SOME PERSONAL INCIDENTS
BY W. A. MCALLISTER
My father and family came to Nebraska in 1858, living two years at Genoa. At this time the government assigned what is now Nance county, to the Pawnee Indians, as a reservation. When the white settlers sought other homes our family located eight miles east of Columbus, at McAllister's lake. Every fall my father hired about sixty squaws to husk out his crop of corn. Only one buck ever came to work, and he was always known as "Squaw Charlie" after that. He spoke English quite well. They were slow workers, husking about twenty bushels per day. They were very gluttonous at meals, eating much bread, with meat soup containing potatoes and other vegetables, cooked in large twenty gallon camp kettles. This was supplemented by watermelons by the wagonload. It required a week or ten days to harvest the corn crop. The Indians were very thievish, stealing almost as much as their wages amounted to. During these years I often witnessed their "Medicine Dances."
When fifteen years old I enlisted in Company B, Second Nebraska Cavalry, and went to Fort Kearny. Our company relieved the Tenth Infantry, which went to the front. In less than twenty days this company was nearly annihilated at the battle of Fredericksburg.
While at the fort a buffalo hunt was organized by the officers, and I had an opportunity to go. Our party went south to the valley of the Republican. The first night we camped at the head of the Big Blue, and the second day I noticed south of us, about eight miles distant, a dark line along the horizon extending as far east and west as the eye could reach. I inquired what it was and an old hunter replied "buffaloes." I could not believe him, but in a few hours found he was right, for we were surrounded by millions of them. They were hurrying to the east with a roaring like distant thunder. Our sportsmen moved in a body through the herd looking for calves, not caring to carry back the meat of the old specimens. Strange to say this tre-242
SOME PERSONAL INCIDENTS
mendous herd seemed to be composed of males, for the cows were still on the Oklahoma ranges caring for their calves, until strong enough to tramp north again. We noticed an old fellow making good progress on three legs, one foot having been injured. One of the party wished to dispose of him, but his wooly forehead covered with sand, turned every bullet. Finally the hunter asked me to attract his attention, while he placed a bullet in his heart. In doing this, he almost succeeded in goring my pony, but I turned a second too quickly for him. I was near enough to see the fire flashing from his angry eyes. In a few minutes he fell with a thud.
Several years after the war being over, I worked for the Union Pacific railroad company. At Kearney, in 1869, we met the Buck surveying party, who had come west to lay out, for the government, the lands of the Republican Valley. In this company was a young man from Pontiac, Illinois, named Harry McGregor. He left a home of plenty to hunt buffalo and Indians, but found among other privations, he could not have all the sugar he wished, so at Kearney he decided to leave the party and work with us. This decision saved his life, for the rest of the surveyors, about ten in all, after starting south next morning, were never seen again. They were surprised and killed by the Indians. Their skeletons were found several years later, bleaching on the Nebraska prairie.
MAJOR NORTH'S BUFFALO HUNT
BY MINNIE FREEMAN PENNY
A party under the direction of Major Frank North set out with six wagon teams and four buffalo horses on November 13, 1871, to engage in a buffalo hunt. The other men were Luther North, C. Stanley, Hopkins Brown, Charles Freeman, W. E. Freeman, W. E. Freeman, Jr., and Messrs. Bonesteel, Wasson, and Cook. They camped the first night at James Cushing's ranch, eighteen miles out; the second night at Jason Parker's home at Lone Tree, now Central City, and the third night arrived at Grand Island. On the way to Grand Island one of the party accidentally started a prairie fire six miles east of Grand Island. A hard fight was made and the flames subdued just in time to save a settler's stable.
Leaving Grand Island on the sixteenth they crossed the Platte river and camped on the West Blue. From this point in the journey the party suffered incredible hardships until their return.
About midnight the wind changed to the north, bringing rain and sleet, and inside of an hour a blizzard was raging on the open prairie. The horses were covered with snow and ice and there was no fuel for the fires. The men went out as far as they dared to go for wood, being unsuccessful. It was decided to try to follow the Indian trail south - made by the Pawnee scouts under Major North. Little progress could be made and they soon "struck camp" near some willows that afforded a little protection to their horses and a "windbreak" was made for man and beast. This camp was at the head of the Big Sandy, called by this party the "Big Smoky" for the men suffered agonies from the smoke in the little tipi.
