BEGINNINGS OF FAIRBURY
BY JOSEPH B. MCDOWELL
In the fall of 1868 my brother, W. G. McDowell, and I started from Fairbury, Illinois, for Nebraska. Arriving at Brownville, we were compelled to take a stage for Beatrice, as the only railroad in the state was the Union Pacific.
Brownville was a little river village, and Tecumseh was the only town between Brownville and Beatrice. It probably had one hundred inhabitants. There was only one house between it and Beatrice. The trip from Brownville to Beatrice took two days with a night stop at Tecumseh. The scenery consisted of rolling prairie covered with buffalo grass, and a few trees along the banks of Rock creek. We stopped for dinner at a house a few miles northeast of the present site of Endicott, where the Oregon trail stages changed horses.
On our arrival at Beatrice we found a little village of about three hundred inhabitants. The only hotel had three rooms: a reception room, one bedroom with four beds - one in each corner - and a combination dining-room and kitchen. There was a schoolhouse fourteen by sixteen feet, but there were no churches. We bought a few town lots, entered two or three sections of land, and decided to build a stone hotel, as there was plenty of stone along the banks of the Blue river, and in the water.
We then took a team and spring-wagon and started to find a location for a county-seat for Jefferson county. We found the land where Fairbury is now located was not entered, so we entered it with the intention of making it the county-seat.
On our return to Beatrice we let the contract for the stone hotel, which still stands today. We returned to Illinois, but the following February of 1869 1 came back to look after the building of the hotel. I bought a farm with buildings on it, and began farming and improving the land I had entered. In the summer of 1869 my brother came out again, and we drove over to lay out the county-seat of Jefferson county, which we named
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
after Fairbury, Illinois, with the sanction of the county commissioners. We shipped the machinery for a sawmill to Waterville, Kansas, and hauled it to Fairbury with teams. Judge Mattingly bought it and sawed all the lumber that was used for building around Fairbury. Armstrong Brothers started a small store in a shack.
About 1870, I came over from Beatrice and built the first store building, on the east side of the square, which was replaced a few years ago by the J. D. Davis building. The Fairbury Roller Mill was built in 1873 by Col. Andrew J. Cropsey. I bought his interest in 1874 and have had it ever since. In 1880 I came to make my home in Fairbury and have watched its steady growth from its beginning, to our present thriving and beautiful little city of 1915.
EARLY EXPERIENCES IN NEBRASKA
BY ELIZABETH PORTER SEYMOUR
In the spring of 1872, we came from Waterloo, Iowa, to Plymouth, Nebraska. My husband drove through, and upon his arrival I came by train with my young brother and baby daughter four months old.
When my husband came the previous fall to buy land, there was no railroad south of Crete, and he drove across the country, but the railroad had since been completed to Beatrice. There was a mixed train, with one coach, and I was the only lady passenger. There was one young girl, who could not speak any English, but who had a card hung on her neck telling where she was to go. The trainmen held a consultation and decided that the people lived a short distance from the track, in the vicinity of Wilber, so they stopped the train and made inquiries. Finding these people expected someone, we waited until they came and got the girl. My husband met me at Beatrice, and the next morning we started on a fourteen-mile drive to Plymouth, perched upon a load of necessaries and baggage.
We had bought out a homesteader, so we had a shelter to go into. This consisted of a cottonwood house fourteen by sixteen feet, unplastered, and with a floor of rough boards. It was a dreary place, but in a few days I had transformed it. One carpet was put on the floor and another stretched overhead on the joists. This made a place to store things, and gave the room a better appearance. Around the sides of the room were tacked sheets, etc., making a white wall. On this we hung a few pictures, and when the homesteader appeared at the door, he stood amazed at our fine appearance. A rude lean-to was built to hold the kitchen stove and work-table.
Many times that summer a feeling of intense loneliness at the dreary condition came over me, but the baby Helen, always happy and smiling, drove gloom away. Then, in August, came the terrible blow of losing our baby blossom. Cholera infantum was the complaint. A young mother's ignorance of remedies,
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
and the long distance from a doctor, caused a delay that was fatal.
Before we came, the settlers had built a log schoolhouse, with sod roof and plank seats. In the spring of 1872, the Congregational Home Missionary Society sent Rev. Henry Bates of Illinois to the field, and he organized a Congregational church of about twenty-five members, my husband and myself being charter members. For a time we had service in the log schoolhouse, but soon had a comfortable building for services.
