Morell Case Keith

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Morell Case Keith

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of Jonathan Keith and Mary Anne Case
Husband of Susannah Catherine Smith
Father of Mary Ann Neville

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Morell Case Keith

Cattleman, Rancher, Banker, Real estate. Morell Case Keith was inducted into the Great Westerners Hall of Fame posthumously in 1962 for his contribution to the development of the West. In 1873, Keith County, Nebraska was named in his honor. Keith was born in Silver Creek, New York to Jonathan Keith and Mary Ann Case. He married Susan Catherine Smith of Smith's Mills near Hanover, Chautauqua County, New York in 1847. She was the sister of Mary Smith Lockwood, known as Pen Founder of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

In 1854 M. C. Keith and wife Susan moved to Apple Grove, Iowa, and invested in real estate and ran a hotel. Apple Grove, which no longer exists, was located on the Western Stage Route, at a crossing of the Des Moines River near the present city of Mitchellville on the eastern side of Polk County, Iowa.

In 1857, they moved to Topeka, Kansas, where Keith continued in the same business. It was in Topeka that his daughter, Mary Ann "Mollie" was born. They lived in Topeka for a few years before moving to St. Joseph, Missouri where Keith obtained freight contracts from the government. For a number of years, he freighted between St. Joseph, Leavenworth and Denver. Travel was often hazardous at that time due to hostilities between the settlers and the Indians.

In 1867 he moved with his wife and daughter to North Platte, Nebraska. He had acquired some wealth through the years, and soon associated himself with the cattle business. He went into partnership with Guy C. Barton, and the firm of KEITH & BARTON soon earned him the reputation as one of the most powerful cattlemen in the west.

As more people began moving west, homesteaders gradually encroached into the cattle ranges. By that time several cattlemen who foresaw the changing tide retired, and KEITH & BARTON were among them. After leaving the cattle business, Keith did contract grading on the Union Pacific railroad, and in partnership with Mr. Barton, conducted the Union Pacific hotel. They were succeeded by David Cash, who took the reins when they retired.

Keith had a ranch at Pawnee Springs, just east of North Platte, that he enjoyed up until the time of his death. Keith's wife Susan, died in 1877. A few years after her death on March 8, 1883, he married a second time to Cassie Casey, who was 30 years his junior. She was a friend of daughter Mollie and a popular teacher in North Platte schools. She lived just a short time after their marriage, and was buried with her infant son.

Daughter Mollie, married the Hon. William Neville, who became a US Congressman for Nebraska in 1899. After a short married life, she died on March 1, 1884 of child bed fever, leaving Neville with baby Morell Keith Neville, who grew up to become Governor of Nebraska in 1917.

~ bio by Sharon Hanson Frey


1. North Platte And Its Associations, by Archibald R. Adamson

2. Neville Family bible, and records

3. Susan C. Keith, Omaha Herald and North Platte Obituary

4. Lincoln County NEGenWeb page

For more information on Keith County:

The Omaha World Herald published an article about the history of Keith County on October 16, 2005.



[Lincoln State Journal, March 2, 1930]

The early settlers of Nebraska, in the vicinity of North Platte and beyond, will never forget the annual visit of the hot winds, and the controversies regarding their origin. It was a subject that never was settled, and various theories were advanced. The majority of the people claimed they came from the arid lands of the Panhandle; others just as positive said they arose from the Gulf Stream, while the cow men, who were numerous on the trail to Ogalalla in those days, declared they had their origin in Corpus Christi, Texas. Probably none of the reasons advanced were correct, but one who lived there knows from experience they became less frequent from 1872, until they ceased altogether about 1882.

Farming on a small scale was attempted in the vicinity of North Platte in 1872, where a favorable location free from alkali could be found; for most of the low ands in the Platte Valley at that time were covered with it, and vegetation would not grow in that kind of soil. The selected land mentioned would be plowed in he usual way and planted by the best methods of the farmer. Crops would look very promising in the early spring, but as the days lengthened and the sun became warmer the fatal day would arrive, and before nightfall, cornstalks and vines withered beyond hope.

Another enemy of the farmer was the cattlemen. They were not favorable to farming, for it meant settler inclined to be mean would file his homestead adjoining a cattle ranch and corral. In that case only one remedy was open and that was to buy his filing papers and have one of the employees of the ranch file on it. These homesteads meant fencing and the end of free range. A herd law was passed defining the rights of the farmer and cattleman, and imposing a penalty on owners who allowed their cattle to feed on the crop of the farmer. Innumerable and annoying lawsuits for damages followed. Cattlemen urged fencing, and if a man was unable to buy it, quite often the cattleman contributed to the purchase, and in many cases paid the entire cost.

KEITH & BARTON, with their enormous herd of fifteen thousand head or more, were mostly affected by the influx of settlers; for they commanded a range which was recognized as theirs by right of occupation by other cattlemen, and extended from the delta of the Platte to Ogalalla, sixty miles west, and to include all the vacant lands between the North and South Platte Rivers. For a home ranch they had headquarters at Dexter, a siding near the present town of Sutherland. Here Jay Gould and Sidney Dillon, of New York, and Fred Ames, of Boston, made their annual visit to the KEITH & BARTON ranch on their usual tour of inspection over the Union Pacific Railroad, for they practically owned it. Mr. Barton, knowing of their coming, would send word to his foreman to round up the herd at a certain time and have saddle horses in readiness. He joined the party in their special train at North Platte and accompanied them to Dexter, where all preparations were made for the guests. Gentle horses, with California saddles, stood before them, and, mounting, the party rode among the cattle, crossing hills and valleys, commenting on colors, ages, and beef steer, watching the frolics of the calves jumping around their mothers, and forgetful of Wall Street and the stock market. Later they boarded their train, happy and joyous at the free life of the cattleman, and for miles on each side of the track the big herd would be visible from their car window.

Never again in any generation in Nebraska will one see in one herd as big an aggregation of cattle as the number seen on the last visit of the railroad men to the Keith & Barton ranch.

The big herds have passed and with them most of the owners.

The town of North Platte derived all its benefits from cattlemen, and the Union Pacific Railway shops, then under the direction of J. H. McConnell, the master mechanic, and the cattle outfits, as far north as Running Water or Niobrara, two hundred and fifty miles distant, made North Platte their trading point. It was not unusual to see eight and ten six-horse teams in front of a warehouse loading up with ranch supplies, and, in talking to a business man of that day, he gave the information that it was not unusual to sell one outfit at one time twenty-five hundred dollars' worth of ranch supplies. This was before the completion of the Elkhorn Valley Railway, and when trains were through to Casper, Wyoming, Valentine, Gordon, and Hay Springs secured the business which was lost to North Platte.

The old settlers of Nebraska will remember the land grants of the Government to the Union Pacific Railway; if not, it is worth mentioning. For the building of the road from Omaha to Ogden, then a distance of one thousand and thirty-two miles, the Government donated every alternate section of unsold lands on each side of the railroad survey, for a distance of twenty miles. The time came when the State thought it would tax the unsold railroad lands, although it must be said the company was generous and extended every consideration to the pioneers. In anticipation of the tax referred to, the company made further reduction in the price of their lands, varying from $2.50 to $10.00 per acre, depending upon the location and quality of the land. The terms were on ten yearly payments, with interest at 6 per cent, and to encourage cattlemen who could foresee homesteaders, they contracted with one cattle outfit to sell them thirty thousand acres of land for $1.00 an acre. About this time the range cattlemen realized they must make room for the farmer, so Keith & Barton moved their entire herd to Powder River, Wyoming, and gave the settlers a clean sweep of the Platte Valley. Then the farmers, considering themselves safe from the big herds, began to add cattle to their small holdings, and the opinion was then expressed the change from big herds to the small ones would be more beneficial and profitable to the town and county. In addition to their small growing herds they continued to farm, with indifferent results. Usually the early prospects were promising, but the summer winds baked the ground so hard at times it was almost impossible to turn a furrow for cultivation.

In 1883, Guy C. Barton and J. H. McConnell, with Isaac Dillon, a nephew of Sidney Dillon, the railway magnate, and T. J. Foley, a merchant, joined in an agreement to purchase all the unsold lands of the Union Pacific, between the rivers, and to O'Fallons on the west, if they could be had at the price, with the idea of constructing an irrigating ditch to cover the land with water. A proposition was made the railway company and a survey made, with the result that there were fourteen thousand acres in the tract, the railway company agreeing to sell it, provided the purchasers carried though the project of ditch building for irrigation. To encourage the enterprise they made a price of $1.00 per acre for the whole tract, which was accepted.

The buyers of the land, ignorant of ditch building, looked to Greeley, Colorado, for information. That town was flourishing by the means of irrigation, and the State of Colorado as a whole was overflowing with engineers and irrigation promoters. A committee was appointed to visit Greeley and Denver, regarding the best methods to develop the lands. At a meeting in Greeley, it was suggested they confer with Lord Ogilvy in Denver, the capitalist, who was fully equipped with machinery to construct irrigation ditches and eager to acquire them. The proposition was presented to him, and after a few meetings an agreement was reached whereby the owners of the land agreed to deed him half of it, provided he would build the ditch and deed half to them. Immediately surveyors from Denver in charge of J. T. Buckley laid out the route, beginning on the North Platte River, north of Sutherland, and emptying into the same river opposite the town of North Platte, twenty-three miles long. A head gate to draw the water to the canal was built by John Means, of Grand Island. On the completion of the work as above, a corporation was formed, known as the North Platte Irrigation & Land Company; the records of Lincoln County showing the deeds for the land from the Union Pacific Company were filed in the clerk's office at North Platte, May 20, 1885.

Then a series of wet seasons was on. A strong prejudice existed against the ditch, many claiming that it was a notice to newcomers that nothing would grow in the valley unless it was irrigated, and that all the ditch was good for was to carry away the surplus water. A few years later this feeling was partly overcome, then dry seasons set in, and a few of the bravest farmers bought a water right. A price of $16.25 was established for land and a perpetual water right and $6.25 per acre for water alone on ten yearly payments at 6 per cent. The investment at this time seemed to drag, and inducements, such as longer time for payment, were made to a few Colorado farmers, who settled on some of the best lands to improve them. About this time Bill Cody (Buffalo Bill) had a ranch close to the ditch. He was an advocate of irrigation and bought eight hundred acres. W. A. Paxton, of Omaha, made a big purchase, but, no small farmers appearing, the company built a farmhouse, which was later owned by W. L. Park, vice-president of the Union Pacific Railroad. Good results came from the experiment, and a great effort was made to induce settlement.

One day a man and his family arrived in North Platte from the East in a covered wagon. His wife was given a seat in a grocery store while he was purchasing supplies. Questioned where they were going, the man said, "Further West," but could not make up his mind where he would stop. He was asked why he wanted to go West with so much vacant land in the country. He replied his means were limited. He was asked if he understood farming, and he replied that he did. Then he was asked to look at the ditch farm referred to. After much persuasion he was induced to buy at the usual price and terms, with the understanding, however, if he could not meet payments at maturity an extension would be granted. The contract was signed for eighty acres. The first two years no payments were made, but in the third or fourth year he paid in full, and later bought additional land. The last we heard of him he was living in North Platte, retired, and his wealth was estimated at two hundred thousand dollars.

Another man came to North Platte, a friend of W. A. Paxton, of Omaha. This man was formerly a partner in one of the biggest cattle commission houses in St. Louis. His company had a big ranch in northern Nebraska and Dakota, and in the winter of 1885 their big herd was almost wiped out, owing to the severe winter. The St. Louis Company met the same fate, so that at the age of fifty he appeared in North Platte ready for a new start. He saw at once the possibilities of the Platte Valley, and contracted for three hundred and twenty acres of land from the Ditch Company. Briefly, he set out orchards, worked unceasingly, acquired more land, and at the end of fifteen years he retired, regarded as one of the wealthiest men in the county.

A story of his firm will be interesting to Nebraska people. It is said his company, in the summer of 1885, was approached by a Scotch syndicate, who offered eight hundred thousand dollars for their herd without count; that is to say, they would buy from their books. That meant the ranch books would show the number of cattle purchased at different times, the calves added, making the total as on hand. From these numbers would be subtracted the shipments or sales, thus showing the number of cattle they were supposed to have on the ranch, making no allowances whatever for losses.

After the hard winter, when his company was pressed for funds, they decided they would sell, and approached the Scotch syndicate. "Yes," they said, "we will buy, but on different terms. We will not take your book account for numbers, but we want the cattle counted out, and to pay so much a head." The proposition was agreed to, and the syndicate paid $100,000 cash on the bargain. The round-up followed, all the cattle were at their home ranch. The interested parties met and counted out as agreed. At the end it was found they had to buy cattle to the amount of $30,000 to make up the deficit of the $100,000 paid when they agreed to sell; in other words, they lost in cattle that winter from their books $730,000.


The first permanent newspaper established in Lincoln County was in 1869, when Mrs. Maggie Eberhart established the Platte Valley Independent. She sold the newspaper to Col. J. B. Park and Guy C. Barton, who continued its publication under the anthem of the Lincoln County Advertiser. In 1872, Prof. I. W. La Munyon purchased the paper continuing it as the Advertiser

SOURCE: Memories of the Old West (PAGES 30-36)

Family links:

 Jonathan Keith (1800 - 1863)
 Mary Ann Case Keith (1805 - 1847)

 Cassanda Eliza Casey Keith (1854 - 1884)
 Susan Catherine Smith Keith (1825 - 1877)

 Mary Ann "Mollie" Keith Neville (1858 - 1884)*
 Infant Son Keith (1884 - 1884)*
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KEITH (in large letters on front)

CASSIE (on front of stone) (CASEY) AUG 18, 1854 FEB 3, 1884 AND INFANT SON


MORELL C. (on front of stone) NOV 21, 1824 SEPT 29, 1899


SUSAN C. (on front of stone) FEB 23, 1824 SEPT 23, 1877


Note: Given name spelling variations: Morrell, Morel, Morell.


Burial: North Platte Cemetery North Platte Lincoln County Nebraska, USA Plot: Lot 68, space 2

Created by: Sharon Hanson Frey Record added: Apr 21, 2009 Find A Grave Memorial# 36128504

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