Marker Monday: Burton’s Bend

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers.

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Location

Grand Army of the Republic Hwy, Holbrook, Furnas County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location 40.307402, -100.0015

Marker Text

Faced with the great influx of white settlers after the Civil War, hostile Sioux and Cheyenne Indians retreated into the Republican River Valley. Here they found a nearly ideal location since the valley remained one of the great buffalo ranges of the American West until the 1870’s. Regular military patrols came to the Republican on the Fort McPherson Trail, which followed the divide between Deer and Medicine creeks and entered the valley one mile west. The largest military force to use this route was General Carr’s Republican Valley Expedition of 1869. After his successful campaign, the region was clear of hostile Indians. In 1870 Isaac “Ben” Burton settled one mile southeast on a bend of the Republican at the One Hundredth Meridian. Burton, the first permanent settler of Furnas County, and his partner, H. Dice, established the Burton’s Bend Trading Post. This post supplied necessities to the buffalo-hide hunters, who soon killed off the great herd. For many years the community continued to be known as Burton’s Bend, but after the railroad came, its name was changed to Holbrook.

Further Information

Read more about Burton’s Bend here. 

Nebraska Marker Project

The Nebraska Marker Project is for the repainting, repair and in some cases, replacement of state historical markers throughout the state. Nebraska’s markers share our exciting history for generations to come. Please consider donating by visiting the Nebraska Marker Project webpage at http://nshsf.org/the-nebraska-marker-project/.

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Flashback Friday: Dan Desdunes: New Orleans Civil Rights Activist and “The Father of Negro Musicians of Omaha

Jazz critic and historian George Lipsitz has observed that “established histories of jazz tend to focus on a select group of individual geniuses in only a few cities.” This group includes figures such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Charlie Parker; and those “few cities” are New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago, and New York. Lipsitz contends that many of the artists and cities that have been neglected in general surveys of jazz history merit attention and that Omaha, Nebraska, is one such place.

Before the end of the dance band era, around 1960, many black musicians came to Omaha in order to develop their talents and try to work their way into big name bands. Omaha jazz musician Preston Love asserted, “If New York, Chicago, and Kansas City were the major leagues of jazz, Omaha was the triple-A. If you wanted to make the big leagues, you came and played in Omaha.” Omaha’s black bandleaders had long upheld a tradition of nurturing and producing prominent musicians, many of whom had been attracted to Omaha from other parts of the country. Dan Desdunes was largely responsible for beginning this tradition.

Dan Desdunes The word “jazz” first appeared in The Monitor, Omaha’s black weekly newspaper, on November 3, 1917, less than a year after the first jazz recordings were made. This word was used in an advertisement for a charity ball at which the music was to be provided by the Desdunes Jazz Orchestra. This band was led by Dan Desdunes, who was described as the “father of negro musicians of Omaha” in Harrison J. Pinkett’s 1937 manuscript, “An Historical Sketch of the Omaha Negro.”

Dan Desdunes was born in New Orleans in 1873 to an upper-middle class Creole family with a penchant for public service and for notoriety. His grandfather, Jeremiah Desdunes, came from Haiti and his grandmother, Henrietta, was originally from Cuba. Dan’s father, Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes, was born in New Orleans in 1849. Rodolphe was a writer who, in 1911, published Nos Hommes et Notre Histoire, a book about the history and the culture of Creoles in Louisiana. Therein, Rodolphe highlighted the achievements of several successful Creoles. This work has been translated and reprinted many times, most recently in 2009.

Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes was a staunch opponent of segregation and was one of the principal orchestrators of the Comité des Citoyens (Citizens’ Committee) on September 5, 1891. Rodolphe was the primary editorial contributor to The Crusader, New Orleans’ weekly black newspaper, and held the meetings of the Comité des Citoyens at the newspaper’s offices. Rodolphe succinctly defined the objectives of the organization:

“It was in 1890 that the Citizens’ Committee was formed, when a return to exaggerated fanaticism about caste or segregation once again alarmed the black people. This fanaticism was not confined merely to chance meetings. We were face to face with a government determined to develop and establish a system by which a portion of the people would have to submit to the rest. It was necessary to resist this state of affairs, even with no hope of success in sight. The idea was to give a dignified appearance to the resistance, which had to be implemented by lengthy judicial procedures.”

