Custer County Nebraska
Victoria Creek

The Earliest Victoria Creek Settlers
by Berna Hunter Chrisman
[Source: Pioneer Stories of Custer Co. NE., Published by E.R. Percell, 1936]

When I read the pioneer stories each week in the Chief I have a feeling of regret that Judge Mathews and other old settlers are not here to read them, and to add their stories to the collection.  What stories they could tell....stories of hardship and privation...of good times, too!

The First Settlers
From a research of clippings of our earliest county papers and other historical sketches, together with interviews of pioneers, we learn that Judge Mathews, Harve Andrews and five other men came to the New Helena vicinity in April, 1874.  Their first night was spent in the Cedar Canyon, in an Indian wigwam, which had been left standing.  AS the Indians were very unfriendly to the whites at that time and had a short while before killed a man, these seven strangers in a new country were indeed brave to occupy a wigwam where the ashes remained from some Indian's last camp fire.

The next day they located their claims on the banks of Victoria creek.  In May, 1874, lands were entered by Jacob Ross, Ezra Caswell, Oscar A. Smith, George E. Carr, Wm. O. Bowley and a Mr. Layton.  Thomas Loughran took a claim further down the creek near the Middle Loup river.  Mr. Bowley filed on land near Victoria Springs.

Twin Cabins Built
At that time Judge Mathews had started building one of the two log houses now on the Victoria State park grounds, and Mr. Bowley, with others completed the house for him.  Mr. Mathews at this time, was only thirty one years of age, but had been crippled by a broken hip so that he could not perform hard labor.  The logs for the houses were hauled from the Cedar Canyons with an ox team.  After Mrs. Bowley and the children came in 1875, Bowley's lived in the log house and Judge Mathews made his home with them until May 1876.

Mail Route Established
During the winter of 1874-75 Judge Mathews circulated a petition asking the authorities at Washington to establish a mail route from Kearney via Loup City, Arcadia and Douglass Grove to New Helena.

The first mail was received over this route on April 15, 1875.  Mathews was appointed postmaster at this place and his commission had the date of February 9, 1875.  Aaron Crouch was the first mail carrier.  The postoffice was named by Judge Mathews, and I have been told that he named it for his old home in Virginia, which was "Helena".

In 1875, an addition was made to the settlement in the family of Isaac Merchant, followed shortly afterward by N.H. Dryden, Isaac Bell, J.R. Forsyth and E. Isham.

Settlers Seek Safety
During 1875 crops were abundant and there were many immigrants to the new unorganized territory.  In 1876 there was an uprising of the Sioux Indians and many of the settlers packed up and went to live at Loup City, which was a little place with about 100 inhabitants.  All the women and children left, except Mrs. Loughran, who stoutly maintained that there was no danger and she positively refused to leave.   She was the only woman in the settlement for six months.  There had been talk of building a fort, and they decied to build a stockade on the homestead of Mr. Ross, as it was more difficult to approach.  Hearing of further outrages by the Indians they removed the women and children at once to a place of safety.

Letters to the settlers from Loup City and Kearney told of the Indians killing a mail carrier between Red Cloud and Custer City, and destroying the mail, and the writers urged the settlers to prepare for trouble.

Fort is Built
In a letter from A.B. Tutton of Kearney to Wm. Benschoter, of Loup City, dated May 23, 1876, he told of fifty Indians having been seen near Willow Island, near the Platte river, about 65 miles from Kearney and 60 ot 70 miles from Victoria Creek.  He also said if the soldiers keep deserting at the present rate, the Indians will have it all their own way.  Upon receipt of these communications the settlers decided at once to build a fort, this time on Mr. Merchants claim.  It was of cedar logs, strong and regarded as impervious to the bullets of the Indians, and having an underground passage to the house.  The year of 1876 was a season of constant terror for the settlers.  But nothing happened, and the fort was later used for a chicken house.  One writer whimsically wrote that the port holes were fine when chicken theives were prowling about, as they could easily be shot from inside the old fort.

First White Child
In March, 1876, the first baby was born in the settlement to Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Bell.  They named him John.
The first religious discourse was preached in the summer of 1875 by Rev. Mr. Hale, followed later by Mr. Eubank.  The first school was taught by Miss Callie Dryden and she had 12 pupils.  This was in the summer of 1877.  Mr. and Mrs. Ross lost their baby son in the fall of 1874...This was the first death in the colony.  The first wedding was that of George Carr and Annie Ross in the fall of 1878.

Ranches located
In the fall of 1878 Henry Smith and Ernest Tee located a ranch on the Middle Loup river about 15 miles from New Helena, and the Finch Hatton brothers one up near the mouth of the Dismal river.  The little settlement on Victoria raised good crops and as a better class of cattle men began to establish ranches in the country they got good prices for all the grain and produce they had to sell.

Hail Ruins Crops
In the spring and summer of 1879 the crops gave promise of an abundant harvest.  The settlers were celebrating the Dourth of July in the most approved style when a small cloud was seen in the northwest, which in a short time overspread the whole sky.  One of the most destructive hail storms followed that the country has ever heard of.   The crops were literally beaten into the earth and not a bushel of grain was harvested that year.  During the hail storm, men, women and children crwoed into the little log school house; some crying, others praying.  Every window was broken on the north side of the building and it was said the George Carr tried vainly to keep out the storm by holding up a blackboard at the broken windows.  The settlers had to haul their feed and seed from Grand Island and Central City, 130 miles away.

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