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The Nonpareil - May 26, 1898
• THE NONPAREIL'S •
History of Merrick County
• From "the beginning" until the year 1895. •
(Concluded from last week)
The preacher announced his text and commenced his sermon; the boys brought out their cards and commenced a game of old sledge, but they played the game very silently so as not to disturb the solemn services, and in those days they also played an honest game. The sermon went on, and so did the game. The minister was faithfully attending to his duty and the boys were giving as much attention to the sermon as they could spare from the game. The card players sat on kegs and boxes and used the top of a whisky barrel for a card table. When the sermon was over the boys arose and sting the closing hymn, and when the minister called the congregation to prayer, they knelt reverently with him and gave close attention to the words of devotion. After the benediction was pronounced Mr. Marquette would come into the store and compliment the boys on their improvement in singing and their general deportment, and then the choir would practice the hymns for the next evening's service. We are sorry to state that after practicing a hymn in concert the choir would take a drink of whisky, also in concert and in consequence each hymn was sung with constantly increasing spirit. These singular meetings were continued for ten days and substantially the same program was gone through each evening. It was literally "Ten Nights In A Bar Room." We are sorry to state that no converts were made at these meetings, but who doubts but that the earnest words and faithful admonitions of the sincere Christian minister sank deep into the hearts of those wild young men and affected their whole subsequent lives. We do not know how this is, but we do know that all of them now living are reputable men and good citizens, dignified heads of families, and in whatever community they now live they are among the foremost of the leading men. They attend church with their families now, and don't play cards over the head of a whisky barrel any more.
Many people now living in this county will think the historian is romancing in the preceding statements but we assure them that it is all a plain, straight forward, truthful tale, just as it was told us by a reliable man who was present at every meeting. We must not judge these men, however, by present standards. Their subsequent lives have proved them to be good men, and the times then were very different from now. They were young men removed far away from the homes of civilization, and they thought they must have some fun, even if that fun was not up to the highest grade of moral excellence and "let him that is without sin cast the first stone." In that case the stone will not be thrown.
There was one convert however made that year and that was James H. Berryman. He was convinced of the sin of the liquor traffic and was converted into a life long prohibitionist. He says that one year in the business was enough for him and that he then made up his mind that all the wealth of the Indies would not induce him to sell another drink of whisky and we all know how faithful he has been to that resolution.
"THE GRASSHOPPER YEARS."
ERRICK County has twice suffered heavily from the grasshopper plague--once in 1874, and again in 1875. From the Lone Tree Courier of July 23rd, 1874, we gain the following information concerning their first coming:
Among the new arrivals at this place are Mr. and Mrs. G. Hopper, and family. In some respects this family is the most remarkable one we ever saw or heard of in number, its members are like unto the sands of the sea shore, and their voracity is equal to that of the ever hungry and never satisfied Pawnee, than which there is no stronger form of comparison. Though evidently hungry, they appear to be quite fastidious in their tastes, manifesting a decided liking and preference for green corn, oats, young beets and other choice and valuble (sic) vegetables. They arrived early in the forenoon day before yesterday, but failing to register, and being very reticent about their past and intended movements, we have been unable to ascertain whence they came or whither they are going. It is our opinion, however, that they came either from Minnesota or Arizona, and that their destination is--but no matter. One thing is certain--they have "traveled," are very free and easy in their manners, and from the cool and cheeky manner in which they appropriate our choicest eatables are evidently determined to make themselves quite at home while they remain with us. Our citizens are paying them every attention, and yesterday got up a demonstration in their honor, building bonfires and exerting themselves in other ways to show their appreciation of them. But it is possible for the most distinguished visitors to wear their welcome out, and our people would be only too glad to say good-bye to this family tomorrow. It is to be hoped they will take this hint and depart forwith.
The same paper the following week speaks in a similar serio-humorous manner of the departure of the great pest:
Mr. and Mrs. G. Hopper took their departure for the south last Saturday evening. They took passage on a regular, first-class gale of wind from the north, and when last seen were crossing the line between Merrick and Hamilton Counties, going at the rate of about seventy miles an hour. Notwithstanding the fury of the wind which was blowing, flying dust, and the general threatening aspect of the weather, most of our citizens turned out to see the visitors off and wish them a long, never ending journey, and we are sure many felt they would like to heave after them, not only old slippers and shoes, but brick bats, flat irons, or anything that would be likely to make an impression upon them or accelerate their speed.
We think we can safety say that nothing which has occurred here during the last year has been witnessed with so much real, pure delight and satisfaction as was the departure of this numerous, and in some respects interesting, family.
From the versatile pen of "Dick" Steele we are favored with the following account of his experiences in and subsequent to the second season of the great plague:
I arrived in Lone Tree one day in February, 1875, and put up at a hotel then conducted by Homer N. Bryant. The next day I went out onto the street and saw a large number of men drawing "relief' in the shape of government rations, army blue overcoats, "pants," blouses, and government socks. They told me these people had been stripped of all their crops by the ravages of grasshoppers the previous season. Some of these people are now the wealthiest and most influential men in Merrick County, while others became discouraged and drifted away, some into Iowa, Missouri, and other states, some into the penitentiary, and still others into the legislature. All this was the result of the original grasshopper raid of 1874 in Nebraska. With this one I had nothing to do, and was in no wise responsible for it. I only participated in the second one, a year or two later. It is true that there has been considerable lying about grasshoppers, but I think it all comes about in this way. One tells the truth about grasshoppers, but eastern people insist that he is lying and then the relator becomes discouraged and goes to work lying in real earnest. Let me illustrate: I told people in Chicago, and others from the east--New York and New England,--that when grasshoppers rose to fly away the sound was like thunder or the beating of giant waves on a stern and rock-bound coast. I told them that they darkened the sun at noonday, and that at night one could hear them eating in a cornfield. I told them that so vast was the number they actually stopped railroad trains, not by holding the trains up and assaulting the passengers, but by forming in swarms on the track, so that the drive wheels of the engine could not secure traction on the rails even by the aid of the largest sand boxes. All this was true, and will be vouched for by old residents of Merrick County.
But they scoffed at me and laughed my truthful stories to scorn.
Then I got mad and did a little lying on my own account. I told them that I had often sat on the top rail of a barbed wire fence and killed grasshoppers by millions, simply by switching a lath back and forth. I told them that one day ex-Sheriff Letcher and I went out hunting chickens--prairie chickens, not tame ones--and when a covey was flushed, Letcher would bring down his bird, while I could only kill about nineteen tons of grasshoppers. The reason for this was that Letcher was using a chokebore gun, while I was shooting with a open caliber gun that scattered the shot. I told them that grasshoppers were used as an article of diet for several years by Nebraskans, and that pickled hoppers were quoted on the market in Omaha. They seemed to believe these stories more readily than the truth, which fact has often led me to question the oldtime assertion that "honesty is the best policy."
Still, these grasshopper invasions of twenty-odd years ago did not intimidate men of grit, patience and endurance. Those who remained reaped their reward. The next day after witnessing the distributing of government aid to the destitute, I bought a half interest in the Lone Tree Courier and never had occasion to regret it.
(Chapter XVI concluded next week)
© 2000, 2001 by Ted & Carole Miller