Creightons Arrived in '56; Church Bells Rang Over New City
Preachers Had to Speak Loudly to Dent Bullwhackers' Oaths; Grasshoppers on Prairies Drove Settlers Into Town
Omaha City by spring of 1856 was showing many signs of growing out of the infancy stage. The smell of animals, the taste of dust and the sight of jumping grasshoppers were all there that summer. The dirt streets had been given more precise outlining. There were by then a few boardwalks.
The frail, frame buildings of the first two years were not being duplicated. Newer structures were more solidly built, with some thought given to appearances, and a small brick building could be seen here and there around the thinly-built business area on the lower plateau.
And the town was alive with wagon traffic. The earth vibrated beneath racing hoofs and spinning, wooden wheels. The population was then approximately eight hundred, and in June the best lots were selling for six hundred dollars. By October of that year, the number of residents had jumped to 1,600, with prices on choice lots climbing upwards to $2,500.
In that year, too, the Second Legislature approved liberal banking regulations which caused an unnatural prosperity based on the wildcat currency that contributed to Omaha's woes during the financial panic which struck late in 1857.
The grasshopper plague, which originated in the Colorado region and followed the dryness eastward in the drouth years, was causing many settlers to pull up stakes out in the Territory and return east. Many of these people liked Omaha and decided to remain. This factor contributed largely to the town's growth by that autumn.
The mercantile concern of Megeath & Company was by then running delivery wagons to Florencesix miles north! and on many days sold goods to the Mormon outfitting, post amounting to as much as two thousand dollars. This was the beginning of Omaha's growing trade with emigrants, one reason for the city's early prosperity.
While in the beginning real estate was plentiful and cheap even offered free to any one who would build on it in 1856 it was being sold at profit and booming. Who were those who laughed because an emigrant said, "I'm goin' t' Omaha City; 'tain't goin' t' grow up without me a-ownin' some of it, y' can be sure!"? That emigrant was enjoying the last laugh in 1856!
That year saw the appearance in Omaha of Edward and John A. Creighton. The work of these, brothers In telegraph construction already had stimulated the interest of the settlers. Edward arrived first, leaving behind him a nine-year achievement of constructing thousands of miles of telegraph linking many major northern cities and several in the South. With Hiram Sibley, Ezra Cornell and Jeptha H. Wade, he therefore became one of the builders of Western Union.
His vision of a telegraphic connection with the Pacific Coast was not an idle dream, and no Omahan regarded it as such. His work in Western Union, with its resulting expansion, was typical of the spirit of adventure of the time; and his community spirit was to be rated in no lesser degree when later he became first president of the First National Bank of Omaha.
John A. Creighton probably was more of the wandering type, though he had been of invaluable assistance to his brother after leaving Licking County, Ohio, where he was born in 1831. He was 22 when he joined Edward in the telegraph construction business and helped build the lines in Missouri in 1855. When Omaha City attracted him in 1856, he obtained some Douglas County land and turned to farming it. Later he clerked for J. J. & R. R, Brown Mercantile Co., one of many varied activities in which he was to be engaged before joining in work on the Pacific Coast telegraph line in 1861.
He was a man of many gifts and ambitions, even drifting on to take cattle trains to Salt Lake and into Montana. He was warm-hearted, popular among men and a devout Catholic a man whose genial character one day was to be reflected in the emergence of this famous name as identifying one of the Middle West's leading universities. From the inspiration of these men, Creighton was to become symbolic of Omaha and Omaha a new western center of the Roman faith.
But even at the time of the Creightons' arrival, Catholics were building the first church edifice in Omaha City. It was St. Mary's Church, a brick structure on Eighth Street between Harney and Howard Streets. It was built in 1856 on a lot furnished by the ferry company. Construction was made possible through funds obtained from solicited subscriptions before there was any resident Catholic clergyman in Nebraska.
