BY FRANCIS M. BROOME
With the first rush of settlers into northwest Nebraska, preceding the advent of railroads, numerous villages sprang up on the prairies like mushrooms during a night. All gave promise, at least on paper, of becoming great cities, and woe to the citizen unloyal to that sentiment or disloyal to his town. It is sufficient to recount experiences in but one of these villages for customs were similar in all of them, as evidence of the freedom common to early pioneer life.
In a central portion of the plains, that gave promise of future settlement, a man named Buchanan came out with a wagon load of boards and several boxes of whiskey and tobacco and in a short space of time had erected a building of not very imposing appearance. Over the door of this building a board was nailed, on which was printed the word "SALOON" and, thus prepared for business, this man claimed the distinction of starting the first town in that section. His first customers were a band of cowboys who proceeded to drink up all of the stock and then to see which one could shoot the largest number of holes through the building. This gave the town quite a boom and new settlers as far away as Valentine began hearing of the new town of Buchanan. Soon after another venturesome settler brought in a general merchandise store and then the rush began, all fearing they might be too late to secure choice locations. The next public necessity was a newspaper, which soon came, and the town was given the name of Nonpareil. It was regularly platted into streets and alleys, and a town well sunk in the public square. Efforts to organize a civil government met with a frost, everyone preferring to be his own governor. A two-story hotel built of rough native pine boards furnished lodging and meals for the homeless, three saloons furnished drinks for the thirsty twenty-four hours in the day and seven days in the week; two drug stores supplied drugs in case of sickness and booze from necessity for payment of expenses. These with a blacksmith
MRS. ANGIE F. NEWMAN
Second Vice-President General from Nebraska, National Society,
of the American Revolution. Elected 1898
shop and several stores constituted the town for the first year and by reason of continuous boosting it grew to a pretentious size. The second year some of the good citizens, believing it had advanced far enough to warrant the establishment of a church, sent for a Methodist minister. This good soul, believing his mission in life was to drive out sin from the community, set about to do it in the usual manner, but soon bowed to the inevitable and, recognizing prevailing customs, became popular in the town. Boys, seeing him pass the door of saloons, would hail him and in a good-natured manner give him the contents of a jackpot in a poker game until, with these contributions and sums given him from more religious motives, he had accumulated enough to build a small church.
After the organization of the county, the place was voted the county-seat, and a courthouse was built. The court room when not in use by the court was used for various public gatherings and frequently for dances.
Everybody had plenty of money and spent it with a prodigal hand. The "save-for-rainy-days" fellows had not yet arrived on the scene. They never do until after higher civilization steps in. Old Dan, the hotel keeper, was considered one of the best wealth distributors in the village. His wife, a little woman of wonderful energy, would do all the work in a most cheerful manner while Dan kept office, collected the money and distributed it to the pleasure of the boys and profit to the saloons, and both husband and wife were happy in knowing that they were among the most popular people of the village. It did no harm and afforded the little lady great satisfaction to tell about her noble French ancestry for it raised the family to a much higher dignity than that of the surrounding plebeian stock of English, Irish, and Dutch, and nobody cared so long as everything was cheerful around the place. Cheerfulness is a great asset in any line of business. The lawyer of the village, being a man of great expectations, attempted to lend dignity to the profession, until, finding that board bills are not paid by dignity and becoming disgusted with the lack of appreciation of legal talent, he proceeded to beat the poker games for an amount sufficient to enable him to leave for some place where legal talent was more highly appreciated.
These good old days might have continued had the railroads
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
kept out, but railroads follow settlement just as naturally as day follows night. They built into the country and with them came a different order of civilization.
Many experiences of a similar character might be told concerning other towns in this section, namely, Gordon, where old Hank Ditto, who ran the roadhouse, never turned down a needy person for meals and lodging, but compelled the ones with money to pay for them. Then there was Rushville, the supply station for vast stores of goods for the Indian agency and reservation near by; Hay Springs, the terminal point for settlers coming into the then unsettled south country. Chadron was a town of unsurpassed natural beauty in the Pine Ridge country, where Billy Carter, the Dick Turpin of western romance, held forth in all his glory and at whose shrine the sporting fraternity performed daily ablutions in the bountiful supply of booze water. Crawford was the nesting place for all crooks that were ever attracted to a country by an army post.
These affairs incident to the pioneer life of northwestern Nebraska are now but reminiscences, supplanted by a civilization inspired by all of the modern and higher ideals of life.
