RANCHING IN GAGE AND JEFFERSON COUNTIES
BY PETER JANSEN
I came to Beatrice, Nebraska, in 1874, after having been through Minnesota, Dakota, and Kansas, looking for a place where a settlement of our people, the Mennonites, could be established. Of all the land I had looked over, I liked southeastern Nebraska best, and the little town of Beatrice on the banks of the Big Blue, then consisting of maybe fifty dwellings and a few stores on lower Court street, seemed very picturesque and attractive. After forty yews I have not changed my opinion. We found a suitable tract of prairie just across the line in Jefferson county, which we bought of the Burlington and Missouri River railroad at $3.50 per acre on easy payments. Beatrice remained our chief place of business. Smith Brothers had just started a banking business in one-half of a little shack, the other half being occupied by a watchmaker carrying a small stock of jewelry. Klein & Lang had a general store on the corner of Second and Court streets, and here we did nearly all of our trading. The "Pacific House" on Second street was the only hotel. Here I made headquarters for some time. Mr. and Mrs. Randall, the hosts, were very kind to me. The latter died a few years later in the prime of her life.
We soon commenced to build up what was for years known as "Jansen's Ranch," about twenty miles southwest of Beatrice, and stock it with sheep, which we brought from Wisconsin. The first summer I had a temporary sheep corral about where the West Side schoolhouse now stands. We used to drive from the ranch to Beatrice diagonally across the prairie; very few section lines had been established, and there was only one house between the two points.
Major Wheeler, of stage route fame, lived at the Pacific house and took a kindly interest in the young emigrant boy. I remember on one occasion I had brought in a carload of valuable breeding sheep and quartered them for the night in the corral of the livery stable across the street from the hotel, ran then
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by S. P. Lester. I was afraid of strange dogs attacking them, and sat up all night on the porch watching. In the morning, while washing up in the primitive wash-room, I overheard the major telling Mr. Randall about it. He concluded by saying: "That young fellow is all right; a boy who sits up all night with a few sheep will certainly succeed." I felt proud over the praise, and it encouraged me very much.
We were told by the few settlers who had preceded us that the upland prairie would not grow anything and that the bottom land was the only place where crops could be raised with any assurance of success. However, we were going to try farming, anyway. I bought a yoke of young oxen and a breaking plow and started in. The oxen were not well broken, and the plow was new and would not scour. Besides, I did not know anything about breaking prairie or driving oxen. The latter finally became impatient and ran away, dragging the plow with them. It was a hot day in May, and they headed for a nearby slough, going into the water up to their sides. I had by that time discarded my shoes and followed them as fast as I could. When I reached the slough, quite out of breath and thoroughly disgusted, I sat down and nearly cried and wished I were back in Russia where I did not have to drive oxen myself. About this time the nearest neighbor, a Mr. Babcock, living four miles away, happened along driving a team of old, well broken oxen. He asked what my trouble was, and after I told him in broken English, he said: "Well, Pete, take off your trousers and go in and get your oxen and plow out, and I will help you lay off the land and get your plow agoing," which he did, and so started me farming.
My younger brother, John, and I bached it for two years. One of us would herd the sheep and the other stay at home and do the chores and cooking. We took turns about every week. We had a room partitioned off in the end of the sheep shed, where we lived.
Game was plentiful those days, and during the fall and winter we never lacked for meat.
I had by that time, I regret to say, acquired the filthy American habit of chewing (I have quit it long since), and enjoyed it very much while doing the lonely stunt of herding the flock.
One day we had gotten a new supply of groceries and also a
RANCHING IN GAGE AND JEFFERSON
big plug of what was known as "Star" chewing tobacco. Next morning I started out on my pony with the sheep, the plug in my pocket, and anticipating a good time. Soon a severe thunder storm came up, and lightning was striking all around me. I felt sure I would be hit and they would find me dead with the big plug of tobacco in my pocket. My mother knew nothing of my bad habit, and I also knew that it would nearly kill her to find out, so I threw the plug far away and felt better - for awhile. The clouds soon passed away, however, and the sun came out brightly and soon found me hunting for that plug, which, to my great disappointment, I never recovered.
Those early winters, seems to me, were severer than they are now, and the snow storms or blizzards much fiercer, probably because the wind had an unrestricted sweep over the vast prairies.
