CUSTER COUNTY NEBRASKA
COUNTY HISTORY

 


CUSTER COUNTY EARLY HISTORY-

Source:History of Custer County Nebraska
by: G.L. Gaston and A.R. Humphrey
transcribed by: Melody Beery.

The transition period between the white man and the Indian is always a very interesting period in the development of a new country, but it is one that affords little comfort to the historian who covets accuracy. Records are scarce if, in fact, there be any at all; treacherous memories and conflicting statements are about the sum total of obtainable material. The best that can be done is to give the general narrative and let the old settlers supply the details.

 

NO SETTLEMENT IN COUNTY

The present' state surveyor, Robert Harvey, who with his party surveyed the principal lines of this county in 1872, says:

"There was not a settler in Custer county that we observed, and the only evidence noticed of an intention to settle was in section 26, township 18 north, range 17 west, in the south end of the Oak Grove, close to Rock creek, where we found four logs cut and laid up for the foundation of a cabin, and on a blazed oak tree nearby was the notice in pencil of 'Buffalo Billy claim of intention to file. It was dated in June and my recollection is that it was on the anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill."

In 1873 and 1874 the first settlements were made. During that period several parties came up from the Grand Island country, or perhaps a little farther east, and settled in the Middle Loup valley,— Lee's Park and the present New Helena. Other families came up from the south, filtering through Kearney, Lexington, then called Plum Creek, and made settlement in the South Loup valley. It was in these localities that Custer county settlements began. Some of the settlers were married men who brought their families with them and were therefore ready as soon as possible to
establish some kind of a home.   Whether a dugout, a log house, or sod house, it didn't matter. If four walls could be erected or dug out, and a roof constructed over them, it was home and in it home life began.

 

THE BUFFALO BILL TREE

A tree in the vicinity of Douglas Grove bore for years the name, "William Cody, 1869," cut deep into its shaggy bark, showing that "Buffalo Bill" had camped here on some of his hunting or scouting trips. Opposite the grove were three large pine trees, standing  four miles back from the river.   Two of them  were cut in the winter of 1873, taken to Loup City and sawed into boards, which were taken to Omaha and Lincoln as an advertisement for Kountz county- pioneers. In 1880 the last of the three pine trees disappeared. They' had stood for years, faithful sentinels in the dreary sand hills — a guide for the weary hunter to his camp. All the early settlers miss that last lone pine, which could be seen for miles on either side of the river. None but a tenderfoot could have destroyed the last remaining relic of early times. Owing to the fact that Cody's name was found carved on this tree, the storybecame current that Cody had located a claim within the boundaries of the county. There is nothing to substantiate the claim.

 

THE FIRST HOME

Who had the first home in Custer county? That is one of the many interrogations no historian can answer. During the early '60s trappers and hunters often visited the country but it is not known that any of them had permanent stopping places. Perhaps some of them put up rude shelters, but they were nothing" more than shelters. Out south and west of Callaway, on the old Finch-Hatton ranch, was located what is probably the first white man's abode of any kind ever established in the county. Old settlers tell us that in 1872 the remains of a demolished dugout were dis-
covered in this locality and at that time it gave evidence of having been abandoned at least ten years. The excavation and side wall were clearly demarked and no mistake could be made concerning the fact that it was made for a human occupant. Beyond doubt, then, this was the first home in Custer county. As the proprietor was never at home to any of his neighbors, or rather did not wait until his neighbors moved into the country, his name will never be recorded in these pages.



From the vast sweep of an almost endless prairie, entirely without human inhabitants, save marauding tribes of  primitive red men, to a white population numerous enough to justify the organization of a county, is a far cry.  Prior to June, 1877, the: territory now comprised in Custer county covered all-the distance between the uninhabited waste and the nucleus of organized government. Under early conditions the cattlemen or ranchers had been compelled to pay taxes to the organized counties on the east. They had no benefit, from any taxes paid and no enforcement of the law. If lawless characters committed depredations, ran oft or branded their stock, there was no recourse of law. Of course the cattlemen never expected that this would become an agricultural territory. It seemed evident to them that it would always be a range country and cattle-raising the chief industry; still, they must have some semblance of law, there must be some way provided to punish cattle thieves and, perhaps, a few schools would have to be established. In order to accomplish this, it was evident that county organization should be established and maintained.