In 1890 the Louisiana Legislature enacted the Separate Car Act, which required railway companies to provide separate passenger cars for whites and blacks. It also required the railroads to halt physically anyone who attempted to enter a car reserved for persons of another race. After the Comité des Citoyens decided to challenge this law’s enforcement in interstate travel, Dan Desdunes volunteered, in February 1892, to violate this act.

Dan Desdunes was one-eighth black, and according to Louisiana law, legally classified as “colored,” which meant he was forbidden to ride in any “white” railroad passenger car. Desdunes’ skin color was light enough that he was able to pass as white and gain admission to a “white only” coach. The Comité des Citoyens was so certain that Desdunes would pass for white that it hired private detectives to arrest him in order to ensure that the committee could challenge the Separate Car Act in court. Dan Desdunes spent no time in jail because he was immediately bailed out by the committee. After a short trial, he was acquitted. Justice John Howard Ferguson ruled that enforcement of the Separate Car Act upon interstate travel was unconstitutional because only the federal government had the authority to regulate interstate commerce.

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Next, the Comité des Citoyens decided to challenge racial segregation on intrastate railway travel. They recruited Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes’ friend, Homer Plessy, to be arrested in this challenge. This case eventually went to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled on May 18, 1896, that Homer Plessy’s constitutional rights had not been violated by Louisiana law. This ruling was devastating to Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes, who reported that “our defeat sanctioned the odious principle of the segregation of the races.”

Whereas Rodolphe primarily dedicated his life to scholarship and civil activism, Dan Desdunes pursued a livelihood in arts and entertainment. The son’s means may have differed from his father’s, yet Dan’s career allowed him to work toward Rodolphe’s goals. Dan Desdunes not only became a musician and an educator but also worked against racial segregation.

The entire essay written by Jesse J. Otto appears in the Fall 2011 issue.

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Timeline Tuesday: Harrison Johnson’s History of Nebraska

“Our work is done,” wrote Harrison Johnson (1822-1885) as he concluded his History of Nebraska, published in 1880. “The volume is completed, and only awaits the Introduction. The printers are clamoring for this, and only a few more lines and the History of Nebraska, on which we have spent so many anxious hours, will be in type for the use of our numerous friends and subscribers, who are found all over the State, and, indeed, all over the country.”

Johnson dedicated his work, the state’s first extended history, “to the People of the State of Nebraska: Through whose large enterprise, indomitable energy and great liberality, in the brief space of twenty-five years, an unorganized Territory has developed into a prosperous Commonwealth, that now occupies a proud and important position, politically and commercially, in the Union of States.”

Hall County Courthouse, Grand Island. From Johnson’s History of Nebraska (Omaha, 1880).

  The author wrote: “The work has been no sinecure. It covers the history of sixty-five counties, extending over a State of 80,000 square miles, and illustrates a period of time­the most eventful of the Nation’s existence­of a quarter of a century.” He told his readers: “While much time and labor has been expended on the historical portions of the work, the primal object of the author has been to obtain by personal observation, correct information relative to the topography, climate, soil, productions, rainfall, temperature, water supply, amount of timbered and prairie lands and their value per acre, educational advantages and prospects, religious privileges, character of the people, railway advantage and market facilities, and other valuable and interesting facts connected with a State that the moving millions, both of this country and Europe, are making the most earnest inquiry for. In a condensed, reliable and readable form this material and important information is now presented to the public.”

The junction of the north and south forks of the Platte River in Lincoln County. From Johnson’s History of Nebraska (Omaha, 1880).

Johnson, a native of Ohio who had entered Nebraska Territory in 1854, represented Douglas County for two terms in the territorial legislature and served on the territorial board of agriculture. About 1880, the year his History was published, he moved to Brown County, Nebraska, taking up a homestead on Plum Creek near Johnstown. He died October 6, 1885. 

