Nebraska’s “Ghost” Counties

It seems that one incorrect map led to more than a decade of confusion regarding six nonexistent counties in Western Nebraska. How did such a mistake happen? In the Winter 2014 issue of Nebraska History Brian P. Croft explores the origins of Nebraska’s county boundaries, real and imagined.

After Nebraska became a territory in 1854, the legislature quickly began organizing counties. Nebraska’s original eight counties had become forty by 1861, when the expansion slowed due to the Civil War. County creation picked up again following Nebraska’s statehood in 1867, and the map business was competitive as commercial printers strove to keep up with the changes.

In mid-1867, the well-known Colton firm published Colton’s Township Map of the State of Nebraska, which showed the counties of Lyon, Taylor, Monroe, Harrison, Jackson, and Grant. Collectively, the six counties covered almost one-fifth of the state’s land. There was just one problem: those counties were never legally established.

One of the many maps that copied the mistake, New Rail Road and Township Map of Nebraska shows the nonexistent Lyon, Talor, Monroe, Harrison, Jackson, and Grant counties, and mistakenly places Julesberg, Colorado, inside Nebraska. Croft Collection

One of the many maps that copied the mistake. New Rail Road and Township Map of Nebraska shows the nonexistent Lyon, Talor, Monroe, Harrison, Jackson, and Grant counties, and mistakenly places Julesberg, Colorado, inside Nebraska. Croft Collection

But the Coltons weren’t simply making up boundaries. The map follows the exact guidelines of a bill called H.R. 104 that passed in February of 1867. It was then sent to Governor Alvin Saunders. But for some reason Saunders never signed it, and his pocket veto meant that, legally, the western third of Nebraska remained blank.

General Land Office maps do not show the six counties, and there are no records of them with the County Clerk. But once the counties appeared on the Colton map, other maps began to copy them. The more times the mistake was repeated, the more legitimate the counties seemed.

The map even caused errors in the 1870 census. The Colton firm didn’t remove all six from their maps until 1873, and some of the “ghost” counties appear on other maps as late as 1877.

Colton's Nebraska, published 1874 (copyright 1873), finally omitted the nonexistent counties, correcting errors that had been in circulation since 1867. Croft Collection

Colton’s Nebraska, published 1874 (copyright 1873), finally omitted the nonexistent counties, correcting errors that had been in circulation since 1867. Croft Collection

To learn more about the creation of Nebraska’s counties, you can purchase a copy of the magazine by calling the Landmark Store at 402-471-3447, or by visiting the Capitol Building location at 1445 K St., Room 1417.

- Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant, Publications

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Midwest Archives Conference Presidents’ Award

Has an individual or organization in your community done extraordinary work or given support for your archives? If so, consider nominating him or her for a Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) Presidents’ Award. The award has been established to recognize significant contributions to the archival profession by individuals, institutions, and organizations not directly involved in archival work but knowledgeable about its purpose and value. Each MAC state has a representative for the Presidents’ Award Committee. Nominations are initiated by contacting the state chair directly or through solicitations of nominations by the state chairs or members of the committee. The award will be presented at the members’ meeting at the annual MAC meeting.

Only one nomination per year may be put forward by each state committee, but as many as three awards can be presented each year. The deadline to submit nominations to a state chair is January 15.

Eligibility:

A. The nominee shall be any individual, institution, or organization not directly involved in archival work who has contributed significantly to a repository, archival organization, and/or the archival profession. The Award shall recognize significant contributions in such areas as legislation, publicity, advocacy, and/or long-term fiscal support.

B. The Award shall be a recognition of support that has improved the preservation of or accessibility to historically-valuable documents or records (in any format), or has contributed to a better public appreciation of archival work and activity.

C. Greater weight shall be given to archival support that has had a broad, long-term effect, but such emphasis shall not preclude the recognition of outstanding support of a single institution, organization, repository, or archival project.

D. Only support affecting archival work or activity within the MAC region shall be recognized.

E. Professional or volunteer archivists or curators shall not be eligible. Archival organizations and repositories, or corporations with archives, shall generally not be eligible unless the support recognized has reached and benefited the wider archival community in a significant way.

Nomination forms are available at: MAC Presidents’ Award nomination form

To nominate a person or organization in Nebraska, send your completed nomination form to:

Tom Mooney, Curator of Manuscripts
Nebraska State Historical Society
PO Box 82554
Lincoln, NE 68501-2554
tom.mooney@nebraska.gov

For the complete list of MAC states and state representatives, go to: MAC Presidents’ Award

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Shot Down Over the South China Sea: Recollections of WWII

Ens. John R. Doyle, USN. Courtesy of the Doyle Family

Ens. John R. Doyle, USN. Courtesy of the Doyle Family

It took luck, skill, friendly Filipinos, and contracting malaria for U.S. Navy Ensign John “Dugie” Doyle to survive World War II. In the Winter 2014 issue of Nebraska History, you can read Doyle’s recollections of the war as told to friend and fellow Lincoln attorney, Samuel Van Pelt.

