TWO SEWARD COUNTY CELEBRATIONS
BY MRS. S. C. LANGWORTHY
I recall one reminiscence of my early life in Nebraska which occurred in 1876, when we first located in Seward. We could have gone no farther, even had we wished, as Seward was then the terminus of the Billings line of the Burlington railroad.
We soon learned that a county celebration was to be held on the fourth of July, and I naturally felt a great curiosity to know how a crowd of people would look to whom we had been sending boxes of clothing and bedding in response to appeals from the grasshopper sufferers. My surprise cannot be imagined when I saw people clothed as well as elsewhere and with baskets filled with an abundance of good things for a picnic dinner.
The same pretty grove in which this gathering occurred thirty-nine years ago is now our beautiful city park, where during the summer of 1914 our commercial club gave an old-time barbecue costing the members twelve hundred dollars. They secured the state band and fine speakers, and served a bounteous dinner to about fifteen thousand people. Everything was free to all who came, and a happier crowd can not be imagined. I speak of this because in the years to come it will be a pleasant reminiscence to many who may have been present.
NOTE - Elizabeth C. (Bennett) Langworthy, fourth state regent of the Nebraska Society D. A. R., is a daughter of Jacob and Caroline (Valentine) Bennett. Her paternal grandfather was also Jacob Bennett, a soldier in the Revolutionary war. He was taken prisoner and held in an English ship off the coast of Quebec, for some time. Mrs. Langworthy was born in Orleans county, New York, in 1837. The family moved to Wisconsin in 1849, and the daughter finished her education at Hamline University, then located at Red Wing, Minnesota. In 1858 she was married to Stephen C. Langworthy, and in 1876 became a resident of Seward, Nebraska. Mr. Langworthy died March 3, 1904.
Mrs. Langworthy has been active and prominent in club work, and is widely known. She served for five years as a member of the school board at Seward, and organized the History and Art Club of Seward of which she was president for several years. She was the first secretary of the State Federation of Woman's Clubs, and was elected president in 1898. Mrs. Langworthy is the mother of six children.254
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COMPILED BY MARGARET HOLMES CHAPTER D. A. R.
Seward county shared with other counties all of the privations and experiences of pioneer life, though it seems to have had less trouble with hostile Indians than many localities in the state.
The struggles of pioneer settlers in the same country must necessarily be similar, though of course differing in detail. The first settlers deemed it important to locate on a stream where firewood could be obtained, and they were subject to high waters, prairie fires, constant fear of the Indian, and lack of provisions.
At one time the little band of settlers near the present site of Seward was reduced to one pan of corn, though they were not quite as reduced as their historic Pilgrim forefathers, when a load of provisions arrived that had been storm-bound.
Reminiscences are best at first hand, and the following letters, taken from the History of Seward County by W. W. Cox, recount some of the incidents of early pioneer life by those who really lived it.
Mrs. Sarah F. Anderson writes as follows:
"At the time of the great Indian scare of 1864, my father's family was one of the families which the Nebraska City people had heard were killed. It had been rumored throughout the little settlement that there were bands of hostile Indians approaching, and that they were committing great depredations as they went.
"One Sunday morning my uncle and Thomas Shields started down the river on a scouting expedition. After an all-day search, just at nightfall, they came suddenly upon an Indian camp. The men thought their time had come, but the redskins were equally scared. There was no chance to back out, and they resolved to know whether the Indians were friendly or hostile. As they bravely approached the camp, the Indians began to halloo, 'Heap good Omaha!' The men then concluded to camp over night with them, and they partook of a real Indian supper.255
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The next morning they went home satisfied that there were no hostile Indians in the country.