County organization began to be talked over. Several meetings were held at different times for the purpose of taking steps; toward organization. One of these meetings was held in the residence of Nc George, at. which were present Frank Young, L. D. George, Coe Kilgore, and Joshua Woods. No action was taken, however, and in different places were held several other meetings, which were barren of results so far as effecting organization was concerned.

 

THE PROPOSED GARBER COUNTY

During the winter of 1875 a bill was introduced into the legislature, and passed by both houses, authorizing the organization of a county to be known as Garber county, comprising a territory- of twenty-four miles square, lying immediately west of Valley county. It did not appear, however, that the proposed new county had enough inhabitants to support and maintain, through taxation, a county organization. So the proposition received the veto of Governor Garber. The governor's veto did not take into consideration the fact that the new county was named in his honor. The territory included in the bill to create Garber county was about one-fourth of the present Custer county, and on the basis of "the precinct organization would have included the precincts of Sargent, West Union, half of Milburn, most of Lillian, all' of Garfield, Douglas Grove, Comstock, Spring Creek, Westerville, some of Berwyn, and about one-fourth of Broken Bow. The southwest corner of the county would have been located in the present townsite of Broken Bow. Notwithstanding that the measure failed, the name Garber county attached to this territory until after the organization of the present county.

 

KOUNTZ COUNTY

Exclusive of that portion of the county which wanted to be organized into Garber county, all the rest of the unorganized territory west of Valley and Sherman counties was known as Kountz county, so named after Kountz brothers, wealthy bankers of Omaha. Just how this name came to be applied or who was the first to apply it, is not known. The government, however, seems to have given some recognition to this cognomen. The early post offices of the county were designated as being in Kountz county, Nebraska. This statement concerning the counties accounts for the conflicting opinion that prevails among early settlers concerning the first county names.  Some state positively that Custer county was first known as Garber county, others that it was first known as Kountz  county and, in harmony with the above explanation, both are right.

 

NOW COMES CUSTER COUNTY

Agitation for the new county continued and finally culminated in the organization of Custer county. The taxpayers of the unorganized territory were growing continually more restless under the assessment of .high taxes which they could pay but could not spend.   This left them, they declared, holding the hot end of the poker. Other organization meetings were held and the agitation kept up. Eight ranchmen met one day under a tree on the Frank H. Young place and took the preliminary steps toward organization. A later meeting at which thirteen ranchmen were present finally put the machinery in motion. This second meeting was held at the Anton Abel ranch. The first officers were recommended to the governor by the men in attendance at this meeting In the legislature of 1877, the Hon. J. H. McCall, of Dawson county, came to the rescue of these settlers and introduced in the legislature the following bill, which accordingly passed both houses and was signed by Governor Garber:

Be it enacted by the legislature of the State of Nebraska:

Section 1. That all that portion of the state of Nebraska, commencing- at the southeast corner of township thirteen (13), north of range seventeen (17), west of the sixth principal meridian, thence north to the northeast corner of township twenty (20), north of range seventeen (17), west, thence west to the northwest corner of township twenty (20), north of range twenty-five west, thence south to the southwest corner of township thirteen (13), north of range twenty-five (25), west, thence east to beginning, shall constitute the county of Custer.

Approved February 17, 1877.

It is not known who is entitled to the distinction of naming the new county, but it was named "Custer" in honor of the gallant Indian fighter who perished with all his command at the memorable battle on the Little Big Horn the previous summer, 1876.  In May a petition was sent to Governor Garber, signed by most of the cattlemen of the county, asking for the appointment of temporary officers to complete the organization of the county, as follows:

To the Honorable Silas Garber,
Governor of the State of Nebraska:

We, the undersigned, inhabitants of Custer county, Nebraska, and taxpayers therein, petition you to appoint and commission James Gasmann, Anton Abel, and H. C. Stuckey as special county commissioners, and Frank H. Young as special county clerk of said county for the purpose of forming a permanent organization, for said county, and that you will appoint and declare the southeast quarter of section 23, in township 15 north, range 22 west,, as the temporary county seat of said county, and for this we will ever pray.

