"Centennial History of Hamilton County 1867-1967"
by Bertha G. Bremer
In the month of April, 1873, came one of the worst blizzards ever known to the early frontier settlers. It began on Easter Sunday, April 13, at daybreak. The air filled with what seemed solid snow, and continued through Monday and Tuesday night, increasing in fury, everything was buried in snow and serious was the problem of the luckless settler who wasn't in a well-built house or dugout. Such was the fate of many, among them, a Mr. Fred Kailey, whose house was not finished. The roof or sides would not keep out the snow and soon it was soaked and it was absolutely necessary for them to find shelter elsewhere. So taking his wife and four year old son, they started for brother-in-law William's house, together with his brother-in-law Charlie White, known as "Buckskin Charlie" and wife. They later separated with White going to another neighbors. The Kailey family, nearly frozen and blinded with snow, pushed on but about halfway, Mrs. Kailey became so exhausted she wouldn't go on and couldn't be persuaded to move. Mr. Kailey went on and reached his brother's home and they came back with a sled, finding that Mrs. Kailey and the boy had perished.
Many were the incidents of heroism, suffering and loss of life brought by the storm of April 13. Stock perished from lack of shelter everywhere. The barren prairie lacked the sheltering trees and the storm had full swing.
On the night of January 11, 1888, a wonderful snow fell on nearly all of the State of p>Nebraska. On January 12th, my sister Ella and I waded through it to school one and three-fourth miles. A younger brother and sister didn't go that day.
We stopped at a neighbors and two of their girls went with us. Their names were Anna and Lizzie Shrove. It was a beautiful morning, the snow was so pretty and white and so level.
The name of our school was Maple Grove District #14. It was quite a large school house, the best county school in the County. One large school room, a hall and cloak room, had a full basement for fuel. There were shutters on all the windows; they were all closed at night and opened in the morning. The school room had coal oil lamps on the walls on both sides of the room. They had reflectors and they lighted the room well. There was a good well and a hand pump. During the winter months we had from 40 to 45 pupils. Just one teacher taught all grades from primary through the 10th grade; Bookkeeping, Algebra, Civil Government and some advanced work.
On this particular day after the big snow, from 10:15 to 10:45 A.M. we made a "Fox and Geese" ring and at noon we played for an hour. This was a game that was quite popular when there was snow. The boys and girls all played together.
The school bell rang at 1 P.M. We always sang a Hymn first thing after school was called. Just about 1:45 P.M. the wind came up from the northwest, blew the shutters shut and in ten minutes time you couldn't see across the road. The teacher said "If you think you can make it you had better go now for it is getting worse".
Well, we started. We had three-fourth of a mile that we followed the railroad tracks. The track was just about a half-block from the school house. Well, that was as far as we went. We went back to the school house, some that went south made it home.
We had classes till 4 o'clock then we played games. About 5:30 the father of three of the children brought a pail full of sandwiches and cookies. We had plenty of heat and plenty of water so didn't mind it too much. It was a long evening and the parents were frantic not knowing what had happened to us. There were no telephones then.
About 10:30 P.M. my brother Jim and the Shrove girl's brother Jerry came for us. The storm had subsided quite a bit.
We got to the nearest house three-fourths of a mile away but couldn't go any farther. Our faces and legs were froze a little. Barton was the name of the people. Mr. Barton was County Superintendent of the schools. Mrs. Barton, the dear old lady, bathed our frost bites and fixed some warm food. We stayed till morning. Brother Jim went home to let the folks know that we were alright.
The storm had quit by morning and nice but cold. We went home, walked on snowdrifts eight to ten feet high. the roads weren't opened till late spring. They laid barbed wire fence down and made roads through corn fields to get to town.
Lots of school children were badly frozen and lots of livestock lost. The storm came so suddenly.
Written in 1965 -- I am in my 90th year but that day is as vivid as if it was just last week. Mother gave birth to her 15th child February 4, 1888.
Note: This story takes place near Aurora in Hamilton Co.
We had spent the winters of 1872 and 1873 in Lincoln, my husband teaching in an outside district. I had worked for a Peter Guile in his bakery store. When we started on our journey to the homestead already selected, he brought a flour bag of broken crackers and said,"Maybe these will come in handy."
The first night we camped by a creek and made our bed on the ground under the wagon. The air was sweet and fresh and soothing to us, as we were very tired. Our journey was without incident of interest until we reached Aurora, composed of two frame buildings with square fronts, one the post office, and the other the drug store of Dr. Meyers, and a sod blacksmith shop. Then we started to find the stakes of our future home, the South Half of the Northwest Quarter of Section 8, Town 10, Range 7, West, eight miles on the old trail and we sighted a sod house. The home of"Pop Ayers," as we afterward learned to call him.
