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No new counties had been organized from 1890 (the year Wyoming was admitted to statehood) until 1909. Laramie County, mother and grandmother of all Wyoming counties, had been founded by the Dakota Legislature in 1867 and included nearly all of what is now the state of Wyoming. In 1869, during the first Legislature of the newly organized Wyoming Territory, Governor Campbell approved acts creating five new counties: Laramie, Carbon, Uinta, Sweetwater, and Albany -- each of which extended from the northern to the southern boundary of Wyoming. For twenty-one years Converse County remained a part of the original Laramie County. In 1888, over Governor Moonlight's veto, Converse County was created, including the present counties of Niobrara and Converse. This seemed a wonderful and convenient arrangement to all of people of Converse County after so many years of going to Cheyenne for all county business. For most of the years it had meant the long and often dangerous stage coach journey from Lusk to attend court and take care of other business.
About fifty years ago at a dance at the old Silver Cliff, a hasty gentleman present began shooting up the place to defend the honor of his sisters. There was a large crowd and nearly all present were called to Cheyenne as witnesses. One lady then sixteen years of age, tells of the discomfort of the journey she made, for the rocking of the stage; owing to the plunging of the horses and the manner, in which the body of the stage is hung from strong leathers for ease in riding, caused real sea-sickness.
The twenty-one years of being part of Converse County were years of growing population, extension of the railroad, development of coal mines, incoming of many homesteaders, the growing certainty of oil in the county, and the beginning of real dry farming. Most of the officials were from or near Douglas, more roads were developed there, and citizens in the east end of the county felt that the time had come when a new county might be organized. Certain conditions must be met in any proposed county; there must be 1,500 in population, at least $2,000,000 in property valuation, and $3,000,000 valuation must be left in the mother county.
The chief arguments for the organization of the new counties were to place the county seats more conveniently and the improvements of roads. New highways and motor travel and new counties came at about the same time, thus weakening the force of the first argument, as the consolidation of small counties to save governmental expenses has been advocated in recent years as an economy measure in these days of telephones, automobiles, and highways.
The idea of a new county originated in Lusk and the parts farthest from Douglas. Immediately the territory involved divided itself into Divisionists and Anti-Divisionists and a county seat fight between Lusk and Manville, old towns which had been growing steadily since their beginning. Manville had had hopes of becoming the county seat for many years. In the amended townsite of Manville, a court house block on Eighth Avenue had been allowed in 1887; the following appears on the fifty year record in long hand:
I, Oscar B. Seldon, proprietor of the Townsite of Manville in Laramie County Wyoming Territory, having filed the original plat thereof in the office of the County Clerk and Ex-Officio Register of Deeds of said county and Territory on the twentieth day of October A. D. 1886 at 10:30 o'clock A.M. do hereby file a corrected or amended plat of said Townsite covering identically the same land that is covered by said first or original plat, towit: The lot four (4) and southwest quarter of northwest quarter of northeast quarter of section two (2) all in township No. thirty-two (32) North of range No. sixty-five west of the sixth Principal Meridian Laramie County Territory of Wyoming. The object of filing this amended plat being to correct certain errors in said first plat with respect to the location of the said railroad through said townsite . The above or foregoing subdivision of the Townsite of Manville as above described and as appears on the plat is made and filed with the free consent and in accordance with the desire of the undersigned owner and proprietor.
In presence of John A. Sheffer
Territory of Wyoming Manville, June 13, 1887
County of Laramie Oscar B. Seldon
The Anti-Divisionists had strong arguments in their favor; the new county would still have to pay it's share of the bonded debt for the Converse County court house; the services of an expert to transcribe twenty-five years of records, approximately one-third of which would relate to the new county, (transcribing of every deed, mortgage, a copy of every instrument of public record) would be a great expense; and the expense of a special election and the maintenance of a new county government would be too great to be borne. The division meant that the new county would receive no revenues from the Lost Springs and Harney Creek coal mines and fifteen miles of railroad.
The petition sent to the Eleventh Legislative Assembly against division stated that the division was not equitable as to area, population, and division; that the taxable wealth in the proposed new county was not of permanent character; that the only two industries from which income would be derived were dry farming and live stock, the former had not so far proved a success, the latter had diminished in volume; that the citizens and taxpayers of Converse County were already receiving efficient official service at a minimum of cost and to maintain a new quota of offices would be needless and unwarranted expense; and that a refusal to grant the enabling Act at that time would prove an advantage, while its postponement would do harm to none.
