The Nebraska Territory of 1854 was an enormous parcel of land. It covered all of what would eventually be the states of Nebraska and Montana, and parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado. The Nebraska Territory had nine distinct border or boundary changes, before it looked like the State of Nebraska we know today.
The first Territorial Governor of Nebraska, Francis Burt, became ill when traveling to the territory. He died on October 18, 1854, only two days after being sworn in. His successor, Thomas Cuming, became Acting Territorial Governor. Cuming ordered that a territorial census be taken, and based on that he assigned councilmen and representatives to the eight counties he created: Burt, Washington, Dodge, Douglas, Pierce, Forney, Cass, and Richardson Counties.
The map to the right shows where those original eight counties were located within present day Nebraska. The land that would eventually become York County is highlighted in yellow. Present day York county was divided between Cass and Pierce Counties, with a small portion still in the unorganized territory. (Click here to view a larger image and for additional information.)
Mark Izard, the United States Marshal for the Nebraska Territory, became our second Territorial Governor. He took the oath as Governor on December 23, 1854, in Washington, D. C.. Because he was in Washington D. C., he couldn't attend the first of the organizational meetings for the territory.
The first Territorial Legislature met in Omaha from January 16th to March 16th, 1855. The House of Representatives met on one floor, and the Council met on another (this was long before we had a unicameral government). They adopted laws, determined which village the capitol would be located in, established ten territorial roads, and incorporated industrial companies, bridge and ferry companies, and towns. They also redefined the counties within the territory.
The 1855 Territorial Legislature changed the boundaries of the eight counties defined the previous year. In addition, this first legislature defined sixteen new counties.
York County, highlighted in yellow, was among the sixteen new counties defined in 1855. York County extended north to the Platte River and included what is now Polk County. Our neighbor to the east was Greene County. (Click here to view a larger image and for additional information.)
York and Greene Counties were divided in early 1856, when the legislature decided to make the counties a more uniform and manageable size. York County would be divided into York and Polk Counties; Greene County would be divided into what is now Seward and Butler Counties. York has remained the same size since the county boundaries were redefined by the 1856 legislature.
Our other neighbors have changed over the years too. Click here to view the Nebraska counties surrounding York County in 1859. An 1865 map shows Wilson County to our west; today we know it as Hamilton County.
York County's boundary changes happened years before any immigrants settled in here, and eleven years before Nebraska became a state in 1867.
Even though York County boundaries were defined by the first territorial legislature in 1855, and modified the following year, we would not become an organized county until 1870. That is when most of the men living in York County petitioned the State, asking that we become an organized county (women didn't sign the petition because they couldn't vote in 1870). On March 18, 1870, David Butler, the first Governor of the State of Nebraska, issued a proclamation that authorized the permanent organization of the county. On April 26, 1870 the county officers were elected and the city of York was officially declared the county seat.
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