THE PIONEER ROAD
By Mrs. Emma McGuinis
It was in 1877 that my parents with their children came to Nebraska from Lee county, Illinois. We travelled in the good old pioneer way – the covered wagon – and it took us six weeks to make the journey, from the first of March until the middle of April.
I was the youngest and enjoyed every step of the trip. Among my memories of that momentous occasion were the many camps we made at night after a long day's travel when we sat around the camp fire. My father had put a barrel of oyster crackers in the back of his wagon for we children to lunch on. A hole was cut in the side of the barrel so that we could reach in and get the crackers but they were so good that it wasn't long before the barrel was getting low and I had to depend on the older children to reach in for me, as my arms were too short to reach them.
Another incident I remember was when we drove up alongside a big livery barn during a heavy rain, (it must have been in Iowa), and ate our supper while the rain splattered on the canvas cover. It seemed so cozy and comfortable to my childish mind, I remember, that there was a lantern hanging from the roof of the wagon and that among other things we had hard boiled eggs – of which I am particularly fond.
When we came to Council Bluffs [Blufs] we camped in the timber east of the town and we had sausage which was bought in Council Bluffs for supper. And sausage never tasted so well to anyone, thanks to plenty of fresh air and healthy appetites.
That night some drunken men came up from the town and fooled around. We had green blankets on the horses and we heard them say, "My what pretty horses."
We went across the river and through Omaha. I remember it well. At that time the main street was just two blocks long and had business buildings on just one side of the street. Leaving Omaha we crossed over a bridge and pointed our wagons for the west. There was nothing but prairie except for a few stubby trees scattered here and there. Occasionally we saw some Indians wandering about.
Our first stop in Nebraska was York where we stayed all night in the home of Reverend Harrison, our pioneer nurseryman. We moved to Arborville and lived for some time on Reverend Harrison's property. He was really a remarkable man. I remember him coming to our house and digging post holes all day and then going up to the church in the evening and preaching a good sermon just as he was – collar turned down and sleeves rolled up.
Arborville was his town; he designed and laid it out and planted or caused to be planted all the trees that covered it. One still stands that my brother-in-law planted almost sixty years ago in the southwest corner of what is now the Wilcox block. Arborville was a beautiful place nestled in the valley by the river with many acres of rolling, fertile farm land all around it. Never was a man more dissappointed and pathetic than Reverend Harrison when the railroad didn't go through it.
I well remember the first citizens of the town, those people who built and made the country that it is today. When we first came there were only three women living there but with the addition of my mother and my oldest sister there were five. In the surrounding country there were other women – brave pioneer women – living in sod houses and dugouts, each doing her share to tame the wild country.
Will Fairchild was our merchant when we first lived in Arborville and Dr. Beach was our druggist and doctor. Later Dr. L. P. Ensign came and was our only doctor for quite a few years. His father also came and he was our druggist. Both father and son spent the rest of their days in the little community.
Will Fairchild's father came too, about the same time, and built the hotel which burned down a few years ago. Later Ben Webb came; he was our blacksmith. It was always a thrill when someone new came to town to live.
The Dwight Twitchel house which was on the Billy Bowers' property stood off from the rest of the town, isolated with not a tree around it and blue stem grass two or three feet high waving in the breeze all about.
We children were playing one day in the Rielly Wilcox dugout, just across the street from what is now the Fred Smith place, when we saw a snake on a shelf above us. We scrambled out of the room while Mrs. Wilcox killed it. It was about three feet long.
My brother used to herd cattle on the eighty just across the road north of Clark Stouffer's. The whole eighty was wild luxurious grass, as was a lot of the rest of the country, and the prairie fires were both beautiful and terrible.
Rev. Mr. Hampton was, I think, our first resident pastor. He came out the same year we did, only later. He stayed with us while he built a house and then brought his family out.
Then the little pioneer church was built which was later discarded and the present one built. The old one was moved down town and made into a store building which also burned down a few years ago.
Those wild, simple days are gone. The years have passed by and this once untamed country is now a prosperous and thriving community.
Oh how fondly we remember,
The good old pioneer days;
They are stored away in our memories
In a good many different ways.
And how much we owe to the brave strong hearts,
Who faced all the hardships that annoy,
And paved the way that we might have,
All the comforts we now enjoy.
How their names should go down in history
And a flag put on their graves,
For they were the heroes and heroines
Of the good old pioneer days!
Polk, Nebraska, February 15, 1937.