The Lusk Herald espoused the cause for Division and the Manville Register took up the cudgels against it. It was to be expected that Douglas would be opposed to the loss of so much taxable property, for division could work a very great hardship on the mother country. None of them could know in 1911 what the years just ahead would bring that would have revised all of their opinions!
A County Division Club had been formed in Lusk. Their petition for division was successful, for Mr. Forsythe states in an editorial of the Herald of January 12, 1911: "How solicitous is an '86er for the poor settlers, as he calls them! Perhaps he is not aware that the poor settlers in the east and northeast ends of the county signed the petition asking for county division almost to a man. They understand the situation thoroughly, and are quite content to take chances as to whether taxes may be higher or not."
A county committee of progressive citizens was appointed: H. C. Snyder, Thomas Bell, George Vorhees, and Russell Thorp. These men were to go to the Legislature and employ whatever legal assistance they considered necessary to accomplish the desired result. Mr. Snyder had always been identified with every move toward progress financially and socially, and was chairman of this committee sent to Cheyenne at the beginning of the Eleventh Legislature to see the matter through. He spent literally all of his time in Cheyenne until the passage of the enabling act, House Bill 69. Mr. Bell and Mr. Vorhees came home to report in person, and various other interested citizens went to Cheyenne to see personally all that was going on. At home petitions for and against were being circulated. W. B. Shipley took a division petition into the enemy's camp, but was not able to get a single signature in Keeline.
It was taken for granted that every citizen of Lusk would favor division and that Lusk's larger population would carry division and the location of the county seat. The county correspondents of Jireh and Chimney Rock asked to postpone the division until they, newcomers, should be more fully established. However, one correspondent asks in this column, "How can Manville object to dividing the county and yet desire to take itself a vastly more expensive thing, a saloon?"
Lusk remained enthusiastic, hoping for real county division news early in January. January 26 came and went with no very definite news, though Tom Bell and George Vorhees had spent a week-end at home and reported that all was well. "It looks like a cinch," remarked Mr. Bell. Ed Hall and Nat Baker joined the committee in Cheyenne. Representative T. W. Clelland was to sponsor the bill in the House of Representatives and Senator Cross in the Senate. Six other division committees were present and, in the language of the Herald, "everything pointed to smooth sailing and a safe landing on the shores of Niobrara." The committee on a name for the county had chosen Niobrara, for the river running through the south end of the county. Lusk was situated on the Niobrara, and it was closely identified with the early history of the ranches and towns whether it was called by the Indian name Niobrara or its attractive English translation "Running Water." There seems to have been no argument about this.
Governor Carey's recommendation to the Legislature was as follows: "No counties should be organized out of the territory that will not be capable of supporting itself and keeping out of debt. Nor should any new county be taken from any existing county where it will leave the old county impoverished. Additional counties will be of real benefit where the conditions are favorable for an increase of population and the inaugurations of new enterprises. Whether any new counties shall be organized , I believe, will have to be determined, somewhat, as to what changes may be made in our laws bearing upon taxation, especially valuations and the limitations upon the amount levied. It is to be hoped that the conditions before many years will not justify but demand many counties. In providing the boundaries for new counties, future divisions should be taken into consideration. The existing laws should be amended so that where a new county is provided for, the people can at once proceed to organize and start their government in operation. A prolonged term of inaction results in leaving the new county as well as the old one in a condition of uncertainty."
House Bill 69 was introduced in the House by T. W. Clelland during the week of January 26, and referred to the committee. The editorial battle between the Herald (Democrat) and the Register (Republican) raged on. In the Herald issue of February 2, a telegram from H. D. Snyder was published by editor Forsythe as follows:
Cheyenne, Wyoming, January 30, 1911.
Happy to report committee on county division unanimously recommended in their report that our bill pass the lower house. Best report made on any county division to date.
In an issue of the Manville Register of the same date, Editor Slater jeers, "No, dear reader, Converse County has not yet been divided, and there is but little likelihood of such happening during this session. One reading the Lusk papers might conclude the division is a foregone conclusion, but there is nothing to these assertions but windjamming. It is possible that the legislature may pass a divisional measure to form Niobrara County, but it is also probable that they won't, and there you are." Some citizens of Manville evidently favored division for mention was made in the Herald of a gift of $100 by one of its citizens toward the expenses of the committee, and that A. H. Spaugh of Manville had passed through Lusk and was tickled to hear that the house committee of the Legislature had recommended the passage of the bill to create Niobrara County.
George Vorhees returned to Cheyenne on January 29 to take up his share of county division committee work, remaining until February 9. Russell Thorpe spent three weeks in Cheyenne on the committee, but Harry Snyder saw it through.
The bill making possible a division of Converse County passed both houses of the Eleventh Legislature on February 14, 1911. This meant victory to the Divisionists, although much remained to be done to overcome opposition. The Anti-Divisionists did not concede the victory. In the issue of the Register of February 16, Frank Kelly, veteran newspaper man of Keeline remarked, "Will some kind friend inform me of any benefit to the people of the state enacted by the last Legislature? It remains to be seen whether the people of Converse County will consent to be sold out by a few bosses for the benefit of Lusk."
Niobrara County as created by this bill is about forty-two miles wide and sixty-two miles long, bounded on the north by Weston County, on the east by the states of Nebraska and South Dakota, on the south by Goshen and Platte Counties, and on the west by Converse County. As it was recorded in the annals of the Legislature it includes, "All that portion of the State of Wyoming described and bounded as hereinafter set forth is hereby created and formed a county of the State of Wyoming by the name of Niobrara County. Beginning its exact location where the north line of Converse County intersected the dividing line between sections 27 and 28 in township 41 north , range 67 west of the sixth principal meridian, running south on section lines to the south boundary of Converse County as it now exists; thence east along said south boundary to the east line of the state of Wyoming; thence north along the boundary between the state of Wyoming and the states of Nebraska and South Dakota to the southeast corner of Weston and Converse, thence west along the boundary line as heretofore existing between the counties of Weston and Converse to the place of beginning.
Harry Snyder's return to Lusk on February 16 was greeted by a large crowd of enthusiastic citizens, the Lusk band doing it's best to voice a suitable greeting, and Lawrence Johnson heading the parade on horseback.
There seems to have been some argument as to the pronunciation of Niobrara. The Herald editor asks, "is it Nee-o-braw-a? Let's see, how is it pronounced? Won't the Lusk Reading Club, the school superintendent or his corps of assistants take the matter up and settle it?"
A mass meeting was called for Saturday, February 25, the meeting to be held at the Lusk hose house, for the purpose of hearing reports from the members of the Division committee. Everyone interested in the welfare of Niobrara County was invited to come and bring a neighbor. Plans for immediate organization were discussed.
Senate File 90, which concerned immediate organization of the new counties according to Governor Carey's message had not passed so that Niobrara County could not be fully organized until after the next general election in November, 1912. This dampened the spirit, but not the zeal of the enthusiastic Divisionists, who immediately began their campaign for an early special election to make sure of the county organization. Petitions were put into circulation to secure the names of the three hundred citizens necessary to ask Governor Carey to appoint a temporary board of commissioners to organize the county. Another petition was circulated asking the governor to defer these appointments until after the 1911 assessment had been completed as the Legislature had made a reduction of fifteen to twenty percent in land valuation. The petition for appointment secured three hundred and sixty five names, and was mailed March 8, 1911.
Both the Herald and the Register issued convincing arguments and figures concerning the advisability of the immediate appointment of the organizing commissioners because of the long months of inactivity before January 1, 1913. Both petitions carried weight, for the appointments were made but the election postponed until after the assessment. In an editorial of March 2, Mr. Slater of the Register said, "Lusk, confident of her ability to dominate the situation now, and doubtful of what the future may develop is rampant for a decision without delay; ? The matter of division and location of the county seat could just as well be postponed for eighteen months. There is nothing to be gained by hasty action except to give to Lusk greater assurance of becoming the county seat."Governor Carey wired Harry Snyder that he had appointed Eugene Willson of Manville, Thomas Thompson of Kirtley, and Albert Rochelle of Lusk as organizing commissioners on March 22, 1911.
The Lusk Herald began to carry timely slogans, Vote for Niobrara and lower taxes," "Economy," "When the time comes, and it will not be long, for Lusk can't wait, vote for Niobrara." The Register conceded that Lusk had at least been fair in her attitude toward the postponement of the Division Election until after the 1911 assessment, but it also gave credit to the good judgment and wise counsels, the uprightness and ability of Sam Porter, Nat Baker, and Burr Shipley.
At this time Mr. Baker and Mr. Snyder seem to have been violently opposed. Both gentlemen came from Texas early in the eighties and were ardent Democrats. Mr. Baker was a member of the first state legislature from Lusk and Converse County in 1890. It is well known, however, that this was the deciding vote which elected Francis E. Warren to the United States Senate that year and there were at the time rather sordid rumors as to his actions. He may have been like John P. Robinson who,
"Had been on all sides which gave places or pelf,
He'd be'n true to one party, and that was himself."
Mr. Baker threatened Mr. Snyder's life over the county division. His daughter heard the rumor and flew to the railroad station the day that he left for Cheyenne. She did not voice her fear but tried to stand between her father and Mr. Baker for she was sure that he did not wish to kill her. Mr. Snyder is said to have remarked afterward, "If Nat had shot me, it would have been only because he was the quickest man."
The first meeting of the commissioners of the unorganized County of Niobrara was held on March 30, 1911. All members being present, the first business was to elect a chairman and appoint a clerk. Mr. Eugene B. Willson, who had been a resident of the county since the eighties was chosen chairman and Sol J. Weil , a young attorney of Lusk, was appointed clerk and also legal counsel for the organizing commissioners. It was also decided to hold all further meetings in his office. The Lusk Herald was chosen to be the official paper. The most important business transacted was setting May 2, 1911 as the date of the special election and designation of five election districts as follows: Keeline, Manville, Lusk, Warren, and Kirtley. The following precincts were also chosen: Keeline, Manville, Lusk, Hat Creek, Kirtley, Van Tassell, Warren, and Webster.
Both the Herald and the Register warmed to their task and published estimated expenses and advantages and disadvantages of the new county. Since the new Niobrara County would be third class, running expenses would be lower than in Converse, which had been a first class county from the time of it's organization. The poor transportation and the great size of Converse County had necessitated the maintenance of a number of deputies which would be unnecessary in the new county. The expense for running Converse for 1910 had been $44,381.12, while estimated expense for Niobrara County would be $15,750. Of $10,250 spent for roads in Converse County in 1910 the proposed new county received $665.66 for her share. Niobrara County's share of $20,000 bonded indebtedness of Converse County would be about $7,000 which would be almost entirely paid by a pro-rata credit in the mother county's permanent improvements. Niobrara's assessed valuation of $4,000,000 with a four and one forth mill levy would raise $17,000 for expenses only $7,950 of which would be needed for salaries. Fifteen thousand dollars was estimated by the pessimists to be the cost of transcribing the records. (This was about three times the actual cost as we shall see.)
The second meeting of the commissioners was held on April 9, the coming special election being of chief importance. It was decided to have the notice for the special election published in the Lusk Herald for three weeks.
Reasons old and new were reiterated for division: lower taxes, home government, centrally located county seat, and good roads. A picture of Lusk's latest modern building, the present grade school building, was printed with Lusk's advantages for a county seat. Attractively stated: Lusk was the oldest town, the center of the county east and west, had good schools, two established churches (Congregational and Episcopal), a water works system and would soon have a sewage and telephone systems. Protest was made about the time of the election on May 2, as it was the next day after the school meeting and two trips on succeeding days were found to be impossible by many rural voters. It was suggested that there was an ulterior motive in setting this date, to prevent voting against county division in country precincts. The real motive was to get the election over before the busy season commenced, for all the commissioners had large interests requiring close personal attention.
The voters of the various polling precincts were to vote in the following places:
Kirtley--------------W. O. W. Hall
Hat Creek-----------Jacob Mill's Ranch
Warren--------------M.W. Jones Ranch
Webster-------------Spencer Post Office
The great day, Tuesday, May 2, arrived. The official returns as published May 11, showed the outcome:
Against division- 203
For County Seat:
Hat Creek 2
Lost Springs 2
Governor Carey sent his congratulations in the following letter:
Honorable G. C. Forsythe, Lusk, Wyoming
Dear Mr. Forsythe,
I wish to thank you for the letter of May 3, giving me the vote for county division in Niobrara County and for your expression of good will. The people of Lusk are to be congratulated upon the location of the new county seat.
Very truly yours,
Joseph M. Carey
Mr. Snyder advertised to give material for a fine white dress to the first child born in Niobrara County, and a fine white tablecloth to the first couple married. "In case of twins two dresses will be given," was the final sentence.
After the election the commissioners did not meet again until June 3 and then only to allow bills for the expense of election, $285.40 for expenses, including rentals for polling places, meals for judges and $147.00 to pay the judges, clerks and constables of election. The necessity for monthly meetings, until arrangements had to be made for the campaign of 1912 which would establish the organized county of Niobrara with a full official staff, was over.
The years 1910 and 1911 had been dry years, and the winter of 1911-12 caused real consternation among the ranchmen who had to import grain and oil cake to feed cattle all winter. Governor Carey must have been uneasy as to the outcome of the seven new counties, for in his message to the twelfth Legislature he issued a warning against the creation of any more counties. "If the last legislature could have anticipated and foreseen the winter of 1911-12 which brought such losses to one of chief industries of the state, the organization of several of the counties would have been indefinitely postponed." The winter and early spring storms gave promise to the farmers that the drought had broken, so this was one bright hope for prosperity.
