Miss Rose Rosicky of Omaha visited the
Historical Society rooms, recently bringing with her a most
valuable contribution to the historical manuscripts of this
society. It is a series of translations made by Miss Rosicky from
the Bohemian Weekly newspaper, Osveta Amerika, published by her
company at Omaha. Reading these manuscripts has been a
fascination. They are first hand accounts by a number of the
earliest Bohemian settlers in the State, including Mr. Joseph P.
Sedivy of Verdigre, Mrs. Frank Jelinek of Crete, Frank Karnik of
Dodge and many others. These stories are among the best of the
pioneer stories written in Nebraska. They tell in a simple direct
way the most extraordinary experiences which came to the settlers
in a new land far from the countries of their birth in the
formation period of Nebraska settlement. They deserve a wide
reading not only as records of the Bohemian People in Nebraska,
but as real contributions to the social history of the early
decades. We hope soon to publish selections from them.
EARLY DAYS IN SIOUX COUNTY
Among the strong characters remembered by the
editor from his eight years' residence at Chadron (1888-96) is
Mrs. C. D. Bassett of Harrison. At the beginning of that time the
conflict between the free range cattlemen, whose herds had run on
the splendid open range for a decade, and the "Grangers," as the
homesteading settlers were called, was at its height. In vain the
experienced ranchers told the land-hungry homesteaders that Sioux
County was "no farming country." There stretched the splendid
smooth sections of gramma grass. There was the Pine Ridge covered
with pine trees for log cabins. There were the canyons and valleys
with gushing springs and clear flowing streams. And there was
Uncle Sam offering a free homestead for five years' residence.
Nothing could stop the homesteader. He went for that land. And to crown his courage kindly Providence in 1889 sent rains the summer long. Such crops of wheat and corn and vegetables were harvested by the homesteaders where the ranch men told them it never rained after the Fourth of July. So the homesteaders captured the county government from the ranchmen and drove the cattle from the free range. And then came the Drouth!
In this period the fame of Mrs. Bassett, the missionary merchant of Harrison, traveled far in the northwest. A letter written to secure certain early papers belonging to her husband's freighting experience brings the following letter from 31 East 22nd Street, Portland, Oregon:
I am the daughter of a Baptist minister, Rev. Gershom Buckley Day, who settled in Sturgis, Michigan, in the fall of 1836, doing pioneer missionary work.
Everybody was poor and a great deal of sickness made it impossible for the people to give needed aid to the missionary. My mother was heir according to English law, of Sir Francis Drake through his senior brother Joseph. She with her needle supported the family for 13 years except the pittance contributed by the people. In 1849 gold was discovered in California. At that time there was no machinery and only placer digging could be engaged in. Father said he could do as much good preaching to the miners as anywhere and could prospect for gold during the week. He decided to go to California in order to make money enough to support his family.
and educate his two daughters. There were no church building
and the California Indians saw the congregations who gathered in
the open to hear him preach, thought him a white chief talking
against them so they planned to watch when they might find him
alone and killed him in 1852.
W. H. Bassett and I were married in 1867. In 1884 he contracted tuberculosis and died in 1886. His life was of much interest as he was engaged in freighting for the government for many years between Nebraska City and Pacific coast points. His diaries were burned with all his effects in Nebraska City, thus losing the records of an eventful life. Though not converted until after our marriage he was a moral man and in hiring his men required them to sign a contract not to use vulgar language or profanity, nor to abuse their animals under penalty of discharge, which at that time would have been serious on the uninhabited prairie.
Mr. Alexander Majors, of the firm, Majors, Russell and Waddell, with whom he was associated in the freighting business came to see him just before he died and the meeting was a touching scene like the meeting of a father and son. The strenuous physical and nervous strain of his illness of twenty-three months impaired my health so that I was having night sweats and every indication of a permanent decline, when an estimable woman friend, Mrs. E. B. Graham, invited me to come to Nebraska and make my home with them at their ranch.
Nebraska offered good opportunities for loaning money and a friend in Sturgis, Michigan, wished me to loan a thousand dollars for her. I deposited it in the bank at Harrison until a favorable opportunity offered. The bank became involved, so the only way I could save the deposit was to buy the store with which it was connected. I secured two excellent helpers of ability and integrity, Mr. Conrad Lindeman and E. A. Weir, the latter a young man about nineteen.
In this new town when some of the cattlemen would return from having sold their stock in Omaha and have a spree they were determined that every man in town should join them. Those who did not drink were obliged to hide. One hid under the steps of the depot, another ran into my store through the back room, jumped out through the window and escaped through the darkness out on the broad prairie. If discovered they would be dragged to the saloon and compelled to drink.
The store was quite large and had living rooms at the back which I occupied. The clerks slept in the store when all was quiet. But the 4th of July, or any public day, was always an occasion for a spree. My clerks gladly consented on such occasions to my suggestion to sleep in my apartment and
I would don a wrapper and sleep under the counter in the
Whenever I think of the early Harrison days, two pictures persist in presenting themselves. One 5th of July morning one of the carousers got the hotel dinner bell and came ringing it vigorously to the store for my men. After he had persistently rattled the front for some time I got up and went to the door. When he saw me he ran as if an evil demon was trying to catch him. On another occasion some one came to the west door. The store was on a corner and had two entrances. I was sleeping near the south door. I stepped out to inquire what was wanted. I went to the corner of the building and was surprised to find a man in his night attire. He, too, ran when he heard a woman's voice. The bitter feeling of the liquor element expressed itself in threats, so friends told me never to step out doors after dark alone, that I was in danger of bodily harm on account of my temperance principles. This was in the early days of free range when there were no fences and cattle roamed at will over the public land.
A short time prior to this a young school teacher was married and came to western Nebraska stopping for a little while at Hay Spings before settling in Harrison. Hay Springs if possible was then more wild than Harrison. At Harrison they took a claim and lived in a shack made of lumber with cracks that one could stick their fingers through which was all right in nice weather.
A little daughter came to this house and the mother endured much suffering with bealed breasts. No milk could be secured for the baby who died of starvation. There was no cemetery and the little one was buried on the claim near Harrison. When an effort was made later to have the remains removed to the cemetery no trace of them could be found. Thus the little body rests beneath the wild flowers awaiting the awakening trump of the resurrection morn. There was no doctor at Harrison at this time. Water was hauled in barrels for family use. A rancher from over twenty miles away saw the house, called for a drink and found the woman in this pitiful condition. He told her he had a brother who was a doctor and he would send him to her. The doctor relieved her greatly and a year ago the lady told me she though Dr. E. B. Graham saved her life at that time.
Having been a Bible class teacher in Michigan I organized a class in Harrison and conducted religious services from time to time in the hall. At the close of one of these services the only cyclone that has ever been known in Harrison seemed to
start just west of the town. It consisted of two columns each
about as large as a barrel, which moved slowly eastward until it
came to Main street, when it turned south and followed the fleeing
citizens who were running from it at a right angle from where they
first saw it. Afterwards one of the men said: "I glanced back and
the thing was just following us." In its path stood a small house
made of lumber. It was torn into splinters. The cook stove was
carried nearly half a mile and the stove pipe, table and chairs,
broken and carried farther. The chickens were killed, their
feathers picked off and scattered.
I had just concluded a religious service in the hall which was up stairs at the four corners of the town. There came a little dash of rain with large drops so I waited to see if there was going to be more rain. Everybody else had gone. I stood looking out of the west window when I saw it start and watched it progress and demolish the building above referred to, I said to myself, "The Lord can take care of me here just as well as anywhere." I watched it approach, there was every indication that the building I was in would be wrecked. Then it turned south. I did not experience fear. I seemed to have the assurance that the Lord would take care of me even if the building was razed.
Many incidents occurred from time to time while the town was so new, viz.: When savage Indians were reported on their way to Harrison. This was a night of terror everybody expecting before morning the horrors of a massacre. The rumor proved false and the tension was relieved the following day.
The Sioux tableland is fine. Good people have been attracted to Harrison, because of its healthful climate. The better element prevails and now it is a pleasant town with modern homes, good lawns and beautiful flowers.
On May 9, 1921, in company with J. E. Wallace I arrived at Meadow, Sarpy County, Nebraska. While collecting birds we discovered an ancient house site three quarters of a mile west of "Hickory Lodge," the summer home of Mrs. A. J. Cornish. It was located about half way up the north slope of a ridge somewhat over a half mile long running north and south. It had evidently been located behind the ridge in order to conceal it from enemies passing up and down the river, as the stream (Platte) was about three quarters of a mile distant.
The depression marking the location of this
house site is about twenty feet across from rim to rim, with a
depth of about two feet and resembled the "buffalo wallows"
commonly found on our western prairies.
Hickory trees were growing about the rim, one of which was seventeen inches in diameter.
In order to assure ourselves of this being a house site we dug a hole, about four feet square, in the center of the depression, and at seven feet from the ground level a heavy bed of ashes was encountered; which left no doubt in our minds that it was the fireplace of an ancient habitation.
The following morning we started a trench seven or eight feet long, running east and west, about six feet distant fro the fireplace. We found the earth mould, which had accumulated since the roof had fallen in, to be very black. I judged it to have been about twenty-five inches thick before reached the original roof covering. There was no exact way of determining this as it was of black earth resembling the dirt above it, the only difference being that the roof covering had traces of charcoal through it.
We struck the floor level, as we did at the fireplace, about five feet under the surface and found it to be of yellow clay, packed as hard as the day the original inhabitants left it.
On the floor at the east end of our trench a fine double-pointed flint knife was struck by the spade and broken. The layers of the floor seemed to be about four inches thick and bore evidence of having been in use many years.
The only difference that we could note between this and the pre-historic dwellings near South Omaha was the fact that no stones or rocks were found in the fireplace while at Omaha I am told, they are almost always found. Mr. Wallace, who has had considerable experience in excavating there, says that he never found a fireplace there which did not have them. All other material we discovered seemed to be about the same.
By carefully uncovering the floor we soon found evidence of a cache near the east end of our trench and about five feet from the fireplace. It had probably been used as a food cache as we soon began to uncover unio clam shells, and bones of various kinds. We were able to identify buffalo, deer and elk bones, also some large bird bones which we took to be Sandhill crane. This cache was about eighteen inches across at the top, shaped like a jug, and gradually widened until at the bottom, five feet below the opening, it must have been fully five feet across. We found three sub-caches running out of this main one at an angle of 45 degrees downward, about a foot in depth. A beautiful flint celt was found on the floor of the main cache, pottery fragments were encountered at all
levels, some of them as large as saucers, but none of which
would lead us to believe that they had been left whole. In this
cache we also found six arrow shaft straighteners with well
defined grooves, an implement of Dakota sandstone which may be a
discoidal, four small flint scrapers, one round scraper, three
arrow points, six chipped tools which may have been used as
scrapers, one piece of red paint stone, showing use; a section of
an elkhorn tool, a broken pipe, some rare red pottery and some
bone which bore evidence of having been tempered.
At the bottom of one of the lower caches we found a fine digging tool made from the shoulder blade of a buffalo. Measuring the distance to the bottom of these sub-caches we found that they were fully eleven feet from the ground level.
The next day we opened another trench about four feet southeast of our first one, and found the opening to another cache filled with much softer dirt than the first one, which packed as hard as the floor. Nothing was found in this except one perfect flint knife and some large fragments of a well made pot blackened by fire. We judged the depth of this cache to have been at least six feet from the level of the floor.
Owing to our limited time we were unable to dig further but some good material might be found by searching out the other caches at the opposite side of the fireplace, as at the point of the hill overlooking the river large numbers of human bones and flint implements have been plowed up at various times by farmers working the land.
The natural supposition is that these are very evidently the same race of people who lived near Omaha, and that their settlement extended further westward than is generally supposed, as this is fully twenty miles from the main village. On the first ridge west of "Hickory Lodge" is a depression marking a house site at least sixty-five feet in diameter. We dug down in the center of it but were not able to uncover the fire place in the limited time at our disposal. We found charcoal scattered through the dirt to a depth of six feet. I am satisfied that it is one of the largest house sites known. It is located on the shoulder of the hill overlooking the river, in a cornfield where many bones and flint objects have been found during cultivation, and I am convinced that this would pay to excavate also.
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