PIONEER WOMEN OF OMAHA
BY MRS. CHARLES H. FISETTE
Very few of those now living in Omaha can have any realization of the privations, not to say hardships, that were endured by the pioneer women who came here at an early date. A few claim shanties were scattered at distant intervals over this beautiful plateau, and were eagerly taken by those who were fortunate enough to secure them. There was seldom more than one room in them, so that no servants could be kept, even if there were any to be had. Many an amusing scene could have been witnessed if the friends who had been left behind could have peeped in at the door and have seen the attempts made at cooking by those who never had cooked before.
A description of one of the homes might be of interest. A friend of ours owned a claim shanty that stood on the hill west of what is now Saunders, or Twenty-fourth street, and he very kindly offered it to us, saying he would have it plastered and fixed up. We, of course, accepted it at once and as soon as possible it was made ready and we moved into it late one evening, very happy to have a home. The house consisted of upstairs, downstairs, and a cellar, the upstairs being just high enough for one to stand erect in the center of the room, provided one was not very tall. The stairs were nothing but a ladder, home-made at that, in one corner of the room, held in place by a trunk. It was some time before I succeeded in going up and down gracefully. I happened to be upstairs when our first caller came and in my effort to get down quickly caught my feet in one of the rungs of the ladder and landed on the aforementioned trunk so suddenly that it brought everyone in the room to their feet. It took away all the formality of an introduction.
Mr. and Mrs. Hanscom lived half a mile north of the cottage just described, and had what seemed to others a house that was almost palatial. It contained three rooms, besides a kitchen, and had many comforts that few had in those days, including a cradle, which held a rosy-cheeked, curly-headed baby girl, who90
First State Regent, Nebraska Society, Daughters of the American Revolution.1894-1895
PIONEER WOMEN OF OMAHA
has long since grown to womanhood and had babies of her own. Another home, standing where Creighton College now stands, was built by a nephew of the late Rev. Reuben Gaylord, but was afterwards occupied by Mr. and Mrs. W. N. Byers, who have for many years resided in Colorado. The Gaylords moved from there to a new home at Eleventh and Jackson streets. Their family consisted of three children: Mrs. S. C. Brewster, of Irvington, who is still living at the age of 77 years; a son, Ralph Gaylord; and an adopted daughter, Georgia, who has since died.
A one story house built just in the rear of Tootle and Mauls' store on Farnam, between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets, was kept as a boarding house by Kentucky Wood and his wife. It was considered a high-toned boarding house, although the partitions were made of unbleached cloth and the floor of the dining room was covered with sawdust. Judges Lockwood and Bradley, two of our territorial judges, boarded there and a dinner was given in their honor by the landlord. The invited guests included Governor and Mrs. Cuming, Colonel and Mrs. C. B. Smith, and Dr. Geo. L. Miller. That was the first dinner party ever given in Omaha. Governor and Mrs. Cuming then boarded at the Douglas house, Thirteenth and Harney streets, and their rooms were often filled with the elite of this young and growing city. Mrs. Cuming was very popular in the little gatherings which were frequently held. She was the leading light and was always ready and willing to assist in any good work. Wherever there was sickness she was sure to be found. Mrs. Thomas Davis was another who was always doing little acts of kindness. She was the mother of the late Mrs. Herman Kountze, who, at that time, was the only white little girl in Omaha. Still another who never turned anyone away from her door who needed help was Mrs. E. Estabrook.
Mrs. A. D. Jones, our first postmaster's wife, lived at that time at what was called Park Wild, in a one story log and frame house, which was afterwards occupied by General G. M. Dodge, the distinguished soldier, so well and widely known to the whole country as the chief engineer of the Union Pacific railroad. Among others who were here were Mrs. Edwin Patrick and Mrs. Allen Root, also Mrs. T. G. Goodwill, who lived in the Kentucky Wood house that I have already mentioned. She afterwards built the brick house that still stands near the northwest corner
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of Davenport street, facing south. It is an old landmark near Fifteenth street.
One of the most prominent women of that day was Mrs. John M. Thayer, whose home at that time was said to have been the first civilized appearing home. It was plastered, clapboarded, and shingled. The entire community envied Mrs. Thayer her somewhat imposing residence. It was in very strong contrast, however, with the beautiful brick house which General Thayer afterwards built and occupied for several years, on the northeast corner of Sixteenth and Davenport streets.
