EARLY HISTORY OF CHERRY COUNTY, NEBRASKA
ORGANIZATION OF THE COUNTY
(39) A county is a subdivision of a state. Cherry County, the largest county in the nation, was created from a part of Sioux County, a tract of land which included all of northwestern Nebraska from Holt County to the Wyoming line. The boundaries were defined by an act of the legislature approved on February 23, 1883. The north boundary is the Nebraska South Dakota line; the west line is meridian 102; the east line is about ten miles west of meridian 100; the south boundary is latitude 42° 11' north. Cherry County is bounded on the north by South Dakota; on the east by Keya Paha and Brown Counties; on the south by Grant, Hooker, Thomas and Blaine Counties; and on the west by Sheridan County.
Cherry County is rectangular in shape; it is ninety-six miles long and sixty-three miles wide, making an area of 6,048 square miles. It is the largest county in Nebraska and one of the largest in the United States. It is larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It could devote a space the size of the state of Connecticut to meadows and summer pastures and still have as many acres for winter range as the greater part of Rhode Island.
The name "Cherry" was chosen for the county in honor of Lieutenant Samuel A. Cherry of the Fifth Cavalry. He had been stationed at Fort Niobrara on May 11, 1881, and was a very popular young officer, highly respected by his circle of acquaintances. There is a sad story about his untimely death. He was ordered to take a squad of cavalry and pursue and capture some deserters who had taken government horses way with them. While passing the east end of White Lake, South Dakota, Thomas Lock of F Troop, one of the soldiers in the detachment, became insane from excessive drink and shot Lieutenant Cherry, killing him instantly. Locke was captured by Dick Greeland and another cowboy who returned him to the Fort. Feeling against him ran so high that the commanding officer feared violence and placed commissioned officers on guard around the guard house where the prisoner was confined. He was tried and convicted of murder and sent to prison for eighteen years.
Lieutenant Cherry was buried at Fort Niobrara. In March, 1882, however, his father and his fiancée, Miss Virginia White, came and removed his body to Greenwood Cemetery at Lagrange, Indiana, the home of his boyhood.
(40) At first Cherry County was divided into three precincts, three strips of land running north and south across the county. The east territory was called Valentine precinct; the west one, Boiling Springs; and the middle one, Sharps Ranch. It now has 41 precincts.
On April 4, 1883, Governor James W. Dawes issued a proclamation appointing D. Y. Mears, John H. Shores, and S. T. Danley the first commissioners of the county. These three men soon met and organized the first Board. Mr. Shores was elected chairman. His home on Cherry Street in Valentine has been kept in good repair throughout the years and is at present the home of the E. C. Pestel family.
On April 21, 1883, a convention was held and a ticket nominated for the various county offices. There seem to have been no party lines at that convention. The election was held on May 8, 1883, and eighty-four ballots were cast. The men in Sharps Ranch and Boiling Springs precincts were all away on the spring roundup so no election was held in either precinct. Those elected to serve the county were: J. P. Wood, judge; Al Sparks, treasurer; Al Paxton, clerk; John Key, sheriff; Eugene Lamana, surveyor; Denis Daly, superintendent; Dr. Alfred Lewis, coroner, and John H. Shores, D. Y. Mears, and John Bramstadt, commissioners. These men held office until the regular election on November 6, 1883, when the following were elected: Charles H. Cornell, treasurer; Al Paxton, clerk; Billie Carter, sheriff; F. H. Warren, judge; Charles Oliver, superintendent; Ernest Bowden, surveyor; Dr. Alfred Lewis, coroner, and E. B. Bonnell, George B. Zarr, and John H. Shores, commissioners. It was at this time that Mr. Charles H. Cornell, who is remembered by many, began a service to the people of the county he loved and served so well. This service continued in many and varied forms for more than forty years.
One of the first needs of the new county was a building to use as a court house. To supply this need, Hiram Cornell shipped in a building which he had purchased at a government sale of the buildings of an abandoned military fort in Wisconsin. This building had been erected by Jefferson Davis (who was later President of the Confederate States during the Civil War while he was a quartermaster in the regular army. In 1884 this building was placed on the lots now occupied by the Marion Hotel and served as a court house and recreation hall until November, 1901, when the county offices were moved into the new court house which had been built during the (41) previous summer. This new court house was erected at a cost of $15,000, bonds for which had been voted at the general election of 1900.
The county officers elected at the general election in 1901 and whose terms began in the new court house were: W. C. Shattuck, treasurer; C. S. Reece, clerk; W. R. Towne, judge; A. M. Morrisey, attorney; L. N. Layport, sheriff; Dr. Alfred Lewis, coroner; and Etta Brown, superintendent.
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