Richardson County is located in the extreme southeastern part of the state. It is about 550 square miles in size. Being 18 miles from the northern boundary to the southern boundary and in width about 27 miles at the northern boundary and 36 miles at the southern boundary.
The Great Nemaha River enters the county near the southwest corner and traverses the county from west to east, emptying into the Missouri River near Rulo. The muddy Creek enters in the northwest part and bends eastward, roughly paralleling the Great Nemaha River and flowing into it about four miles east of Falls City. In the early days, there was a number of mills built on these streams. The drainage of the entire county is received by the Missouri River.
Temperature in Richardson County will drop to as low as 30 degrees below zero in the winter and as high as 105 degrees above zero in the summer. The average temperature in the warm season is about 69 degrees and in the cold season, about 38 degrees. Annual rainfall is about 32 inches with about 80% of this falling during the growing season. The average annual snowfall is about 20 inches. Prevailing winds are from the northwest with the summer winds coming from the south and southeast. Average wind velocity is about 9 miles per hour with winds of 30 to 50 miles per hour quite common. However tornadic winds are a rare occurrence. Altitude in the county varies from a low of 875 feet above sea level near Rulo, to a high of 1220 feet above sea level in the northwestern part of the county.
The general topography of the county is rolling and has an average growing season of about 170 days. Richardson County is one of the principal hog raising counties in the state. Also many cattle are raised here. Corn, alfalfa and wheat are grown generally throughout the county. Apples are also grown very abundantly in the county.
In the southeastern part of the county, near Rulo, there used to be some coal mined. Also, east of Humboldt are some veins of coal although perhaps not in a sufficient enough quantity to be mined economically. Inexhaustive quarries of first-class building stone are available in many parts of the county. Much rock is also being crushed for road purposes and there are thousands of tons of gravel in many gravel pits. The manufacture of brick used to be one of Humboldt’s leading industries although none are being made there at the present time.
Richardson County also boasts of many oil wells that are actively engaged in pumping oil. These are located in the vicinity of Barada and Falls City areas. At one time, this was the largest oil field in Nebraska.
The first Indians in this territory were the Pawnees, having been here about three or four hundred years. Then came the Sacs, Foxes, and owas. The Pawnee Indians were a very religious group and as a whole were never at war with the white people. Many people considered that the Pawnees attained a higher culture than other Indians of the plains states.
The first permanent settlement in the county was about a mile north of Falls City I the year of 1855. The county had been created in 1854 and reorganized in 1855 by the first territorial legislature. The first settlers were from Tennessee, then they came from Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and the New England states. Later foreigners including Germans, Swedes, Welsh, Bohemians, Irish, English, Swiss and French settled in the county.
Many towns that had started up in the early days are now gone. A few of these are Mt. Roy, Yankton, Winnebago, Archer, and Arogo.
The county takes its name from William A. Richardson, who held a commission from President Buchanan as territorial governor, arriving in the state in 1858.
The Nebraska Territory, including Richardson County, was opened for settlement by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, signed by President Pierce on May 30, 1854. This legislation, long the subject of struggle between the anti-slave and pro-slave forces in congress, provided civil government in the two new Territories named in the title of the bill. Prior to that time it was not legal to settle in this area and land patents could not be obtained; though at certain places licenses had been issued for trading posts, and military forts provided some government of the area and protection to those who may travel the trails to the west coast.
The Indian County Act of 1834 named the region west of the Missouri river “The Indian Country.” All white men were forbidden to enter this region except upon special military permit. Jurisdiction of the Federal courts and officers in Missouri was extended over the region for the enforcement of the law.
On May 9, 1954, the Kansas State Historical Society and the Nebraska State Historical Society held a joint meeting in Falls City to commemorate the centennial of the Kansas-Nebraska act. At that meeting the principal address was given by Dr. Roy F. Nichols, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at the University of Pennsylvania. This was published as a paper in the Nebraska History Quarterly in September, 1954, under the title “The Territories: Seedbed of Democracy.” His point was “The device of creating and operating frontier communities or “Territories” as a preparatory step toward their admission as states has been one of the most inspired inventions of the American political genius.”
Richardson County takes its name from William A. Richardson of Illinois who was a sponsor of the Kansas-Nebraska bill in the House of Representatives and later the third Territorial Governor of Nebraska. One of the original counties of the territory organized by a proclamation of acting governor Cumings (November 23, 1854) for election purposes, the county included at the time large portions of the area now in Pawnee, Nemaha, Johnson and part of Gage counties.
The first county census was made in the fall of 1854 and signed under oath by Joseph L. Sharp on November 20, of that year. This listing was made under three headings: (1) “Storey’s,” those who lived near Stephen Story on the half-breed tract, (2) Level’s,” those who lived near a settler name Level, reputed to be the first white settler, who lived in a dugout northeast of the present Falls City, and (3) “Bellew’s,” this place was later called Bobst’s settlement, Plesant Valley, and Cincinnati. It was near the present village of Dubois.
At the first election in the fall of 1854, ten votes were cast for the territorial legislature. The census taker, Joseph L. Sharp, was elected to the Senate and John A Singleton to the House of Representatives. Sharp was from Iowa and is believed to not have lived long in this county. Singleton became a long time resident.
In the election of 1856, when the first county officers were elected, 98 votes were cast. John Mills was elected county judge, E. L. Goldsberry, county clerk, and Louis Misplais the county treasurer. In 1857 the population of the county had more than trebled and 340 votes were cast. At that time there were three election precincts, Archer, Salem, and Speiser. In 1859 the voting lists had increased to over 800 with five precincts, Rulo, St. Stephens, Falls City, Salem, Speiser, and Franklin.
It is said that many of those who had to do with the laying out and building of Falls City desired that it be named Lanesville in honor of one of its founders, a man by the name of Jim Lane. Falls City, however, was later decided upon from the fact that on account of a flood which washed away many of the homes of those then residing at a village on the banks of the Nemaha named Nemaha Falls, had come up on the higher ground and they insisted that the word falls be retained because of the name of their town and from the fact that it had been so named on account of the falls of the Nemaha river at that point. Accordingly, Falls City was chosen and has so remained as the name of the city to this day.
When Joseph Hare arrived at Salem in 1854 he found but two others had preceded him, S. H. Roberts and John Singleton.
W. T. Stout sold the land on which the town of Falls City is now located from the sum of fifty dollars. Jim Lane, of the Tow Company, was the buyer.
The honor for suggesting a name suitable for this city properly belongs to Edward P. Tinker. He followed his father, O.J. Tinker, who was the founder of the town, from Iowa in 1858 and assisted the latter in farming in the new country until the Civil War broke out, when he at once offered his services to the government, serving in Company C, Fifth Iowa Cavalry. He was wounded at Pulaski, Tennessee, by a pistol shot in the arm and shoulder, in a hand-to-hand encounter while trying, with a small detachment, to cut off Hood’s rear guard. On his discharge papers his colonel gave him special mention for gallant conduct in many engagements. It was while in the service that his regiment, for a time, was quartered at Humboldt, Tennessee, and while there took a great liking to the name. On one occasion, while visiting his parents on furlough, his father expressed desire for a name for the new town and the son promptly suggested the name of the southern town of Humboldt as a suitable one. It met with instant approval by the father, who at that time was handling the mail as postmaster and upon this recommendation; the name was adopted and serves to this day as the name for one of the most enterprising towns in southeast Nebraska.
Mr. Edward P. Tinker, now a resident of Coldwater, Kansas, being requested by mail, recently to give his version of the incident, replied as follows:
“In 1861-5 I was in Uncle Sam’s army, and had considerable scouting to do, and on one occasion we rode into the town of Humboldt, Tennessee, just about sunrise. We quickly noticed that there was a rebel flag floating over a large hotel. The flag was set at the extreme corner of the building on a pole twenty feet long and was nailed to the post. Our major called for a volunteer to take down the flag and I offered my services for the job. I went up on the roof of the hotel, then climbed the flag pole and it was soon torn into small strips and divided among our command.”
“There was a detachment of rebel cavalry in the suburbs of the town, but they got wind of us before we found them, so they got away with small loss. We remained at Humboldt for several days and afterwards, when the question of a name for our town in Richardson County came up, I proposed the name of Humboldt. Father was satisfied with the name, so we named it Humboldt, and we still think of Humboldt as home, though we have many friends in our more western home.”