Written by Mrs. Mary E. Reynolds for the book - "HISTORY OF THE ELKHORN VALLEY" published by C. H. Scoville in 1892
Submitted by Gene Bang - Fremont, Dodge County, Nebraska
Nebraska Ancestree Fall 1987 Vol.10 No.2 pg.67-68
Transcribed by Kathie Harrison - December 11, 2000
By permission of the Nebraska State Genealogical Society
At the close of a long dusty days drive from Omaha in August 1857, Fremont first appeared to my view. A few words will describe it. Six or eight log cabins scattered on either side of Military Avenue, and about a score of haystacks; only that and nothing more. Not a tree or shrub; the blue sky overhead. The prairie stretching away in every direction, far as the eye could reach, underneath your feet. Nothing that could be called inviting met the eye. We were indeed on the frontier. But we were young people in those days, full of hope and courage, with life all before us to do with it as we might.
Perhaps to the housekeepers of the present day a few reminiscences of the trials and hardships of those days may prove interesting. You will, of course, readily see that by the time a pioneer had his home built and a team and farming implements purchased, there was but little money left. The first year there is no income, and but very little the second year. To find daily bread and butter became a hard task. In speaking of those days I must draw largely upon my own experience for facts; but what was characteristic of my own case was so of my neighbors in a greater or less degree. Our dwellings were log cabins a story and a half high; the floors of rough cottonwood boards put down just as they came from the mill. They shrunk so badly in a few weeks after being laid that the spaces between the boards bade fair to rival the width of the boards themselves! The wind, which blew incessantly, came through the cracks in such force that in winter time it was impossible to keep the dwelling warm.
Few of us possess carpets; those of us who did not used to buy rush mats which the squaws made, and which answered very well while they lasted. One winter I covered my floor with buffalo robes (of these every settler had a supply), purchasing them from the Indians who lived south of the Platte River. I used also to buy buffalo moccasins of the squaws and wear them over my shoes in the winter, which, though awkward and clumsy, were quite comfortable. Of clothing , most of us brought a bountiful supply from the East, so did not suffer in that respect. But the larder, to keep that filled with the most common articles of every-day use was beyond most of us. Omaha was the base of our supplies, and it took three days to make the trip, one to go down, one to do the trading in, and the third to drive home. So our shopping expeditions were few and far between. As long as a cent remained in the purse the first year we lived comfortable, but there came a day, alas, when the purse became empty - not only that but the flour barrel also; and the coffee canister, and the tea canister, also the sugar bucket. In fact we had nothing in the house but potatoes and salt.
We had a quantity of corn we procured of the Indians, a much softer variety of corn than the dent of corn today, and it made a fine meal. But there was no mill to grind it nearer than Bellevue, south of Omaha, and we could not wait for a team to make the trip there and back, so an uncle with an inventive turn of mind took a tin milkpan, and with a nail punched the bottom full of holes, as close together as they could possibly be put. Turning the pan upside down upon the table, the ears were scraped backward and forward over the rough surface and the particles thus scraped off formed the meal, which made all the bread we had for many days. I might add, for the benefit of the cooks of today, that having no cow, we had no milk or butter; owning no hens we had no eggs. That cornbread was mixed with water and a little saleratus was added. I will not vouch for its lighness!
There were plenty of wild plums and grapes on the banks of the Elkhorn and Maple Creek, but as few of us had the sugar necessary to preserve them, we made but little use of them. In the spring of 1858 we were made happy by receiving from the Agricultural Department of Washington, D. C., packages of sorghum seed, which were planted and tended with zealous care. Our townsman, Robert KITTLE, made a small mill for crushing the cane. A number of the women went to the fields and helped strip the leaves from the stalk, in order to prepare it for crushing the cane. The juice was then boiled down, in shallow tin pans, and we felt rich indeed in the possession of a few gallons of sorghum, which was the only sweetening of any kind I had in the house that winter. In those days there was no electric light, no gas, no kerosene oil. A good mother in the far East, in packing a box of household articles to send to her newly married daughter, added a pair of brass candlesticks that had lain in the attic of the old home for many years. A sister in helping to pack asked what that was done for. The good mother replied: "In all probability they do not use gas on the Great American Desert."
