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Published 1901
by Solomon D. Butcher.
Pages 317-319 *




James Whitehead

     In being called upon to furnish some facts relative to the early settlement of Custer county I shall confine myself principally to the locality in which I first made settlement. This will take me back to a period beginning seventeen years ago. Up to 1880 cattle men had undisputed possession of thousands of acres of land that in the three years following its occupancy yielded an average of twenty bushels of wheat per acre. But the settle came, and he came to stay. Many were veterans of the Civil War, were in the prime of vigorous manhood, and held life as cheap and could shoot as straight as the dare-devil cowboy, and not unfrequently "got the drop" those who had heretofore boasted of having things pretty much their own way. Thus, in part, the problem of settlement had become adjusted and the way made easy for those who in 1883-84 were pioneers in the settlement of the southwestern part of Custer county.

     The way of approach, in those days, was from Kearney along the Wood river valley to its confluence with the South Loup at a point near the present site of Callaway. Further west were Plum Creek and Cozad points on the line of the Union Pacific: the former about thirty miles from the south line of Custer: the latter fifteen miles nearer. At this point there was a gently undulating tract of country then known far and near as Buffalo Table located in township thirteen and fourteen, ranges twenty-two and twenty-three, being within the twenty mile limit, every odd numbered section of this entire table land was included in the grant of the Union Pacific. Inviting as it was with its deep, rich soil, none of its lands were appropriated until the latter part of 1883. The first entry made in this locality was by no less a personage than Patrick Egan of Lincoln. It was on section thirty-four, township fourteen, range twenty-three. No breaking being done the first year, by contest it passed into the hands of Ernest Schneider. The first homestead entries made were by Harvey Stockham and Otto Jaster November 14, 1883, and by Charles B. Drum, December 13th which comprised all entries made during that year. February 11, 1884, James Whitehead made homestead entry for lands adjoining Charles Drum, and with the opening spring, Ernest Schneider, John Helmuth Charles W. Redfern and his son Frank, with Henry, Chris, and John Miller, appeared upon the scene, selected and settled upon their lands and immediately begun improvements.

     It was the purpose of the writer to secure by purchase a half section of railroad land adjoining, or as near as possible to him homestead; this he supposed he had done, but on reaching his home in Wisconsin was apprised Hon. J. H. MacColl Plum Creek, agent for the railroad company, that the lands selected by him had passed into other hands. This necessitated his immediate return to Nebraska. Accompanied by J. A. Mahaffy and George Healy we reached Plum Creek about the 10th March. The morning following our arrival we started for the table lands accompanied by Mr. Huey, surveyor of Dawson County. It was after night when we reached the divide. The weather, which had been warm, had turned cold and snow began to fall. It had been our intention to pass the night upon the prairie and we had come prepared, bringing robes, blankets and a supply of provisions to last us several days. The increasing cold and falling snow which Mr. Huey, who was an old timer, assured us might develop into a regular blizzard, made the outlook anything but encouraging. After traveling some distance in the darkness we saw a glimmering light and heard the barking of a dog; this led us to the claim of Ernest Schneider. Though he had arrived but a day or two before, he had a frame dwelling partly erected, which with his own and other families, and belated travelers like ourselves, seemed full to overflowing: notwithstanding this we received a hearty welcome. The building was but partly roofed and through the night the snow descended upon those who stretched themselves upon the floor and sought rest and forgetfulness of discomforts in sleep. Beneath a pile of blankets in one corner of the room that was better protected from the storm, lay the sick wife of our host. She never recovered but died shortly after and was buried near by; the first death and burial that marked the early settlement of that vicinity. In addition to those I have named, William Greenfield, Joe Malson Ezra Wright, R. E. Williams, J. W. Bissell John Matz William Gibson, Chris Helmuth the Wysharts were pioneer settlers of the table of its environments, followed in time by John McGuigan and the Armours also Joe Gilmore, A. P. Cox, Oliver Whitehead, Willis Hines the Langes David and William Bain John Runcie and John Berwick. The all-absorbing question that presented itself to every settler was water, and how it might be obtained. Away to the east in Wood river valley, Van Antwerp and Thurman had wells, but they were from six to ten miles distant; there were none nearer and the combined means of all was not sufficient to put one down. To meet this exigency cisterns were dug on the edge of draws or bordering lagoons, the supply depending upon the rainfall and their ability to secure and conserve it. All that was met, endured and overcome, the difficulties and obstacles to success in the way of those early settlers, will never be known or written. Water ther(e) was in abundance; the best, purest and most wholesome that could slake the thirst and gladden the heart of man or beast, but it was from four to five hundred feet below the surface and the means of securing it an unsolved problem.

     Among those who had come into this locality were two men, Mr. Edward Crewdson wealthy Englishman who had purchased three sections of railroad land and was ingag sto engaged in stock raising, and Mr. Gregory J. Campau Detroit, who had purchased a large tract of land and was also a man of considerable means. These men put down hydraulic wells and secured a never failing and abundant supply of water to which the settler had free access. The last named even put down a large cistern into which a stream of water was pumped continuously for the use and accommodation of those who had no other means of securing the life-giving beverage. On several occasions Mr. Crewdson deprived his cattle of the water they craved in order that the wants of his neighbors might first be satisfied. These men have passed away; but monuments have been raised to perpetuate the deeds and memory of may whose claims to remembrance were not so well founded.

This material provided by Judy Morrison who is researching the following surnames: SCHNEIDER--HELMUTH--MCGUIGAN--ARMOUR--BADGLEY--KLEIN--MARY

*As often happens with scanning, sending, translating/converting, etc. - formatting and some text was lost. In particular, punctuation was missed: and some small words were skipped. Judy kindly sent paper copies to be used to correct the electronic files. Thank you, Judy.

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