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Custer County Nebraska Early Schools
Early School History Of Custer County, Nebraska
One of the first requirements in every new settlement was schools. This was the case in the location where the first school districts were organized. We will add a few notes on the beginning of public schools in Nebraska. First school in Nebraska was at Fort Atkinson in early years, where children of soldiers and other attended.
Thirteen years later a mission school was opened at Bellevue for Indians. Fifty years last in 1852 in Cass County opened the first public school in Nebraska supported by tax funds. Three years later in 1855 the Territorial Legislature made provisions for establishing a school system by taxation. Most early schools were in private homes. The first school building in Omaha was located on Jefferson Square and built in 1863. The first school building in Nebraska City was built in 1866. In 1887 the Nebraska legislature passed a law making it compulsory that all children of school age must be sent to school. In 1891 school districts began furnishing books which gave each public the same kind of a text books.
The first schools in Custer County were what were called subscription school in which patron gave a little towards the support of teacher. This generally consisted of meat (mostly wild game) flour, potatoes and other foods they might be able to spare.
The first school in the county was taught by Mrs. Ed Eubank, in her home in a log cabin in the kitchen, about two and half miles north of Douglas Grove. This was the fall of 1875. Her husband Rev. Eubank would start the school, while she did up-the house work and then she would take over the rest of the day. This was a three month school. The next year there were two subscription schools in the county. Mrs. James Wagner taught school in a dugout about half mile west of Douglas Grove. Miss Callie Dryden taught a. school in a dugout near New Helena. In order to secure a certificate Miss Dryden
was required to go to North Loup in Valley County, where the superintendent of the organized county had supervision over schools in what was then organized territory in which New Helena was located. This Miss Dryden refused to do and to over this inconvenience, Judge Mathews developed a plan of his own. He decided to conduct the examination himself and drew up the questions and submitted them to the teacher. She wrote the answers as best she could, considering the writing material at hand, the Judge carried the papers to North Loup and laid the case before the County Superintendent Mr. Oscar Babcock, who decided this was a very unusual case and issued the certificate. It is thought no other certificate ln Custer County was ever issued in a like manner Miss Callie Dryden has the distinction of being the first certified teacher in Custer County secured a regular certificate from Custer county first superintendent of, schools Mr. Eubank.
The first school districts in what is now Custer County was numbered eleven and fifteen and were organized, and numbered by Valley County. Number eleven became District number one and number fifteen became district number two after Custer County was organized. Taxes were collected in unorganized territory and turned over to Valley County for expenses of these schools. The first public school supported by taxation was held in 1877 in the spring. Miss Callie Dryden as teacher in District fifteen and Helen Shemmel in district eleven. In the fall of 1877 Custer County was organized and these districts became districts numbers one and two.
A search of the tax records, by County Superintendent Weekly in an effort to give some facts of interest in connection with the beginning of Custer county schools. Disclosed that in 1878, there was only two pieces of land in the territory were assessed. These being the only tracts proved up on, and deed received. These were Charles A. Hale on the southeast quarter of section fifteen and Nimrod Capel a tract in sections thirty three and thirty four. Both of these could be in the Douglas Grove neighborhood. Those charged with personal taxes were; Samuel Wagner, William Wagner, William Kates, Frank Ingraham, A.A. Higgins, S. F. Harrod, L.R. Dowse, William Edwards, E. D. Eubank, J. W. Comstock and M.M. .Bray.
A search of the tax records, by County Superintendent Weekly in an effort to give some facts of interest in connection with the beginning of Custer county schools. Disclosed that in 1878, there was only two pieces of land in the territory were assessed. These being the only tracts proved up on, and deed received. These were Charles A. Hale on the southeast quarter of section fifteen and Nimrod Capel a tract in sections thirty three and thirty four. Both of these are in the Douglas Grove neighborhood. Those charged with personal taxes were; Samuel Wagner, William Wagner, William Kates, Frank Ingraham, Aaron Higgins, S. F. Harrod, Lewis Dowse, William Edwards, Edwin Eubank, John Comstock and M.M. Bray.