(Signed)                                 Frank H. Young

James G. Gasrnann              Emmett V. Filer

W. T. H. Tucker                   Louis Wambsgan

Nate Fuller                            W.H. Kilgore
H. C. Stuckey                       S. C' Stuckey
Denman Fritt                        J.J. Douglas
Phil Dufrand                         P.W. OBrian
Anton Abel                           A.B. Bradney
E. J. Boblits                           W.W. Wattles
James Paxton                       I.O. Child                               
A. H. Wise                             Joshua Wood
T. M. Jameson                     Reginald McKee

State of Nebraska

County of Dawson,

Personally appeared before me, a notary public in and for Dawson county, Nebraska James P. Paxton, Frank H. Long, and James Gasmann, who, being duly sworn, depose and say that they are resident freeholders in the county of Custer and state of Nebraska that such county contains a population of .not less than two hundred .inhabitants, and that ten or more of such inhabitants are taxpayers and further they say not.

James P. Paxton
Frank H. Young
James Gasmann


Subscribed and sworn to before me this
19th day of May, 1877.

(Seal) H. O. Smith, Notary Public

The following letters and recommendations from prominent citizens of Dawson county were forwarded with the petition to the governor, and may be interesting as a part of this history:


Office of the Clerk of County and District
Courts, Dawson County.

Plum Creek, Nebr., June 14, 1877.
His Excellency, Silas Garber,
Lincoln, Nebr.

Dear Sir:  Several of the citizens of Custer county have been speaking, to me about the organization of that county, and desire me to write to you about the matter. There is quite a large amount of personal property owned by the citizens of .that territory, and under the present status it is under the control of no one. One-half of the county is in this judicial district, and the other is the sixth. Mr. Young, a resident of that county, will call upon you for the purpose of seeing about the matter, and will explain the situation to you.  I feel like accommodating them  if it can be done. Please let me know the situation.  

Yours, etc.,    

 C. J. Dil worth

Plum Creek, Nebr., June 23, 1877.
Governor Garber,
Lincoln, Nebr.

Sir: I am acquainted with a great many of the residents of Custer county and they all are very anxious to be in running order, and it would be a great help in stopping the cattle and horse stealing.   I am personally acquainted for a long time with F. H. Young, and can recommend him in every respect. R. F. James, Sheriff Dawson county. Nebr. We have read the statement of Mr. James and believe it true in every particular.

H..T: Hedges, P. M..
E. S. Stuckey, County Treasurer
H. O. Smith, Deputy Sheriff
T. L..: Warrington, Attorney at Law
W: H. Lencel, County Clerk
R." B. Pierce, County Judge

Plum Creek, Nebr., June 23, 1877
Hon. Silas Garber,
Lincoln,- Nebr.

Dear Sir:

Enclosed find letters from the county officers' in regard to Custer County.  Mr. MacColl .is absent and will not be back for about two weeks; the other officers all signed the papers. I would like to get the commission by return mail, if possible, as I am in a hurry to get out of Custer county to look after my calves, as it is time to brand them.  Hoping you will give this your early attention,

I remain,

Yours respectfully,
Frank H. Young

The governor, on the 27th day of June, issued the following proclamation, which launched Custer county on its  glorious career :

 

PROCLAMATION

Whereas, A large number of the citizens of the unorganized county of Custer have united in a petition asking that the said county be organized and that James Gasmann, Anton Abel, and H. C. Stuckey be appointed special county commissioners, and Frank H. Young be appointed special county clerk of  said county, for the purpose of forming a permanent organization,. and that the southeast quarter of section twenty-three, in township fifteen north, range twenty-two west, be designated as the temporary county seat of. said county of Custer, and it appearing that the said county contains a population of not less than two hundred inhabitants, and ten or more of said petitioners are taxpayers and, residents of said county:

Now, therefore, I, Silas Garber, governor of the state of.. Nebraska, in accordance with the memorial of said petitioners, and under and by the authority in me vested and in pursuance of the statute in such cases, made and I provided, do declare said county to be temporarily organized for the purpose of permanent  organization, and  do appoint and commission the persons above named as the special county commissioners, and the said .person above named as special county clerk of said county, and do declare the place above named and described as the temporary county seat of said county.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand, and caused to be affixed the great seal of the state of Nebraska.