Most of the land about Plymouth was owned by a railroad company, and they laid out a townsite, put up a two-story schoolhouse, and promised a railroad soon. After years of waiting, the railroad came, but the station was about two miles north. Business went with the railroad to the new town, and the distinction was made between New Plymouth and Old Plymouth.
Prairie chickens and quail were quite abundant during the first years, and buffalo meat could often be bought, being shipped from the western part of the state. In the droves of cattle driven past our house to the Beatrice market, I have occasionally seen a buffalo.
Deer and wolves were sometimes seen, and coyotes often made havoc with our fowls, digging through the sod chicken house to rob the roosts. Rattlesnakes were frequently killed and much dreaded, but deaths from the bite were very rare, though serious illness often resulted.
Prairie fires caused the greatest terror, and the yearly losses were large. Everyone plowed fire guards and tried to be prepared, but, with tall grass and weeds and a strong wind, fire would he carried long distances and sweep everything before it with great rapidity.
Indians frequently camped on Cub creek for a few days in their journey from one reservation to another to visit. They would come to the houses to beg for food, and, though they never harmed us, we were afraid of them. More than once I have heard a slight noise in my kitchen, and on going out, found Indians in possession; they never knocked. I was glad to give them food and hasten their departure.
In the summer of 1873, quite a party of us went to the Otoe reservation to see just how the Indians lived. We had two covered wagons and one provision wagon. We cooked our food by
EARLY EXPERIENCES IN NEBRASKA
a camp-fire, slept out of doors, and had a jolly time. We spent nearly one day on the reservation, visiting the agent's house and the school and peering into the huts of the Indians. At the schoolhouse the pupils were studious, but several of them had to care for papooses while studying, and the Indians were peering into the doors and windows, watching proceedings. Most of the Indians wore only a blanket and breech cloth, but the teacher was evidently trying to induce the young pupils to wear clothes, and succeeded in a degree. One boy amused us very much by wearing flour sacks for trousers. The sacks were simply ripped open at the end, the stamps of the brand being still upon them, one sack being lettered in red and the other in blue. Preparations were going on for a visit to the Omahas by a number of braves and some squaws, and they were donning paint and feathers. The agent had received some boxes of clothing from the East for them, which they were eager to wear on their trip. Not having enough to fit them out, one garment was given to each, and they at once put them on. It was very ludicrous to see them, one with a hat, another with a shirt, another with a vest, etc. At last they were ready and rode away on their ponies. As we drove away, an Indian and squaw, with papoose, were just ahead of us. A thunder storm came up, and the brave Indian took away from the squaw her parasol and held it over his head, leaving her unprotected.
Although the settlers on the upland were widely scattered, they were kind and neighborly, as a rule - ready to help each other in all ways, especially in sickness and death. One Thanksgiving a large number of settlers brought their dinners to the church, and after morning services enjoyed a good dinner and social hour together. That church, so important a factor in the community in early days, was disbanded but a few years ago. Pioneer life has many privations, but there are also very many pleasant experiences.
BY MRS. C. F. STEELE
Calvin F. Steele came to Nebraska in March, 1871, staying for a little time in Beatrice. He heard of a new town just starting called Fairbury. Thinking this might be a good place for one with very little capital to start in business, he decided to go there and see what the prospects were. Nearly all of the thirty-three miles was unbroken prairie, with no landmarks to guide one. Mr. Steele had hired a horse to ride. Late in the afternoon the sky was overcast and a storm came up. He saw some distance ahead of him a little rise of ground, and urging his horse forward he made for that, hoping he might be able to catch sight of the town he sought. To his surprise he found himself on top of a dugout.
The man of the house came rushing out. Mr. Steele explained and asked directions, only to find he was not near Fairbury as he he hoped. He was kindly taken in for the night, and while all slept in the one room, that was so clean and comfortable, and the welcome so kindly, a friendship was started that night, a friendship that grew and strengthened with the years and lasted as long as E. D. Brickley, the man of the dugout, lived.
I arrived in Fairbury the first day of May, 1871. The morning after I came I counted every building in the town, including all outbuildings having a roof. Even so I could only bring the grand total up to thirty.
That summer proved a very hot one - no ice, and very few buildings had a cellar. We rented for the summer a little home of three rooms. The only trees in sight were a few cottonwoods along the ravine that ran through the town and on the banks of the Little Blue river. How to keep milk sweet or butter cool was a problem. At last I thought of our well, still without a pump. I would put the eatables in a washboiler, put the cover on, tie a rope through the handles, and let the boiler down into the well. In late September a lady told me as her husband was going away she would bring her work and sit with me. I per-166
suaded her to stay for supper. I intended to have cold meat, a kind of custard known as "floating island"; these with milk and butter were put down the well. After preparing the table I went out and drew up my improvised refrigerator, and removing the cover went in with milk and butter. Returning almost instantly, the door closed with a bang and frightened a stray dog doubtless attracted by the smell of meat. He started to run and was so entangled in the ropes that as far as I could see, dog, boiler, and contents were still going.
The whole thing was so funny I laughed at the time, and still do when I recall that scene of so long ago.
HOW THE SONS OF GEORGE WINSLOW FOUND THEIR
BY MRS. C. F. STEELE AND GEORGE W. HANSEN
Statement by Mrs. Steele
I have been asked to tell the story of how the sons of George Winslow found their father's grave.
In April, 1911, it was my pleasure and privilege to go to Washington to attend the national meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I went in company with Mrs. C. B. Letton as well as a number of other delegates from different parts of the state. While passing around to cast our votes for president general, an eastern lady noticing our badges exchanged greetings with some of our delegates and expressed a wish to meet some one from Fairbury. She was told that Fairbury had a delegate and I was called up to meet Mrs. Henry Winslow of Meriden, Connecticut. She greeted me cordially, saying her husband's father was a "Forty-niner" and while on his way to California was taken sick, died, and was buried by the side of the Oregon trail. In February, 1891, a letter appeared in a Boston paper from Rev. S. Goldsmith of Fairbury, Nebraska, saying that he had seen a grave with the inscription "Geo. Winslow, Newton, Ms. AE. 25" cut on a crude headstone, and that he was ready to correspond with any interested party as to the lone grave or its silent occupant. This letter came to the notice of the sons of George Winslow, and they placed Mr. Goldsmith in communication with David Staples, of San Francisco, California, who was a brother-in- law of George Winslow and a member of the same company on the overland journey to California.
Mr. Staples wrote him about the organization of the company, which was called the "Boston and Newton Joint Stock Association," and the sickness and death of George Winslow; but after this they heard nothing further from the Nebraska man.
Mrs. Winslow asked me if I knew anything of the grave. I168
MRS. CHARLES B. LETTON
Eighth State Regent, Nebraska Society, Daughters of the American Revolution.1907-1908
THE SONS OF GEORGE WINSLOW
did not, but promised to make inquiries regarding it on my return home.
Soon after reaching home, Judge and Mrs. Letton came down from Lincoln and as guests of Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Hansen we were all dining together. The conversation turned to the trip Mrs. Letton and I had enjoyed together, and we told the story of the talk with Mrs. Winslow. To my great surprise and pleasure Judge Letton said, "Why, Mrs. Steele, I remember seeing, many years ago, close by the Oregon trail, somewhere near the head of Whiskey Run, a grave marked with a red sandstone, and it is probably the grave you are searching for. I believe Mr. Hansen can find it."
A few days after this Mr. Hansen reported the finding of the grave. He said the headstone had been knocked down by a mower and dragged several rods away, and that he had replaced it upon the grave; that the inscription on the stone was as distinct as though freshly cut. I at once wrote to Mrs. Winslow, giving her the facts, and telling her Mr. Hansen would gladly answer any questions and give such further information as she might wish.
The grateful letter I received in reply more than compensated me for what I had done.
Statement by Mr. Hansen
Upon a beautiful swell of the prairie between the forks of Whiskey Run, overlooking the charming valley of the Little Blue river, in a quiet meadow, five miles north and one mile west of Fairbury, close to the "old legitimate trail of the Oregon emigrants," is a lone grave marked with a red sandstone slab, twenty inches in height, of equal width, and six inches thick, on which is carved "Geo. Winslow, Newton, Ms. AE. 25."
Through this meadow untouched by the plow may still be seen the deep, grass-grown furrows of the Oregon trail; and when George Winslow's companions laid him at rest by its side, they buried him in historic ground, upon earth's greatest highway.