Found in the archives, there were tax receipts for payment of taxes to Valley County in the spring of 1877 by Mr. James Oxford. Personal taxes were $7.47, and thirty two cents of this was for the University of Nebraska. Mr. Oxford taxes for 1880 were his real estate and came to $3.58 and personal taxes were $10.13 and of this eighty six cent for local school and twenty six cents for the university
Johnson History of Nebraska printed 1880 but the material gathered in 1879. That gives the population for Custer County as 696 people. With the population split being; 415 males and 281 females. That there were 1,308 acres assessed.
This would mean only ten or eleven parties had proved up on their land by the spring of 1879. Land was assessed-at $1.50 an acre. There were two school houses with a total of sixty one pupils.
Also noted in this was that Custer County had plenty of government land (to homestead) that would be suitable for either stock raising or farming. We had 835 horses valued at $14,395, mules were 20 for the value of $536, sheep total 4161 with the valule of $1 each, swine total was 183 for $218.25. The cattle total count was 23,900 for the value of $150,231 and these were listed as meat cattle.
We had a few post offices like: Tuckerville, Lena, Georgetown, Douglas Grove, and New Helena. in 1879 the county seat was on the South Loup River and served numerous cattle ranches and was a busy place.
In this report two school houses are mentioned. In the fifth anniversary report for school district the county. Some other claim to have had a sod school building before this data, but no school district had been organized in those districts at that time. Shortly after district number one was organized the people wanted a regular school house. Efforts were made towards securing this school building. A number of men went to the cedar canyons near New Helena, and cut and hauled cedar logs. These were hued and ready to begin the building. An argument arose as to the details and location of the building. It was decided not to build until an agreement was made. The logs were piled up and the men went home. But before the question was settled a prairie fire came along and burned the logs. It was then decided to build a sod school house. School was continued in the dugout until a sod building was erected. Mr. Will Wagner was given a contract to build the sod building for $125.00. This was ready in fall 1882.
District three was the first district organized in the south part of Custer County. Dist #3 was organized in 1880 and the first school was held upstairs of David Sprouse home. This was northwest of Callaway. Mr. Alfred Scheryer was the teacher. The children were from the Scheryer, Decker and Sprouse families.
Soon afterwards a sod school house was built and was located at the foot of the hill west of Callaway. A frame school house was built likely by Mr. Sam Idell, a builder of the pioneer days. Many of the old timers at Callaway had a home built by him too.
History tells us in 1882 the county had grown to the population of about 3000 people. One of the challenges of pioneer life was that were many wild animals that roamed this land and this made one wonder with the children walking many miles to school. The schools were place in populated areas and later they were about ever six mile apart. By 1890 have a total number of residents of near 20,000 in the area that have homesteaded and later some come with the railroad.
1885 school year had the following: (in school district and were listed, to age 20 years)
The following items were taken from the record called the School Census, which was taken every year. This recorded all children in the district that were under the age of 20 years. This document is helpful in telling where they lived, who was in the house, what was their age or birthdays. And the families often knew each other and traveled together or were related when they came to homestead.
School District ONE, called Wescott had a school building that was made of sod. And the district did not provide textbooks for the school work. They did receive $500 from the county treasurer. The teacher was Eliza C Westcott, paid $25 per month for 2 months; they bumped to $30 per month for the other 5 month of the school term. They had 178 days for the year for the total of $200 for the teacher. (this is similar to the 180 day we have in 2021)
School district TWO was named New Helena and the families all lived in Township 19, range 21. They started school on 31 August 1885 for a six to seven month term. They now furnish the textbooks for classroom. The district had a total of 53 students in this area. Funding came from the $1.50 in non-resident tuition and $500 from county treasurer. They had a school house made of logs at the value of $300 and the land value was $28.
The teachers were: (none were did a whole year)
Addie Cooper at $25/ mo. – for 3 mo.:
John L Klepper at $30/ mo, for 2 mo.;
Hattie M Jeffords at $30/ mo - for 1 month;
and Anna L Gordon at $25/ mo – for 3 months.
School district THREE, named Delight or Whaley, was the first district organized in the southwest part of Custer County. Near what was later to become Callaway. This was organized in 1880 and the first school was held upstairs in the David Sprouse home. Mr. Alfred Schreyer was the teacher. The children were from the Schreyer, Decker and Sprouse families. Soon afterwards a sod school house was built and was located at the foot of the hill west of Callaway. One of the early teachers was Miss Della High.
