Beginning of Settlement of Burt County, Nebraska
From: A History of Burt County, Nebraska
From 1803 to 1929
The Ludi Printing Co.
Wahoo, Nebraska - 1929


No county in all Nebraska stands out in the early history of the state as does Burt county. It was to this section of the newly opened territory that settlers began flocking as soon as the tide of homeseekers turned in this direction with the opening of the lands to settlement by the United States government in 1854.

The year of 1854 stands out in the annals of Nebraska history as the beginning of Nebraska's existence as a governed territory. In the same manner does the year 1854 carry with it the same significance to Burt county.

In 1854 the wandering bands of Indians who had been accustomed for countless generations to roam at will over all eastern Nebraska were persuaded to curtail the extent of their territory and allow the ever growing tide of settlers to come in and carve out a new state.

Tide of Settlement Starts

The completion of the signing of this treaty was the signal for this great wave of pioneers to sweep out and lay a claiming hand upon the choicest bits of eastern Nebraska soil. Burt county sprang into being over night, so to speak.

The deep rich soil of this immediate section caught the eye of a man who led a small band of men out of Council Bluffs and through the present site of Omaha on October 2, 1854. On that day Omaha was beginning to grow out of a jungle of platted ground, with an occasional tent or rough dwelling marking the birth of Nebraska's largest city.

The First Pioneer

But before we recite the details of that exploring party, we must give attention to the ambitious little German mechanic and furniture maker who, before all others, had recognized the great possibilities of this territory. Before any other white man had dreamed of coming into the virgin lands where Burt county is now located, F. E. Lange crossed the Missouri river alone and investigated for himself the promising soil on the western banks of the Missouri river.

In 1853, Mr. Lange tramped over all this section of Nebraska hunting for a suitable location where he might settle later. It was on this trip that he discovered Golden Spring, which is now located on the highway between Tekamah and Decatur.

Decides On Golden Spring

He was so impressed by the good appearance of this spot that he immediately determined to make it his home. Staking out a squatter's claim and throwing up four logs as a semblance of the beginning of a cabin, he laid claim to the soil he later returned to and made his own. The location of this cabin site was just a few rods to the southeast of the spring itself, under the sandstone cliff which looked down from above and sheltered it.

No better spot could have been chosen in all Burt county. The spring itself was the finest and most valuable that could have been found for miles in every direction. The soil was good, and it was an ideal location for a home.

However, Mr. Lange did not return to his home site to lay final claim to it for two years. In 1855 he returned, finished his cabin and remained there the remainder of his life, rearing his family there and carving out one of the best farms in the county. His sons still own the spring and the farm.

Thus, in one sense, F. E. Lange may be considered as Burt county's first actual settler. His return to his original claim and subsequent proving up should give him that distinction.

B. R. Folsom Organizes Band

It was Benjamin R. Folsom who made the first organized and constructive attempt at settlement in Burt county. It was he who led forth the small band of men northward from the mushrooming Omaha on a search for a worth while site for a new town. He had come from Attica, New York, and on his arrival in Council Bluffs spent a short time looking over that place and inspecting the growing site across the river.

Then he discovered that a company was preparing to form, with just the idea that he had in mind. Joining forces with this company, he soon became the recognized leader. Other members of the party included W. N. Byers, William T. Raymond, J. W. Patterson, John Young, H. C. Purple, Jerry Folsom and two other men by the name of Maynard and White. This band of nine men set out, with the idea of exploration in mind, intent on finding an ideal location for their future homes.

As they started out from Florence, where they camped the first night out, they began their explorations in a more westerly direction, taking in the Elkhorn river country, but finally drifted more northward in their quest for a more suitable location. This course eventually brought them to Tekaman creek and the ideal surroundings for which they had been searching. They discovered the large tract of timber that formerly stood about three miles east of Tekamah, ands this find was the deciding factor. The timber would provide ample raw material for the construction of their town.

What the First Settlers Saw

Perhaps the best word picture that could be painted of what eastern Nebraska and Burt county looked like at the time of the coming of the first band of settlers is found in a diary kept religiously by Benjamin R. Folsom. This diary is authentic in every respect. It was penned by a man of strong will, excellent judgment, loyal to his friends and a good financier, all qualities that made him fitted for the many positions of trust he held in the building of Burt county. Following are some of the more interesting accounts found in his diary.

"The Missouri bottoms are generally narrow on one side of the river or the other and the bluffs are near or distant to view accordingly. Those bottoms are the richest soil imaginable and of the depth from six to fifteen feet there can be found no richer land in the world."

First Day Recorded

On October 2, 1854, he wrote, "We wended our way across the narrow bottom, skirted with but little timber, mostly cottonwoods, and gently ascended onto a beautiful table land a quarter mile west of the river which is the site of the new city of Omaha. It is a beautiful spot. The table land extends a half mile up and down the river and nearly the same distance west around it and in rear of the center of the city, back from the river in nearly half a circle. On the south and down the river the hills are covered with scattering burr oaks and some cottonwood. On either side of the center of the town on the north and the south there are beautiful streams, small, of water running down the hills from the west, which are lined with a little small scattering timber. At about three p. m., our party left the new city and encamped on an eminence about six miles north of Omaha and one mile from the city of Winter Quarters, now in Florence. This city of Winter Quarters was built by the Mormons after they were driven out of Illinois and in 1847 contained six thousand inhabitants. It is one of the most beautiful spots in the world for a town. The bluffs behind run around in a half circle, with gradual slopes and the plateau on which the main part of the town stood contains perhaps 300 or 400 acres, partially bounded by the Missouri river."

On October 4, 1854, Mr. Folsom wrote, "We proceeded along the east bank of the river, through very fine country ten or twelve miles and encamped on a small stream for the night two miles from the river. The small streams here are very deep. These runs are occasionally skirted with timber and generously through the bluffs. Near to their mouths they are timbered with burr oaks, the timber along the river being mostly cottonwoods."

Elkhorn River Inspected

October 5. "We proceeded up the river several miles and about noon came to the site of the new town about to be built by the Quincy company from Illinois, later Fontanelle. They had been here and marked out some claims for themselves and their friends, some twenty sections stretching along the 'river some sixteen miles. We found Dr. Clark with two men. They had arrived about an hour before we reached the spot and were preparing to erect their first tenement west of the Missouri river, with the exception of two or three families' homes in Omaha. We encamped about twelve miles above the Quincy headquarters on a small run near the river. The land continues very beautiful with very little timber, but very well watered. We crossed through the day small creeks and brooks and the water in all was very fine and palatable. The Elkhorn, although we are fifty miles from its mouth, is very roiley on account of its rapid current and fine sand along its bottoms. Since we left Council Bluffs we have not seen a tenement except some ten or fifteen rude huts at Omaha City, and three at Winter Quarters, Florence. We have seen all along the route, Indian marks where they have encamped and occasionally a grave. From the Quincy settlement we found in two ravines a little red, cedar timber and we have not seen any stones except two or three small boulders on the prairies, and a few in the Elkhorn."

Tekamah Creek Is Located

October 6. "Left camp at 8 p. m. Went up the Elkhorn until we came to the east branch which had a fine meadow bottom (meaning Logan creek) which we followed along the bluffs several miles. We found but little timber. We turned our course east, and travelled some ten miles, bearing a little to the north, finding no timber and but little water until we came in sight of a stream running eastward with several little forks running in together (Tekamah creek). Here we found small groves of timber and very pure water, and encamped for the night. Here we saw the bones of deer, elk and buffalo. Prairie hens were very thick. We killed a deer and had a luxurious breakfast. It was the fattest deer I ever saw. We left camp at 9 a. in., Saturday, October 7. Here we marked a claim and continued to mark down the stream. After travelling east down the south bank of the creek and crossing small inlets, we saw frown the high eminence far to the east the Missouri bottoms and the high bluffs beyond in Iowa. We continued down the creek and when near the tableland next to the Missouri bottoms we found a quarry of very soft sandstone, the layers of which were very thick and reach from one bluff to another a half mile on the border of the creek. I think the quantity is inexhaustible. This is the first quarry of stone or ledge I have seen in either Nebraska or Iowa. We marked and passed on, and when we reached the last bluff and were descending we came to a new Indian grave near the bank of our creek and but a few feet above the great bottoms. (This was near what was later Major Harrington's home). Here we took refreshments and established our claim in the name of the. Nebraska Stock company. Our claims extend four miles square from our stake and flag near the Indian mound and a strip running up said creek one mile wide for six miles one half mile on each bank. The bottoms are at least five miles wide so far as we have seen today and are very rich. We also staked and marked a claim to 800 acres of fine cottonwood timber four miles eastward, by the river."

