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Pioneer Days of Brock

The below was written by Fred Kiechel of Johnson, Nebraska and published in the Brock Bulletin. The clipping it was taken from was not dated. I have made some spelling corrections, otherwise it is presented as published.

Editor Brock Bulletin:- I was much interested in the article, "The Early History of Brock," which appeared in the columns of the Bulletin some weeks ago. As I remember this article was contributed by members of the Sorosis Club and I want to apologize to the good ladies for "butting in" on their program with the following, which is my version of, "The Beginning of Brock."

My earliest recollection of Brock, after a lapse of seventy years, is a small log house on the north bank of the Nemaha River, a few rods upstream from the present bridge. This house had been built a few years before, if I mistake not, by George Shroaf, one of the first settlers in the neighborhood. At the time of which I write, it was occupied by Mr. Howard Bradley. There was a ford downstream at the bend of the river at the very place where the present drainage canal leaves the river bed. The ford and the locality was known as "Bradley's Ford." As a boy, I crossed this ford many times. While this was the best crossing for many miles either up or down the river, it was still rather dangerous and very unsatisfactory. The banks were steep and the water was swift and of uncertain depth. Once you descended the bank there was no turning back, you were obliged to plunge into the water and struggle up the opposite bank, often swimming the team. As more settlers located on the south of the river, there arose an insistent demand for a bridge at this point.

It was at this time that the German settlement on the Muddy was growing and land was being taken even west of there. The merchants at Nebraska City were bidding for this trade and in due time a wooden bridge was erected at the very point where the present bridge now stands, and thereafter the locality became known far and wide as "Bradley's Bridge," in honor of Mr. Bradley. About this time a postoffice was established at the Bradley home and was known as "Howard" Bradley's given name.

In 1869, Mr. J. M. Campbell came into the community driving a team of oxen. He broke prairie during that summer and while following the plow he had a vision. Lifting the veil of the future he read, on the pages of the coming years, of a little city, and of steam cars going up and down the valley. So after the breaking season was over, he sold his oxen and plow and erected a small building on the south side of the river near the foot of the bridge. Here he opened a little store, the first trading-post of the future little city. After some months, Mr. Campbell sold an interest to Johnnie Brown of Peru and the store was operated under the firm name of Campbell and Brown. The partnership did not prove to be congenial and Mr. Brown quit the firm and going a few rods south, he built a more commodious two story building with full basement. Here with a Mr. Burdick of Peru, he opened up a general store under the name of Brown and Burdick.

In the meantime, Mr. Campbell had enlarged his store and increased his stock so that "Bradley's bridge" or "Howard" now had two enterprising general stores. Other business concerns now came in rapid succession. George Clark opened a shoe-shop; Eli Popejoy erected a small building and put in a small stock of goods, mainly liquid refreshments. Adolph Henry opened a tin-shop and a Mr. Morgan built and conducted a blacksmith-shop. Gus and Julius Sire operated a carpenter and general repair shop; Joseph Bunn opened up a harness-shop. Wm. H. Starr and Wesley Smith erected a building and started a drug store. James Carle, brother-in-law of the late R. Coryell, became a partner in the Morgan blacksmith shop and they added a stock of implements and buggies. All these buildings were built in a triangle at the foot of the bridge.

Dr. Brooks was the first doctor to locate in the vicinity of Brock. He came in 1866 and moved into a vacant house a mile and a half southwest of town on what is known as the Houchins place, now a part of the Potard estate. Dr. Adolpe Opperman, who became one of the leading physicians of the county, came to Brock in 1867 but moved on shortly to the German settlement on the. Muddy, later going to Sheridan. In 1874, Dr. Lutgen located two miles north of Brock and for over fifty years ministered to the sick and afflicted.

