Friday, October 28, 2016


I have known about Patrick’s tragic death since first reading the
David Brown letter - top of page 4
(click to enlarge)
David Brown letter in the mid 1990’s.  (See copy of letter to the left.1)  Patrick was killed by a bull on a farm east of Broken Bow, Custer County, Nebraska, in September, 1891.  The letter mentioned a news article in the Custer County Republican that would give further details.  I obtained a copy from the Custer County Historical Society.   (See a copy right along with
Custer County Republican
(click to enlarge)
separate account from the Omaha World-Herald below.2)  It seems that Patrick was alone at the time of the accident.  When first discovered, it was feared that foul play was involved; however, injuries received (detailed in the article) indicated he had been attacked by a bull that had just been returned to the farm the day before.   I expected to obtain
specific details of the accident.  I did not
Omaha World-Herald
(click to enlarge)
expect to receive additional information that made it possible to further Patrick’s story, and, indeed, the story of the Brown family.3

I received two other documents at the same time as the news article about Patrick’s death - a marriage affidavit4 for a second marriage to Bridget Wilson, and the Petition for Letters of Administration5 for Patrick’s estate as well as some information in the file for John B. Brown, a son of Patrick.  Recall how desperate David Brown, the letter writer, was to discover the name of the father of the Brown children and the maiden name of the mother, Hannah?  He was close – very, very close when he looked to Broken Bow for information about Patrick’s death.  The marriage
2nd marriage of Patrick
(click to enlarge)
affidavit (see right) shows the names of Patrick’s parents.  (With this information David Brown would likely have found the place of origin in Ireland.  But then, he probably would not have written the letter to my mother and I would not be telling the story now.)  Bridget did not live long after she and Patrick were married.  She died about seven months after their marriage, and, two years before Patrick’s accident.

While the marriage affidavit provided a second confirmation of the names of the
Petition for Letters of
(click to enlarge)
parents of the Brown children, (the original source was the death certificate for the youngest son, Thomas), the Petition for Letters of Administration (see left) gave the names of Patrick’s children and where they were living in 1891, providing even more information to trace Patrick and his family.  It also contained the signature of John Brown, second son of Patrick, and provided a way to verify records for the rest of the children.

It is very understandable why Nebraska was attractive to the Brown family.  Patrick and Anne had four sons, Patrick, John B., David O., and James E.  Farming aspirations for men without financial means would have been difficult in the Bloomington area.  Land, if it was available, while very productive, was also very expensive.  Patrick, the oldest son, married and stayed in the area around Bloomington, Illinois eventually working for the railroad.  The other three sons moved away.

Newspapers in the 1880s were full of information about “free” land available in the West.  The Pantagraph in Bloomington carried one such story on the front page of its May 26, 1881 issue about “Nebraska’s Boom.”6  Stories were also carried in the newspapers about families visiting home who had previously taken advantage of lands available under The Homestead Act of 1862.  First-hand knowledge would have been obtained from them.

The Homestead Act provided up to 160 acres of land, virtually free, for those willing to move to the area and establish a permanent residence.  The terms were simple.  Anyone, male or female, was eligible provided they were at least 21 years of age (or the head of a household), had never held arms against the United States (which made Confederate soldiers ineligible), and was a US citizen, either native born or naturalized.  An application fee of $18.00 was required.  Once they had lived on the “improved” land, which usually meant building a residence, most often a sod house,
Custer County sod house
  and farming some portion of the acreage, for five years, they could file for a final deed.  If all requirements were met, they were issued a land patent for their acreage.7   Coming from the east where there was ample rain to sustain crops, the offer must have sounded very rich to many who would not otherwise have had access to land ownershipHowever, 160 acres of “dry prairie” where one bad season could wipe out an entire enterprise, posed a serious challenge for those not familiar with farming methods needed to succeed in those conditions.  As a result, as many as 60% of applications were never completed.8   Other farms were abandoned, or sold after a short time.