"A day or two after this, my father (William Imlay) and his brothers were on upper Plum creek haying, when grandfather Imlay became frightened and hastened to our house and said the Indians were coming upon the settlement. He then hurried home to protect his own family. About three o'clock in the afternoon we saw a band of them approaching. They were about where the B. & M. depot now stands. We were living about eighty rods above the present iron bridge. My mother, thinking to escape them, locked the cabin door, and took all the children across the creek to the spring where she kept the milk. To kill time, she commenced churning. Very soon, four Indians (great, big, ugly creatures) came riding up to the spring and told mother that she was wanted over to the house. She said, 'No, I can't go; I am at work.' But they insisted in such a menacing manner that she felt obliged to yield and go. They said, 'Come, come,' in a most determined manner. The children all clinging to her, she started, and those great sneaking braves guarded her by one riding on each side, one before, and one behind. Poor mother and we four children had a slim show to escape. They watched our every movement, step by step. When we reached the cabin, there sat sixteen burly Indians in a circle around the door. When we came up, they all arose and saluted mother, then sat down again. They had a young Indian interpreter. As they thought they had the family all thoroughly frightened, the young Indian began in good shape to tell just what they wanted. They would like to have two cows, two sacks of flour, and some meat. Mother saw that she must guard the provisions with desperation, as they had cost such great effort, having been hauled from the Missouri river. The Indians said, 'The Sioux are coming and will take all away, and we want some.' 'No,' said mother, 'we will take our cattle and provisions and go to Plattsmouth.' 'But,' said the Indian, 'they will be here tonight and you can't get away.' Mother at this point began to be as much angry as frightened. 'I will not give you anything. You are lying to me. If the Sioux were so close, you would all be running yourselves.' At this point another brave, who had been pacing the yard, seeing mother grow so warm, picked up our axe and marched straight up to her and
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threw it down at her feet. She picked it up and stood it beside her. Mother said afterward that her every hair stood on end, but knowing that Indians respect bravery, she resolved to show no cowardice. We could all see that the whole river bend was swarming with Indians. Mother said with emphasis, 'I now want you to take your Indians and be gone at once.' Then they said, 'You are a brave squaw,' and the old chief motioned to his braves and they marched off to camp. The next day our family all went over to Plum creek and remained until things became settled.
"The following winter father was at Omaha attending the legislature; and I am sure that over a thousand Indians passed our place during the winter. It required pluck to withstand the thievish beggars. Sometimes they would sneak up and peep in at the window. Then others would beg for hours to get into the house.
"A great amount of snow had fallen, and shortly after father's return home, a heavy winter rain inundated all the bottom lands. We all came pretty near being drowned but succeeded in crawling out of the cabin at the rear window at midnight. Our only refuge was a haystack, where we remained several days entirely surrounded by water, with no possible means of escape. Mr. Cox made several attempts to rescue us. First he tried to cross the river in a molasses pan, and narrowly escaped being drowned, as the wind was high and the stream filled with floating ice. The next day he made a raft and tried to cross, but the current was so rapid he could not manage it. It drifted against a tree where the water was ten feet deep, and the jar threw him off his balance, and the upper edge of the raft sank, so that the rapid current caught the raft and turned it on edge against the tree. Mr. Cox caught hold of a limb of the tree and saved himself from drowning. A desperate struggle ensued but he finally kicked and stamped until the got the raft on top of the water again, but it was wrong side up. We then gave up all hopes of getting help until the water subsided. The fourth day, tall trees were chopped by father on one side and by Mr. Cox on the other, and their branches interlocked, and we made our escape to his friendly cabin, where we found a kindly greeting, rest, food, and fire."
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The following from the pen of Addison E. Sheldon is recorded in the same History of Seward County:
"My recollections of early Seward county life do not go back as far as the author's. They begin with one wind-blown day in September, 1869, when I, a small urchin from Minnesota, crossed the Seward county line near Pleasant Dale on my way with my mother and step-father (R. J. McCall), to the new home on the southeast quarter of section 18, town. 9, range 2 east - about three miles southeast of the present Beaver Crossing. Looked back upon now, through all the intervening years, it seems to me there never was an autumn more supremely joyous, a prairie more entrancing, a woodland belt more alluring, a life more captivating than that which welcomed the new boy to the frontier in the beautiful West Blue valley. The upland 'divides' as I remember them were entirely destitute of settlement, and even along the streams, stretches of two, three, and five miles lay between nearest neighbors.
"What has become of the Nebraska wind of those days? I have sought it since far and wide in the Sand Hills and on the table lands of western Nebraska - that wind which blew ceaselessly, month after month, never pausing but to pucker its lips for a stronger blast! Where are the seas of rosin-weed, with their yellow summer parasols, which covered the prairie in those days? I have sought them too, and along gravelly ridges or some old ditch yet found a few degenerate descendants of the old-time host.
"Mention of merely a few incidents seeming to hold the drama and poetry of frontier life at that time: 'Pittsburgh, the city of vision, at the junction of Walnut creek and the West Blue, inhabited by a population of 20,000 people, with a glass factory, a paper factory, a brick factory, oil wells, a peat factory, woolen mills, junction of three railway lines, metropolis of the Blue Valley.' All this and so much more that I dare not attempt to picture it; a real existence in the brain of Christopher Lezenhy in the years of 1871-72. What unwritten dramas sleep almost forgotten in the memories of early settlers! When Mr. Lezenby began to build his metropolis with the assistance of Attorney Boyd of Lincoln and a few other disinterested speculators, he was the possessor of several hundred acres of land, some hundreds of cattle, and other hundreds of hogs, and a fair, unmar-
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ried daughter. What pathetic memories of the old man, month after month, surveying off his beautiful farm into city lots for the new metropolis, while his cattle disappeared from the prairies and his swine from the oak thickets along the Walnut; with sublime and childish simplicity repeating day after day the confession of his faith that 'next week' work would begin; 'next week' the foundation for the factories would he laid; 'next week' the railway surveyors would set the grade stakes. And this real rural tragedy lasted through several years, ending in the loss of all his property, the marriage of his daughter to Irwin Stall, and the wandering forth of the old man until he died of a broken heart in California.
