EXPERIENCES OF A CRADLE ROCKER
By S. A. Myers
It was in the fall of 1875 when I first came to York County, and the broad prairies looked good to me.
At that time I decided to make my future home in York county so I returned to Illinois and prepared to move to Nebraska. On February 23, 1876, I arrived at Fairmont. I had shipped my machinery, household goods, horses, and personal effects at that time.
I was surprised to see my Illinois neighbors and brother coming from the north with four loads of wheat. I felt sure it was them as I recognized their horses and mules. Next morning I gathered up all my personal belongings and started for York county. The wind was blowing so strongly from the north and the rest all being ahead, I got full benefit of the dust. At times it was so thick I could scarcely see.
We arrived at Brother Ben Myers' homestead that evening. This was just one-half mile north of where Benedict is now situated. We stayed here all night and the next morning we started out to find a place to farm. We found one which belonged to Captain Read (Wade Read's father). This was four miles north of York. I was very fortunate in getting this place as there was approximately 300 bushels of potatoes in a pit. As there was no market for them, he told me I could use them for feed. Not only for myself, but the stock as well. He also had a crib of corn and he told me to help myself to that to burn as fuel or feed it to my stock. I thought Mr. Read was too liberal with me so instead of burning the corn I cut cornstalks for fuel. The very first day after I moved in a genuine Nebraska blizzard set in so I went out and cut cornstalks. Coming in Mrs. Myers asked me what I was going to do with them and I answered that it was for firewood and immediately cut them up, filled the stove and it was red hot in no time. Burning cornstalks and pressed hay was a very common practice in those days, coal being a rarity, as I had brought 500 pounds with me from Fairmont and it lasted with the cornstalks a year.
Our house was a sod one of two rooms and a cave. The first room had a wooden floor on it. The second room was nothing but a dirt floor. The walls of our house were three feet thick and seven feet high and the roof projected out about two feet from the outside wall. The roof was built with a ridge pole running from one to the other in the center. Small poles were then used for rafters from the ridge pole to the walls. These rafters were covered with brush and the brush covered with long hay and this in turn was covered with sod and the sod covered with white basin clay. All the cracks were well filled with the basin clay. We put a heavy coating of basin clay over the entire roof. The first room was a level ground room, the second room went back into the side of the hill. As the roof projected out it left a little shade. The other buildings on the place consisted of a wooden granary, a straw stable which I made later. I had two horses and four hogs with me at this time. Later I purchased a cow.
An amusing incident occurred [occured] one time while I was in Seward and my wife was home alone at the time. We had brought about 150 cans of fruits with us from Illinois. We, of course, kept these in the cave. While I was gone one of the hogs rooted a hole in the top of the cave and fell through and broke several fruit jars and caused considerable commotion. As there was only one entrance to the house, Mrs. Myers was considerably alarmed at the disturbance. She knew nothing had come in through the door but nevertheless she heard a pig grunting in the cave. She went down and had to drive the “pig through the parlor” to get it outside.
The first year I harvested about 300 bushels of wheat, which I stored in the wooden granary, which was setting on the prairie sod. In the fall of that year I was picking corn which the grasshoppers had left me when I discovered a prairie fire. It was coming from the west and it had started about four miles west of the farm I was on. When I first noticed it, it was about a half mile west of where I was picking corn. I thought at the time that it would stop at the road but it jumped the road right at the Charley Keckley place and followed down the draw. I immediately came to the house to fight the fire. There were several neighbors who came to help me. We back burned away from the buildings. The fire was delayed at the edge of the corn field which gave us some precious time, however. With all our effort we succeeded in saving my buildings by back burning and using wet sacks. The fire then followed down Lincoln creek and caught the corner of the bridge. We went with buckets and saved the bridge but the fire burned on to within a mile or two of Waco. Hay stacks and wheat stacks were consumed in the path of the fire.
This was the same fall (1876) that we had a grasshopper plague. Captain Read, Jim York and I were hunting prairie chickens when we noticed a dark cloud in the sky. Jim looked up and he turned perfectly pale and said just look at the grasshoppers. They almost darkened the sun. Then they began descending and in a few minutes they were at work in the cornfields. You could hear them plainly as they gnawed. It seemed that they were particularly fond of the leaves and the ears. They would start at the tip of the ear and work under the shucks and usually stayed until nothing but the cob was left. Mrs. Myers tried to save the garden by placing carpets and quilts over the plants but it was useless as they ate every bit of the garden. The hoppers stayed just two weeks to the day; and while they were here of course laid their eggs which hatched out the following spring. However just as they were hatching out it began with a cold spring rain turning into sleet and later to snow. That finished the grasshoppers for that year.
