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PIONEER STORIES

PROWERS COUNTY

HOMESTEADING IN COLORADO

By
Donna Gibson Needels

My dad, Floyd E. Gibson, came from a long line of farmers. Through the years they tilled the soil in South Carolina, southern Illinois, eastern Kansas, and central Kansas. In 1908 when Dad was 22 and single, he decided that he had more time than money. This was the time to homestead in Colorado. He was the only male in his immediate family of seven children to do so.

His cousin, George Gibson, and friends from eastern Kansas made the same homestead decision during this time. They each claimed 160 acres within two miles of Dad's. They only stayed a few months and paid $200 to obtain their deed. Dad's homestead was 12 miles south of Holly and 1/2 mile east of the former Cheney Center. This Center had a grocery store, cream center, and a post office. This was a "stopover" for travelers on their way to Holly. While I visited this area in August 2000, it was a comfort to know of the proximity of this location to Dad's land.

Another site that I visited was Two Buttes near the current reservoir bearing that name. The volcano-like formations must have made quite a landmark to follow across those treeless plains as Dad took his lumber wagon there to camp and cut fence posts from the cedar trees. It now seems puzzling that his friends from eastern Kansas traveled 100 miles to obtain cedar posts, when this area was so much closer.

My sister, Irene, remembers one of Dad's stories told in later years. During this time, there was trouble between the homesteaders and the cattlemen over the usage of the range. One night, Dad heard a noise outside of his shanty. He thought the ranchers were getting ready to burn him out. He carefully reached under his pillow and pulled out a pistol to fire at them. Quietly he checked to see who was there. It was a long horn steer rubbing his horns against his shanty!

Square dancing must have been a new recreation for him, as his Presbyterian/Methodist background did not countenance such activity. Some 40 years later when I was square dancing in my hometown, I was having difficulty with a call. Dad watching from a sideline rescued me from a mix-up.

For extra money, Dad worked in the Sugar Beet Factory in Holly for three months each year. Dad, also, worked on a cattle ranch, called the House Ranch. The owner's son, Jack, was a broncobuster who later worked in the movies in Hollywood. This summer I learned that Jack went to prison for one year for stealing a horse. The people in Holly didn't think he was guilty of stealing, but had just borrowed the animal. Again, this summer two local men, Bill WilIhite and George Allen, showed us the location of the buildings on the former House Ranch.

After Dad's five-year term was up in 1913, he returned to Kansas to assist his parents in farming. In 1922 he married my mother and raised two daughters and became a successful wheat farmer in Pawnee County.

George Gibson, the cousin, also, returned to Kansas. He traded his land for a team of horses, so he could start farming in Pawnee County.

Photo of George Gibson's Home and Furniture

George Gibson's Home and Furniture
Holly, Colorado

(Research based on taped interviews in 1977 of uncles, Chester Gibson and Wayne Vinson, which were transcribed by my niece, Charlene Burton. The book, Prowers County History, by Ava Betz: was another resource. Photo: Roberta Gibson Jennings, daughter of George Gibson. Submitted September 2000.)

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The Little Old Sod Shanty

I am looking rather seedy now while holding down my claim,
And my victuals are not always served the best;
And the mice play slyly round me as I lay me down to sleep,
In my little sod "shanty" on the claim.
Yet I rather like the novelty of living in this way,
Though my bill of fare is always rather tame.
But I'm happy as a clam, on this land of Uncle Sam,
In my little old sod "shanty" on the claim.

Chorus-
The hinges are of leather and the windows have no glass,
While the roof it lets the howling blizzard in;
And I hear the hungry coyote as he sneaks up thro' the grass,
Round my little old sod "shanty" on the claim.

But when I left my eastern home, so happy and so gay,
To try to win my way to wealth and fame,
I little thought I'd come down to burning twisted hay
In my little old sod "shanty" on the claim.
My clothes are plastered o'er with dough, and I'm looking like a fright,
And everything is scattered round the room;
And I tear if P.T. Barnum's man should get his eyes on me
He would take me from my little cabin home.

Chorus.

I wish that some kind hearted miss would pity on me take
And extricate me from the mess I'm in.
The angel-how I'd bless her if this her home she'd make,
In my little old sod "shanty" on the claim.
And when we'd made our fortunes on these prairies of the West,
Just as happy as two bedbugs we'd remain.
And we'd forget our trials and our troubles, as we'd rest--
In our little old sod "shanty" on the claim.
--Author, unknown

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A FEW MEMORIES OF MY EXPERIENCES AS A HOMESTEADER

By
Dr. William A. Cuthbertson, D.C.

Dr Cuthbertson practiced as a chiropractor for many years in Great Bend, Kansas

About the year 1907, a group of us boys who lived near Girard, (Kansas) decided we should avail ourselves of the Government Homestead offer. At that time, one could sign up for 160 acres. You had six months to get located after signing. Then by making it your home for five years, you get a deed; or after eight months, you could pay $200 and receive a deed.

In 1907, John Hemphill and Art Cuthbertson were the first to act. They located about 15 miles north of Coolidge, Kansas. In the spring of 1908, Fitz Smith, Theodore Sharrock, Alvin Gemmell, Rob Cuthbertson and I signed up for homesteads ten miles south of Holly, Colorado.

September first, 1908, the five of us arrived in Holly by train early in the A.M. We each had all our possessions in our trunk. We first hunted up a man with a team and wagon to take us to our homesteads. We bought a few 2 x 4 pieces of lumber and some 1 x 12 planks, bought enough groceries for a couple of days, bought a 2-gallon jug and a couple of spades.

When we got within 1 1/2 miles of our land, our driver told us that was the closest place to get water. So we introduced ourselves to the homesteader, informed him that we would be his neighbors, and could he supply us with drinking water for awhile? He was happy to do so.

We went on to our homesteads, unloaded the wagon, saw the man and wagon leave. There we were in the wide-open spaces, no bed, no nothing. We slept by our trunks, and next morning were up early and went to work with two spades. Taking time about, by evening we had a dugout with a roof over it, where we slept that night. We kept those spades busy until we each had a dugout on our homesteads.

We had to walk those 3 miles per day with our water jug. We found a small grocery store 2 miles south of us with a few staple groceries and a post office, called Plains. We soon decided we needed bicycles, so we each bought one. Things were much better, as we could ride for groceries and water, and ride into Holly to help pass the time.

After we got pretty well adjusted, we were in Holly one day and saw the Santa Fe was having an excursion to Colorado Springs, two days, round trip $5.00. So we all decided to go. We arrived at the Springs Saturday A.M. about daylight. We walked all forenoon, seeing all the sights we could. In the P.M. we hired a team and carriage from a livery stable and drove to the Seven Falls, Cave of the Winds, etc.

We had heard how wonderful it was to be on top of Pike's Peak to see the sunrise. We made inquiry and found we could go up by cog railroad for $5.00 round trip, or a burro for $2.50. We, being Scotch, decided to walk. So we started at 8 o'clock in the evening and arrived there at 4 in the morning. We had to wait an hour for the Summit House to open. There was 6 inches of snow on the ground. Everyone was friendly as we stood around the stove and ate sandwiches.

We visited with some women who had come up on burros, and their posterior extremities and knees were so sore they offered to let us ride the burros down FREE, while they went down on the cog road. When we got on the train that night, we were so tired we went to sleep, and the conductor had an awful time waking us up to get our tickets.

A few weeks after that, I decided to ride up and visit Art and John, about 40 miles from us. I made it nicely. There was to be a dance in their vicinity that night, so we all went. Two homesteaders were putting on the dance. They had their one-room houses close together, so they took a team of horses, put a rope around one house, and pulled it over to the other house, with the doors about 2 feet apart. Each house was big enough for one square, and a man with a fiddle stood in the doorway and made the music. Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun.

I started home the next morning and had gone about on~half mile when my back tire blew out. I had visions of pushing my bike to Coolidge where I could buy a tire (15 miles), but I decided to go back and consult Art and John about it. After some deep thinking, Art said he had a piece of one-inch rope, maybe we could push it through the tire. So we tried it and it worked. I made it home in good time. I wrote to Montgomery Ward and told them my experience, and in a few days I got a new tire by mail, no charge.

We all decided to go home for a two-week holiday. Rob and I decided when we came back January first that we would bring a team and wagon. My folks had moved to Sterling, (Kansas) by that time, and Dad and I had 3 horses.

So after the first of January I rode a horse to Rob and Art's place northwest of Larned, (Kansas). I stayed the first night in Great Bend with Ben Cuthbertson who was superintendent of the water works. Next night I stayed with the Will Kirkwood family northwest of Larned. The next morning I rode to Rob and Art's. Rob and I put bows and canvas cover on a wagon, filled the wagon with hay, and we took off for Holly. Rob and I slept in the wagon. When possible, we put the horses in a livery stable. We traveled in 4 inches of snow from Jetmore to Garden City. It took us 7 or 8 days for the trip, as the days were short.

The first thing we did when we got back was to go to Holly and buy enough lumber to build us each a house by our dugout. The other three lived in their dugouts the whole 8 months. After we got our houses completed, we started plowing. We each plowed 10 acres with a walking sod plow, then we plowed 10 acres each for the other three boys, and 10 acres for a neighbor. We planted all this to maize.

There were wild horses, cows, deer and elk, so we knew we had to fence our plowed fields to keep animals out. We had seen several big loads of posts passing our farms from the south, so one day when we saw a load coming we went out to the road and inquired of the man where he got the posts. He informed us that about 100 miles southwest, at the foothills of the mountains, there were thousands of cedars on government land where anyone could get posts.

Everard Huston and Fred Cuthbertson had come to their claims by then, and Everard had brought a team of mules and wagon. So Everard, Rob and I took off for posts out through uninhabited country. There was just a wagon trail angling southwest. We were gone about 9 days, 3 of which we cut and trimmed cedars. Rob and I brought home 160 posts. Again, we slept in the wagon going, and under the wagon coming home. I don't remember seeing one human being on all the trip. I've often wondered what we would have done if an ax had slipped and cut off a few of our toes.

We had a little experience with burglars also. One night Alvin and Theodore were gone and someone broke the locks off their doors, then broke into their trunks and stole several things. I was sleeping in my dugout not over 100 yards away, for some reason they didn't bother me. I had a loaded double-barreled shotgun by my bed, just in case I was attacked by man or beast. If I had not been there that night, my gun would have probably been stolen too.

One spring day in 1909, we heard that William Jennings Bryan was going to speak in Garden City, so all five of us decided we would ride to Garden City and hear him, only 85 miles.

Fred heard that we were going, so he joined us. We started early in the morning. By the time we were halfway there, my bicycle got awfully hard to ride. I thought it needed a grease job. I couldn't keep up with the other boys. Pretty soon Fred began to slow up and we got quite a distance behind the others. Finally, we came to a small grocery store. Fred said, "I'm hungry. I'm going to stop here and get something to eat." I think we ate 3 bananas each. I never ate a meal that made such a difference. We soon caught up with the rest and led them into Garden City.

I don't remember anything Mr. Bryan said, but I've never forgotten the energy those bananas gave us. Now when I hear anyone mention an energizing food, I always shout "Bananas!"

May first arrived, and we had put in our 8 months. Rob and Theodore rode to Holly on their bikes one morning, then took the train into Lamar to file their final papers and pay their $200.00.

A couple of days later, Fitz and I decided to ride our bikes all the way to Lamar, stay overnight with some friends, make our final payment and return home the next day. It seems that after Fitz and I left, Alvin decided to go to Holly and take a night train to Lamar. Possibly he planned to meet Fitz and me at the land office.

When we got to the land office, we were surprised to see Rob standing at the door. He informed us that Alvin's dead body had been found in the Lamar Santa Fe yard. It's only suspicion, but we think he caught a freight train and jumped off while it was moving and struck his head on some object. But it was a sad ending to our experience.

Rob accompanied the body to Girard. When he got back, we loaded our belongings in the wagon and all headed for our former homes. Fred and I are the only ones of the group that are still living. So these are a few memories I have of my 8 months homestead experience.

Alvin, Theodore and I made our dugouts in the middle of the section. Fitz made his in the northwest corner so he and Rob could be close together.

Section Map


Photo of William Cuthbertson's Shack and Transportation

William Cuthbertson's Shack and Transportation
Holly, Colorado

(From MEMORIES of Ayrshire, Illinois and Kansas by the Family of Alexander Cuthbertson, 1813-60, Et Al. Compiled by William C. Cuthbertson. 1972. Permission granted for publication by Dr. Ken Cuthbertson. Submitted by Donna Gibson Needels September 2000.)


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