For two days the storm continued in all its terrible force. The wind blew and the air was so full of snow that it was blinding. The cold was intense. The men finally determined to find some habitation at any price and in groups of two and three left camp following the creek where they were sure some one244
MAJOR NORTH'S BUFFALO HUNT
had settled. A sod house was found occupied by two English families who received the party most hospitably. Charles Freeman, older than the other men of the party, suffered a collapse and remained at this home. During the night the storm abated and next morning, finding all the ravines choked with heavy snow drifts, it was decided by vote to abandon the hunt. They dug out their belongings from under many feet of snow, sold their corn to the English families to lighten their load and started back. The journey home was full of accidents, bad roads, and drifted ravines. Reaching the Union Pacific railroad at Grand Island Major North and Mr. Bonesteel returned to Columbus by rail, also Mr. Stanley from Lone Tree. The rest of the party returned by team, arriving on November 24.
Major North admitted that of all his experiences on the prairie - not excepting his years with the Pawnee scouts - this "beat them all" as hazardous and perplexing.
The foregoing is taken from my father's diary.
BY MRS. JAMES G. REEDER
It is almost impossible for people of the present day to realize the hardships and privations that the first settlers in Nebraska underwent. Imagine coming to a place where there was nothing but what you had brought with you in wagons. Add to the discomfort of being without things which in your former home had seemed necessities, the pests which abound in a new country: the rattlesnake, the coyote, the skunk, the weasel, and last - but not least - the flea.
My father, Samuel C. Smith, held the post of "trader" for the Pawnee Indians under Major Wheeler in 1865-66. We lived in a house provided by the government, near the Indian school at Genoa, or "The Reservation," as it was commonly called. I was only a few weeks old, and in order to keep me away from the fleas, a torture to everyone, they kept me in a shallow basket of Indian weave, suspended from the ceiling by broad bands of webbing, far enough from the floor and wall to insure safety.
I have heard my mother tell of how the Indians would walk right into the house without knocking, or press their faces against a window and peer in. They were usually respectful; they simply knew no better. Sometimes in cold weather three or four big men would walk into the kitchen and insist upon staying by the fire, and mother would have hard work to drive them out.
The next year my father moved his family to a homestead two miles east of Genoa where he had built a large log house and stables surrounded by a high tight fence, which was built for protection against the unfriendly Indians who frequently came to make war on the Pawnees. The government at times kept a company of soldiers stationed just north of us, and when there would be an "Indian scare," the officers' wives as well as our few neighbors would come to our place for safety. Major Noyes was at one time stationed there. Firearms of all sorts were al-246
ways kept handy, and my mother could use them as skilfully as my father.
One night my father's barn was robbed of eight horses by the Sioux and the same band took ten head from Mr. Gerrard, who lived four miles east of us. E. A. Gerrard, Luther North, and my father followed their trail to the Missouri river opposite Yankton, South Dakota, and did not see a white man while they were gone. They did not recover the horses, but twenty years after the government paid the original cost of the horses without interest. The loss of these horses and the accidental death of a brother of mine so discouraged my father that he moved to Columbus in 1870.
One of the delights of my childhood were the nights in early autumn when all the neighborhood would go out to burn the grass from the prairie north of us for protection against "prairie fires," as great a foe as was the unfriendly Indian of a few years before.
In the summer of 1874, which in Nebraska history is known as "the grasshopper year," my grandmother, Mrs. William Boone, accompanied by her daughter, Mrs. Mary Hemphill, and granddaughter, Ada Hemphill, came to make us a visit. For their entertainment we drove in a three-seated platform spring wagon or carryall to see the Indians in their village near Genoa. Their lodges were made of earth in a circular form with a long narrow entrance extending out like the handle of a frying pan. As we neared the village we came upon an ordinary looking Indian walking in the road, and to our surprise my father greeted him very cordially and introduced him to us. It was Petalesharo, chief of the Pawnees, but without the feathers and war-paint that I imagined a chief would always wear. He invited us to his lodge and we drove to the entrance, but my grandmother and aunt could not be persuaded to leave the surrey. My cousin, being more venturesome, started in with my father, but had gone only a few steps when she gathered up her skirts and cried, "Oh, look at the fleas! Just see them hop!" and came running back to the rig, assuring us she had seen enough. The Indians must have taken the fleas with them when they moved to Oklahoma, for we seldom see one now.
EARLY DAYS IN POLK COUNTY
BY CALMAR MCCUNE
In the early history of the county, county warrants were thicker than the leaves on the trees (for trees were scarce then), and of money in the pockets of most people there was none. Those were the days when that genial plutocrat, William H. Waters, relieved the necessities of the needy by buying up county warrants for seventy-five cents on the dollar. Don't understand this as a reflection on the benevolent intentions of Mr. Waters, for he paid as high a price as anybody else offered; I mention it only to illustrate the financial condition of the people and the body politic.
