In the spring of 1857 two brothers (with their families) drove ox teams hitched to covered wagons along the creek later known as West Branch, from which West Branch precinct was named. These two families were the first white people to make a track this far west in Pawnee County. One family (Alf. Watters) settled where Andrew and Nettie Turnbull now live. The first fall and winter they were all sick, and two children died. The next spring the family all went back again. The other family (Zenas Watters) settled where Ray Dodson now lives, [property] now owned by Henry Loch. They too were sick and lost one child, but stayed on.
They got possession of this land, known at that time as a squatters claim. [It was] much the same as a homestead, but several years before the homestead law was passed. The Indians directed this family to the place where there was an abundance of spring water and near where the Indians often camped. In later years people learned that West Branch and Johnson creek, the two largest streams in the precinct, have several ever-flowing springs.
The Otoe reservations was just over the Pawnee County line near where Barneston now stands. The Iowas and Otoes were friendly Indians and did considerable visiting with each other; and their trail, as they always traveled one behind the other, extended from east to west through Pawnee County and through West Branch precinct.
The first houses were built from the timber. These logs were notched with an ax near the ends at the corner of the building so the logs would lay close together. The small rocks were used to chink the larger places, then plastered with mud.
The first school house was built of logs. Upper and Lower West Branch was one district in the log house known as district No. 20. To the south of the precinct stands district 21, known years ago as the Andy Scott school. In 1873 a school house was built that still stands, known as district 20 or Lower West Branch, while to the west of the precinct is [district] 37 school or Upper West Branch.
The Lone Grove church built in the early seventies still stands but used only as a place to vote at the general elections. For years there was Sunday school and often church at district 20 school house. The homes of three ministers were in the precinct, the late Dwight Nervel Hillis, a Sunday school organizer, and a missionary. Three Pawnee Co. sheriffs have been West Branch men and one Co. Superintendent. Two cemeteries [exist] in the precinct -- one in the south east known as Johnson Creek cemetery, the other near the northern border.
Many buildings have been built from rock taken from the quarries. The first court house in the county was built from them. Cellar walls and foundations for most of our homes are made of these rocks. When the all-weather roads were necessary, rock was quarried and crushed, then hauled [in order] to surface miles of roads. This work has stopped as World War II has taken man and machinery to other walks of life; and we are all anxiously waiting for this wicked war to cease.
This article was written by Ella (Small) Turnbull, wife of Samuel Turnbull and mother of Hazel and Leonard Turnbull. The original letter has this written on it "This is what Mama wrote on West Branch precinct for the Historical Society in 1944." ~ Hazel North