FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF A NEW COUNTRY
By Mrs. Mattie Jacks
Early in 1871 my father began talking about going “out west” to look at the country and get a homestead. Some of the neighbors seemed to have the same idea, and the 4th of April, 1871, found us on the road. There were four families in all – my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frederic Mapes, sister Mary, brother John and myself; Mr. and Mrs. John Rogers and two sons, Elisha and Firman, and a daughter, Lucinda; Mr. and Mrs. Henry G. Rogers and three children; Mr. and Mrs. William H. Thacher and three children. We traveled in prairie schooners. As we traveled through the country from our former home in Black Hawk county, Iowa, we saw many interesting things – towns, villages and beautiful scenery.
We crossed the Missouri on a steamboat at Plattsmouth. We had enjoyed the trip very much but we were glad when we arrived in York county and found a nice camping place near the West Blue river, a mile east of the present town of McCool. We were all tired of living in covered wagons and soon had our tents up and a campfire going. There were nice shade trees near the camp, and the children enjoyed their first romp since leaving Iowa. We had callers the first afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Stone and Mrs. Stone's mother and brother, Mrs. Bixby and son James. They crossed the river on a foot log. The children were frightened as they had not seen anyone cross the water that way, and had not noticed the foot log until they saw those people crossing on it. But they saw many other strange things in the next few years.
The next day the locater came and took the men of our party to see the land north of the Blue. They soon decided on land and then went to Lincoln to the land office to make their homestead entries. The next big undertaking was to build sod houses and dig wells. They also planted corn and vegetables. It was the second of May when we arrived in York county but the men worked together and in a few weeks we had comfortable homes even if they were not fancy.
George Flock was the county sheriff as well as land locater. He had very little office work so he put in most of his time locating settlers. Soon we had many neighbors in the south part of the county on both sides of the river. The next spring school opened in a little building, made half of logs and half dugout. It had a dirt roof and no floor. There were long benches made of logs and seats of the same. The building was located a quarter of a mile north of our camp. Miss Nettie Hileman was our first teacher. There were fourteen scholars the first term. The county superintendent, Rev. T. A. Parkinson, visited our school. We had Prof. James Cochran as our instructor in 1874. The next year he was elected county superintendent. We also had preaching services in the school house. Rev. Simeon Austin, United Brethren preacher, and Rev. Ingham of Exeter, Baptist preacher, came later on alternate Sundays. Also Rev. Heath, a Baptist minister, from Bradshaw preached in the same place a few years later. We had a union Sunday school every Sunday morning. None of us were very finely dressed. Most of the girls wore calico dresses and sun bonnets and the boys wore overalls. All went barefoot in summer. But we had a good school, good instructors and very likely we learned as much as if we had fine clothes and a large church, which we were all to enjoy a few years later.
Our country had something very rare in a new country – a good family doctor. He and his wife lived in a log house near the bank of the Blue. No one ever called in vain for Dr. Deweese [Dueise] when in need of his services. We also had a post office, called McFadden, located in the south rooms of the dwelling house of Levi Woodruff, the blacksmith for all the country round. This was about a mile east of the school house. There was no mill nearer than Milford the first year, but the next year there was a mill put in at Beaver Crossing. A few years later Mr. Wright built a mill at Red Lion, only a few miles from where we lived.
York was the county seat but a very small one in 1871 – only two stores, one owned and operated by Brahmstadt [Brumstadt]e & Kleinschmidt, the other kept by Hans and Frank Bell, or the Bell Bros., as they were usually spoken of, who had a nice store and the post office in part of their building. All this time York was very much in need of a blacksmith, and, hearing that a man south of York on a homestead had brought a set of blacksmith tools with him from Iowa, the people in town offered to give him a lot and help him build a shop if he would come to York to do blacksmithing work. So William Harris Thatcher became the first blacksmith of the village. The town did not build up very fast until in 1876 when the railroad was being built from Lincoln. Then everything was on the boom and we were certain York would be a good town in the near future. They already had good schools and everything that helps to make a good town.
The first winter we were in Nebraska was the nicest winter I have ever seen, but on Easter Sunday, April the 13th, 1873, we had the worst storm on record, a real blizzard. It lasted three days and nights. The wind blew the snow so badly that it was not safe to go out. It was necessary to tie a rope to one's waist and the other end to some part of the house to make it safe to go out to get fuel or feed the stock. We could only see a few feet ahead. The snow drifts were not all melted for weeks. Cattle had poor shelter and many wandered away and either perished from the storm or, blinded by the snow, walked into the river and drowned. It was a terrible sight, and the one thing I can never forget.
Then in the summer the grasshoppers came and ate up all the crops and all the garden vegetables. All they left in the garden was sugar cane which did not seem to suit their taste. They also left crowder peas which were not good enough for them. I close with a verse that I taught the younger children when the scourge came a second time:
The grasshoppers came down like a thief on the fold,
Their wings did glitter and glisten like gold.
They went for the cornfields, one mighty mass;
They stripped off the blades, then onward they passed.
They went for the gardens with might and with main,
But they left the tall and sweet sugar cane;
They went for the grass but that was so tough
Of that kind of truck they soon had enough.
So they said to themselves, I guess we better skin,
For grub in Nebraska is getting too thin.
Huntington Beach, Calif.