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History of a 300 Year Old
Cottonwood Tree in Harlan County, Nebraska
As told in Erma Kammerer's
1967 Republican City History

The Passing of a Great Nebraskan

I believe we owe the future generation of Nebraska the great Heritage of Nebraska History in the making, which is being lost by allowing the old pioneers to pass on without some note of their early experiences. I have found a silent pioneer unable to tell of its some 300 years of life in the making of Nebraska. A giant cottonwood lying at rest in the Republican River, by the information I am able to find it has stood at least 300 years.

In 1871 Elisha Drew and family migrated from Prairie Du Chien, Michigan. And settled on a homestead in Harlan County some four miles from the confluence of the Prairie Dog and the Republican Rivers. On this homestead stood a massive cottonwood measuring in 1872, 28 ft. 9 inches in Circumference, in 1920 36 ft. 7 inches in circumference. The bark says Mr. Drew, was 5 or 6 inches thick. This tree stood about 4 miles south and west of Republican City, Nebraska near the old camp ground of the Sioux Indians during their hunting season, and near the present site of the Indian burial ground, remembered by the many Sioux being killed by the U.S. troops protecting the early settlers (1830). The Sioux were always friendly to the Drew Family. Often exchanging buffalo meat for such items as sugar. Spotted Tail, the old chief was especially interested in Jay Drew, then a young lad in his teens. He told the father and Jay that he, when a boy, played under the "heap big tree" just as they saw the squaws and children there. Preparing and drying buffalo meat while the braves were hunting in the Republican Valley. Spotted Tail said his ancestors had camped under the great tree "many moons" before he was born and had held the great tree in reverence.

Mr. Jay Drew told me that Spotted Tail was a man of some 90 years of age in the 1870ís when they first came to Nebraska. Comparing this tree with another tree that grew under similar conditions, we may be permitted to infer it to be 300 years old.

In the past hundreds of people from Nebraska and Kansas drove to the old Drew homestead to see this tree and the Log house built by Mr. Elisha Drew in 1872 and yet standing. Many stated this was the largest tree in Nebraska and others that this was the largest cottonwood they had ever seen.

About 16 years ago the Prairie Dog washed the dirt from the roots of the tree, allowing it to fall across the stream. It remained green and continued to grow until about 1923 when it was stripped of its branches for fuel and then its bark loosened, came off and its heroic life ended. Freshets turned the massive trunk around down stream. During the past 5 or 6 years floods have carried it some 8 miles down stream to its present resting place at Hornís Ford in the Republican River, south of the north overlook between Doak and E. Harvey Farms.

We shall regret to see this great tree pass or lie unnoticed in the future, since it has furnished shelter and protection for 2 great human races at the parting of the ways of civilization and savagery. We stand in awe before the great monarch of the plains, one of the great wonders in the creation and beautifying of the universe.

There is not a date as to when this was written.

Return to Harlan County NEGENWEB page HERE.

Page by PS Designs
Posted 10/05 & Re-Posted 2008