We could stay all night? Yes! So after supper the men brought in hay and laid it on the dirt floor, and after quilts and pillows were in place we slept good. The morning looked threatening and Mr. Ayers said to me, "You'd better stay by my fire and if it's worth anything to you, you can pay me and if it isn't, you needn't."
Well, I thought I'd go on, so I replied, "I can hold the horses so I think I'll go with the men" The men were my husband and my stepfather, Benjamin Abbott, who afterwards was the postmaster of the Alvin office named for his father, Alvin Abbott.
So in due time we found the stakes left by the government survey. Mr. Abbott's land was the Southwest Quarter of the same section, and as he could not breathe in a sod house, he must have one of lumber--and then the building began. The wind blew so hard that first day that while Mr. Abbott held the shingles down the other nailed them down. That was Saturday. In the evening it began to rain and my husband said, "Looks like a storm, think I'll bring the wagon up here." It was just over the line. We made our bed on the floor as usual and in the morning I put out my hand and said, "What's that?" He answered, "It is the finest kind of snow" Well, what to do? The shack was only boarded up and not a batten on it, so we put quilts and blankets up to keep out the storm. It was the famous blizzard of 1873. We had a feather bed and Mr. Abbott had a straw bed, so at night they laid down the straw bed and I got on it and then they put the feather bed over me. The wind howled so that I had to shout to make Mr. Goodwin hear me standing at the foot of the bed. Then the bag of crackers came in handy, as I was out of bread. Mr. Abbott got in one side of me and Mr. Goodwin the other, and I stayed there two days and nights. On the second day the mare laid down and died, also Mr. Abbott's cow, and he brought the calf into the shack, 10 x 14. Once a day he's make coffee. We didn't have much fuel, only a few sticks we had brought from a creek. Old blind John, the horse, stood with head up and faced the storm.
Mr. Abbott's yoke of oxen wandered away to the lagoon and when he found them the larger one stood before the smaller one. Some people came over from the next section to the east to see if we were still alive.
Well, someone must go to Aurora for supplies and who but blind John and I. So Mr. Goodwin took two 2 x 4's and made a platform on two wheels of the wagon and put a box on it for a seat and John and I went. John had been used to going in the rut and that brought the wheels on the middle ridge and the side of the road, but we got there and back, and I had to be lifted off. But did that discourage us? Oh, no. We made a dugout for ourselves and enjoyed having company there. I very well remember the day the Dixons came to visit. After three years there we had a sod house with a floor and a cellar. Then one Sunday, Mrs. Dixon's voice outside said, "Hello Mrs. Dixon, we've come to move your baking day." And when they were starting for home after a pleasant day together we started at the west door and saw something that looked like rain--it turned out to be grasshoppers.
They stayed with us two weeks and their appetites were very good. They ate everything in sight and even made onions look like holes in the ground; and I heard it said that they even attacked some of the young men.
Every day about 10 a.m. they would rise in the air and when they found that the wind was moving, would settle down for dinner. Well, we lived through that, and one year raised a thousand bushels of corn worth ten cents per bushel. One year we had a drought, and last year we had 170 acres of crops--40 acres of barley east of the house was a beautiful sight gleaming in the sun. The men cut once around the field and came in to dinner--then a hail storm hit the field and everything was flattened out. Then we said it was enough, and went to Chapman.
The depression of the 1930s affected every part of life in the U.S. America came out of a time of seemingly great prosperity into a time of economic strife and starvation. The lives of my mother's parents were greatly affected, and what happened to them basically happened to everyone else. The hardships they faced were faced all across the country and the world in the time now titled The Great Depression.
My grandfather, Raymond W. Douglas, was born on Dec. 3, 1912. He grew up on a five acre farm five miles west of Aurora, Ne. The farm had a team of horses, a cow, some chickens and a couple of pigs. He went to a country school till the eighth grade,and then he went on to high school in Aurora. There were no school buses at that time; so he took turns driving an old ford into town with some of his friends. His mother died in May 1927 when he was in the ninth grade.
My grandfather said that they first felt the depression in the last part of 1928 when their bank at Murphy, Ne went belly up; his father had their savings in it. They received half of their money back, but the next bank that they started an account with also went broke.My grandmother's parents lost their entire farm to a bank and had to move to a rented farm.
My grandfather started working for his dinner at a small cafe in Aurora when he was in high school. Hamburgers were 5 cents and pie was 10 cents. After finishing high school he continued to work full time at the cafe for his meals and $5 a week. He continued working at this cafe till about 1931, hoping to raise enough money to go to business college; but the owner came to him on a Saturday night and informed him that things were so bad that he couldn't afford to keep any help.
There were no other jobs available. Grandfather felt that the world had come to an end; however, about three weeks later, he and a friend of his started a small cream and egg business at Murphy. The Fairmont creamery furnished the equipment and the checks to pay for the produce that they bought. They were in this produce station when Roosevelt became president and closed down the banks across the U.S, yet they still wrote the check to Fairmont Creamery and took the produce to Grand Island. Grand Island was one of the first places in the area to get cash which my grandfather took back to the farmers from which he had gotten the produce.
The creamery soon expanded its stock and sold everything from horse collars to groceries. They also had the post office in the station which paid according to the amount of business it received. This store was also one of the first to start in the trucking business.
Grandfather had to work all kinds of hours. He would work all day long in the store and then take a load of livestock into Omaha at night.The roads were very poor and it would be well after midnight when they got unloaded in Omaha. There they would get a bed for a few hours and then start back home. Sometimes they would have to go right back without any sleep so that the truck could make another haul the next morning.
The store owner bought and sold grain, fruit, vegetables, salt and other goods. This is where my grandfather learned to be a good salesman. He would, for instance, start out from Murphy with a load of livestock for Omaha, and then he would go over into Iowa and get a load of corn and start out for Kansas. He had to get the corn sold before he reached Hutchinson so he could buy a load of salt to bring back to Murphy. After a rest stop in Murphy, he would then head for western Nebraska. He had to have the salt sold by the time he reached Alliance, Ne, where he would buy a load of potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes or whatever was in season. Then he would head back to Murphy selling the vegetables all the way. He slept many nights on top of a load of corn or potatoes.
After a couple of years in this line of work, my grandfather went to work for his cousin in Aurora at a produce station which he soon owned. During most of this time, he lived with his father. They still had to pump water by hand, but they had electricity by 1932. He married my grandmother in 1934. They ran the produce station together and prospered.
My grandfather expressed his thoughts on the depression in this quote, "We had it bad, but others had it worse and we struggled through it and learned a lot at the same time. I hope we never have times like that again as the people now would have trouble changing their ways of life." He died three and a half years ago at the age of seventy-five. I received this information from a letter that he wrote to my cousin who was working on a similar project.
I didn't know my grandfather that well, he had Parkinson's disease and had trouble speaking. This project has taught me a lot that I never knew about him. It has also, in a way, brought me closer to him. I also think I understand what it must have been like during the depression. It was a time in which you had to have will-power, belief in yourself, and overall, hope, to survive.
Raymond W. Douglas digging a path to his Produce Station
in Aurora, Nebraska after the big blizzard of 1948.
Photo from Connie Douglas Snyder
Do you have stories or photos from the 1948 blizzard? Contact me about posting them.
Portion of the Tuesday, August 3, 2010, funeral service honoring Agnes Devone Salmon Derr as written by Nephew Rex Salmon and read by Grandson John Seymour:
The Dash Between the Dates:
Today we're honoring Agnes Salmon Derr, our mother, aunt, grandmother, counselor, and friend. There'll never be another woman to compare her to. What Gal! What a life! What a woman! What a lady! Three Cheers for Agnes!
Agnes entered time on Earth in 1912 on the 23rd day of December.
She left this world just 5 days ago on July 29, 2010.
That's a span of 97 years, 7 months and 6 days. Almost a century. When she was born, William Howard Taft was president and she lived through the 17 presidents since.
We know her beginning in 1912 and her ending in 2010, but what about the dash between the dates. The dash represents her long life of working, mothering, loving, and giving.
So, let's open up the dash and see the real person, the one who started out in life named Agnes Devone Salmon in a farm home and ended up as Agnes in Grand Island, the widow of Elmer Derr, with 111 descendants.
Agnes was born at home to Thomas and Lizzie Detamore Salmon, on Monday, Dec. 23, 1912. Her home for the first 15 years was on the farm southeast of Giltner. The Blue River ran through the pasture and near the house, providing fun times in the river with her little brother A F in the summer time and sliding on ice in the winter.
Compared to 2010, life was totally different for a farm gal then. The farm had no running water, no electricity, no radio, no phone, and no automobiles at first. Horse and buggy took Agnes to town with her folks. She and A F either walked or rode horses to Dist. 12 school, where there was a corral, pasture, water tank, and a small barn.
Today, one of Agnes' great grandchildren might wonder if life was worth living back at the turn of the 20th Century. What could they do for fun without cell phones, cable TV, computers, printers, electric lights, gas stove, indoor toilet, hot running water, air conditioning, or automobiles?
The younger generations expect all of these conveniences as necessities for living, but Agnes enjoyed the basic life on the farm. All of today's modern electrical inventions were only dreams back then.
Horses were the source of power on the farm then, not tractors. Trees provided wood for heating the cooking stove, the living room stove, and for making fence posts. Trees were also sawn to provide lumber for buildings.
Agnes did have conveniences though as a young gal that her father and mother didn't. That's progress. Her father, Thomas, was born in 1871 in a log cabin that his father built along the Blue River. It was about three miles further downstream from where Agnes was born.
Winter in the drafty log cabin was a big problem. Her father said he and his brothers slept in the loft and in the mornings had to shake snow off the buffalo hides. He said he saw Indians returning from war parties with other tribes, but they didn't bother the homesteaders. He told her that buffalo still roamed the southern Hamilton County area and were hunted for food and hides.
When Thomas was a baby, his mother, Jean Rutherford Salmon, said an Indian stopped her as she was returning to the cabin from feeding the chickens. He asked to hold the baby. She was afraid to hand her firstborn over to him, but afraid not to. He said he would give her the pony he was leading. He held the baby for a while, then returned Thomas and handed her the lead to the pony.
When Thomas' father, Alexander "Sandie" Franklin Salmon, returned home later in the day, he asked about the pony in the corral. She told her husband the fearful event and he said "In the morning, the pony will be gone. Sure enough, the next morning, he opened the door to look out and the pony was not there, but his other horses and cows were.
Agnes' grandparents were homesteaders and suffered many hardships establishing life on the Nebraska Prairie. Sandie Salmon came to the Stockham area in 1869 with his two cousins and claimed his 160 acres under the Homestead Act next to his cousins' acreages. He spent most of the year sawing and hewing logs to make himself a cabin, and then returned to Wisconsin to marry his sweetheart, Jeanie Rutherford.
Sandie had settled in Verona, Madison County, Wisconsin in 1856, when he arrived as a 16-year-old from Dundee, Scotland. He worked for John Rutherford clearing trees to make farmland and gained in two important factors: he learned how to cut trees to construct his cabin and he met and married the boss' daughter, Jean.
They were married Feb. 22, 1870, and they honeymooned in a covered wagon in the winter on its way to "no-where Nebraska" or so thought the bride's parents. It must have taken a lot of love and faith for the bride to leave a comfortable home for parts unknown, loaded down with many hardships required of pioneer living.
The wagon was pulled by two oxen and they had a cow in tow for milk and for the start of a herd. There were no Motel 6 then, no roads, no signs pointing out the direction to Stockham, and no bridges. They traveled for about three weeks, crossing the Missouri River on a ferry boat at Falls City. Only the canvas top separated them from the freezing cold and blowing snow. The front and the back openings weren't exactly wind proof either.
But Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Franklin Salmon survived the trip and in a few years, they built a two-story house and had 7 children to prove their love.
This pioneer heritage is what provided the strength for Agnes in her lifetime. Her father told her about the struggles of life in early Nebraska, which had become a state in 1867 -- four years before her father was born. Swarms of grasshoppers clouded the sun and ate up their crops several straight years.
Agnes' mother, Lizzie Hannah Detamore Miller Salmon, was also the great granddaughter of Giltner pioneers John and Nancy Huffman Detamore. Agnes' mother was born in 1881 in Champaign County, Illinois, and came to Nebraska in 1883 with her family.
Agnes learned from her parents what was necessary to set up house and to run a farm. When time came she was prepared to strike out on her own.
She'd been 15 for a week when she married a good-looking dude named Elmer Clarence Derr, whom she had met at a home dance. They celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary in 1990, the year Elmer died.
For entertainment back then, neighbors would take furniture and rug out of the front room, and presto! A dance floor often came with live music somehow. They enjoyed themselves despite the lack of money. Elmer came from the Blue Hill area and lived then on a farm southwest of Giltner with his parents, John and Nellie Fooken Deer.
The newlyweds got hitched in Smith Center, Kansas, on January 4, 1928, and they lived with the Derrs at first. Elmer was farming with his father and a brother John.
She lived through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in the 30s when rain would not fall and the crops burned up. Russian thistles somehow found enough water to grow and were often the only green spots in a field. Life was very difficult and coins were tough to come by, let alone a dollar bill.
Day after day for weeks the hot summer sun would beat the life out of plants, animals, and people. Through the years they lived at two farms 3 miles east of Giltner and then moved to the edge of Giltner for a little "city life" when Elmer's occupation turned from farming to custom combine operator. He would leave in the spring with his crew, starting harvesting wheat in Texas, and working his way up to Montana and Canada as the grain would ripen. When the children were grown, she'd take trips to the harvest fields to drive trucks to the elevators, and of course, for some loving time! She admitted the latter under strong questioning about 40 years later.
The 4 children who entered their world were Eugene Elmer Derr, born Dec. 2, 1928; Nadean Agnes Derr Seymour, born Nov. 27, 1930, Robert Edward Derr, born June 4, 1936, and Lynda Rae Derr Garver, born Dec. 23, 1947, on her mother's birthday. Her son Gene died April 24, 2008, in Aurora. She said children aren't supposed to die before parents, and she took it very hard. She said Gene often called her late at night so she kept a phone by her bed. He would talk for hours sometimes and end the conversation with "Good Night, Mom." This one night he ended with "Good-bye, Mother." At the time Agnes thought this was unusual because he always had called her "mom." A few hours later she got a call from the care center telling her that her firstborn son Eugene was gone.
Her four children have given her 111 descendants. That's not a typo. That's 11 over 100. She kept up with the names and birthdates mostly, but when it got down to great-great-great grandchildren, what's a woman to do? She never saw some of her descendants.
Until a little over a month ago, Agnes lived in the house that her husband bought for her in 1947. For years, she'd been saying that she wanted to stay in the house as long as she could. She realized that wish and when told that she'd have to go to a care center, she requested a bed with a window. At her home at 1212 W. Anna, she had a big window by her big chair and she kept track of the weather and watched the traffic flow by.
So, we've only seen a small snapshot of the dash between the dates belonging to our beloved Agnes.
But, who really was this great charming woman? What was she like? Her personality?
She was a warm and loving person. She had a big heart and expanded it far beyond her own family. Her heart had an open door.
She was very patient and didn't expect life to be handed to her on a platter.
On the farm, she milked cows, separated the milk, slopped the hogs, raised vegetables and canned them, while cooking, sewing and making a home for her family. She was active in the Bingville Community Club for about 50 years.
Agnes lived to serve. She would offer her help and then provide advice if asked. She wasn't pushy. Up until recently, she kept up with the news events of the nation and the world. She would log daily in her diary who phones, what happened, who visited, and whatever else was on her mind.
She had a fast smile and immediately made you feel at home. She wasn't one to gossip, but was very concerned about health of her children, nephews and nieces, and grandchildren. She was a joy to be around.
Her mind was on auto rewind. She loved to talk with older people about events of the past 80 years or so, and did it with enthusiasm. She also told the truth and if she couldn't say something nice about a person, she'd move on.
The last time nephew Rex Salmon phoned her at the St. Francis care center, she said she was tired. He said, "Well, you don't have to milk the cows tonight. I'll do it for you." She said "Thanks, I couldn't do it any more." The past 20 years he reminded her "to keep breathing." She always said, "I'm trying." She lived 20 years beyond her husband and brother A F Salmon, who both died in 1990.
What a treasure this extended life has been for those who have been around Agnes. She loved to listen to DJ Josh Salmon on her radio and he'd stop in to watch "Jeopardy" with her, and bring something to eat. He lived next door to her. She called Grandson Bill Derr her "right-hand man."
We know that Agnes asked Jesus to forgive her and accept her, so at the end she was looking forward to ending this long life, which had become very painful. She was used to hardships, but at 97, peace is better. Grandson John Seymour said "it's a difficult time, but grandma is at peace, and that helps me cope with it."
She went peacefully and now we pause to thank God for our loved one. We're better because she passed through our lives, and that she gave us her love. What more could we ask?
Daughter Lynda reminds that her mother's favorite expression was "Tomorrow will be a better day!"" For her it is. For us who mourn at this time, keep looking on the bright side of life. That's where she lived. That's what she wants for us! Share her love with others.
The sun will probably rise tomorrow just like it has for Agnes the past 97-plus years.
Life will go on. Summer will end, then fall, winter, and spring will happen again. But at this time as we publicly pay our last respects, it seems like the bottom has fallen out of our lives. She lives now with each of us in our memory and as she said "Tomorrow will be a better day!" Believe it.
Thank you, a dear heart named Agnes, for sharing your life with us. God Bless You.
Good-bye for this time.
We'll meet again. Tomorrow will be a better day!