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LEGISLATORS OF 1855: BIOGRAPHICAL FRAGMENTS.
By Jay Amos Barrett.
Read before the Society January 12, 1897.
Those of us who have been born in modern times are not supposed to know much about the details of the session of 1855. We must depend upon the journals of that legislature, and upon the written accounts in books and newspapers. It may be said, too, that the annals of the meetings, as told by the secretaries, is not uninteresting reading, and the newspaper accounts are even lively. I suspect that the secretaries knew right well how to leave out what did not belong to a strict and unbiased chronicle. For example, the account in the Council Journal of the proceedings of the first day is a very sober tale of assembling at ten o'clock, in accordance with the proclamation of Acting Governor Cuming; of the election of H. P. Bennet as president pro tem., and Isaac R. Alden clerk pro
tem. A proclamation of the governor telling who were elected members is barely mentioned, as is also the appointment of a committee to look at credentials and adjournment to 2 P. M. In the afternoon session there are a motion to appoint Mr. Folsom temporary presiding officer; withdrawal of the motion; report of the committee on credentials; invitation from the house to attend joint convention in order to hear the governor's message; the ceremony of administering the oath by the governor, at which Messrs. Bennet, Bradford, and Nuckolls declined to be sworn; the message; the return of the senators to their own hall; the request of Mr. Bennet to be excused from the duty of presiding officer, and the election of Mr. Folsom. Of course this account doesn't explain motives, and one is led to wonder what made Mr. Bennet resign, and why those members wouldn't take the oath from the governor. A communication from Mr. Bennet himself to you, which I shall
read shortly, throws some light on the scene. The secretaries left out of their descriptions the touches that would have given the reader a picture of the scene. Here is an account of the first day's proceedings that is nothing if not lively. It is from the Washington National Era of February 8, 1855. You observe, from the interval of time between January 16 and February 8, that the news had to go overland in those days, without electricity or steam.
"The first territorial legislature of Nebraska assembled at Omaha on the 16th ultimo, and after a good deal of excitement both houses were organized. Some seven members of the council assembled early in the day and elected Judge Bennet speaker. Governor Cuming appeared in the hall to make some communication to the council, and was called to order. His proclamation declaring who were members was laid on the table. At two o'clock another speaker was elected, Mr. Folsom, but the first would not vacate. After some contention, the last named gentleman gave up the place to the judge. In the house, Mr. Latham was elected speaker. At three o'clock both houses assembled in joint convention and the members were sworn into office by the governor, after which he delivered his message."
Add to this the following paragraph from a letter of N. R. Folsom, son of B. R. Folsom. The former was a young man of 20, serving as doorkeeper of the council for the session. He writes:
At the first session my father “was elected temporary president of the council. . The South Platte members wanted a South Platte man,
and when father took the chair there was rather an exciting time. Mr. Lafe Nuckolls, a young member froin South Platte, pulled the butt of his revolver into sight, but did not fully draw the weapon.”
Mr. Nuckolls, I may say here, was only 19. Mr. Richardson was 60, the average age of the members of the council being about 40. In the house the average age was 32.
At this point I may read you the communication from Judge Bennet, who hoped very much to be here. For fear that he might
not, he wrote a few things that came to his mind about that session. In a letter of July 17, he says: "Now there may have been much that occurred at that session which I have forgotten all about, and perhaps some things that I would not like to tell, even if I could remember. Forty-one years is a long time to keep things in memory. However, I will try to overhaul the old things in my garret and write your society what I can rake up. I would like ever so much to meet with as many of the old boys of that long-ago session as are yet spared, and will endeavor to be with you, if possible, in January next.” And at the end of a letter written in September, he says: “If I can conveniently do so, I will be with your society at its next meeting in January, in person as well as in spirit,---in spirit surely.” [Here the paper of Judge Bennet was read. It is found in this volume on p. 88.]
Far be it from me to raise the question of the circumstances which surrounded the election of members to that pioneer session. In that connection, however, it will be in point to cite the following from a letter written last May (1896) by W.W. Watson, of Fairbury. "I note with interest the subject of the next annual meeting of the society. The Douglas county members of the legislative session of 1855
were all of what were known as the Omaha interest, opposed to the Bellevue claims for the location of the state capital, the ticket put forth by the south part of the county, now Sarpy county, having been 'snowed under at the polls. The south end candidates always attributed their defeat to the Mills county, Iowa, vote being divided between Plattsmouth and Bellevue, while Council Bluffs and Pottawatamie county voted solidly for Omaha, except one wagon load of electors who were detailed to hold an election in Washington county, Nebraska. If the crossing of the Platte river had been more feasible, the Mills county electors might have been able to vote at Bellevue as well as Plattsmouth, and the result have been different."
Judge James, of Council Bluffs, now as well as then, was one of that wagon load of people who went from Council Bluffs toward the north star, until they had reached, as they supposed, the
confines of Burt county. H. C. Purple, who was elected member of the house from Burt, was also of the same number. It appeared, after they had held the election, that they had not reached Burt county at all.
Concerning Henry Bradford, or A. H. Bradford, member of the upper house from Pierce county, along with H. P. Bennet and C. H. Cowles, I learned little. A. D. Jones, known to you all as “Alf" Jones, whose infirmity alone keeps him from being with us on this occasion, tells how Bradford got after him on the bank question. Mr. Jones did not believe in the banks and claims to have been the only one who consistently opposed them throughout that session. "In that exciting session," says Mr. Jones, "all members kept in fighting trim, and Bradford kept a brickbat in his desk.” He adds that Mr. Bradford was the only one who
However, there is other evidence on that subject. Mr. S. E. Rogers, now vice president of the Merchants' National Bank of Omaha, said when I asked him about Mr. Nuckolls: "Oh, yes! I remember him well. His desk was next to mine. He kept a brickbat in his desk all the time." My own impression is that there were more brickbats in hiding than any one member knew about.
Richard Brown, or "Dick" Brown, as he was familiarly called, is said to have been the first settler in the present Nemaha county, after the extinguishment of the Indian title. A native of Tennessee, he came to the territory directly from Holt county, Missouri, August 29, 1854, and settled where now a village bears his name, as a witness to his enterprise. Further, except for his age, occupation, and politics, my record breaks off abruptly.
The following is the obituary notice of Benjamin R. Folsom, that was printed in the Buffalo Courier of November 21, 1882:
"Many readers of the Courier in Wyoming county will be pained to learn of the death of the Hon. B. R. Folsom, which occurred at Tekamah, Nebr., at an early hour yesterday morning. Mr. Folsom was born at Tunbridge, Vt., February 23, 1809, and was for many years one of the best known citizens of Attica,
N. Y. He was several times elected as president of the village, once without opposition, during his absence. He represented the town of Bennington in the board of supervisors of Wyoming county for a number of successive terms. In the year 1854, he removed to Nebraska, and assisted in organizing the territorial government. He was elected to the state senate twice and to the assembly once, and was chosen to preside over the former body at its second session. He was, at the time of his death, the oldest settler in the state of Nebraska north of Omaha. Although identified with the west since 1854, he had until recently maintained a homestead in the village of Attica. In politics Mr. Folsom was a staunch, unswerving democrat, never an officeseeker, but always ready to do all in his power for the good of the party to which he belonged. He leaves a family consisting of a wife and daughter, Mrs. C. E. Ferris, of Omaha, and two sons, N. R. Folsom, of Omaha, and Benjamin R. Folsom, of this city. Silas Folsom, of Attica, X. Y., and Col. John B. Folsom are brothers of the deceased."
T. G. Goodwill was a Bay State man by birth, but he also came to Nebraska from Attica, N. Y. In an obituary of him written by Dr. Miller, of Omaha, occurs the following paragraph:
"He was one of the leading members of the first territorial council, and by his experience and sound sense, as well as his unflagging energy, contributed largely to the successful organization of the territorial government. He was also treasurer of Douglas county, adjutant general of the militia, and an alderman of the city of Omaha. In the decease of Colonel Goodwill our community has sustained
the loss of a high-minded gentleman, an accomplished and able man of business, foremost in all public enterprises, an energetic, manly, kind, and benevolent citizen.”
What fitting tribute can be paid to the genial Alf D. Jones? It was my privilege last autumn to hear from his own lips the story of his varied career. Born in 1813, three miles from Phila