Done at Lincoln, the capital, this twenty-seventh day of June, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-seven and of the independence of the United States one hundred and first, and of this state the eleventh.

Silas Garber

By the Governor:
Bruno Tschuck, the Secretary of State.

 

FIRST COUNTY OFFICERS.

Prior to the issuing of the proclamation by Governor Garber, establishing a temporary organization for Custer  county, a meeting had been held at the home of Frank Young, at which were present E. J. Boblits, Al Wise.,
J. J. Douglass. Joshua Woods, Vergil Allen.and other early settlers to the number of thirteen. This meeting recommended the appointment of Frank Young as temporary county clerk, Anton Abel, James Gasmann,
and H. C. Stuckey as county commissioners, and accordingly the governor was petitioned for their appointment. Complying with the request the governor named these men for, their respective offices and they became, by;
the governor's proclamation, the first officers of Custer county.

 

FIRST MEETING OF SUPERVISORS

By the authority of the governor's proclamation, the first session of the special county commissioners met at the temporary county seat and they were duly sworn into office. Frank H. Young had taken the oath of office as county clerk in the governor's office at Lincoln so when the supervisors had been duly inducted into their office they were ready to commence business. The first matter of  business attended to was the passing of an order calling for a special election to be held on Tuesday, the 31st day of July, 1877, for the purpose of electing a county judge,  a sheriff, a clerk, a treasurer, a coroner, a  surveyor, and three county commissioners.  The matter of selecting a county seat, or of making the temporary county seat the permanent location of the county capital, was also to be decided at that special election.  After the special election had been provided for, the three commissioners proceeded to chop the county up into three voting precincts, which they did by cutting off tiers of townships running clear through the county from north to south on the east end of the county and constituting that as precinct number one. Another three ranges of townships west of first precinct and running through the middle of the County constituted the second precinct, while the remaining three tiers of townships on the west end of the county became the third precinct.

 

FIRST VOTING PLACES

In the first precinct it was ordered that the voting place should be the home, of Joshua Woods. In precinct number two all the electors were to resort to the home of Anton Abel, the third voting precinct was in the home of E. Halloway. This last voting precinct was so far to the south end of the precinct that the New Helena people objected and, at the first opportunity, presented the first petition ever presented to a Custer county board praying for a new precinct. As this request was granted, this special election of July 31 was the only election ever held while the' county was divided in. only three precincts. The election came off in due form. Fifty-eight votes were cast, which constituted the sum total of the new county's voting strength. It was the first election, it was being held far from the centers of eastern civilization and, consequently, form and ceremony were little observed. In the third precinct they did not go to the formality of administering the oath to either judges or clerks, consequently the vote in the third precinct was thrown out when an official canvass of the vote was made by the county commissioners.  The election, however, was an event long remembered in those days, conducted under a purely western regime. The voters came early and in most cases stayed for dinner with the judge of election, who was also host for the occasion. It is related that not .more than three or-four voters in each precinct made the trip to the polls and back without trading horses. One early narrator makes the too extravagant claim that more horses were traded that day than votes cast.

 

FIRST ELECTION RESULTS

When the supervisors assembled in August to canvass the returns of the special election, they rejected the vote of the third precinct, for reasons that have been previously stated, and, on summing up the returns from the other two precincts, announced that the temporary county seat was to be the permanent county seat, and that the following officers were duly and regularly elected:

Commissioners, Anton Abel, James Gasmann, William Kilgore.  Clerk, Frank H. Young.  Treasurer, S. C. Stuckey. Sheriff, Joshua Woods. Coroner, Charles R. Mathews. Surveyor, H. C. Norton. County Judge, Louis Wambsgan.