During the two first months of 1912 the need for good roads was agitated, as good roads meant "a good county, a good town and a good people." Push, crowd, above until we get them." A good roads club was organized with George Vorhees as president, Russell Thorpe , as vice-president and H. C. Snyder as secretary-treasurer. Some roads had been sanctioned by the commissioners of Mother Converse but no railroad crossings had been arranged for. Those men who had served so ably on the Division Committee in Cheyenne were men of vision who could see the county of the future with splendid roads, towns with tree shaded streets, homes with shrubs and lawns and they spared no time nor energy in bringing their vision into being. Good roads were the first consideration of these men and their Good Roads Club did enthusiastic and comprehensive planning for the constructive work needed so long needed in this end of the county.
That year people made their last trips to Douglas on county business, realizing anew the inconvenience of having to go so far. One man out on the Cheyenne River made his first advertising each week, until the general election. Mr. M.H. Neil was the Republican candidate for county attorney, with no opposition until Sol J. Weil announced himself as an independent candidate. The "mud slinging" of the campaign in local politics centered about these two. Mr. Neil had a homestead in the west end of the county, he came from Ohio, and had read law in the old-fashioned way, taking an examination, instead of going to law school. The Register insisted that Mr. Weil was a comparative stranger, and as such should receive no consideration, while the Herald was equally decided in its convictions that Mr. Neil did not have the necessary qualifications, and that Mr. Weil deserved the office "because he had worked for the organizing commissioners for over a year, receiving only $50 a month and giving legal advice all the time." The voters at the general election gave Mr. Neil the office by a comfortable majority and Mr. Weil's name soon ceased to appear in any records of the time. Mr. Neil still practices law in Lusk, raising his garden in a vacant space on Main Street in the very heart of the business district.
The only democrat elected to office in November was A. L. Miller, candidate for county clerk. Mr. Miller had been a resident of Lusk since its beginning. The returns of this first election in Niobrara were thus tabulated in the Lusk Herald November 7, 1912:
Wilson Electors 282
Justice of the Supreme Court
Clark Gibson, d 260
Cyrus Beard, r 554
Representative in Congress
Thomas P. Fahey, d 228
F.W. Mondell, r 654
Judge of First Judicial District
Roy E. Lee, d 308
Wm. C. Mentzer, r 628
LW. Clelland, d 398
WC. Irvine, r 518
Rowell, pro. 61
Otto H. Bolln, d 343
James E. Mayes, d 400
James C. Shaw, d 362
Wm. Booker, r 547
Henry T. Gray,r 580
GM. Winkelman, r 585
AL Miller, d 512
OW Twigs, r 468
Ed C. Daley, d 444
Harry R. Rogers, r 540
A.J. Anderson, d 430
A.L. Lind, d 284
Thomas Bell, r 618
Robert F Burhoop, r 640
E.A. Cook ,r 537
E.C. Hardegan, d 302
P.E. Barber, r 580
C.E. Kirkland, d 234
T.H. Thompson, r 729
Sol J. Weil, ind 329
M.H. Neil, r 588
C.C. Browning, r 679
C.W. Pfeifer, pro. 174
Anton Bruch, d 215
Richard F. Gray, r 725
C.F. Louger, d 698
George H. Grant, pro. 140
Harry P Fancher, d 348
CE Eutsler, r 583
Justice, Lusk Precinct
G.C. Forsythe, d 216
B.A. Root, r 350
Constable, Lusk Precinct
John Fernau, d 267
AH Faust,r 287
Justice, Manville precinct
L.D. Wilson, r 228
Constable, Manville precinct
C.A. Hart, r 226
Justice Van Tassell precinct
Chas. Fischer, r 67
Constable Van Tassell precinct
Edward McKelvey, r 66
On January 1, the newly elected officers were sworn into office, the temporary headquarters being in the old I.O.O.F. Hall. On the first Thursday of the month January 7, 1912, the commissioners of the new County of Niobrara met for the first time, all members being present; Thomas Bell of Lusk, E. A. Cook of Hat Creek, and R.F. Burhoop of Manville, thus fairly representing the different parts of the county. The complete proceedings of this first meeting are most interesting and indicative of the business like procedures to follow:
(This is a verbatim copy, punctuation, abbreviations, and all)
Lusk, Wyoming, Jan. 7, 1913
Commissioners met in regular session and adjourned until Wednesday, Jan. 8.
Lusk, Wyoming, Jan. 8, 1913
Commissioners met in adjourned session. Thos. Bell, E. A. Cook, and R.F. Burhoop present.
Motion that Thos. Bell be elected chairman, carried.
It was agreed that R.F. Burhoop serve four year term. On motion the Hall of Custer Lodge No. 21 I.O.O.F. was designated as the County Court House. The following resolution was passed: There is hereby levied for the year 1913 a poll tax of $2.00 for each person in the county between the ages of twenty-one and fifty years inclusive, for county school purposes. The bonds of A.L. Miller, County Clerk, T. H. Thompson, Assessor, M.H. Neil, Attorney, B.A. Root, Justice of the peace, Ed McKelvey, Constable, approved. A. Magahy was appointed County Physician. A.L. Miller was appointed purchasing agent. The treasurer's bond was fixed at $40,000. Appointment of Will Delahoyde as under Sheriff was approved. Iva Pickett was appointed as Federal Clerk. Clark and Clark were retained as attorneys for settlement of affairs with Converse County. Communication from Lusk Reading Club that Anna Y. Thorpe, Florence W. Goddard, and Martin C. Agnew be appointed as Board of Directors as provided under Chapter No. 101 and all acts amendatory thereto, Compiled laws of Wyoming A.A. 1910 (relative to Public County Library). Read and approved. Bond of Martin C. Agnew, Treasurer of Board of Directors of Stillman Public Library approved. Bond of Lusk Reading license in Lot two, block two, Lusk, Wyoming read for the first time. Bills allowed:
H.S. Datesman, transcribing records $2474.70 No. 1
Genevieve Pickett $2052.20 No. 2 Geo. D. Barnard Co., Supplies $2196.55 No. 3 J.J. Dewright & Co. Supplies $ 170.00 No. 4 M.H. Neil, premium on bond $ 15.00 No. 5 T.H. Thompson, Expense Assessors meet $ 29.50 No. 6
A.L. Miller Thos Bell, chairman
Clerk of Board of Board of County
Co. Commissioners Comissioners
H.S. Datesman and Genevieve Pickett had been given the contract for the transcription of the records of the unanimous consent of the organizing commissioners and the successful candidates immediately after the August primaries. Mr. Datesman, of Converse County was a logical choice because of his familiarity with the records as deputy county clerk. Miss Pickett came to Lusk with her family from Lemmon, South Dakota, in 1910. They were in the real estate business, and Miss Pickett had had business training which qualified her for this careful work.
A joint meeting of the commissioners of Converse and Niobrara Counties was held in Douglas on January 20, 1913, for the purpose of "adjusting all matters relating to the apportionment of assets and liabilities between said counties in a just and equitable manner, and without resort to legal proceedings, if such can be avoided." The total assets of Converse County were found to be $70,690.23 and the total liabilities $58,573.08, making an excess of assets over liabilities $12,117.15. The assessed valuation of property in Niobrara County constituted 33.93 per cent of all the property in the former County of Converse, making Niobrara's share of the liabilities $4,111.35.
The lots and jails in Lusk and Manville valued at $350, one grader valued at $280 and two fresnos valued at $50, were deducted from the $4,111.35 and an agreement made to pay the $3,431.35 remaining in cash. As fast as Converse County collected delinquent taxes for 1910-11-12 standing on the books of Converse County on January 20, 1913 she was to pay 33.93 per cent to Niobrara County. There was also a $1000 judgment, and any sum of money collected on it was to be paid to the new county in like proportion.
"And said Board of County Commissioners of the County of Niobrara" agreed, "to accept the foregoing property and payments of money in full settlement of all matters herein before referred to and all claims by it or by said county of Niobrara against the said board of County commissioners of Niobrara County or against said Converse County." This agreement was signed by the chairmen and clerks of the boards and witnessed by the remaining four commissioners of both counties. Two days later the agreement had to be modified as certain liabilities had been omitted which reduced the payment of Niobrara County from $3,431.35 to $2,680.55.
This agreement was spread in its entirety on the record of the February meeting of the Commissioners. Bonds were approved for all the county offices requiring them; appropriations were made--$,9000 for salaries, $1,500 for roads, $500 for poor and pauper, $8,000 for books, printing, transcribing and furnishings, $1,500 for rents, $1,000 for court, and $400.00 for the public library. Petitions for roads and liquor licenses were read, and bills allowed. The most important bill aside from regular expenses of salaries, telephones and attorney's fees was the first allowance of rent to Harmony Lodge No. 24, A.F. and A M., January and February, $250. This $125 per month was a regular bill from that time until February, 1920, when they moved into the new Court House. They moved from the old Custer Hall into the Masonic Temple, occupying the first floor with only railings to separate the offices. This was their home until the Temple and Custer Hall both burned in 1919, when they moved temporarily to the basement of the First National Bank until the new court house could be completed.
