History of Buffalo County
and Its People
by Samuel Clay Bassett
ACROSS THE PLAINS IN 1860--A MILLION OF BUFFALO, HORACE GREELEY DELAYED AT FORT KEARNEY FOR TWENTY-FOUR HOURS BY BUFFALO--25 CENTS TO CARRY A LETTER--MINING FOR GOLD IN COLORADO-- CORN $7 A BUSHEL--CORN 10 CENTS A BUSHEL--TEN DOLLARS TO WATER GOVERNMENT TEAMS--THE TRANSPORTATION EXPENSE OF FORAGE DELIVERED AT FORT KEARNEY AND FORT LARAMIE --TEN CENTS A GALLON FOR WATER IN 1874.
ACROSS THE PLAINS IN 1860
J. E. Miller, a soldier of the Civil war, came to Buffalo County, from Iowa in the year 1873) taking a homestead claim in Cedar Township. Mr. Miller served as justice of the peace in his township and two terms as state senator. He introduced in the Senate and secured its passage, a bill providing for the teaching of agriculture in our public schools, this the beginning of the teaching of the principles of agriculture in the public schools of our state and nation. In the year 1860 Mr. Miller made a journey across the plains and in the year 1915 gave the following interesting description of the journey:
I passed up the south side and down, from Fort Kearney, the north side of the Platte River in 1860, fifty-five years ago this summer. Our company consisted of seven ox teams (two and three yoke to a wagon) and nineteen men. We left Davenport, Iowa, early in April, crossed the Missouri at Nebraska City, May 1st, loaded up and started for the Platte route, which we struck 115 miles below Fort Kearney (this would be about opposite Columbus). Only a few miles from Nebraska City we lost sight of settlers and traveled through an unbroken prairie till we reached Salt Creek (this Lincoln) where there were a few straggling houses. I now believe it was near the junction of the little creek coming down from the asylum as we found the water too salt for our use, and by crossing over to another stream we found the water all right. Soon after reaching the Platte we came in contact with others on the same errand--"Pike's Peak or bust." By the time we reached Fort Kearney the road was full of freighters and gold seekers.
A MILLION OF BUFFALO
A large herd of buffalo had about finished crossing the Platte River going north; it had taken them two days and nights to cross; the east edge of the herd was at Doby Town (this two miles west of Fort Kearney) and reached west thirty-five miles. The buffalo were in a solid mass so that all teams were delayed.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
HORACE GREELEY DELAYED TWENTY-FOUR HOURS
Horace Greeley, who was a passenger on the overland stage, was detained twenty-four hours. He wrote to the New York Tribune, of which he was editor, "I know a million is a great many but I am sure I saw more than a million buffalo yesterday. Some estimate there are more buffalo on the plains than domestic cattle in the United States. I can't say as to that, but I feel sure there are more in weight as the buffalo weigh more." From Fort Kearney to Denver the road was filled with teams. By standing on the front of the wagon one could see every turn of the road for many miles by the line of covered wagons. I noticed the peculiar fact that there was not a stream, little or big, which entered the Platte from the south, from where we struck the valley (at Columbus) to Denver. The mail was carried from the Missouri River by Hinkley's express; we had to pay 25 cents for each letter besides the 3 cents stamp.
DENVER WAS IN KANSAS
Kansas and Nebraska at that time extended to the summit of the mountains and joined Utah. Denver was in Kansas. We crossed the range and mined 2½ months near where Leadville now is. We had to saw our lumber with a whip saw. We averaged to earn about ten dollars per day to the man. Snow began to cover the range September 14, and we, being short of provisions, pulled out. Reached Denver, 115 miles, in a week.
CORN $7 A BUSHEL
Bought corn at Denver at 12~ cents per pound to feed my team--I had bought horses. It was a long, dreary road to Fort Kearney, where we forded the Platte; we found some settlers along Wood River of whom we bought corn for $2 a bushel. Crossed the Missouri at Omaha where we sold our gold for $18 an ounce. Of course this lightened our load somewhat. The year 1860 saw the great drouth in Kansas. Nebraska was not farming much then or she would have suffered. The drouth extended into Western Iowa and we paid 60 cent a bushel for corn. It was cheaper as we traveled east until I bought the last bushel fifteen miles north of Davenport for 10 cents. That was the biggest fall in the price of corn I ever knew it to take inside of fifty days. I reached home November 5th and the next day cast my first vote for President, thereby electing Abraham Lincoln. While going up the Platte I would take to the sand hills on the south side and chase antelope. My opinion of this country as an agricultural paradise you can guess.