With the box came a letter saying: "Do tell us what you use for lights." The reply back - "Candles, I make them myself -dips." On the lot directly east of the present Congregational Church in Fremont and where stands the residence of Mr. BRUNER, stood a log cabin built by the BOWMAN, and which for many years was occupied as a "Bachelor's Hall", to accomodate the many young men who were here and who could not find homes in our small cabins. So they clubbed together and kept house for themselves. There was no Chinese laundry - no washerwoman at that time! Most of these young men had come from comfortable homes in the far-away East, and as long as there remained a clean garment in the trunk, packed by a loving mother or a kind sister not a thought was given to the future cleanliness of their wearing apparel.
But there came a day when it was evident that, if they had any more clean clothes, some washing must be done, and by themselves too. The young housekeeper opposite was asked for the loan of a tub and wash boiler; no instructions were asked, and none volunteered; but as the day began to wane the curiousity of the young housekeeper was aroused as to the cause of the non-appearance of the wash upon the line. Presently one of the number came over and asked what they should do, they feared they had ruined their white shirts. Here I must stop to explain that in those days there were no fancy-colored shirts, no pretty flannels and soft cheviots. The working man's shirt was either of red flannel or a blue and white striped cotton goods, called "Hickory".
The bachelor's, aforesaid, after washing their shirts, enquired of one another what they should do next. One wise youth, with a dim remembrance of his mother's kitchen, asked if they should not be boiled - certainly that was the next process - so into the boiler went white shirts, hickory shirts and flannel shirts, and a thorough boiling for an hour given them. Imagine their dismay on lifting the cover of the boiler, to find everything dyed a nice red, which no amount of rubbing and rinsing could remove. These same bachelor's were given to joking, and the young housekeeper opposite was not infrequently the object of them. For instance, a berry pie, set out of doors for cooling, disappeared mysteriously, just at noon. The bachelor's had pie for dinner, the housekeeper did not!
Early in the fall the young couple had been made a present of a pair of turkeys - the only ones in town, and of course were regarded with a good deal of affection, as visions of turkey for dinner Thanksgiving and Christmas floated before their eyes. But on Christmas night, one of them disappeared, and it was afterwards learned that the bachelors had a fat turkey supper at midnight, to which no guests were invited! That same cabin was the scene of many a dance; what mattered it that the floor was rough, unplaned boards, each separate board curled up on either side--the feet that danced over them were light, and the hearts merry, so such annoyances were not to be thought of.
And as for music, did we not have a fiddler who bore the honorable title of Judge. And besides, our esteemed old friends, Mrs. Theron NYE and her brother S. B. COLSON, with their honored father, who left for that land from which there is no returning many years ago, and who was never happier than when playing "Money Musk" or "Virginia Reel" or "Arkansaw Traveler" for the young people, who gathered at their house to pass away many an otherwise long winter evening.
As there is nothing new under the sun, perhaps it will interest some to say that society reporters lived in those days, which I can prove by relating this little incident. It was decided one night to have a little dance at the cabin home of the bachelors. Gold had just been discovered at Pike's Peak, and emigration had commenced toward the Rocky Mountains. Camp fires could be seen nightly on the outskirts of the village of Fremont. Attracted by the music, a couple of campers came to the door of the cabin and were immediately invited in. Alas! There was no one to tell us but a reporter was among us taking notes. Three months later a paper printed in New Hampshire made its way to our little town. It contained a vivid description of a dance in the "far west". I can remember as if it were but yesterday - a part I will here reproduce for the reader: "Across one end of the cabin was a carpenter's bench, on top of which seated upon an old nail keg, was the fiddler, his head adorned by a white plug hat. Tallow candles, stuck in between the logs, by forked sticks inserted in big potatoes, for candlesticks, lighted the room. Wolf-skins, nailed up to dry, adorned the walls in every direction. The western girls danced about like parched peas in a Dutch oven, while General BLANK was floor manager for the occasion."
Now all this was true, though it did reflect upon the young girls just from the "Hub" of the Universe, who thought they knew all about dancing. These are a few of the happy incidents of the happy long ago. But I must not close without alluding to other phases of life in the pioneer days. Sickness and death came to us then even as now. Having no physicians or nurses, we were obliged to help one another. We watched with the sick by night and did our own housework. Friendships there formed will never be broken while memory is ours.