In the 1850's, a number of ranches were established at convenient distances all the way from Fort Kearney to the mountains. Dick Darling began the erection of a second building at Cottonwood Springs in the summer of 1859, but it was purchased by Charles McDonald, who completed it in the fall of that year. During the winter of 1859-60, he put in a large stock of supplies for freighters and emigrants, and in fact "a supply of everything that would sell to white men or Indians".
Charles McDonald was a native of Tennessee. He was born in Jefferson County, Tennessee on October 25, 1826. His father, Alexander McDonald was a native of Virgina, born there in 1790, and lived there until 1791, when the family moved west to Jefferson County, Tennessee. Charles McDonald's great-grandfather Alex. McDonald, was an old settler in Virginia, dating back to before the Revolutionary War. He was on George Washington's staff. Alexander McDonald served as private in Capt. David McClure's company. He was probably born in Lancaster County, Pa.;
Charles McDonalds mother was Mary McClister (1788-1846). Mary's parents were James McClister and Sarah Roan (d. 1837). James McClister served as private under Capt. John Murray and Col. Sam Miles, Pennsylvania troops in the Revolutionary War. He was probably born in Lancaster County, Pa.; died in Jefferson County, Tenn.
Charles first came to Nebraska in 1855, to Pawnee County. During January 1860, he moved his wife to Cottonwood Springs from Omaha. Orra Belle Henry, born in Hamilton, New York in 1840, married Charles McDonald in Omaha on October 14, 1858. She was the first white woman to settle in Lincoln County. She lived here about three years before there was another white woman living at Cottonwood, though during 1860, several white women came to the county with their husbands. Orra's parents were Anan Henry (1800-1870) and Lydia Swift (1805-1889). The Swift's were descendants of Job Swift (1711-1801), who was a delegate to the Continental Congress. In June of 1861 the first white child was born in Lincoln County was born to Orra and Charles McDonald. His name was William H. McDonald.
The first outbreak of the Indian War in the 1860's was at Plum Creek, on the 8th of August 1864, when a wagon train was captured, and a general massacre occurred. As a result of these troubles, prices of supplies rapidly went up. Charles McDonald was awarded a contract to furnish hay at Fort Cottonwood, at $49 per ton.
When Lincoln County was first organized as a county under the old Territorial government of Nebraska, in 1860, Cottonwood Springs was made the county seat. The officers of the County included Judge Charles McDonald, who performed his official duties including marriage ceremonies. Following the election of 1867, which included moving the county seat from Cottonwood Springs to North Platte, Charles McDonald was the County Clerk. In January, 1868, Charles McDonald, had been re-elected County Clerk, but having neglected to qualify for the office, was disqualified. R. C. Daugherty was appointed County Clerk.
Charles sold his ranch and store to the government for $6000. After he moved to North Platte, Charles McDonald operated a general store, which he operated until 1899. In the 1890 Business Gazetteer, he is listed as a banker and grocery store operator. He 1873 he purchased the bank which had been the first banking institution in North Platte. The 1917 Business Gazetteer lists the McDonalds State Bank (capital $100,000), Charles McDonald president, W. H. McDonald (his son), cashier.
The McDonalds had another son, James Boyd McDonald, who was a merchant in North Platte. The 1917 Business Gazetteer lists him as being in the clothing business. The McDonalds also had two daughters, Mrs. W.C. Reynolds and Mrs. F.S. Mooney.
An interview with William H. McDonald, done in the 1930's as part of the WPA Federal Writers' Project, is available.