When Doyle was a freshman at Yale in 1942, it seemed like classmates were going into the military daily. He and 80 classmates signed up for the navy air cadet program, and Doyle was called for active duty only a few months later.

Although training was intense, Doyle’s most memorable war experiences came in late 1944 as a dive bomber pilot with the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga.

On November 25, 1944, Doyle was assigned to an airstrike on a Japanese cruiser. But a miscommunication meant that Doyle was the thirteenth plane in a formation that was supposed to have twelve. This put Doyle as the final plane to dive: the most vulnerable position.

A Curtiss "Helldiver" circles above an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific, January 1945. U.S. Navy photo, 80-G-320999

A Curtiss “Helldiver” circles above an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific, January 1945. U.S. Navy photo, 80-G-320999

In the strike Doyle was able to score a hit on the cruiser, but was unaware that he had been hit by the anti-aircraft until his gunner, W.W. King, radioed that the plane’s wing was on fire. Hundreds of miles from the Ticonderoga, Doyle was able to successfully land the plane in the water about ten miles west of the Philippine island Luzon.

Luzon, the Philippines. Robert Ross Smith, Unites States Army in World War II, the War in the Pacific: Triumph in the Philippines (Washington, D.C.: office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1993)

Luzon, the Philippines. Robert Ross Smith, Unites States Army in World War II, the War in the Pacific: Triumph in the Philippines (Washington, D.C.: office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1993)

Doyle and King climbed out of the plane and waved to the other fighters that they were OK. Just earlier that day, the pilots had been assured that the air-sea rescue plan was a good one. Doyle and King expected to be picked up by a rescue sub before long. But the sub never came.

To hear the rest of the story and find out how Doyle survived, pick up a Winter 2014 issue of Nebraska History. In it, you’ll read how Doyle met other stranded pilots, got help from the natives of Luzon, and how having malaria spared Doyle from being aboard an ill-fated transport plane. Truth is stranger than fiction!

You can get a copy of the magazine from the Landmark Store by calling 402-471-3447, or by visiting the Capitol Building location at 1445 K St., Room 1417.

- Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant, Publications

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Celebrating Nebraska’s Semicentennial, 1867-1917

This Arbor Day parade float at Nebraska City in 1917 also commemorated the state’s  semicentennial. The bust at the front of the float depicts J. Sterling Morton. NSHS RG2991-2-3

This Arbor Day parade float at Nebraska City in 1917 also commemorated the state’s
semicentennial. The bust at the front of the float depicts J. Sterling Morton. NSHS RG2991-2-3

The fiftieth anniversary celebration of the admission of Nebraska into the Union in 1867 took place in 1916 and 1917. John L. Webster of Omaha, then president of the Nebraska State Historical Society, was the instigator of the event. As 1917 approached, he proposed a celebration intended to symbolize not only the development of Nebraska but the relationship of the state to the opening and settlement of the West. A committee of one hundred members was appointed to take charge, with Omaha businessman Gurdon W. Wattles as chairman.

Hartley Burr Alexander, poet, historian and educator, wrote the semicentennial masque performed in Lincoln. NSHS RG2411-65

Hartley Burr Alexander, poet, historian and educator, wrote the semicentennial masque performed in Lincoln. NSHS RG2411-65

The plans for the celebration included a “Historical Pageant” (or parade) at Omaha on October 5, 1916, in connection with the Ak-Sar-Ben events for that year. President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson attended and reviewed the parade, and President Wilson made an address to an immense crowd. The celebration in Lincoln took place June 12-14, 1917, at the time of the University of Nebraska’s commencement. Significant features included an address by ex-President Theodore Roosevelt and a “semi-centennial masque,” written by Hartley Burr Alexander.

Semicentennial observances were staged in many locations outside Lincoln and Omaha. March 1, 1917, Statehood Day, saw celebrations by individual counties, as well as by commercial clubs, historical societies, men’s and women’s clubs, Daughters of the American Revolution, and other civic and patriotic societies. February 12, 1917, Lincoln’s birthday, was the date set for observances in Nebraska’s rural and village schools. Appropriate exercises were held in Nebraska churches and Sunday schools on February 25, the Sunday nearest Washington’s birthday. The citizens of Nebraska City waited until Arbor Day in April, when they combined the two celebrations.

To stimulate interest in the events John D. Haskell of Wakefield, Nebraska, offered a prize of $100 in 1916 for the best poem adapted as a state song for Nebraska. (“Beautiful Nebraska,” composed by Jim Fras, has been the state’s official song since 1967.) One condition was that the 1917 poem to Nebraska be written by a state resident. The prize winner was the Rev. William H. Buss of Fremont for his “The Ode to Nebraska.” Haskell also gave a prize of $100 for the best musical arrangement for the poem, won by John Prindle Scott of New York City.

Nebraska’s 150th anniversary as a state will be celebrated in 2017, 100 years after the 1917 events. Members of the Nebraska Sesquicentennial Commission, appointed by the governor, will work closely with various state agencies, boards, commissions, and political subdivisions to plan commemorative events and to implement educational activities. More information is available online at Nebraska150.org. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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“The Climate is Awful Cold”: Judge Edward Harden in Nebraska Territory

Edward R. Harden. NSHS RG2411-2134

Edward R. Harden. NSHS RG2411-2134

When Nebraska Territory was organized in 1854 one of the judicial appointments went to Edward Randolph Harden of Georgia. A lawyer active in local Democratic Party politics, Harden was serving as a railroad station agent at Ringgold, Georgia, when he received the appointment in July 1854.

He arrived at Bellevue early in December 1854 and remained in Nebraska Territory through the winter, returning to his Georgia home again in April 1855. He planned to bring his family from Georgia and settle permanently in Nebraska City.

However, his experiences with frontier conditions may have interfered with these plans. Harden wrote to his mother from Bellevue on December 9, 1854: “The climate is awful cold. Thermometer sometimes 17 degrees below zero — If I don’t freeze this winter — I wont freeze in this climate another. The Missouri River just opposite where I now am has been in the last week frozen over so that person[s] walk over on the ice. . . . You would not know me wrapped up in furs and Buffaloe [sic] Robes and Buckskin Pantaloons and blanket with a hole cut in the middle and [put] over my head.”

Drawing of American Fur Company trading post in Bellevue in 1854. NSHS RG2499-1-2

Drawing of American Fur Company trading post in Bellevue in 1854. NSHS RG2499-1-2

Wisely perhaps, Judge Harden did not reveal these sentiments to his Nebraska neighbors. A postscript to the December 9 letter to Georgia instructed his mother: “Don’t say to anyone that I am displeased, and burn up this letter – as I am very popular with the people and they all think I like the country.”

Whatever the reason, Harden’s family remained in the South, and Harden later rejoined them there. He saw limited service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and died June 12, 1884, in Brooks County, Georgia. Selected letters from Harden to his family were published in the January-March 1946 issue of Nebraska History (available as a benefit of  membership in the Nebraska State Historical Society). Both full members and subscription-only members receive four issues yearly – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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Give the Gift of History This December

Take a break from your holiday shopping and check out the Winter Issue of Nebraska History magazine, sure to please the readers on your gift list. Here’s what’s included:

05570 Winter 2014-Cover.indd“Lum’s Boy”: The World War II Recollections of John R. “Dugie” Doyle, by Samuel Van Pelt, edited by James E. Potter

Shot down over the Pacific and stranded on a Japanese-held Philippine island, Lincoln resident John Doyle found himself in desperate circumstances in late 1944. Decades later, he told his story to fellow Lincoln resident Sam Van Pelt. This remarkable interview is published here for the first time.

Prairie Imperialists: The Bureau of Insular Affairs and Continuities in Colonial Expansion from Nebraska to Cuba and the Philippines, by Katharine Bjork

Three Nebraskans—John J. Pershing, Charles E. Magoon, and George D. Meiklejohn—did much to shape U.S. colonial policy in the wake of the Spanish-American War. Their views were shaped by their western frontier background, “which strongly conditioned their understanding of the relations between land and political power.”

Mapping Nebraska, 1866-1871: County Boundaries, Real and Imagined, by Brian P. Croft

How is it that four nonexistent western Nebraska counties could appear on maps in 1866 and remain on virtually all territorial and state maps for nearly a decade? The story of how this happened reveals the evolving process of county formation during Nebraska’s transition to statehood, and also shows how publishers of maps gathered information about the development of remote areas.

Excerpts from the articles are posted online at the Nebraska State Historical Society website. Join the NSHS and receive four issues a year of Nebraska History. Membership also makes a great holiday gift. Single copies of the magazine can be ordered from the NSHS Landmark Stores.