In 1885 district #3 had the teachers of S.A. Price at $25/ month for 3 months, H.C. Phillips at $30/ month for 4 months, and Chester Piece or Peidd at $25/ month for 3 month. District #3 started school on the 3rd Monday in October in a sod house that was valued at $25 and land value of $1. They had 48 students and the district did not furnish textbooks for school work. District #3 director was Ira McConnell.
School district FOUR, called Copsey, was just northwest of where Westerville was yet to be formed. The director of the district was L.O. Webster? The school building was made of sod and the building had no value listed. Funding came from the $500 from the county.
Teacher was Mattie Thomason? For the term of six months that started on first of Sept and she was paid $30/ month. There were 23 children in school in 1885. They did provide textbooks for school work.
School District FIVE, called Myrtle, was near the Lee Park area, between Westerville and Arcadia just inside the east county line. The school director was D.C. Goodrich and the Teachers were: Lizzie Wisley for 3 months and was for $90 and C.P. Russel for 3 months, for $90. They later had a teacher of Kate Wescott that was paid $25/ month and she came at mid-term. The term began Nov 15 and went to May 4th for only 6 month term and they did not provide textbooks. There were 35 children in school age in the district. There was said to have owed the teachers $46 and $20 but had no funds to pay them at the end of the year they had a balance of $1.68 in treasurer.
District #5 had a note for $50, and had a bill of $66 for teacher salary (yet to be paid), and only got $147.11 from the county treasurer for the school year. The building was made of sod and valued at $150 and the land at $15.
Just ask and see what you can find out about your family. These records have existed for each county, it's just where to find them. County records OR Historical Societies.
IT IS AMAZING WHAT THE SCHOOL RECORDS HAVE FOR RESEARCING.
Stitches In Time
So many of my ancestresses were labeled "housekeepers" or "domestics" in the federal census enumerations. "Housekeeper" being the code word for Chef-Nurse-Bookkeeper-Gardener-Teacher-HeadBottleWasher and of course - Seamstress. Those earlier times made seamstresses out of many women who maybe would not have been if there wasn't the need. Whether the need was financial or lack of access to ready-made clothing, sewing was likely a part of their job description regardless of their like or dislike of it.
I learned to sew through 4-H and took projects to the county fair, but most of them were a waste of material. How many of you have made a "smock-top", and how many of you actually wore one? For my mother, sewing is a fun pastime. To this day, her sewing machine rarely sits dormant for very long. She keeps finding ways to use up her stash of material. She told me once that she spent her first teaching paycheck on this sewing machine, the one I used
She made several articles of clothing for me and my siblings, along with every dress I ever wore to any high school dance. She made a "Gunny-Sax" style dress for me which I loved! After 40 years of it hanging in my closet, I decided that I could never sell it, certainly couldn't wear it and just couldn't get rid of it. So I found a friend who quilts and had it all cut up into pieces and upcycled into a nice lap blanket to curl up with and watch movies.
Both of my Grandmothers sewed. I still remember for Christmas one year my Grandma Violet (McGrath) Bell gave me a blue gingham flannel bathrobe she had made. There were matching blue slippers that she had knitted along with it. She had a modern sewing machine, but still had her old treadle sewing machine I saw her use once. My husband and I tried to buy it on the auction, but there was a woman there who wanted it - or could affort it - waaaay more than I could.
Many years ago my Grandma Doris (Mann) Menke made me this coat.
I've heard it said that Grandma's mother, Cora (Gaisford) Mann could sew her daughters dresses they wanted without a pattern, just from a picture they showed her. She cut her patterns from newspaper and used flour and feed sacks for material. Knowing that I found it interesting to see in the 1860 Massachusetts census that Cora's mother's aunt, Julia Bliss, was listed as a "dressmaker" at age 21. Cora's father, Charles Gaisford, was a weaver, then a spindle maker. I can't help but think he met his bride Henrietta Smith through her aunt Julia Bliss.
Grandma made a quilt for each of her children and grandchildren - 18 of us in all, plus other quilts and wall hangings. A few years ago I stopped to visit her one day and she needed help putting the foot feed back on her sewing machine after oiling it. To my surprise I was able to help her with that, but even more surprising was the fact that Grandma was starting a new sewing project at 93 years old.
