By mid-August of 1857, there was some effort among Brownville boosters to make their town more alluring and accessible. It was fine to induce people to come visit, and Mr. Furnas and his staff sent out 50 letters a week appealing to such interested parties, but it was also a little embarrassing to have the guests, the potential investors and citizens, to camp out on the far side of the Missouri without an up-to-date steamer to ferry them across. This would explain why Mr. Finney, who so far had depended on muscle power to transfer visitors across the Big Muddy, now found himself in route for Wellsville, Ohio, to oversee the building of a steam ferry he hoped would one day make its way to the wharves connecting Brownville, Nebraska Territory, to Rock Port, Missouri.
Of course housing still left something to be desired in Brownville. The superintendent of the Nebraska Settlement Company, Mr. Giddings, bragged about squatters building structures as far as 100 miles inland from the Missouri. But the 14 foot square cabins, “some with doors and not windows, some with windows and not doors, and some with neither windows nor doors . . . some with floors and no roofs and some with neither roofs nor floors,” all left something to be desired.
Beyond that 100 miles, I note parenthetically, it was difficult to locate an idyllic spot of ground for a sod house of consequence. Not that the government did not wish to survey the land and put it up for sale. The Surveyor General, headquartered in Kansas City, reported that he indeed had teams out to see to the job. Unfortunately, several men had been murdered in the execution of their duties. The Pawnee shook their head at the news and pointed a disapproving finger at the Cheyenne and Sioux. The Surveyor General, however, considered it strange that the Cheyenne and Sioux would be so charitable as to help their ancestral enemy, the Pawnee, protect their lands against encroachments by the US government by doing their dirty work. He wagged his finger at the Pawnee.
All these suspect actions and spurious accusations, the Surveyor General must have thought, could be avoided if the Pawnee and their “helpful enemies” would follow the lead of the Ottawas, who just concluded a treaty in which they agreed to divide their land amongst themselves, don straw hats, grapple a hoe, and leave their tribal status to join the ranks of American farmers. As citizens, perhaps they might even appropriate some Pawnee lands, or better yet, a 160 acres of former Otoe land near Brownville. Mr. Furnas had 160-acre farm for sale, and 50 lots in south Brownville.
The editor of the Rock Port Banner, Mr. Vannata, braved the Missouri River on Finney’s yawl, wisely leaving his team of horses behind, and made it to Brownville for an inspection. He paid a visit to the Nebraska Advertiser, where he and his party inquired after Mr. Furnas. “A very pleasant, good looking, gentlemanly man of about 28 years,” said the Missourian, “answered to the name, and extending the hand of an honest printer gave us a cordial greeting.” After getting the latest news from Mr. Furnas, Mr. Vannata proceeded with his inspection.
In his report, he remarked that he had visited the place three months previous and in this second visitation noted the surprising growth that had since transpired. “Quite a number of good houses have been built and are all occupied; several new stores and shops have gone into operation and some three new banking houses have opened.”
After cataloguing all this prosperity, Mr. Vannata dined at the Nebraska House. Apparently this inspired him to leave, because that’s exactly what he did after his meal. Our editor, Mr. Furnas, was well aware of Brownville’s shortcomings in the hotel and restaurant business. Understandably so, because it’s awfully hard to entertain would-be Brownvillians in structures that only Mr. Giddings found worthy to mention. So Mr. Furnas and his cohorts were hard at work collecting monies for a new hotel, aptly to be named the Brownville Hotel. A stonemason, Mr. John Hart, was already hard at work trying to make this dream a reality.
So there is hope for Brownville in the fall of 1857, even as the nation undergoes a severe economic depression, at least once Mr. Finney returns aboard his steam ferry.
Newspapers of 1857 carried some very serious stories as well as a column of jokes. Today, it's not always clear which variety amuses us more. In any case, this blog is dedicated to analyzing the pages of the Nebraska Advertiser newspaper of 1857. Chime in if you've run across some interesting stories from the time period.