HISTORICAL SKETCH OF BOX BUTTE COUNTY
BY IRA E. TASH
Box Butte county, Nebraska, owes its existence to the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1876. When this important event occurred, the nearest railroad point to the discovery in Deadwood Gulch was Sidney, Nebraska, 275 miles to the south. To this place the gold seekers rushed from every point of the compass. Parties were organized to make the overland trip to the new Eldorado with ox teams, mule teams, and by every primitive mode of conveyance. Freighters from Colorado and the great Southwest, whose occupation was threatened by the rapid building of railroads, miners from all the Rocky Mountain regions of the West, and thousands of tenderfeet from the East, all flocked to Sidney as the initial starting point. To this heterogeneous mass was added the gambler, the bandit, the road agent, the dive keeper, and other undesirable citizens. This flood of humanity made the "Old Sidney Trail" to the Black Hills. Then followed the stage coach, Wells-Fargo express, and later the United States mail. The big freighting outfits conveyed mining machinery, provisions, and other commodities, among which were barrels and barrels of poor whiskey, to the toiling miners in the Hills. Indians infested the trail, murdered the freighters and miners, and ran-off their stock, while road agents robbed stages and looted the express company's strong boxes. Bandits murdered returning miners and robbed them of their nuggets and gold dust. There was no semblance of law and order. When things got too rank, a few of the worst offenders were lynched, and the great, seething, hurrying mass of humanity pressed on urged by its lust for gold.
This noted trail traversed what is now Box Butte county from north to south, and there were three important stopping places within the boundaries of the county. These were the Hart ranch at the crossing of Snake creek, Mayfield's, and later the Hughes ranch at the crossing of the Niobrara, and Halfway Hollow, on the high tableland between. The deep ruts worn
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
by the heavily loaded wagons and other traffic passing over the route are still plainly visible, after the lapse of forty years. This trail was used for a period of about nine years, or until the Northwestern railroad was extended to Deadwood, when it gave way to modern civilization.
Traveling over this trail were men of affairs, alert men who had noted the rich grasses and wide ranges that bordered the route, and marked it down as the cattle raiser's and ranchman's future paradise. Then came the great range herds of the Ogallalla Cattle Company, Swan Brothers, Bosler Brothers, the Bay State and other large cow outfits, followed by the hard-riding cowboy and the chuck wagon. These gave names to prominent landmarks. A unique elevation in the eastern part of the county they named Box Butte. Butte means hill or elevation less than a mountain, Box because it was roughly square or boxshaped. Hence the surrounding plains were designated in cowman's parlance "the Box Butte country," and as such it was known far and wide.
Later, in 1886 and 1887, a swarm of homeseekers swept in from the East, took up the land, and began to build houses of sod and to break up the virgin soil. The cowman saw that he was doomed, and so rounded up his herds of longhorns and drove on westward into Wyoming and Montana. These new settlers soon realized that they needed a unit of government to meet the requirements of a more refined civilization. They were drawn together by a common need, and rode over dim trails circulating petitions calling for an organic convention. They met and provided for the formation of a new county, to be known as "Box Butte" county.
This name was officially adopted, and is directly traceable to the discovery of gold in the Black Hills. The lure of gold led the hardy miner and adventurer across its fertile plains, opened the way for the cattleman who named the landmark from which the county takes its name, and the sturdy settler who followed in his wake adopted the name and wrote it in the archives of the state and nation.
UNVEILING OF MONUMENT AT KEARNEY, NEBRASKA, IN COMMEMORATION OF THE OREGON TRAIL
Left to right: Mrs. Ashton C. Shallenberger, Governor Shallenberger, Mrs. Oreal S. Ward, State Regent Nebraska Society, Daughters of the American Revolution; Mrs. Andrew K. Gault, Vice-President General, National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution; Mrs. Charles O. Norton, Regent Ft. Kearney Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution; John W. Patterson, Mayor of Kearney; John Lee Webster, President Nebraska State Historical Society; Rev. R. P. Hammons, E. B. Finch, assisting with the flag rope
A BROKEN AXLE
BY SAMUEL C. BASSETT
In 1860, Edward Oliver, Sr., his wife and seven children, converts to the Mormon faith, left their home in England for Salt Lake City, Utah. At Florence, Nebraska, on the Missouri river a few miles above the city of Omaha, they purchased a traveling outfit for emigrants, which consisted of two yoke of oxen, a prairie-schooner wagon, and two cows; and with numerous other families having the same destination took the overland Mormon trail up the valley of the Platte on the north side of the river.
When near a point known as Wood River Centre, 175 miles west of the Missouri river, the front axle of their wagon gave way, compelling a halt for repairs, their immediate companions in the emigrant train continuing the journey, for nothing avoidable, not even the burial of a member of the train, was allowed to interfere with the prescribed schedule of travel. The Oliver family camped beside the trail and the broken wagon was taken to the ranch of Joseph E. Johnson, who combined in his person and business that of postmaster, merchant, blacksmith, wagonmaker, editor, and publisher of a newspaper (The Huntsman's Echo). Johnson was a Mormon with two wives, a man passionately fond of flowers which he cultivated to a considerable extent in a fenced enclosure. While buffalo broke down his fence and destroyed his garden and flowers, he could not bring himself to kill them. He was a philosopher and, it must be conceded, a most useful person at a point so far distant from other sources of supplies.
The wagon shop of Mr. Johnson contained no seasoned wood suitable for an axle and so from the trees along Wood river was cut an ash from which was hewn and fitted an axle to the wagon and the family again took the trail, but ere ten miles had been traveled the green axle began to bend under the load, the wheels ceased to track, and the party could not proceed. In the family council which succeeded the father urged that they try
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
to arrange with other emigrants to carry their movables, (double teams) and thus continue their journey.
The mother suggested that they return to the vicinity of Wood River Centre and arrange to spend the winter. To the suggestion of the mother all the children added their entreaties. The mother urged that it was a beautiful country, with an abundance of wood and water, grass for pasture, and hay in plenty could be made for their cattle, and she was sure crops could be raised. The wishes of the mother prevailed, the family returned to a point about a mile west of Wood River Centre, and on the banks of the river constructed a log hut with a sod roof in which they spent the winter. When springtime came, the father, zealous in the Mormon faith, urged that they continue their journey; to this neither the mother nor any of the children could be induced to consent and in the end the father journeyed to Utah, where he made his home and married a younger woman who had accompanied the family from England, which doubtless was the determining factor in the mother refusing to go.
The mother, Sarah Oliver, proved to be a woman of force and character. With her children she engaged in the raising of corn and vegetables, the surplus being sold to emigrants passing over the trail and at Fort Kearny, some twenty miles distant.
In those days there were many without means who traveled the trail and Sarah Oliver never turned a hungry emigrant from her door, and often divided with such the scanty store needed for her own family. When rumors came of Indians on the warpath the children took turns on the housetop as lookout for the dread savages. In 1863 two settlers were killed by Indians a few miles east of her home. In the year 1864 occurred the memorable raid of the Cheyenne Indians in which horrible atrocities were committed and scores of settlers were massacred by these Indians only a few miles to the south. In 1865 William Storer, a near neighbor, was killed by the Indians.
Sarah Oliver had no framed diploma from a medical college which would entitle her to the prefix "Dr." to her name, possibly she was not entitled to be called a trained nurse, but she is entitled to be long remembered as one who ministered to the sick, to early travelers hungry and footsore along the trail, and to many families whose habitations were miles distant.
Sarah Oliver and her family endured all the toil and priva-
A BROKEN AXLE
ion common to early settlers, without means, in a new country, far removed from access to what are deemed the barest necessities of life in more settled communities.
She endured all the terrors incident to settlement in a sparsely settled locality, in which year after year Indian atrocities were committed and in which the coming of such savages was hourly expected and dreaded. She saw the building and completion of the Union Pacific railroad near her home in 1866; she saw Nebraska become a state in the year 1867. In 1870 when Buffalo county was organized her youngest son, John, was appointed sheriff, and was elected to that office at the first election thereafter. Her eldest son, James, was the first assessor in the county, and her son Edward was a member of the first board of county commissioners and later was elected and served with credit and fidelity as county treasurer.
When, in the year 1871, Sarah Oliver died, her son Robert inherited the claim whereon she first made a home for her family and which, in this year, 1915, is one of the most beautiful, fertile farm homes in the county and state.
A DREAM-LAND COMPLETE
Dreaming, I pictured a wonderful valley,
A home-making valley few known could compare;
When lo! from the bluffs to the north of Wood river
I saw my dream-picture --- my valley lies there.
Miles long, east and west, stretch this wonderful valley:
Broad fields of alfalfa, of corn, and of wheat;
'Mid orchards and groves the homes of its people;
The vale of Wood river, a dream-land complete.
Nebraska, our mother, we love and adore thee;
Within thy fair borders our lot has been cast.
When done with life's labors and trials and pleasures,
Contented we'll rest in thy bosom at last.
© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller