THE BAKERS DID THEIR PART
By Grant Baker
Eight or ten years before his death, June 30, 1927, D. W. Baker, who was my father, wrote a brief history of the Baker family. Considerable of interest concerning the early days in York county is contained therein.
Jacob Baker arrived in York county June 1, 1874. With him were his wife and their two sons, D. W. and F. A. He bought 80 acres of land, the west half of northwest quarter of section 21 in what is now Morton township. In that northern part of the county the Union Pacific railroad company owned each alternate section. The odd numbered sections had been given to the railway company as a bonus for constructing the first railroad to the Pacific coast. The railroad company sold the land to settlers, or to anyone at $5 per acre, on ten years' time at 6 per cent annual interest.
Father wrote: "Here in a one story house of one room we began our pioneer life in Nebraska, upon an unbroken stretch of prairie. There were neighbors nearby, but the people and the conditions by which we were surrounded were altogether new and strange to us, coming as we did from a rather thickly populated region in the East, and for a time we found it indescribably lonely. We hired some of the neighbors to break some prairie for us for the next year's crop, but for the greater part of the time there was but little work for us to do ourselves. There was occasionally some work to be had among the neighbors, but they were poor like ourselves, and could not afford to hire much. Our livestock, for the first season, consisted of one cow and nothing else.
"The nearest post office and store were at York, twelve miles distant, and the nearest accessible railroad stations were Fairmont, twenty-eight miles, or Seward, thirty-five miles away.
"In August, 1874, Nebraska was devastated by countless swarms of grasshoppers which devoured every green thing except the prairie grass. The settlers had, of course, saved their wheat and oats, but their other crops were all destroyed, and much hardship, and in some cases, suffering resulted from the loss."
In the beginning of 1875 a yoke of oxen was bought to do the work on the farm. The first cost of an ox team was less than half what a pair of horses would cost, no harness was required for them, and the expense of keeping was much less than it would cost to keep horses. In the spring of 1875 all corn used for feed was shipped from Iowa and cost 75c per bushel at Fairmont.
There were some grasshoppers in the early summer of 1875 but they did little damage. Crops of spring wheat, corn, potatoes and garden vegetables were all good.
Father worked part of the time for some of the neighbors. W. S. Jeffery and John Lett being among them. John Lett was then living on his homestead one mile south. In the fall of 1874 father was twenty years of age. Being desirous of finding some employment he applied for and obtained a school a few miles west in the Eberle district where he taught a four months term. Some twenty-eight pupils were enrolled. He boarded with a family named Vanberg, who lived in a dugout. The following year he taught a three months' term in the Price neighborhood near Thayer.
About the 15th of August, 1876, there was another visitation of grasshoppers. They remained fully a week and did much damage to corn.
In the fall of 1876 father returned to Pennsylvania. There he taught school some of the time and attended school part of the time until the spring of ‘79 when he married and returned to Nebraska, arriving in York county, May 3rd. A few days later he bought 80 acres of land one-half mile west of his father's, on section twenty-nine, township twelve, range three west. Using his father's team he broke twenty-five acres of prairie on the new farm. Grandfather died suddenly, September 16, and father and mother stayed with grandmother for another year. During the winter of ‘79-'80 father taught a four months' term of school in the home district, (forty-three). School was held in a sod building one-half mile north of home, near the middle of section twenty, on the Robinson eighty. He taught the spring term after the spring crop of wheat was sown. On June 1, he was appointed U. S. census enumerator for that territory. A two room house was built on the eighty that summer. Father and mother moved into the new house the first of October, 1880. Mother continues to reside there now, about fifty-seven years later, and is the only person in the neighborhood still occupying their pioneer home. They had no livestock the first winter except a few hogs. Father taught again that winter in the little sod school house.
The winter of 1880-'81 was very long and severe, with a great deal of snow. It was April 22 before they could make a start at sowing spring wheat. A cow was bought that spring. Then father bought a team of horses, an old harness and a second-hand twelve-inch walking plow. He had no stable. The horses were fed in a borrowed wagon. When the weather was bad they were stabled in a sod barn at Grandmother Bakers. When grass grew the horses were tethered to ropes on the prairie. About 1882 they began to raise flax for seed. For a few years it was a paying crop. Spring wheat became unprofitable and they started seeding small acreages of Turkey Red winter wheat.
Father had not intended teaching in the fall of '81 but the school board of district forty-one, the Cross-Lytle district, urged him to take their school for a four months' term. He had to hire his corn husked.
In that part of the county there are no streams. So there was no timber. Some of the settlers who had teams used to haul wood from the Platte river. Sometimes about all they could get was brush. John B. Steward, who lived on the north county line, told of finding a large cottonwood log, left by someone because it was too heavy to load. With some assistance he maneuvered in some way to chain the log to his wagon and get it home.
Father served as a member of the county board of supervisors for four years, '83-97 [left as printed; is not four years]. Concerning the dry years '93-95, father wrote: "As I look back now at those dry and unpropitious years I sometimes wonder how, with a large and young family, we managed to live through them without getting deeper in debt than we were at the beginning of the hard times, but we got through somehow, and were never in want of anything really necessary." In the spring of 1888 father bought forty acres more from the U. P. railroad company at the same price of $5 per acre.
In 1883 a one room frame school building, Pleasant Prairie, was built in the home district on the site of the present two-room building, erected in 1915. Father was elected director of the school board at the election held June 30, 1890, and held that position continuously for thirty years. In June, 1920, he was urged to accept the position for another three year term, but declined.
A question that sometimes comes to mind is: Who were some of D. W. Baker's pupils sixty years ago?