I would not have given a dime for all of Nebraska west of Fort Kearney.
I had intended to go back to the mines in 1861, and perhaps would, had it not been there was a rebellion to look after and I was asked to take the job.
TEN DOLLARS TO WATER GOVERNMENT TEAMS
There is a tradition that $10 was paid at one time to water a string of Government teams at a well on the divide south of the Platte and that the amount wass
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
allowed in the expense account at Washington. If so it must have been because this territory was known as a desert and in a desert water is often scarce. East of Kenesaw, on the trail coming from the Little Blue over the divide to the valley of the Platte, a distance of some twenty miles there was a well known as the "Government well," but private property, which was more than one hundred feet deep. It was curbed with logs and was a regular stopping place for travelers over the trail. Possibly it was at this well that the "large" price was paid for water for the Government teams. This price is not greatly in excess of the contract price paid for hay for use at Fort Kearney, as related $20 per ton, and the contractor let the contract to cut and stack the hay in sight of the fort for $1.25 per ton. Some idea of the enormous expense of maintaining an army at Fort Kearney and Fort Laramie will appear in the following taken from Morton History, Vol. 2: "The cost of transporting (1865) a hundred pounds of corn, hay, clothing, subsistence, lumber or other necessary from Fort Leavenworth (Kansas) to Fort Kearney was $6.42; to Fort Laramie $14.10." It is further stated that the cost of a bushel of corn bought at Fort Leavenworth and delivered at Fort Kearney was $5.03. In 1850 Gen. Winfield Scott complained of the great expense of furnishing supplies for troops on the frontier, in which he states: "The average cost of forage for a horse during one month at Fort Kearney was $27.72, and at Fort Laramie, $34.24." In 1873 the writer paid 10 cents for a gallon of water and 25 cents to water a team on the divide south of the Platte and drew the water himself, out of a well much more than one hundred feet in depth.
A BROKEN AXLE--EDWARD OLIVER AND FAMILY EN ROUTE TO UTAH--AXLE TO WAGON BROKEN NEAR WOOD RIVER CENTER--THE WIFE AND CHILDREN REFUSE TO JOURNEY FARTHER--SPEND THE WINTER ON WOOD RIVER--THE FATHER CONTINUES JOURNEY TO UTAH--THE MOTHER AND CHILDREN REMAIN AND ESTABLISH A HOME--MRS. SARAH OLIVER A LARGELY USEFUL WOMAN--THE OLIVERS TAKE AN ACTIVE PART IN THE ORGANIZATION OF BUFFALO COUNTY.
A BROKEN AXLE
The attention of travelers on the overland route over the Union Pacific Railroad is almost invariably drawn to an inviting farm scene in the Wood River valley of the Platte just west of the thriving Village of Shelton in Buffalo County, Neb. The first thing to attract attention is a large, roomy, up-to-date looking in all its appointments, farm house standing some twenty rods north of both the highway and the railroad which run parallel at this point. To add to the beauty of the scene, as a background lies Wood River with its border of native trees and their varying shades of green. Immediately south of the river are orchards--apple, plum, cherry and smaller fruits-and a garden, and scattered among the trees are "skips" of bees. A little north and west of the house is a large barn. To the north and east of the house beyond the orchard, in the bend of the river, are large corn cribs full and overflowing, and adjoining these are corrals, where in the winter time hundreds of sheep are fattened for market. In front of the house is a well kept lawn extending down to the highway and bordered on either side with evergreen trees; to the east and west and across the railroad to the south are broad level acres of alfalfa, whose carpet of green is so restful to the eye from early spring to early winter, and when the four cuttings of hay, secured from these broad acres each year, are gathered and stored in stacks scattered over these acres, their size and number are indisputable evidence of the almost unlimited fertility of the soil.
So beautiful is this scene that the Union Pacific Railroad Company has reproduced it as an illustration, with the title, "A Typical Nebraska Ranch Home" and the illustration appeared in Union Pacific folders alongside that of their great Overland Limited passenger train, itself a marvel of comfort and luxury of modern railway travel. This beautiful home with its broad acres is that of Robert Oliver and his numerous family, and while greatly enjoyed by all the members of the family, it also adds in some measure to the pleasure and enjoyment of thousands of travelers who each year journey from ocean to ocean over this great overland route.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
Possibly it may be of interest to relate a seemingly trivial incident which caused a large family to locate at this point while Nebraska was yet a territory and thus led to the creation of this and other comfortable, luxurious homes in Central Nebraska.