The church was only 24 by 40 feet. The bell tower on its south side was the town's first. The church bell tolled the time at 6 a, m,, noon and 6 p. m. A parochial residence was built on the southeast corner of Eighth and Harney Streets. This became the home of the Rev. James M. O'Gorman when he was appointed Vicar Apostolic in 1859.
The town at that time had but one organ. It was a small melodeon owned by T. G. Goodwill whose daughter, Adelaide (later to become Mrs. Allen Root), opened the first school with 40 pupils in a room at the first Statehouse on Ninth Street. The Goodwill organ was traded back and forth between Catholics and Episcopalians after the latter built their new church on the southeast corner of Ninth and Farnam Streets.
One Sunday morning as it was being moved into St. Mary's Church, its handlers slipped in the mud and only saved the melodeon from submersion in a water hole by putting themselves beneath it and sliding into the mire themselves in their Sunday best. Miss Cecilia Burkley was the first organist. During the week she taught Catholic pupils in the town's first parochial school at the church.
The Rev. John Cavanaugh performed the first Catholic baptism on record on October 18, 1856, at St. Mary's Church. Father Cavanaugh also conducted the first Catholic marriage ceremony.
Among the Protestant churches, the Rev. Peter Cooper of Council Bluffs conducted the first Methodist service. He was followed by the Rev. Isaac F. Collins, another Methodist, and the Rev. William Leach, Baptist clergyman. The Methodists built their first church in 1856 on a lot donated by the ferry company. It was on the north side of the alley on the west side of Thirteenth Street between Farnam and Douglas Streets, a site later occupied by the Omaha National Bank in a building today used by the Salvation Army.
For a time Elder Moses Shinn preached there. During the week he operated a rope ferry across the Platte in the vicinity of where Schuyler later came into being. But on Sundays no man on any pulpit in the town had more difficulty getting his sermon across to his congregation. His trouble came exclusively from the bullwhackers in the alley.
During the Colorado gold rush of 1859 ranchmen, freighters, traders like Jack Morrow, Dan Penniston, Tom Keeler, who lost a pistol duel with Dan Parmelee a few years later, and other plainsmen swarmed into the city with furs, gold dust and nuggets. They "did up" the town each week, and by the time Sunday came they had to scurry around like scared rabbits to get their trains ready for the early-Monday departure.
They all used the alley next to the church so that they could back their wagons up to the rear loading docks of J. C. Mackoy & Co., and McCormick & Co., merchandising firms On the north side of Farnam between Thirteenth and Fourteenth Streets. Two of those buildings still stand.
The chorus of prairie songs and oaths, whip-cracking and bellows to the horses, pulling and backing of wagons and carts, whinnying, shouting, cursing, slashing of gads and whips all filled the air in an inharmonious strain. Against all this discord, Elder Shinn tried to preachfirst talking, then raising his voice, then shouting and finally screaming himself
At this point he would heave a weary sigh that could be heard across his entire congregation, drop. his arms resignedly, step down from the pulpit and march out of the church to face his vocal competitors in the adjoining alley.
Outside, there would be another sermon, a shorter one this time to the shouting bullwhackers to kindly respect the Lord's Day then back into the church he would go and resume his preaching.
Pious words again would ring out the window in a rising crescendo as the bellows and whip-cracking once more would make a gradual return to normal. '
There have been varied versions of Elder Shinn's trouble with the bullwhackers, but one tale relates that on one particular Sunday his quoting of the Scriptures ran contrary to the commands outside the church's open windows and caused considerable confusion.
The story goes that Elder Shinn's voice at a climactic moment reached an emotional pitch, and he droned; "And the Lord said"
"Backbacktsck-tsck giddap!" resounded the gravel voice of a bellowing bullwhacker outdoors.
"'Woe to the rebellious children'"
"Not whoa, dad-blame y'r sweatin' hides; for-ardgiddap!"
"'that take counsel, but not of Me'"
"Y' blasted fly-catchers, backback!"
