Rail Road Bond Exciting Campaign of 1871
From: General History of Seward County, Nebraska
BY: John H. Waterman
Beaver Crossing, Nebraska - 1914-15
In attempting to present the ruling features of the contention among the pioneer settlers of Seward county upon
the greatest public question that has ever confronted them - the rail road bond issue - we are met with thoughts
of a tripple headed monster in the interests of which certain localities were arranged against others in a bitter
strife. The B. & M. rail road company had taken one half of the land in the county as compensation for the
construction of a railway on a certain line passing through the center of the county and after receiving the grant
made the road twelve miles south of the proposed route. After the completion of the road and the opening up of
farms throughout Seward county the B. & M. company made an effort to again bleed the county, coming before
the people under an assumed name with a proposition to make a rail road through the county from Lincoln to the
west line of the county by way of Germantown and Seward under condition that the citizens establish a contract
by vote guaranteeing the issuing of bonds by the county to the said rail road company to the amount of one hundred
and fifty thousand dollars; bonds to run twenty years and draw ten per cent interest per annum. To many of the
settlers this had the appearance of being a premeditated scheme to take advantage of necessity and rob the settlers
in the time of their poverty. The greater number of them were at a loss to understand even how they were ever going
to be able to provide comfortable homes for themselves. They were living in sod houses and dugouts upon unimproved
homesteads on which the proposed bonds were practiciallv a mortgage for a large part of their then present value
while the interest would, to a great extent, offset the advance in value from the improvements. And while the southern
precincts would receive no benefit from the railway they were to be held for an equal portion of the indebtedness
with the northern precincts through which the line was to run. The rail road company in constructing its line of
railway through the southern portion of its land grant instead of through the center of it established unmistakable
signs of premeditating its scheme to force bonds from the northern settlements of the grant. Those who viewed the
proposition from these points were aroused to indignation against the establishment of such a contract with such
a diabolical party, therefore a well outlined system of opposition to it was established. On the other hand, with
a great many, the anxiety to establish better transportation facilities was the ruling sentiment. The disadvantages
were so great that they felt that it was time to sacrifice almost any amount of money and credit to bring about
better conditions. And they did not only think it was time to do so but seemed to think it was the only time and
did not want to wait a minute for a better one. They viewed but one side and saw only the benefit on their part
and gave the unjust exactions of the proposition side no attention at all. With a greater number of this class
not only the transportation advantages were considered in favor of the bonds, but the increase in value of their
property and the business of their town through which the road was to run furnished a large share of their enthusiasm
in favor of it. Had it not been for this estimation of the proposition there would have been no need for the general
uprising that was inaugurated in other parts of the county against it and the proposition would not got the support
of one tenth of the votes of the county. with the foregoing lines opposing each. other the campaign opened up in
earnest vigor all over the county. Bond meetings resembling the old 1861 war meetings were held by both sides and
the most eloquent speakers of the county were drawn into service in the controversy. W. W. Cox, a strong advocate
and supporter of the bond proposition, says in his history of Seward county, that speakers were brought in from
other counties to help our people settle the matter, but he was mistaken unless there were some brought in by the
rail road company, which Mr. Cox would not have mentioned. In fact we do not know what counties the opposition
side of the controversy could have went to to get more able speakers than our home talient among whom were Hon.
Benjamin Hunkins, Elder W. G. Keene, Hon. D. C. McKillip, W. J. Thompson and others. Bond meetings were held in
sod school houses, sod dwelling houses and dugouts. We attended one bond meeting in the residence of Mr. Overman,
father of Elder E. N. Overman who was then a little boy. The house was a sod cabin with a sod floor and sod roof,
but it held upwards of seventy five people. Bennie Hunkins and Elder Keene were the orators and held the attention
of the crowded house till well towards the middle of the night. And although this meeting was held in a sod dwelling
house enthusiasm could not have ran higher in any place. And if a lisetner had closed his eyes to the surrounding
scenes and listened to the wit and eloquent wisdom that flowed from the tougue of Uncle Benjamin Hunkins he might
have immagined he was sitting in a metrapolitan theater listening to an Ingersoll or a Garfield and would never
thought of sending out of the county for speakers.
This shows the division of the county upon this question. Seward, North Blue and Lincoln Creek were directly on the proposed line of rail road while Oak Grove was only partially to be benefited. Milford, Camden, Walnut Creek and Beaver Crossing were southern precincts that would not receive any benefit from it, not even so much as to hear the locomotive whistle.