Going back to the time that Mr. J. M. Campbell opened his store in 1870, we find that he was appointed postmaster shortly afterwards. About this same time a post office was established in Clay county by the name of Harvard (the present city of Harvard). The similarity in the names of Harvard and Howard and the resulting confusion and mixing of mail caused the Post office department to suggest a change of name here. Many and varied were the names suggested, "Pin Hook,' "Hardscramble," etc One day Henry Leck, in a spirit of banter, suggested the name, "Podunk;" Mr. Campbell at once spoke up, "Alright, 'Podunk' it shall be!" A petition was drawn up and signed by some of the patrons and in a very short time the department at Washington officially named the little city, "Podunk." That was the name until the coming of railroad when the railway officials thought the name too lacking in dignity and changed the same to "Brock" in honor of an official of the Missouri Pacific.

In 1869 a Mr. Sanders brought his family from Missouri and located in the horse-shoe bend east of the bridge. Here was erected the house and a small grist-mill, the first in this section. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Sanders, a daughter of perhaps fifteen years and a negro servant. The story went that this negro, known to the community as "Nigger George" had been a slave of the Sanders family since childhood, and though the Civil War had given him his freedom, he preferred to remain with and to serve his one-time master who treated the black man with marked kindness and consideration.

After operating the gristmill for some time and not getting enough grain to keep the mill running on full time, Mr. Sanders put in a sawmill as well. Here he sawed considerable lumber for the settlers and was doing well.

But one day Sanders went down into the pit to clean out some saw-dust or to make some minor repairs to the machinery with the saw running at full speed. Apparently not realizing his perilous position he came in contact with the saw; his backbone thigh and leg was ripped open in a most cruel manner. He was carried home and a messenger dispatched posthaste to Nebraska City for a doctor. His case was hopeless from the start and after a few days of terrible agony, death came to his relief. The Sanders family soon after this accident sold the mills to the late Wm. H. Hawley and his brother-in-law, John Walton, but the saw-mill never sawed lumber after that in Brock.

Hawley and Walton operated the flour-mill for several years, selling it in 1875 to Johnathan Higgins who employed Samuel Sommers as miller. The mill changed ownership several times during those early years. Later Wm. H. Starr became owner. Mr. Starr concluded to build a new mill with up-to-date machinery. Constructing a substantial two-story building on the south side of the river, with a new dam and mill race, he installed new and modern machinery and changed the type of mill from a burr, to a roller mill, at great expense. Brock now had one of the finest mills in the state, but when the affair was complete and the water turned into the fore-bay, it became apparent at once that water power available was entirely inadequate to turn the mill at capacity. This entailed additional expense of installing and operating a steam-engine as auxiliary power. Maynard Brothers were the last owners of the mill and they operated it until the drainage boat came down the river and put an end to this institution that had played so large a part in the community. It is generally conceded by people who know that the mill from beginning to end was a financial disappointment but it fulfilled a real and vital need of the times and had an important part in the early history and development of the community.

In 1876 another tragedy occurred in Brock, Jim Carle and another young man, a comparative stranger in the community went fishing in a skiff above the mill-dam. A big rain had caused the river to run about half full of water, pouring an immense volume over the dam. In rowing about and perhaps being a bit careless, the boat was caught in the swift current and plunged over the dam. Carle immediately arose and managed to get to shore but the stranger was not as lucky, apparently he hit a rock or the boat in his downward plunge and failed to rise After several hours search his body was found. It being very warm wea ther, it was necessary to prepare for the burial at once so after communicating with the county officials at Brownville, the citizens took the matter in their own hands, Sam Sommers, who was a good carpenter as well as a good miller, volunteered to make the coffin if material were provided. A collection was taken and a dignified burial with simple rites was given with interment in LaFayette cemetery.

Thus, Mrs. Gabus, I have written at some length of the early-history of Brock, up to the coming of the railroad in 1882 and back to territorial days of 1860. I may have my "wires crossed" in some instances and may have given some dates wrong and if I have done so, I shall consider it a favor if someone who knows would set me right One thing is certain, if the early history of our communities is to be written correctly it must be recorded soon, while the early pioneers who were present at the beginning and saw the growth and developments are still living.

Fred Kiechel, Johnson, Nebr.

We wish to thank Mr. Kiechel for the above article on the early history of Brock which should be kept on file for future reference. It contains more facts than we have ever known about the time our little village was being put on the map. Perhaps some other Old timers can tell us other interesting facts about the town that should be put on record.

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