"And the Lord said, 'Woe' "
"Damn it, parson," the frustrated bullwhacker finally interrupted, cupping his hands to his mouth and screaming through the church window from his lofty perch on the wagon seat, "I don't care what the Lord said for this critter t'do. I want 'im t' move!"
The Rev. Reuben Gaylord, Congregationalist, came to Omaha in September, 1855, began preaching in the Statehouse's Council Chamber, then moved his services to the, hotel "dining room" of the Douglas House. In May, 1856, he organized the first Congregational Church in Nebraska with nine members, and by October he was conducting services in the basement of the unfinished new church facing east on Sixteenth Street between Farnam and Douglas.
The old Statehouse also was the scene of the Rev. G. W. Watson's Episcopalian services that year. By 1860 Trinity Church was ready for occupancy on the southwest corner of Farnam and Ninth Streets.
The Rev. John Bergen organized the First Presbyterian church in Omaha in 1857, and the following year the Rev. Henry Welty Kuhns, DD., first Lutheran missionary west of the Missouri, opened services for Lutherans in the Methodist Church on Sunday afternoon, November 21. On December 5 he organized the congregation known as Emmanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church with nine members. Augustus Kountze, one of the nine, was elected a deacon. This church today is Kountze Memorial.
Not until May 18, 1893, was the first Christian Science church established in Omaha. It was organized under the corporate name of First Church of Christ, Scientist.
The Douglas House, scene of the Rev. Mr. Gaylord's early services, was on the southwest corner of Thirteenth and Harney Streets and during the week was a favorite haunt of politicians and speculators. The place was of frame construction, primitive in "accommodations" and completely inadequate as sleeping comfort and the necessities of life were concerned.
At the start the dining room had no floor. Tables were merely rough, home-cut cottonwood boards supported by poles driven into the ground. Beds were common sheeting ticks with prairie grass. If the occupant needed a pillow, he could roll up his coat or rest his head on his boots.
Lumber was in great demand that year as building activity increased. Most of it came from sawing up cottonwoods along the streams. It sold for about $150 a thousand feet.
The winter of 1856-1857 gave the early settlers their first experience at extreme hardship on the plateau. Wind-driven snow began falling November 30, kept coming for three days and did not start to disappear until late March. During the intervening months, additional snow coupled with high winds and extreme cold caused winter-long drifts of up to five feet. Deer, breaking through the crust, were trapped and frozen to death. One man near Omaha lost close to three hundred head of cattle. Men moved about on snow shoes.
At the height of the first November storm, an Englishman who had just arrived in the city paid a man $2 to carry his trunk and help him find Barney O'Reilly's boarding house at Twenty-first and Webster Streets. On snow shoes, the two men fought their way against icy wind and face-stinging, blinding snow across the tops of mounting drifts. When they finally located the place, it was only because they had been fortunate enough to stumble over O'Reilly's protruding chimney!
Scarcity of food that winter might have caused starvation among many of the settlers had not the deep snow forced game into the open to provide easy kills. For days many families lived only on parched corn.
That February Omaha requested permission of the Legislature to dress up with a city charter. When it was granted and the community became a city in its own right, it dropped "City" from its name and for the first time became Omaha, N. T. (Nebraska Territory). The first election in March resulted in the citizens voting in Jesse Lowe as Mayor, L. R. Tuttle as Recorder, J. A. Miller as City Marshal, Charles Grant as City Solicitor, Lyman Richardson as City Assessor, A. S. Morgan as City Engineer, A. Chappel as Health Officer, and Alfred D. Jones, T. G. Goodwill, G. C. Bovey, H. H. Visscher, Thomas Davis, William N. Byers, William W. Wyman, Thomas O'Connor, C. H. Downs, J. H. Kellom and James Creighton as Councilmen.
On March 5 at its meeting of organization, the City Council passed its first ordinance "to prevent swine from running at large." In May, the. Council passed 'an ordinance dividing the city Into three wards the first, that part of the city south of Farnam Street; the second, the area between the north side of Farnam Street and the south side of Capitol Avenue; the third, all the section north of Capitol Avenue.
