr. Schumaker drew number one. He selected 640 acres on the east side of the Niobrara River and southwest of the site of the Fort buildings.

     Present day residents of the military reservation who drew "lucky" numbers are Mr. and Mrs. Allan Wood, Mrs. August Krause, Mr. and Mrs. Clem Hall, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Faulk, Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Henry G. Becker, and Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Simmons, whose son, Kenneth, while serving in the Navy in World War II had a narrow escape from death when a shell exploded on his ship and blew him into the ocean. Mr. Joseph A. Chicoine still owns land on the military reservation but lives in Valentine.

     That portion of the reservation lying north of the Niobrara River which was opened to settlement was formed into Military Precinct. Settlers on this side of the river were required to pay the government from $1.75 to $7.00 per acre in three installments for their land according to its classification. They were allowed only 160 acres. The settlers on the south side of the river paid only the usual filing fee of $14.00 and they were allowed to file on 640 acres. The original settlers who selected land on the south side of the river have all sold their holdings and none of them are living there as this history is being written.

     General John J. Pershing was stationed at Fort Niobrara for a short time in the 80s when he was a lieutenant in the regular United States Army. The Twelfth Infantry Regiment of the regular army was stationed at Fort Niobrara when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898. It entrained at Valentine for Cuba where it took part in the battle of San Juan Hill. In Cuba yellow fever took the lives of a number of the soldiers. This regiment also saw service in the Philippines before returning to the United States. Col. John H. Stotesenberg was also stationed at Fort Niobrara while he was a lieutenant in the regular army. He was killed in the Philippines while leading his regiment, the First Nebraska, in battle.

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