« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
no political friends in New England and the Middle States. He could have traveled, he said a few years later, from Boston to Chicago by the light of his own burning effigies. In 1858, but two of the Northern congressmen who voted for the bill were returned to Congress. The Democratic party was more than decimated in the North; it was annihilated.
With the popular mind in such a frenzied state as this, President Pierce had far from an easy task in the selection of Governors for the new Territories. Man after man was sent from Washington to Kansas, and resigned in the hopelessness of despair. With Nebraska, the trouble that Pierce apprehended did not occur.
Kansas was of
easy access to the slave states; Nebraska was bordered by a free state. Kansas was settled by the skirmishers of the opposing parties; Nebraska by the abolitionists exclusively. Kansas, they thought, was blessed with a more salubrious climate; the African slave could not prosper on the more frigid prairies of Nebraska.
In Kansas, slavery was battling on its own ground; in Nebraska its champions were compelled to yield before the struggle for supremacy began. But the probability is that Pierce looked forward to more of a conflict than occurred, and it is reasonable to suppose that in choosing a Governor for Nebraska, he appointed the man he supposed to be most capable of reconciling the warring elemients. In nominating Burt, he was influenced by three motives: Burt's public life as a state and federal officer had convinced the President that his Third Auditor possessed a rare amount of executive ability and in every way was fitted for the position of Governor. He was a Southerner and as the South had won the recent battle, its candidates were to be given the preference. Again, President Pierce and Mr. Burt were warm personal and political friends. Pierce was anxious to promote his friend's interests, and Burt consistently believed that he was capable of filling the office of Governor with credit to himself and to the President who appointed him. It is said that Mr. Pierce had about decided that Burt was to be sent to Kansas, but something interfered, and Nebraska was assigned him.
After being commissioned Governor, Mr. Burt immediately left for his home in Pendleton to complete arrangements for his family's comfort. Every clerk in the office of the Third Auditor signed a memorial couched in expressive language, signifying sincere regret at the separation about to take place, congratulating Burt upon receiving “This mark of the distinguished approval of the President and Senate," and the citizens of the Territory and its thirty-five thousand red inhabitants upon being providing with a Governor possessing administrative talent in such an eminent degree, whom they believed would prove a "kind father, a true friend, a safe guide and counsellor."
Governor Burt's reply was terse and manly. “I shall go out to cast my lot among the pioneers of Nebraska as one of them, to aid in developing the resources of the Territory, and to share their destiny," he said. “Determined to do justice and fear not, I shall use every effort to ingraft upon the institutions of the Territory the principles of selfgovernment and constitutional liberty, and if I shall be aided, as I trust I shall be, by the people, I flatter myself that I shall be able to meet any difficulties that lie in my way, and to remove any prejudice of a sectional character that may exist against me."
On the 11th of September, Governor Burt left Pendleton for his new field of work in Nebraska, taking with him his son Armistead, Mr. Jones, Mr James Doyle, Mr. Symmes, and others of his neighbors who wished to settle with him in the new Territory. No man was ever favored with brighter prospects. He had at last reached a place where, beyond a shadow of doubt, had he been spared his life, his energy and talent would have won him fame and fortune. Few men in the State had more personal friends than he to regret the necessary separation while congratulating him on his promotion.
The journey from South Carolina to Nebraska at that early day was attended by inconveniences which now related seem almost exaggerated. This year more particularly was the journey difficult. For some reason, the water in all western streams was so low that navigation was impossible save in the largest rivers. Travel for a considerable distance was out of the question in other than a circuitous route. From Pendleton the party proceeded a short distance by private conveyance, then by rude stage and by the primitive railroads, by Athens, Marietta, Chattanooga, Nashville, to Louisville, for hundreds of miles over a rough road, in the crudest of conveyances, through a dry, dusty limestone country, drinking water so supersaturated with calcium compounds that none but a native could use it and thrive.. Another rough journey by rail and stage from Louisville to St. Louis, by way of Chicago, followed. At St. Louis, unable to proceed farther, Burt called a physician, and spent several days in bed. Impatient to resume the journey, perhaps he pushed on before he had sufficiently recovered. But still there might have been a chance for his recovery until he landed from the steamer at St. Joseph and began the trip to Nebraska City. A rough, jolting hack was the best the country afforded, and from Nebraska City to Bellevue, a common prairie wagon had to suffice. How the others of the party survived the journey it is almost impossible to say. Governor Burt was so exhausted that on reaching Father Hamilton's Presbyterian Mission House, he immediately retired to the bed from which he never arose.
The chief interests of a large part of the inhabitants of the Territory centered in the selection of the Capital, for as they rightly supposed, on its selection depended the fortunes of the numerous town-site owners of the time. The competition was keen, and many a now forgotten
hamlet seriously urged its pretensions. Their future was entirely at Burt's disposal, for the organic act authorized the governor to select the meeting place for the first session of the legislature, and there the Capital would remain until a more suitable place could be agreed upon. Burt's health demanded that he be kept in a condition of absolute repose, but the importunities of the speculators allowed him no rest. “I might almost say he was worried to death," wrote Father Hamilton, "I feared the consequences from the first, but caution was of no avail to those who hoped to get rich by his deciding according to their wishes." The Governor's end was seen rapidly approaching, and shortly after midnight on the morning of the 18th of October, 1854, he called his old friend Doyle to his side, and gave him a few directions as to his private matters. He asked for Father Hamilton, spoke with him for a few moments, and then, while the friends who accompanied him on the fatal journey clustered around, he quietly passed away.
All was thrown into confusion in the Territory, but Secretary Cuming assumed the Governorship, and organized government suffered no intermission. The townsite boomers did not long cease their clamor on account of the death of the man to whom they had been so servile. Cuming now having the power Burt had possessed, to him their importunities were directed. It was soon found that the views held by Burt and those of Cuming were entirely different. Cuming located the capitol at Omaha, ar ra rily, and perhaps only because Omaha was able to outbid its competitors. What Governor Burt would have done is problematical, but one who knew him best positively asserts that it was his intention to call a convention at the Mission at Bellevue, to invite all the contestants to present their claims, and then to locate the temporary Capital at some point in the interior where it might remain the scat of government for as long a time as possible. Furthermore it can be confidently asserted that had such a convention been held, the sentiment of the inhabitants of the Territory would have been found strongly opposed to the location of the Capital at Omaha, and an almost equal opposition would have developed to an interior site being selected. Probably Bellevue would have been the place selected. But with Burt as Governor, by no combination of influences can we conceive of Omaha being the first Territorial Capital.
The Capital was located at Omaha, however, and thereby the history of the Territory and State of Nebraska arbitrarily changed from what would have occurred in the natural course of events. To Omaha as the seat of government, all emigration was directed, all enterprises centered. Its promoters found themselves prospective millionaires, made so by an
a few acres of what they purchased as tillable land. In the prestige and reputation gained by Omaha, its late rivals were forgotten. There the Union Pacific in later years crossed the Missouri, and there sprang up the metropolis of the West. Had Burt lived, all would have been different. To Bellevue would have accrued the benefits derived from the location of the Capital. Bellevue was the logical crossing place for the railroad. From Bellevue on the Missouri to the Platte, there is a naturally well graded road. A railroad from the Missouri to the mountains would be much shortened by beginning the line at Bellevue, almost immediately crossing the Platte, and then in a direct line to the Rockies. By this route, there would have been a shorter distance to traverse, fewer large rivers to bridge, the grades would have been as easy as by the North Platte route, and yet the general topography of the two roads would have been practically the same. But with Omaha as the starting place, a South Platte route was not to be considered, and the north trail along the Platte was the only one that could well have been taken by the railroad builders. Perhaps it is not too much to claim, that had Burt lived, the South Platte country