Those early Omahans were not difficult people to keep entertained. Almost any event would draw a crowd, and if no special occurrence presented itself the people always found the means to create community excitement or family fun.
One of the most important attractions which drew wide interest in the spring was the date of the ice break-up on the Missouri which usually regulated the arrival from the South of the season's first steamboat.
Hardly a vantage point was ignored on this particular day as hundreds of sightseers lined the high places along the river bank for the thrill of seeing the ice begin to move. They would wait patiently for hours, regardless of weather, to hear the whistle of the distant steamer and cheer at the first glimpse of the boat plowing its way around the bend toward the landing place.
In 1857 the ice went out on Wednesday, March 11, but the season's first steamboat did not reach the city until March 28. Its arrival was therefore a sight to behold and it caused a near festival of excitement. The boat was the New Monongahela, a virtual floating palace 235 feet long, 33 feet wide and powered by new machinery consisting of two cylinders, each 24 inches in diameter, and four 26-foot-long boilers. An unusually large cabin also distinguished it from other river steamers of its day.
Carrying a large cargo of freight and 150 passengers bound for Omaha and Council Bluffs, this giant river vessel made the trip upstream from St. Louis in the then remarkable time of six days.
That same year the steamboat Florence also set a record. It bucked high winds and swift current from Omaha upstream to Sioux City in 56 hours. Its return trip required only slightly less than two days.
Omaha's thriving shipping industry in 1857 saw a total of 174 steamboats arriving and unloading more than 13 thousand tons. of freight. But while steamboating was a profitable enterprise on the river, there were other and, safer ways for a boat to earn its upkeep during a slack period.
On June 3, 1857, 0. C. Burnham wrote this advertisement for the Omaha Daily Nebraskian:
"The undersigned takes pleasure in informing the public that he has taken charge of the Washington Hotel (late steamboat Washington City) now lying at the wharf and having thoroughly cleansed, refitted and refurnished the same is now prepared to amply and satisfactorily accommodate with board and lodging all persons desiring it by the day or week. The proprietor hazards nothing in saying that the accommodations offered are superior to those to be found elsewhere."
The "Washington Hotel" often played host to steamboat parties which set the pace for the town's social life deck dancing on the boats whenever a large enough steamer came in.
The desire of many young couples to begin their lives together in a new and promising land was typical of the times. Omaha was still enjoying its first spurt of growth and most of the increase in population was due to the arrival of young families with gambling spirit who longed for opportunity in the free, wide-open West.
But despite the chances for new opportunity, Omaha was about as far away as it could be at that time from becoming a paradise. Frank J. Burkley's "The Faded Frontier" dwells in part upon the arrival in Omaha of his father, Vincent Burkley, on the steamboat Omaha, May 12, 1857.
The trip up from St. Joseph, writes Mr. Burkley, had caused many anxious moments first by the ship's tangling with several snags which had threatened to sink her, then by numerous collisions with hidden sandbars. Nerves therefore were on edge by the time passengers disembarked at Omaha in a drenching rain. The first thing the elder Mr. Burkley noticed were the mudflats. To him, the "soup" was appalling.
A large freight warehouse was the only refuge from the rain after getting off the boat, and a swarm of Indians that appeared looking for handouts hardly eased the situation. Terrified children clung to their mothers' skirts and screamed at the sight of the hideously-painted, half-naked savages. A lumber wagon finally was obtained to take the people up the muddy grade to the Douglas House.
Omaha's streets on the day described were nothing but mud and water, with a minimum of boardwalks to make a pedestrian's going a trifle easier. Crosswalks did not exist, and sagging boards were the only way pedestrians could cross a creek which flowed from the northwest to Seventeenth and Jackson Streets and then east on Jackson to Fourteenth Street. These unstable planks were located at Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Streets.
