PIONEERING ALONG THE BLUE
By E. E. Austin
On August, 1870, my father, Rev. Simeon Austin, and his family left Henderson county, Illinois [Illonois] for the new state of Nebraska. The family consisted of my mother, my sister, Emmaretta, my [by] brother, Luren, and myself, then a lad of between nine and ten years. We traveled in a covered wagon, crossing the Mississippi river at Fort Madison on a ferry boat, which did not go straight across the river, but traveled rather diagonally across, making the distance nearly two miles. The fare for our wagon, family, and dog "Turk" was $2.00.
Our route took us across the southern tier of counties in Iowa to Nodaway county, Mo., where we were joined by my eldest brother, Will, and my eldest sister, Louisa, and her husband, Henry Dunbar. The men had broken prairie that summer for Richard Brooke, who later came to York county where he lived many years, four miles north of the Blue river on Tinker's Ridge. We crossed the Missouri river on a ferry boat at Brownville, reaching Lincoln in September. We remained there that winter. Father worked at the carpenter trade receiving $5.00 per day. We paid 50 cents a pound for sugar, the same for butter, and coal oil was 50 cents per gallon. A youngster peddled apples at 5 cents each and not very big apples either. Many times I climbed with other kids up into the dome of the first state house and it seemed to me it was the highest place in the world.
In the spring of 1871, we, including brother Will and the Dunbars, headed for York county, reaching the Elias Gilmore place where we rented a place just east of his, owned by Arthur Webster. It afterwards was owned by Arthur Vandeventer. We raised a fine crop of wheat that year. In May, father, Will and Henry Dunbar located homesteads in the Pleasant Ridge country, father's land being the east 1-2 of southeast quarter of 28-9-2, west; Will having the west 1-2 of that quarter. Not being soldiers they were allowed only 80 acres. The other three quarters of this section were homesteaded by J. C. Gilbert, Washington Dilly and Elvin Austin, a nephew of my father's. These were all civil war veterans. Henry Dunbar who was a veteran, took 160 acres in section 32. The other three quarters of this section were taken by J. M. Kemper, John Keefe, both Civil war veterans and John Moberly and his father. Adjoining father's land on the southeast was section 34 on which three veterans had claims, R. M. League, (who later married my sister Emmaretta), John Stearns and Lorenzo King. "Dutch" Helmer had the east 1-2 of the SW 1-4, the west 1-2 of it being considered worthless as it was nearly all slough and nothing grew there but frogs and bull rushes, but it was a hunter's paradise for geese and ducks during the spring and fall months.
All the government land was taken up within the next 18 months. "Johnny" Gerris was the only settler in that vicinity when we moved there. He was a bachelor and lived in a dugout built in the top of a hill. He dug a sort of runway from the door of his dugout down the hill to run the water away from his dwelling when it rained. After several years he built a frame house on this same hill. When I was a lad I liked to listen to his stories of his native Belgium and of his life as a soldier there. He was a great reader and a well informed man. A few years later his brother Joe and family bought and settled on land two miles from John, later moving to Virginia.
At this time all the government land along the river had been taken up, for a distance of at least twenty miles. There were the Wullbrandts, Gilmores, Hellers, Deans, Bussards [Buzzards], McFaddens, Christian Holoch, Nick Nye, Burgess, Ongs, Jerry Stanton, Charlie Stark, Geo. Flock, Tom and Jack Stewart and John and Will Collins. Within the next eighteen months more settlers came in to the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood. Geo. Green and sons Ben, Tom and Abel all settled in the same section. Wm. Blincow, Ben Johnson, Sid Kilmer, Wm. Dayton, (father of W. E. Dayton, former editor of The York Republican), Noah Martin, Pete Lawson and Stephen Livingston who was the neighborhood blacksmith for several years. A few years later came Lewis Ebbeke, Conrad Peters, the Hormings, John Hubenbaker, Dick Matthews, John Stewart, August Markworth, August Dreier, Ed. Gilbert, C. M. Smith, Ott Pond, R. F. Lord and Tom Henehan. John Cudaback came just at the time of the grasshopper raid. He bought Sid Kilmer's land and it was his home throughout his life.
My father was well known all over York county and the South Platte country, being for years a presiding elder of the United Brethren church, attending the quarterly conferences of the different circuits, traveling almost continually for years. He was truly a servant of God. He was instrumental in building several churches in York county and elsewhere. He was a lover of trees and shrubbery and when at home was constantly working with such things. The first orchard he set out was destroyed by grasshoppers but nothing daunted, he put out another one and as long as we lived there we had a fine orchard from this and later settings. Mother had a wonderful garden plot, all fenced and filled with flowers and roots of all kinds, most of them from Illinois. Many neighbors were recipients of seeds and plants from mother's hands. It was one of the "old fashioned [fashoined] gardens" we sing about nowadays. Mother was "Aunt Maria" to the whole neighborhood and my father was "Uncle Simeon" to countless friends. He began to preach at the age of 18 and continued in the work 64 years, or until his death.
Brother Luren and I farmed the homestead until his marriage in 1882. After that I farmed it until it was sold in 1889 to Wm. McCullough. The well on the place was put down in 1872, by Miller Black, the first well in the neighborhood. It was 102 feet deep, a bored well, made with an auger like an old fashioned post auger. Father sawed the tubing out of inch boards, nailing it together himself. This well furnished water for several families until they made wells of their own, which was a year or so.
Nearly all of the houses were of sod or dugouts. There were a few log houses. Henry Dunbar built the first frame house in that neighborhood. It was the custom for everybody to turn out and help new settlers to erect a house.
When we came to the state in 1870 a railroad had been built from Plattsmouth to Crete and was in operation which I believe was the only railroad in the state south of the Platte river at that time and was extended on to Hastings and Kearney in the next couple of years. Fairmont became the main trading point for a large scope of country. I remember seeing many loads of grain hauled by our place from the Tinker Ridge neighborhood going to Fairmont to market. Grain buyers of York hauled much of their grain to Fairmont for shipment, taking back with them loads of lumber and merchandise, which continued until the coming of the railroad to York in the latter 70's. The railroad from Stromsburg to Fairbury, (K. C. & O.), was built in 1886 and 1887 and McCool Junction was founded in 1886 and because the main trading point for the neighborhood.
Not long after we moved to York county my father enrolled as one of Uncle Sam's mail carriers and served in that capacity for a time, receiving the large sum of $15 per month, making a two days' trip twice a week, driving a horse and sulky, up and down the river. He always carried his rifle with him and occasionally would make a detour from his mail route to bring home a deer or an antelope. On one occasion a small band of elk came into the neighborhood, father took his shotgun, got on "Old Ned" and galloped after the elk. When within about fifty yards of them he drew up the gun to shoot while the horse was on the run. Ned stopped, father went on – and so did the elk.
In '71 and '72 several bands of Texas cattle came through the country to the U. P. railroad for shipment to Chicago. They always rounded up at the big slough one half mile south of our place, for the night. We could hear them coming while yet two or three miles away, the "yoo hoo" of the cow punchers being plainly heard from that distance. One time a band of cattle went through our small field of sod corn. The owner of the cattle cut out a cow and gave us for the damage done to our field. She was a real longhorn and we were never able to do anything with her.