NEBRASKA

THE GARDEN SPOT OF THE WORLD

1867-1967
by
Mildred "Millie" Acker Cargill

her sister's acknowledgment




      One hundred years ago, no one would have thought Nebraska would be the home of anything. In 1820, an expedition led by Major H. Long crossed the land that is now Nebraska, on the way to the Rocky Mountains. As they moved west from the Missouri River Valley, they noticed that the land got flatter and that the vegetation was thinner. Trees were scarce, being found along streams only. As they moved farther west, it became hotter and drier.

      By the time that they had reached the sandhills of western Nebraska they felt sure of only one thing -- that the region between the Missouri River and the Rockies was a desert. "The Great American Desert," it came to be called. Major Long, according to many historians can be called the "father of the Great American Desert" myth, for he is credited with these words:

      "The traveler who shall at any time have traveled the desolate sands will agree with us in the wish that the region may forever remain the unmolested haunt by the native hunter, the bison and the jackal."

      Major Long had not been the first to doubt the worth of the region. The explorers Lewis and Clark had visited the area 15 years earlier, and though they did not go farther west than 30 or 40 miles from the Missouri River, they ventured the opinion that the land never could be useful. It was in 1806 that Zebulon Pike explored the southern part of present day Nebraska along the Republican River and he compared the American Plains with the desert of Africa.

      From our twentieth century we can smile at these descriptions and predictions. But men in the first half of the nineteenth century could not be aware that under the desolation of the sand hills virtually soaked up all the fallen moisture that does not evaporate or is not utilized by the vegetation. They could not know that the irrigation would make possible lush pastures and abundant crops. Nor could they know that the soil-poor sand hills would become the grazing lands for the nations third ranked cattle raising state.

      Early in the westward movement, 1830's - 1850's, Nebraska land felt the deep cutting wheels of the formline covered wagon but few stopped in Nebraska. It was called the "stopping off" place on the trails through the United States. For one thing, it was not a territory until 1854 and therefore not legally open to white settlers. However even after 1854, few stopped for there really wasn't much for them to stop for. The gold was farther west beyond the Rockies, and the "Great American Desert" seemed ill suited for farming. The climate was extreme. Temperatures well into the 100's were the summer fare and winter readings could drop to 20 or 40 degrees below zero -- an unbearable temperature when coupled with the sweeping winds of the open plains. It wasn't until two years after the Civil War -- some 13 years later, that Nebraska reached 50,000 populations mark and therefore became eligible for statehood.

      Its state capital building stretching 469 feet into the skies above the surrounding corn country is an architectural wonder, a monument to the settlers who had faith enough to carve out a life in Nebraska.

      I for one am grateful to my homesteading relatives who decided that Nebraska was more than the Great American Desert and took advantage of the Homestead Act, that stated that to the person or family who took up residence on 160 acres for 5 years - this tract would be theirs at the price of $1.25 an acre. To this group belongs both my great grandfathers on my mother's side of the family. My husband and I and our son and his family live in separate houses on the place homesteaded by great grandfather John S. Harris. He took up residence there on Dec. 10, 1884, and got his Receivers Patent in 1889 for $200.00, meaning the land of 160 acres was paid in full. Grover Cleveland was president at this time.

      His two sons B. J. (my grandfather) and George took Timber Claims -- which granted to the person an extra quarter of land adjacent to his own or near by for a small price, provided a certain portion was planted to trees. In looking over the books in the county clerk's office, one is amazed at the number of such claims that were taken up.

      After a comparatively short life, Great Grandmother Louisa Harris died from what was then called "Galloping Consumption" and prior to her death had looked across to a higher hill and requested that she be buried there. Her body and about 25 others rest beneath the whispering cottonwoods in the little cemetery about four miles from our home.

      The other homesteading great-grandparents are the Wm. P. Luses. "Pa" Luse, as he was affectionately known, was a schoolmaster in various schools around about. The Luses received their patent in April of 1896, under President Benjamin Harrison. This quarter is located catty corner across from the late Jack Davitt's home quarter.

      Someway or another B. J. Harris roamed the hills and found Jenny May Luse and married her. It was to our home place that Granddad Burt brought his 13 year old bride. Later he decided to go back to Michigan for further schooling and left Grandma with two babies -- one of which was my mom, Mrs. Dick Acker. Grandma braved part of one winter alone, here in the "edge" of the Sand Hills. Scarcity of food, fuel and perhaps loneliness took this young mother to the nearest neighbors, Auntie Babcock's home, across the prairie about a mile as a snow storm began. Of course walking was her only mode of travel so we know the difficulty she perhaps encountered. My mother, Hazel Maude Harris, who was the oldest baby of 18 mos. old, survived the trek, but not her younger brother, Ernest. He had been born a couple of days after Christmas, 1890, but died in February at a little over a month old. Later, on Granddad's return, they moved to Grand Island where two more children were born. One was a baby girl, Cora (Myrtle), who didn't live through the day of her birth. The other was Burton Adelburt. A while later, another move to Texas, another child, Gertrude Vera. After that they moved back to Greeley where B. J. ran a dray line for many years and three more children were born. Helen Mabel (Harris) Meduna, one of the three, still survives today. She just celebrated her 97th birthday this last Sept. 1997. Her brothers John Douglas (Jack) and Guy Luse are gone but have left plenty of reminders that they existed.

      Parnell, a school of the past was begun Sept. 12, 1882. A group of interested people met in the home of John Paddock and formed the district outline and the school. It was used as the community post office as well as the meeting house. At that time the west line of the district was at Elmer Gydesin's present home, then north to the Wheeler County Line, east to Mount Pleasant and the Southern border was at Lee Timmons'.

      John Paddock and Great Grandmother Louisa shared honors of being the first teachers as there were two terms, spring term and fall term. The spring term began Jan 25 and ended June 11, 1897. In the fall term there were but two months of school, Sept. 17 to Nov. 7th. Great Aunt Mabel Harris, Uncle George Harris, Aunt Nell Acker DeLancey, my sister Madge Acker Horner and myself have all taught the Parnell school. My husband attended and graduated from the 10th grade as well as our four children from the 8th grade, so this corner of the county is very precious to me.

      I'm still young enough to wonder how a living could be eked out of 160 acres of sand hill land in this part of the county but old enough to love and appreciate it. I must be a prairie rat, for never are more pleasurable moments spent than to stand on a high hill in the gathering dusk of the evening -- the purple haze hanging over the hills -- and look and look and listen to the bawl of the calf and the far away assuring answer of his mother and the quiet goodnight song of the meadowlark.

      Some of the names that we read in the books of the county court house are Cary, Jefferies, Emery, Dutcher, Butcher, Bengal, Donovan, Van Ausdal, Moncrief, McCune, Daily, Davitt, Swanson -- and mine, Mildred Acker Cargill.




© Oldtime Nebraska, 2000, Nebraska, the Garden Spot of the World -- submitted by Patti Bacon -- February, 1998