Selected Ideal Location

From these notations in the diary of a man who was looting for a location in a veritable wilderness where he could make homes for himself and his followers, it can be seen that B. R. Folsom was a man of excellent judgment. He could not have selected a more ideal location than the one he finally decided upon. The cottonwood forest, the soft sandstone deposits, ample water, the best soil in Nebraska, a perfect location for a townsite, all were found in such close proximity to each other that the leader's judgment was even better than he knew. The sandstone he found was of such a composite that when removed from the earth it could be sawed easily into proper sized blocks for buildings and foundations. The natural action of the outside air tended to harden the stone within a short time, making it the best stone imaginable for the use of pioneers with little ability at stonework and with their few tools.

Thus the site of Tekamah was located and the first attempt at concerted settlement was made. They located their various claims and felt gratified over their prospects. It was then found necessary to make a return trip to Council Bluffs for more supplies and for necessary equipment for laying out and surveying the town and surrounding farm sites. This trip took up several more days, but they returned to their prospective locations as soon as possible. The actual date for the location of Tekamah is October 6, 1854.

Increased To 32 Men

When they returned, it was with an increased number of 23 men, making up a total company of 32 men. Immediately they set to work laying out the land, each man taking the maximum claim of 320 acres. Almost as soon as they were well on the ground they recognized the need of government, and set about making prepartions along that line. A registry of all the men was made, so that an election could be held, even while they were still merely camping along the banks of Tekamah creek. It was on October 15, 1854, that this first registration of qualified voters was taken. Each man also pledged on oath that he was here for the purpose of making a permanent settlement, that he would make this spot his home. The oath was one of the conditions imposed upon settlers by the acting governor.

First Representatives Elected

Under the territorial government, two members were to be elected to the House of Representatives and one to the Council. For the purpose of electing these officials, an election was held in December. Practically all of the first band of settlers who had qualifications for voting had returned to Council Bluffs to spend the winter. No buildings had been erected as yet and it was considered too risky to chance the hard winter in hastily constructed tents and lean-tos that had been throw!! up. However, all of the men returned on election day and cast their votes. B. R. Folsom, who was recognized as the leader, both financially and intellectually, was elected as Councilman almost unanimously, and General Robertson and H. C. Purple were chosen to represent the new settlement in the House of Representatives.

First Houses Are Built

A town house and several other buildings that had been contracted for failed to materialize in conformity with the terms of the contract, owing to the difficulty of procuring needed equipment for construction purposes, and it was not until the following April that the first constructive attempts at building were started. John R. Folsom, also of New York, led the building crew, composed of W. N. Byers, F. W. Goodwill, Miles Hopkins, L. B. Wilder and Niles R. Folsom. These men, undaunted by the difficulties they faced, started cutting the tall cottonwoods from the timber tract east of Tekamah, They dragged these logs to the new location and built two houses. For the floors and other parts of the houses where sawed flat pieces were necessary, the men placed the long logs across Tekamah creek where the bridge spans today between the office of the Burt County Herald and the C. M. Schroeder Implement building. There they whipsawed the lumber, one man standing down in the creek bed and the other standing on top of the great logs. The roofs were made of cottonwood bark.

First Pioneer Returns

About the latter part of April, even before the two houses were completed, F. E. Lange returned. Detrick Fees arrived at the same time, bringing his wife who thus has the distinction of being Burt county's first white woman settler. Other settlers now began coming, every few days ushering in new faces and names. In July Rev. William Bates, and a son, Edwin, came, Rev. Bates thus being the first minister of the gospel.

John Oak, founder of Oakland, arrived in Tekamah July 18, 1855, along with a party of twenty four people, all with the intention of making permanent settlement. This party, including George M. Peterson, T. Thompson and George Erickson, brought their families and quantities of household and farming equipment, preparatory to starting their new homes. These people moved northward a few miles and opened up the Silver Creek community.

Conclusion of First Period

The entire settlement now numbered about fifty persons. These people had come with the firm intention of making Burt county their permanent home. They started their homes and were getting ready for the planting of crops and for the laying out of farms. Burt county had been organized, with the formal acknowledgment of the territorial government. The date for the actual organization of the county was November 23, 1854. Other first dates in county history up to the middle of the summer of 1855 include the preaching of the first sermon by Rev. Bates in July, shortly after his arrival. The first real settlement that could justly be given that distinction was in April, 1855. Thus we come to the end of the era of early pioneering settlements. In order to understand clearly the phases of earlier county history, it is well that we devote one chapter to early territorial government and to the man from whom Burt county gets its name.

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