In the year 1860, Edward Oliver, Sr., his wife and seven children, one son married, converts to the Mormon faith left their home in England, their destination being Salt Lake City, Utah. At Florence, a few miles north of the City of Omaha, they purchased a traveling outfit for emigrants, which included two yoke of oxen, a wagon and two cows, and with numerous other families, having the same destination, took the Utah trail up the valley of the Platte on the north side of the river. When near a point known as Wood River Center, now Shelton, 175 miles west of the Missouri River, the front axle of their wagon gave way, compelling a halt for repairs, their immediate companions in the emigrant train continuing the journey, for nothing avoidable, not even the burial of a member of the train, was allowed to interfere with the prescribed schedule of travel, and the dead were buried during the hours devoted to camp purposes.
The Oliver family camped beside the trail and the broken wagon was taken to the ranch of Joseph Johnson who combined in his person and business that of postmaster, merchant, blacksmith, wagonmaker, editor and publisher of a newspaper, a Mormon with two or more wives and numerous children, a man passionately fond of flowers which he cultivated to a considerable extent, a philosopher, and it must be conceded a most useful person at a point so far distant from other source of supplies. The wagon shop of Mr. Johnson contained no seasoned wood suitable for an axle to the wagon and so from trees along Wood River was cut an ash from which was hewn and fitted an axle to the wagon and with the wagon thus repaired the family again took the trail, but ere ten miles had been traveled, the green axle began to bend under the load, the wheels ceased to track, the journey could not thus further proceed. In the family council which succeeded the father urged that they try to arrange with other emigrants to carry their movables and thus continue the journey. The mother suggested that the family return to the vicinity of Wood River Center and arrange to spend the winter. To the suggestion of the mother all the children added their entreaties. The mother urged that it was a beautiful country, an abundance of wood and good water, grass for pasture and hay in plenty could be made for their cattle and she was sure crops could be raised. The wishes of the mother prevailed, the family returned to a point about a mile west of Wood River Center and on the bank of Wood River constructed a habitation, a log hut with a sod and dirt roof, in which they spent the winter. When springtime came, the father, zealous in the Mormon faith, urged that they continue the journey to Utah. To this neither the mother nor any of the children could be induced to consent and in the end the father journeyed to Utah where he made his home to the end of his life. The married son made a home for his family not far distant. The mother, Sarah Oliver, became the head of the family and proved to be a woman of energy and force of character. With her children she engaged in the raising of corn and vegetables, the surplus being sold to emigrants passing over the trail, and at Fort Kearney, nearly twenty miles distant. The emigrants westbound usually had money to pay for vegetables, eggs and corn, but too often the
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
emigrant westbound, who labeled his "prairie schooner" "Pike's Peak or Bust," returned later with his label reading "Busted, by Gosh." Sarah Oliver never turned from her humble door a hungry emigrant, eastward or westward bound, and often she divided with such the scanty store needed for her own family. When rumors came of Indians on the warpath the children took turns on the housetop as lockout for the dreaded savages. In 1863 two settlers were killed a few miles east of this point. In 1864 occurred the memorable raid of the Cheyenne Indians in which horrible atrocities were committed and scores of settlers were massacred by these Indians only a few miles immediately south of this point on the south side of the Platte River. In 1865 A. W. Storer, a near neighbor, was murdered by Indians. Sarah Oliver had no framed diploma from some medical college which would entitle her to use the prefix "Dr." to her name, possibly she was not entitled to be called a trained nurse or mid-wife, but she is entitled to be long remembered as one who ministered to the sick, to early settlers along the trail, to travelers over the trail, and to many whose dwelling place was at or near Fort Kearney, many miles distant. Often the messenger from distressed families miles distant was "Pap" Lamb, whose home was near Grand Island, twenty-five miles to the east, and whose route as stage driver was from his home to Fort Kearney, and when this messenger came Sarah Oliver was accorded the seat of honor beside the driver.
