Drinking and Shooting on the 1875 Farmers’ Excursion

It’s become a cliché that business trips to distant cities can become opportunities for behavior of the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” variety. This was also true in 1875, even when the travelers were Otoe County farmers and the big city was Lincoln.

In 1866 businessmen in Nebraska City organized the Midland Pacific Railway Company (later the Nebraska Railway Company). The railroad built to Lincoln in 1871 and completed a branch line to Brownville in 1875.

Farmers supported the railroad because they wanted it to haul their crops and livestock to eastern markets. Some farmers in Otoe County even donated land or gave the railroad free right-of-way across their property. Midland Pacific distributed free tickets as a reward. The Nebraska City News of February 27, 1875, reported a “Farmers Excursion” from the Barney and Minersville area of Otoe County to Lincoln. More than 100 farmers signed up for the “educational excursion,” including at least five who’d never ridden a train before.

In Lincoln the group met the dean of the University of Nebraska agricultural college, and visited the university’s “model farm” and the city campus before returning home the next day.

But not everyone went along for the education. The Nebraska City News also ran a story under the headline, “More Whiskey Infernalism.” According to the News, “a few ruffianly whiskey-soakers got themselves smuggled in to decent company” on the recent trip. “At Lincoln their principal employment was visiting saloons and drinking whiskey. . . . As soon as the [return] train started from Lincoln they commenced again, drinking, card-playing, ripping and swearing like fiends.”

Two of the men got into a fight, which led to a shooting in which a third man was wounded in the hand. “For ten or fifteen minutes there was the most intense confusion and excitement” until the pistol was finally taken from the assailant. He was arrested and removed from the train at Palmyra.

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