"One monument yet remains to mark the site and perpetuate the memory of Pittsburgh, a flowing well, found I think at the depth of twenty-eight feet in the year 1874 and continuously flowing since that. Strange that no one was wise enough to take the hint and that it was twenty years later before the second flowing well was struck at Beaver Crossing, leading to the systematic search for them which dotted the entire valley with their fountains.
"There were no high water bridges across the West Blue in those days. I remember acting as mail carrier for a number of families on the south bank of the Blue during the high waters of two or three summers, bringing the mail from the city of Pittsburgh postoffice on the north bank. A torn shirt and a pair of short-legged blue overalls - my entire wardrobe of those days - were twisted into a turban about my head, and plunging into the raging flood of the Blue which covered all the lower bottoms, five minutes' vigorous swimming carried me through the froth and foam and driftwood to the other side where I once more resumed my society clothes and, after securing the mail, upon my return to the river bank, tied it tightly in the turban and crossed the river as before.
"I remember my first lessons in political economy, the fierce fight between the northern and the southern parts of the county upon the question of voting bonds to the Midland Pacific railway during the years 1871-72. It was a sectional fight in fact, but in theory and in debate it was a contest over some first principles of government. The question of the people versus the corporation, since grown to such great proportions, was then
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first discussed to my childish ears. One incident of that contest is forever photographed on my brain - a crowd of one hundred farmers and villagers lounging in the shadow of T. H. Tisdale's old store. A yellow-skinned, emaciated lawyer from Lincoln who looked, to my boyish vision, like a Chinese chieftain from Manchuria, was speaking with fluent imaginative words in favor of the benefits the people of Seward county might secure by voting the bonds. This was H. W. Sommerlad, registrar of Lincoln land office. A short Saxon opponent, Rev. W. G. Keen of Walnut creek, was picked from the crowd by acclamation to reply to the Lincoln lawyer. The impression of his fiery words denouncing the aggressions of capital and appealing to the memories of the civil war and the Revolutionary fathers to arouse the people's independence is with me yet.
"Next in the economic vista is the old Brishin sod schoolhouse east of Walnut creek where a grange was organized. Here a lyceum was held through several winters in which the debates were strongly tinctured with the rising anti-monopoly sentiment of those hard times. George Michael and Charley Hunter, leaders of the boyish dare-deviltry of those days, were chosen as judges upon the debates in order to insure their good behavior, and they gravely decided for the negative or affirmative many deep discussions of doubtful themes.
"Beaver Crossing in the early days was remarkable for the great number of boys in its surrounding population, and I have observed in these later years when visiting there, that the custom of having boy babies in the family does not appear to have entirely gone out of fashion. That great swarm of restless boy population which gathered, sometimes two hundred strong, Saturday afternoons on the Common! What 'sleights of art and feats of strength' went round! What struggles of natural selection to secure a place upon the 'First Nine' of the baseball team! For years Beaver Crossing had the best baseball club in three or four counties, and some of her players won high laurels on distant diamonds.
"One custom which obtained in those frontier days seems to have been peculiar to the time, for I have not found it since in other frontier communities. It was the custom of 'calling off' the mail upon its arrival at the postoffice. The postmaster, old
SEWARD COUNTY REMINISCENCES
Tom Tisdale - a genuine facsimile of Petroleum V. Nasby - would dump the sacks of mail, brought overland on a buckboard, into a capacious box upon the counter of his store, then pick up piece by piece, and read the inscriptions thereon in a sonorous voice to the crowd, sometimes consisting of one or two hundred people. Each claimant would cry out 'Here!' when his name was called. Sometimes two-thirds of the mail was distributed in this way, saving a large amount of manual labor in pigeonholing the same. Nasby had a happy and caustic freedom in commenting upon the mail during the performance, not always contemplated, I believe, by the United States postal regulations.
A woman's handwriting upon a letter addressed to a young man was almost certain to receive some public notice from his sharp tongue, to the great enjoyment of the crowd and sometimes the visible annoyance of the young man. At one time he deliberately turned over a postal card written by a well- known young woman of Beaver Crossing who was away at school, and on observing that the message was written both horizontally and across, commented, 'From the holy mother, in Dutch.' If I should ever meet on the mystic other shore, which poets and philosophers have tried to picture for us, old Tom Tisdale, I would expect to see him with his spectacles pushed back from his nose, 'calling off' the mail to the assembled spirits, the while entertaining them with pungent personal epigrams.
"One startling picture arises from the past, framed as Browning writes 'in a sheet of flame'- the picture of the great prairie fire of October, 1871, which swept Seward county from south to north, leaving hardly a quarter section of continuous unburnt sod. A heavy wind, increasing to a hurricane, drove this fire down the West Blue valley. It jumped the Blue river in a dozen places as easily as a jack rabbit jumps a road. It left a great broad trail of cindered haystacks and smoking stables and houses. A neighbor of ours who was burnt out remarked that he had 'been through hell in one night,' and had 'no fear of the devil hereafter.'
"At the other end of the scale of temperature are recollections of the 'Great Storm' of April 13, 14, 15, 1873. There burst from a June atmosphere the worst blizzard in the history of the state. For three days it blew thick, freezing sleet, changing to snow so close and dense and dark that a man in a wagon vainly
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looked for the horses hitched to it through the storm. Men who were away from home lost their lives over the state. Stock was frozen to death. In sod houses, dugouts, and log cabins settlers huddled close about the hearth, burning enormous baskets of ten-cent corn to keep from freezing.
"In these later years of life, Fate has called me to make minute study of many historical periods and places. Yet my heart always turns to review the early scenes of settlement said civilization in Seward county with a peculiar thrill of personal emotion and special joy in the risen and rising fortunes of those who there built the foundations of a great commonwealth. No land can be dearer than the land of one's childhood and none can ever draw my thoughts further over plain or ocean than the happy valley upon West Blue whose waters spring spontaneously from beneath the soil to water her fortunate acres."
BY GRANT LEE SHUMWAY
On September 15, 1885, I crossed the Missouri river at Omaha, and came west through Lincoln. The state fair was in full blast but our party did not stop, as we were bound for Benkleman, Parks, and Haigler, Nebraska.
After looking over Dundy county, Nebraska, and Cheyenne county, Kansas, the rest of the party returned to Illinois.
I went to Indianola, and with Mr. Palmatier, I started for the Medicine. He carried the mail to Stockville and Medicine, which were newly established postoffices in the interior to the north, and his conveyance was the hind wheels of an ordinary wagon, to which he had fashioned a pair of thills. He said that he was using such a vehicle because it enabled him to cut off several miles in the very rough country through which we passed.
The jolting was something fierce, but being young and used to riding in lumber wagons, I did not mind. I was very much interested in everything, but the things that linger most clearly in my mind after all these years are the bushy whiskered, hopeful faces of the men who greeted us from dugouts and sod cabins. The men's eyes were alight with enthusiasm and candor, but I do not remember of having seen a woman or child upon the trip.
It seems that men can drop back into the primitive so much more easily than women: not perhaps with all the brutality of the First Men, but they can adjust themselves to the environment of the wilderness, and the rusticity of the frontier, with comparative ease.
I stopped for the night in Hay cañon, a branch of Lake cañon, at Hawkins brothers' hay camp, and I remember when they told me that they had three hundred tons of hay in the stack, that it seemed almost an inconceivable quantity. On our old Illinois farm twenty-five or thirty tons seemed a large amount, but three hundred tons was beyond our range of reasoning. However,263
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we now stack that much on eighty acres in the Scottsbluff country.
In due time I went on over the great tableland to the city of North Platte, and going down the cañon on the south side of the south river, I killed my first jack rabbit, an event which seemed to make me feel more of a westerner than any circumstance up to that time.
My first impression of North Platte, with its twelve saloons, was not of the best. And my conception of Buffalo Bill dropped several notches in esteem when I saw the Wild West saloon. But in the light of years, I am less puritanical in my views of the first people of the plains. In subsequent years I rode the range as a cowboy, and drove twenty-mule teams with a single line and a blacksnake, and while always I remained an abstainer and occasionally found others that did likewise, I learned to tolerate, and then enjoy, the witticisms and foolishness of those that did indulge. Sometimes the boys in their cups would "smoke up" the little cities of the plains, but they never felt any resentment if one of their number did not participate in their drinking and festive sports.
I spent the winter of 1885 on the ranch of Hall & Evans, near North Platte, and one of the pleasantest aquaintanceships of my life has been that of John Evans, now registrar of the land office at North Platte.
In the spring of '86 the constant stream of emigrant wagons going west gave one an impression that in a little time the entire West would be filled, and I grew impatient to be upon my way and secure selections. In May I arrived at Sidney and from there rode in a box car to Cheyenne. When we topped the divide east of Cheyenne, I saw the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies for the first time.
During the summer I "skinned mules," aiding in the construction of the Cheyenne & Northern, now a part of the Hill system that connects Denver with the Big Horn basin and Puget sound.
Returning to Sidney in the autumn, I fell in with George Hendricks, who had been in the mines for twenty years and finally gave it up. We shoveled coal for the Union Pacific until we had a grub stake for the winter. I purchased a broncho, and upon him we packed our belongings - beds, blankets, tarpaulin,
provisions, cooking utensils, tools, and clothing, and started north over the divide for "Pumpkin creek," our promised land. In a little over a day's travel, one leading the horse and the other walking behind to prod it along, we reached Hackberry canon, and here, in a grove by a spring, we built our first cabin.
Three sides were log, the cracks filled with small pieces of wood and plastered with mud from the spring, and the back of the cabin was against a rock, and up this rock we improvised a fireplace, with loose stones and mud.
When we had rigged a bunk of native red cedar along the side of this rude shelter, and the fire was burning in our fireplace, the coffee steaming, the bread baking in the skillet, the odor of bacon frying, and the wind whistling through the treetops, that cabin seemed a mighty cozy place.
We could sometimes hear the coyotes and the grey wolves howl at night, but a sense of security prevailed, and our sleep was sound. Out of the elements at hand, we had made the rudiments of a home on land that was to become ours - our very own - forever.
EARLY DAYS IN STANTON COUNTY
Statement by Andrew J. Bottorff
I came to Nebraska at the close of the civil war, having served during the entire campaign with the Seventeenth Indiana regiment. I came west with oxen and wagon in the fall of 1866, bringing my family. We wintered at Rockport, but as soon as spring opened went to Stanton county, where I took a homestead. Here we had few neighbors and our share of hardships, but thrived and were happy.
One day I heard my dogs barking and found them down in a ravine, near the Elkhorn river, with an elk at bay, and killed him with my axe.
The first year I was appointed county surveyor. Having no instruments at hand, I walked to Omaha, over a hundred miles distant, and led a fat cow to market there. I sold the cow but found no instruments. I was told of a man at Fort Calhoun who had an outfit I might get, so wended my way there. I found E. H. Clark, who would sell me the necessary supplies, and I bought them; then carried them, with some other home necessities obtained in Omaha, back to Stanton, as I had come, on foot, I am now seventy-five years old, and have raised a large family; yet wife and I are as happy and spry as if we had never worked, and are enjoying life in sunny California, where we have lived for the last ten years.
With my wife and two small children I reached Omaha, Nebraska, June 26, 1868. We came direct from Norway, having crossed the stormy Atlantic in a small sailboat, the voyage taking eight weeks.
A brother who had settled in Stanton county, 107 miles from Omaha, had planned to meet us in that city. After being there a few days this brother, together with two other men, arrived and we were very happy. With two yoke of oxen and one team of horses, each hitched to a load of lumber, we journeyed from266
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Omaha to Stanton county. Arriving there, we found shelter in a small dugout with our brother and family, where we remained until we filed on a homestead and had built a dugout of our own.
We had plenty of clothing, a good lot of linens and homespun materials, but these and ten dollars in money were all we possessed.
The land office was at Omaha and it was necessary for me to walk there to make a filing. I had to stop along the way wherever I could secure work, and in that way got some food, and occasionally earned a few cents, and this enabled me to to purchase groceries to carry back to my family. There were no bridges across rivers or creeks and we were compelled to swim; at one time in particular I was very thankful I was a good swimmer. A brother-in-law and myself had gone to Fremont, Nebraska, for employment, and on our return we found the Elkhorn river almost out of its banks. This frightened my companion, who could not swim, but I told him to be calm, we would come to no harm. I took our few groceries and our clothing and swam across, then going back for my companion, who was a very large man, I took him on my back and swam safely to the other shore.
While I was away, my family would be holding down our claim and taking care of our one cow. We were surrounded by Indians, and there were no white people west of where we lived.
In the fall of 1869 we secured a yoke of oxen, and the following spring hauled home logs from along the river and creek and soon had a comfortable log house erected.
Thus we labored and saved little by little until we were able to erect a frame house, not hewn by hand, but made from real lumber, and by this time we felt well repaid for the many hardships we had endured. The old "homestead" is still our home, but the dear, faithful, loving mother who so bravely bore all the hardships of early days was called to her rich reward January 28, 1912. She was born June 15, 1844, and I was born October 14, 1837.
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