Centennial History Book
Every community has cherished REMINISCENCES
A FASCINATING PIONEER STORY
by C. D. Hayden, County Surveyor, Frontier County
I have a slim recollection of our arrival at Gothenburg in the spring of 1885, alighting from the Union Pacific emigrant train in the little town that was little more than a siding; Of the long afternoon ride by wagon, southward through the tall waving prairie grasses of the Platte Valley; Up the winding canyon trail amid the endless thickets of blooming wild plum and currants; Westward on the South Plum Creek trail, where Farnam now stands; Of turning to the south about a mile up the creek and following a divide to our new home in Russell Precinct, Frontier County.
To the mothers of the party, who were used to the comforts of the east and exhausted from the long freight train journey, came a tear of homesickness as they gazed out on the seemingly endless and unbroken sea of grass and rolling prairies. But these same mothers when rested, quickly adjusted themselves to the new surroundings and became the guiding hands which promoted the traditional hospitality of the west.
The Ohio settlement was but one of the many which sprang up during the year. On the south we had Henry and Kirk Brown, Charley Cole, Joe Gant, Rice Bros., The Mayfield, Chittock and Yorte Families, Vest Hazen, Taylor Jones, The Boones and Casters. On the east were Will Wardelo, Frank Burns and the Laucomers; on the west were Frank Alden, the Hurshmans and Wills; on the north were the Phillips, Stebbins, Moores, Dawson, Dan McDonald and Geno Wood, while Col. Dunton lived on what was called "Hope Ranch".
Ham Phillips was conceded the best hunter in the settlement. I recall seeing three antelope fall before his rifle on the range south of the present cemetery. He quite often came to visit his neighbors and "fetched" along some venison or other wild game. I remember eating some buffalo meat, but think it was killed somewhere to the northwest. George Dryden brought a barrel from the east for the expressed purpose of salting down wild geese, but it was never filled although he had fairly good success as a hunter, and the geese swarmed by the millions in the spring and fall, often the white brant would cover most of a quarter of section so it appeared as a snow bank, from a distance. Will Wardelo was an expert with a rope and often indulged in the wild sport of chasing and roping deer or fawn, from horseback. I saw him make a wild chase where the south canyon road now is, but that day he failed to make a catch.
The Old Arapahoe Trail crossed the county line about a mile west of the corner of Dawson and Lincoln Counties and ran south on the divide where Mr. Wharton now lives, following the same ridge clear to the Republican Valley by way of what later was the Earl post office. This was a wide and much used trail and often served as a fireguard from which the backfires were started. When the lagoons and buffalo wallows afforded water often the wagon trains to Fort McPherson followed this route in preference to the Military Road, west of the Deer and Mitchell Creeks. This trail joined the Pawnee trail from the northeast, about fifteen miles south, an old plainsman recounted a terrific battle there between the Siouxs and Pawnees over disputed hunting grounds along the Medicine.
My earliest remembrance of Farnam was a day in 1886 when we were returning from Keystone and stopped at the new townsite and begged a drink of water from Harley Chittock, who was working on the P. Wrin store. This building was being moved up from Keystone, I think, and was perhaps the first in Farnam, being on the lot where the present Standard’Filling Station is at. There was some sort of a land office building a ways north which later was purchased by Charley Jackson and moved out to his claim for a period of years and again moved to town on the lot south of the Methodist Church.
There were many relics found about the town to the north and west. I had an old flint lock rifle, about six feet long, found on the Stilley farm and a double barreled gun loaded with buckshot was picked up in a small pocket near John Watts barn. Some historians claim this was the place where Lieutenant Forsythe battled the Sioux on the day the North had the big Indian fight on the Muddy. There were other relics of a battle found on Section 3, Plum Creek precinct, among them a 1873 repeating rifle, which we oiled up and made some use of. Soon after our arrival, School District No. 3 was organized and the first school was held in a room of our house with Gyp Dunton as a teacher. I was under school age then, but later when the sod school house was built I received my first training from Fredericka Rolph and later Maudie Newberry and Mrs. Knight taught the school. I visited the Farnam school when it was held in the old Garven hall and saw the teacher, Elmer Buss literally mop up the floor with the Woolman boys, John Wrin, Allie Reed and others of the young bloods who had made things unpleasant for a former lady teacher.
The worst prairie fire I remember was in the early ’90’s. A settler near Brady was smoking in his hay barn, a spark fell from his pipe and the barn soon burned down and the fire came sweeping through the hills with a forty mile northwester. By ten o’clock every person in town was out herding stock on the plowed fields and plowing and burning fireguards. The people north held the east line of flames to the west of the county line, but were unable to check the head fire. From the plowed field on the east side of the McNickle farm a wide guard was plowed to the John Ainlay plowed field and a backfire was started, but the heat and smoke became so terrible that the fighters were forced back to the railroad track while the flames jumped the guard and came rushing on. A determined stand was made at the railroad but the tumble weeds carried the flames over one of the cuts and the men fell back to the channel of Plum Creek where aided by the wide channel and numerous ponds the 100 or more persons succeeded in whipping it out. The west branch of the fire went west of the Ainlay buildings and through the Wamiking section and roared south clear to the Republican river.
In 1896 when the first Nebraska Irrigation Fair, The G.A.R. encampment and Buffalo Bills Wild West shows announced a full week of entertainment at North Platte, everyone who could planned a week’s trip with covered wagon to the great event. We left Farnam on the morning of Oct. 10 by the way of the West Deer Creek and Snell Canyon trails, with two wagons, but by the time we reached Cottonwood Springs other wagons had joined until there was a long string of rumbling wheels and flapping canvas. Among those I remember were Hoddie Fitch, Eugene Ceder, George Laucomer, Mick Gregory, Cal Bradshaw and a little later Ed Crossgrove. Arriving at the National Cemetery the veterans were true to the memory of departed comrades and while all stood with bared heads, guns were brought forth and a volley fired over the graves of the departed.
That night we bivouaced in the heavy timber of Brady Island and feasted on quail with which the thickets abounded. In the morning a cry went up, "Ceder’s team has been stolen!’’, but sometime later he found them securely tied in the dense thicket.
Starting westward up the valley in the early morning we soon became a part of a vast caravan of covered wagons reaching east and west as far as eye could see. Many of the wagons carried the American flag on a staff above the wagon cover. Someone away ahead started singing "John Brown’s Body" and the ballad was taken up by the entire procession and rang far up and down the valley and echoed in the nearby hills in a mighty refrain such as I never expect to hear again.
Arriving at North Platte we were assigned to a campground about three blocks west of the depot where the thousands of covered wagons made up what is said to have been the largest encampment of its kind in history.
That night John Crossgrove, Dave Rank, Roy Gregory, the Shaw boys and myself slipped away from camp and went down town to see the cowboys and other rough riders perform at Bill Cody’s first homecoming. We got a great kick watching the half wild riders shoot out the kerosene street lamps and ride their horses into the saloons. At the old Guy Lang Saloon -- Buffalo Bill walked up to the bar, Laid down two hundred dollars and said "Give the boys a drink." Later he made a political speech on the sidewalk denouncing the sixteen to one platform of William J. Bryan and winding up shouting "To H- with free silver," at the same time throwing out about a peck of nickels, dimes and quarters to the crowd. Following the day of the show, Col. Cody made a personal visit to our camp. He talked very kindly to us boys and gave me an autographed photo of himself, which is now one of my valued treasures. Recently it has been rumored that Buffalo Bill never saw an Indian battle. I can say to this I saw his scars and heard their history, let the doubting person explain where the scars came from.
At the Irrigation Fair we beheld the first Blow Stacker ever used in Nebraska. A small ditch carried water to a field on the ground; two windmills and a current ram pumped water in limited quantities. Gov. Holcomb made an address in which he suggested that some time much of the water flowing down the Platte might be used for irrigation and perhaps to create electrical energy. Little did we realize that the future would develop such projects as the Sutherland and Tri-County.
In the eighties we purchased the Circle Bar Ranch on West Deer Creek from Tyra Nelson. The amount of deeded land was not large but the surrounding range was excellent. There was a large drove of longhorns which had come up the Texas trail and a fine string of saddle horses included in the deal. The canyons around the ranch buildings was a solid block of giant native timber which afforded splendid shelter for the stock at all seasons of the year. The corrals were large and mostly built of cedar posts about fifteen feet long set one against one another in a trench, the gates being of the same material but being hewed and fitted. I believe there was a truck load of relics lying about the place but no one considered them of any particular account. Later the place was sold to the Hills, all but the brand which I think was never used again.
I remember a man was at our place in 1889, who had just come from the northern part of the state, who related seeing many fresh made graves beside the trail with a board sign advising they had just recently been killed by Indians. Again in 1891 there was considerable concern among the settlers during the Sitting Bull outbreaks. My grandfather, Hudson Fitch, had a very large and complete map of the west and people came for miles to study the possibility of an Indian raid. (Suite a few talked of going back east if the savages came much nearer.
In early days people often talked of the buffalo hunts of Buffalo Bill and Duke Alixis and it was always stated that their headquarters was in Frontier County while they hunted in surrounding territory. About ten years ago I was fortunate in meeting the driver of the stage coach which carried the Duke out from the railroad. He was a very elderly man but was able to identify the hill on the old Post Road where a fake runaway was staged, which is the farm now owned by Abner Nelson, near the mouth of Curtis Creek. At the Donald Nelson farm he picked out the location of the sham battle that was staged, which is close by to the old Doc Carver claim and at the mouth of Bushy Creek, several miles westward we were shown the secret hiding place of the Duke and several others while waiting for a rescue. The whole affair was a hoax put on to furnish excitement to the unsuspecting nobleman.
When the U.P. Railroad was built the buffalo caused much trouble by rubbing down the telegraph poles, and to discourage them the company ordered about twenty sharp headed spikes be driven in each pole. They said this stopped the cows and calves but only irritated the old bulls. As late as the ’90’s some of those spikes could yet be seen.
I heard an old timer relate how a marauding band of Sioux attempted to stop a train by stretching a heavy rawhide rope across the track, with about twenty savages holding to each end. He said he had forgotten the date or the exact place where it happened, but he would bet if any of those Indians were yet alive they had not forgotten how it felt to be jerked clear across three townships.
And so one could go on and on with reminiscences of the old west, which is gone forever, but which will linger in the fond memories of the old settlers.