All of these officials filed their bonds, which were accepted by the newly elected county judge. Equipped with these officers, the Custer county ship of state was ready to sail.  The New Helena people were on hand with their petition requesting a new precinct with a voting place in the New Helena post office, which was then in the home of Judge Mathews. It was an accommodating board of commissioners that received the petition, hence the request was granted, and never since that time has this been a county of three precincts.  The special election was scarcely over before the commissioners and the people began to campaign for the regular election in November of the same fall, only four months off. The regular election came on and was held in the four voting places. This time all the judges and all the clerks were sworn into office, the voting proceeding regularly, and counts were duly made and returns  sworn to. Horse trading came in for its regular place on the program and several cleverly hidden spavins went home with new owners. This election did not greatly change the personnel of the official staff.

 


THE NEW OFFICERS

The same commissioners, Abel, Gasmann. and Kilgore, were retained in office, S. C. Stuckey was retained as treasurer, Joshua Wood as sheriff, Charles R. Mathews as coroner, but John W. Benedict was-made county surveyor, and Wilson Hewitt was elected county judge.  The early records of the county are very meager. No official roster has been kept. It is a hard and laborious task to trace the proceedings of county commissioners, to fill out in detail the official roster, or to name the men in succession who have served the county in various capacities down to the present time. Some of these early officers performed very little service. They had no offices other than their own residences, so that in fact the county seat was scattered all over Custer county according to the places where officials had their residences. Salaries were small, some offices, in fact, being without any salary at offices, in fact, being; without any salary attached, and for services rendered the incumbents were remunerated only by a nominal fee. The offices were not as attractive as they are now they were not considered plump plums to be grabbed every time some power shook the political tree. There were no conventionalities a county official was in his office and ready for business whenever and wherever he was found. If the treasurer was in the hay-field when a taxpayer came along with the money, there was a business transaction forthwith to which Custer county was party.

It took one lovelorn candidate for matrimony three days to hunt up the county judge in order to procure a license, and when he located the judge, that official had to stop fighting fire long enough to grant the license.  But if it took some time and trouble to locate the office and the officer, there was no difficulty about formalities when they were found. A judge would enter in a day-book a statement that a marriage license had been issued to such and such parties, then proceed to perform  the ceremony and make the same entry do for both the license and return. Ceremonies, too, were simple and informal. It is related that when Judge Boblits performed his first marriage ceremony he simply said:  "If you folks want each other for husband and wife you are married. And what God and Boblits have joined together let no man -put asunder."

 


CUSTER COUNTY JUDGES

The statement has been made that all the men who have served Custer county in the capacity of county judge during the past forty-one years are still alive and in a reasonable state of health. This is a very remarkable fact. Great pains have been taken to ascertain if the statement is correct. Louis Wambsgan was elected county judge at the first election ever held in Custer county. He filed a bond and took the oath of office but never transacted any official business other than to pass on the bonds of the first officers.  Four months later, at the time of the regular election, he was not a candidate for re-election and Wilson Hewitt was elected county judge.  Hewitt was sworn into office in January, 1878, and in April of the same year resigned. The board accepted his resignation and appointed E J. Boblits to fill the vacancy. At the next regular election, in the fall of 1878, Boblits was regularly elected as his own successor and served for two more years. In the fall of 1SS0 Judge C. R. Mathews, of New Helena, was made the county judge.   From that time on the following: have served as county judges in the order named: Judge John S. Benjamin, Judge Arthur H. Kilgore, Judge John Reese, Judge H. J. Shinn, Judge J. R. Rhode's, judge J. A.. Armour, Judge A. R. Humphrey, Judge H. C. Holcomb, and Judge N. Dwight Ford, who is the present incumbent; The first assessors to serve the new county were W. H. Comstock, Coe Kilgore, H. A. Chapin, and I. P. Bell, who were appointed to assess all taxable property in their respective precincts. In the spring of 1877 W. H. Comstock had been appointed by the authorities of Valley County to assess the property in the Custer county territory. This was done and returns made to Valley county but later an agreement was made by which the tax was collected by the Custer county officials and paid in to the Custer county treasurer. This was the first revenue coming into the coffers
of the young county.