Although this bond proposition was defeated at the poles by an honest casting of ballots, trickery was on the alert as the last resort thought of to burden the tax payers and the Camden returns were filched and concealed from inspection when the canvas of the votes was made by the canvasing board. But this scheme failed of accomplishing its purpose. Indignation ran high and even the citizens of Seward who were so anxiously interested in the county's accepting the bond proposition, held an indignation meeting and passed resolutions condemning shuch dishonoring of the elections of the county. Injunction proceedings were commenced to restrain the county board from issuing the bonds, which were sustained by court and the bond question passed on to a second hearing.
Again the rail road company which called itself the Midland Pacific, came forward with a proposition, a little more liberal, being twenty five thousand dollars below the former requirement, and placing twenty five thousand dollars of the burden directly upon the precincts to receive the greatest benefit, fixing the balance to be paid by the county at large as follows: seventy five thousand upon the completion of the road to Seward and twenty five thousand when it reached the west line of the county. Seward at that time was booming with a rapid increase of population and of course all new corners to the place meant that many votes for the bonds and during the intervening period between the elections its voting strength had increased eighty one votes. With this gain with perhaps a few changes on account of the new deal favoring the bond proposition the returns from the election, in October, 1872, showed that it had carried by a safe majority. The work on the road was pushed with rapidity and it reached Seward the next season, exhausting the name of the "M. P. Rail Road,'' not leaving it strength enough to run one car over the road with that name on it.
While this election established the road through Seward county it did not satisfy the B. & M. rail road company. In the first place the company had selected a desirable route passing up the Middle creek valley to Milford and from there up the North Blue to Seward. But with the unconcealed determination of the Milford people to oppose any proposition to incumber the county with debt the rail road company was forced to make its proposition to the sections where it was more sure of support therefor it had laid its track along an unsatisfactory route leaving the desired one open to competition. And taking into consideration the fact that the B. & M. had got its route established, its road bed made and tracks laid from Lincoln to Seward there were but a very few people in Seward county that were prepared to meet the proposition of the second B. & M. offspring under the name of "The A. & N. R. R" as coming only from a competing line. The company had waited five years for the jealousy between Seward and Milford to soften, and in 1878, a good year for suckers, it made a proposition to establish a competing road over the aforesaid B. & M's favorite route to Seward and from there north to the Butler county line for and in consideratioln of the issuing by the county of bonds to the amount of seventy five thousand dollars to be paid in similar manner as the previous ones voted to the M. P. Milford and the Middle creek sections and many of the voters in the south part of the county had a change of heart being converted to the support of "the competing line," and when the election came off the bond proposition was endorsed by a large majority. As Seward was not so very favorable to this deal it is to be noted that it got its main support from those who had opposed the first proposition. The summing up of the result of Milford's firm stand against the rail road company's effort to get its support to a bond proposition to open a road through that place thereby forcing the company to take the unsatisfactory route may be made with a short pencil and a scrap of paper. Had the company been assured of support it would have asked for bonds to make the last road it did make in the county first on the desired route and been satisfied, the bond question would have been settled and the county fifty thousand dollars ahead. The company would only asked for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in the first place to make the road where they wanted it whereas the county gave them two hundred thousand after many of its citizens had rode over the county and froze their noses and frosted their toes that cold 1871 winter to fight the bond issue. They might better remained at home by the fire.
W. W. Cox was a Seward resident, very much interested in the success of the first bond issue and in his history attributes the first proposition to the Midland Pacific rail road company, never mentioning the true source from which it came, the B. & M. rail road company, but just read his lamentation after the Voting on the A. & N. "competing line."
"As time rolled on, it developed that the people had been victimized, and that they had given seventy five thousand dollars, or at least had agreed by their votes to give that amount to another B. & M. R. R. For a few months only did the A. & N. maintain controle of the road when it passed in its checks and we awoke to find ourselves sold, and with two B. & M. roads on our hands."
Mr. Cox failed to mention the full amount given to the said road and the several times the people had "found themselves sold." The first one cost one half the land in the county, the second, one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars with ten per cent interest for twenty years and the third, seventy five thousand dollars with ten per cent interest for twenty years, and they just got one road. Surely the noteriety of Seward county ought to be extensive with a rail road costing that much. But these events were atributes of pioneer days when many homesick lads would have given their last dollar for the old, familiar home like sounds of the locomotive whistle.
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