Early History of Rulo, Nebraska


(From the Falls City Journal, Friday September 29, 2000)

 (Edited by DelC)

This page added 08-07-01 

The town of Rulo was once said to be "The front door of Richardson County".  It was first laid out in 1856 and incorporated Nov 01, 1858.  The land on which Rulo now stands was originally part of the giant lands granted to the wife of Charles Rouleau under the terms of the treaty of Prairie Du Chien.  It was from her that the town takes its name and later shortened to Rulo.  Part of the land belonged to Mrs. Bedard, sister of Mrs. Rouleau.


The location is one that must have commended itself strongly to the pioneers, as a better site for a town could not be found.  It stands on a cluster of hills from the top of which the eye may follow the graceful curves of the Missouri River for miles and miles.  A person standing on one of these hills may look into three states - Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.  The elevation at Rulo is 875 feet above sea level, being the lowest point in Richardson County.


The population by 1860 was recorded at 440, with nearly 200 new homes.  It continued to grow and by 1900 the population was 877.  In addition to the new homes, many frame business buildings were erected.  The first general store opened in Rulo was by Martin and Goldsberry, which was shortly followed by Easley and Sherer.  The first blacksmith was operated by Joseph Brazo.  T. D. Easley was the first in the lumber business and opened his lumberyard about the time of the first settlement. 


The first school was taught in 1860 and was financed by private subscriptions.  In 1861 the first school building was built at the cost of $450, from money raised by private subscriptions.  In 1867 the need for increased school facilities caused the building of a larger structure.  To defray the cost of the work, bonds in the sum of $3,400 were issued by the district and the proceeds of these being insufficient, about $1,000 more was raised by private subscription.  The bond bore the date of 1867 and ran for a period of 20 years.  The first teacher in the newly divided school was L. Messier, who had two lady assistants. 


The first paper published in Richardson County was at Rulo.  The Western Guide was owned by Rulo Town and Ferry Company.  The sheet made its debut May 1858 and continued for exactly one year.  It was then purchased by A. D. Kirk and C. A. Hergesheimer, who ran it until the war of 1861-65, when it was suspended due to the lack of patronage.  It was resurrected in 1864 as the Nebraska Register and continued to 1869 when it was sold to H. A. Buel, who shortly took it to Salem where it soon died. 


The first lights were brought across the Missouri River by transmission line from Mound City, Mo.  There was a good ferry across the Missouri River.  The first ferry was built by Stephen Story and operated out of St. Stephens.  It was moved to Rulo where it continued to operate until 1865.  At that time James Parsons started a ferry powered by a treadmill driven by a horse going nowhere.  Next, George Cook owned a ferry propelled by long sweeping oars powered by muscular forearms of the crewmen.  The first steam powered ferry, "Bell Morgan," was owned by Louis Van Lue and followed by Ephraim Elshire Sr.  Olney Graham operated his ferry longer than any of the others, nearly 20 years.  His successor was James Roland, who called his boat "Rulo Bell."  Andy Halbert then bought this ferry and operated it as a private ferry.  At the same time, Harold Vinsonhaler operated a ferry.  After the "Rulo Bell" burned as it drifted downriver, George Olson began operating a ferry and continued to do so until the Missouri River highway bridge opened in 1939.  An act passed by the Legislature and approved on Jan. 3, 1862, set ferry rates for that time at: a pair of horses, mules, oxen, and wagon, 75 cents; extra pair, 25 cents; horse or mule and rider, 25 cents; two horses or mule and buggy, 75 cents; one horse or mule and buggy, 50 cents; each horse or mule led, 25 cents; for loose cattle per head, 10 cents; hogs and sheep under the number of 10, five cents each; for over 10 and under 50, three cents each; over 50, one cent each; for each footman, 10 cents; for each crate of freight, five cents; and lumber, $1 per hundred feet.


For many years Rulo was a favorite place for buying fish taken fresh from the Missouri River.  In the 1940's - 50's there were fish shacks up and down the riverbank.  A total of 13 families made their living by taking fish from the river.


At the time when men first began to look toward Richardson County, with an eye to making settlement here, no railroad was within hundreds of miles and the only means of reaching this county was either by making the journey overland through a wilderness, as yet without a well defined wagon trail, or up the river by boat.  This latter method most appealed to the early adventurer and many no doubt had journeys up the river long before any thought of settlement in this part of the West was entertained.  Bordering on the river was of immense advantage to the early people and caused the river counties to be first choice of the pioneers.  In those days the railroad was by no means a new thing in the older and more thickly settled parts of the East, but had not caused its extension to any great degree in this direction.


Being forced to use the river, which was then full of snags and sand bars and subject to overflow and with the low water stages, the early navigator was not without his troubles; but under dire necessity the obstacles were overcome and navigation had reached a high state of development.  The steamboats, both for carrying all kinds of freight and passengers, were numerous and while slow and tedious served remarkably well, until at last, the coming of the railroad made that mode of travel obsolete. 


The better river boats had a capacity for carrying as many as 400 passengers and the fare from St. Louis Mo., to Rulo or St. Stephens would range about $15 to $20, which, of course, included meals and state rooms.  The culinary department of those, boats was generally in good hands and larder well supplied, with the best that money could buy.  The length of time usually required in making the trip from St. Louis to this county was about seven to eight days.  Those having had the pleasure of such a journey in the old days generally described them as having been quite dull and eventless.  Such an experience was very aptly described by the noted Mark Twain in his "Roughing It", when he said: "We were six days in going from St. Louis to St. Joseph, Mo., a trip that was so dull and sleepy and eventless, that it has left no more impression on my memory than if its duration had been six minutes."


It would be hard for those of us now in this area to find a trip on a large boat on the Missouri River from Rulo to be dull.  The beauty of the view from either side during any season of the year would be exciting and enjoyable.


In addition to passengers, those boats carried from 500 to 600 tons of freight and the rates were as high as $2.50 per hundredweight.  The boats carried a crew of 80 to 100 men and the value of these boats were estimated to be nearly $50,000 each. 


With many passengers of the boats getting off in Rulo, the risk for disease was great and what is referred to as the Epidemic of 1860, occurred during the early summer.  The disease, described as acute dysentery, was contagious and many died as it spread rapidly and it was not confined to Rulo.  It was said to be a strong likeness to the great plague in London.  As the people moved west, one account of the matter tells us that 16 died in Salem in one week.  The newspapers of the time carried much on the epidemic, yet it soon ran its course and disappeared so quickly as to leave little impression on the memory of the busy pioneers.


Rulo had many churches: Baptist, Holiness Church, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Trinity Methodist Church and Rulo Immaculate Conception Church.  Of these churches, the Trinity United Methodist Church and Immaculate Conception Church remain very active.  The Catholic Church also had a school in Rulo.

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