Omaha's name was becoming Mud throughout the Territory. Said the Omaha Herald:
Some towns are famed for beauty,
And others for deeds of blood,
But say what you may for Omaha,
It beats them all for mud.
That fall the Ohio Trust Company of New York went to the wall, a catastrophe that reverberated as far west as Nebraska. Within a few months almost every new day would see another bank in the Territory close its doors.
In Omaha property values fell disastrously as speculation ceased. Money became exceedingly scarce and wildcat currency of the period was as worthless as a cart without a horse. The city scrip which had been authorized by the City Council the preceding June to help finance Omaha's share of the Capitol and the building of the new Herndon House soon wasn't worth the paper it was printed on and later became valuable only as souvenirs.
Men who had been "on the road to wealth" slowly found themselves in financial distress. With the collapse of the real estate market other businesses barely brought their owners even a meager living. Citizens dragged along day by day in the depths of despair and depression. Population slowly decreased as many inhabitants left their homes to return East. For a young city which had seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds, Omaha settled into monotonous despondency and stagnation, a mood that continued throughout the remainder of 1857 and through most of 1858.
Only a miracle, it appeared, could save it. Nobody looked for one, although that miracle eventually came. But more
than a year of hardship for Omaha settlers still lay between.
Lief in the city at the close of 1857, and for at least the next several years, was nothing more than one might expect of such frontier existence. Conveniences, even those considered useful in the East in that period, were unheard of on the Missouri.
Men put in a 12-hour day at their businesses in town, then in the time that was left bent their backs to the ax or spade or hammer and nails to make improvements that would provide their families with -better homes. They went hunting to bring in game, cultivated gardens to beed their broods, sank wells, built fences, cared for their stock, repaired any rolling equipment they might own and chopped wood for winter fuel.
Fear of Indians as well as rough desperadoes who infested the country made living a continued anxiety. Indians were usually very much in evidence around the town. They were copper-colored, tall and straight, with long black hair. They either stole and begged or sold Indian-tanned hides. At that time the Pawnees, a powerful and warlike tribe, were the most numerous.
Extending far to the northwest of the Omaha town limits was a long stretch of prairie which offered settlers in the higher elevations of the city a clear view almost as far as the military bridge located at what is today Twenty-fourth and Cuming Streets. Townspeople often watched the approach of Indians from the distant bridge as they rode in on their ponies. Experience soon taught citizens to pull shades, lock doors and sit with a gun within easy reach as the Indians neared, for the aroma of cooking was about all that was needed to bring the redskins unannounced into a house.
Most of these visitors were renegade tribesmen. Those who crept up to houses to steal or, if noticed, to beg for food usually would cluster at a window and make signs indicating they wanted something to eat. Townspeople who had food to spare would drop it into the Indians' dirty blankets, gesture emphatically, frown deeply and order them to get out by yelling, "Puck a chee! Puck a chee!"
Later the Indians began to realize the value of money. They brought in their buffalo hides, wild gooseberries, hazel nuts, grapes and plums picked by their squaws to sell.
Wild fruits and flowers were in great abundance. There were currants, raspberries, strawberries, red berries, elderberries, choke berries which the children enjoyed gathering and walnuts and hickory nuts. All these, together with quail, grouse, wild, ducks, geese, wild rice and game of all kinds, had not made living a very difficult achievement for the Indians prior to the white man's appearance.
But, the white hunter's problem was made more troublesome not only because he lacked the skill of Indian marksmanship, which was unexcelled with bow and arrow even while on a chase of fast-moving game, but because most of the guns in use in that period were not the quick-action weapons of later years. A hunter burdened with muzzle-loading rifles and shotguns, with caps and powder horns and molds for molding bullets, was most likely to see his game get away while he frantically prepared for a shot.
Boys even some girls learned the art of handling weapons at an early age.
