William “Bill” H. McDonald

Written By: nppladmin - Apr• 23•22
Originally published to facebook.com/NorthPlattePL on April 22, 2022.

Today’s Facebook Friday post continues our look at the McDonald Family.  Last month, we highlighted Charles McDonald and today’s post highlights one of his sons, William “Bill” H. McDonald.

Bill’s philosophy of life was stated on his 80th birthday: “Just live and don’t be afraid to work. Some men get all worn out trying to accumulate wealth and never get around to enjoy it.” Read on, for more on this remarkable man.

William Henry McDonald was born at Cottonwood Springs, Nebraska on June 14, 1861 to Charles and Orra (Henry) McDonald. He was the second of seven children. Although other white children, notably Felix Boyer (1857) were born before William McDonald in what was to become Lincoln County; McDonald is reported to have been the first one born after the County was formally organized by his father and others. The McDonald Family became famous for many “firsts” in Lincoln County. 

William attended the first school in 1866, which was held in a dugout, and later at Fort McPherson. He was also a student in the first log schoolhouse in North Platte and in 1868-1869, and North Platte High School.  He also attended a private school in Omaha, Nebraska. His later education was acquired in Bailey’s Commercial College in Keokuk, Iowa, and Lincoln University in Lincoln, Illinois.

In addition to being well educated, he grew up a hard working pioneer.  As soon as he could ride a horse (approximately age five or six), he began herding cattle and became known as the “youngest bull whacker’ in the county.  Handling cattle was his greatest joy as a young boy. When he was only ten years old, he drove two yoke of oxen and hauled hay across the Platte River even though he was too small to lift the end of an ox yoke!  In 1873, his father, Charles, started a big farm adjoining North Platte, as well as operated a general store in North Platte.

  1. As a teen, William:
  2. Attended school;
  3. Drove a delivery wagon after school;
  4. Worked on the farm, looking after the stock cattle which had to be driven to and from their grazing grounds. The grazing grounds were sometimes only a mile, but other times as far as forty miles away.
  5. Assisted in running the general store;
  6. Performed the duties of a regular cowboy (attending roundups and driving cattle to market).

In 1878, the McDonald State Bank was established by Charles McDonald, and in 1882, William began working at the bank. He started as a janitor, eventually working as a messenger, collector, and bank-teller.  By 1884, he was promoted to cashier. On September 4, 1894, William was appointed as Receiver of the United States Land Office in North Platte. He stayed working at the land office until September 1898.

On June 16, 1886, William H. McDonald married Miss Mary “Minnie” Belton, daughter of James and Caroline (Graham) Belton.

Minnie’s parents settled in North Platte in 1870, so, her family was also part of the early pioneers of our county. She too attended the old log school and first North Platte High School. After graduating from the Western Female College at Oxford, Ohio, Minnie returned to North Platte and became a bookkeeper in her father’s mercantile store. 

In the first years of their marriage William and Minnie had heartbreak with the birth and death of their first two children.  Then, miraculously, the third daughter survived:

  1. Orra McDonald, Oct 29,1887. Died in infancy, unknown causes. Re-Buried in North Platte Cemetery in 1906);
  2. Minnie L. McDonald, Nov 21-22, 1888. Died in infancy, unknown causes. Buried in North Platte Cemetery; and
  3. Janet Belton McDonald, Sept 13, 1896-May 24, 1972. Died in her own home (600 South Carr) and will be featured in a future Facebook Friday history. Buried in North Platte Cemetery.

In 1898, William changed his career direction and started working in the life insurance business. However, after his father became ill, William returned to the bank as a cashier. When the bank was incorporated under the name of McDonald State Bank on January 2, 1902, he continued as cashier of the new institution. In 1911, William was elected vice president.  In April, 1919, following the death of his father, he was chosen Bank President.

For many years William supported the banking industries, by becoming a stockholder and acting as officer of various Nebraska Banks. He was also a charter member of the Nebraska Banking Association. In 1903 he helped organize the Maxwell State Bank and was its president for about twelve years. In Jun 1906, he incorporated as the chief stockholder for the Gandy Bank and bought out the old Bank of Gandy, becoming its president. When the Stapleton branch of the Union Pacific road was completed to Stapleton, changed the Bank to the Bank of Stapleton, where it is now the oldest and largest bank in Logan county. He also served as president of the Bank of Stapleton.

William also served a short term as a member of the Board of Education in North Platte. He helped incorporate and organize the North Platte County Club in 1916, being chairman of the committee which located and bought 146 acres of land adjoining the city and built a fine club house and other building at a cost of about $12,000. When the club house was formally opened on June 28, 1920, Mr. McDonald was president of the club.

In policies, he usually voted as a democrat.  He was affiliated with the Platte Valley Lodge No. 32, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons since April 1889, was a Past High Priest of Euphrates Chapter No. 15, Royal Arch Mason, past commander of Palestine Commandery No. 13, Knights Templar, and was also a life member of Tangier Temple of the Mystic Shrine, member of the Elk Lodge No. 985.  The family was a Presbyterian.

Minnie died on February 28, 1945 in a hospital in Denver, Colorado. She had been seeking medical treatment at the time she passed away.  She was buried in the North Platte Cemetery on March 3, 1945.

On June 14, 1961, William H. McDonald turned 100 years old. His birthday made front page news, even though no party was planned as he had been ill and planned to spend the day reading.  One thing mentioned in the birthday article that hasn’t been mentioned here was, “…He is affiliated with various Masonic lodges, the Elks, was vice president of the Transcontinental Highway Association, the Great Plains Highway Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club.”

Then, on June 15, 1961, the North Platte Telegraph-Bulletin ran the following article:

“William H. McDonald Dies; 100th Birthday:

His birthday flowers were still fresh and beautiful Wednesday night when death came to William H. McDonald at the age of 100 years. Long-time chairman of the board of the McDonald State Bank, Mr. McDonald had been failing rapidly in the past few months.  Only yesterday cards, telegrams and flowers poured in as the hundredth anniversary arrived. A few hours later, he was dead.

Mr. McDonald spent his last day semi-conscious, thus was unable to take part in any celebration of the historic event.  With him, were his daughter, Janet, and his nurses. 

Well known as the first white child to be born in Lincoln County, Mr. McDonald had become something of a legend wherever he was known.  A close friend of Buffalo Bill, he loved nothing better than to reminisce with friends about the first rodeo to be held, about the exploits of Buffalo Bill and the men who rode with him of the Buffalo Bill Wild West show, which the bank financed.

Extremely active until the last couple of years, Mr. McDonald was known to untold thousands of people. Last year he received the “Gold Jordan” medal as the oldest Nebraska Mason. His father had once received that honor.

Other details of his history were published in Wednesday’s edition of the Telegraph-Bulletin. He is survived by his daughter Janet McDonald of North Platte; a brother, James B. McDonald of Omaha and a niece, Mrs. William J. Daub of Fostoria, Ohio. Funeral services will be held at 2p.m. Saturday in the Adams Swanson Chapel with the Rev. George H. Olson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church officiating. Burial will be in North Platte Cemetery with Masonic rites at gravesite.”

If you want to read a personal account from an interview with William Henry McDonald, (from “American memory: American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1940: Mr. Wm McDonald) click on this link: https://www.loc.gov/resource/wpalh1.17110123/?st=gallery

Lastly, attached are pictures of William H. McDonald’s home.  The original home was quite grand back in the day. It was moved from its original site and the color photo is a more recent photograph of the home. Thank you for reading!


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