 

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Omaha Bankers Asked: Does Money Spread the Flu?

Postman wearing a mask during the 1918 flu epidemic. NSHS RG2071.PHO-1

Postman wearing a mask during the 1918 flu epidemic. NSHS RG2071.PHO-1

Nebraska’s last great epidemic was the Spanish influenza of 1918, but the earlier flu pandemic of 1889-90 also affected the state. The first outbreak was reported in Russia and spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere. By December 21, 1889, the Omaha Bee reported that “slight symptoms of the contagion are making their appearance in this city. It is claimed that the germs of the disease are transported in money, which accounts for its development in banks before spreading through a community.”

A Bee reporter interviewed local bank employees to learn if they had developed symptoms of the flu and if so, how they were coping. A teller at the Omaha National Bank said that he had recently suffered from “a peculiar feeling in the nose and head” but managed to ignore it. William Wallace of the same bank rejected the idea of disease being spread by money, “principally because in thirty years experience as a banker he had not had his attention called to a case where anyone had become possessed of a contagious illness in that manner.”

It was suspected in 1889 that money circulated through banks, such as the one depicted above by photographer John Nelson, spread influenza. NSHS RG3542-247-18

It was suspected in 1889 that money circulated through banks, such as the one depicted above by photographer John Nelson, spread influenza. NSHS RG3542-247-18

William Hamilton, teller at the Merchants National Bank, thought otherwise. “‘I have been compelled,’ said he, ‘to handle money that was so filthy and dirty that it almost made me sick.’ B. B. Wood is complaining now of an itching in the nostrils that greatly annoys him. Luther Drake was a victim a few days ago, but two or three generous applications of quinine and Scotch whisky brought him out all right.”

Although as the Bee noted, opinion varied in 1889, it does appear that contamination of such items as banknotes may have contributed to the spread of influenza, especially in a pandemic situation such as prevailed in 1889-90. About one million people died worldwide; deaths peaked in the United States during the week of January 12, 1890.

Want to read more about Nebraska’s fascinating past? Become a member of the Nebraska State Historical Society and receive Nebraska History magazine, four issues yearly. Selected articles from past issues are posted online at the NSHS website. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

 

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For Your Enjoyment: Thanksgiving Foods from 1914

Ella Kinscella at her kitchen stove in Lincoln about 1910. NSHS RG2602-4

Ella Kinscella at her kitchen stove in Lincoln about 1910. NSHS RG2602-4

Did you ever wish you could step into a time machine and return to 1914, just one hundred years ago, to join the celebration of Thanksgiving? What might the holiday meal consist of? How easy would it be for a housewife to secure everything she needed?

The Omaha Daily Bee on November 25, 1914, published a sample Thanksgiving menu, followed by information on the local cost and availability of the various food items: grapefruit, salted pecans, olives, celery, sweet pickled peaches, scalloped oysters, ladyfinger rolls, roast turkey, chestnut stuffing, giblet sauce, cranberry sherbet, sweet potatoes and marshmallows, celery and pineapple salad, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, nuts, raisins, and “half cups of coffee.”

The Bee advised its readers that frozen turkeys were plentiful and reasonable in price for the Thanksgiving of 1914 but that ducks and geese were scarce. Even chicken was selling for a higher price than had prevailed before the holiday due to increasing demand. The Bee surmised that some frugal housewives were trying to substitute it for the more expensive turkey.

Turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, and oysters were offered Thanksgiving shoppers in Kearney in 1914. Kearney Daily Hub, November 20, 1914

Turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, and oysters were offered Thanksgiving shoppers in Kearney in 1914. Kearney Daily Hub, November 20, 1914

The Bee noted one particularly scarce item in 1914. “For the person who loves pumpkin pie comes the information that no pumpkins are to be had. A few were on the market about Hallowe’en, but they have disappeared since then. Canned pumpkin is all that can be procured and, while some prefer it many dyed-ln-the-wool pumpkin pie eaters will be disappointed.”

One food that appears especially underpriced to 2014 Thanksgiving shoppers is the oyster. In a time when fresh oysters were more popular, more plentiful, and less expensive than they are now, no holiday table was complete without them in some form: on the half shell, scalloped, or in oyster stew and oyster stuffing. They were advertised by several Omaha groceries in November of 1914 for forty cents per quart, enabling most families to enjoy them along with their turkey or chicken and trimmings.

