Estelle, NE:
The Stone City that Almost Was

    In 1874 John and Mary Daniels came to this Hayes county, NE, north of Hamlet.  They immediately fell in love with the clear little creek, and decided to homestead on it where they would have water for themselves and the livestock.  At this time there were no trees, and the grasses grew right down to the water.

    John Daniels was a vet of the civil war, a true pioneer, and had visions of someday having a town here.  Part of that dream was that when the county was organized Estelle would be the county seat.

    One of the first jobs was to build a house, and he wanted a permanent house, not a soddy, so he went to work hauling native rocks from the canyons and got the house started in 1876 and finished it in 1881.  Upon visiting the house, you can plainly see where he marked the date on the side in the wet mortar, 1881.

    The walls are three foot thick with large ricks on the outside and small rocks and gravel on the inside for insulation, which makes the house warm in the winter and cool in the hot summers.  He went to the hills and dug out limestone and made his own mortar from that.  It has a gently sloping roof, and this was also an Indian stand up on top.  It is understood he had a little trouble with the roof and had to get some information from back in Indiana on how to construct the roof.  It took five years to finish the roof.

    John and Mary used the second floor for their living quarters and established a general store on the main floor and a post office starting in 1881 (to 1892) with Mary as the postmaster.  John then helped built the stone one room school house that stands a short distance from the two story home of John and Mary.  Mary was the first county superintendent and John was the first county commissioner.

    In 1878 John's brother Samuel, wife Emmeline (Collins), along with their infant son Orin, had made their way to Estelle and lived in a soddy just north up the road a ways from John.

    1884 brought John's father and other family members including Mary Orilla (Daniels) Beigh with her husband John and family plus another sister Cynthia (Daniels) Rowland.  I think that a brother Saul also came at this time possibly.  They settled just east of Palisade.  Samuel Sr. and the Rowlands on the Hayes county side of the county line and the Beighs on the Hitchcock side.

    John was a very ambitious and hard-working.  He dug a fish pond with a team and slip, with dreams of Estelle being a resort town.

    Trouble started at this time.  Estelle lost by two votes for the position of county seat to Hayes Center.  The railroad opted to go down the Frenchman Valley through Hamlet instead of Estelle.  A flood wiped out the pond he had established on the stinking water river.

    In the cemetery is the grave of his wife Mary, who died in 1888 (it is said from childbirth) at the age of 40.  In this cemetery are also the graves of John's brother Samuel who died Christmas day 1888 of what sounded like injuries (Obituary says part of his body died previous to the rest of him but particulars are unknown), and Samuel's wife Emmeline in which the family story in a lung ailment.  Samuel also has two infant children, named Jettie and Charley, that are buried with their parents.

    There is still a smokehouse (Hayes County Times, Feb. 23, 1887) that John helped his father build that still stands about 1 mile east of Palisade, NE.

    Discouraged, John moved away with several relatives and resettled in Whitehall, Montana.  He died about 1920 at the age of 72 and is buried there.

    Many relatives found their way back to the area and have lived their lives out there.  Most are buried in the Hamlet, Wauneta, and Palisade cemeteries. 

    Southwest Nebraska lost a lot when John decided to move on.  What would we have if his dreams and worked would have continued growing? Now we have the responsibility of keeping these stories and our communities history alive.

© Oldtime Nebraska, 2000 -- Estelle, NE: The Stone City that Almost Was -- submitted by Brenda Lawless Daniel, Mar 1997