Most of the early settlers of Buffalo County came from the eastern states; however, of the 121 adults and children listed in the 1860 census, twenty-five were English, eight Irish, two Canadian, and one was French.
The earliest English people to settle in what became Buffalo County were Mormons who located around Wood River Center (Shelton). It was customary for the Mormons to establish temporary support bases along the route of their migrations and some of those who assisted in this enterprise chose to go no further. Sarah Oliver and her family were among the Mormons who found life in the Wood River valley preferable to the uncertainties of going on to Salt Lake City (Buffalo Tales, February 1978).
The first history of Buffalo County was probably the Fourth of July oration given by N. H. Hemiup in 1876, and reprinted in the Kearney Times. In this he stated that "one Carter", an Englishman, was with Henry Peck, the first to plant a crop of corn and potatoes, "but owing to the newness of the breaking and other causes produced but little." According to Mr. Hemiup, the first white child born in Buffalo County, on July 10, 1860, was Henry Dugdale 1, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dugdale, natives of England. Mr. Dugdale was elected sheriff in the county's first election in 1861, which was nullified because some of the officials did not qualify. Another election wasn't held until 1870, when Dugdale was named county treasurer. Mr. Hemiup stated, "During those early days, Mr. Dugdale sold potatoes to the Fort and emigrants for $5.00 per bushel, and corn as high as $4.15."
|Joseph Owen, early pioneer.||
On their return to Buffalo County, the Nutters had bought the log home of William Storey, who had been killed by the Indians in 1868 (Buffalo Tales, March, 1978 ). They built an addition to the cabin for their growing family, but as their fortunes improved they decided to build a new house. The octagon-shaped house, built in 1886, was the showplace of the area. Van Nutter, son of Mr. and Mrs. Donovan Nutter, a fourth generation member of the family, is now living in the remodeled house between Gibbon and Shelton on the north side of Highway 30.
F. G. Keens standing under a tree planted by him in 1872 on the grounds of Mount Carmel-Keens Memorial Home.
Francis G. Keens "footed it into Kearney ahead of the railroad" (the B. & M.) in 1872. Born in Exeter, England in 1853, he came to this country at the age of sixteen. Working his way across the country as a painter, he had acquired a little money, and when he arrived in Kearney, he built, with Thomas S. Nightengale, the second store in town where they sold drugs and general merchandise.
In a bitterly contested election on October 13, 1874, voters chose to move the county seat to Kearney. Shortly after that, Mr. Keens, as deputy county clerk, accompanied county clerk Joseph Scott to Gibbon in the dead of night to remove the county records. Returning to Kearney at 2:00 AM, Keens stood guard in the Chandler Building for the remainder of the night until the records could be placed in a more secure place.
In 1875 Keens built his "castle" at what is now 401 W. 27th St. where he installed a Kearney first, a copper bath tub. After serving a term as deputy county treasurer, he went into the insurance and loan business, later he became president of the City National Bank. In 1880 Keens and Nathan Campbell were empowered by Kearney citizens to offer 330 acres as a site for the "State Reform School", if it was located in Kearney. He was also one of the organizers and secretary of the Kearney Canal Company. In his later years, he moved to California, where he had a number of investments.
F.G. Keens "Castle," 1875, 401 West 27th Street in Kearney.
After a fire in 1946 the second floor was torn off and the house extensively remodeled.
It is now the home of Lt. Col. (Ret.) and Mrs. R. J. Dunn. - A. T. Anderson Photo
Of the many controversies Mr. Keens was involved in, the one with the most far- reaching consequences was his disagreement with his own church, St. Lukes Episcopal. The upshot of this was that in 1929, he offered to the Grand Island Diocese of the Catholic Church, the block of ground on 17th Street which included the Keens Flats and a frame residence. The Carmelite Sisters acquired the property and established a care home in the apartments, using the home as a convent for training Corpus Christi Carmelite Sisters. Mr. Keens helped the Order in planning the landscaping of the grounds, and presented them with money to help with remodeling. At his death at the age, of 85, he bequeathed a large sum of money which made possible the construction of the chapel and other rooms in 1952. The name of the home became Mount Carmel-Keens Memorial. Among the Sisters' prize possessions is a hammered copper Indian Temple gong, along with two elaborate brass urns, which Keens had acquired during his travels.
Keens also gave money to the Good Samaritan Hospital which was used in the construction of the fourth and fifth floors of the building. At one time he had also given a generous donation to the Kearney Military Academy.
William H. Knaggs came from England to Fort Kearny in 1862. William Knaggs, Sr. was deputy postmaster under his cousin, Moses Sydenham, also from England (Buffalo Tales, April 1981 ). Mrs. Knaggs was head matron of the Fort hospital. In 1881 William Knaggs, Jr. piled all his possessions on the family cart and moved to Kearney where he worked in a drug store for ten years before going into the grocery business. In 1907 he was elected to the city council and became Mayor of Kearney in 1913. During his term of office the first paving was laid in the city.1) Other sources name James Boyd's daughter, Eleanora, as the first white child. (Buffalo Tales, September, 1980 .)
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