The first major consideration taken up was the building of a county jail. Elmer Ranck, a contractor of Lusk was ordered to make out four plans and specifications for a new jail. At this same March meeting of 1913 (such a short time ago) fifteen dollars per month per head was allowed H.R. Rogers, Sheriff for the expense of maintaining three head of horses, which seems strange indeed in these days of fast automobiles. Fred A. Boyd in the November Commissioners meeting of the same year, agreed to bury all county paupers for $32.50 --- really a bargain at that time and quite a contrast to the present cost of $75.
The business of the next few months was largely involved in the routine work of reading and allowing petitions for roads, appointment of appraisers, allowing or disallowing damages for new roads, paying bounties for predatory animals, reading petitions for liquor licenses and granting them, approving of bonds for school treasurers and the regular allowance of necessary bills. Petitions for damages became so numerous in May of that first year the harassed commissioners made the following resolution: Resolved, that on all land that is not deeded, no damage will be allowed for roads newly constructed, and for roads through deeded land, the damages asked for will be appraised.
The jail property acquired from Converse County was sold to the City of Lusk in July, as the bids had been advertised in June. At the June meeting "it was moved and seconded that the bids for the building of the jail at Lusk, Wyoming be advertised --- carried. Moved and seconded that the contract for steel cells for the jail, from Pauly Jail Building Company of St. Louis, Missouri be accepted, carried, amount of contract $3,014.
Mr. Ranck's first four plans for the jail were rejected, but a later one was accepted and on August 7, he was awarded the contract for $7,325 and his bond fixed at $15,000. Mr. Ranck was a man of sterling integrity of whom one man said, "He is the only contractor I have ever known who ever had money to turn back when the contract was finished." The final payment on his contract was made in January, 1914 after the final inspection and acceptance of the commissioners.
The cost of county government rose in that first year, for court expenses became heavier and salary expense increased by one thousand dollars.
The growing business and prosperity of the county augmented the inconvenience of the quarters in the Masonic Temple, and for a year before both Custer Hall and Masonic Temple were destroyed by fire, serious consideration of building a permanent building had been receiving attention. Each term of court, extra rent had to be allowed besides the $125 as the cramped quarters would not accommodate a jury or, in fact, any orderly court procedure.
In October 1918 the commissioners determined that the time had arrived to submit the question to the voters of the county as to whether they should be "authorized and empowered to create an indebtedness and issue the registered coupon bonds of the county therefore, to the amount of Sixty Thousand Dollars ($60,000); (which together with the existing indebtedness of such county, shall not exceed two per centum of the taxable property in said county as shown by the last general assessment proceeding) and bearing a certain rate of interest not exceeding six per cent (6%) per anum, payable semi-annually in twenty years (20) and redeemable in ten (10) years from date, for the purpose of providing means for the construction of a Court House and for the necessary furnishing and equipment of the same in and for the county." Since it was lawful to submit a proposition to create a debt and issue bonds at any general election if a majority of the board had so decided, the court house bonds were to be for or against on a separate ballot, the votes to be placed in a separate ballot box in the general election of November 5, 1918. The results of this election as concerned the bond issue were tabulated in this way:
Number of votes cast on said question, Eight hundred fifteen (815)
Number of votes cast Court House bonds Yes, four hundred twenty two (422)
Number of votes cast Court House bonds, No, Three hundred ninety three (393)
The outgoing commissioners, J.W. Christian, E. G. Jones, and Fred S Runser, were known to be favorable toward the bond issue, so the voting of the bonds had been rushed, and all plans were made before January 1. It was known that Mr. Calhoun, one of the incoming commissioners, represented a part of the county which was opposed to the issue and it was feared that he and Mr. Runser (the hold over member) would not favor the building unless the bond election was over before they went into office.
When the old commissioners met in December, Mr. George McDonald was appointed as an architect for the new building at the customary price of five per cent of the contract price. Mr. McDonald's plans were accepted at the January meeting of the new commissioners, Runser, Calhoun, and McCormick. The sixty $1000 bonds were to be payable at the banking house of Kountze Brothers in the City of New York, State of New York, U.S.A (Notice of bond sale was duly published and the bonds sold on February 4, 1919, to Bosworth Chanute and Company of Denver, bearing five and one-half percent interest dating from February 1, 1919, to be payable at the option of the county ten years after date and to be absolutely due and payable twenty years after date at not less than their full or par value and the accrued interest thereon at the time of delivery.)
The contract for the court house having been duly advertised for bids, the Commissioners met on February 11, 1919, at 2 o'clock P.M., the hour set for opening the bids.
