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Friday, May 6, 2016

Culbertson growing pains in the 1880s, 1890s

Monday, January 14, 2013

After the American Civil War, the Texas cattle industry really began to take off. In Texas, cattle were selling for about $4 per head, but it didn't take long for the cattlemen to discover that they could get as much as $40 per head for those cattle in the eastern markets.

At this same time the railroads were extending their lines to the West. By the 1870s, these rail lines had reached south-central Nebraska, and Ogallala immediately became a destination for the Texas cattle, which were being driven north over cattle trails that became famous, and even today are perpetuated in the cowboy lore of the era.

Towns, such as Culbertson and Ogallala owed their very existence to these cattle drives; for instance, In early 1873, W.Z. Taylor built a store and trading post at a point where the Frenchman Creek enters the Republican River. As structures go, it was not an impressive "store," being "made from buffalo hides ... stretched over some poles," but it was described as "a very warm place."

It became the hub of at least two thriving businesses (along with J.E. Kleven's Blacksmith Shop), the only place in the area that could even loosely be called a village. By July 1873, the area had grown enough that the settlers formally requested organization.

At that point, the Nebraska governor ordered an election for the establishment of a county and to choose county officers. The name of the new county would honor Phineas W. Hitchcock, a Nebraska Territorial Senator.

After August, Mr. Taylor's settlement became known as Culbertson, named for Major Alexander Culbertson, of Orleans, Nebraska, well-known Indian agent, fur trader, and partner in the enterprise, known as the Upper Missouri Outfit. When Culbertson was approved for a U.S. Post Office, in September, J.E. Kleven was named as Culbertson's first postmaster. (That fall, of 1873, the Sioux almost wiped out a Pawnee hunting party, along with many wives and children, just west of Culbertson. The "Battle" is generally known today as the Pawnee Massacre, the last major Indian battle in Nebraska.

In the 1870s, Culbertson acquired the reputation as "winter headquarters" for cattlemen, who in the summer were involved in the various cattle drives from Texas to Ogallala.

The 1870s were violent times in Culbertson. In 1876 two horse thieves were tracked to a site near Culbertson. The two men hid themselves in a "wolf hole."

The lawmen discovered their lair and waited patiently for the two men to reappear. Finally one man "peeked" out -- he was immediately shot. The other man tried to drag his partner back into their hole. He too, was shot and killed on sight. The incident drastically slowed in incidence of horse thefts in the area. It also added to Culbertson's growing reputation as a "wild and violent" town.

In 1878, a newspaper man wrote that "Hitchcock County was almost literally covered with one solid mass of cattle" headed for the railhead at Ogallala, herded by an army of cowboys, who were "wild and wooly," compared with the settlers of the County.

In 1881, one Charles Dill was doing business in what was referred to as a drug store, which was in actuality a saloon, complete with hard liquor. Two of his customers were Sam Esman and Tom Hill, who on one occasion became over exuberant (with too much liquor). They began to brandish their six guns in the establishment and fired into the ceiling below a room Mr. Dill's wife and daughter were sleeping. The cowboys looked on the matter as a huge joke.

Mr. Dill was not amused and ejected the pair from his bar. Later, in December of that year the two cowboys returned to Mr. Dill's "Drug Store," apparently to apologize for their past actions. Mr. Dill would have none of it and shot and killed Sam Esman on the spot.

Mr. Dill was besieged by a lynch mob, but was saved by the sheriff and was taken to Indianola, where it was hoped he would receive a fair trial. Although he was represented by one of Nebraska's best lawyers, he was found guilty and sent to the State Prison in Lincoln. Two years at the Penitentiary were enough for Mr. Dill, who died, a suicide.

By 1881, the Texas cattle drives through Nebraska were drastically tapering off, as rail lines to the east were becoming more numerous, and closer to the source of the Texas cattle. Also, in 1881 the Burlington Railroad had reached Culbertson. There was great enthusiasm for the railroad, and a roundhouse was built, anticipating Culbertson's being named a division point on the Burlington Line.

Alas, it did not materialize. When the Burlington attempted to buy up additional land in the area, there was what the Burlington considered an "unrealistic price" demand for that land. When the various parties could not come to terms the Burlington backed away and developed the Division Point and the new town of McCook, just 10 miles to the east.

In 1882, with Culbertson as its county seat, Hitchcock County had a population of 1,000, and Mr. Taylor's Store was serving as the County Courthouse, as there were still no "public" buildings, other than country school houses. However, in 1893, there was a movement to move the county seat to the more central location at Trenton.

The citizens of Culbertson did not take this news without a fight, but on the third ballot, the county seat was moved to Trenton

In 1885, a group of influential citizens attempted to reincorporate the village of Culbertson, this time carrying the name of Bangor. Those citizens miscalculated the sentiment of the town. The public outcry was so intense that the name of the village was changed back to Culbertson in less than two weeks. (Note: Mr. Taylor is still remembered in Culbertson, as the name of Culbertson's Main Street is Taylor Street.)

In 1884, 25-year old Sam (S.E.) Solomon moved with his wife, Emma, and a young family to Culbertson from Pennsylvania. Initially, Sam bought the Culbertson Sun newspaper, which he operated until 1888, when he sold the newspaper and went into the real estate business. But Sam was a young man in a hurry, and a real entrepreneur. Soon he had added a very successful DeLavelle Milk separator distributorship, became interested in the development of irrigation in the area, and began a virtual migration of German immigrants to the Culbertson to develop the prairie into productive farm land. But that still was not enough, and 1883 saw him back in the newspaper business, this time as editor for the Culbertson Sentinel.

Recently S.E Solomon's grandson, Jerry sent a copy of the Sentinel dated April 7, 1893. Mr. Solomon must have made money for the publishers as a full third of the front page is devoted to a wide variety of ads. It was good to see that W.Z Taylor was still active in the business community and advertising prominently, for an impressive array of dry good, shoes, and hosiery for "Gents and Ladies" -- selling "cheaper than ever before, for CASH!"

A surprise was the news coverage of national and statewide events, which included the latest demands of the great Labor Crusader, Samuel Gompers; news from the Senate in Washington D.C., as well as the Statehouse in Lincoln. A feature front page article covered the three year, Round-the world journey of two 1890 graduates of Washington University, who made their trip on "bicycles," of the old high front wheel, tiny back wheel variety. To take advantage of that news story, there were prominent ads by the Nebraska Cycle Co. of Lincoln and the Harry Svengaard Bicycle Co. of Fergus Falls, Minn.

Health was a big concern in 1893, and the health ads were interesting, covering common complaints, and offering cures for coughs, hemorrhoids, rupture, obesity, deafness, constipation, blood ailments, liver complaints, catarrh, and Father Dwyer's Kickapoo Indian Remedy, which was guaranteed to pretty much cure everything. Ah, yes, great times in the 1890s!

Source: Jim McKee story in Lincoln Journal/Star; April 7, 1893 Culbertson Sentinel.

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By