In the year of 1876 a Mr. Wm. Walters made me a proposition that he would furnish the money for me to buy up cattle to rough through the winter on what little corn the grasshoppers left. I bought thirty-two head of yearlings at an average cost of $12.13 per head. As no one wanted the corn that was damaged by the ‘hoppers we had practically free range for the cattle and they came through the winter season in good shape so we grassed them through the summer and sold them the following fall (1877). This deal was practically all profit as I sold the cattle for $25.00 per head and had almost no expense. It put me on my feet.
In the spring of 1877 I moved from the Read place to a farm near where Lushton now is located. I stayed there one year and then bought a homestead right eight miles north of York, north one-half, northeast quarter, section thirty, township twelve, range two, west. This farm had a sod house on it containing two rooms, two outside doors and the west being open. We had an unpleasant visit when Mrs. Myers went to tend to the baby and discovered a rattlesnake under the bed. She was frightened and so was the snake. The snake crawled into a crack in the sod wall and we never saw him again.
In 1875 there was an old wooden court house, which also was used as a post office. Lem Gandy was the county treasurer, County Judge Moore, Captain Liedtke [Leidtke], the county clerk, J. P. Miller the sheriff. The clerk was also the register of deeds in those days. A man by the name of Cochran was the county superintendent. On the building site now occupied by F. A. Hannis was a grocery store operated by John Eatherly [Ethely] and east of this store was the drug store owned by Dr. Greer. Joe Boyer was the clerk. Boyer later owned a store of his own in what is now North York. Jess Love's general store was on the south side of the square, and C. C. Cobb operated a general store on the site now occupied by the Sun theatre. The McKillip hotel, a small frame structure, stood where the Hotel Williams now stands. Kleinschmidt & Brahmstadt [Brahmsteadt] operated a general store on the west side of the square.
It has been said that there were never any saloons in York but in 1876 there was an open saloon on the west end of the lot where the First National Bank now stands. Father Harrison, the nurseryman, and other good temperance men soon had it out.
One of the most important events in the early history of York county occurred [occured] in 1877. That was the year that the B. & M. railroad was extended into York. Prior to this time all grain, livestock and other commodities produced in this territory were marketed either in Seward or Fairmont, our nearest railroad towns. There was a party that owned a tract of land on both sides of the present location of the Burlington railroad tracks; so after the construction of the railroad there sprang into existence a new town, which was known as New York, now North York. As long as the owner of the property adjacent to the railroad tracks lived, New York and the original town of York were never united but remained two distinct towns. Several of the business men thought that the future business of this community would be close to the new railroad, so in that same year there were two elevators built. Joe Boyer started his drug store here in North York. Behling, Misner and Nicholi started a clothing and general merchandise store on the east side of Lincoln avenue in North York. Amos Bowers operated a saloon on the west side of Lincoln avenue and George Mitchell operated one on the east side. Tom Gray operated a blacksmith's shop where Montgomery-Ward's store now stands, and Everett Gould's father operated one on [one] west Fifth street in the original town of York. The Hyde hotel stood where Bovey's wholesale auto parts building is now located.
In 1878 the first bank in York was started by a man by the name of McWhirter. This bank was operated on a plan similar to our present finance companies, with the usual interest charge, which was 18 per cent payable in advance. This bank was located where the Sterling shoe shop now stands.
Since this time there have been many changes made in York. The original dirt streets are nearly all paved now, and well lighted by electricity at night. At one time we boasted of a street car line, operated by M. A. Green, known as Maryann Green. The car was drawn by a small mule and traversed [travesresd] the streets from Blackburn avenue to the northwest corner of the square and thence to the B. & M. railroad depot. While the streets are all paved now I remember once in the eighties when a man bought a new disc and started to take it home and got stuck in front of Joe Boyer's drug store so tight he had to get four horses to pull it out. Now days if a man buys any farm implements they are delivered to his farm on a truck.
The broad prairies of York county which looked so good to me in 1875 have seen many good years and some bad years. We have had plagues of grasshoppers and droughts, but for the most part we have enjoyed prosperous times. There are many new faces in the same old places and a very few of the old timers that were here in ‘75 are with us now. They have built up a civilization in what was once unpopulated prairies.