"Territorial Legislature Meeting"
Winter Session 1856-57
Omaha remained the territorial capitol for the first year (1855-56) in spite of several suggestions from the folks south of the Platte. The next legislative session (of the winter of 1856-57), the folks south of the Platte were intent on relocating the capitol to a yet non-established town called Douglas City,* to be located near where Lincoln is located today and to guarantee its success they had lined the pockets of several voters and supporters with scrips (land deeds of the mystical town). Two thirds of the vote was already decided, and even some of the Omaha supporters had their pockets lined with the scrip.
Omaha supporters had a plan to foil the attempts of relocation. The plan was to take up all of the legislative session's time with other trivial matters so as to drag out the talks until there was no time left to get to the issue of relocating the territorial capitol. The plan was to have a non-legislative member, a lobbyists, Mr. A. J. Hanscom* take the chair and talk endlessly until he was tired and then another would take over. The process would repeat as necessary thereby preventing the speaker of the house from ever being able to raise the relocation issue.
Mr. Jones of Dakota County had a fist full of scrip and showed it to Hanscom. In the legislative session he revealed the underhanded scheme but it didn't amount to much as Omaha supporters were outnumbered with only eight supporters out of thirty-five.
The capitol removers elected Issac L. Gibbs as speaker and to ride rough-shod over everybody. His disregard for the parliamentary laws caused turmoil. Eventually, Omaha supporters were able to take the floor and drag out every conceivable discussion. Jonas Seely and Hanscom were the main speakers, with Hanscom arranging most of the tactics.
The chief clear, a man named Brown, from Plattsmouth wasn't liked by the Omaha supporters. Each morning his journal was picked apart on the least suspect of details, sometimes occupying half the day or more to get the journal corrected. Brown was forced to step down and an Omaha man, Sterrit M. Curran stepped up to the plate.
The next obstacle was Gen. Strickland of Bellevue, a leader and champion of the South Platte folks. Each time he attempted to intervene with Hanscom's tactics, Hanscom would make some minor motion to lay on the table that would occupy the time thus ending the southern folks' tactics.
At one time, the speaker of the house even ordered the sergeant-of-arms to arrest Hanscom. Hanscom held his ground and upped his stature with, "Come no further. You are safer there than if you come any nearer." It was clear he meant what he said and so the arrest did not take place.
After an endless number of attacks on the speaker, the speaker claimed sick and appointed Gen. Strickland to fill his chair. This brought up the question of whether he could appoint him from day to day or for longer periods, and thus this discussion or argument consumed the entire day.
The south Platte folks asked Governor Izard, whom they had affectionately called "Grandmother," to call out 300 militia to protect them from the Omaha folks, which amounted to eight people. The governor assembled the two branches and made his short speech, "Gentlemen, it is entirely unnecessary for me to call out the militia. Go on and attend to your legislative business. Behave yourselves, and your grandmother will protect you."
The south Platte folks attempted to tire the Omaha side by holding night sessions but this plan failed when an Omaha man "convinced" several of the south Platte folks that they were doing wrong, and they switched to vote for the Omaha side. This ended the relocation discussions for this session.
Nearly half of the entire winter session was taken up on the relocation discussions, the other half in peacefully taking care of business. The stall plan worked but in the process, further agitated the remaining south Platte voters.
In the sense that it worked, it worked for that session of the legislature. At least Omaha had another year to retain the capitol.
Winter Session 1857-58
The next year, fall and winter of 1857-58, it was clear to all that the south Platte folks had the same idea in mind. After all, that is how Omaha had got it in the first place. Mr. Cumings, who had originally been on the Omaha side, was leaning towards the southern side. It was clear to all why. Omaha supporters again called on the help of Mr. Hanscom.
Omaha supporters discussed the idea of paying out money to retain the rights to the capitol. Mr. Hanscom said that he for one had paid out enough, and that now he proposed to "whale" someone.
Word was out that Mr. Decker, speaker, and enemy of Omaha was armed with a revolver and that his party was likewise prepared for any emergency.
When the sessions began, Mr. Cuming read a resolution on January 7, 1858 to move the capitol from Omaha again. As before, this started more heated arguments. The matter was undecided at the end of the day but most left with unresolved strong feelings.
Variants on the Story?
At this point, it is important to note that there are more than one slightly different version of the story. One difference being the distinction of whether the ensuing course of action took place inside a saloon or was still in the legislative quarters on Capitol Hill. When it comes down to it, it doesn't really matter as many sessions carried over into a local saloon or drinking establishment. The other distinction is what started the ruckus, a threat, or a parliamentary procedure question. Regardless, read the story, laugh, enjoy it, and believe that a great portion must have been true to have been documented so often by historians. On with the story.
The next day, the committee of the hold, Dr. W. R. Thrall chairman and Omaha supporter, met to discuss a printing bill. Carrying on tradition, the committee adjourned to a local saloon in downtown Omaha for lunch. Lunch often extended for the rest of the day and even into nightfall carrying over to the next morning.. On this particular day, Mr. James H. Decker, speaker and anti-Omaha was heard to say that he would wrest the chair from Thrall or die right there.
Much of downtown Omaha was soon aware of the threat and gathered to enjoy the outcome. At first nothing happened but during another verbal sword dance, Mr. Decker grabbed the gavel from Mr. Thrall, then grabbed the arm of his chair and attempted to shake Dr. Thrall from it, thereby bringing the committee and crowd to an audible high. Dr. Thrall pounded the table with "Swan's Revised Statutes" in an attempt to regain order.
Mr. A. J. Hanscom backed by two others (J. W. Paddock and Mike Murphy) intervened by pulling Decker away from Thrall. Paddock got hold of Decker's hand and pulled him down from the stand. Now, Decker and Mr. Hanscom scrappled and either rolled under the table, or Decker was thrown under the table by Hanscom to prevent Paddock or Murphy from hurting him.
A slightly more believable version explains that the session was continuing with the Omaha side doing their best to occupy the chair throughout the afternoon when a message from the clerk of the council was delivered. Under the joint rules, no message could be received by one branch when the one that sent it was not present. The council had adjourned and left their room so the question was raised whether the message could be received. The speaker, Mr. Decker, decided it could be taken and decided to resume the chair but Dr. Thrall refused the position. Mr. Decker reached for the gavel and announced that the committee of the hold should rise to accept the message even though the council was not in session. Mr. Hanscom had taken a seat on the step near the speaker to quite any difficulty that might arise or in this case to intervene.
Either version of the story, Mr. Hanscom ended up with the gavel. Now that Omaha had the floor, Judge Kinney of Nebraska City was called on for a speech. Hanscom told Thrall to call him to order as he was not a member. Strickland, another Omaha enemy, jumped up and said that he had the right to speak as he was a member. Thrall ordered him to sit down but he refused. Hanscom spoke up and said that if he didn't, he would knock him down. Mr. Strickland then said "Well, I guess I can go out of doors and talk." With that comment, there was no more commotion for the day.
The next day the committee met again in Omaha but very shortly after the start, the majority voted to adjourn to Florence, claiming they felt fear from the Omahans. The resolution was not a joint resolution but instead each house passed a resolution to adjourn. Dr. Miller, president of the council refused to put the motion to adjourn to Florence. The gentleman from Otoe that made the motion, put it himself, and declared it carried and the council adjourned. A similar resolution carried unanimously in the house but without the Omaha people voting.
A vacant store in Florence was adopted as a meeting place for the senate and council. The sign, "Terms Cash" at the front caused newspapers to report that this frightened the ferryman, reducing the traffic in ferry franchises during the brief reign that Florence held.
An investigation into the scuffle was started, and soon rumors started that the relocation was unnecessary.
In response, the members decided to resume meeting in Omaha, the matter having dropped in importance. The nine man investigative committee with only three from Omaha noted there was much "evidence of premeditated design" and that the majority had followed an "unwarranted and revolutionary course" and therefore the Omaha gang was exonerated.
During the time that decisions were made in Florence, several towns were named that never saw the light of day, however, others still exist such as Beatrice, Falls City, Ft. Calhoun, Syracuse, and Tecumseh.
The first four sessions of the legislature had been rough and tough but Omaha somehow maintained control of the capitol. The next few sessions had less to do with where the capitol was to be located than preparing the territory to become an official state. The Civil War was distracting enough. Following the war, Nebraska was about to become a state and Omaha had become a major city and didn't need the distinction of having the capitol as much as it once had.
On March 23rd, Mr. Cuming's health did him in before he had reached his peak. In spite of how his position as territorial governor started out being questionable, he died a respected and admired man, praised by all who knew him. Mr. Cuming had become one of Nebraska's most highly regarded men to ever contribute time to public service. A long procession and ceremony was held in town to pay respect to our territorial governor. Omaha has a street named for the man in his honor.
Governor Izard took Mr. Cuming's place until he returned to Arkansas. Governor G. W. Richardson of Quincy, Illinois took his place until 1859. He was followed by Governor Black of Nebraska City, originally from Pennsylvania. President Lincoln appointed Gov. Saunders from Iowa in 1861 to take his place.