Wheeler County

 

In 1881 Wheeler County was organized, measuring 24 miles north and south, 48 miles east and west, and included the present counties of Wheeler and Garfield. On 11/25/1884 this area was divided into two 25 mile squares forming the two counties of Wheeler and Garfield. Wheeler County was named in honor of Major Daniel H. Wheeler, long time secretary of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture.

The first town to be located in Wheeler County was Cumminsville, named after Frank Cummins who homesteaded there in 1880. It was situated in the Beaver Valley with the idea that the Union Pacific Railroad, already at Albion, would be extended to the west and pass up the Beaver. The first post office was opened at this point and Sam E. Chambers, pioneer merchant, was appointed post master in 1881. A livery barn, hotel, blacksmith shop, another general store, several residences and a church were built. Rev. Griffith of Neligh was the first minister. The first children born at Cumminsville in 1881, Ray, nephew of Frank Cummins, and Maude, daughter of Sam Chambers. The first big Fourth of July celebration was held there that year.

The first newspaper published in the county was at Cumminsville by A.J. Stewart, "The Wheeler County Gazette", and it was made the official county newspaper. Later after the post office at Cumminsville a mail route was run from Scotia delivering mail at Reilly, about three miles southwest of the present site of William Reilly's located in the county in 1879.

On October 2, 1883, the county had been formed into three commissioner districts. The north half of the county was more thickly populated than the south and was formed into districts 1 and 2. The remainder of the county was made into number 3. These districts remain today as they were formed.

In 1885, the question of the county seat location was the important problem. Superintendent of schools Begelow offered to deed land for a courthouse on his property about four miles south of where Barlett now stands. Ezra B. Mitchell also offered inducements for his property. The contest was fierce and on the second election, the Bartlett site won 193 to 90 over Cumminsville, and the county seat was moved from Cedar City. Cedar City, which had only a small courthouse and a few buildings, died of the shock. The town site was named Bartlett after Ezra Bartlett Mitchell on whose homestead it was located.

In the spring of 1886 the C.B.&Q. railroad decided to build northwest from Greeley, but only about twenty miles of track were laid, five miles of which were in the southwest corner of Wheeler county. The railroad purchased a quarter of land from Peter Erickson, plotted it into town lots and named it Ericson. For some years the town grew slowly. A. Dahl, the first depot agent, bought grain and sold coal and finally bought the store being operated by Peter Erickson.

In 1895 an unsuccessful attempt was made to operate a ditch to irrigate land between Ericson and Spalding, but it was abandoned after the diversion dam just west of town washed out. However, in 1916, a concrete dam was built on the river about two miles east of Ericson. In the construction of the ditch in 1895 a dam was thrown across Clear Creek and a lake formed. This was called Pibel Lake.

County affairs moved smoothly after the building of the courthouse. The county was Republican in the early years, but around 1900 the Populists gained strength. In recent years it has been more evenly divided.

By 1900 most of the earlier settlers had received patents on their land. Many of the people had moved away and the county seemed stationary. In 1904, the Kinkaid Act was enacted and a large inflow of settlers resulted.

Today Wheeler County has a population of 948. Bartlett and Ericson are the two villages in the county. Wheeler County is part of Nebraska's unique sandhill region. The area offers beautiful scenery, clear rivers and lakes, good hunting and fishing, and some of the friendliest people in Nebraska.