WHAT THE PIONEERS BROUGHT US
By Joseph G. Alden
(Original Introduction to Book)
Stories of early days in York county have emphasized in no small degree the immense contribution made by first comers to their own and succeeding generations. Their creaking ox-drawn covered wagons brought with them something more than perishable humanity, livestock or freight. It was the indomitable spirit of the pioneers. Now there is a type of faith and courage that foresees and acknowledges no obstacles. The early settlers had it to a large degree. They did not stop to count the cost of leaving their comfortable homes in eastern states, the perils of the long overland journey, nor the isolation and privations they would encounter when they at last reached the land of their choice. But with a high purpose in view – the building of a home – they fared forth with eyes forward and chins up to take whatever might be met with along the road. When high resolve sits in the saddle, or on the seat of a covered wagon, or anywhere else for that matter, perils dissolve like a mirage and obstacles become nourishment for high faith and bold character.
Sixty years have marched on since the first settlers on the land arrived in 1866, the year before Nebraska became a state. Little did they or those who came immediately after them realize the part they were playing in the great drama of human existence. From time almost immemorial the bugles of civilization and settlement had been blowing west, but only those with ears attuned had heard them. The rest were content to live in the environment where the chance of birth or paternal residence had dropped them. The attitude of the first comer's neighbors back east can well be imagined when they learned the homeseekers were going west. "It's fine, of course," they agreed, "to have so much faith and courage, but what a fool-hardy thing to do. They will all be scalped on the way or starved when they get there finally. Where they hope to go they will never be able to stick it out." Always the standers-around make some such comment when a courageous new thing is proposed. It covers their own timidity and indolence. It is the attitude that has endeavored to impede every bit of progress that has been made since the cave man looked out of the door of his hovel, seized a club, and concluded that it was safe for him to go about. But, thank God, it has never deterred the truly courageous. And we who have pride in what has been accomplished in York county in less than one generation of human existence can be grateful for the first comers who were examples of a type of citizenry so utterly foolish that perils mean nothing to them when they stood in the way of the fulfillment of a vision.
The moldering forms of that band of early comers rest in hallowed ground. But let no one tell you they are dead. Men are not human bodies. They are represented by those qualities of mind and heart that find expression in deeds, in achievements that advance human existence, in hopes fulfilled that add to human happiness. They live on and on in the conscious memory or the unrecognized heritage of all those for whom they severed home ties, braved the perils of the long journey, broke the tough sod, established divine worship, founded schools, outlasted the grasshoppers and drought of summer or the blizzards of winter, endured the fearful isolation, and counted them all necessities of pioneer living.
Sixty years! That's only a moment in the roll of the centuries. In human existence it is almost one man's complete span. We who enjoy and make use of the labors of the pioneers, and are not inclined to think much about it, could well repair to their fount of inspiration for new baptisms of wisdom and courage, for we have gotten so hurried in the quest of things that we have lost sight of values. An ox-team hitched to a breaking plow sufficed for a pioneer sod-breaker though he deserved better; his grandson today pines for a Rolls Royce or at least a V-8. He was content with a quarter section of land bestowed by a beneficient government; some of his neighbors' sons were so greedy for land they went broke buying it in boom times a few years ago. He was willing to work from sun to sun and accept gratefully whatever soil, climate, weather and good fortune bestowed; his grandsons on the land want an eight hour day, a tractor with a sun shade, and insurance for their crops. He wanted little and, perhaps unknown to himself, he got much; his progeny want much and get little because they have not partaken of his spirit. Without any fuss or pride he helped to found a civilization; his grandchildren without knowing it, by their lack of what he had, are helping to weaken the structure and tear it down.
The people who dwell in York county and in neighboring parts could wisely and profitably spend a little time thinking about what has been done to human spirit since the first plowshare was thrust into virgin land. Some will say we have made great material progress – the land is all taken; the fields are planted; comfortable homes sit between them; the terrible isolation has been banished with telephone, the daily mail, and the radio; blizzards are impotent, against modern conditions; the peril of snow is quickly met with a tractor snow plow; the grasshopper is vanquished with poison bran mash; day-long distances are spanned in less than an hour with a six-cylinder automobile. Surely we have made marvelous material progress. But have you paused to count the cost? Is there any thing material or the aggregate of them that could be fairly exchanged for the faith and courage and spirit of our first citizens? Is there a substitute in things for faith and hope? Could you found a civilization and prosper a land with ease and comfort? Is there any "sit down" place on the highway of progress? Can you reach the stars of faith and hope in a machine that takes gas and oil at frequent intervals along the way?
Joseph G. Alden