Henry Mahan was postmaster and general merchant. The combined postoffice and store which, with a blacksmith shop, constituted the business part of the town of Osceola, was located on the west side of the square. It was a one and one-half story frame and on the second floor was The Homesteader (now the Osceola Record). Here H. T. Arnold, W. F. Kimmel, Frank Burgess, the writer, and Stephen Fleharty exercised their gray matter by grinding out of their exuberant and sometimes lurid imaginations original local items and weighty editorials. In those days if a top buggy was seen out on the open, treeless prairie, the entire business population turned out to watch it and soon there were bets as to whether it came from Columbus or Seward, for then there was not a top buggy in Polk county. The first drug store was opened by John Beltzer, a country blacksmith who suddenly blossomed from the anvil into a full-fledged pharmacist. Doctor Stone compounded the important prescriptions for a while.
I need not try to describe the grasshopper raid of 1874 for the old-timers remember it and I could not picture the tragedy so that others could see it. To see the sun's rays dimmed by the flying agents of destruction; to witness the disappearance of every vestige of green vegetation - the result of a year's labor, which was to most of the inhabitants the only resource against248
EARLY DAYS IN POLK COUNTY
actual want, to see this I say, one must live through it. Many of the early settlers were young people newly married, who had left their homes in the East with all their earthly possessions in a covered wagon, or "prairie schooner" as it was called, and making the trip overland, had landed with barely enough money to exist until the first crop was harvested. Added to the loss and privation entailed by the visitation of the winged host was the constant dread that the next season would bring a like scourge.
On Sunday afternoon, April 13, 1873, I left the farm home of James Bell in Valley precinct for Columbus, expecting to take the train there Monday morning for Omaha. The season was well advanced, the treeless prairie being covered with verdure. It was a balmy sunshiny spring day, as nearly ideal as even Nebraska can produce.
As I left the Clother hotel that evening to attend the Congregational church I noticed that the clouds were banking heavily in the northwest. There was a roll of distant thunder, a flash of lightning, and a series of gentle spring showers followed and it was raining when I went to bed at my hotel. Next morning when I looked out of my window I could not see half-way across the street. The wind was blowing a gale, which drove large masses of large, heavy snow-flakes southward. Already where obstructions were met the huge drifts were forming. This continued without cessation of either snow or wind all day Monday and until late Tuesday night. Wednesday about noon the snow plow came, followed by the Monday train, which I boarded for Omaha. As the train neared Fremont I could see the green knolls peeping up through the snow, and at Omaha the snow had disappeared. There they had had mainly rain instead of snow. I may say that the storm area was not over two hundred miles wide with Clarks as about the center, the volume gradually diminishing each way from that point. It should be borne in mind that the farmers raised mainly spring wheat and oats. These grains had been sown several weeks before the storm and were all up, but the storm did not injure them in the least.
On leaving Omaha a few days later I went to Grand Island. At Gardner's Siding, between Columbus and Clarks, a creek passed under the track. This had filled bank high with snow which now melting, formed a lake. The track being bad the
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
train ran so slowly that I had time to count fifty floating carcasses of cattle upon the surface of the water. This was the fate of many thousands of head of stock.
Nobody dared to venture out into that storm for no human being could face it and live. The great flakes driven by a fifty-mile gale would soon plaster shut eyes, nose and mouth - in fact, so swift was the gale that no headway could be made against it.
In those days merchants hauled their goods from Columbus or Seward and all the grain marketed went to the same points. Wheat only was hauled, corn being used for feed or fuel.
A trip to Columbus and return the same day meant something. A start while the stars still twinkled; the mercury ten, twenty, or even thirty degrees below, was not a pleasure trip, to the driver on a load of wheat. But the driver was soon compelled to drop from the seat, and trudge along slapping his hands and arms against his body to keep from freezing. Leaving home at three or four o'clock in the morning he was lucky if he got home again, half frozen and very weary, several hours after dark. Speaking of exposure to wintry blasts, reminds me of a trip on foot I made shortly after my arrival in Polk county. December 24, 1872, I started to walk from the Milsap neighborhood in Hamilton county, several miles west of where Polk now stands, to the home of William Stevens, near the schoolhouse of District No. 5. It was a clear, bitter cold morning, the wind blowing strongly from the northwest, the ground coated with a hard crust of snow. I kept my bearings as best I could, for it should be remembered that there were no roads or landmarks and I was traveling purely by guess. Along about mid-day I stumbled upon a little dugout, somewhere north of where Stromsburg now stands - the first house I had seen. On entering I found a young couple who smiled me a welcome, which was the best they could do, for, as I saw from the inscriptions on a couple of boxes, they were recent arrivals from Sweden. The young lady gave me some coffee and rusks, and I am bound to say that I never tasted better food than that coffee and those rusks. I did not see another house until I reached the bluffs, where, about sunset, I was gladdened by the sight of the Stevens house in the valley, a couple of miles distant. When I finally
EARLY DAYS IN POLK COUNTY
reached this hospitable home the fingers of both hands were frozen and my nose and ears badly frosted.