Mrs. Samuel Rogers, Mrs. William Snowden, Mrs. Thomas O'Conner, Mrs. 0. B. Selden, Mrs. Hadley Johnson, and Mrs. Harrison Johnson were among the first women who lived in Omaha. Mrs. A. J. Poppleton may be classed among the number, although at that time she was living in Council Bluffs, then called Kanesville, where she was one of the leading young ladies.
The first hotel in Omaha, a log house, eighteen by twenty feet, one story high, was named the St. Nicholas. It was first occupied by the family of Wm. P. Snowden, and stood on the corner of Twelfth and Jackson streets in 1855. The Douglas house, a two story frame building, was erected at the southwest corner of Thirteenth and Harney streets. The rear part was made of cottonwood slabs, and in the winter time it was said to have been very cold. It was the leading hotel and all the high-toned people stopped there. The Tremont house, between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets, was built in 1856, and opened by Wm. F. Sweezy and Aaron Root. Mr. Sweezy is still living in Omaha. The Farnham, between Thirteenth and Fourteenth on Harney, was built in 1858. The famous Herndon house was built in 1856 by Dr. Geo. L. Miller and Lyman Richardson. The Hamilton, a brick building, was erected in 1856 by C. W. Hamilton, C. B. Smith, and H. M. Judson. The proprietors bought their furniture in St. Louis and brought it to Omaha by steamboat. The upper part of the house was one large bedroom with beds ranged against the walls. About once a week the furniture was all removed from this room and it was temporarily converted into a ballroom.
A PIONEER FAMILY
BY EDITH ERMA PURVIANCE
Dr. Wm. Washington Wiley, with his wife, Gertrude Miranda Wiley, and their children, came to Nebraska July 6, 1857, and lived at Saratoga (now in Omaha) a year and a half. They came from Ohio in covered wagons, driving their cows along. It took two months to make the trip.
They caught up with a company of Mormon emigrants when they reached Iowa City, Iowa, three or four hundred of whom camped along about five miles ahead of the Wiley family. They stopped at Florence a few weeks to buy provisions and teams to carry them across the plains to Utah. These Mormons had two-wheeled carts. These carts were provision carts drawn by both men and women.
Mrs. Wiley was of Holland Dutch descent, and inherited the thrift and capability of her ancestors. She deserved great credit for her quick action in saving one victim from the Claim Club. This Claim Club was an organization of prominent Omaha business men. John Kelly, a nephew of Mrs. Wiley's sister, had a claim of one hundred sixty acres near Omaha. There were four wagonloads of men out looking for him to compel him to give them the papers showing his right to the land. The late Joseph Redman, of Omaha, lived near Mrs. Wiley, and when he saw the men coming for John Kelly he went to Mrs. Wiley and requested her to warn young Kelly, as she could get past the men, but he could not. Mrs. Redman went to Mrs. Wiley's house and took care of the three months' old baby and five other children. John Kelly was working at the carpenter's trade in Omaha, about three miles south of Mrs. Wiley's. All she had to ride was a stallion, of which she was afraid, and which had never been ridden by a woman. She rode slowly until out of sight of the wagonloads of men and then hit the horse every other jump. She made him ran all the way, passing some Indians on the way, who looked at her wonderingly but did not try to stop her. After going to several places she finally located John Kelly.
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He wanted to go to the ferry, but her judgment was better and she said they would look for him there the first thing, which they did. She took him on behind her and rode to the home of Jane Beeson, his aunt, who put him down cellar and then spread a piece of rag carpet over the trap door. The Claim Club men were there several times that day to look for him, but did not search the house. After dark he walked to Bellevue,. twelve miles, and the next morning crossed the Missouri river on the ferry boat and went to Missouri. When his claim papers were returned from Washington he returned and lived on his land without any further trouble. He would have been badly beaten and probably killed had it not been for Mrs. Wiley's nerve and decision in riding a fractious horse to warn him of his danger.
While Dr. and Mrs. Wiley resided at Omaha the territorial lawmakers disagreed, part of them going to Florence to make laws and part of them to Omaha, each party feeling it was the rightful law-making body of the territory.
In December, 1859, the family crossed the Platte river on the ice and located on a farm in Cass county, three miles west of the Missouri river, about three miles southwest of the present town of Murray, although the old town of Rock Bluffs was their nearest town at that time. Dr. Wiley and the older children went on ahead with the household goods and live stock. Mrs. Wiley, with the small children, rode in a one-horse buggy. She did not know the way and there were no fences or landmarks to guide her. She had the ague so badly she could hardly drive the horse. A sack containing $1,800 in gold was tied around her waist. This was all the money they had, and they intended to use it to build a house and barn on their new farm. She objected to carrying so much money, but Dr. Wiley said it was safer from robbers with her than with him. In spite of her illness and the difficulty in traveling in an unknown country a distance of thirty-five or forty miles, she reached the new home safely. She took off the sack of gold, threw it in a corner, and fell on the bed exhausted. They lived all winter in a log house of two rooms. There was a floor and roof, but no ceiling, and the snow drifted in on the beds. Most of the family were sick all winter.
The next summer they built a frame house, the first in that locality, which caused the neighbors to call them "high toned."
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Mrs. Wiley bought a parlor set of walnut furniture, upholstered in green.
General Worth, who had been a congressman, wrote to Washington, D. C., and got the commission, signed by Abraham Lincoln, appointing Dr. Wiley postmaster, the name of the postoffice being Three Groves. They kept the postoffice eleven years.
They kept the stage station five years. It was the main stop between St. Joseph and Omaha before the railroad went through. They had from ten to fifteen people to dinner one coach load. The stage coach was drawn by four horses, and carried both mail and passengers. The horses were changed for fresh ones at the Wiley farm. At first the meals were twenty-five cents; the last two years, fifty cents. This was paid by the passengers and not included in the stage fare.
Shortly after the discovery of Pike's Peak and gold in Colorado, freighters, with big freight wagons of provisions drawn by six or eight oxen, stopped there over night. There were usually twelve men, who slept on the floor, paying eighteen dollars for supper, breakfast, and lodging. Mr. McComas and Mr. Majors (father of Col. Thomas J. Majors) each had freight wagons starting at Nebraska City and taking the supplies to Denver and Pike's Peak via Fort Kearny, Nebraska. When the Union Pacific railroad was completed in 1869 the freighters had to sell their oxen and wagons, as they could not compete with the railroad in hauling freight.
The Omaha, Pawnee, and Otoe Indians, when visiting other Indians, would stop at Dr. Wiley's and ask for things to eat. Sometimes there would be fifty of them. An old Indian would peer in. If the shade was pulled down while he was looking in he would call the party vile names. If food was given him a dozen more Indians would come and ask for something. If chickens were not given them they helped themselves to all they found straying around. It would make either tribe angry to ask if they were going to visit any other tribe. The Pawnees would say, "Omaha no good"; the Omahas would say, "Pawnee no good.)"
Mrs. Wiley kept a copy of the Omaha Republican, published November 30, 1859. The paper is yellow with age, but well preserved, and a few years ago she presented it to the State His-
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torical Society. it is a four-page paper, the second and third pages being nearly all advertisements. It contains a letter written by Robert W. Furnas, ex-governor of Nebraska, and a long article about the late J. Sterling Morton. This was about the time Mr. Morton tried to claim the salt basin at Lincoln as a preëmption, and wanted to locate salt works there.
Mrs. Wiley always took a great interest in the development of the state; she attended the State Fair almost every year, spending a great deal of time looking over the new machinery.
Dr. Wiley died in 1887 and Mrs. Wiley in 1914. Mrs. Wiley lived to the age of 87 years.
Little Erma Purviance, daughter of Dr. W. E. and Edith E. Purviance, of Omaha, is a great-granddaughter of Mrs. Wiley, and also a namesake. May she possess some of the virtue and intelligence of her ancestor.
NOTE: Mrs. Wiley's two daughters, Araminta and Hattie, were students in the early years at Brownell Hall, then the only means of obtaining an education, as there were very few public schools. Some of the children and grandchildren still live on the lands taken by Dr. and Mrs. Wiley, and have always been among the well-to-do citizens of Cass county.
Mrs. Edith Erma Purviance, the writer of the foregoing article, spent most of her girlhood with her grandmother, who sent her to the State University, where she made good use of her advantages. Other children of Mrs. Wiley were also university students or identified with the various schools of the state. Mrs. A. Dove Wiley Asch, youngest daughter of Mrs. Wiley, now occupies the old home, out of which so recently went the brave pioneer who made it of note among the early homes of the territory. --- HARRIETT S. MACMURPHY.
THE BADGER FAMILY
Lewis H. Badger drove with his parents, Henry L. and Mary A. Badger, from their home in Livingston county, Illinois, to Fillmore county, Nebraska. They had a covered emigrant wagon and a buggy tied behind. Lewis was twelve years old October 5, 1868, the day they crossed the Missouri river at Nebraska City, the nearest railroad station to their future home. The family stayed with friends near Saltillo while H. L. Badger came on with the horse and buggy and picked out his claim on the north side of Fillmore county, it being the northwest quarter of section 2, township 8, range 3, west of the sixth principal meridian.
At that time the claims were taken near the river in order that water might be obtained more easily, and also to be near the railroad which had been surveyed and staked out in the southern edge of York county near the West Blue river.
The Badger family came on to Lincoln, then a mere village, and stopped there. They bought a log chain, and lumber for a door; the window frames were hewed from logs. When they reached the claim they did not know where to ford the river so they went on farther west to Whitaker's and stayed all night. There they forded the river and came on to the claim the next morning, October 20, 1868. There they camped while Mr. Badger made a dugout in the banks of the West Blue river, where the family lived for more than two years. The hollow in the ground made by this dugout can still be seen.
In 1870 H. L. Badger kept the postoffice in the dugout. He received his commission from Postmaster General Creswell. The postoffice was known as West Blue. About the same time E. L. Martin was appointed postmaster at Fillmore. Those were the first postoffices in Fillmore county. Before that time the settlers got their mail at McFadden in York county. Mr. Badger kept the postoffice for some time after moving into the log house and after the establishment of the postoffice at Fairmont.
In 1867 the Indians were all on reservations but by permission
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of the agents were allowed to go on hunting trips. If they made trouble for the settlers they were taken back to the reservations. While the Badgers were living in the dugout a party of about one thousand Omaha Indians came up the river on a hunting trip. Some of their ponies got away and ate some corn belonging to a man named Dean, who lived farther down the river. The man loved trouble and decided to report them to the agent. The Indians were afraid of being sent back to the reservation so the chief, Prairie Chicken, his brother, Sammy White, and seventeen of the other Indians came into the dugout and asked Mr. Badger to write a letter to the agent for them stating their side of the case. This he did and read it to Sammy White, the interpreter, who translated it for the other eighteen. It proved satisfactory to both Indians and agent.
In August, 1869, while Mr. Badger was away helping a family named Whitaker, who lived up the river, to do some breaking, the son, Lewis, walked to where his father was at work, leaving Mrs. Badger at home alone with her four-year-old daughter. About four o'clock it began to rain very hard and continued all night. The river raised until the water came within eighteen inches of the dugout door. The roof leaked so that it was almost as wet inside as out. Mr. Badger and Lewis stayed at the Whitaker dugout. They fixed the canvas that had been the cover of the wagon over the bed to keep Grandmother Whitaker dry and the others sat by the stove and tried to keep warm, but could not. The next morning the men paddled down the river to the Badger dugout in a wagon box. The wagon box was a product of their own making and was all wood, so it served the purpose of a boat.
It should be explained that the reason the roofs of the dugouts and log houses leaked was because of the material used in their construction. Shingles were out of the question to these settlers of small means living one hundred miles from the railroad. There were plenty of trees near the river, so the settlers hewed out logs for ridge poles, then placed willow poles and brush across for a support. On top of that they put dirt and sod. When it rained the water naturally soaked through. The roof would leak for several days after a big rain.
The next dwelling place of the Badger family was a log house built on the south half of the quarter section. For some time
A PIONEER FAMILY
they lived in the log house and kept their stock in the dugout stable on the river bank. Thus they were living during the great April storm of 1873, which lasted for three days. All of the draws and ravines, even the river, were packed full of snow that was solid enough to hold a man up. There was very little snow on the level, it all being in drifts in the low places. The Badgers had a corn field between the log house and the river. While the storm raged Lewis wrapped himself in a blanket, and by following the rows of corn made his way to the dugout stable and fed the horses corn once each day. It was impossible to give them water.
Henry L. Badger was commissioned by Governor Butler the first notary public in Fillmore county. Later he was appointed by acting Governor James, registrar of voters for the election to be held April 21, 1871, to elect officers for the new county. At that election he was elected both county clerk and county surveyor.