In a few years our flocks had increased, so that we built a corral and shed a mile and a half away, where we kept our band of wethers and a herder.
About Christmas, I think it was in 1880, a blizzard started, as they usually did, with a gentle fall of snow, which lasted the first day. During the night the wind veered to the north, and in the morning we could not see three rods; it seemed like a sea of milk! We were very anxious to know the fate of our herder and his band of sheep, and towards noon I attempted to reach them, hitching a pair of horses to a sleigh and taking a man along. We soon got lost and drove around in a circle blinded by the snow, for hours, my companion giving up and resigning himself to death. We probably would have both perished had it not been for the sagacity of my near horse, to which I finally gave the reins, being benumed myself. He brought us home, and you may believe the barking of the shepherd dogs sounded very musical to me as we neared the barn.
We got our fuel from the Indian reservation about eight miles south of us on the creek, where now stands the thriving town of Diller. The Indians were not allowed to sell any timber, but a generous gift of tobacco was too tempting to them to resist.
Rattlesnakes were found frequently in those days, and their venomous bites caused great agony and sometimes death. One Sunday afternoon, wife and myself were sitting on the porch of our small frame house, while our baby was playing a few
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feet away in a pile of sand. Our attention was attracted by her loud and gleeful crooning. Looking up, we saw her poking a stick at a big rattler, coiled, ready to spring, about three feet away. I have always detested snakes and would give even a harmless bull-snake a wide berth. However, I took one big jump and landed on Mr. Rattler with both feet, while my wife snatched the baby out of harm's way.
The next ten years made a great change. We had proven that farming on the tablelands could be made a success, railroads had been built, and towns and villages had sprung up like mushrooms. We even got a telephone. The wilderness had been conquered.
When I look back upon those first years of early settlement, with their privations and hardships, I cannot refrain from thinking they were the happiest ones of my life, especially after I got married in 1877 and my dear wife came to share joy and sorrow with me. To her I attribute to a very large extent what little I may have achieved in the way of helping to build up this great commonwealth.
MRS. FRANCES AVERY HAGGARD
Third State Regent, Nebraska Society, Daughters of the American Revolution. 1898
EARLY RECOLLECTIONS OF GAGE COUNTY
BY MRS. E. JOHNSON
Emerson aptly said, "America is another word for opportunity." We realize this most truly when we compare present prosperity with early day living in the middle West.
In 1878 my brother, A. M. McMaster, and family, arrived in Nebraska City. They came overland to Gage county and settled on section 15, two and a half miles northeast of Filley and one mile south of what was then known as Melroy postoffice, so-called in honor of two little boys born the same year the postoffice was established, Mell Gale and Roy Tinklepaugh, whose parents were among the earliest settlers in this neighborhood.
My brother built his house of lumber he had shipped to Nebraska City. Beatrice was our market place. We sold all our grain, hogs, and produce there. Eggs were five cents a dozen and butter six cents a pound. The first year we came we bought five hundred bushels of corn at twelve cents a bushel delivered, and cribbed it.
There was an Indian trail across the farm, and often the Indians would pass going from the Omaha reservation to the Otoe reservation at Barnston; the children would become frightened and hide under the bed; the Indians would often call and ask for flour and meat.
There was not a house between Elijah Filley's stone barn and Beatrice on the Scott street road, and no bridges. The trail we followed going to Beatrice led us north to Melroy, making the traveling distance one and a half miles farther than in these times of well preserved section lines and graded country roads. This stone barn of Elijah Filley's was an early landmark. I have heard Mr. Filley tell interesting anecdotes of his early years here, one of an Indian battle near the present site of Virginia.
Before the town of Filley was in existence, there was a postoffice called "Cottage Hill," which is shown on old time maps of the state.
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One of the curiosities of the early times was a cow with a wooden leg, running with a herd of cattle. The hind leg was off at the knee joint. She was furnishing milk for the family of her owner, a Mr. Scott living on Mud creek, near the town of Filley.
Mr. Scott often told of pounding their corn to pulverize it. The nearest mill was at Nebraska City. This difficult traffic continued until 1883, when the Burlington came through Filley.
Two or three years after we had located here, two young men came along from Kansas looking for work. My brother was away from home, working at carpentry, and his wife, fearing to be alone, would lock the stair door after they retired and unlock it in the morning before they appeared. They gathered the corn and then remained and worked for their board. One day, one of the young men was taken sick. The other was sent for Dr. Boggs. He lost his way in a raging blizzard and came out five miles north of where he intended to, but reached the doctor and secured medicine, the doctor not being able to go. The next day Dr. Boggs, with his son to shovel through the drifts, succeeded in getting there. The young man grew worse, they sent for his mother, and she came by stage. The storm was so fierce the stage was left there for a week; the horses were taken to Melroy postoffice. The young man died and was taken in the stage to Beatrice to be shipped home, men going with shovels to dig a road. Arriving there it was found that the railroad was blocked. As they could not ship the body, they secured a casket and the next day brought it back to our house. My brother was not at home, and they took the corpse to a neighbor's house. The next day they buried him four miles east, at what is now known as Crab Orchard.
True, life in those days tended to make our people sturdy, independent and ingenious, but for real comfort it is not strange that we prefer present day living, with good mail service, easy modes of transportation, modern houses, and well equipped educational institutions.
BIOGRAPHY OF FORD LEWIS
BY (MRS. D. S.) H. VIRGINIA LEWIS DALBEY
As my father, Ford Lewis, was one of the pioneer land owners in Nebraska and assisted actively in settling the southeast part of the state, I have been requested to give a brief sketch of his life and early experiences in this state. My only regret in writing this is that he is not here to speak for himself. Ford Lewis was born in Deckertown, New Jersey, July 25, 1829, son of Phoebe and Levi Lewis, the latter engaged in mercantile business both in Hamburg and Hackettstown, New Jersey.
After finishing his education at William Rankin's Classical School and studying under Chris Marsh, author of double entry bookkeeping, he assisted his father in the mercantile business for some time. However, he preferred other pursuits and after a successful test of his judgment in real estate, started west. At Syracuse, New York, he was induced to engage in partnership under the name of Chapman & Lewis, watch case manufacturers and importers of watch movements; keeping standard time for the New York Central and other roads and supplying railroad officials, conductors, and engineers with the highest grade of watches.
Selling his interest in 1856, he accepted the general agency of the Morse Publishing House, New York, making his headquarters at Charleston, South Carolina, in winter and at Cleveland, Ohio, in summer, until 1859, when he went to Jerseyville, Illinois, with his parents and sister, buying and selling real estate in that city and Jersey county until 1867, when, with Congressman Robert M. Knapp, he visited Nebraska, and made his first investment in government land, many of his United States patents being signed by Presidents Grant and Johnson.
Ford Lewis was in pioneer days one of the largest owners of farm lands in Nebraska, his holdings being chiefly in Pawnee, Otoe, Gage, Johnson, and Lancaster counties. On one of his advertising cards he states that, "occupied for eighteen years past in the purchase and sale of over 80,000 acres of other lands,
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
these, on account of their well known intrinsic value have been reserved intact."
Mr. Lewis founded the towns of Lewiston in Pawnee county and Virginia in Gage county, naming the latter in honor of his daughter.
At a meeting of the Nebraska legislature held at Omaha in 1867, Mr. Lewis was an interested spectator, and before the capital of the state was changed he predicted its location in the salt basin, almost on the spot where Lincoln now stands. He accordingly purchased property in the vicinity of what is now Beatrice, making a comfortable fortune as the result of his wisdom and foresight. By Ford Lewis' liberality to those purchasing land from him, in selling at reasonable prices, and extending their contracts during hard times, instead of making purchasers forfeit their land because of inability to meet their payments, he encouraged and assisted many settlers who are now some of Nebraska's most prosperous farmers to keep their land, which is now the source of their prosperity. During the period when he was borrowing money for his investments in Nebraska land, many Illinois people remarked that Ford Lewis was "land crazy," but have since wished they had had his vision, and courage to hold their purchases through the crop failures and drouths which are sometimes the portion of every community - those who followed his advice now "rise up and call him blessed."
That he was not alone in his judgment is evidenced by the large land holdings of the late Lord Scully of England and the late John W. Bookwalter of Springfield, Ohio, who recently died in Italy, and was a warm personal friend of my father's, having purchased some of his land from him.
Mr. Lewis married Miss Elizabeth Davis of Jerseyville, Illinois, in 1864. She was the first girl baby born in that town, her parents being among the earliest pioneers there from New Jersey; so her childhood memories of bears, Indians, and slave refugees during the civil war, and roaming the woods surrounding their home prepared her to be a capable and sympathetic helpmate for my father during his many pioneer trips to Nebraska.