A brief biography included in an 1887 publication of the Nebraska State Historical Society said: “Mr. Johnson, being one of the first settlers in the territory, an active participant in all that was going on, became well-acquainted with its history. . . . He was a deep thinker, good scholar, and writer. He was widely and favorably known all over the state, in the advancement and development of which he always took a lively interest.”

 

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Marker Monday: Old Dodge School, World War II P.O.W. Branch Camp

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers.

Image result for Old Dodge School historical marker nebraska

Location

323 W 1st St, Grand Island, Hall County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location 40.922698, -98.34188

Marker Text

Old Dodge School served as one of two branch camps in Hall County housing German prisoners of war. On July 9, 1944, Leo B. Stuhr, president of the county Non-Stock Labor Association, announced plans to use the school for this purpose. About one hundred German POWs lived at this site while working in construction and agriculture. The POWs were repatriated to Germany in 1946, and the school briefly served as Grand Island YMCA headquarters before it was demolished in 1948.

Further Information

Read more about Old Dodge School, World War II P.O.W. Branch Camp here.

Nebraska Marker Project

The Nebraska Marker Project is for the repainting, repair and in some cases, replacement of state historical markers throughout the state. Nebraska’s markers share our exciting history for generations to come. Please consider donating by visiting the Nebraska Marker Project webpage at http://nshsf.org/the-nebraska-marker-project/.

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Flashback Friday: “I Don’t Know What We’d Have Done Without the Indians”

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Dressed for a post-harvest dance, Lakotas pose at the Burlington depot in Alliance in the 1930s. NSHS RG2063-50-1

By: David Bristow

A labor shortage during World War I left western Nebraska potato farmers facing the loss of their crop. They brought in Lakota (Sioux) Indians as harvesters, beginning a tradition that lasted from 1917 through the 1950s. The story is one both of prejudice and understanding, cooperation and conflict—and of long-lasting relationships forged by economic necessity. David R. Christensen writes about it in “‘I Don’t Know What We’d Have Done Without the Indians’: Non-Indian and Lakota Racial Relationships in Box Butte County’s Potato Industry, 1917-1960.” The article appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Nebraska History.

As the sun rose behind the Sandhills, illuminating the sky to a reddish-orange tint, a Lakota family emerged from their white canvas tent ready for the day’s potato harvest. Two Lakota men and women crossed the farmyard to the corral, where they helped the farmer hitch horses to wagons and to the potato digger. An elderly Lakota woman remained in the tent, brewing coffee and looking after the children-who were already scurrying about the farmyard playing “cowboys and Indians.” A dusting of frost on the grass, dirt, and equipment signaled the need to finish the harvest before a hard freeze ruined the potatoes. The Lakota women’s feet felt the sting of the morning chill through their moccasins. With the horses hitched, the farmer, his sons, and the Lakotas left for the potato fields to finish the harvest. En route, the sons and Lakotas engaged in a friendly conversation and wager regarding which group would pick the most potatoes-even though the Lakotas always won. Such a scene occurred annually on almost every farm in Box Butte County, Nebraska, during the first half of the twentieth century. Although anti-Indian prejudice was always present, the potato industry improved racial relationships between Lakotas and non-Indians, even resulting in enduring friendships.

 

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A potato cellar in Box Butte County, 1917. Potatoes had to be picked and stored before the first hard freeze, which would spoil any unharvested potatoes. The western Nebraska potato industry developed in the early twentieth century, but had largely faded by the 1960s. NSHS RG3152-3-17

 

At the edge of the Sandhills, Box Butte County is located in the center of the Nebraska Panhandle. Today the county has only two incorporated towns: Alliance, the county seat, and Hemingford, eighteen miles away. In the 1910s expansion of the county’s potato production created a need for migrant labor. Until about 1960 Lakotas from the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota came to work the potato harvest. Before the 1930s both farmers and other non-Indian county residents mostly treated the Lakotas well, grateful that their labor saved the potatoes from rotting in the fields. Likewise, the Lakotas were pleased to have jobs where they were paid, fairly treated, and appreciated by non-Indians.

Although migrant labor exposed non-Indians to Lakota culture and initially helped dispel mutual stereotypes, racism and prejudice eventually soured relations between the two groups. During the Great Depression and World War II, the once welcoming communities in Box Butte County expressed anti-Lakota sentiments. Many farmers who hired the same Lakota families for decades rejected the towns’ prejudice; still, relationships between farmers and Lakotas were susceptible to the fluidity of the potato market. Periods of drought, depression, crop disease, and low potato prices resulted in low wages, which at times combined with alcohol-related problems to strain relationships.

Scholars have revealed that migrant labor was essential to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century expansion of western extractive industries. American Indians used wage labor as a means of subsistence and community building, oftentimes entering and leaving wage labor at their own discretion. Many different systems of labor emerged, but Native peoples relied on their vast kinship networks for support, and strengthened their cultural identities while creating non-reservation Indian communities.

Building on this scholarly framework, I will argue here that social relationships between non-Indians and Lakotas are a crucial and neglected part of interracial dynamics in western Nebraska. The poor race relations between Lakotas and western Nebraska residents are well known. Lakota scholar Vine Deloria, Jr., referred to Alliance as “a town almost as notoriously anti-Indian as Gordon [Nebraska].” Even so, emphasizing racial tension overlooks cases of racial understanding and cooperation, and misses the complexity of Lakota and non-Indian relationships forged during the early twentieth century potato harvests.

Settlers of Box Butte County in the 1890s soon discovered its agricultural potential, and in the early 1900s local farmers began to see potatoes’ promise as a cash crop. Western Nebraska’s altitude-3,500 to 5,000 feet-results in lower temperatures essential for greater tuber growth. Its sandy soil improves the development of a tuber’s size and shape. Cool nights, light rainfall, and few insects make for ideal conditions.

   

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Harvesting southeast of Alliance. Digging potatoes was notoriously hard work. Many Lakota workers (not shown here) picked 100 to 150 bushels a day. An excellent picker could pick up to 200 bushels or more in a day. NSHS RG1431-8-24

    A 1914 Alliance Commercial Club pamphlet praised the potato crop’s reliability and profitability. In 1915 work started on large warehouses in Alliance, Hemingford, and Marsland (a town northwest of Hemingford along the Niobrara River). The warehouses would protect the crop from frost while farmers waited to ship during peak prices. Demand for tubers grew in the East, and the Chicago-based Albert Miller & Co. contracted 100,000 bushels of potatoes for 1916.

Potatoes quickly became a profitable investment. In 1915 seven acres of potatoes produced 1,232 bushels valued at $520.72, a $74.40 per-acre average. According to the Alliance Semi-Weekly Times, in 1916 farms in the county earned an average of $1,250 each from potatoes alone. E. I. Gregg, a farmer outside of Alliance, had forty acres in potatoes and received $3,000; another grower received $5,000 on forty acres. The average amount planted in tubers was twenty-five acres, yielding 150 bushels per acre. Moreover, with numerous acres of undeveloped prairie, Box Butte County’s potato industry had room to grow

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Timeline Tuesday: Drought and Depression in 1890s Nebraska

Nebraska in the early 1890s suffered from protracted drought, and farm prices fell to new lows. Conditions were so unfavorable that immigration, which had more than doubled the state’s population in the 1880s, almost ceased. Nebraska’s population only increased by seven thousand persons between 1890 and 1900. Some became so discouraged that they sold or gave up their property and left the state.

Charles Henry Morrill. From The Morrills and Reminiscences (1918).

     Charles H. Morrill, a prominent farmer, businessman, and banker for whom Morrill County was named, both witnessed and experienced these conditions in Nebraska. In his autobiographical The Morrills and Reminiscences, published in 1918, he recalled:

“In the year 1893 crops in Nebraska were almost totally destroyed by drought and hot winds. Then came the panic and financial stress, which paralyzed business. In 1894 Nebraska was doomed to have another crop failure. Farmers were obliged to ship in grain and even hay to feed their stock; many sacrificed their live stock by selling at very low prices. Some farmers shot their stock hogs to prevent their starving. Financial conditions grew worse and the entire state was almost in the grip of actual famine.

