SIDNEY'S WILDEST DAYS
Sidney had by this time become a boiling caldron of humanity, some serious and hurried, others serene, methodical and unruffled, all with the one object, gold. The town was wide open, and day and night business houses, saloons, dance halls and theaters were thronged with people. It has been claimed that Sidney introduced to the world, the all-night theater, with continuous performances.
The Telegraph of 1876 refers to the floating population as "freighters, teamsters, herders, 'cowboys,' Mexicans, half-breeds, gamblers, and 'Nymphs du pave.' " The name "cowboy" was apparently just coming into use. In subsequent years the term "herdsman" was made to apply only to those who attended flocks of sheep.
The character of Sidney's Wildest Days, before the vigilantes hung Reed, and partially subdued the town, was such that the Union Pacific railroad issued orders refusing to allow through passengers to get off their trains at the station. This came as a result of complaints of tourists, who were held up or mistreated on the station platform. The men committing these offenses were "Three-Finger Jack," "Hold-em-up Johnny" and others of their kind. Jack made a tactical blunder in a storm and held up a citizen of the town, following which he and some of the worst citizens "dusted," as a result of public sentiment.
All kinds of life had its zest because of the danger involved. Henry Newman had been elected Justice of the Peace, and thereby was called "Squire" or "Jedge" as occasion prompted, but that is not the story.
There were several men engaged in the work of capturing wild horses, and breaking them for domestic uses. Murshied and Pashon, two of the old-timers, had roped a wild horse near Callahan & Murshied's ranch, and had him in a corral. A number were looking him over, this being an especially fine animal,
but of the fighting kind. Newman was nearby in the corral on a horse when the wild animal attacked him, knocking horse and rider down. It then reared, and was on the point of setting his forefeet down on the prostrate man and stamping him to death, when R.S. Van Tassell seized the rope which was trailing from the wild horse's neck, and "set on it," swerving it from its objective by a few feet. Quick action saved a tragedy.
One of the tragedies of the period occurred in 1878. The Schaefer family came from Plattsmouth and went to work at Tusler's ranch. The man was employed as cook at the mess house, while the family resided in an independent house near the other ranch building.
An Old "Prairie Schooner"
When Lone Wolf's band went on a rampage, part of them journeyed near here. The incorrigible Sioux passed on, but when they passed this man, his wife, and three children were no more.
About the time of Sidney's last lynching episode, that of McDonald in 1881, frightful orgies were common at a road house some distance north of town, at one of the spring creeks leading down to the Platte river. One night, a dance and carouse was going full swing when a soldier accidentally shot himself dead. The others deposited the body in a corner of the room and ordered the music to proceed. After a time a fellow named Jack Page and another had a little altercation, Jack's adversary, dead, was placed into the corner with the soldier, and the dance went wildly on.
Later in the night a third man was killed, and this broke up the dance. The lights were shot out.Daylight found some sleeping off their drunken stupor and others gone. The three dead were taken to Boot Hill Graveyard.
Forty hours after the killing of Wild Bill (W.J. Hickok) by John McCall, at Deadwood, which even occurred in a gambling joint, August 2, 1876, the news reached Sidney. It created a profound sensation that a thoroughly established king of gunmen should be taken off by a mere kid.
A hastily selected jury heard the boy's story that Wild Bill had killed his brother in Kansas the year before. He was found "not guilty," according to the code of the times, but was told to get out of the Black Hills. Before the event, Wild Bill had heard that a kid was looking for him, and he said, "a kid looking for me, is the only kind I am afraid of; he may get me."
Appearing in the Telegraph of August 4, 1877, was the following notice, affording a basis for some range of imagination:
"Calamity Jane No. 2 has arrived from the Black Hills. She received promotion on the road as assistant wagon boss. She became so powerful as to lead to the discharge of a number of hands. She has now gone west with a bull-whacker to learn the trade. Her husband is not a violent mourner. She is a stubby customer, American, and cus-sed. If she has any conscience, she took it with her, and if she had any virtue, her husband didn't know it. Her child is now in good hands, and the painter is happy."
Evidently the painter was unhappy, and took an unkindly departing shot at his neglectful spouse. According to codes then prevalent, either the Black Hills wagon boss or the painter would have tarried permanently somewhere beside the Trail. One or the other failed to measure up to the standard required by the red-blooded men of the period. True, it was probably better thus, for none of them was the worse, and the "child is now in good hands," which is an objective worthy of a temporary humanity.
James and A.J. Pinkston, father and son, located on Middle creek in 1885, and employed a man named Reynolds to help build a log house. They lived in a tent meanwhile, and cooked and ate their meals in the open,
having, an improvised table in front of the tent. On the night of September 16, from the story told over a very trifling affair, the Pinkstons were killed and Reynolds later hung. According to Reynold's story it started at the supper table over a difference of five dollars in wages, whether the amount due was seven dollars or twelve dollars. He said the Pinkstons attacked him with clubs and he used the axe in self defense.
His first story, however, told at Trognitz barn, which then occupied the present site of the U. S. A. Theater at Sidney, was that a stranger came along, and killed the Pinkstons in a fight, and had compelled him to help bury them. This story not being satisfactory to the officers, he was arrested, and later confessed.
Of the numerous hangings in Cheyenne county, this was conspicuously the only legal execution within its borders.
It must not be understood that the recitation of these gruesome and sorrowful events indicates all the early history of Sidney and Cheyenne county were of such color. There were lively affairs that possessed only sufficient danger to quicken the pulses, and a modicum of humor to justify the hazard.
There were attempts by swindlers and crooks that sometimes went well, but generally ended in disaster.
There were "Happy jacks," carefree as the western wind, always with ingenious methods evolved of necessity, when an unlucky chance stripped them of all they possessed. Never discouraged by adverse circumstances - for the darkness of the night meant to them the sun was soon to rise. "Whitie" was one of these genial souls.
"Whitie" had a run of luck that put him "down upon his uppers" and conceived a scheme for a moderate stake. He invented a calf and valued it at ten dollars. He told three companies he had such a calf, and if they would give him two and a half dollars each, he would sit in a game of "freezeout" to see who should own the calf. They "fell for it," and a local man won. Then it was played for again and another won. A dozen times that night the imaginary calf changed hands. This calf was introduced into Sidney in 1876; in 1879 men were still playing for it, always at a value of ten dollars; and no one ever saw the calf.
Dropping off of the Black Hills travel due to railroad extension, emptied some of the hotels in Sidney, the Lockwood House being one. This was rented to Wm. Godfrey, his wife and another man. They were a trio of crude swindlers with a unique scheme. They selected the names of several hundred people in all parts of the United States, and wrote letters on "Lockwood House" stationery, of similar import to each. These were to the effect that someone had died in the hotel owing a little bill. Upon examination of his effects they were led to the opinion that the deceased was a relative of the one addressed, that the deceased had left some personal effects ranging in value from six hundred to one thousand dollars, and consisting of bank deposit slips, diamond rings and watches. The letter continued that the hotel had given the body a decent burial, which cost with the hotel bill, care, and the like, amounted to one hundred, eight dollars or an approximate sum. If the addressed cared to send this amount, the effects would be sent to them; otherwise they would be sold to pay the bill. They reasoned that the recipients of the letters would send the money to get the goods, even though not expecting any legacy, and not having any relation', who, would likely be in Sidney to die. They were not mistaken in the weakness of their fellow men. The money came by check, draft and money order.
After they had accumulated about forty thousand dollars, Postmaster Fred Clary became suspicious and reported the facts so far as he knew them to the Federal authorities. The trio were arrested, and judge Dundy sentenced them to Federal prison. The Woman broke down and died in Sidney jail, the others being taken to Leavenworth.
Clary, who came to Sidney as a telegraph operator, served a term as postmaster and then returned to the Western Union. He is now general superintendent of the eastern district.
Reverend Benton, a Methodist minister, came to Kimball about 1890,and satisfied people there and at Sidney with his credentials.
Shortly after the Morgan & Johnson bank blew up and Morgan committed suicide, Benton tried to cash an eight thousand dollar draft at Cheyenne. He wanted three thousand cash immediately, and would leave the other five thousand on deposit. There was little cash available
and the bank did not accept the proffer. Henry St. Rayner and Mr. Donaldson, were at Cheyenne at the time, and when they returned to Sidney, told the local bankers of "the preacher with the eight thousand dollar draft." As expected, Benton came to Sidney, this time willing to take two thousand dollars in cash.
L. W. Bickel, banker at Kimball, had loaned Benton twenty-five dollars, and said he guessed he had "kissed it good by," when he learned that Benton was peddling a big draft. He told Officer Trognitz to get the twenty-five if he could.
Benton was stopping with a Methodist brother named Whitney, although leaving his bag at a hotel. Trognitz got a warrant and searched the bag, finding it contained old clothes, a characteristic tramp's outfit. Then he arrested Benton at the Whitney home. The good people could hardly believe Benton was really a bad character. However, Trognitz found four of the Bickel five dollar bills in the end of his spectacle case, and some silver in his pockets.
The papers headlined a story of "cowboy Sheriff arrests a preacher." Two days later Cashier Stone of Sioux City Savings Bank, arrived and identified Benton, as a swindler named Simpson. His method was to get part cash on a large draft, drop his clergyman's attire, and don the garb of a tramp until well out of the community. He was also wanted at Central City. Sheriff Trognitz received one thousand dollars reward.
The first Fourth of July celebration held at Sidney in 1877, was at the same time the first event of the kind held in the Panhandle of Nebraska. An extensive and interesting story of this affair, which lacked the hampering espionage customary in older communities, is told by the Sidney Telegraph of July. 7, 1877. American humor was a part and parcel of the young west, as evidenced by high lights off the narrative.
"The National salute of one hundred and one guns was fired by Sidney's battery at sunrise. Let it be stated, for once, that more than a hundred shots were fired in Sidney without an accident."
"Fitzpatrick was ruled out of the greased pole climbing contest because of his great length. He was too near the top of the pole at the start."
"C. K. Allen came within an ace of plucking the persimmon, but just as he was reaching for the nugget, when as luck would have it some buttons attaching his suspenders to his trousers in the rear, gave way, and Mr. Allen retired as gracefully as the circumstances would permit."
"Smithy played a 'stopless' organ, and for aught we know he is playing it still."
There was a greased pig, contests of all forts, and a race between "bulls" and "mules" attached to freight wagons."A lot of money changed hands on this affair, for the 'bulls' won by ten feet."
In 1877, John Zobel ran a restaurant with a bar on the west side of Rose street. It was typical of the time and usually full of customers.
A friend of the Oberfelders from New York had come to Sidney, and Bob, while showing him around, dropped in Zobel's place. At one table sat three distinguished characters; Hank Clifford, from the Stage station on the Niobrara river; Ben Tibbets, beef killer and squaw man from Red Cloud agency, and "Arkansas., John" Wyseckler. Their bibulous feast had reached a stage of mellowness where they were shampooing one another with tomato ketchup. One of them reached for the pepper sauce bottle, and Bob and his guest "beat it."
One of the celebrating three let out a yell like a Sioux Indian, and the shooting began When the smoke cleared, all the lights were out of commission, and the front of the building was a total wreck. No one was killed.
In the few years of change, where range gave way to grangers, cattle rustling became common. Early in this period, Doc Middleton committed the offense of killing two dissolute soldiers, and thereby became an outlaw. Contemporaneously others made it a business, using the settler as a "Smoke screen." As often as possible they made the granger an accomplice giving him meat for domestic needs which needs were frequently sufficient. Occasionally cowboys and near cowboys became cattle detectives and sometimes outside detectives were employed.
Jack Crittendon's services were presumed to be on the side of cattlemen, but he evidently "played both ends." When, Tom Kane was preparing some cases against offenders of cowmen's ethics, Jack became alarmed that he might not be on the winning side. He sought Kane to give assurance of his dependability. Kane was busy making out some papers and
told Jack to wait, but being nervous and excited he would occasionally interrupt with "I can swear to" this or that. Kane told him to wait "until I finish this," and he continued, "then I will tell you what you have got to swear to." A faithful chronicle of the event is that Jack waited.
The people on lower Pumpkin creek were disturbed during this period by the arrest of Lee Nunn by Dective Talbert. Talbert apparently decided to join in homing making, and as brought out at Nunn's trial, he made the suggestion and induced Nunn to join him in killing a range beef. There was no dispute as to fact, but the question of the value would settle the sentence, whether a fine or the penitentiary. Talbert was the expert witness for the cattlemen who wanted the accused "sent over the road." Judge Issac Woolf, tangled the detective's testimony, who in fact, was not an expert, but Woolf was. To the general satisfaction of grangers, Nunn was released.
The bonanza days and big profits in Sidney occurred during the Black Hills rush. Then Colt's revolvers sold for forty dollars and everything else in proportion. Freighters who figured loads at two tons per mule or ox, cursed picks and shovels as "bulky freight." There was not room on a wagon to put the customary ten tons. Two wagons trailing behind ten mules were supposed to carry twenty tons-two tons to the mule.
The lean years of the early nineties, broke many cattlemen, and the grangers were "not yet upon their feet." Intense privation and heart-aches covered the broad acres of Cheyenne county. The price of merchandise dropped very low in Sidney and elsewhere. Brilliant financiers and politicians call it back to normal, and helpless mortals echo the apology for the crime of financial depression, from time to time.
Raising of wheat has changed the business of the county which has been settled by farmers and small ranchers and Cheyenne county is today one of the productive areas of the state.
Sidney now has twenty-eight wholesale distribution branches of farm machinery and the like. The city also contains some hundred and twenty-five business houses which handle all kinds of merchandise, including the stocks of autos, trucks, tractors, and all sorts of implements required by the farmer. Her stone quarries and gravel pits have been used extensively in local building and these products are shipped into other parts of the state. While wheat and cattle stand out as the great resources of Cheyenne county, her other agricultural products are many and valuable.
At the present time interest is taken in the Lodgepole valley in oil and natural gas. A deformation, or structure points to oil land, and an old surveyor's report shows oil seeps east of Sidney but up to the present no well has been brought in.
The United States Land Office, was established in Sidney in July 1887, with the first officers as follows: John M. Adams, register and G.B. Blakley, receiver; G.B. Blanchard, register and L.M. Neeves, receiver, succeeded them. They in turn were succeeded by John M. Adams, register and P.G. Griffith, receiver; George W. Heist, register and R.D. Harris was made register with Matt Daugherty receiver. R.D. Harris was reappointed register and J.L. McIntosh receiver, following which these two officials reversed positions which they held until the office was abandoned in March, 1906.
Contributed by Sandy Smith
© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 for NEGenWeb Project by Sandy Smith, Ted & Carole Miller