 

THE FIRST COUNTY ASSESSMENT

In the spring of 1878, eight months after the organization of the county, the first assessment was made by the assessors mentioned in the foregoing paragraph. When the returns were compiled it was found that the young county had taxable property to the amount of $136,054.50.

 

NAMES OF THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED AS COUNTY CLERKS

Frank H. Young was the first clerk to serve the county. He was one of the most efficient officers that every served in any capacity. He was first appointed by the governor and afterwards elected at both the special and regular elections in the year of 1877. He served for three years and six months. Since his retirement the following men have served in the order named: Wilson Hewitt, J. J. Brown, A. W. Hyatt, George Richtmyer, J. B. Osborne, George W. Dewey, Joseph E- Pigman, W. H. Osfaorn, Jr., Robert E. Waters, present incumbent.

 


CLERKS OF DISTRICT COURT

A complete roster of county officers has been very hard to obtain. Some of the offices have been created since the organization of the county. In the early days the county clerk served also as clerk of district court until the office of clerk of district court was instituted, in 1888. Those who have served the county as clerk are Wilson Hewitt, J. J. Brown, J. J. Douglass, S. M. Dorris, James Stockham, C. T.Orr, George B. Mair, and the present incumbent, Jess Gandy.'

 


COUNTY TREASURERS

The men who have been intrusted with the public funds of the county are as follows:

S. C. Stuckey, C. T. Crawford, Dr. R. C. Talbot, W. C. Bidwell, Hues Brown, David Weimer, H. Lomax, Mark Schneringer, W. A. George, J. E. Cavenee, Clarence Mackey, and M. S. Eddy, the present incumbent.

 

REGISTERS OF DEEDS

The office of register of deeds has had five occupants. It dates from 1894, when D. W. Lanternman first filled the office. His successors have been Charles H. Jeffords. C. O. Linn, J. T. Wood, and the present recorder, George E. Porter.

 

COUNTY SUPERINTENDENTS

The office of superintendent of public instruction is one that dates from the organization of the-county. The first superintendent was E. D. Eubanks, who served five years and who at one time might have said that he was superintendent of public instruction in a county in which there were no schoolhouses. It was during his regime that the first districts were organized and the first schools established. The following men have filled the office of county superintendent since the retirement of E. D. Eubanks as a public officer: D. M. Amsberry, C. F. Randall. W. H. Hendrickson, H. H. Hyatt, J. J. Tooley, J. G. W. Lewis, H. M. Pinkney, G. E. Lewis, and T. C. Grimes, who is filling the office at the present time.

 

OFFICIAL ROSTER OF CUSTER COUNTY

The following constitutes the official roster of Custer county as it stands on this first day of September, A. D. 1918:

District Judge, Bruno O. Hostetler. County Judge, N. Dwight Ford. Senator, Twenty-third Senatorial District, Charles W. Beal. Representatives, W. J. Taylor, George Greenwalt. Sheriff, Joseph F. Wilson. Deputy Sheriff, Ernest Thompson.  Treasurer, M. S. Eddy.  Deputy Treasurer, Mrs. J. B. Osborne.  County Clerk, Robert E. Waters.  Deputy County Clerk, Essie Holcomb.  County Superintendent, T. C. Grimes.  Register of Deeds, George E. Porter. Clerk of District Court, Jesse Gandy. Deputy Clerk of District Court, M. M. Runvan.  County Attorney, Frank Kelley.  County Surveyor, A. J. VanAntwerp.  County Assessor, G. T. Robinson.  County Commissioners: R. J. Mills, First District; Robert Farley. Second District; Scott Cooper, Third District; J. H. Phillips, Fourth District; H. B. Schneringer, Fifth District: E. K. Lichtenberger, Sixth District; John Walker, Seventh District.

 

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