Scarcely had the Indian left the haunts, whither he had roamed for so many years—the undisputed possessor of that territory now known as Holt County—before the adventurous pioneer, came crowding upon his receding footsteps. Its wide undulating prairies, over which the red man had chased the buffalo, the elk and the deer, were now right speedily to be turned by the plowshare to the sun-light of Heaven, and the numerous streams, wherein he slaked his thirst, and whence he procured a portion of his sustenance, were to be utilized in the propulsion of myriad wheels and buzzing saws. Its forests, which had echoed only to the savage warhoops, or to the roar of wild beasts, were soon to resound with the stroke of the woodman's ax, and the din of civilization. Its hills and valleys, where stood the fragile wigwam, were soon to be dotted over with the more enduring and stately habitations of man. Its physiognomical features, which had been cast in the mold of ceaseless ages, were soon to take on a more comely appearance, at the hands of a people with new thoughts and grander purposes of living. The aborigine had run his course; the time had come, in the wisdom of the powers that be, when he must take up his line of march toward the setting sun, where it is hoped he found a hunting ground, no less genial and no less happy.
That portion of the Platte Purchase, which was the most accessible to the emigrant, was the first to be settled. Nor did it require a long series of years to do this, for the tide of immigration which began to pour itself into Platte County in the spring of 1837, increased with such momentum, that, before the lapse of the year 1838, it had in a great measure, overspread the county of Platte, had passed through the counties of Buchanan and Andrew, and was rapidly rolling onward in its course, through Holt, Atchison and Nodaway. There never had been anything like it in the history of the country. The information which had been obtained of the Platte Purchase had traveled eastward with the rapidity of the steamboat. The richness of its soil, the salubrity of its climate, the number and importance of its water courses, had all been presented in glowing colors to the inhabitants who resided east of the Mississippi; its fame going beyond the Ohio, and even crossing the Alleghanies. The enthusiasm inspired by these reports was but a little less than that enkindled in the minds of men, upon the receipt of the news of the discovery of gold in California. All who could and were so inclined, were eager to test the truth of what they had heard, and the result was that thousands of emigrants left their homes in the east, during the spring and fall of 1837 and 1838, destined for the Platte Purchase, hoping and believing that the land to which they were coming would be to them a Canaan, wherein they could with perfect confidence cast their lots for the remainder of life.
True, a few were disappointed, and returned again to their former homes, or sought newer fields beyond the Rocky Mountains, but the great majority of those who came hither and planted their vine and figtree at an early day remained, many of whom are still living, and are now (1882) enjoying the fruits of their early struggles and privations.
Whence came the early settlers of Holt County? When did they come? Who were they? These are questions which naturally suggest themselves to all who are anxious to learn the beginning of their country's history, for no country can have a history without first having a settlement. With the date, therefore, of its first settlement, begins its history. The student searching for the origin of things, is never satisfied with the result of his investigation until he has prosecuted his explorations abinitio. In this way, he is made acquainted with what would otherwise be to him the secret causes which produced or had wrought out certain conditions or results. The character of the first settlers, have much to do with the subsequent growth and development of the country, hence we perceive the significance and bearing of the beginning. Among the older states, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, were, perhaps, more largely represented in the early settlement of the Platte Purchase than all others combined, and many of its present inhabitants, although natives of other states, trace their ancestry back to the states above named.
In the settlement of Holt County, however, the first pioneers were from the state of Indiana, whence they came in the early spring of 1838. These were Peter and Blank Stephenson, from Parke County, Indiana. These men settled about five miles southeast of the present town of Oregon, on section 7, in township 59, range 37. In the spring of 1838 Judge R. H. Russell, John Sterrett, John' Russell and James Kee, left Indiana for the Platte Purchase. Judge Russell proceeded by steamboat to Clay County, Missouri, where he remained, cultivating a crop of corn until the month of August, when he was joined by the others, who had come overland. The whole party then came to Holt County and settled in the same neighborhood where Blank and Peter Stephenson lived. Judge Russell, who is still living in Oregon, says that the Stephensons had put in a small crop of corn, and when he arrived in Holt County, and stopped at Stephenson's cabin, they gave him roasting ears.
The first postmaster in the county was Judge R. H. Russell. The post office was at Thorp's Mill, and was kept in Judge Russell's house. Thorp's Mill was called after one John Thorp, who built the first mill on Mill Creek, about two miles southeast of Oregon. John Baldwin came also from Parke County, Indiana, in the fall of 1839, and settled on section 18, township 55, range 37. George Mclntyre came in the fall of 1839, and located on section 5, same congressional township. Smith Mclntyre came at the same time and settled on the same section. John M. Briggs, the Widow Jackson and family, were other early settlers of this part of the county, in 1840.
Roland Burnett, (brother of Peter H. Burnett, once prosecuting attorney of this judicial circuit, and now one of the most eminent and most wealthy citizens of California), Harmon G. Noland, John Gibson, and others, settled in the vicinity of Oregon in 1839. Burnett established a claim on what afterwards became the town site of Oregon, but it was subsequently decided that the county possessed the title, and Mr. Burnett moved to the farm north of town. The Blairs and Baldwins were the earliest settlers of Benton Township. John M. Blair, with his sons, Uriah and James, reached Holt County April 12th, 1839, and locating near the bluff line south of Mound City, on section 20, township 61, range 38. The Blairs came from Indiana, about 1827, went to Pike County, Illinois, subsequently to Iowa, and came to Holt County, as stated above, in 1839. John M. Blair died in the summer of 1849, on Carson River, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, while en route to California, with an expedition from Holt County. James and Uriah Blair are still citizens of the county. Jeremiah Baldwin, his brother, Daniel Baldwin, and his son, Lambert Baldwin, settled, in the fall of 1839, in the neighborhood of the Blairs. John Hughes and son, also named John, were settled, in 1839, in the neighborhood of the Blairs and Baldwins, and additional settlements were made in the same locality in 1840.
The Sharps, W. A. and Abraham, settled Sharp's Grove, in the locality of Craig, in 1841, and about the same time Robert and John Nickols gave their name to Nickol's Grove, in the eastern part of the county. German settlers were the first to begin the improvement of the extreme northwestern part. John H. Roselius was the pioneer, and Henry Dankers, Henry Peters and Andrew Buck, followed soon after. The descendants of these men are generally living in that part of the county, and are among our most influential citizens. Whig Valley, where the political sentiments of the inhabitants seem to have been so marked as to leave a record in the name of the locality, was first settled by Theodore Higley, who gave the name of that once great party to the beautiful and fertile valley which he settled.
Submitted by: Mark Roupe