In the late sixties when the county was first settled the country abounded in buffalo, deer, antelope, elk, prairie chickens, wild geese, ducks, and turkeys. The muddy stream known as West Blue river was clear and the fish found in it were not of the same variety as those caught now. Wild plums grew in abundance along the river bank and were much larger and of finer quality than the wild plums of today. In those days glass jars for canning were not as plentiful as now, so they picked the plums late in the fall, put them in a barrel and poured water over them and kept them for winter use.
Lewis Badger tells of going on buffalo hunts with his father and seeing herds of thousands of the big animals, and driving for ten hours through the herd. He has now an old silver half dime that he found in an abandoned stage station on the Oregon trail, when on a buffalo hunt.
In early days the settlers did lots of trapping. The Indians were frequent visitors and one time an Indian went with Mr. Badger and his son to look at their traps. In one trap they found a mink. Mr. Badger remarked that they got a mink in that same trap the day before. The Indian said, "Him lucky trap." The Indian would not steal but he wanted the lucky trap, so the next day that trap was gone and another in its
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place. The Indian seemed to get the best of the bargain for it is a fact that they never caught a thing in the trap he left.
Sammy and Luke White, brothers of chief Prairie Chicken of the Omahas, frequently visited the early settlers. Sammy could talk English and was a good interpreter. He told of a big Indian battle in the western part of the state wherein the Sioux and Cheyenne, and Omahas, Otoes, Poncas, and Pawnees all took part and fought for two days and only killed two Indians. His brother, Prairie Chicken, killed one of the Indians and scalped him in the midst of the battle. For that act of bravery he was made a chief. After telling the story of his brother, when asked about himself, Sammy very modestly said, "Me 'fraid, me run."
On one of Mr. Badger's hunting trips he killed a deer. When it was dressed Lewis was sent to the Whitaker dugout with a quarter of the meat. An Indian, Pawnee Jack, happened to be there at the time and it stormed so they had to keep him all night, much to their disgust. Evidently he enjoyed their hospitality, especially the venison, for when they started him on the next morning he inquired where the "papoose" lived that brought the "buckskin," meaning the venison. They told him and he made straight for the Badger dugout and the "buckskin." It stormed so they were forced to keep him there two nights before sending him on.
Although most painfully familiar to every early settler, no pioneer story is complete without the grasshoppers. They came in herds and droves and ate every green thing. For days great clouds of them passed over. The next year they hatched out in great numbers and flew away without hurting anything. Mr. Badger had a nice young orchard that he had planted and tended. The grasshoppers ate the leaves off the trees and as it was early in August they leaved out again and were frozen so they died. Snakes feasted on the hoppers. Since seeing a garter snake at that time just as full of grasshoppers as it could possibly be, Lewis Badger has never killed a snake or permitted one to be killed on his farm. He declared that anything that could make away with so many grasshoppers should be allowed to live. Many people asked for and received the so-called "aid for grasshopper sufferers." In this section of the country it
A PIONEER FAMILY
seemed absolutely unnecessary as there had been harvested a good crop of wheat, previous to the coming of the hoppers.
In 1871 the railroad was built through the county. That season Lewis Badger sold watermelons, that he had raised, to the construction gang at work on the road. The town of Fairmont was started the same year. In those days the settlers would walk to town. It was nothing unusual for Mr. and Mrs. Badger and Lewis to walk to Fairmont, a distance of six miles.
When the Badger family settled on their claim, they planted a row of cottonwood trees around it. These trees have made a wonderful growth. In 1911 part of them were sawed into lumber. There are two especially large cottonwood trees on the farm. One measures twenty-six feet in circumference at the base and nineteen feet around five feet above the ground and runs up forty feet before it begins to branch out. The other is thirty-three feet around the base but branches into three trees four feet above the ground.
Mrs. H. L. Badger was a witness of the first wedding in the county, that of Wm. Whitaker and Sabra Brumsey, which took place June 28, 1871. The ceremony was performed by the first county judge, Wm. H. Blaine, who stayed all night at the Badger home and attended the wedding the next day.
Mrs. H. L. Badger died January 11, 1894, and Mr. Badger July 21, 1905. The son Lewis and family still own and farm the old homestead.
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