H. P. Bennet and Nebraska’s First Territorial Legislature

Nebraska’s first territorial legislature, convened in 1855 in Omaha, reflected the impermanent population that then inhabited the territory. Some of those elected had never been residents of the territory, and most of the rest were transient. Hiram P. Bennet, a member of the first territorial legislative assembly, recalled in an 1896 letter to the Nebraska State Historical Society:

“At the date of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, in May, 1854, I resided at Glenwood, Ia. . . . Late in the fall of 1854, S. F. Nuckolls, who had located at old Ft. Kearney (Nebraska City), persuaded me to move from Glenwood, Ia., and join him at Nebraska City. This I did, taking my little family with me in a buggy, and leaving all my household and other effects behind. We boarded at the Downs house, the only public house in the city, for some few weeks before the first election in the territory. At that election I was a candidate for the territorial council from Otoe county, which was entitled to two councilmen, and I was elected, together with Captain [Henry] Bradford, long since deceased. As I remember the matter, I owed my honorable position as a member of the first session of the Nebraska legislature more to Stephen F. Nuckolls than to the fact of any long or well-known residence in Nebraska prior to the election . . . .

“[Territorial] Secretary [Thomas B.] Cuming, after ‘swearing in’ the members of the house, came up to swear us in. We all stood up and he proceeded to swear us to support the constitution of the United States and the organic act of Nebraska, and was proceeding to swear us that we were all citizens of Nebraska and over twenty years of age, when I dropped into my seat, pulling Lafe [Lafayette] Nuckolls, the ‘member from Cass,’ down with me, thereby declining the oath. This I did because of doubts as to my own or Lafe Nuckolls’ residence in the territory, and for the further reason that I knew Lafe was not yet twenty. . . . afterwards Judge [Fenner] Ferguson came in and administered to us the proper oath, omitting the matter of age and residence. Lafe was a bright and ready fellow. Some one, pending the arrival of Judge F. to swear us in, asked him his age. Lafe answered at once: ‘Ask my constituents, as Henry Clay once said.'”


The First Territorial Capitol was a two-story brick structure built in Omaha in 1854 by the Council Bluffs and Nebraska Ferry Company. NSHS RG1234-2-

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