In the early days we traveled from point to point by the nearest and most direct route, for while the land was being rapidly taken up, there were no section line roads. Whenever the contour of the land permitted, we angled, being careful to avoid the patches of cultivated land. There were no trees, no fences, and very few buildings, so, on the level prairie, nothing obstructed the view as far as the eye could carry. The sod houses and stables were a godsend, for lumber was very expensive and most of the settlers brought with them lean purses. It required no high-priced, skilled labor to build a "soddy," and properly built they were quite comfortable.
When I grow reminiscent and allow my mind to go back to those pioneer days, the span of time between then and now seems very brief, but when I think longer and compare the then with the now, it seems as though that sod house-treeless-ox. driving period must have been at least one hundred years ago. It is a far cry from the ox team to the automobile.
BY MRS. THYRZA REAVIS ROY
In March, 1865, my husband, George Roy, and I started from our home in Avon, Illinois, to Nebraska territory. The railroad extended to St. Joseph, Missouri. There they told us we would have to take a steamboat up the Missouri river to Rulo, forty miles from St. Joseph. We took passage on a small steamboat, but the ice was breaking up and the boat ran only four miles up the river. They said it was too dangerous to go farther so told us we would have to go back or land and get some one to drive us to Rulo, or the Missouri side of the river across from Rulo. We decided to land, and hired a man to drive us across country in an old wagon. It was very cold and when we reached the place where we would have to cross the Missouri, the ice was running in immense blocks. It was sunset, we were forty miles from a house on that side of the river. There was a man on the other side of the river in a small skiff. Mr. Roy waved to him and he crossed and took us in. Every moment it seemed those cakes of ice would crush the little skiff, but the man was an expert dodger and after a perilous ride he let us off at Rulo. By that time it was dark. We went to a roughly boarded up shanty they called a tavern. It snowed that night and the snow beat in on our bed. The next morning we hired a man to take us to Falls City, ten miles from Rulo. Falls City was a hamlet of scarcely three hundred souls. There was a log cabin on the square; one tiny schoolhouse, used for school, Sunday school, and church. As far as the eye could reach, it was virgin prairie.
There was very little rain for two years after we came. All provisions, grain, and lumber were shipped on boats to Rulo. There was only an Indian trail between Rulo and Falls City. Everything was hauled over that trail.
After the drouth came the grasshoppers, and for two years they took all we had. The cattle barely lived grazing in the Nemeha valley. All grain was shipped in from Missouri.
The people had no amusements in the winter. In the summer252
MRS. CHARLES OLIVER NORTON
Tenth State Regent, Nebraska Society, Daughters of the American Revolution.1911-1912
they had picnics and a Methodist camp-meeting, on the Muddy River north of Falls City.
Over the Nemaha river two and one-half miles southwest of Falls City, on a high hill above the falls from which the town was named, was an Indian village. The Sac and Foxes and Iowa Indians occupied the village. Each spring and fall they went visiting other tribes, or other tribes visited them. They would march through the one street of Falls City with their ponies in single file. The tipi poles were strapped on each side of the ponies and their belongings and presents, for the tribe they were going to visit, piled on the poles. The men, women, and children walked beside the ponies, and the dogs brought up the rear. Sometimes, when the Indians had visitors, they would have a war-dance at night and the white people would go out to view it. Their bright fires, their scouts bringing in the news of hostile Indians in sight, and the hurried preparations to meet them, were quite exciting. The Indians were great beggars, and not very honest. We had to keep things under lock and key. They would walk right into the houses and say "Eat!" The women were all afraid of them and would give them provisions. If there was any food left after they had finished their eating, they would take it away with them.
Their burying-ground was very near the village. They buried their dead with all accoutrements, in a sitting posture in a grave about five feet deep, without covering.
The Indians cultivated small patches of land and raised corn, beans, pumpkins, etc. A man named Fisher now owns the land on which the Indians lived when I reached the country.
The people were very sociable. It was a healthy country, and we had health if very little else. We were young and the hardships did not seem so great as they do in looking backward fifty years.
NOTE - Thyrza Reavis Roy was born August 7, 1834, in Cass county, Illinois, the daughter of Isham Reavis and Mahala Beck Reavis. Her great-grandfather, Isham Reavis, fought in the war of the Revolution. Her grandfather, Charles Reavis, and her own father, Isham Reavis, fought in the war of 1812. She is a real daughter of the war of 1812. She is a member of the U. S. Daughters of 1812, a member of the Deborah Avery Chapter D. A. R. of Lincoln, and a member of the Territorial Pioneers Association of Nebraska. Her husband, George Roy, died at Falls City March 2, 1903.
© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller