Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sutton's Civil War Reenactment - 2012

Sutton and the Civil War Sesquicentennial

This article first appeared in Sutton Life Magazine in May, 2012.

There will be a new and exciting addition to Sutton’s annual Dugout Days this summer. The First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry, a Civil War reenactment group from Omaha and Lincoln will be in camp north of the park replicating camp life and will engage in two skirmishes demonstrating tactics and maneuvers.

The 1st Nebraska Volunteer Infantry - coming to Sutton
The Civil War Sesquicentennial (150 year anniversary) has been underway for a year. The war began in April of 1861 and lasted until April of 1865. Although Nebraska did not became a state until 1867 and Sutton was settled in 1871, Nebraska and Sutton settlers played a big part in the war.

The reenactment group chose their name in honor of the Nebraska Territory’s 1st Nebraska Infantry Regiment. This regiment was mustered into service in Omaha under the command of Colonel John M. Thayer immediately after the beginning of hostilities. The unit was only half formed when it boarded the river steamer “West Wind” bound for battlefields in the south in late July, 1861.

The rest of the regiment caught up weeks later and the Nebraska 1st was assigned to scout in Missouri and Arkansas engaging in several skirmishes. In February, 1862 the unit saw its first of two major battles at Fort Donelson, Tennessee followed by the Battle of Shiloh a couple of months later.

It was at Fort Donelson that the 1st Nebraska Infantry earned its reputation as a superior fighting force. Nebraska history buffs need only a bit of imagination, some revisionist history, a dash of reductionism and pride to claim that the 1st Nebraska Infantry’s performance at Donelson was the turning point in the defeat of the Confederacy. (How’s that again?)

Follow me here: The front at the beginning of the Civil War stretched from the Atlantic west to the Mississippi Valley and even into Texas and New Mexico. A long front like that favors a smaller army willing to operate as an insurgency force striking quickly and fading away then moving on to strike again forcing the larger force to spread out and defend large territories. The larger force will be unable to bring its strength to bear in any decisive manner. The Confederacy was very successful in the early stages of the war especially in the West. The Battle at Fort Donelson became a critical battle in the war.

The Confederate Army was carrying the day when at one point the focus of the battle came to the 1st Nebraska Infantry. In the words of Battalion Commander General Lew Wallace (later author of the novel “Ben Hur”) writing of the Nebraskans,

“They met the storm, no man flinching, and their fire was terrible. To say they did well is not enough. Their conduct was splendid. They alone repelled the charge.”

The 1st Nebraska Infantry “repelled the charge” turning the tide of the Battle of Fort Donelson in the Union’s favor. That battle was the turning point of the war in the West leading shortly to General Grant’s win at Shiloh and the Union Army’s control of the Mississippi Valley. The defeat of the Confederate Army in the West enabled the Union to concentrate forces in the East where their greater numbers, superior transportation system and industrial strength wore down the Rebels. See what I mean?

Of course, other advocates may point to other critical turning points but Nebraska’s claim is credible, supportable and we’re going to go with it.

But what was Sutton’s contribution to the Civil War? There wasn’t much here on the banks of School Creek at the time. Well, many, if not most of the early Sutton settlers were Civil War vets. And a particular Sutton dentist gave us our next story. Dr. Howe learned about 1896 that the War Department was honoring him with a medal – The Medal of Honor.

Orion P. Howe was 12 years old when he and his younger brother Lyston joined the 55th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment as musicians where their father William was the regimental band leader. Subsequent events suggest that the job description for musician probably included the phrase, “…and other duties as assigned.” For on May 19, 1863, Howe’s unit was surrounded by Confederate forces at Vicksburg and running out of ammunition. He put down his drum.

Howe and others volunteered to sneak through the enemy lines to find General W. T. Sherman and request more ammunition. But Howe’s commander, Colonel Malmborg apparently ordered the wrong caliber of ammunition so Howe and more volunteers agreed to finish the assignment – accounts are somewhat vague here. On the second run the others were all killed or otherwise taken out of action and only the severely wounded Orion made it through to Gen. Sherman.
Col. Malmborg and Pvt. Orion P. Howe

Orion P. Howe’s Medal of Honor citation reads,

“A drummer boy, 14 years of age, and severely wounded and exposed to heavy fire from the enemy, he persistently remained upon the field of battle until he reported to Gen W. T. Sherman the necessity of supplying cartridges for the use of troops under command of Colonel Malmborg.”

Howe’s further distinction, not surprisingly, is being the Medal of Honor recipient who was the youngest at the time of the action that earned the award.  

Dr. Howe had moved his dentistry practice to Clay Center, Kansas by 1900 and in 1920 he was a 71 year old retired widower in Jefferson County, Colorado. Orion Perseus Howe died on January 27, 1930 and is buried in the Springfield National Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri.

Author G. Clifton Wisler wrote a novel “The Drummer Boy of Vicksburg” based on the story of young Orion. There will be a copy in the Sutton Library by the time you read this.

The list of Sutton’s founders and early settlers is filled with the names of Civil War vets: Clark, Gray, Walton, LeHew, Lewis, Corey, Dinsmore, Stewart, Wittenberg, Merrill, Meyer, Longstreth and many more. Our cemetery is dotted with emblems from veterans of that war including two Confederate soldiers.

The addition of a Civil War enactment during Dugout Days adds a major entertainment event, a chance to recognize the 150th anniversary of that war and to remember those in Nebraska and Sutton’s past who served with distinction in that war, especially Corporal (and Dr.) Orion P. Howe. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some young fellow making an ammo run in our reenactment this summer.

This article first appeared in the May, 2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For more information about this local Sutton publication contact Jarod Griess at or 402-773-4203.

Youngsters, MEDAL OF HONOR is a big deal.

Folks and Happenings in Sutton's History

There is a stream of interesting people and events in the 141 year history of our town and way too many of those have disappeared from our collective memories. Here is another attempt to preserve a little of the information about Sutton’s story.

Flying Saucers

First up is a good story headlined in the Thursday, July10, 1947 issue of The Sutton News relating an incident from the night of June 27th. Sutton resident Henry Fuehrer told the editor of The News that he saw flying discs and that he was as positive of it as he was that he was alive. Henry insisted that they were not “spots before the eyes,” but were “…flying discs, and I counted seven of them. They first flew northward to the west and northwest of where I stood at my home, and a few minutes later they flew back, toward the south.”
The spectacular headline announcing Mr. Fuehrer’s flying saucer sighting, 1947

Just three days earlier on June 24th private pilot Kenneth Arnold claimed he saw a string of nine, shiny “unidentified flying objects” flying past Mount Rainier at speeds he clocked to be a minimum of 1200 miles per hour. Arnold’s experience is credited as the first modern UFO sighting. The terms “flying saucer” and “UFO” were immediate press references.

So only three days after the first modern UFO sighting, Sutton was in the UFO story (or could have been if Henry hadn’t kept quiet for ten days.) But it was a crowded field already. Radio personality Alex Dreier mentioned the Washington sighting and within a few days similar reports percolated up in over thirty states.

Airline pilots told similar stories, anonymous scientists allegedly from the Manhattan Project referred to experiments in “transmutation of atomic energy,” the military was quiet and reports continued to pour in.

Henry wasn’t alone in Nebraska. A fellow in Ohiowa claimed his sighting occurred on June 23rd edging out the pilot in Washington. Omaha and Scottsbluff residents also weighed in.

Nor was Henry alone in Sutton. The next week’s News included a small item with similar claims from Henry Trautman and Dr. H. J. Ochsner. It’s a good time to drop such a story when your childhood dentist shows up in it. Moving on…

Gold Fever

Our next newspaper find is in the December 31, 1936 issue of The Sutton Register and links Sutton to the most famous of the lost gold mines, the Lost Dutchman’s mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.

The mine was named after German immigrant Jacob Walz, or Waltz (so really Deutschman vs Dutchman mine) Walz frequently came down out of the mountains with gold nuggets during the 1880’s. Walz was secretive about the source of his gold. One story involved three Mexican youths whom he found while escaping from Apace Indians. The youths told him about the gold and he killed them. Prospectors tried to follow Walz into the mountains, many disappearing or dying for their efforts.

The legend and the searching continued and in 1937 William Mehlhaf of Sutton and some friends believed that they had some new clues or particular insight into the mystery. Mehlhaf hired a guide and headed into the Superstitions on his quest.

Pending a more thorough search through subsequent newspapers, we’ll leave the story right there. My guess is our intrepid Sutton prospector was not successful.

Sutton’s Hot Air Explorer
Sutton's Intrepid Explorer

We’ve mentioned Walter Wellman before. He started a weekly newspaper in Sutton when he was 14 and later worked for newspapers in Cincinnati and Chicago but his first interest was flying. Wellman believed that the future of air travel was the hot air balloon.

Kiddo, aka Trent
He aspired to be the first man to the North Pole traveling there in a hot air balloon of course. Wellman purchased his airship the America from a French company. He made unsuccessful attempts in 1907 and 1909 then lost interest upon hearing of Cook’s claim to have reached the pole. In 1910 he tried a trans-Atlantic flight in the America. This attempt led to his crew making the first aerial radio distress call. The Royal Mail steamship Trent rescued Wellman, his crew and their mascot cat “Kiddo” who was renamed “Trent” in honor of the rescue ship.

The story of Sutton’s Hot Air Explorer is on the historical society blog at

“Kiddo” the cat has his own web site at where is told the story linking Sutton with the historic first air-to-ground radio transmission and where you can discover that profound and memorable text.

The Sutton Cartoonist

Herbert Johnson, cartoonist/artist
Our next fellow in this series is the political cartoonist Herbert Johnson. He was born in Sutton in 1878 to an Iowa couple, J. W. and Mary Johnson. J. W. listed himself as a 29-year old “Broker” on the 1880 Sutton census.

Herbert attended the University of Nebraska where his cartoons appeared in the Daily Nebraskan, the Cornhusker annual and the Arrow-Head, a student publication. He then headed east and into the journalism business. Johnson’s political cartoons and magazine covers were published for twenty-four years in the Saturday Evening Post and the Country Gentleman magazines and were characterized as “like raisins in a cake, or sand in the spinach.”

Sutton’s Big-Time Merchant

Our last story comes from The Sutton Register of March 18, 1937. This item noted the 50th anniversary of the business of William Gold, founder of Lincoln’s major downtown department store, Gold & Co. Gold’s dominated downtown Lincoln retail until 1964 when it was acquired by J. L. Brandeis of Omaha which also later disappeared.

“But what does this have to do with Sutton,” you ask impatiently. Charles Brown of the Register described the half page ads in his father’s newspapers of the mid-1880’s in which William, then called “Billy” Gold advertised merchandise in his “Gold’s Store” in downtown Sutton before heading to Lincoln to do business. Didja know that? I didn’t.

This Article first appeared in the April,2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For more information about this local Sutton publication contact Jarod Griess at or at 402-773-4203.

Swedish Immigration to Northeast Clay County

The Flag of Sweden
Have you ever counted the Griess’s in the Sutton phone book? Don’t bother. It’s way past several. That Griess list alone identifies Sutton a German community but there were other groups as populous.

The largest single group of settlers in and around Sutton was from “back East” from Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. Germans were the most populous foreign group in Sutton but when the surrounding areas around Eldorado, Saronville and Verona are included we find that northeast Clay County was a significant Swedish settlement in Nebraska.

How did those Swedes get here?

The Swedes took an early stab at colonization when Queen Christina established New Sweden in the Delaware Valley in 1638. The colony was forcibly taken by the Dutch seventeen years later and in turn became an English colony when New Amsterdam was taken and became New York.

Historic Sweden and their Scandinavian neighbors have a rich history that gets little attention today. They were quite a belligerent bunch in sharp contrast to their current image. Sweden and Denmark played a role in the European wars through the time of Napoleon. Those wars and other hardships kept a firm cap on population levels in Northern Europe. But after 1814 the Swedes pulled back to within their borders isolating themselves from conflicts with an official policy of “nonalignment in peace aiming at neutrality in war.”

Infant mortality in Sweden dropped from 21% to 15% in the century prior to 1850 attributed to medical advances and improved diet. The country’s population rose steadily and quickly. Swedish historians joke that this population spike was due to peace, vaccination and potatoes. Then a series of poor harvests struck Sweden in the 1850’s coinciding with expansion of the western United States and the great Swedish migration was underway.
The Saronville Home Guard in formation before the Saronville Bank in 1917. The blacksmith ship is behind the bank, the General Dry Goods store to the left.

Larger farm families made it more and more difficult to subdivide the farm among the sons. Some young men left for the clergy or military but emigration became an attractive option.

One and a quarter million Swedes came to America between 1820 and 1930, three quarters of them from rural areas. By 1930, three million first, second and third generation Swedes lived in the United States. The population of Sweden was six million. Still, seldom did the emigration remove more than half the annual natural increase.

Families accounted for 60% of Swedish emigrants in the nineteenth century but only 30% in the twentieth. The rest were single men and women striking out on their own.

An exception was one large group’s migration. Pietist leader Eric Jansson led a band of 1500 followers seeking religious freedom to Henry County, Illinois in 1846. The group founded their communal town where they built two and three-story brick dormitories and civic buildings while surrounding settlers were living in soddies and clapboard houses. Their utopia did not last long but is worth a visit a few miles south of I-80 just east of the Quad Cities into Illinois. Bishop Hill is a fine museum town but don’t miss the Swedish meatballs and lingonberry pancakes.

Illinois was a popular first stop for Swedes arriving in the Midwest, especially Henry County and the Chicago North Side. Many moved on to Minnesota and the Dakotas from there.

The first Swedes in Nebraska arrived in Omaha in the 1860’s many working for the Union Pacific. The first settlements were just to the west around Wahoo in Mead, Malmo and Swedeburg. Soon Swedish communities appeared at Osceola, Stromsburg, Oakland, Gothenburg, etc.

The Swedish settlement of Stockholm was the first in Bryant Township, Fillmore County. Their church and cemetery is half way between Ong and Shickley.
Stockholm Church east of Ong

Establishing “firsts” is a challenge. Who was the first settler in northeast Clay County? Luther French’s homestead was the first Sutton settlement. Burr and Buck’s “History of Hamilton and Clay Counties” dates his homestead to March 14, 1870 and June 5th as the day he “located” to the site. That reference also mentions three Swedes, A. D. Peterson, Louis Peterson and Jonas Johnson as settling in Lewis Township in “the spring of 1870.” Two Swedish brothers named Norman settled in School Creek Township that same summer. Those six fellows were the first into northeast Clay County.

Nine “gottlandingar” (from the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea) arrived west of Sutton in 1871 after spending some time in Illinois. This group organized a Lutheran Church in 1872 in their original community of Huxley before moving the town west and renaming it Saronville. Another gottlandingar contingent arrived two years later, this time Methodists who started their own church. Their cemeteries are east of Saronville, the Lutheran on the south side of the old DLD highway; the Methodist is a quarter of a mile north of the road.

Further Swedish immigration from all parts of Sweden populated the countryside in all four townships of the northeast quadrant of the county from Eldorado in the north to south of Verona. Swedes shared Verona with a significant Danish population. Here the two ethnic communities shared a church but needed two cemeteries on opposite corners of the intersection a mile north of the town at the corner of Roads R and 316.

Perhaps the best description of Swedish migration comes from a set of four novels written in the mid-1900’s by Vilhelm Moberg. “The Emigrants”, “Unto a Good Land”, “The Settlers” and “Last Letter Home” describe the story of the Nilssons, why they left Sweden, how they came to Minnesota and how they adapted to the U. S. frontier in the 1850’s. This work is acclaimed as an accurate portrayal of the Swedish immigration story.

The German surnames are most common in the Sutton area but many of us use names such as Carlson, Nelson, Aspegren, Peterson, Johnson, Swanson, Israelson, Hultine, Ham or find those names on branches of our family trees. We share that connection to a picturesque land in Northern, very Northern Europe.
Saronville School, Clay County District #73 was a 10th grade school at its zenith.

This article first appeared in Sutton Life Magazine in March, 2012. For more information about that local Sutton publication contact Jarod Griess at or at 402-773-4203.


We called him “Satch.”

The younger Satch

It has been over 40 years since Satch was last seen in downtown Sutton. Before that, he was a daily fixture, walking the downtown streets, greeting everyone, running errands, talking to himself, auctioneering off parked cars and doing all the things that made him Satch.

When Satch died, the newspaper tribute included these words:

“He was a man who had dedicated his active life in the service of others. He was a man who looked upon everyone as a friend. He was a man who was loved and respected by all who knew him. He was the kind of man whom the great Greek philosopher searched for in vain, an honest man.”

Then the tribute went on to say some nice things about him.

Almost two generations of Sutton residents know Satch only by legend, if at all. They need to know that for decades, Satch was at the top of the list of what those in nearby towns thought of when they thought of Sutton. You did not forget Satch.

I do not know the clinical name for Satch’s “condition,” nor am I certain of the cause of his condition. Some of us recall talk of an accident or perhaps an illness, but it is likely that Satch was born with his condition. We only knew Satch as a grown man with the mental capacity of a youth, or maybe a child.

It had to be awkward for strangers when they first encountered Satch, a grizzly man behaving quite beyond the bounds of “normal.” I remember my Mother trying to dispel my fear of this strange man on our Saturday night trips to the creamery and downtown stores. I wish I could remember what she said then that “explained” him.

Satch was born in the German-Russian village of Balzar on September 18, 1905, the first child of Alexander and Katherine Idt. He was given his father’s name and technically went through life as Alexander Idt. I suspect a few who knew him are learning his real name for the first time.

The Idt family included little brother William when they immigrated to Sutton in 1910; George was born about a year later, John in 1907 and a little girl, “Eugene” came along about 1921. Satch’s father died in 1924 leaving Katherine with boys of 18, 16, 13 and 6 and her three-year old daughter.

If Satch’s was a congenital condition, then it would have shown up before they emigrated though he was “normal” enough to take on a daily newspaper route of 150 customers as a boy where he became known for reliable, all-weather service according to that newspaper tribute.

As an adult Satch led a very busy life running errands for the elderly, delivering packages for businesses, doing yard work and other odd jobs collecting payment in nickels, dimes and quarters that all went home to Mom.

Shoemaker Clint Carl had the contract to carry mail between the Depot and the Post Office that was on the north side of today’s Cornerstone Bank. Satch was his unofficial, faithful assistant. One of my indelible memories is of Satch pulling a large two-wheel cart, faded red I think, or was it green, between those two destinations. What ever happened to that cart? Is there a picture of Satch and his cart somewhere?

Satch was an auctioneer. Well, not quite. He mimicked Henry Bergen’s auctioneer call with a contagious enthusiasm. He would stop two or three people on the street and proceed to auction off a parked car with price calls that climbed and then dropped to a final sale price that was generally “a quarter.” School kids walking from the school house to lunch at the old auditorium were spectators to his sale of Bauman’s Farmall Tractors across the street.

Before the Tuesday afternoon livestock sales at the old sale barn east of the highway, Satch would climb into the auctioneer’s booth and conduct his own imaginary sales followed by his weekly rendition of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” When it was time for sales to start, Henry Bergen would take over from Satch after buying him a piece of pie and a cup of coffee at the barn’s lunch counter.

Satch contributed much to Sutton and the people of Sutton looked out for him. From time to time someone tried to take advantage of Satch but Sutton residents had Zero Tolerance for such behavior.

When Satch’s clothes became a bit threadbare, business men would chip in for new clothes at Abbie Griess’s men’s clothing store.
Coach Miller, Satch and Coach Kaeding

Those who knew Satch have been waiting for this next story. Satch was a fan of Sutton High athletics.

No, that does not really describe Satch’s relationship with Sutton High. To say that Satch was a Sutton fan is like saying Puccini wrote some nice music, or that a pair of aces is a good start in Texas Hold-em.

From The Sutton News on Thurs.
November 19, 1942.
Satch lived for Game Day. He was Sutton High’s Promoter Extraordinaire. He could not contain himself as he walked the downtown streets. “Go Sutton” and “Sutton’s gonna win” were only two of the lines he’d shout to no one in particular. He’d step into each store and shout, “Ballgame tonight!”

Satch was the Water Boy for the football and basketball teams. He loved every player and every coach. As far as I know, every coach fully accepted Satch’s role on their teams. The front seat on the team bus was his. And when the Pep Band broke into the Sutton Fight Song, it was generally under the capable direction of their No. 1 fan.

Satch was struck by a car one night after a game, in 1942. He had a broken pelvis and other fractures. He spent two months in the hospital and another four months bedridden. A downtown collection covered his hospital bill plus the purchase of a sweater with a big “S” on the front. At halftime of a basketball game the Pep Band played the fight song as Satch stepped out to conduct, as usual. As the song ended, a small group walked out to Satch and presented him with his Letter Sweater. Satch had a big smile as he put on his new favorite sweater while every spectator reached for their handkerchiefs to get “something” out of their eye.

So far, no one has pinpointed exactly when or how Satch’s schtick ended, I was not living here and hope someone can fill in that detail. It seems that he faded from the scene more than stopped. He was slowing down in the early ‘60’s and his mother died in 1965. His eyesight failed and his brothers in Kearney moved him to a home.

One day at the home Satch was sitting in his room at the window – perhaps he could still detect light – when Coach Jim Kaeding from “way back” came to visit him. Coach Kaeding quietly opened the door and paused. He said, “Hello, Satchmo.”

Satch threw his arms into the air and shouted, “Yeah-bo, Coach Kaeding.”

Portrait of Satch on the south wall of Maury's in Sutton

Alexander Idt died on July 29, 1976. He was buried at the Sutton cemetery in his letter sweater.

- Jerry Johnson, December 2011

The newspaper account of Satch's accident was added to this post on November 10, 2017, discovered while working the 75-years ago section of our newspaper column.

This article first appeared in the January, 2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For more information about this local Sutton publication contact Jarod Griess at or at or at 402-773-4203.

Francis Marion (F. M.) Brown, Sutton Pioneer

The Story of Francis Marion Brown, a Sutton Pioneer

Francis Marion Brown (F. M., Frank) was born in Illinois in 1840, arrived in Clay County in 1871 and died in Sutton in 1919. He was a major contributor to the early development of Sutton and for that we owe him a large debt of gratitude. We can also thank him for leaving us his story.
Homesteader F. M. Brown published the Sutton Register newspaper from 1886 until his death in 1919. About two years before he died, he serialized his family’s story in the newspaper over 40 weeks. Major portions of those articles appear in the “History of Hamilton and Clay Counties” and a short summary is in Haviland & Motichka’s “Along the County Line”.

Francis Marion (F. M.) Brown (1840-1919) Sutton pioneer and publisher
of The Sutton Register from1886-1919.
Francis Brown’s father died in 1858 on the family farm in Clark County, Illinois leaving his wife Mary to raise five sons and two daughters: Francis, Charles, George, John, Robert, Martha and Mary.

F. M. Brown and his brothers Charles and John served in the Union Army. Francis Brown’s Civil War rifle was sold at auction in Sutton about 1960 and remains in a private collection.
Two of the brothers, George and John went to the Colorado mines in 1868 but returned to Illinois after two years telling of good farm land in Nebraska. The Brown family sold their farm in the spring of 1871 and George and Francis headed west. Their train and ferry trip took three days from Marshall, Illinois to the Clifton Hotel in Lincoln.

The brothers scouted Seward County and then with the Robert Garr and George Smith families headed to the land between the Blue River and School Creek. The Browns found their farm in section 10 of School Creek Township followed by others nearby in sections 2 and 14.

The Brown brothers did not have horses and decided that Francis would return to Illinois to get a team, wagon and supplies - another two day/three night trip. He found a team of four-year old horses for $250 plus a wagon, harness, etc. The first time he hitched them up they ran away overturning the wagon, dislocating his shoulder and injuring a knee, injuries that plagued him the rest of his life.

Robert Brown (R. G., Bob) cared for the team and decided to accompany Francis back to the new farm in Nebraska. They visited John before they left, the last time they saw him before he died in Illinois at age twenty-eight.

This trip was another adventure with muddy roads to St. Louis and an unreliable riverboat captain. They paid fifty-five dollars for passage for themselves, their team, mules and wagon with the promise of being in Nebraska City in eight days. Francis and Robert bought 1,000 pounds of hay and twenty bushels of corn and oats plus their own provisions but after three days they were still tied up in St. Louis. The boat carried a full load of lumber, made stops at every town and was stuck on sand bars numerous times for twenty-one days. The horses and mules were on short feed the last days of the trip and were in bad shape at Nebraska City.

 On June 2nd, Francis, George and Robert were together on their farm north of Sutton. George had hired a neighbor, Bob Waddell to break ten acres for thirty dollars and had planted corn and potatoes. George had built a sixteen-foot square shed into a side hill which they extended into a 16 X 24 dugout.

Access to water was important to the settlers. The Browns were four miles from a water source; the Garr’s about two. Mr. Garr drove to Lincoln to get well-drilling equipment, tubing and supplies and shortly had a 100-foot well in place. The Browns then drilled their 85-foot well.
It was impossible to find eggs until they bought a dozen hens in Lincoln. A neighbor had two cows where they bought butter and milk until they bought their own cow for fifty dollars.
Mrs. Brown and her daughters planned to join the brothers in the spring of 1872 prompting a new sixteen-foot square sod addition to the dugout.

Prairie sod had to be “broken”, or plowed for the first time. They had ninety acres broken by fall when Charles came out from Illinois to join them and took his own farm on the northwest quarter of section 10.

The winter or 1871 was a hard one. The principle supply of fresh meat was buffalo for five or six cents a pound from hunters. Elk and antelope were a bit more and pork from Lincoln cost ten to twelve cents. Stores carried ham and bacon but few had ready cash. Rabbits and grouse were common staple.

Francis’ brother Bob (R. G.) made the first move to town in 1871 when he became the first attorney in Clay County. That was just the beginnings of the Brown family contributions to the town of Sutton.

Early Clay County was part of Saline County for administrative functions. R. G. Brown, John Maltby and John Gray formed a committee which petitioned Governor James to call an election to organize a county. The election was held on October 14, 1871 at the home of Alexander Campbell, two miles east of Harvard. Sutton was selected as the county seat with 56 of the 99 votes cast. F. M. Brown became the first county clerk, R. G. Brown was the first county treasurer (with no money) and their brother Charles was appointed as deputy county clerk. Meetings were held in R. G. Brown’s office and county records were kept in the office.

F. M. Brown was living on his homestead where he built a house for his mother and sisters when they arrived. He hired a man to dig a basement for the house. When the excavation was complete a vast horde of black and white striped bugs came out of the west crawling slowly eastward. The creatures looked like potato bugs but were about four times that size. They didn’t eat much but tens of thousands of them tumbled into the unfinished basement and were trapped just before heavy rains hit killing the bugs and leaving them in the hot sun. Within twenty-four hours a stench made it necessary to remove them. The Browns shoveled bushels of dead bugs out and hauled them away in a wagon. The live bugs simply disappeared. Brown claimed he had never seen bugs of this nature before, and never saw such again.

The first Fourth of July celebration in Sutton was in 1872 with people coming from miles around. R. G. Brown delivered the oration. F. M. Brown had organized the Clay County Agricultural Society with Hosea Gray as president and himself as secretary. They held the first town fair just north of the railroad depot with prizes funded by local businesses including $10 for the best ten pounds of butter. The feature of the fair was a ladies’ horseback riding contest won by Miss Nellie Henderson and Miss Mattie Brown (side saddle) in second place. The judges awarded both ladies first prize of a ten dollar gold ring.

In 1873 the county board decided to build a small courthouse 16 X 40 feet with three rooms on the first floor for the clerk, judge and treasurer and a court room above. F. M. Brown submitted the low bid of $1,600 for the building. The court house was on the northeast corner of block 24 one block east of Saunders on Maple.

F. M. Brown was married in August, 1873 in Chicago to Mary C. Cluver. The couple returned to the homestead four miles north of Sutton staying only until late fall when they moved to town. He served as clerk for the first term of the district court of Clay County in 1873.

Sutton was incorporated as a village on October 15, 1874 and our hero, F. M. Brown was named chairman of the village board of trustees with members J. C. Merrill, J. J. Melvin, W. A. Way, and Dr. M. V. B. Clark.

Francis built the first brick business building in Sutton where his brother Charles operated a meat market supplied from the family slaughter house on the farm. In 1878 he built the Occidental Hotel which stood where the American Legion is now located.

R. G. Brown was elected mayor in 1879, Charles Brown was on the city council in 1880 and F. M. Brown served as mayor in 1882, 1883 and 1884. In 1883 F. M. Brown helped form the Sutton Building & Improvement Co. which then built the Sutton Opera House first managed by Guess Who.

After years of dabbling in various activities, finally on June 1, 1886, Francis Marion Brown found his calling when he purchased the Sutton Register newspaper.

His journalism career didn’t slow down his civic service. He became police judge in 1888 serving for several years. He organized the Evening Star Lodge, was its first secretary and later filled every station of the lodge. He was a member of Lebanon Chapter and the G.A.R. – a busy man.

Francis Marion Brown died in 1919 and his son Charles took over the Sutton Register publishing the paper until his own death in 1941. The Brown’s Sutton Register was absorbed by the Sutton News the next year after serving the community for 56 years.

The Brown family served the community for almost seventy years. R. G. was the first town attorney and has his name on a downtown building. F. M. Brown did not receive that lasting name recognition but he was an important force in the creation of the Sutton community as a leader in business and civic leadership. He was a truly a hero of old Sutton.

This article first appeared in the August and September, 2010 issues of Sutton Life Magazine. For more information about this local Sutton publication visit of contact Jarod Griess at or 402-773-4203.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stockholm Lutheran Church between Ong & Shickley

The Stockholm Lutheran Church near Ong

The Stockholm Lutheran Church and Swedish Cemetery are about 1/2 way between Ong and Shickley. The well-kept landmark building is in a pleasant rural setting just 15 miles south and east of Sutton - well worth the short drive.

Cover Girl Celebrity from the past...

The May, 1962 Cover Girl for The Nebraska Electric Farmer
magazine - Terri Ham

The Cover Girl for the May, 1962 issue of The Nebraska Electric Farmer was a young celebrity from a farm near Sutton – 2 ½ year old Terri Ham, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Kendall Ham.

An article appeared in the May 31, 1962 issue of The Clay County News that told about the cover story of that issue of The Nebraska Electric Farmer magazine in which a local family was featured.

The Kendall Ham family had recently installed an electric water system on the farm that received the attention of the magazine. So among other important events of this week we have the 50th anniversary of that story and this picture.

Congratulations Terri, on so many levels....

Clay County World War I Deaths

We found the list of Clay County deaths in World War I in the Harvard Courier of Thursday, May 27, 1937 – or at least all but one of them.

The larger picture statistics were that 57,523 Nebraskans served in WWI with 1,655 deaths. Five hundred and ninety-seven enlisted from Clay County with 20 deaths.

The Nebraska deaths were:
Army enlisted men         1,469
Army officers                     44
Navy enlisted men            104
Navy officers                       3
Marine enlisted men           34
Nurses                                2

Clay County lost 18 Army enlisted men and two Navy enlisted men.

The Courier was one man short on its list – will have to look into that later.

Army deaths:
1.      Akerson, Arthur Edwin, Ong, Co. D, 163rd Depot Brigade, died of disease
2.      Anderson, Carl R., Harvard, 38th Co., 163rd Depot Brigade, died of disease
3.      Bray, Earl L., Ong, Co. C, 125th Infantry, killed in action
4.      Case, Lewis, Sutton, Co. B, 314th Supply Train, died of disease
5.      Ficken, John Peter, Edgar, 45th Co. 161st Depot Brigade, died of disease
6.      Fuller, Orsen G., Harvard, 276th Ambulance Co., 19th Sanitary Train, died of disease
7.      Glantz, Peter, Harvard, Co. F., 335th Infantry, died of disease
8.      Lewis, Milton O., Fairfield, Co. G, 4th Infantry, killed in action
9.      Miller, Peter, Harvard, Co. I, 355th Infantry, killed in action
10.  Northrop, Leslie M., Edgar, Supply Co., 352nd Infantry, died of disease
11.  Pearson, John, Saronville, Medical Detachment, Provisional Field Hospital, Co. B, died of disease
12.  Sage, Perry W., Harvard, Medical Detachment, 8th Cavalry, died of disease
13.  Schmer, William G., Harvard, Co. C, 350th Infantry, died of disease
14.  Swanson, Earl N., Saronville, 164th Depot Brigade, died of disease
15.  Urbach, Harry, Harvard, Co. A. 2nd Battalion, Signal Corps, Died of disease
16.  Walther, William, Glenvil, Machine Gun Co., 137th Infantry, died of disease
17.  Zimmerman, Daniel R., Sutton, Co. A, S.A.T.C., University of Nebraska, died of disease
18.  Not available

Navy deaths
1.      Fletcher, Lloyd Vernon, Edgar, Naval Hospital, Charleston, South Carolina, unknown cause of death
2.      McLey, James Nelson, Edgar, Naval Hospital, Great Lakes, Illinois, unknown cause of death

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Drummer Boy of Vicksburg

The historical society donated another book to the Sutton Library this week as a part of our build-up to the Civil War re-enactment during Dugout Days on June 30 and July1. One of the two skirmishes will be based on a piece of the Battle of Vicksburg including the ammo run made by Pvt. Orion P. Howe and three of his fellow soldiers as their commander, Colonel Malmborg sent them to get more ammunition from Gen. Sherman. Only Pvt. Howe made it through though he suffered severe wounds in the action. He was a 14-year old drummer boy at the time.

This historical novel by G. Clifton Wisler is based on the story of Private Howe.

In the 1890's President Cleveland provided an opening for Civil War units to nominate additional soldiers for the Medal of Honor, picking up heroes who had been missed during the time of the war. Members of the 55th Illinois Infantry Regiment nominated Corporal Orion P. Howe for the nation's highest military honor. Dr. Howe was notified of this award while he was a practicing dentist in Sutton, Nebraska in 1897.

Colonel Oscar Malmborg, commander of the 55th Illinois Infantry Regiment and his 14 year old
drummer boy, Orion P. Howe, winner of the Medal of Honor and much later, Sutton dentist.

The September, 1864 issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine carried a poem by George Boker describing Orion's heroism:


May 19, 1863

While Sherman stood beneath the hottest fire
That from the lines of Vicksburg gleam'd
And bomb-shells tumbled in their smoky gyre,
And grape shot hiss'd, and case shot scream'd
Back from the front there came,
Weeping and sorely lame,
The merest child, the youngest face,
Man ever saw in such a fearful place.

Stifling his tears, he limp'd his chief to meet;
But, when he paused and tottering stood,
around the circle of his little feet
There spread a pool of bright, young blood.
Shocked at his doleful case,
Sherman cried, "Halt! front face!
Who are you? speak, my gallant boy!"
"A drummer, sir, - Fifty-fifth Illinois."

"Are you hit?" "That's nothing. Only send
Some cartridges. Our men are out,
And the foe press us." "But, my little friend-"
"Don't mind me! Did you hear that shout?
What if our men be driven?
Oh, for the love of Heaven,
Send to my colonel, general dear-"
"But you?"-"Oh, I shall easily find the rear."

"I'll see to that," cried Sherman; and a drop,
Angels might envy, dimm'd his eye,
As the boy, toiling towards the hill's hard top,
Turn'd round, and, with his shrill child's cry
Shouted, "Oh, don't forget!
We'll win the battle yet!
But let our soldiers have some more,
More cartridges, sir, calibre fifty-four!"

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Not the average 1939 Sutton wedding.

The January 11, 1940 issue of The Sutton Register carried this front page wedding story.

The Kohler brothers were stars of that year's Oregon State football team.