THE FAITH NOTHING COULD DEFEAT
By Mrs. Lizzie Wirt
In the fall of 1872 Thomas D. Wirt, having served three years in the Civil war, decided to go to Nebraska and take a homestead. This right was given soldiers by the government. He filed on a quarter section ten miles north and one mile west of York, near where the town of Benedict is now located. In the spring of 1873 he drove from his Iowa home to Nebraska. It was in the month of February and he drove across the Missouri river on the ice, saving ferry boat expenses. When he arrived at the desert tract of land he did not know what to do first. He had left his family of wife and four children behind. He must find a place to live, so he settled in a dugout about a mile from his claim and unloaded his few belongings. The weather was cold and the surroundings bleak looking. But he got the lay of the land and decided where he would build his home.
The house was to be of sod, 20 feet long by 14 feet wide, the walls three feet thick. The sod must be cut two feet long and one foot wide, then laid like a brick wall is laid, but no mortar used. The roof was crude, made in this way: A pole was placed in the center of the room, (we called it a center pole), then a ridge pole led from the gable end, resting on the center pole. This was to make the roof secure. The rafters of smaller poles were placed in the side walls and made secure to the ridge pole. Brush was laid over these. Then a thick layer of hay was spread, then sod laid as you would lay shingles. A hole for the stove pipe and here you have a typical Nebraska sod house. We had no floor except dirt for several years. We would sprinkle a little water and sweep the floor at least once a day. The brush and poles used for this purpose were brought from the Platte river. There were no trees nearer, except a few saplings down on Lincoln creek. Had it not been for the sod house Nebraska would not have been settled until the railroads had been built. Fairmont and Seward were our nearest rail points.
The fuel problem was something – what could we burn? Cornstalks cut like cord wood back home. After a windy day we gathered tumble weeds that lodged near our house. Then buffalo "chips" were good – they lasted longer than the tumble weeds and cornstalks that went pist! and all was over.
In the month of April on Easter a three days' snow storm came, resulting in a terrible blizzard. As there was nothing to guide people out on the prairie they dared not venture outside. Many did not go even to feed their stock for fear they themselves would get lost and perish. Many birds and small animals were found after the snow melted. The people ate what they happened to have in the house. And like the cruise of oil and handful of meal we read about in the Bible, it did not fail.
My father spent the first year putting his land under cultivation. He ploughed the sod and planted corn, called it sod corn, and he raised several bushels. Later in the fall he gathered this corn and stored it in the sod house. About Thanksgiving he drove back to his Iowa home and his family. In March, 1874, we all came to make York county our home. My father and brother Dan drove out in a covered wagon with all our earthly belonging, two cows and a few chickens. About a month later my mother and three girls came through on the train. Father met us at Fairmont and it took a whole day for us to drive to our homestead. We passed through the little village of York and reached our home on the range at nightfall. The next morning, April 22nd, 1874, I walked out of the crude house to see what I could see. I saw nothing but a broad expanse of blue sky above and the broad expanse of the prairie. As far as eye could see not a house in sight. The dugouts were not visible at a distance. Our nearest neighbor was one and half miles away. Well, for a thirteen-year-old girl to be picked up from her old home and school friends and set down in a barren land it was "just too bad." But we did have each other!
On July 16th a swarm of grasshoppers swooped down on us about noon. Our wheat crop was harvested, but the grasshoppers harvested everything else we had by noon the next day. The corn field had nothing but stalks left. The garden was eaten clean, even the onions which they seemed to like especially well. We did have a few potatoes left. Everybody looked blue. What must we do? I thought it would be fine to go back home and for that reason I was rather glad the grasshoppers had eaten us out. But father and mother mustered all the faith they had and decided to stay. We had bread stuff and potatoes, chickens, eggs, milk and butter. No fruit, except dried apples and English currants. With these we would not starve.
For two years we children had no school to attend and no church nearer than York. So the men got busy and built a sod school house, size 12 by 16 feet. No floors, just dirt walls, home made table for teacher's desk, and boards for seats. A man in the neighborhood knew enough to teach so he received the sum of $20 a month for a three months' term of school. I don't think we learned much but we had a mighty good time. The school was named West Point. We had an old cook stove in the corner and burned nice ears of corn. Corn was worth but eight cents a bushel delivered in York.
When we saw York for the first time it did not impress us much. No sidewalks, only in front of the stores. LeCount had a hardware store on the north side of the square. Jesse Love had a general store on the south side. C. C. Cobb was on the west side. The post office was on the east. Some women by the name of Hammond were employed there. A doctor by the name of Greer was located in a little office near the drug store operated by a man whose name I do not recall. I think York had about 500 people at that time. There was a school on the west side of town. They called it the York Academy. A man by the name of W. E. Morgan came from Boston and became connected with The York Republican. His wife was a fine musician.
I remember it was decided to bring the B. & M. railroad through York and we voted $94,000 bonds for this purpose. When the rails were laid there was a free excursion to Lincoln. Most everybody took a day off to take a ride. The penitentiary was a funny looking structure but that is where they took us. Governor and Mrs. Garber welcomed us. They looked pretty fine to us country pioneers.
I want to tell about a joy ride father and I took with our ox-team, Tom and Jerry. We had to have a well put down. So we went to find a man who did such work. It took a whole day. It was not very far but the oxen took their good time. Sometimes we went on the run if there was something good for them to eat ahead. Then they just browsed around for a time. No lines to guide them, just gee, and haw! I think they knew father did not understand driving oxen so they took advantage of us. But that was a day out for us and something different from the daily routine on the homestead.