History of Buffalo County
and Its People
by Samuel Clay Bassett
SOLDIERS' FREE HOMESTEAD COLONY, CONTINUED--AN APRIL BLIZZARD--BOX CARS TO LIVE IN--THE WOOD RIVER VALLEY OF THE PLATTE--THE FIRST MEETING HELD BY THE COLONISTS--DRAWING LOTS FOR CLAIMS--LOCATING THE CLAIMS --FILING ON HOMESTEADS--SIXTY-ONE CLAIMS FILED UPON APRIL 17 AND 18, 1871--NAMES OF THOSE TAKING CLAIMS.
AN APRIL BLIZZARD
About 2 P. M. Sunday it began to "spit" snow, the wind shifting into the north. By nightfall a furious storm of wind and snow was raging. When Monday morning came the snow was piled as high as the tops of the cars in which the colonists were staying. In the two emigrant cars there were stoves which the emigrants had brought with them.
The only other stoves were small affairs in each end of the passenger cars. It is recalled that in one of the passenger cars were four women and four children besides several men. In each end of this car were small stoves fed by cottonwood. The force of the wind drove the snow through the ventilators and window and door frames so that the seats, bedding and floor were wet. The women and children huddled about the stoves and the men took turns bringing wood from the pile of cordwood some forty rods distant and cutting in lengths to fit the playhouse stoves. About noon three men, headed by I. D. LaBarre, came into the car and began taking down the stovepipe to one of the stoves with the evident intention of removing the stove. They were landed outside, and then concluded to explain that in a box car was Dr. I. P. George and wife with no stove in the car. The situation is best explained by stating that on May 15th, following, occurred the first birth among the colonists, Gibbon Thorp George, son of Dr. and Mrs. I. P. George. Understanding the situation, the occupants of the car helped to remove the stove to Dr. George's car. With the going down of the sun, on Monday, the storm ceased. Tuesday was bright and sunny. Investigation showed no snow on the prairie, but all sloughs and Wood River packed full and so hard as to be crossed readily on the snow. On Monday, during the storm, word was telegraphed from railroad headquarters at Omaha to take all women and children to the section house, but only one or two women availed themselves of the offer, all others cheerfully accepting conditions in the cars and making the best of them.
Such a storm as occurred on April 9, 1871, would not at this date be considered at all serious or worthy of mention. With groves of trees, fields of corn stalks, the prairie covered with dead grass. With comfortable houses, with
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
barns, sheds, fences and the like to break the force of the wind and cause the snow to cover all the ground and not be drifted into sloughs and other depressions so as to fill level with the surrounding prairie; but on the bare prairie, devoid of everything, burned bare of all vegetation just a week previous, the wind swept along with nothing to obstruct its force and the drifting snow filling every slough and Wood River level with the prairie.
The storm itself had no discouraging effects on the colonists, but there were many other factors which did tend to discourage.
Ranchmen like the Boyds and Woods, who kept large herds of cattle, did not want homesteaders, because it would destroy the range for their herds. The early settlers, as they were called, those living on squatter claims before the arrival of the colonists, discouraged the colonists. Not one of these early settlers had filed on claims; most of them had small herds of cattle with an unlimited range for them, and also their source of revenue or market for the corn and vegetables which they raised had been the emigrants which traveled the trail. The coming of so considerable a number of homesteaders as comprised the colony, meant the taking of all government lands in nearby Wood River Valley and a complete change in local conditions. A few of these early settlers had been here living for quite ten years, yet their habitations were mere huts; some of logs, covered with a dirt roof, others living in a habitation part dugout (a hole in the ground), part sod with a dirt roof. Not a thing about such habitations was inviting especially to members of the colony who had just come from long settled localities in the eastern states, where people took pride and pleasure in their immediate surroundings, houses were comfortable, buildings painted, fields fenced and all the surroundings showed thrift and comfort.