After examining all bids, the bid of D.W. Wood was found to be the lowest and best bid for the interest of the county and contract was awarded to D.W. Wood for $57,602.50 exclusive of plumbing, heating, and wiring, by unanimous consent of the board.
Mr. John Fernau, the pioneer plumber of Lusk, was awarded the contract for the heating and plumbing of the court house. Mr. McCormick was also appointed by the board at this time to confer with the architect generally on "minor" matters and details of work during construction of the court house, when the commissioners were not in session. Neal C. Rowell of the Electrical Supply and Construction Company was given the contract for wiring the court house at the April, 1919 meeting, for a bid of $1,300.
A number of changes were made during the building. The Niobrara County Abstract Company wished to rent the basement so that plans had to be made for this to make it worth $100 per month asked. Judge Mentzer suggested changes in the court room making an addition, in all, of $7,276 for the general contract, $3,113 for additional heating and plumbing, and $225 for additional electric work. Installation of electric fixtures cost an extra $1,850, bar railings, counters and another judge's bench another $8,928.24 and $1,075 additional was required for changes and extras in the court room, an extra counter in the commissioners room and twenty-eight more opera chairs.
The last $125 was paid for rent to the First National Bank in February 1920, likewise the balance to all contractors was paid "withholding a certain per cent until completion of this work, according to how much was left to complete." Architect McDonald was dismissed on February 20.
The dismissal of Mr. McDonald meant that the new court house was then formally turned over to the commissioners. There were no formal public ceremonies because of the severity of the weather. The Lusk Standard of that week says, "The new Court House was formally turned over to the commissioners this week and as informally occupied by the various officials, each department getting located in the new quarters Monday, February 23. The most disagreeable feature at this time, in connection with the new building is the absence of a side walk to the main entrance from Main Street, but it is understood that this will be attended to this summer when the paving session starts.
The extra expense connected with the building became so great that in May, 1920 the commissioners' attention was "called to the matter of a deficit now existing in the construction and completion of the court house, and they deem it advisable to submit to the voters of the county at a special election to be called for the purpose of voting upon the county's issuing further court house bonds, etc. to cover this deficit, which matter will be disposed of in the near future."
The Court House Bond Election Proclamation was given to the public June 2, to be held at the primaries on August 17, 1920. The bonds were to be for $40,000 under the same conditions as before and the election was to be conducted in all respects as nearly as practicable in the same manner as general elections. The bonds carried in Lusk by a majority of thirty votes in the unofficial count. The number of the Herald which probably contained the official count is missing from the files, but the unofficial count of Lusk was the indication of the sentiment of the county---not too greatly enthusiastic as shown by the small majority but the thing had started and must be finished.
A special levy of one mill was made in September, 1920 for a court house fund to pay the interest on the bonds and to create the sinking fund to retire the bond issue. At the time the building commenced Niobrara County's warrants had to be cashed at a loss of six per cent interest besides an eight per cent discount. This probably accounted for the small majority which carried both bond elections. Their fears proved to be unfounded for the boom years of 1918-20 brought up the assessed valuation so much that the original one mill levy has had to be only raised to 1.0792 to be enough to raise the $4,500 per year necessary to pay the debt within the specified time. The bonds could have been retired several years ago had it not been optional with the company which purchased the bonds as to whether they were paid in ten years or at maturity. The investors in the bonding company have preferred maturity in twenty years.
Today the young county of Niobrara is one of the few in the state which issues no certificates of indebtedness. The surplus funds of the county at present are $100,000 so that all bonds could be paid on demand.
Thus all the hopes of the Divisionists have been fulfilled and the fears of the Anti-Divisionists have been laid to rest. Niobrara County will live for many years, taking care of the business of her people by electing officers whom she feels sure will be true to the motto on the front of the court house, "A Public Office is a Public Trust.
The only late change in the court house has been to remove the Statue of Justice which adorned the top of the building as per contract. The reason for her removal was that her great weight vibrated in the strong winds loosening the structure of the roof to such an extent as to cause real damage. The lady received a new dress of gold nine years ago. She lay in state back of the court house for about a year, finally being hauled away in a rather ignominious manner - a one horse cart. Someone has painted her cheeks a rosier hue to set her up on a hill across the tracks overlooking the town. This statue was a part of the "gingerbread" architectural plan for decorating the building. Mr. Hassed, the present sheriff says that the style is almost an exact copy of the Dodge County Court House at Fremont, Nebraska, and it was probably built eighty-five years ago when that style of public building was more popular than the beautiful classic of today. There were probably a few to mourn the removal of the Justice---chiefly because she had meant an expenditure of nearly $2,000 to have her in the first place.
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