Bow-and-arrow contests with Indian boys were popular. Although the Indians usually won, the white boys scored good marks for themselves while shooting a dime or a quarter from a stick in the ground at a distance of 50 to one hundred feet.
The young braves' customary good sportsmanship hardly served to support the belief that they were savages.
As the depression of the late '50s settled upon Omaha, nearly everybody worked in their gardens. Many of the gardeners frequently exchanged beans, potatoes and other vegetables in excess of family needs for other necessities that could only be obtained from stores. Groceries not provided by home growing came from Pundt's and Sexauer's where anything could be found in the window from brooms, mops and buckets to fly-smothered combs of honey. Meats came from Sheeley Brothers.
There were no deliveries, unless one bought a sack of flour, bag of sugar, bushel of apples (shipped by steamboat from St. Joseph) or some other similar commodity where weight was involved. Families who owned cows and chickens always found milk, butter and eggs plentiful. And the women all contributed to setting a table of plenty for their traditionally large families. They baked bread, cookies, pies, cakes and made doughnuts and pastry rolls. When a pig was slaughtered, there was lard to be rendered, head cheese to make, ham and shoulders to be put into brine or smoked in the smokehouse. They made their own sauerkraut from cabbage grown in their gardens prepared their own mince meat, tomato pickles, preserves and catsup. The bottles of catsup were dipped in sealing wax.
Townspeople who owned cows could expect them to give birth to calves once a year, and often they butchered the calves for meat. The women made their own soap. To obtain the lye for it, they poured water on a barrel of wood ashes and let it run through the barrel and drain out as lye.
There was no canning. Corn, fruit and vegetables were dried and kept in sacks. Even yeast was made at home. A housewife's cellar was considered comfortably stocked for winter if she had a hundred pounds of lard, three or four hams and shoulders, a half barrel of sauerkraut, a large crock of mince meat and the cupboard filled with pickles, preserves, cheese and a generous supply of sausage, cut fine and seasoned to individual taste a favorite side dish with
homemade buckwheat pancakes on cold, wintry mornings.
The depression found most women making what clothing they could by hand, but the material had to be purchased and that required money money that was scarce. Any proceeds obtained from surplus garden crops would therefore go to buying clothes, household needs and coffee and sugar. Flour sacks were the favorite means of providing underwear for the children. These were cut up and sewed by hand from a homemade pattern.
Most house heating came from the old kitchen stove, many of which carried the inscription, "Filley's Patent, Hot
Air Flue, Patented 1852," or something similar.
Wood was the only fuel available and the hills north of Florence were the chief sources of supply. Late in 1858 to help meet his family's needs, due to the deplorable condition of business, Vincent Burkley bought quite a supply of wood, had it piled along the north end of the Burkley lots, then put it up for retail sale. It was not long before some of the wood began to disappear.
On dark, cold nights Mr. Burkley finally employed a trusty Irishman to watch it. But the Irishman didn't like to remain exposed to the elements.
He invented a labor-saving device that was supposed to have allowed him more time at home. He rearranged the long pile of wood, bored holes into about 20 of the pieces, filled them with powder, and plugged the holes. A few mornings later cookstoves of some of the neighboring residents were blowing up one after the other. Mr. Burkley found himself in a delicate dilemma, but the thieving stopped.
"West of Omaha" in the first years was anything west of what is now Twenty-fourth Street. Beyond the new Territorial Capitol, completed in 1858 on the present-day Central High School grounds, was a deep ravine and wilderness. A few Omaha business men, not too desirous of braving the greater distances, hardly went farther "into the country" than this area "west of Omaha" to get in their hunting.
Close in were rabbits, prairie wolves and coyotes. Timber wolves could be seen loping along at a distance. Farther out, of course, were elk, antelope and buffalo, and in this area it was not uncommon for the hunter to stumble along over the skulls of dead buffalo on the prairie.
Out here was silence, broken only by the sigh of the prairie breeze, and sounds of wildlife. During the day, the meadowlark contributed his song to the symphonic music of nature's noises. The lurking coyote waited for night and the opportunity to penetrate the darkness with his shrill, sinister howl.