To the honor of George Winslow's comrades be it said they loved him so well that in their grief the feverish haste to reach the gold fields was forgotten, and every member did what he could to give him Christian burial and perpetuate his memory. They dug his grave very deep so that neither vandals nor wolves
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
would disturb him. They searched the surrounding country and found, two miles away, a durable quality of sandstone, which they fashioned with their rude tools for his monument, his uncle Jesse Winslow carving with great care his name, home, and age, and on a footstone the figures 1849. This service of love rendered him that day gave to his sons their father's grave, and enabled us sixty-three years afterwards to obtain the story of his life, and the story of the journey of his company to California.
Of all the thousands of men who were buried by the side of the old trail in 1849 and 1850, the monument of George Winslow alone remains. All the rest, buried in graves unmarked or marked with wooden slabs, have passed into oblivion.
In June, 1912, it was my pleasure to meet George Winslow's sons, George E. of Waltham, Massachusetts, and Henry 0. at the home of the latter in Meriden, Connecticut. They were intensely interested in the incident of their father's death and in the protection of his grave. It was planned that they should obtain a granite boulder from near their father's home in which the old red sandstone set up by his companions in 1849 might be preserved, and a bronze tablet fashioned by Henry 0. Winslow's hands placed upon its face. This has been done, and the monument was unveiled on October 29, 1912, with appropriate ceremonies.
I learned from them that Charles Gould, then in the eighty-ninth year, the last survivor of the party, lived at Lake City, Minnesota. Mr. Gould kept a record of each day's events from the time the Boston and Newton Joint Stock Association left Boston until it arrived at Sutter's Fort, California. A copy of this interesting diary and a copy of a daguerrotype of Mr. Gould taken in 1849 are now in the possession of the Nebraska State Historical Society. The original letter written by George Winslow to his wife Eliza from Independence, Missouri, May 12, 1849, and the letter of Brackett Lord written at Fort Kearny June 17, 1849, describing Winslow's sickness, death, and burial, and a copy of a daguerrotype of George Winslow taken in 1849, were given me by Mr. Henry 0. Winslow to present to the Nebraska State Historical Society.
From the Winslow memorial published in 1877, we learn that George Winslow was descended from Kenelm Winslow of Dort-
THE SONS OF GEORGE WINSLOW
witch, England, whose two sons Edward and Kenelm emigrated to Leyden, Holland, and joined the Pilgrim church there in 1617. Edward came to America with the first company of emigrants in the Mayflower, December, 1620, and was one of the committee of four who wrote the immortal compact or Magna Charta. He became governor of Plymouth colony in 1833. His brother Kenelm came to America in the Mayflower with the long hindered remainder of the Pilgrim church on a later voyage.
His son Kenelm Winslow was born at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1635. His son, Josiah Winslow, born 1669, established the business of cloth dressing at Freetown, Massachusetts. His son James Winslow, born 1712, continued his father's business, and was a colonel in the second regiment Massachusetts militia. His son Shadrach Winslow, born 1750, graduated at Yale in 1771 and became an eminent physician. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary war, being a gentleman of independent fortune, he fitted out a warship or a privateer, and was commissioned to attack the enemy on the high seas. He was captured off the coast of Spain, and confined in a dismal prison ship where he suffered much. His son Eleazer Winslow, born 1786, took up his abode in the Catskill mountains with a view to his health and while there at Ramapo, New York, on August 11, 1823, his son George Winslow was born.
The family moved to Newton, Mass., now a suburb of Boston, where George learned his father's trade, that of machinist and molder. In the same shop and at the same time, David Staples and Brackett Lord, who afterwards became brothers-in-law, and Charles Gould were learning this trade
George Winslow was married in 1845. His first son, George Edward, was born May 15, 1846. His second son Henry O., was born May 16, 1849, the day the father left the frontier town of Independence, Missouri, for California.
The Boston and Newton Joint Stock Association consisted of twenty-five picked young men from Newton and the vicinity of Boston, each member paying $300 into the treasury. The incidents along the journey we obtain from Mr. Gould's excellent journal. They left Boston, April 16, 1849, traveling by rail to Buffalo, taking the steamer Baltic for Sandusky, Ohio, and then by rail to Cincinnati, where they arrived April 20, at 9:00 o'clock p. m.