One young wife, with two small children, had plead with tears in her eyes to be permitted to accompany her husband on the morning of April 4th, and when it was explained that there would be no place for her or the children until a house could be built, replied, "I'll be perfectly happy to put up our tent in the corner of a fence until a house can be built." But here was a country with no fences, no nothing but the bare prairie, and while these few early settlers had caves filled with potatoes and other choice vegetables, and also had small cribs of corn, some of the colonists were inclined to reason that if in ten or more years these early settlers had not been able to raise enough to build frame houses and have tables, chairs and like furniture, as well as horses and wagons and farming utensils like farmers in eastern states, it was not much use in trying to make a home out here where it hardly ever rained and settlers did not seem to prosper and get ahead. It is recalled that a story became current that once these settlers, living in a dugout, was worth $10,000, and at once colonists began to speculate what they would do if they were worth such a sum, and it is quite sure their speculations or dreams did not contemplate living in a dugout, though such was in reality the habitation of many of them for some years. The statement that one of the early settlers was worth $10,000 is greatly exaggerated; of these early settlers living in the immediate vicinity of Gibbon Switch, the record of the valuation of their property for purposes of taxation was as follows: James E. Boyd, $6,830. This represented the Boyd ranch with its thousand and
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
more head of cattle. The valuation of the other settlers ran as follows: $940, $425, $335, $540.
Immediately after the storm the railroad company sent box cars for members of the colony to live in, and such cars remained as long as occupied; in fact some members of the colony lived in such cars during the winter of 1871-2. These cars did not make a very comfortable home, as often in the nighttime a passing freight train would take the siding, come bumping into the box car, upset the love, and cause a fall of crockery and cooking utensils. The railroad company at once removed the pile of cordwood beside the siding, but as there were plenty of old ties there was no lack of fuel.
THE WOOD RIVER VALLEY OF THE PLATTE
The writer has often wished that some one, gifted, might have written, for the benefit of future generations, a fitting description of Wood River and the Wood River Valley of the Platte before the hand of the white man came to change it. In the fall of 1871, C. Putnam, a member of the colony, wrote as follows of Wood River:
"It is a vast serpentine vineyard, literally festooned with wild grapes."
To this delightful description might be added that in the bends of this winding river were orchards of wild plums, in their season loaded with fruit, the red and yellow of the ripening fruit with the green bordering of trees making a picture of surpassing beauty and loveliness, while the fruit itself was most delicious to the taste.
Did one wish to cross this river there were, at convenient distances, bridges built by those ingenious and cunning workmen, the beaver.
Standing on either bank of this meandering stream, which with its fringe of trees lay like a thread of dark green in the midst of the far reaching valley, and looking across the smooth prairie as far as the eye could reach, could be seen herds of innumerable buffalo feeding and fattening on the nutritious grasses. Always there could be seen flocks of timid antelope, their white "flags" discernable miles distant.
Occasionally would pass herds of stately elk and bounding over the prairie were smaller herds of black tail deer, while the accompanying whir of prairie chicken and quail seemed but the echo of fast fleeing footsteps.
THE WOOD RIVER VALLEY OF THE PLATTE
Before the coming of the white man, a land of fatness, a scene of loveliness passing description. To the white man and his descendants a home of plenty, a dwelling place of contentment, peace and happiness.
A third of a century after the coming of the colony, Chancellor Samuel Avery of the state university, having visited this valley, in a public address at Omaha, spoke of it as follows:
"A few years ago I stood on the bluffs overlooking this valley, near the Village of Gibbon. Below me as far as the eye could reach were fields of wheat, corn and alfalfa. I have made a similar survey of the Rhine Valley from the
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
mountains of the Odenwald. I have seen the best of the Columbia and the Willamette from the bluffs of their borders, but I have never seen an agricultural paradise to compare with the valley of the Platte as I saw it on that July day.
THE FIRST MEETING HELD BY THE COLONISTS
On Tuesday, April 1lth, there was held the first meeting of the colonists. This meeting was held on the open prairie, on the south side of the railroad track and to the south of the present section house. Who presided as chairman or served as secretary can not be recalled. The first question, whether the colonists would remain, was decided in the affirmative, as recalled, unanimously. As each member wished to locate a claim as near as possible to the proposed Village of Gibbon, to be the future county seat of Buffalo County, it was voted that choice for such location should be determined by lot. As some members desired to secure claims adjoining each other, it was also decided that two or more might unite in drawing together.