“Values were greatly reduced, merchants and banks failed. In Lincoln all banks with the exception of three went out of business or failed. Farmers could not pay interest on their mortgages; land could not be sold at any price; foreclosure of mortgages was the general order. . . . In the central and western sections of the state the price of land fell to almost nothing. In Custer County, a very large acreage went into the ownership of eastern real estate and loan companies. These lands were mortgaged for five hundred to seven hundred dollars on each one hundred and sixty acres. One eastern loan company offered to sell me forty quarter sections at two hundred dollars each.

“The crop for 1895 was almost a failure. The result was that all confidence in Nebraska real estate was gone. . . . Good farm lands in Polk and other eastern counties sold as low as twenty-five hundred dollars for one hundred and sixty acres. Many of these farms had improvements thereon valued at fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars. No one desired to purchase while almost everyone wished to sell.”

Urban areas didn’t escape the effects of the drought and depression. Figaro, an Omaha weekly, on December 2, 1893, noted that at the time of the recent Thanksgiving holiday, there were “two thousand people in Omaha homeless and absolutely without means of support.” The newspaper urged its readers to “give at least one of these unfortunates a place to sleep and enough to eat to sustain life without actual misery.”

The financial depression reached its summit in the period 1894-96 but continued into the year 1897. By 1898 there were signs that better times were returning. Those who managed to hold on during the hard times were rewarded by returning prosperity in the early years of the twentieth century.

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Marker Monday: Massacre Canyon

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers

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Location

U.S. 34, Trenton, Hitchcock County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location 40.206898, -100.9643

Marker Text

The adjacent stone monument erected in 1930 was first placed about a mile south of this area. Originally on the highway overlooking the canyon, it was moved to this location after the highway was relocated. Massacre Canyon is the large canyon about half a mile west of here. The battle took place in and along this canyon when a Pawnee hunting party of about 700, confident of protection from the government, were surprised by a War Party of Sioux. The Pawnee, badly outnumbered and completely surprised, retreated into the head of the canyon about two miles northwest of here. The battle was the retreat of the Pawnee down the canyon to the Republican. The Pawnee reached the Republican River, about a mile and a half south of here, and crossed to the other side. The Sioux were ready to pursue them still further, but a unit of cavalry arrived and prevented further fighting. The defeat so broke the strength and spirit of the tribe that it moved from its reservation in central Nebraska to Oklahoma.

Further Information

Read more information about Massacre Canyon here.

Nebraska Marker Project

The Nebraska Marker Project is for the repainting, repair and in some cases, replacement of state historical markers throughout the state. Nebraska’s markers share our exciting history for generations to come. Please consider donating by visiting the Nebraska Marker Project webpage at http://nshsf.org/the-nebraska-marker-project/.

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Flashback Friday: Child Labor on the Farm

By: David Bristow

I am a little boy ten years old. I go to school when we have school, but we haven’t got any school now. It will begin soon. I helped to farm last spring; I plowed with three horses and helped cultivate corn and make hay. …I have to feed nine calves and my little brother and I carry in the fuel.

Bryan Echtemkardt, Knox County, Nebraska, 1907

Nebraska Farmer, May 6, 1911. The caption, taken from the saying “As the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined,” emphasizes the character-building aspect of farm chores

What was it like to grow up on a Nebraska farm a century ago? Was it a wholesome childhood shaped by character-building chores and responsibilities, or was it a life of dangerous drudgery?

A lot depended upon the particular farm or family in question. As Pamela Riney-Kehrberg writes, “Children’s responsibilities ranged from simple daily chores, requiring only an hour or two, to being the family’s primary farmers or housekeepers.” Riney-Kehrberg looks at the lives of Nebraska farm kids in “‘But What Kind of Work Do the Rest of You Do?’ Child Labor on Nebraska Farms, 1870-1920” (Nebraska History, Summer 2001),

The author writes:

In a nation where childhood, in the ideal, was increasingly defined by school and play, farm families continued to be highly integrated and interdependent units. Their success depended upon the work of children who remained tied economically to the family until they were twenty-one years old or married. Moreover, for the children-and their families-to be successful, children had to cultivate habits of independence and initiative from a very early age, and take on the work habits of adults well before their twentieth year.