Want to read more about Nebraska’s past? Become a member of the Nebraska State Historical Society and receive Nebraska History magazine, four issues yearly. Selected articles from past issues are posted online at the NSHS website. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

 

 

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Frank James a Thanksgiving Star at Norfolk

Frank James. NSHS RG2316-44

Frank James. NSHS RG2316-44

Thanksgiving Day in Norfolk in 1904 was marked not only by religious services and family dinners, but by the “amusement feature of the day,” matinee and evening performances of Hal Reid’s melodrama The Fatal Scar. The star of the show was none other than Frank James (1843-1915), the older brother of outlaw Jesse James (1847-1882). Frank James was one of several former outlaws, including Cole Younger, who entered show business after their criminal careers ended. During the last thirty years of his life, James worked at a variety of jobs, including a short-lived stint as an actor.

The Fatal Scar was advertised by the Norfolk Weekly News-Journal on November 11 as “well worth looking at as a matter of curiosity.” Apparently the residents of Norfolk agreed. There was no football game in town that Thanksgiving, no ice for skating, and no snow for sledding. The focus of attention after dinner was the theater. The News-Journal said on December 2:

Street scene of Norfolk published by the Norfolk Postcard Company. NSHS RG1431-50-1

Street scene of Norfolk published by the Norfolk Postcard Company. NSHS RG1431-50-1

“A good house greeted the attraction during the afternoon and the theater was packed from orchestra chairs to the top of the gallery at night. It was one of the biggest houses that has been seen in the theater during this or any other season. Frank James, the former desperado, was the ‘star’ attraction in the Fatal Scar company and really about the whole show.”

The troupe left Norfolk the day after Thanksgiving for Fremont. Frank James continued to attract audiences as the show moved across Nebraska. But as the Alliance Herald noted after A Fatal Scar had played in that city, James as an actor was “far from a star and no doubt would do a better job in a more familiar but discarded profession.”

Want to read more about Nebraska’s past? Become a member of the Nebraska State Historical Society and receive Nebraska History magazine, four issues yearly. Selected articles from past issues are posted online at the NSHS website. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

 

 

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Dr. Peabody Fought Omaha Cholera Outbreak in 1867

Dr. James H. Peabody. From Alfred T. Andreas, History of the State of Nebraska (Chicago, 1882)

Dr. James H. Peabody. From Alfred T. Andreas, History of the State of Nebraska (Chicago, 1882)

Cholera, characterized by severe diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration, was the most dreaded disease of overland travelers in 1849 and the 1850s, and its possible recurrence was dreaded for decades afterward. Physician James H. Peabody, a former Civil War surgeon, helped fight an outbreak in Omaha in 1867 and before it was over, had contracted the disease himself. The Omaha Daily Bee on September 20, 1892, published an interview with Dr. Peabody, who consulted his past medical notes for details of the 1867 outbreak:

“September 15, 1867, just a quarter of a century since, I was called to see one John M. Bury at the boarding house of Thomas Finan which was situated at No. 212 South Tenth street . . . . On inquiry I found he had just come up from Memphis, Tenn., where cholera was raging.”

Bury died less than twenty-four hours after symptoms appeared. The next day his landlord fell ill with cholera, followed by the landlord’s wife and three daughters. Peabody recalled, “The house was full of boarders at my first visit, but they scampered off like rats from a sinking ship. It was almost next to impossible to get anyone to feed and nurse the Finan family, who were nearly all helpless.” Peabody emphasized, “No one who has not witnessed the rapidity of death in claiming a victim in this disease can imagine the panic that ensues. Men and women with some few exceptions seem to think that their first duty is to save themselves and not to look after their neighbor and they act according.”

Omaha in the mid-1860s, looking northwest from Thirteenth and Farnam Streets. NSHS RG2341-8

Omaha in the mid-1860s, looking northwest from Thirteenth and Farnam Streets. NSHS RG2341-8

Peabody estimated that about sixty cases of cholera were diagnosed in various parts of the city during the 1867 outbreak. During this trying period he contracted cholera from one of the fifteen such patients he treated, but fortunately the doctor survived. Peabody also recalled the public health measures used to fight the spread of cholera in Omaha in 1867:

“Dr. [J. R.] Conkling was our health officer and he was an excellent one, disinfecting most thoroughly by taking all the beds, bed clothing, carpets and everything else he thought might serve as a means of infection and burning them up. I fumigated the houses where my patients had been with sulphur, had everything whitewashed or painted, burned all the clothing I could get access to and with the assistance of the other physicians stamped out cholera and preserved Omaha from getting a backset just as she had recovered from the effects of the [Civil] war.”

Want to read more about Nebraska’s past? Become a member of the Nebraska State Historical Society and receive Nebraska History magazine, four issues yearly. Selected articles from past issues are posted online at the NSHS website. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

 

 

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