From the Omaha Daily Bee, May 4, 1902.
The figure of Benneville Yeakel Shelley looms large in the early history of Niobrara, Nebraska, a moderately sized village located in Knox County. A physician born and raised in Pennsylvania, Shelley was later a resident of Iowa and arrived in the Nebraska Territory with a head full of dreams in 1856. Heading a small band of settlers, he marked off an area of land on the Niobrara River that would eventually become the town of Niobrara. In the years following his arrival in what would become Knox County, Shelley went on to further repute, and in the late 1870s was elected to the Nebraska House of Representatives for one term.
Benneville Yeakel Shelley was born in Quakertown, Pennsylvania on April 20, 1823. Deciding upon a career in medicine early in life, he enrolled at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia (graduating in 1846) and soon after established his practice in that city. In 1850 he resettled in the still young state of Iowa, and after locating at Kanesville (now known as Council Bluffs), continued to operate his practice.
Embued like many others of the time with the pioneer spirit, B.Y. Shelley heard favorable reports of the settlement of the Nebraska Territory in the early 1850s, and, by 1855 had made his first visit to Omaha. In March of that year, he helped to incorporate the Nebraska Medical Society and later left Omaha to found a settlement in the then existing Black Bird County, called the Black Bird Hills colony. By early 1856 Shelley had returned to Kanesville, and, with fellow pioneer R.R. Cowan and a small band of settlers, returned to Nebraska in the hopes of establishing a town on the Niobrara river. Finding their desired location on an area of land populated by Ponca Indians, Shelley and his company marked off an area that would evolve into Niobrara. By the summer of 1856 the company (now known as the L' Eau qui Court Company) had returned to Iowa to entice others into settling the new town, and after their return had built several buildings and small garrison named "Old Cabin", which was later subject to a number of skirmishes with the native Ponca population. The natives, angered by the taking of their land, would burn down several of the colony's structures, and the winter of 1856 saw Shelley and three other men hunkered down in Old Cabin, away from the elements and natives.
Following the incorporation of the L' Eau qui Court Company, Benneville Y. Shelley served as its president and in the summer of 1857, the steamship Omaha arrived at the community, bringing lumber and much-needed supplies. The erection of the settlement's first frame building came shortly thereafter, and in a few months time, Niobrara could boast of a saw-mill, a mercantile store, "a $10,000 hotel" and sixty residents. A post office was also established and in 1857 Shelley was named as the area's first postmaster. Niobrara would later become the county seat of the L'Eau qui Court County, which in 1873 underwent a name change to Knox County, which still exists today.
In 1859 the L'Eau qui Court Company dissolved and was replaced by the Niobrara Town Company, with B.Y. Shelley being one of its incorporators. By the outbreak of the Civil War Shelley had removed back to Iowa and in 1862 enlisted as an assistant surgeon in the 5th Iowa Cavalry. He served with that unit until the close of the war and was mustered out in August 1865.
Certain aspects of B.Y. Shelley's life following his Civil War service remain a mystery. He is recorded in his Omaha Daily Bee obituary as having practiced medicine in Niobrara, Pennsylvania and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and also married and had a daughter, Laura. By the late 1870s he had removed back to Niobrara and in 1878 was elected to the Nebraska House of Representatives from Knox and Holt Counties. Taking his seat at the start of the 1879-81 session, Shelley was named to the committees on Federal Relations, Privileges and Elections, and Blind, Deaf and Dumb, and Insane Asylums.
Shelley's life following his service in state government saw him remove back to Council Bluffs, Iowa, "making the latter place his headquarters" during the last five years of his life. Shelley died at his home in that city on February 26, 1892, aged 68, and was survived by his daughter, Laura. He was later interred at the Walnut Hill Cemetery, also located in Council Bluffs.
From the Omaha Daily Bee, February 29, 1892.
From the "Keim and Allied Families" 1899.
A member of the distinguished Keim family of Berks County, Pennsylvania, Benneville Keim was a banker and hardware merchant in the city of Reading and also served as its mayor for three consecutive terms. The son of Johannes (John) and Susanna (DeBenneville) Keim, Benneville Keim was born in Reading on November 30, 1790. A family with its roots in the United States dating back to the 17th century, Johannes and Susanna Keim's children also included George DeBenneville Keim (1778-1852), a former chief burgess of Reading as well as a leading banker and iron manufacturer.
Benneville Keim married on August 2, 1812, to Mary Hoch (last name also spelled High), with whom he had eleven children. Several of these children would die premature deaths, but amongst their children who lived to adulthood was William High Keim (1813-1862), who would follow his father into public service. He preceded his father as Mayor of Reading (serving from 1848-49) and later represented Pennsylvania's 8th district in Congress from 1858-59. A term as Pennsylvania Surveyor General followed and from 1861-62 was a Brigadier General of Volunteers during the Civil War.
Following his marriage, Benneville Keim entered into banking in Reading, and from 1824-1843 was affiliated with the Farmer's Bank of Reading, serving at various times as its president and cashier. Keim would hold the post of president of the Reading Water Company and in 1836 joined with his nephew George May Keim (a future Congressman and Reading mayor) in establishing the Keim, Whitaker, and Co., later to become an "extensive iron works, one of the earliest and most important metal works of that region." Both uncle and nephew would also have a hand in the founding of the Reading Iron and Nail Works in June 1838.
Benneville Keim didn't enter the political life of his city until well into his sixties, being elected as Mayor of Reading in 1858 as a candidate of the American Party (also referred to as the "Know Nothing" Party.) He would be returned to office for two more terms in 1859 and 1860 and was defeated for reelection in 1861 (having run as a Republican), losing out to Democrat Joel B. Wanner.
A longtime parishioner at the First Universalist Church of Reading as well as a founding incorporator of the Charles Evans Cemetery in that city, Benneville Keim continued to reside in Reading until his death on October 30, 1872, one month short of the 82nd birthday. Widowed in 1833, he was later interred alongside his wife at the Charles Evans Cemetery.