Jim McKee: Pierce County mystery | National News

Of Nebraska’s eight original counties, as shown in this 1854 map, none is more confusing than Pierce, which had its name changed to Ottoe (sic) the following year. None of the original eight, created by Acting Governor Cuming, retained their boundaries and eight of the 16 “new counties” subsequently designated completely disappeared while the first territorial census on Nov. 20, 1854, combined Forney and Pierce counties.

That first census showed Pierce and Forney counties’ total population was 614, including children and nine slaves, while the entire Nebraska Territory counted 2,732 in an area of “about the size of France and the British Islands combined.”

Because the precise boundary between Nebraska and Kansas was unclear and felt to have counted some Kansans in Nebraska, a second census was ordered in 1855 and “Pierce County as such, ceased to exist.”

“A few years later,” a new Pierce County appeared in the northeast corner of the territory that subsequently added 6 square miles taken from Cedar County and “tier of precincts from L’Eau Qui Court to the north,” creating the square, 345,000-acre county existing today. In 1859, the territorial legislature officially created the new Pierce County, named for Franklin Pierce, 14th president of the United States and the youngest to be elected at that point in history.

Accounts vary, but in 1866, 1867 or 1869, a German colony from Wisconsin headed by Rev. Heckendorf arrived in the southeast area of Pierce County. When members of the group split on exactly where they would settle, a sign reading “hader” (fight) was placed on a pole. That became the village of Hadar, respelled to prevent confusion with an existing U.S. city.

In 1870, Harvard Law School graduate J.H. Brown and Robert Lucas, whose father had twice been governor of Ohio and later appointed Territorial Governor of Iowa, arrived. The land they acquired was originally granted to Daniel Green as Revolutionary War Soldier’s Bounty.

Green’s widow sold or transferred a portion to George Weare of Sioux City, Iowa, who then sold a half-section to Brown, who in turn sold half of that to Lucas. Brown then built a “sod and slab” cabin on the bank of Willow Creek, followed by Lucas building one.

Both cabins were on the south side of Willow Creek where it joined the North Fork of the Elkhorn River. Brown’s house was described as a cabin, while Lucas’ was a 1 1/2-story frame structure.

Pierce County in its new location was officially organized in the summer of 1870. The attendant election set the county seat at the village of Pierce, which was within Brown and Lucas’ property and also made Brown the county clerk, while Lucas became a county commissioner and county judge.

A subsequent announcement estimated the county population at 152 and noted that Brown was offering 200,000 acres of choice land for sale at various sites. He quickly built an addition to his house, which became a hotel, temporary courthouse and, in October, was made the village post office.

In the spring of the following year, a vote of 46-24 passed a bond issue of $15,000 to build a courthouse. The bonds, however, were never issued, as tax collection completely paid the ultimate $4,000 cost of the courthouse. 1871 also saw the survey and plat of the 56-square-block city of Pierce and completion of a school that doubled as a church.

The courthouse was completed in 1872 on the city square, which was bounded by Court, Pierce, Lucas and Brown streets. In 1874, Lucas was elected to the Nebraska Legislature.

Railroad interest in Pierce County then began in earnest, with frequent reports in the Pierce County Call, which began operation in October of 1877. Bonds were approved in the amount of $88,000 (or $85,000) for the Covington, Columbus & Black Hills Railroad and $60,000 for the Omaha, Niobrara & Black Hills Railroad, but when neither started construction, the bonds were, like the courthouse bonds, never issued. Ultimately, the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad contracted with the Western Railway Construction Co. to build a line across Pierce County that was completed in 1880.

William B. Chilvers settled at the head of Dry Creek, which developed as the village of Plainview. The city of Pierce incorporated in 1883, which claimed a population of 1,215.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the F.E. & M.V. Railroad was leased by the Sioux City & Pacific Railroad and later purchased by the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. By that time, there were 59.3 miles of rail line in the county, which had grown to a population of 8,445, and it was announced there were 800 acres of sugar beets under cultivation in the county, which was also noted as being No. 2 in the state in terms of cheese production.

As an interesting statistic, Pierce County’s population growth was published at a 691% growth in its first decade and a minus 1.42% growth between the last two U.S. Census figures.

Today, the county’s population is estimated at 7,157, while Pierce County claims it is one of the very few in Nebraska to have never had a county seat location challenge. There are currently six incorporated towns and villages in Pierce County — Foster, Hadar, McLean, Osmond, Pierce and Plainview. Wee Town is unincorporated.

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