Squatters preoccupied the mind of R. W. Furnas, editor of the Nebraska Advertiser. Normally one thinks of squatting as rather repulsive, like the bum occupying an abandoned warehouse who manages to transform a dismal, deteriorating structure into something even worse. But squatters were Furnas’s heroes. They were men with vision, who climbed onto a frontier hilltop, before the government had the initiative to survey the land, and began improving upon it, gracing it with a house of dirt, or sod as they said more eloquently, and scratching the surrounding soil in a sincere attempt to raise corn or wheat or oats, or some such grain.
The Preemption Act of 1841 gave every man over the age of 21 the right to go to a land office and claim the land he had settled upon. A woman could do as much, but the procedure was a bit more complicated: Her husband had to be deceased. In either case, whether for man or widow, the claimant would be required to pay $1.25 per acre for the privilege of owning a title to his or her land, and here’s where the voice of the Nebraska Advertiser spoke up.
Mr. Furnas was adamant that the federal government should wait a while before demanding ransom of penniless squatters for land titles. Two years at least, though if the government were equitable, it would allow these frontier heroes to have their due without cost. And when one considers the issue, it is true that the government did not pay much for the land when it took advantage of a little Frenchman down on his luck and procured the Louisiana Territory for about three cents an acre.
For two months, the Nebraska Advertiser spilled a lot of ink promoting the candidacy of Colonel Rankin for Delegate to the United States Congress, representing, of course, Nebraska Territory’s heroic squatters. According to the articles leading up to the August election, there was no doubt but that Colonel Rankin would carry the day. And he had better, because his arch nemesis, B. B. Chapman, Mr. Furnas informs us, is an outsider who lives most of his life out of the territory and who gave away Nebraska’s two slots for West Point cadets to foreigners, one from Mr. Chapman’s home county in Ohio. Chapman, whenever he bothers to think of Nebraska, can’t generate a thought bigger than Omaha City. The new federal road for the territory, the one he says will be built due to his powerful influence in Washington, will only serve that northern rival’s interests, and to the detriment of beautiful, booming Brownville.
One gathers, and rather quickly from Mr. Furnas, that Chapman has no interest in Nemaha County’s squatters, he’s only devoted to the land speculators. If the squatters can’t pay up, then their farms will become available to the land sharks. Mr. Furnas’s bottom line: We need to protect our claims.
However, protecting one’s claim should be done in an orderly and law-abiding fashion. The Advertiser took exception to the way a certain Jeremiah Campbell defended his claim. Apparently, a newly arrived Canadian, Mr. Thomas Golloher, decided to compete with Mr. Campbell for the same spot of sod. Mr. Campbell, showing very little hospitality to the foreigner, shot the man. Mr. Golloher’s only consolation was that the bullet was not immediately fatal. It took him a good month to give up the ghost.
Mr. Furnas made it clear in his article reporting on the incident that however much Mr. Campbell may have been in his right, it would have been better to have decided the matter through the courts. Mr. Furnas, though he favored the squatter, was most hopeful for the expansion and prosperity of Brownville. He needed to protect his town’s reputation. And what woman would want to raise her children in a community at the mercy of gunslingers.
I believe Mr. Golloher was interred not far from Brownville in the London cemetery, a short distance from his hoped-for claim. Why do I think his final resting place in there? Because he had been cared for by a Dr. Peery who lived near London, and because my mother once told me that the first man buried in the London cemetery was a claim jumper. I should also add that I believe Mr. Golloher got the last laugh, because in a later issue of the Nebraska Advertiser, a Mr. James Hannan put a certain Jeremiah Campbell on notice that he, Mr. Hannan, was going to pre-empt Mr. Campbell’s claim near London on August 31st.
Mr. Jeremiah Campbell would have to pick up his belongings, gun included, and move on.
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.