Early History of Saline County1

GOVERNMENT LAND SURVEY

American Flag - 1867The government land survey of Nebraska started in 1854 from a point at Ogden, Kansas near Ft. Riley that is marked by a monument and surrounded by an iron fence. Charles A. Manners and Captain Thomas J. Lee of the U. S. Army were the surveyors.

The first point to be located was the boundary line between Kansas and Nebraska. A cast iron monument weighing about 600 pounds was set between four stone pedestals on a high point in sight of the Missouri River in Richardson County on May 8, 1855.

This marker is hard to locate as it is surrounded by a heavy growth of brush and trees. Then a line was run west for a distance of 108 miles to what is known as the sixth Principal Meridian. That is the west boundary line of Saline County running north and south and also the west line of Jefferson, Seward, Butler, Colfax, Stanton and Wayne Counties and through Cedar County to the north boundary of the state.

Initial points from which the line of public surveys is to be extended must be established astronomically. In order to check errors in measurement two sets of chainmen, operating independently of each other, must be employed and the proper corner established.

Nebraska public surveys are controlled by the Sixth P.M. Saline County was surveyed in 1856 and 1857. The Sixth Principal Meridian was established June 11, 1856 by Charles A. Manners, U. S. deputy surveyor, the line between Kansas and Nebraska Territory running west of the Sixth P.M. was surveyed a distance of 140 miles in 1858.

The Nelson Buck survey party of ten men was killed by a band of Sioux Indians in the Republican River valley on August 20, 1869.

The last survey in Nebraska was the "Gates of Sheridan" reservation in 1910, 56 years after the first survey was made.

The very first survey in Nebraska was in 1837 by Rev. Isaac McCoy, a Baptist missionary. A line ran from the Little Nemaha River in what is now Richardson County. The land east of this line and to the Missouri river was called the half-breed strip, or reservation.

Survey records are kept at the Court Houses and duplicate records are kept in fire proof vaults in the State Capitol Building.

The records show the survey in Saline County was completed in 1857.

SALINE COUNTY GOT ITS NAME AND FIRST COUNTY GOVERNMENT

The government land survey of this region was not completed at the time the county was named. The territorial legislature conceived the idea of creating counties in 1855 and created ten counties and gave them names. However, there were no definite locations. Thomas B. Cuming, Secretary of State, acted as Governor until Mark W. Izard was appointed in 1855.

They chose the name for Saline County because the land was near the Salt Basin on Salt Creek and the county seat was named Saltville. No real record has been found where a county seat name of Saltville was recorded. However, it is believed that it was confused with Saltillo, a post office south of Lincoln where many Saline County land transfers were made and attested by an official that had a notary’s seal.

This land was occupied by roving bands of Indians, but after the government land survey was completed, the white settlers started coming in to preempt land under the land act of 1854.

THE FIRST TOWN IN SALINE COUNTY

Swan City, NebraskaMost Saline County residents have heard of Swan City. None now living remember the old town when it was a prosperous and important frontier county seat. A painting by Jack Tobias, a Wilber, Nebraska artist who got his data from J. A. Wild, Sam Brolliar and other early residents of the county, now hangs on the west wall of the assembly room of the Court House at Wilber.

Swan City started to be a town when Thomas Freeman opened a store there, having the first store in Saline County, and followed by William Craig, setting up a saw mill and building a residence south of the creek in 1865. William Remington donated the land for the town.

Not a sign of the village remains today, the buildings having been removed to DeWitt about two and one-half miles east, or to Wilber, or to nearby farms. The mill at Swan City was the first flouring mill in Saline County.

The saw mill, known as Cline’s Mill, was the meeting place of the county commissioners at the beginning of county government. Their first meeting was on February 17, 1866.  It was held to plat the county into four voting precincts and order poll and record books. The saw mill was operated by Rex Hansberry. The commissioners voted Swan City as the next meeting place and ordered an election for the 17th of March, 1866. Notices of commissioners’ meeting required the posting of notices at Crete, Pleasant Hill, Swan City and Adamson saw mill on Swan Creek and Bertwell mill in Sec. 6, Wilber Precinct.

The Commissioners Court (so named at that time) held their next meeting at Swan City on the 16th day of April to examine the poll books of March 17th election and approve official bonds.

This election was declared null and void and ordered another election for June 1866.

On January 9, 1867 the geographical boundaries of the commissioners’ district were drawn up. These boundaries were changed in 1879 and remain the same to 1961.

Swan City was located five and a half miles south of the Wilber business district in 1873. There were no creek or river bridges in the early days and all river crossings were known as fords. No roads were on section lines; they were only trails across grassland.

Swan City, the little county seat that had such an auspicious beginning, was doomed to oblivion. There was no courthouse at Swan City, but it was the county seat of government because the county commissioners chose to meet there.

At first, the commissioners always voted to meet at Cline’s sawmill. Later they held some of their meetings in a small building a little apart from the town. The Historical Society has a newspaper print of it with two elk hitched to a buggy, and the seat occupied by John Dunbar, the owner of the elk and circus that wintered in Swan City, and also big Jim Drake.

The same building was used for church services and school house at different times.

Mr. Remington appeared before the county commissioners in July, 1870 and offered to furnish an office for use by the county for $48 per year, to be ready by July 12, 1870. The upper floor of the Harve Remington store was used to store county records after July, 1870 and the county officers made their headquarters there.

One of the first marriage licenses issued was to Kate Chmelir and Joseph Hynek. At the first election there were 67 votes cast on March 17, 1866.

In 1871, William Remington was allowed $4.00 for the use of his house by county officials.

The county paid bounties for rodent scalps; in January 1868, 5 wolf scalps and 10 wildcat scalps were mutilated by the county clerk.

Mr. William Craig had the first sawmill in Saline County at Swan City and sold it to Thomas Clyne (Cline) and it was the meeting place of the county commissioners beginning in 1866. The records do not tell just how long the sawmill was used as a meeting place.

However, a separate building located a little north of the business district was a meeting place for the county officials for some time.

Thomas Clyne sold out at Swan City and on February 28, 1867 and set up the first sawmill north of Pleasant Hill.

Petitions had been presented to hold an election to relocate the county seat to a more central location, and an election had been held where three or four locations were contested. However, on June 3, 1871, the election showed Pleasant Hill the winner and the first session of the county officials there was July 5, 1871.

Saline County was organized February 18, 1867, after this it took a while to get the machinery of government together and running. It took money to make the wheels go around then the same as now. At the best it would take nearly a year. There was no tax on land. Homesteads could not be taxed until the owner had proved up on them. So it was about January 1st 1868 before they could get going. The first officers were: John Cox, Jonas Gilbert, and Abram Byrd, Commissioners, M. Cox, treasurer, Tobias Castor, county clerk, John C. Hunt, county judge, Wm. Remington, sheriff, and C. A. W. Abrams, coroner. Then Tobias Castor in addition to being county clerk was acting as county superintendent, surveyor and clerk of the district court. It was January 18, 1868, when acting superintendent Tobias Castor sent out notice to organize school Dist. No. 1.

1 Compiled and credited to J. W. Kaura of Dewitt, Nebraska ©1962 - "Saline County Nebraska History"