A BUFFALO HUNT
BY W. H. AVERY
In the fall of 1866, about the last of October, a party of nine men, myself included, started out from Rose creek for a buffalo hunt. At Whiterock, Kansas, we were joined by another party of four men with "Old Martin Fisher," an early Whiterock settler, as official guide. Our equipment consisted of four wagons, one of which was drawn by a double ox team. There were numerous firearms and plenty of provisions for the trip. The party was much elated over the first day's experiences as night found us in possession of four fine buffalo. That evening while we were riding out after one of the buffalo our ears were greeted by the Indian yell. Looking back up a draw we saw five redmen galloping toward us. At the time we did not know they were friendly, but that was proven later. They came up to us and wanted powder or "bullet" and also wanted to swap guns. All they succeeded in getting was a necktie which one of the men gave them. After a short parley among themselves they left, going back to our camp where we had left one man to guard the camp and prepare supper. There they helped themselves to the loaf of bread the guard had just baked, a $12 coat, a $22 revolver, and one good bridle; away they went and that was the last seen of them. The night was passed in safety and the next day we hunted without any exciting experiences. The following day we met with only fair success so thought we had better start for home. In the morning the party divided, our guide, Fisher, and two men going on and leaving the rest of us to hunt as we went along. We succeeded in getting only one buffalo, but Fisher's men had done better and were ready to make tracks for home. That night they had suspicions that there were Indians near so built no fire and in the morning soon after breaking camp a party of Indians came upon them. There was considerable parleying about a number of things which the Indians wanted but the men were unwilling to make any bargains whatever. All the Indians but one started off and
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this one still wanted to parley and suddenly drew his revolver and shot Fisher in the shoulder. The Indian then rode off at breakneck speed and that was the last seen of them. Fisher warned the men not to shoot as he was uncertain as to how many redmen might be in their vicinity and he did not want to take any great risk of them all being killed. Our party did not know of the accident until we returned home and we had no encounter with the party of Indians. We were thankful to be safely home after a ten days hunt.
A GRASSHOPPER RAID
BY EDNA M. BOYLE ALLEN
Perhaps children who live in a pioneer country remember incidents in their early life better than children living in older settled countries. These impressions stand out clearly and in prominence all the rest of their lives.
At least there are several things which happened before I was six years old that are as vivid in my memory as if they had happened but yesterday. Such was the coming of the grasshoppers in 1874, when I was two years old.
My father, Judge Boyle, then owned the block on the north side of Fifth street between I and J streets, in the village of Fairbury. Our house stood where J. A. Westling's house now stands. Near our place passed the stage road to Beatrice. A common remark then was, "We are almost to Fairbury, there is Boyle's house."
Father always had a big garden of sweet corn, tomatoes, cabbage, etc., and that year it was especially fine.
One day he came rushing home from his office saying, "The grasshoppers are coming." Mother and he hurried to the garden to save all the vegetables possible before the grasshoppers arrived. I put on a little pink sunbonnet of which I was very proud, and went out to watch my parents gather the garden truck as fast as they could and run to the cellar door and toss it down. I jumped up and down thoroughly enjoying the excitement. Finally, the grasshoppers, which were coming from the northwest like a dark cloud, seeming so close, father shut the cellar door before he and mother returned to the garden for another load. They had just filled their arms when the grasshoppers began to drop and not wishing to let any down cellar they threw what vegetables they had on the ground and turned a big wooden wash tub over them. By this time my little pink sunbonnet was covered with big grasshoppers. Mother picked me up in her arms and we hurried into the house. From
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
the north kitchen window we watched every stalk of that garden disappear, even the onions were eaten from the ground.
When father went to get the vegetables from under the wooden tub there wasn't a thing there. The grasshoppers had managed to crawl and dig their way under the edge of that tub.
