Cottonwood's Roots Trace Back to Earliest Days of Burt County

Historic eastern cottonwood in Burt County

It is not often you find living relics of Nebraska’s settlement days. We renovate main streets and preserve historic buildings, sure. But we are not always able to find things that have stood the test of time—in this case over 160 years. However, one eastern cottonwood south of Decatur proved to be that and much more—thanks largely to the detailed records of one of Burt County’s earliest families.

Now you could say the “Lange Settler’s Tree” is more about the land than just the tree. In fact, Native American legend pointed to tribal bands having long quarreled over an area where “cold, clear water boiled up in little fountains of golden sand.” However, the legend said that any permanent attempt to settle what was later called “Golden Spring” would be met with a “violent death.”

Historic photograph of F. E. LangeYet following the passage of the Nebraska-Kansas Bill in 1854, settling parties began fanning out over the rich bottomlands of the Missouri River. In one of the first excursions in present Burt County, Nebraska was German immigrant F.E. Lange.

While assisting his fellow settlers with their claims, Lange scouted the unsettled landscape for his own tract of land. He found his “choice spot” in 1853 at Golden Spring. Accounts from the family’s historical records suggest that so did fellow settlers. In a rush to establish legal standing, Lange and others drug logs from the woods in the dead of night and arranged a square. This semblance of a house was enough to deter the conspiring neighbors from taking over the claim.

One of his next actions in shoring up his claim was to transplant a series of cottonwoods.

He planned to use the wood for construction, stove fuel, and livestock protection. It was said that his seedlings “almost surrounded the original quarter of his claim.” The Lange Settler’s tree is a surviving tree from the original 1860s transplants.

Golden Spring Farm is still owned and operated by members of the Lange family. The tree is currently stewarded by Lange’s great-grandson, Kenneth H. Lange McGill Jr., who nominated the tree as a Nebraska Heritage Tree in the fall of 2017.  

Read more about Nebraska's Heritage Trees

Editorial note: This post was derived from historical documents, accounts, and original works submitted by the Lange family. This information was shared with the Burt County Museum for verification of historical accuracy.