From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Elkhorn Livestock Company

One of my unsolved mysteries


About five years ago, I found an old seal on eBay. Or maybe I should say that I found a seal-maker. When you insert a piece of paper and squeeze the handles of this little tool, you get a tidy embossed circle that says "Elkhorn Livestock Company, Bassett, Nebraska" around the edge and "Seal" in the center.

You may remember that Bassett, Nebraska, is my hometown. I grew up on a ranch out south of Bassett. So when I saw this nifty device that was connected to the place of my childhood, I bid $5 for it, and after a few days, I became its owner. No one else even bid on it. It was meant to be mine!

I was very curious about the seal's history, but the seller had no information to share. He found the seal in a box of stuff that he bought at an estate auction in Minnesota. He didn't even remember whose estate it was.

I wrote to the Rock County Historical Society and asked if they knew anything about the Elkhorn Livestock Company, but they had no information, either. And  I couldn't find anything about the company on the internet. So with little hope of ever learning anything about the Elkhorn Livestock Company, I filed my questions in the back of my mind.

Then, a few months ago, I was looking at a 1912 plat book of Rock County, Nebraska, on Ancestry.com, and I noticed a couple of landowners south of Bassett whose names are similar to "Elkhorn Livestock Company."

An "Elkhorn Valley Land Company" owned 2920 acres, all in one piece, in the northeast corner of Thurman Precinct. And an "Elkhorn Land and Cattle Company" owned an adjoining 360 acres in Lay Precinct. If these two outfits were one and the same, they owned over five sections in total, one of the larger spreads in that part of Rock County at the time.


I also found a possible clue in a 1911 book of discontinued American corporations and securities. It says that the Elkhorn Livestock Company (the name that's on the seal) of Embar, Wyoming*, cancelled its Nebraska charter in 1909. Maybe the "Elkhorn" names in the plat book are different than the name on the seal because of legal changes?

Tonight, I searched the internet again for "Elkhorn Livestock Company" and I learned that the University of Nebraska at Lincoln has a document that pertains. Box 4 of their Mari Sandoz papers includes the following:
Item 174. W.B. Hodge to Mari Sandoz, 1937, Nov. 10 [frame 1037]
Regarding Elkhorn Livestock Company; the hanging of Kid Wade; Doc Middleton; someone claims to be Mari's sister.
Kid Wade and Doc Middleton are well-known names in early Rock County history, so I'm virtually certain that this letter has information about "my" Elkhorn Livestock Company.

I sent the UNL library an email asking how to get a transcript of the letter's text or a photocopy of it. The library's website says that I should get a reply within 48 hours, and I'm waiting with keen anticipation to see what they say. Maybe the story of the seal's first owner will be revealed at last.


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*Researching the Elkhorn Livestock Company of Embar, Wyoming led to a strange discovery that I'll write about another time!

3 comments:

Karen said...

How exciting! Don't you LOVE a good mystery!!!!

Genevieve said...

It's been very interesting. It just goes to show that you should never close the book on your research, even when you think you've reached the infamous "brick wall" that family-tree researchers are always talking about. New things are added to the internet all the time!

Genevieve said...

I received a note today from a UNL librarian, and he's going to try to look up the letter and let me know how much it will cost to get a photocopy. Hurray!

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