There were sixty-two who took part in the drawing, divided into twenty-eight lots. In a hat were placed slips of paper containing numbers ranging from one to twenty-eight. The one who drew was to mark on a United States land office map his choice for a claim, and no member of the colony could take that claim until the party had decided he did not want it. This rule held good with all members of the colony with a very few exceptions. Some members did not take part in the drawing, and it developed later that (doubtless having inside information) they had secured claims in the immediate vicinity of Gibbon Switch, which claims the government maps, as furnished, did not disclose were open to homestead entry.
DRAWING THE LOTS
A few only of the lot numbers, as drawn, can be recalled, or anything definite learned in relation thereto.
William Brady drew lot No. l and chose the northwest quarter of section twenty-four (24) adjoining the proposed town site of Gibbon. Choice No. 2 was drawn by John W. Wiggins, Charles E. Brayton and Charles Monks, who took the remaining quarter sections of section twenty-four (24). Choice No. 3 fell to S. C. Ayer, F. F. Blanchard, F. S. Trew and Dr. I. P. George, who located claims on section eighteen (18) immediately adjoining the proposed town site on the east. Choice No. 22 fell to John M. Bayley, who located on section twenty-two (22) in town nine, range thirteen (13). Choice No. 26 was drawn by S. C. Bassett, B. C. Bassett, Robert Waters and Henry Fairchild, who located claims on section six (6), town nine (9), range thirteen (13).
Choice No. 28 was drawn by George H. Silvernail, John Silvernail, Daniel R. Davis and T. J. Hubbard, who located on section ten (10), town nine (9), range fourteen (14).
LOCATING THE CLAIMS
Having made a choice of a claim, on a map, the colonists spent the next few days in locating the claim, looking it over and deciding if they would file upon
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
it. Some could not find the corners of their claims and were assisted by J. N. Paul, a surveyor, who had been sent by the railroad company for that purpose. The J. N. Paul referred to is now Judge J. N. Paul of St. Paul, Neb. Mr. Paul had helped to survey government lands in the state, and while with the colony began a survey of the proposed town site of Gibbon, which later was completed by C. Putnam. From the 11th to the 15th of April was thus spent in locating and viewing claims as selected.
FILING ON THE HOMESTEAD CLAIMS
The United States land office was located at Grand Island, thirty miles distant. The railroad fare for the round trip was $4.20.
Arrangements were made with County Judge Patrick Walsh to open an office in a box car and before Judge Walsh the entries were made.
Judge Walsh was paid a fee of one dollar ($1) for each entry, and the government fee was fourteen dollars ($14) for a quarter section, and was entitled "surveying fees." Very little friction, as between members, developed in filing on the claims, and it appeared then and later that each felt, all things considered, that he had secured a most desirable location.
On the 17th and l8th days of April, the following named colonists filed upon homestead claims, sixty-one in all:
NAMES OF THOSE TAKING HOMESTEAD CLAIMS S. C. Ayer
J. N. Allen
S. C. Bassett
B. C. Bassett
I. D. La Barre
C. E. Brayton
F. F. Blanchard
J. M. Bayley
G. W. Barrett
C. O. Childs
J. S. Chamberlain
D. R. Davis
H. C. Green
W. W. Gibson
A. F. Gibson
L. D. George
Dr. I. P. George
W. N. Gray
T. J. Hubbard
J. M. Irwin
W. H. Kenney
W. J. Knight
Clara E. Lew
C. A. Monks
J. F. McKinley
W. F. McClure
O. J. Oviatt
H. P. Rogers
B. F. Sammons
George H. Silvernail
John N. Silvernail
J. P. Smith
F. S. Trew
M. D. Thomas
L. A. West
R. E. L. Willard
J. W. Wiggins
SOLDIERS' FREE HOMESTEAD COLONY, CONTINUED--OFFICIAL LIST OF MEMBERS OF THE COLONY--A HABITATION--A PLACE TO LIVE--RANGE OF PRICES--FIRST CROPS GROWN--CONDITIONS CONFRONTING COLONISTS--INSECT DEPREDATION-- LACK OF MOISTURE--LIVE STOCK CONDITIONS--GROWING SMALL GRAIN--WHEAT AND OATS--THE QUESTION OF FUEL.