The only time an Indian ever frightened me was in the fall of 1875. I was used to having the Otoe Indians come to our house. Mother was not afraid of them so of course I was not. Among them was a big fellow called John Little Pipe. The door in the hall of our house had glass in the upper half. One afternoon mother being nearly sick was lying down on the couch and I took my doll trying to keep quiet playing in the hall. Looking up suddenly I saw John stooping and looking in through the glass in the door. I screamed and ran to mother. He didn't like my screaming but followed me into the sitting room and upon seeing mother lying down said, "White lady sick?" Mother was on her feet in a moment. He sat down and after grumbling a while about my screaming he began to beg for a suit of clothes. Mother said, "John, you know well enough you are too large to wear my husband's clothes." Then he wanted something for his squaw and children. Finally mother gave him an old dress of hers. He looked it over critically and asked for goods to patch it where it was worn thin. Grabbing his blanket where it lay across his knees he shook it saying, "Wind, whew, whew." After receiving the patches, he wanted food but mother told him he could not have a thing more and for him to go. He started, but toward the closet he had seen her take the dress from. She said, "You know better than to go to that door. You go out the way you came in." He meekly obeyed. I had seen him many times before and saw him several times afterward but that was the only time I was frightened.
EARLY DAYS IN PAWNEE COUNTY
BY DANIEL B. CROPSEY
In March, 1868, I left Fairbury, Illinois, with my two brothers and a boy friend in a covered wagon drawn by two mules. We landed at Nebraska City after swimming the mules to get to the ferry on which we crossed the Big Muddy. We then drove to Lincoln the first week in April. My father had purchased a home there on the site where the Capital hotel now stands. Lincoln then was but a hamlet of a few hundred people. There were no shade trees nor sidewalks and no railroad. Later father built a larger house, out a considerable distance in those days, but today it faces the capitol building. The house is a brick structure, and all the bricks were hauled from Nebraska City. Afterwards father sold the home to Chancellor Fairfield of the State University.
The year before we came father had come to Nebraska and had bought a large body of land, about ten thousand acres, in Pawnee county. I being the oldest boy in our family, it devolved upon me to go to Pawnee county to look after the land, which was upland and considered by the older inhabitants of little value; but the tract is now worth about a million dollars. Among other duties I superintended the opening up of the lines and plowing out fifty-two miles of hedge rows around and through this land. I am sorry to say that most of the money and labor were lost for prairie fires almost completely destroyed the hedge.
I had many experiences during my two years' sojourn in Pawnee county. The work was hard and tedious. Shelter and drinking-water were scarce --- we drank water from the buffalo wallows or went thirsty, and at times had to brave the storms in the open. The people were poor and many lived in sod houses or "dugouts," and the living was very plain. Meat and fruit were rarities. The good people I lived with did their best to provide, but they were up against it. Grasshoppers and the drouth were things they had to contend with. At times our
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meals consisted of bread and butter and pumpkin, with pumpkin pie for Sunday dinner. The barn we usually carried with us. It consisted of a rope from sixty to a hundred feet long for each mule or horse and was called the lariat. I put the pony one night in the barn across the ravine, I well remember, and in the morning I found a river between the barn and me. A rain had fallen in the night and I had to wait nearly a day before I could get to the pony.
Our only amusement was running down young deer and rabbits and killing rattlesnakes.
We often met the red man with his paint and feathers. He was ever ready to greet you with "How!" and also ready to trade ponies, and never backward about asking for "tobac." As I was neither brave nor well acquainted with the Indians I was always ready to divide my "tobac." Later I found out I was easy, for the boys told me whenever they met the beggar Indian they told him to "puckachee," which they said meant for him to move on.
We had no banks, and we cashed our drafts with the merchants. David Butler was governor at that time. He was a merchant as well, and made his home in Pawnee, so he was my banker. On two occasions I had the pleasure of riding with him in his buggy from Pawnee to Lincoln. It was indeed a privilege to ride in a buggy, for we all rode ponies those days, and I think I was envied by most of the boys and girls of Pawnee. On one of my return trips with the governor my good mother had baked a nice cake for me to take with me, which I put under the seat along with a lot of wines of several kinds and grades which the governor's friends had given him. Of course mother didn't know about the liquids. I'll never forget that trip. We grew very sociable and the Nemaha valley grew wider and wider as we drove along; and when we arrived at Pawnee the next day the cake was all gone, our faces were like full moons, and it was fully a week before I had any feeling in my flesh.
I also well remember the first train which ran between Lincoln and Plattsmouth. That was a great day, and the Burlington excursion was made up of box cars and flat cars with ties for seats. Crowds of young people took advantage of the excursion and we enjoyed it much more than we would today in a well equipped pullman.
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