The handi-work of my seamstress Grandmothers has my full admiration. I won't be refilling a bobbin anytime soon, but one of my grandnieces seems to like to sew. There the fibre arts may continue.
This weekend is the anniversary of one of my Grandmothers' birth and the others death. As I reflect on their memory today, I think that they enjoyed sewing for their families and took pride in their skill. I am truly grateful for these hand-crafted heirlooms.
Family heirlooms are memories you can hold in your hand.
The Value of a Stone
I love cemeteries, and I am not alone in my appreciation for American memorial gardens. Cemetery tourist, grave hunter, cemetery enthusiast – we go by many names. If you want to get technical, a taphophile is an individual who takes an interest in cemeteries, the grave markers in them, the art they portray, and the lives of those they memorialize. I usually say “genealogist” and my appreciation for cemeteries is inferred.
As a genealogist, it is the information that can be gleaned from the grave marker that holds the most value to me. Yes, the pictures are pretty, but what do they tell us about the decedent? That’s what I’m looking for.
Grave markers are first and foremost memorials. They are left in memoriam of those who came before us. There’s no real purpose to “knowing” where a grave is other than to remember the person buried there. There are countless roads, housing developments, cornfields, city parks, and yes, swimming pools, that remind us that planting a body in the ground is no deterrent for progress. It’s not the grave that we are seeking – it’s the grave marker.
Above: Emely, wife of John Brown, Sloan Cemetery, Sloan, IA
Documents are not guaranteed a long life – they are lost over time due to a lack of records management, an act of God, or they never existed in the first place. Not every cemetery had a map, an interment book, burial permits issued. In some situations it was expected that the grave marker would forever serve its purpose and mark the grave.
In genealogy we are advised to look at any possible record to help us learn about our subject. When we find a “brick wall”, we are told to think outside the box – look at records that are not obvious sources of genealogical data. One of the most interesting genealogical finds I’ve encountered was in a set of city council meeting records. But sometimes, the only record that a person ever existed is their grave marker.
Above: unknown grave, Prospect Hill Cemetery, Omaha, NE
If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times – sometimes the only record that a person existed is their grave marker. More often than not, people respond to me with disbelief. They shrug off my statement as some kind of hyperbole meant to entice a dramatic response. That just can’t be. Surely there is some other record – a birth certificate, a family bible entry, an obituary, a cemetery record –there has to be something other than that hunk of stone – it just hasn’t been found yet. But it is true – whether no other records were ever created or they just didn’t survive the ravages of time, that marker is IT.
Cemetery tourists, grave hunters, taphophiles – many of the folks who visit a cemetery to enjoy its art tend to gravitate toward the extraordinary monuments – the large, intricately carved, or unique pieces of art. If their visit is prompted by an appreciation of the historical significance of the memorials, it is the entrepreneurs, the politicians, the notorious they seek out.
Above: Emma Jean, Oak Hill Cemetery, Plattsmouth, NE
I encourage you to look down. There’s a grave marker there - small, insignificant, without any grandeur or pomp, existing in the shadow of those larger than life monuments that surround them (sometimes literally), quite possibly in real danger of being lost forever. That little grave marker represents the memory of somebody’s baby – somebody’s love – somebody’s friend -somebody. A marker was placed with the intent that that person would be mourned, grieved over, and remembered.
Our memorial gardens are filled with beautiful art, interesting characters, unfathomable stories, and I will continue to visit and honor them. I would ask of you dear reader that the next time you are revealing in the exorbitant, in the extraordinary, in the benevolent and the ghastly, that you take a moment. Give a thought or two to those who left no legacy, and look down.
Above: unknown grave, Old Baptist Cemetery, Hannibal, MO
The Courthouse & Naturalization Records
COVID is winding down, so people are probably wanting to get back into courthouses, libraries and archives for research. Good news! To my knowledge, MOST courthouses are open to the public. My local courthouse just replaced the “masks required” sign with a “masks recommended” sign. However this varies from courthouse to courthouse, so make sure to have a mask. I also recommend calling or emailing ahead for several reasons: (1) you don’t want to go on court day especially if you are accessing probates, naturalization or court records, (2) you don’t want to go on a voting day, especially if you are accessing land records, marriage records, etc. and (3) the records you desire may be on a lower level or in a locked file cabinet so it may help them to know what records you want and they can pull them ahead of time. What should you take to the courthouse? This varies by courthouse but make sure you have a phone, camera or portable scanner for pictures of the documents. Also good to have a notebook and pen/pencil for notes. You may also want to take a staple puller, sweater, bottle of water, etc.
Naturalization are valuable records to genealogists. These records are usually held by the district court clerk (often the same person as the county court clerk). Although some courthouses have turned these over to local genealogical or historical societies for storage purposes.
Remember naturalization was not required for immigrants. Also in 1776, all white people were automatically made U.S. citizens (not Native Americans or African Americans).
There are three major steps to naturalization, and each one created a record:
- Declaration of Intent (also called First Papers)
- Petition for Naturalization
- Certificate of Citizenship (or Certificate of Naturalization)
The Declaration of Intent could be filed any time after an immigrant arrived. In this document, the immigrant would renounce their loyalty to their home country. This document often has more valuable information about the immigrant: birth place, occupation, current residence, physical description, the vessel he/she immigrated on, port of arrival and possibly a photo.
Here is a photo of a declaration of intent:
Petition for Naturalization: After filing their declaration and meeting the residence requirement, an immigrant could petition the court to become a citizen. Usually the petition was filed in the court nearest to the immigrant’s current residence.
This document often gave similar information as the first, but also included a spouse’s name (usually wife) and children’s names. At certain times, women and children were citizens if the man of the house was. There are also witnesses listed here, so this is where you can trace his “FAN” club. Were these neighbors, in-laws, people he worked with, etc.?
Here is a sample:
After the requirements were completed, the immigrant was sworn in as a citizen and given his certificate. I have also seen immigrants change their name at this time, usually “Americanize” it so to speak. Below is a certificate, and then evidence of someone changing his name.
Google Books & Nebraska Genealogy
Do you use Google Books for genealogy? A lot of old family genealogies can be found in the online catalog there, many of them are great for colonial ancestors. Have you checked out what's available in relation to Nebraska history? In relation to your family's personal history? Some of the things you can find might surprise you. Think about the different organizations your ancestors might have been involved in and try a search for that group. I've included here a few samples of books and reports that are available.
"The Blue Book of Nebraska Woman", Winona Evans Reeves, 1916. This book consists of short biographies of over 170 women with Nebraska ties. It is a very interesting reading in itself, but if you're lucky enough to be related to any of the women in the book, it's great to add to your family history collection. The entire book can be read online for free.
"Nebraska Live Stock Breeders Handy Directory" of 1917. Were your ancestors involved in any associations relating to agriculture? This directory covers beef, dairy cattle, hogs, horses, sheep, poultry, even Collie dogs. Also mentioned are Auctioneers, County Agents, Veterinarians and more. It even includes a few photographs. You can read it online for free and easily search for your family names. Many annual reports of different associations are also available with more information about the organization, most listing officers at state and county levels.
"Nebraska Horticulture" Volume 10, 1921. If your ancestors had a green thumb, here's a publication of the Nebraska State Horticulture Society. Listed are county officers, directors, fair managers and general information on the plant crops of your ancestors' areas. For the Peter Youngers family of Geneva, this issue published a full page "in memorium" following his death.
"Nebraska Educational Journal" of 1922 & 1923. How about ancestors in the field of
education. Short biographies of some elected officials, or memorials to those who had passed can be found in these journals. Also included are lists of county superintendents, faculty announcements, committee chairs and officers of local Parent-Teacher associations. And an occasional photograph!
There are various years of publications from the Nebraska State Historical Society, or the University of Nebraska, as well as conventions and annual meetings of businesses such as pharmaceutical, banking, fraternal organizations, bar associations, medical journals and reports from the Nebraska Supreme Court on legal decisions. You can find some reports from various religious conferences. Not all books or reports are available to read online, but you can usually search for names. Take some time and give Google Books a try! You might be surprised at what you can find. https://books.google.com/
Custer County Nebraska Research
CUSTER COUNTY, middle of NEBRASKA- FAMILY HISTORY
Custer County is a homesteaded area that seen a large number of one room country schools over its years. At one time Custer County had over three hundred and eighty locations of schools near these rural homes. These small schools have all seen their ending, the families are still on only a few of these farmsteads, just not on every quarter section of land.