OFFICIAL LIST OF MEMBERS OF THE COLONY
The following is an official list of the members of the Soldiers' Free Homestead Colony as adopted at the forty-fourth annual meeting of the Soldiers' Free Homestead Colony Association, April 7, 1915) held at Gibbon:
Allen, Josiah N.
Allen, Homer J.
Ashburn, D. P.
Ayer, Simon C.
Ayer, Mrs. Lois N.
Bassett, Benjamin C.
Bassett, Samuel C.
Bayley, John M.
Blanchard, Frank F.
Boardman, Frank D.
Brayton, Charles E.
Bunker, Ira P.
Buzzell, Oliver A.
Chamberlain, J. S.
Childs, C. O.
Clifton, Mrs. Mary C.
Crable, D. P.
Darby, John H.
Davis, Daniel R.
Davis, Perce T.
Davenport, C. W.
Day, Usher A.
Drury, Delos P.
Drury, Peter K.
Drury, William C.
Danner, John A.
Fargo, Ezra M.
Fisher, Thomas J.
Forrest, John W.
Forehand, Lloyd D.
George, Amos D.
George, Ira P.
George, L. D.
George, Truman Q.
Gibson, Adelbert F.
Gibson, William W.
Glanville, Mrs. Ann
Green, Henry C.
Hancock, O. C.
Henninger, S. F.
Hick, Robert H.
Hough, Lemuel S.
Hubbard, Emory M.
Hubbard, J. J.
Jackson, William N.
Johnson, David W.
Judd, James E.
Kenney, W. H.
Kelly, William H.
Kelsey, James E.
Knight, W. J.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
La Barre, I. D.
Lew, Clara E.
Lee, Harry A.
Lowell, Samuel B.
Lux, John K.
McClure, William F.
McCraney, Mrs. E. P.
McKinley, Jeremiah F.
Mercer, Vernon T.
Mills, James H.
Oviatt, A. Judson
Pember, Mrs. E. A.
Putnam, John J.
Rogers, Horace P.
Sammons, Benjamin F.
Seeley, Simon V.
Short, Nelson W.
Silvernail, Calvin T.
Silvernail, George H.
Silvernail, John N.
Smith, George N.
Smith, John P.
Sprague, William H.
Standley, J. C.
Steven, Walter J.
Thatcher, Timothy D.
Thomas, M. D.
Thomas, George L.
Traut, Samuel R.
Trew, Willmot P.
Washburn, Albert A.
Washburn, Oscar B.
West, Levi N.
White, Alva G. H.
Whittier, James J.
Wiggins, John W.
Willard, Richard E. L.
Zimmerman, Adam W.
Those residing in the county and in the vicinity of Gibbon Switch on the arrival of the colony were, by action of the Soldiers' Free Homestead Colony Association, made honorary members of the association and of the colony.
Oliver, Mrs. Sarah
Thompson, Oliver E.
Wood, Thomas K.
A HABITATION--A PLACE TO LIVE
The homesteads filed upon, the most important matter was a habitation, a place in which to live. The colonists were all practically persons of very limited means, so much so that quite often two families lived in one house, the house located on the line between the claims.
More often two or more joined in owning one team, wagon and plow.
Several had so little means, nothing but their claims, that they worked for others as occasion offered. Some lived in dugouts on their claims, others built sod houses, and a quite common frame house was 12x16 feet in size, 8 feet in height, boarded up, one thickness of boards, battened, and with a shingle roof, the furniture consisting of a stove, a bed, and three chairs. So exact were the estimates of material for one of these houses that when completed the pieces of lumber left would not make a wheelbarrow load.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
RANGE OF PRICES
Oxen were largely used for teams; they cost less to purchase, required no expense for harness, other than a yoke, and required no grain ration, living and working on grass in the growing season and on hay and forage in winter. The sudden and unusual demand inflated prices, oxen selling for from $150 to $210 per yoke. Cows sold for from $50 to $60. A four weeks old pig (razor back breed) cost $5 and hens 50 cents each. A quite common price paid for breaking prairie was $5 per acre. Potatoes, $1 per bushel. Corn meal, $2 per 100 pounds. Pine lumber, from $30 to $40 per 1,000. If one complained that the prices asked seemed too high, the invariable excuse was "excessive transportation rates on the railroad."
FIRST CROPS GROWN
On the newly broken prairie the crops grown the first year or season were corn, planted with a spade, pumpkins, squash and melons.
No finer squash, pumpkins and melons were ever grown in the county than were grown on prairie sod in the summer of 1871.
Some made gardens on the sod and learned that onions from "black" seed did remarkably well, and later these proved a valuable crop.
On and in the vicinity of the Boyd ranch was a hundred or more acres of "old" land--land that had been previously tilled--and some of the colonists rented from five to ten acres of this land, planting to corn and potatoes. The corn yielded about forty bushels per acre and the potatoes about one hundred and fifty bushels. Practically no weeds grew on this land and most of the corn and potatoes there planted were not tilled after planting, the fact being there were no implements to be had for such tilling. On the newly plowed sod no weeds grew except tumble weeds, which were easily destroyed.
CONDITIONS CONFRONTING THE COLONISTS
Possibly some mention of conditions which confronted these colonists may be of historic interest. First, with a very few exceptions, they were persons of limited means. Second, quite one-half of the number were without practical experience in farming, even in the locality from which they came. Third, this was a new country--quite generally believed not adapted to the growing of crops--a virgin soil, destitute of timber for either fuel or building purpose--destitute of coal, or stone, in a state of nature, other than a railroad, and the base for supplies of all kinds nearly two hundred miles distant.
There were no precedents which could be followed or referred to; no old and experienced farmers to whom the "tenderfoots" could go for counsel and advice. From the construction of some kind of a habitation in which to live to the securing of teams and farming utensils for tilling the soil, seed to be planted, everything to the minutest detail had to be purchased, and at what then seemed and which has since proven to be, extravagant prices. These conditions soon exhausted the resources of the homesteader, even though he expended his
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
means with utmost economy. If compelled to run in debt he found later that to pay from $150 to $200 for a yoke of oxen, $50 for a cow, $5 for a four-weeks-old pig, $32 for a breaking plow, and like prices for other needed articles, and then to make payment in corn and potatoes at 10 and 15 cents per bushel required not only hard, hard work, but years of privation and economy to get out of debt, which, with exceeding regret, it is to be recorded, many of the poor homesteaders were never able to do.
There were other conditions which took years of time and long and bitter experience to realize and understand. One of the most important of these to be understood is the relation of the growing season for many crops as affected by altitude or elevation above sea level.
No member of this colony had ever given a thought to the fact that along a parallel of latitude, increase in elevation meant a shortening of the growing season for many crops, especially the corn crop, on which main dependence was placed in all farming operations.
The corn plant requires and can make good use of a growing season of quite 140 days, which condition prevails in the Mississippi and Missouri valleys to the east and which prevailed in the lower levels from which most of the colonists came, but the greater elevation in Buffalo County was such that the growing season for corn was from thirty to forty days less than the colonists had been accustomed to.
It was the most natural thing in the world for colonists to send to their former home, "back east," for seeds of various kinds to plant, and yet when these seeds were planted in this new country, this virgin soil, the conditions confronting the plants from these seeds, were as new and strange as were the conditions of all kinds confronting the members of the colony. It is true that plants adapt themselves to changes in soil, climate, length of growing season and other surroundings and conditions which affect their growth and full development, but plants require time and opportunity to so adapt themselves the same as do people.
Another occasion of failure or at least partial failure of many crops in those early years, was that many kinds of insect life, such as grasshoppers, crickets, etc., feed during the growing season on the leaves and stems of plants, the prairie being alive with such insects at that season. The cultivated plants of the homesteader, such as corn, potatoes, vines of all kinds, and of small grain--wheat, oats--are much more tender and succulent as a food than the native plants and grasses of the prairie, and the result was that these insects flocked to the small crops of the homesteader, either completely destroying, or at least weakening them, resulting in a partial if not entire failure to make a crop. It is recalled that when the grasshopper raids came, that small fields of crops were entirely destroyed, while a large field of corn--a half section or a section in a body--was often only injured by them for a comparatively short distance on the outer edges, the center .portion of the field being uninjured.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
LACK OF MOISTURE
That this was a land deficient in moisture for the successful growing crops was understood by the homesteaders, but how best to take advantage of this lack, how to conserve moisture as now understood, had not, in the minds of any one, even a beginning. Briefly stated, the conditions as regards moisture were as follows: For ages the prairies of Nebraska had been annually burned. As our rainfall comes in sudden showers, the result was that a sudden shower of two or even three inches of rain did not wet the prairie to a depth of more than a few inches, the prairie being burned clean of any dead leaves or grass which might hold the rainfall until it could soak into the earth. Under such conditions the rain ran off the prairie as from the roof of a house, into the sloughs, ravines, rivers and thus out of the country, doing vegetation little or no good. Also the prairie being hard and undisturbed, the moisture which penetrated the soil was soon drawn from the soil by the action of sun and wind. It is believed that in the early settlement of the county, 50 per cent of the rain that fell on the prairies ran directly into the ravines and rivers and out of the county, this being especially true of unbroken prairie, while at the present time probably 90 per cent of our rainfall is absorbed in the soil and retained for growing crops. Also, because of more moisture retained in the soil, the atmosphere is much more humid than in the earlier periods of colony history.
LIVE STOCK CONDITIONS
Another condition, not generally understood, occasioned heavy loss of live stock to many homesteaders. Previous to the coming of the colonists it had been widely advertised that cattle would live and keep in good condition during the entire year, living wholly upon the wild grasses. Doubtless this was practically true with half-wild cattle, used to ranging for a living, and where they could range at will seeking shelter in the brush along the streams in time of storms and extreme cold. There were no more nutritious grasses for live stock anywhere to be found than the native grasses of Nebraska. When the homesteader came there was no longer an unlimited range; also native or domesticated cattle, accustomed to being fed and cared for, would not range the prairie and rustle for a living in the winter months, and the result was that many an early homesteader, many a colonist, who perchance borrowed the money with which to invest in cattle to roam the prairie, had only the hides when the grass was green in the succeeding spring.
It is recalled that all of a herd of some five hundred head of cattle being wintered on the Platte River south of Gibbon in the winter of 1871-2, perished, and the same fate met a herd of about one thousand, five hundred being kept the same winter on the South Loup River in the immediate vicinity of the present Village of Ravenna.
GROWING SMALL GRAIN--WHEAT AND OATS
In the spring of 1872 a few acres of spring wheat and oats were sown. Harrows were used to cover the grain; these harrows were home-made, of oak
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
secured at the Loup River; they were light, "A"-shaped, and of little real service. The wheat and oats were harvested with grain cradles, threshed with flails, on the ground, and cleaned by throwing the grain against the wind. While the yield was fairly good the crops were badly infected with smut--in fact, in the earlier attempts to grow small grain the crops were at times not worth harvesting on account of smut.
Machinery for the rapid harvesting of grain had not then come into use, the better kinds not even as yet invented. The first of these machines was a dropper attachment to a mowing machine (the expense of the mower and attachment $175). With this machine five men were required to bind and remove the grain fast as cut. This machine, high geared as a mower, wore out very rapidly. The first Marsh harvester was purchased and operated by William Nutter, using oxen. On this machine the grain was delivered on a platform, on which two men rode and bound the grain. While much more rapid in harvesting, it was very hard work and very wasteful. The first self binders, using wire and costing $315, were not satisfactory to use and the wire, broken in threshing, caused loss of stock where cattle ate of the straw and chaff.
To pay the above named prices for harvesting machinery, newly invented and not in very satisfactory working order, and to make payment in wheat at about fifty cents per bushel and corn at about fifteen cents, was not a rapid way in accumulating wealth or of paying debts.
THE QUESTION OF FUEL
In the early days of the colony the question of fuel was not so pressing as in few years later. In the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad about two thousand, five hundred ties were used to the mile. It appears that of these ties, to each rail was used four of hardwood (oak or black walnut), the others cottonwood. These cottonwood ties were beginning to be removed before the arrival of the colony and were used for fuel purposes, the only other fuel available being willow brush and dead cottonwood trees on the islands of the Platte.
The Union Pacific Railroad at that date was poorly supplied with rolling stock to use in hauling coal, also the coal mines were undeveloped, and at times in the early winters it was impossible to buy, beg or steal coal from the railroad--the only source of supply--and on one such occasion the railroad authorities advised that organized parties be sent to the Loup River (twenty miles distant) for fuel, stating that any timber found on railroad land could be freely used for such purpose. Many homesteaders, having ox teams, hauled wood from the Loup River, at times making the trip in the dead of winter.
Some families endeavored to keep warm by burning corn stalks, cut stove lengths. Later years when corn was more plenty, the corn itself was burned for fuel. Some ranged the prairie in search of "buffalo chips," the dried droppings of cattle, and used these "chips" for fuel. It made an intensely hot fire but was far from clean and pleasant to use. Many families living near the Platte bottoms used the coarse grass for fuel. It is recalled that J. N. Allen invented a machine which twisted the grass into a hard rope, which he cut in lenghts and burned, as wood, in a stove. Ira P. Bunker constructed a furnace
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
under his house and invented an arrangement (which he patented) by which, from the outside, he fed hay into the furnace and thus heated his house.
Many families used fuel of the kinds described to keep warm in houses built of only one thickness of boards, not lathed or plastered, and more than one child was born in such a house, in the winter time, when the snow sifted into the house, and over the bed whereon lay the mother and new born infant. In those early years, during the extreme cold of winter, to many colonists the most comfortable place, the occasion most looked forward to, was to attend a grange or church service, at the schoolhouse, there to absorb the heat from a red hot stove, a hot coal fire, and enjoy for a brief hour or more the companionship of friends and neighbors in full sympathy with all the surrounding conditions and circumstances. The great lack of fuel, cheap and abundant, was a most serious handicap in the early settlement of Buffalo County, and a cause of much discomfort and suffering during the long months of winter.
A COLONIST'S TRIP TO OMAHA--$250 FOR A YOKE OF OXEN--OPENING UP FOR BUSINESS
A COLONIST'S TRIP TO OMAHA IN APRIL, 1871
The homesteads taken, the next step was a habitation in which to live, furnishing for the house, and farming implements, at least a plow.
Lumber, hardware, household goods, farming implements and food supplies could only be purchased in Omaha, as there were no stocks of such goods at a nearer point. A number of the colonists made out bills of needed supplies and chose one of their number to make the trip and purchase the articles. The colonists had brought their funds in New York exchange which would require the one presenting the same to be identified, and as one of their number had an acquaintance residing in Council Bluffs, a lawyer, who could identify him, he was chosen to make the trip.
The railroad fare from Gibbon to Omaha was $14.75, 7 cents per mile. The party arrived at Omaha about 6 P. M., crossed to Council Bluffs to find his acquaintance attending court at some pointin Iowa and not expected home for some days. The next morning found the colonist on the banks of the Missouri ready to cross at first opportunity, but the wind blew at such a furious rate that it was not possible for the boat to make the crossing. All day long the colonist remained, without a bite to eat, awaiting a favorable opportunity to cross.
Several attempts were made without success; on one occasion the ferry boat barely escaped being swamped on one of the piers of the railroad bridge then in process of construction. With the going down of the sun, the wind abated, but the colonist reached the Nebraska side after business hours. Early the next morning a call was made on a lumber dealer, but when the case was stated he replied that he could not take drafts where the party was not known or could not be identified.
A visit was then made to the store of Milton Rogers, a dealer in hardware, stoves and agricultural implements, and the situation explained to Mr. Rogers, who without a moment's hesitation replied, in substance: "We have all heard of your colony in Buffalo County and we want you to stay and help settle the state, and I am more than willing to aid you in any manner possible. I will take your drafts in payment for such of my goods as you desire, will find a lumber dealer who will take your drafts for lumber, and I will endorse your drafts at the bank for the balance so that you may take the remainder home in currency."
This kindness on the part of Mr. Rogers was greatly appreciated and has
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
never been forgotten. The business of Mr. Rogers was established in 1855 and more than half a century later was being conducted under the name of Milton Rogers Sons.
The articles purchased comprised two car loads--cars being much smaller than at present, ten tons the limit of capacity-and had a wide range from lumber to build several small houses to stoves, furniture, crockery, breaking plow, spades, well buckets, rope, picket pins, pork by the barrel and molasses by the 5-gallon keg. The railroad company made one concession, making the same rate on the shipment as for emigrant movables.
TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS FOR A YOKE OF OXEN
On this trip an option was secured on a yoke of oxen at $250. This seemed like and was a large price if not an extravagant one, but teams of oxen were scarce, and a better yoke of oxen never looked through ox-bows than these They were large, young, well broken and active.
Later the purchase was concluded through Milton Rogers and the oxen shipped to Gibbon. The first use made of the team was to draw a load of lumber out to a claim across Wood River; when in mid-stream the yoke broke and it was necessary to send to Omaha for another before use could be made of the team. These oxen, a wagon, and a breaking plow were owned by three homesteaders.
OPENING UP FOR BUSINESS
Immediately after the taking of the homesteads, Aaron Ward engaged in the lumber business and L. D. George and I. D. La Barre each arranged to engage in the mercantile business. The business venture of Mr. George was on a much more extensive scale than that of Mr. La Barre; T. Q. George, a brother of L. D., came later, the firm being L. D. and T. Q. George and Co. I. D. La Barre at once secured a considerable line of goods and opened for business in a box car on the siding, until such time as his first place of business was in readiness; this store building of Mr. La Barre's was the first building completed in the Village of Gibbon, and the first building to receive a coat of paint; it is, at this date (1915) the first building to the west of the Babcock Opera House, on Main Street. It is recalled that when the prices which the colonists had paid for the two carloads of goods--before mentioned--became known, it occasioned much irritation as between the merchants and their customers. For instance, the price paid at Omaha for a 12-inch breaking plow was $21; for a stove, $20; a well bucket, 75 cents; while the prices for like article at Gibbon were: a 12-inch breaking plow, $32; a stove, $30; well bucket, $1.50. It will be seen that on such standard articles the margin of profit was certainly large enough to warrant success in the business, and yet those merchants, in the end, did not make any marked success of the business, for the reason credit was universal and when a debtor was a homesteader whose whole source of income was from crops raised on his claim, it stands to reason that merchants' losses were large where credit was extended to such a class of customers.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
It is a matter of astonishment, at this date, to recall some of the methods of transacting business which prevailed in the early days of which this history treats. It was a common occurrence for a homesteader to agree to pay 2, 3 at times 4 per cent a month interest on borrowed money. It was a common business transaction for a homesteader, without means, to purchase on time a full line of agricultural implements, their value aggregating several hundreds of dollars, and often not even paying in advance the freight charges on the same, and in case of crop failure, payment had to be extended, and often the machinery was worn out before paid for, and at times it was never paid for. Such business conditions and transactions, can only be accounted for on the theory that the unbounded faith and optimism as to the country and its future development, which caused people without means and experience to come here and engage in agriculture in a country in which nothing was known as to capabilities for support of an agricultural population, included not only the homesteader himself but all classes engaged in business as well.
Just across the Platte River south of Gibbon was the Village of Lowell, and in of the early merchants at that point was Joel Hull. At a reunion held at Fort Kearney, many years later, by Mr. Hull read a paper entitled, "Pioneer Merchandising in Central Nebraska." It presents so true and complete a history of merchandising in Buffalo County in those days that as a matter of historic interest it is here given place.