Nearly all men drank and every gentleman was called by his first name. The man who shunned the bars, it is said, had better be able to defend himself! But in the depths of the depression hardships stiffened the backs of the troubled pioneers. Life had to go on; and even in its beginning stages it was initiated into frontier living under the most primitive methods.
A typical instance was the birth of a daughter to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Redman in a covered wagon at the rear of Mr. Redman's blacksmith shop near what is now Twenty-fourth and Ames Avenue. The temperature that night stood at 18 below zero. There were no nurses, hot water bottles or electric pads; no physician or pharmacist who could reach the laboring mother in time; no surgical equipment or medicines; no stove and no heat only the feeble rays of the oil lantern which cast its flickering light over the shivering family.
And in this lonely setting, a December wind howled itsicy welcome to a new pioneer.
The year 1858 found many Omahans with little faith in the future of their new city. The trouble was that most of these frontier people seemingly did not hold a far-reaching imagination as to the agricultural value of the surrounding land. Their principal idea as to the worth of real estate in Omaha and vicinity seemed to be what it would bring for sale or trading purposes.
Early speculation had been based upon a certainty of rapidly-increasing land values. Claims had been staked out and property had been purchased with a view to selling as soon as profitable prices could be obtained. Town lots changed hands rapidly during the first four years. The principal philosophy among many so-called far-sighted businessmen was that if a thousand dollars for a business lot was a common price why cultivate the land and raise a crop when scattered markets and uncertain prices had turned nearly everybody into land speculators?
Some of them had made money; some had lost. And when the depression came, every one lost. Town lots could scarcely be given away, and with wildcat banks failing in all directions credit came to a complete stop. As a consequence, Omahans could not purchase goods in St. Louis, Cincinnati or any other convenient place unless for cash on delivery. The resulting scarcity of commodities in Omaha left property-owning men as poor as their normally-destitute neighbors. Ironically, however, many of these people were too poor to flee from their future fortunes!
One man who couldn't get away owned a large farm outside of town (today it would be within the city limits). He subdivided it later into lots and sold them for five thousand dollars each!
Lack of credit helped speed the drain of population. More than two thousand left Omaha between 1858 and 1860. In January of 1858, there was hardly an average of $2.50 in cash to any one person. Anything any one had was invested in property, a shaky business or in worthless city scrip. Other banks in the West closed while trying to carry along many business concerns who owed them money. That was the month the new Territorial Capitol on Capitol Hill was completed.
But despite the depression, Douglas County received its first Courthouse that year. The building, a two-story. brick with, built-in columns, was erected in the block then known as Washington Square. It remained there, on the northeast corner of Sixteenth and Farnam Streets, until 1885 when the second Courthouse was constructed atop a high hill in the block bounded by Seventeenth and Eighteenth Streets and Harney and Farnam Streets.
That year also saw the first publication on May 5 of the Nebraska (later the Omaha) Republican. In August, the steamboat Watossa ran from St. Joseph, Mo., to Omaha in 36 hours 22 minutes, a new record. The news account of the trip boasted; "No steamer has ever beaten that time and we think none ever will."
From March 21 to November 4, 1858, a total of 104 steamboats arrived and departed from Omaha. There might have been more had it not been for treacherous navigation problems that had disabled them. Wrecks of steamboats were strewn along the Missouri from the headwaters to the mouth. Snags were the chief cause.
That year the Territorial Legislature passed a bill to inaugurate a public school system in Omaha, and Howard Kennedy from New York State became first superintendent. His first staff consisted of five teachers.
Even in the depths of depression and the outward flow of its population, the city struggled to make a few strides forward - achievements which might be credited as having saved Omaha from dropping into oblivion.
And its reward was soon to come...
End Installment III
Omaha's First Century - Installment IV
Omaha's First Century - Introduction