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Who's Who in Rock County: 1940

Who's Who in Rock County: 1940 by W. E. Buckendorf

[1940 - Name Index]

PRIOR to 1883, what is now Rock County was part of a vast unorganized territory attached to Holt for judicial and administrative purposes. The small population was composed chiefly of ranchers, pony boys, cattle rustlers, dealers in "wet stock," (stolen) and a few settlers who. came for the honest purpose of making homes. The prairies were covered with range cattle. Herds of elk, antelope and deer were common as well as prairie chickens, quail and grouse; there were wild turkeys on the Niobrara river. The Sawyer Trail along the south bank of the Niobrara, and the Gordon Trail are evidences of the gold seekers and military companies who crossed this region from 1865 to 1876.

Among the earliest settlers were G. D. Marsh's parents, who homesteaded here in 1870. In 1871 J. W. Bassett brought a large herd of cattle into the region and built a house and sheds southwest of the present site of the town of Bassett, which was named for him. For a number of years Mr. Bassett ranged his cattle at the head of the Elkhorn valley, but in 1881 he sold his outfit to Brayton brothers. Another early comer was Isem Recor, who ran a ferry boat near where D. K. Hart later located.

In 1878 Chippewa Robinson and Newton Turpin and their families settled in this region. The former settled on land later owned by B. J. Eastlick. Turpin settled on the Niobrara just west of the mouth of Willow creek; he was shot sometime later in a quarrel with a neighbor. Turpin and Robinson were the first to break the virgin soil and to plant crops in what is now Rock County. Seth Bates located a claim and built a sod shanty on the Niobrara river in 1878. He then returned to the eastern part of the state for his family, bringing them from Seward County in the summer of 1879 in a covered wagon.

S. H. Likens and family settled near the river in September, 1878. William, Jacob, and George Wood came April 3, 1879, and Jacob located a claim between Bates and Likens. William and George brought the first herd of sheep into the county in July.

In the spring of 1879 Alonzo W. Brinkerhoff Sr., came from Iowa with his family and his son-in-law, John H. Putnam. Brinkerhoff located at the mouth of Pine creek, taking a homestead and a timber claim; Putnam homesteaded nearby. When they first came there was not a family on Long Pine creek. The county was a wilderness, and wild game was plentiful. Putnam states that he himself killed sixty-eight deer during those early years. Neligh, a hundred miles away was the nearest milling place, and Atkinson fifty miles away was the nearest town having a grocery store, according to A. M. Brinkerhoff, Jr., who was then a lad of sixteen years. Putnam and Brinkerhoff played an important part in the development of the livestock industry of this region.

Elder Skinner and family arrived in the summer of 1879, bringing a herd of cattle. Steve Osborn and the Belmars came the same year, also Joshua Sheldon and James Carey. Milo and John Hutton, D. K. Hart, T. J. Lee and Albert Kemp came with their families in 1891. From this time on the country was settled rapidly, especially in 1883-84.

In the winter of 1880-81 the snow was very deep and there was a scarcity of provisions. One day some children playing near Ash creek found a deer fast in the snow drifts. Twelve year old Hattie White, daughter of A. X. White, killed the animal with an ax, thus adding some choice steaks to the family larder.

The first postoffice in the county, called Minlo, was located in a house later owned by Thom Morrison. The postmaster was Henry Hoffman. The first school in the northern part of the county was held in the winter of 1881-82.

In the summer of 1881, L. Cannonburg and his two daughters came from Wisconsin. They were met at Niobrara on the Missouri river by some friends who took them to O'Neill. The distance, some fifty miles, was covered in two days. They found O'Neill a thriving little town settled mostly by Irish people. They remained here until August, then decided to go farther west to look for a location. Obtaining a team, they drove to the present site of Stuart. The only house was operated as a hotel by a Mr. Carberry, who served meals but required his guests to sleep outside in their wagons. Following the stage route the Cannonburgs camped next day at the foot of Bassett Hill. They located two quarter sections, the one on which Bassett now stands and the other west of the town site. They lived that winter in O'Neill, which was then the terminus of the railroad, while they hauled lumber for the first house built in Bassett. They settled on their homestead in the spring of 1882. The railroad had been extended to Long Pine and the Cannonburgs rejoiced in one neighbor, the section foreman.

In the spring of 1883, Dr. Tallchief, an Indian medicine man, came from Indiana to build a hospital for cancer patients. The hospital was a large two-story building five miles east of Bassett. He advertised it extensively as located on beautiful Lake Tecumche. He used only roots and herbs and for a while had a large practice. The doctor was a great help in building up the country. His wife, a white woman, was tireless in helping the poor and nursing the sick.

A colony of twelve single men settled that same spring three miles east of Bassett on the north side of the railroad, but within six months the colony proved a failure.

In the spring of 1883 the first term of school at Bassett began. Mrs. Ralt, a lady from Baltimore, was the teacher and the school was held in one room of L. Cannonburg's residence, which also served as postoffice and stopping place for travelers. Cannonburg was the first postmaster at Bassett.

Brown County was organized that summer. It then included the present Brown, Rock and Keyapaha Counties. After a bitter fight over the location of the county seat, Ainsworth was declared winner.

In 1884 Keyapaha County was cut off and in 1888 the remainder of the county was divided, the eastern part being organized as Rock County.

At a meeting of the county board of Brown County, Aug. 1, 1888, M. E. Freeman and others filed a petition stating proposed boundaries and asking for a division of Brown and the formation of a new territory to be known as Rock County. The name had been chosen at a meeting held at Newport a short time before to arrange for the circulation of petitions. The county was named for Rock creek, a beautiful little stream, having its sources in the flats northwest of Newport and flowing northward into the Niobrara. On this stream was located a deposit of exceptionally fine building stone, the only real rock quarry in the county.

The board passed a resolution to submit the question to the people at an election to be held Nov. 6, 1888. The result was 1,029 to 689 for division. Shortly thereafter Governor Thayer ordered a special election for the purpose of selecting temporary officers and naming the county seat. This election was held on Dec. 24, 1888, and the following officers were chosen: W. T. Phillips, clerk; J. N. Morgan, judge; Henry Harris, sheriff; A. J. Taylor, coroner; W. H. Rugg, superintendent; A. H. Tingle, attorney, and S. Corder, A. H. Gale and E. Opp, commissioners.

Five locations were proposed for the county seat, Bassett, Newport, Thurman, Tracy and Rock Center. None received a majority and the board located a temporary seat of government at Bassett. A special election Jan. 29, 1889, resulted in naming Bassett the permanent county seat.

The first regular general election was held Nov. 5, 1889, when the following officers were chosen: Henry Harris, sheriff; J. D. Likens, treasurer; Fred N. Morgan, judge; Will H. Rugg, superintendent; J. H. Davenport, surveyor; J. J. Carlin, attorney; James D. Brayton, coroner, and E. Opp, S. Corder and E. B. Brain, commissioners.

Among the founders of Bassett should be mentioned J. E. McBurney who came in 1883 to manage a lumber yard for Mr. Shank of Stuart and who played an important part in the development and growth of the town and county. Mrs. White, a lady from Chicago, bought out Ryan's Store, enlarged the building and purchased a large stock of goods. She kept a store, a ranch, and a butcher shop, and also published a newspaper. Late in the fall of 1883 Elias Martin and family came from Madison County to keep a hotel. For a time he used an old claim shanty belonging to the Cannonburgs for a temporary hotel where he furnished only meals. Later he built the Old Bassett House, which was the principal hotel for a long time and the scene of many exciting events. Mr. and Mrs. Norby arrived that fall and opened a little store. Mrs. Norby was a highly educated woman, speaking five languages; she taught several terms of school. The summer of 1884 Neil Eastman came and built a blacksmith shop. He remained for many years.

In 1883 the railroad located the town of Newport, so named because of its proximity to Newport bridge across the Niobrara river. Newport has become one of the largest hay shipping points in the world. It lies in the center of a large hay growing territory which extends in an almost unbroken valley for about twenty-two miles south. About twenty-five thousand tons of hay are exported each year.

Bassett Hill southeast of the town was used as a signal tower by the horse thieves and cattle rustlers who infested this country in the early days, as lights displayed on the hilltop could be seen for many miles. This gang has furnished the most exciting incidents in the history of the county. First organized by Doe Middleton, it had its headquarters near Carns where the Black Hills Trail crossed the Niobrara river. Middleton was wounded in a skirmish with officers of the law in July, 1879, and a few days later was captured and taken to Fort Hartsuff. This broke up the gang for a while but they were soon reorganized under the leadership of "Kide Wade," a young man in his teens and one of the original band of "pony boys." He was a youth of great daring and a dead shot. While Middleton was at the head of the band he did not molest the settlers, but Kid Wade stole from them as well as from the Indians. This state of affairs led to the organization of vigilance committees for protection against the thieves.

In January, 1884, the sheriff of Holt County brought Kid Wade to the Bassett House to spend the night enroute to the jail at O'Neill. During the night the desperado was taken from the sheriff by the vigilantes and hanged to a whistling post east of Bassett. The next day his body was cut down and buried on Bassett Hill. Other lynchings occurred, some members of the band were captured by the authorities and sent to prison, and the rest sought a more favorable location.

Rock County had a population in 1930 of 3,366 and an area of 1,004 square miles. Bassett, the county seat, has 635 inhabitants; Newport has 273. The county's land surface is composed of a plain, some sand hills and valleys. Water is supplied by the Niobrara and by many small streams and lakes. A few canyons are found. The soil is dark and sandy, and about half of it is tillable. Nearly all of the southern portion, made up of sand hills, is devoted to ranching. The central portion produces vast quantities of wild hay. In the northwestern section, market gardening is the principal occupation. The rich loam soil yields large vegetable crops. Considerable quantities of corn, wheat and oats are also raised. Because of its good water supply Rock County has not suffered as severely from drouth as have some other sections of the state.

Like all regions where wild hay is grown extensively Rock County has suffered from prairie fires. A particularly severe one occurred in March, 1904, when it was reported, a fire ten miles wide burned from the county's southern border to the railroad near Newport, a distance of about thirty miles.. A special train carried seventy-five men to Newport, where their efforts saved the town.

A new courthouse at Bassett costing $30,000, was completed in 1939 with the assistance of a $33,000 WPA grant.

During its existence Rock County has supported ten newspapers of which there are records, the Advocate, the Bassett Eagle, Bassett Herald, Bassett Rustler, Rock County Bugle, Rock County Enterprise, Rock County Leader, Republican Herald and Republican Statesman. Of all these, only the Leader at Bassett is still being published.

[1940 - Name Index]

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