To do research in the Custer county area there is a great deal of archived items at the Custer County Museum/ Historical Society. Custer County has several towns and communities that have history in Broken Bow, the county seat. This is on the town square near the court house. They have a nice system, that is easy to use for researching.
Here is a few of the priority places to use for your quest.
- Family Files- we would go to these files that are sorted by family name (example: Emma Armstrong) that you need information on. These family files have a variety of items that have been extracted from newspaper, and prior research, over the past 60 years of the society. It could have obituaries, marriage records, probate records, biographies or miscellaneous notes. These are in folders in the multiple file cabinets.
- Obituary index files- These files are two sets of cabinets, one is the index by name and the other has a transcribed newspaper obituaries by year for the index. (from 1870’s to 1975) After 1975 the family files are used.
- Cemetery census- These are a set of binders that are from the early years of reading and locating the stones. This has a few cemeteries that have allowed us to copy their books/ records. These records even have those unmarked burials, which may not have a stone.
- Community History books- Our collection has almost every town having a book that was compiled for their centennial in the 1980’s. This also includes our county history book that has hundreds of biographies, that was made in 1919.
- Directory of town or county- These vary from year to year, if it is a town or county directory. These are a great resource to locate them and which community they lived in.
- Maps- from homesteading to this current year. These can be used to track how long they owned land and where it was located, so that you can put them on the map where they lived and what they did for an occupation. Maybe you want to stand on the place they once stood; we can get you pinpointed to that location.
- Place Names of Custer County: is a set of green binders that details all of the places that has a name that involved: Schools, Post Offices, towns, and communities. These may tell you why the community was named as it was. (Ex: French Table area was named for the pioneers that came from French speaking old countries.)
- Place Names of Broken Bow: is a set of red binders that have a wide variety of items on the Businesses of Broken Bow. These have things like: Bakery, Livery, Blacksmith, Jeweler, Banks, café and medical connections. These might have items about the people and had the Bakeries or where they were located.
- Military collection – Binders and scrapbooks with photos and listings of the various eras. We do have a file started on this
- School District histories – have the 384 school districts that Custer County has had over the century and some have students that attended.
- Photos - We have an extensive set of photos that include: prints of Solomon D. Butcher: early sod houses; miscellaneous photos in several binders and cabinets: of photo of towns, and businesses.
- Mortuary Records – these are a copy of the records that they kept at the time of death of a family member. Some of these are complete and yet some are very sparse on information, like cause of death of place of burial.
The Custer County Museum working with new (old) finds to create new lists to add to the archives and their website has a large amount of indexes AND are open throughout the year, weekday afternoons. https://www.custercountymuseum.org/
Custer County Nebraska and Genealogical research
The Custer County Historical Society (Custer County Museum) has an extensive collection on the area and its citizens. I would have to say that, yes we are a large county, and we stretch beyond our county line for documents and resources and I would be best if you set a goal and make a list of what you want to locate and know.
To start with you have the name of who you want to find and some info on them, like birth, death, marriage, burial and parent or children. This is just a part of the research list you will want to make and have for a research request or research trip. For this you will want to write down: who, what, when, why and where. This research should be planned by looking and calling to the location of resources and what you already know and what you want to find.
For setting a goal on your research you could have the following example:
Anna Mae (Armstrong) McKnight
-born 16 Aug 1903, Berwyn, Custer Co., NE
-died 26 Jan 1985 in Norton, KS (near Beaver City, NE where the daughter lived)
She generally lived in Custer Co. until her health failed.
-Burial Broken Bow Cemetery, Custer County NE (in family lot of Armstrong and Juker families)
Married to: Forest Edward McKnight (born 1900 Butler Co., NE and died 1967 Berwyn NE)
-Places lived: (census) 1910 Berwyn Township, Custer Co., NE; 1920 Berwyn Twp, Custer Co., NE; 1930 Highland Twp, Hooker Co. NE; 1940 Berwyn Twp, Custer County, NE. (do have some directories and maps showing them owning land north of Westerville, NE)
***My question is, why did they leave their place in Custer County. Why did they go to Hooker County Nebraska and who was with them?
***When did the move to Hooker County and where was this location? (how long they own this)
This could be followed up by many other questions.