Sarah Oliver and her family endured all the toil and privation incident to early settlers, without means, in a new country, far removed from access to what are deemed the barest necessities of life found in more settled communities. She endured all the terrors incident to settlement in a sparsely settled locality in which year after year Indian atrocities were committed and in which the coming of such savages was hourly expected and dreaded. She saw the building and completion of the Union Pacific Railroad near her home in 1866; she saw Nebraska become a state in 1867; in 1870 when Buffalo County was organized, her son, John, was appointed sheriff and was elected to that office at the first election thereafter. Her eldest son, James, was named the first assessor of the county, and her son, Edward, was a member of the first board of county commissioners and later served with credit and fidelity as county treasurer. When in 1871 Mrs. Sarah Oliver died, her son, Robert, inherited her old home and on that old home, established in i860, is located "The Typical Nebraska Ranch Home" which an attempt has been made to describe.
GOVERNMENT LANDS--RAILROAD LANDS--SPYING OUT THE LAND--LOADED RIFLES CARRIED ON ALL UNION PACIFIC TRAINS--FIRST TASTE OF ANTELOPE STEAK--THE BOYD RANCH--CARRIED A BUTT OF A CORNSTALK BACK TO OHIO--WELL PLEASED WITH THE APPEARANCE OF THE COUNTRY AND OF PROPOSED LOCATION OF COLONY.
GOVERNMENT LANDS--RAILROAD LANDS
Originally all lands in the county were Government lands, but to encourage the building of the Union Pacific Railroad, the general Government, granted to the railroad company, one-half of all lands for twenty miles on each side of the railroad bed. Also the general Government gave to the public school fund of the state two sections of land--18 and 36--in each Government township. There are in Buffalo approximately, six hundred thousand acres of land and approximately three hundred thousand acres were railroad lands; of the remainder, in round numbers, two hundred eighty-five thousand acres were open to homestead and pre-emption entries and some fifteen thousand acres were school lands. It was not until about the year 1870, that the Union Pacific Railroad came into possession of its lands in the county and the Government surveys completed so that the Government lands were all open to entry. Until settlers could be induced to take homestead and pre-emption claims, and thus begin a settlement of the county, the railroad could not sell off its lands. This led the Union Pacific Railroad Company to enter into an agreement with Col. John Thorp, to locate a colony on homesteads and pre-emptions in Buffalo County.
This arrangement was made in the year 1870.
SPYING OUT THE LAND
(Harry A. Lee, a member of the colony, furnishes the following account of a journey made by himself and Colonel Thorp previous to the coming of the colony.)
John Thorp, the originator of the colony plan and myself had been acquaintances for years and were school-mates at the old Western Reserve Seminary located at West Farmington, Ohio. Shortly after the close of the Civil war, Thorp organized a colony which located in Central Kansas and which proved quite a success. In the fall of 1870, Thorp informed me of his plans for organizing a soldier's colony to locate on the line of the Union Pacific Railroad west of Grand Island. In January, 1871, he informed me he had perfected his
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
arrangements with the railroad company and would visit the proposed location in February and invited me to accompany him, which I did. We left Columbus, Ohio, on the 25th of February; snow was gone, frost out of the ground and mud very deep.
We passed through Chicago, Rock Island, Illinois to Omaha where we crossed the Missouri River on a ferry boat nearly one-half mile below where the present railroad bridge now is. After visiting the Union Pacific Land Office in Omaha, we boarded the old emigrant train which left for the West at 6 P.M. After examining our tickets the conductor invited us into his car-a caboose. The first thing which attracted our attention was a gun-rack at one end of the car in which stood twenty-four United States rifles. The conductor informed us that all overland trains carried a stand of guns, loaded and ready for use.
We arrived at Grand Island the next morning where we were met by Mr. Kennedy, land agent for the Union Pacific Land Company. Our train stopped at Gibbon switch to let us off. The only house in sight, there was the section house and the only other house in sight was on the Boyd Ranch about a mile west of the switch, where was living Thomas K. Wood.
We decided to visit Mr. Wood, learn what he thought of the country and possibly get some horses to ride to the bluffs to the north, and to the Platte to the south, and last but not least get something to eat.
We had been at Mr. Woods but a short time when one of his little girls came running in and said there were some antelope on the bluff about half a mile to the west and sure enough there they were in plain sight.
Josh Wood, a stripling boy, took a needle gun and started after the game, his father remarking in his quiet, emphatic manner, "No use for you to go, you can't kill nothing."
In about half an hour, the little girl, who had been on the watch, came in and said Josh has got one. That evening we had for supper our first taste of antelope. We visited the bluffs to the north, and rode to the Platte River to the south, noted the lay of the land, the quality of the soil, its adaptability, as we thought to agriculture--particularly we noted a few acres Mr. Wood had in cultivation, northwest of his house, and although he told us, "No man could make a living here by farming, for nothing would grow in such a dry soil," I found a butt of a corn stalk, on his field, that measured 1½ inches in diameter and which I took home to Ohio with me.
Mr. Wood had an ideal location for a cattle ranch and did not wish to be disturbed, and I could not blame him, but "Westward the march of civilization was taking its way" and could not be resisted.
(At that date on the Boyd Ranch, in charge of Mr. Wood, was a herd of 170 Texan steers and some three hundred head of stock cattle, roaming the prairies in all directions.)
We spent the night till 3 A. M. at the section house, near the Gibbon switch, when our section boss--Roger Hayes--swung his lantern across the track and halted a returning emigrant train which we boarded and returned to Grand Island where we remained three days; here we met some former acquaintances from Ohio by the name of Powell and John Donaldson who had lived in Nebraska some years.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
We returned home well satisfied with our trip and pleased with the appearance of the country and of the proposed location for a colony. The day we spent at Gibbon switch was beautiful and spring-like. Had it been like some days I have since seen there, the "Soldier's Free Homestead Colony" might still be seeking a location.
SOLDIER'S FREE HOMESTEAD COLONY--ORIGIN OF COLONY--CERTIFICATE OF MEMBERSHIP--REDUCED RATES TO COLONISTS--ITINERARY OF COLONY--ARRIVAL AT COUNCIL BLUFFS--CROSS MISSOURI RIVER ON A FLAT BOAT--NEBRASKA LAND--CHECKING BAGGAGE--OMAHA IN 1871.
SOLDIER'S FREE HOMESTEAD COLONY
The origin of the Soldier's Free Homestead Colony was with Col. John Thorp of West Farmington, Ohio, who had already settled a colony on homesteads in Kansas, along the line of the Union Pacific Railroad in that state. During the winter of 1870-71, Colonel Thorp had advertised his colony in eastern newspapers, these advertisements setting forth in rather glowing colors the desirable features of "free homes--free lands," along the line of the Union Pacific Railroad in Nebraska, and making most prominent of all that soldiery could homestead 160 acres of these lands within the railroad limits.
Colonel Thorp and H. A. Lee had visited Buffalo County and stated that from personal observation it was a most desirable country in which to establish homes on lands to be had without money and without price.
A membership fee of $2.00 was required of those joining the colony, but the membership was not confined to those who had been soldiers.
To those who joined a certificate was issued, signed John Thorp, secretary, but as a matter of fact there was never any such organization as the "Soldier's Free Homestead Colony" other than as a financial venture on the part of Colonel Thorp and even after the arrival of the colony at Gibbon, no steps were taken to perfect an organization, and no list of members was then made and only since from memory, from searching investigation and inquiry forty-four years after the arrival of the colony. At least two classes or kinds of certificates of membership in the colony were issued, one signed "John Thorp, Secretary," the other signed "John Thorp, Agent." On one certificate the title reads, "Soldier's Free Homestead Colony" and on the other "Soldier's Homestead Colony." F. F. Blanchard preserved his certificate of membership, has it framed and it hangs on the wall of his home as a souvenir. Herewith is a copy kindly furnished by Mr. Blanchard.
S. F. H. C. Certificate of Membership
This is to certify that F. F. Blanchard is an accepted member of the Soldier's Free Homestead Colony, and is entitled to all the privileges accorded to members of the association.
West Farmington, Ohio, March 15, 1871. John Thorp, Secretary.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
The following is a copy of a certificate of membership issued to H. A. Lee:
Certificate of Membership Soldier's Homestead Colony
This certifies that H. A. Lee is an accepted member of the Soldier's Homestead Colony and is entitled to all the privileges of that association.
West Farmington, Ohio, June 18, 1872. John Thorp, Agent.
Colonel Thorp had arranged for reduced rates to colonists, but this applied to passenger rates only as all freight paid full rates as well as excess baggage, which was all weighed and the excess collected in advance. The reduced rates to members of the colony were extended to July, 1872, and as recalled amounted to a saving of about $15 to each from states as far east as New York and a less sum from points farther west. In the establishment of the colony, it is understood, Colonel Thorp's profit consisted in purchasing desirable railroad lands near the proposed Village of Gibbon, and later selling these lands at a profitable advance in price. Colonel Thorp, with relatives and immediate friends also secured the lands covering the townsite of the Village of Gibbon.
By purchasing Union Pacific land grant bonds, at the then market price, 60 cents on the dollar, and paying for railroad lands with these bonds at their face value, Colonel Thorp and others with means, were enabled to buy railroad lands at about $1.80 per acre, and from such investment they realized, even in a few years, a considerable profit. The maximum price of the railroad lands-- first choice--were priced at $3 per acre on ten years' time, interest at 6 per cent.
ITINERARY OF THE COLONY
The itinerary of the colony provided, that on the journey to Nebraska, members east of Buffalo, N. Y., should meet at Buffalo on Tuesday, April 4, 1871, in time to take the morning train on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad for Chicago.
The writer recalls the good-bye given his uncle, James Hanford, a "Forty-niner" to California. Uncle James was just of age, raised on a farm in Delaware County, N. Y, and his relatives and neighbors never expected to again see him on the morning when they said their good-bye, as he was leaving in search of gold in far away California.
Like unto this was the good-bye many of the colonists received on the morning of April 4th, 1871, as they started on their journey to a land of which little was known, except that it seemed far away, and had been the home of cruel, uncivilized Indians for untold ages.
The Buffalo contingent of the members of the colony, arrived in Chicago about noon, Wednesday, and found Colonel Thorp with members from Ohio and other points in waiting. Special cars (ordinary passenger cars) were provided for the colonists over the Rock Island Railway, and we left soon after noon on Wednesday. It was a company of strangers, practically all the eastern and middle states being represented.
Some became acquainted, but for the majority it was a sight-seeing trip, the West being to them a new and wonderful country, its broad prairies, with-
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
out timber, stumps or stone in the cultivated fields, a constant source of surprise and remark.
It was a temperate class of men, only one of the number, as recalled, became intoxicated during the trip, and that during, the stop at Omaha.
A few brought their families, and fewer still their household belongings, but a large majority were men, whose families came at a later date.
It is recalled, one member read his Bible during the entire trip, seeming not interested in the new and wonderful country through which we were passing. We arrived at the Mississippi River in time to see the width of that mighty stream, crossed the State of Iowa in the night, arriving at Council Bluffs in the forenoon of Thursday.
Everything was a new and novel experience, none more so than to arrive at the terminus of a great railroad, and find no station, no village or city, just stop at the end of the track on the bank of a muddy stream and unload passengers, baggage, mail and express on the wide, open prairie. On the bank of the Missouri River, near where our train stopped, was a flat boat, or great scow, used to transfer passengers, baggage and freight. This transfer boat had no wharf at which to tie up, where passengers might gain easy access to it, but the boat was snubbed against the bank, here today, elsewhere tomorrow, as the constantly shifting channel of the river permitted and made necessary,
From the floor of this boat a gang plank, cleated, reached the bank of the river some three feet above the floor of the boat. Passengers with their hand baggage occupied the center of the boat. First came four great, sleek mules drawing a load of mail sacks, the load as long, wide and high as a load of hay and which, it did seem, must upset as the load came with a rush down the steep gang plank onto the boat. The loaded team was driven along the outer side of the boat, and making a complete circuit stood ready to drive off at the same end as it was driven on.
Following came other teams with great loads of baggage, until the boat was loaded to its utmost capacity. Then we steamed across the "Big Muddy," snubbed against the opposite bank (no wharf provided) and all scrambled up the gang plank and at last were on Nebraska soil.
On the banks of the Missouri River stood the station of the Union Pacific Railroad, a cheap frame building, scant two stories in height: in the upper story, reached by uncovered stairs from the outside, were the telegraph and other offices for the convenience of the railroad employes; below was a waiting room which might possibly seat twenty persons, a ticket office, and adjoining the station a long, plank platform for the convenience of passengers in entering or leaving the passenger cars. Adjoining the station was also a large baggage room where all baggage was unloaded, handled and weighed, and for passengers going farther than Omaha, re-checked, it being not possible to check baggage from eastern points farther than Omaha. No one who witnessed the re-checking of baggage at the Union Pacific Station at that date will ever forget the scene. Everything about the procedure was new to all passengers, for there was no
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
experienced traveler who had made the trip before and therefore knew, in advance, just what to do.