People still argue about childhood today: Are today’s kids given enough responsibility? Do parents involve them in too many activities? Are part-time jobs a good idea for teens? And why are today’s kids so much worse than the kids of [insert your generation here]?

This article won’t resolve those questions, but offers a fascinating historical perspective.

 

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Timeline Tuesday: Bootleggers’ Carnival

The passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed the manufacture and sale of liquor nationwide, but statewide prohibition was already in effect in Iowa and Nebraska. In 1916 Iowa went dry and Nebraska voters adopted a prohibitory amendment to their state constitution that took effect in May 1917. Enterprising individuals soon learned how to profit by flouting the law. The Dakota County Herald on May 24, 1917, reprinted an article from the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal reporting the bootlegging then rampant in that vicinity:

“When Iowa went dry January 1, 1916, bootlegging increased in Sioux City. For the first few months everybody who had a taste for this profitable business indulged himself. But when the police raiding squad started its work the ranks soon were thinned. The man with the clever idea survived, and his unimaginative neighbor was run out of business.

“It is the work of the members of the raiding squad to solve the question of where the liquor is hidden each time a raid is made on a ‘joint.’ A short time ago a number of metal horse collars were shipped into Dakota City. The collars are used only for heavy draft work and in the artillery branch of the army. The great numbers of this kind of harness where there was no apparent need aroused the suspicions of the authorities. An investigation was made and it was found that each collar contained several gallons of whisky. Every horse in Dakota county is now eyed with suspicion.”

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May 1, 1917, the first day of statewide prohibition in Nebraska. NSHS RG0813.PH0-40

The newspaper reported that Dakota County residents had many other novel hiding places for booze. “During a raid made by Sheriff Cain a ‘plant’ was found beneath a sitting hen. The biddie was placed there shortly before the raid but could not content herself when the officers appeared at the door. She cackled so furiously that they lifted her from the nest and found the whisky buried in a deep hole filled with straw. . . .

“Pianos used to offer a safe hiding place for liquid before the policemen became aware of this scheme. When pianos went out of style empty dry goods boxes with false bottoms and ash barrels in the back yard came into fashion. These, too, were obvious methods. One day one of the raiding squad noticed that the gas jet in a house that they were visiting was damp. He opened the jet and applied a match. A fine stream of ice cold beer squirted into the air. A tank was found in the attic which was connected with a gas pipe to the sitting room on the first floor.” Bathrooms were also targeted by raiding squads. “The flush tank in the bathroom is an excellent place to cool beer and to hide it at the same time, say the police.”

Bootlegging continued even after the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, banning liquor nationwide, was ratified in January 1919. Nebraska was not one of the thirty-six states (out of a total of forty-eight then) that later voted to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment to repeal national prohibition, but in November 1934 Nebraskans did vote to repeal the state’s constitutional prohibition by a 60- to 40-percent margin.

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Marker Monday: First Presbyterian Church of St. Paul

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers.

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Location

901-999 8th St, St Paul, Howard County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location 41.214554, -98.45951

Marker Text

The congregation was organized in 1879, eight years after the first homestead claim was filed in Howard County. The first church at this location, a frame structure dedicated in 1881, was destroyed by fire in February 1905. Construction of this building, the oldest church in town still at its original site, began in September 1905 and was completed in July 1907 at a cost of $15,000, including the furniture and organ. The bell now in use survived the 1905 fire.

Nebraska Marker Project

The Nebraska Marker Project is for the repainting, repair and in some cases, replacement of state historical markers throughout the state. Nebraska’s markers share our exciting history for generations to come. Please consider donating by visiting the Nebraska Marker Project webpage at http://nshsf.org/the-nebraska-marker-project/.

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