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
They left Cincinnati April 23rd, on the steamer Griffin Yeatman for St. Louis, and arrived there April 27th, then by steamer Bay State, to Independence, Missouri. The boat was crowded principally with passengers bound for California. A set of gamblers seated around a table well supplied with liquor kept up their game all night. Religious services were held on board on the Sabbath, Rev. Mr. Haines preaching the sermon. the usual exciting steamboat race was had, their boat leaving the steamer Alton in the rear, where, Mr. Gould remarks "we think she will be obliged to stay."
On May 3rd, they landed at Independence, Missouri, and began preparations for the overland journey. In the letter written by George Winslow to his wife, he says:
"We have no further anxiety about forage; millions of buffalo have feasted for ages on these vast prairies, and as their number have been diminished by reason of hunters, it is absurd to think we will not have sufficient grass for our animals. . .
"We have bought forty mules which cost us $50 apiece. I have been appointed teamster, and had the good luck to draw the best wagon. I never slept better in my life. I always find myself in the morning --- or my bed, rather --- flat as a pan cake. As the dam thing leaks just enough to land me on terra firma by morning, it saves me the trouble of pressing out the wind; so who cares. . .
"Sunday morning, May 13, 1849. This is a glorious morning and having curried my mules and washed my clothes and bathed myself, I can recommence writing to you Eliza. . .
"We engaged some Mexicans to break the mules. To harness them they tied their fore legs together and threw them down. The fellows then got on them and wrung their ears, which like a nigger's shin, is the tenderest part. By that time they were docile enough to take the harness. The animals in many respects resemble sheep, they are very timid and when frightened will kick like thunder. They got six harnessed into a team, when one of the leaders, feeling a little mulish, jumped right straight over the other one's back. One fellow offered to bet the liquor that he could ride an unbroken one he had bought; the bet was taken --- but he had no sooner mounted the fool mule than he landed on his hands and feet in a very undignified manner; a roar of laughter from the spectators was his
THE SONS OF GEORGE WINSLOW
reward. I suppose by this time you have some idea of a mule. . .
"I see by your letter that you have the blues a little in your anxiety for my welfare. I do not worry about myself, then why do you for me? I do not discover in your letter any anxiety on your own account; then let us for the future look on the bright side and indulge in no more useless anxiety. It effects nothing, and is almost universally the bugbear of the imagination. . . The reports of the gold region here are as encouraging as they were in Massachusetts. Just imagine to yourself seeing me return with from $10,000 to $100,000. . ."
On May 16th this company of intrepid men started out upon the long overland trail to California. They traveled up the Kansas river, delayed by frequent rains and mud hub deep, reaching the lower ford of the Kansas on the 26th, having accomplished about fifty miles in ten days. The wagons were driven on flatboats and poled across by five Indians. The road now becoming dry, they made rapid progress until the 29th, when George Winslow was suddenly taken violently sick with the cholera. Two others in the party were suffering with symptoms of the disease. The company remained in camp three days and the patients having so far recovered, it was decided to proceed. Winslow's brothers-in-law, David Staples and Brackett Lord, or his uncle, Jesse Winslow, were with him every moment, giving him every care. As they journeyed on he continued to improve. On June 5th they camped on the Big Blue, and on the 6th, late in the afternoon, they reached the place where the trail crosses the present Nebraska-Kansas state line into Jefferson county, Nebraska. Mr. Gould writes: "About a half hour before sunset a terrific thunder shower arose, which baffles description, the lightning flashes dazzling the eyes, and the thunder deafening the ears, and the rain falling in torrents. It was altogether the grandest scene I have ever witnessed. When the rain ceased to fall the sun had set and darkness closed in."
To this storm is attributed George Winslow's death. The next morning he appeared as well as usual, but at 3 o'clock became worse, and the company encamped. He failed rapidly, and at 9 o'clock a. m., the next day, the 8th of June, 1849, painlessly and without a struggle, he sank away as though going to sleep. He was taken to the center of the corral, where funeral
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
services were performed, by reading from the scriptures by Mr. Burt, and prayer by Mr. Sweetser. He was then borne to the grave by eight bearers, and followed by the rest of the company. Tears rolled down the cheeks of those strong men as each deposited a green sprig in the open grave.
For him the trail ended here - in these green pastures. All the rest of his company traveled the long old trail across plains, mountains, and deserts, and reached the fabled gardens and glittering sands of El Dorado, only to find them the ashes of their hopes. He alone of all that company was never disillusioned.
© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller