LEVI IMEL FAMILY JOINS THE PIONEERS
By Mrs. Esther Imel Bailey
About sixty years ago, when I was a girl of fourteen, my father, Levi Imel, decided to leave Illinois and move to Nebraska.
He came to Exeter with a view to looking over the country, and six miles north of Exeter he found a 320 acre strip of unimproved land. With the exception of a fire strip of trees around one eighty, it was raw prairie. For the first few years this served as good garden. One mile east of Exeter he had rented some land to live on and farm while he was breaking up the land and building on his own farm. The task of breaking and building had to be done between planting and harvesting periods. Fruit trees, berry bushes, and trees were set out and your writer was the one that helped. It was surely a tiresome job, but how all the family enjoyed the large, fat cherries, apples, peaches, and plums, not to mention the raspberries, grapes, and almost everything you could mention! Then. of course, almost all the hard work was forgotten.
Perhaps I should have said father chartered a car when we came to Nebraska. He loaded it with his horses, cattle, feed, household goods and us. When this car was loaded on the ferry boat it certainly was a great thrill. We crossed the old Missouri river, which at that time had no bridge over it. My hair almost stood on end as the splashing of water was something new to me, and I felt certain that we would sink at any minute. We arrived safely however, and my family were very much amused at my fears, and reassured me that that was the way one crossed. My sister, Mrs. Alice Bailey and her husband, T. W. Bailey, had already settled and it was to this point that we proceeded to take our goods.
Father decided he did not have enough horses to do the work, so he purchased a pair of oxen. My brother, Mack, had a little difficulty with them, for the moment that they became tired and hot they made straight for the pond regardless of his efforts to hold them back. After some time had passed he was able to manage them.
Many Indians came to our door to beg for meat and flour, and if one refused them they became very surly. As a rule they remained until something was given to them. We, as children, were desperately afraid of them and breathed considerably easier when they had gone. They usually camped on the Blue river, which was about two miles north of our homestead, and that was too close to us for comfort, at least so I thought.
The second year, cane, corn, wheat, oats, and buckwheat were our principal products. Topping and preparing the cane for the mill was a tedious job, but when the work was all done, the finished product returned in the wagon, father and mother, as a special treat allowed us to have a taffy pull and we considered this great sport.
At first, we had no fences, and, as the cattle must have pasture, it fell to my lot to watch them graze. Dinner time was the only time that I came home. You may be very sure it became very monotonous, and I tried to pass the time away by reading, piecing quilt blocks, and hunting wild flowers. At evening we would catch the cows and hobble them down by the house.
One night we heard a wagon coming at a terrific rate of speed. I got up and ran out doors. The wagon was coming down the hill with a man on the spring seat, a load of lumber in the back and on top of it a barrel. When it came up the next hill, the man and the barrel were missing. Just then, our neighbor's daughters were coming down the road to milk their cows. As they reached the top of the hill, they turned around and ran back home. They came back to the hill accompanied by their mother and their brother. They called down to us that there was a man killed there. We all ran to where he lay, but he was not killed, and so we took him to our house. Bill Cates took his mule and went after the runaway team and brought them back. The injured man was Uncle Johnny Rush. He did not have any groceries left, as they were scattered for several miles around. The fruit, coffee, and beans were certainly scattered, and so was Uncle John, but he survived. The rest of the people who were there have all passed away except Dr. Cates and your writer.
All the celebrations in those days were held in a shady grove down on the Blue river. Everyone that could helped. The Gilmore boys furnished the music, and played on the fife and drum. Different persons sang, we had several speakers, readings were given, and the youngsters played [player] games. We wore whatever we had even if it was only a calico dress for best and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Our "sundown hats" would be quite laughable at this time.