The Medicine Creek Valley framed by rugged loess canyons, shelters Stockville, county seat of Frontier County. The Burlington rails missed it, but it endures. The post office, Rocky’s Bar and a frame courthouse remain in the community. The county seat has survived elections and lawsuits by its neighbor Curtis for county seat honors.
Nebraska’s long time Senator George W. Norris was nearly shot in the courtroom when he was district judge. Hawkins had been found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Luckily, the sheriff found the .38-caliber revolver with two bullets before it could be used. Hawkins sat not more than six feet from the judge’s elevated bench. “If he had killed me, he would have been mobbed. He had the second load in the gun for himself,” Norris recalled.
The stories of Stockville are wonderful. It claims to be the last county seat to be served by a paved road and the last courthouse to be plumbed. Both occurred during the 1960s. When Frontier County put running water in the courthouse to accommodate women jurors, a major item before the commissioners was whether to install a drinking fountain in the downstairs hall. The County Clerk, Louis Hovey, opposed the $65.00 fountain expenditure because it was a waste of taxpayer funds. After all, Louis provided a pail of water with a dipper for anyone who was thirsty. The commissioners approved the fountain because Louis’ dog also drank from the bucket.
Rush Clark, an attorney from North Platte and special prosecutor of a notorious Frontier County murder case, loved to delight the Northwestern University school for prosecutors with Stockville stories about the outdoor plumbing facilities and tobacco chewing jury. The Congregational Church ladies always serve lunch for jury trials. Everyone, the judge, attorneys, defendants, jurors, bailiff and sheriff, eat family style in the church basement. Clark always brought down the house when he recalled the accused asking the judge to pass the potatoes. The ladies still serve for jury trials and commissioner meetings.
Frontier County was the frontier – cowboys, Indians, rattlesnakes, cattle, and homesteaders – pioneers. John Bratt, Hank Clifford, and W. H. Miles were appointed by Acting Governor James as the first board of commissioners January 18, 1872. The spring wagon carrying the books and papers had turned over and spilled its load. After returning an injured Kirby to Fort McPherson, Bratt arrived by horseback at Hank Clifford’s teepee.
Clifford, his brother Monte, Bratt, W. H. Miles and the other officials were sworn in and Frontier County was formed. No one had a pen and ink or pencil. “We scraped some soot off the teepee poles, mixed it with water, sharpened a stick and dipped it in the mixture. With this stick we all wrote our names.” Bratt reported in his book Trails of Yesterday. The Bratt party stayed at Hank’s teepee that night where Clifford’s Native American wife and her sister cooked supper and breakfast.
Both winter and summer buffalo, elk, deer and antelope ranged on the country’s buffalo and grandma grasses along with the stock that the settlers brought. Later Frontier County would become one of the centers of the purebred cattle industry. A marble statue in the courthouse yard commemorates the first settlers and officers of the county: J. W. Kirby, Clerk; Levi Carter, Treasurer; S.F. Watts, judge; H. C. Clifford, sheriff, Elias Miller Assessor; J. D. Kerr Register; John Y. Nelson, surveyor; A. S. Shelly, coroner; and commissioners, John Bratt, W. H. Miles and M. H. Clifford.
The monument also recognizes Stockville as the first settlement in April 1870 with Arthur Ruff, John Y. Nelson and the Clifford brothers. The first homestead entries were John W. Lockwood and Arch M. Mason in the Curtis area, July of 1873.
On the marble’s west side is inscribed: “The first white children born in the county: Mary Nolan, July 12, 1874; Anna Sanders, June 9, 1875; and, William R. Waits, June 23, 1875.”
Stockville takes pride in its colorful history, its strong pioneers, and the many notable people who have lived there including Former Governor of Nebraska Frank B. Morrison and Former United States District Judge Robert Van Pelt. Morrison was Frontier County attorney and Van Pelt was born and raised by his mother who ran a small boarding house near the Courthouse Square and across the street from the community windmill. The Judge enjoyed remembering his mother’s send off when he went to college: “Always tell the truth Robert because they can’t take that away from you, and always be clean because soap is cheap.” The advice served him well.
Much is known about the white settlers, but little about the Native Americans who lived in the area. There have been archeological digs, including the Red Smoke original man site on Lime Creek near Medicine Creek reservoir. We know that the Medicine Creek was a common buffalo hunting area for several tribes, including the Pawnee, Sioux and Omaha.
The Native American ancestors of Stockville may be as notable as their European counterparts. Hank and Monte Clifford both had Sioux wives and John Bratt wrote that “each had a goodly number of half-breed papooses.” Today the Clifford name is the dominant family name on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Martha Clifford Whiting of Kyle, South Dakota tells the stories of Mortimer (Monte) Clifford moving to the reservation. Mortimer in addition to his county commissioner duties, served as postmaster before the move and was a very literate man. He was banished from the reservation as a troublemaker because he was translating the government letters and documents for the tribes. It seems there was a fork between the written and spoken words of the government and the Indian Commissioner did not appreciate the interference.
Gerald Clifford, his wife Charlotte Black Elk, and their family were featured on the Cable News Network program Return to Wounded Knee. Gerald is coordinator of the Black Hills Steering Committee, the lead group in the negotiation of the Native American Claims to the Black Hills. Other Cliffords have provided Reservation leadership for generations.
Stockville continues to serve its ranching and agricultural community. It continues to be part of the sense of place for the short grass prairies of the Great Plains – a rich and vibrant culture of man and nature – and no less a frontier.
Note: It is not known exactly where this account came from but to the best of our memories, it is some storyteller’s rendition of his day’s in Stockville, Nebraska.