The check caller had a voice like unto a steam calliope and, standing just outside the railing were the baggage owners, holding in hand their baggage checks and tickets. At the beginning it all seemed like an unintelligible jargon, but we soo n learned that when the caller shouted at the top of his voice, "Buffalo, L. S. & M. S. 19-046," that he meant the baggage had been checked at Buffalo over the L. S. & M. S. Railroad and the number of the check was 19,046.
One colonist had delivered to him a large trunk, not locked, and when he insisted it was not his, the baggage man asked what he had in his trunk and then opened the one at hand and found woman's wearing apparel instead of a tent, carpenter tools, cooking utensils, a log chain, some bedding, and little clothing which the colonist claimed was in a red chest and which was found later.
The "Overland passenger. No. 1" stood at the station, steamed up when we arrived and as soon as mail and baggage could be transferred (the baggage rechecked), this only passenger train proceeded on its journey. There was no dining car on this train, and as recalled no sleeping cars. In regard to whether sleeping cars were run on the "Overland passenger" at that date, the writer has made an effort to definitely ascertain, but no one connected with the Union Pacific Railroad at this date, 1915, has knowledge. The schedule time of this train was fifteen miles an hour.
OMAHA IN 1871
The colonists began to understand that they were bound for a country or locality where there could be found no hotels or boarding houses, nor even convenient store where supplies might be found, and most of the members laid in a limited supply of crackers, bread and like food.
Omaha in those days was an uninviting, dreary looking village or city. The buildings were cheap frame structures, devoid of paint, few sidewalks, and as the business part was some distance from the railroad station, it seemed the city was much smaller than it really was.
There was no end of saloons and gambling dens, in fact at that date and for some years later, there was an organization of gamblers known as "three card monte" men, with headquarters in Omaha, who regularly traveled on the "Overland" passenger train--in and out of Omaha--and robbed passengers who were foolish enough to play with them. It was some years before public opinion became strong enough to enact legislation to compel the railroad management to drive these gamblers from their trains.
At that date and for many years later no second class passengers were carried on the "Overland" passenger, but instead on an emigrant train, mixed passenger and freight, which ran through to the Pacific Coast.
The schedule time of this train was ten miles.
SOLDIER'S FREE HOMESTEAD COLONY, CONTINUED--TO THE LAND OF PROMISE--THE COLONISTS ARRIVE AT GIBBON--FIXING UP QUARTERS--VIEWING THE LAND--HOLD RELIGIOUS SERVICES.
TO THE LAND OF PROMISE
The colonists left Omaha on the emigrant train at 6 P.M. on Thursday, and at once the statement was circulated that we were being taken on a night train because, if we saw the country in the day time we would desert before reaching the destination. Although in the night when we reached Fremont the train was boarded by German women with sandwiches, eggs and coffee and also land agents who assured us that nothing could be raised in Buffalo County, no one lived there, and that there were plenty of homesteads near Fremont. When we reached Lone Tree (now Central City), land agents came on board and accompanied us to Grand Island, making the same statements in regard to the country as those made by agents at Fremont, only, the latter fixed the limit in the state, where one could live by farming, at Grand Island.
We reached Grand Island late in the forenoon, having breakfast and dinner as at one meal, the Union Pacific having a large dining hall at this point for many years, until dining car service was established.
Grand Island was quite a trading point in those days, and had some fairly good grocery stores and some firms which carried small stocks of drugs, hardware and lumber. Grand Island was also the location of the United States land office.
THE COLONISTS ARRIVE AT GIBBON
On Friday, April 7, 1871, at 2 P. M., the colonists arrived at Gibbon switch and the cars we came in--some passenger cars, some box cars--were placed on the siding and left for our use. It was a warm, spring-like day, sun shining brightly and a gentle breeze blowing. An ideal day, and an ideal time of the day to reach our destination.
On Sunday, April 2d., a prairie fire had swept over the entire country leaving it black, bleak, desolate and uninviting. No rain or snow had fallen since the previous August, and not a green tree, shrub or sprig of grass was to be seen. As the bleak and black prairie lay glistening in the sunshine, it seemed at a distance that we were surrounded by water (a water mirage it is called and very common in the early days of the colony), and to the writer it seemed as
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
though he was again upon the ocean, out of sight of land. Along Wood River were fringes of bushes. Everything which would make a railroad tie or a stick of wood had been cut and used in the building of the railroad, built through the county in 1866. No trees were on the Platte River or its islands, only here and there bunches of willow brush. At the end of the switch was nearly a hundred cords of wood, cottonwood, for use on the railroad, as some of the engines at that date were wood burners. There was but one house in sight, that the railroad section house, standing where the present one does in 1915, in fact the same house, the only changes in forty-four years being a new roof, chimney, floor, sidewalls and a coat of paint of another color.
Roger Hayes was section foreman and had a corral and a considerable number of cattle. That afternoon the section men placed a box car on a spur on the north side of the main line and an agent of the company, Charles Smith, who had come from Omaha with us, set up his telegraph instrument and opened the station for business. S. C. Ayer, a colonist, at once transferred his belongings to the box car station, making it his temporary home. William Nutter (a "squatter," or as we termed, an "old settler") was planting potatoes on old land near the siding and was at once surrounded by colonists and deluged with questions about the country and what could be raised. He said no rain had fallen since the previous August, and while the prairie was very dry, the old land, which he was plowing and planting, was moist and plowed easily. He had raised the previous year, and was then planting, as fine, large potatoes as one would care to see, and in this sign or sight the colonists found great encouragement. On the previous day a box car, with horses, wagon and other emigrant movaables, including a considerable supply of lumber, all belonging to Mr. and Mrs. George Gilmore--Mrs. Gilmore being a sister of Colonel Thorp -- and in charge of F. S. and Willmot P. Trew, had arrived, and a like car of emigrant movables, including a team of horses, belonging to D. P. Ashburn, J. S. Chamberlain accompanying Mr. Ashburn. A small shanty, answering for both kitchen and a place to eat, was hastily constructed, so that Gibbon had a hotel or boarding house without delay.
One newly married couple, who were entirely without means, and had no household goods whatever, found employment, for their board, at the boarding place, sleeping on the floor of a car, covered with bedding furnished them. One colonist had shipped his household goods by express instead of freight and the charges amounted to $75. Not having the money to pay the charges, he hired out by the month to earn the necessary amount.
FIXING UP QUARTERS
Some found box cars on the siding and managed to fix up quite comfortable quarters; for a time some were in passenger cars and slept on the floor between seats or in the aisle. On Saturday morning one colonist took the passenger train for "back East," the only one who did not stay and file a homestead claim.
VIEWING THE LAND
On Saturday the colonists ranged the prairies from the Platte to the bluffs and beyond; some to the east where resided the few early settlers; some to Fort
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
Kearney, some to Kearney station (now Buda), where there was a station for the convenience of Fort Kearney, and at which place there were a few houses, belonging to hangers-on around the fort, among the number one or two where liquor was sold. Thomas K. Wood was living on the Boyd ranch, about a mile west of the switch; Mr. Wood had a family of several children and also had a herd of native cattle owned jointly with J. E. Boyd, the owner of the ranch. Sam Boyd was making his home with Mr. Wood and had charge of 770 head of Texan steers, ranging between Wood River and the bluffs and corralled at night in a bend of Wood River on the Boyd ranch.
On gathering around the camp fire that evening, a young man, Kingman Fisher, related a terrible experience with thirst. He had gone into the bluffs, some six miles north, and finding no water had nearly perished, being so far gone, as he said, as to "spit cotton." When an old soldier remarked that it took more than a few hours, traveling light, for a man to become so famished for want of water as to "spit cotton," Fisher concluded his degree of thirst was largely imaginary.
On Sunday came James Ogilvie, appointed station agent at Gibbon.
Mr. Ogilvie was a Scotchman, a strong friend of education, a Christian gentleman in all that the term implies, and in the educational, social and religious activities in the community was one of the most useful and helpful of men He served as station agent until his death in February, 1881.
HOLD RELIGIOUS SERVICE
Sunday was a bright, sunny day. After breakfast it was planned to hold a religious service at 10 o'clock. Out on the open prairie, with the blue vault of heaven above and the warm, bright sunshine of an April day shining over all, seats were improvised from the lumber pile and a sermon preached by Rev. Josiah N. Allen, a member of the colony.
C. Putnam also spoke, calling attention to the fact that we had come to make homes in this new land and that it was equally important that we establish characters for honesty, integrity and sobriety. Practically every member of the colony attended this service. After dinner most of the colonists went sight seeing--land viewing, some as far east as where lived William Nutter, an old settler, he having come with his family two years before.