US Public Lands were mapped into a grid pattern using The Public Land Survey System (PLSS), making is easy to identify a specific location that could then be sold to individuals or “given” to homesteaders under the Homestead Act of 1862. Each location contains a section, township, range, and meridian identifier.9  A section contains 640 acres and is further divided into fourths identified by direction, i.e. the NW¼ of section x.  PLSS townships are identified by a number and should not be confused with civil townships used for local government that are always named

Images of patents for completed homestead applications are shown in the General Land Records of the Bureau of Land Management.10    Complete files including copies of original application papers for some completed Nebraska  claims are available at Fold3.11   Application papers for incomplete applications are available through the National Archives, but the legal land description must first be determined.12

Patrick, and sons, John B., David O., and, perhaps, James E., (the youngest son who would have been 21 in October, 1884),
completed all requirements and received patents for land in Custer County, Nebraska.  John B. took out a homestead application in Berwyn Township (PLSS section 6, township 16N, range 19W) in November 1883.13  (See Custer County Township map left.)   The file contains several documents that include his signature which, when compared to the signature on
Page from homestead application
for John B Brown
(click to enlarge)
the Petition for Letters of Administration in the estate of his father, Patrick, verify this is the same person.  (See application document right.)  Other documents in the file detail improvements made to the property by the time he signed the final affidavit including a 14 x 24 sod house, two stables, one frame and one sod, a cellar, a well that was 107 feet deep, and a wind mill and pump tank.  He also owned six horses, three head of cattle, seventy head of hogs, two dogs and one cat. Household furnishings are also listed.  The final patent was signed November 1, 1890.

Patrick, the father of the John, David, and James, also settled in Berwyn Township west of John’s property and just a few miles east of the town of Broken Bow as described in the news article about Patrick’s death.   His homestead, (sec. 6, twp.
16N, range 19W), contained just 123 acres instead of the more usual full quarter section containing 160 acres.  Part of this section may have already been sold, this may have been a more desirable location, or, since Patrick had downsized his Illinois property, he may not have wanted an entire quarter section.  The final patent (see document left) is signed December 1890 making his entry into Nebraska at least December 1885.  Unfortunately the original papers are not available online and would be interesting to see.14   Not only would the papers contain his entry date, but, since Patrick was foreign born, it would likely contain proof of his citizenship - when and where his naturalization took place. 

David O. may have been the first of the Brown’s to settle in Nebraska.  There is a final patent for him in Westerville Township, (sec. 14, twp. 17N, range 18W), dated December 1887 which means he would have started his application in 1882.  The original papers for this claim are not available online so we cannot compare signatures; however, David O. is shown in the 1885 Nebraska State census in Westerville Township, from Ohio, age 24 making his birth year 1861.  That is close to information given in family records (birth year 1859 in Ohio).  I believe this is the correct person.15  

Records for Westerville Township also show a patent for James E. Brown in section 2, close to the homestead of David O. described above, that was finalized in March, 1890.  James would have been just old enough in March 1885 (using the five year residency requirement) to have started the application process.  Original papers are in the National Archives and are not immediately available to review.  Because this is located very close to David’s place, it may be an indication of a relationship to Patrick, John and David.  However, the “Petition” in Patrick’s estate file identifies James as living in Adrian, Minnesota at the time of Patrick’s death in September, 1891.  An examination of original papers would be needed to make a final determination.

David acquired more property in 1893, this time in Berwyn Township.  In 1873, congress passed the Timber Culture Act which allowed homesteaders to obtain an additional 160 acres of land
Sec 6, Twp 16, R 19
(click to enlarge)
even if they had taken advantage of the original Homestead Act.  The only stipulation was that they plant trees on at least one-fourth of the land.16  David took advantage of this provision and acquired 160 acres bordering brother John’s homestead.  See the geological survey map (right) of section six identifying  the locations of properties for Patrick, David and John.

About 1887 David married Agnes Price who also homesteaded in her own name in Custer County, but in Kilfoil Township west of
Broken Bow along with her father and brother.  David acquired public lands in this area also (sec. 29, twp 17N, range 21W).  A map, indicating all possible properties associated with the Brown family, is shown left.  It is a survey map, showing sections, townships, and ranges, with civil townships for Custer County superimposed on it.17   Below is a summary of the Brown land patents.

 One final piece of information completes Patrick’s story.  David was a witness at the marriage of his sister, Elizabeth, which took place in Merna, Illinois, just east of Bloomington, on September 28, 1884.18  According to his homestead application papers, David was living in Nebraska at that time.  Perhaps David was visiting Illinois for his sister’s wedding and convinced his father and brother, James, to return to Nebraska with him?  The dates in all of the application papers seem to support this. 

In the next post, we will take a brief look at the nine children of Patrick and Anne Burns Brown.

1.       Brown, David Earl, Kewanee, IL, 11 May 1943. Letter to Esther ________, Columbus, OH.  Letter contains genealogical information for the Brown Family from County Limerick.

2.       “A Tragic Death, Patrick Brown Killed by a Vicious Bull.”  Custer County Republican, September 10, 1891.

“A Vicious Bovine.  It Crushes the Life Out of Its Master, Patrick O. Brown.”  Omaha World-Herald, September 11, 1891, p.1. Available online at

3.       Talk about serendipity!  I called the Custer County Historical Society (CCHS) sometime around 2005.  The conversation went something like this.   Me: “I would like to request a copy of an article in the Custer County Republican.”  CCHS: “We usually don’t take requests like this since it takes a lot of time to locate an article.”  Me: “But, I have the exact date the article was run and the man died in unusual circumstances.”  CCHS: “OK, we can try.  What is the information you have?”  Me: “Patrick Brown died September 9, 1891 and . . .”  CCHS before I could finish the statement: “. . . and was killed by a bull.”  Me:  “Was the incident that notorious?”  CCHS: “No, I’m working on a request from his wife’s family.”  Me: “His wife Anne?”  CCHS: “No, his second wife Bridget.”  Me: “I didn’t know he was married a second time.”  CCHS: “He was, but she didn’t live long.  I have a copy of the Custer County marriage record.  Would you like a copy of that?”  Me, jumping for joy: “Yes!”  CCHS:  “We also have a copy of the ‘Petition for Letters of Administration.”  Would you like that as well?”  And so, I received information that helped uncover more of Patrick’s story.

4.       Marriage Record, Custer County, Nebraska, Mr. Patrick Brown to Mrs. Bridget Wilson, Custer County Records, Book 2, p. 100.  The handwritten notation at the bottom is from the CCHS staff identifying the date of Bridget’s death.

5.       Custer County Historical Society, copy of Petition for Letters of Administration for Patrick Brown who died 9 Sep 1891.  I do not know the case number for Patrick’s Probate record.  Custer County Nebraska probate records at Family Search are only available from 1930.  Several months ago, I requested additional information about the probate record from the CCHS.  To date, I have not received anything.  When it is received, I will post the information on the blog.

6.       “Nebraska’s Boom – A Condition of General Prosperity Reported From the State and its Principal City.” The Pantagraph, Bloomington, IL.  Available online through  The article tells of high crop production.  It also talks of new facilities, grain elevators and railroads, being constructed to accommodate the influx of immigrants expected because of government homesteads.  “. . . all industries show a healthy and prosperous condition, with labor in constant demand.”

7.       Family Search Wiki, Nebraska Land and Property, available online at   and Homestead Records, Family Search Wiki,  

8.       Ibid.

9.       See for a discussion of The Public land Survey System and how it is used to identify a specific piece of property.  A section is a one square mile block of land containing 640 acres and is one thirty-sixth of a township.  A township, always numbered in the PLSS, is a horizontal row of 36 sections, or  a six-mile square area of land.  A range is a vertical column of townships.  A principal meridian is a meridian line (longitudinal) chosen as a starting point to section off a given area.  All of Nebraska is in the sixth principal meridian.

10.   Website for the Bureau of Land Management for General Land Office Records is available online at:  Identify the state you are interested in from the drop-down box, and also select the appropriate county.  Type is the last name in the “Names” section and press “Enter.”  A list of all persons by that name who completed the application process will be returned. 

11.   While Fold3 is generally a pay site, Nebraska Homestead Records are available for free at  Select Non-military Records, then Homestead Records, Nebraska, select the appropriate Land Office (the name is shown on the final patent), then select the township, range, section, and individual’s name.

12.   Refer to the Family Search Wiki for instructions pertaining to accessing incomplete applications. 

13.   The application for John B. Brown is one of those available on Fold3 and is available online at: )  Note that the original application shows the name of the town as “Janesville.”  This was an earlier name for Berwyn.

14.   Note:  The definitive location of Patrick’s property cannot be determined until the original application can be reviewed.  However, other factors, the proximity to James’ homestead, and the location of Patrick’s farm given in the news article, indicate this location.  Moreover, only one Patrick Brown is shown in the land patents for Custer County, unless there is another application that was not completed.

15.   There is another confirmed homestead for David in Kilfoil Township (section 29, township 17N, range 21W) online that contains David’s signature.  Papers for this claim could be used to compare signatures.

16.   Wikipedia, Timber Culture Act, available online at: 

Red = Patrick
Blue = John; also David’s Timber Culture claim
Orange = James
Green = David

18.   McLean County Illinois Marriage Register, Elizabeth Brown to John McDonald, Illinois Regional Archives Depository, Normal, IL.



  1. Once again -- I am so impressed.

  2. Thank you Mary Ann for continuing to provide us with valuable information. Your footnotes help me to understand better the procedure for doing effective research.