[ Words that follow were written in the early part of the 20th century. ]
Mrs. Snyder in her own right, a school teacher for years, who lives in Gering now spoke at the meeting during Oregon Trail Days on her own experiences back in 1887 when she first came to Cheyenne Co., taking for her subject "Lest We Forget."
Range cattle, vast empty prairie covered with buffalo grass. This was a granger's paradise in 1887. No fences, but the government was offering land for settlers, homesteaders -- 160 acres just for living on it for five years -- or you could pay $1.25 an acre and live on it six months -- or one could have a tree claim. Then [came] the Kincaid Act where you could increase your holdings to a section.
In May, 1887, happily trudging along behind a few cows and a young sow, which were following a heavily loaded covered wagon, was a young girl and her father, who was the second son of a United Brethren minister.
This family had been on the road for some time. The wagon contained mother, brother Earl, and the baby, also all our worldly possessions. A crate of hens and a rooster were tied to the back of the wagon.
My parents were very weary when one afternoon father pointed out Chimney Rock, saying "We'll soon be home." We had stopped at Sidney and father had made his homestead filing, going north coming up the valley, as his brother, Will Callaham, lived at Big Horn.
As we passed through Sidney, I was fearful of the soldiers, the first I had ever seen. Arriving at our claim, we thought, "How lovely a spot, and just think, all our own." Later, a wonderful one room sod house, with pole roof, green grass for the floor, a grand new cellar or "cave" we called it, and a solid hardpan floor on which to set our milk pans.
There was no water nearer than three miles. Two or three years passed and the wells we dug had no water. Meanwhile the cattle were driven three miles to water each day. Earl and I spent many a day roaming the prairie behind the cows. Do you know soda crackers, butter and wild onions make a delicious spring lunch eaten in the shade by the cool Gabe Springs bluffs.
Later Earl was old enough to aquire a pony which I rode. Lulu slipped quietly up to a range calf in the high grass and got Earl's halter rope around its neck. Sadly to say, calf and rope disappeared like magic. So did the pony and rider as the range cows started to close in on us. But the vivid remembrance of the tongue lashing from Earl over the loss of his precious rope remained.
Now I see a log schoolhouse, one and a mile north of our house. It too had a grass floor. Our first teacher there was Lily Pierce. She was a pretty lady with long silk dresses and she wore a great big bustle and walked so prettily. Would I, a veritable tomboy, ever walk so gracefully, or have such a nice bustle?
The ghost hovers closer, 1888 and 1889 featured hard winter snows, deep all over the prairie. Father was in Cheyenne working. Mother and I, digging out the small amount of corn fodder -- carrying armfuls through the deep snow drifts to cows, down in the snow and too weak to get up, and new calves. Mother with no help -- just grief, worry and hard work. Too we were always short of feed for the stock, to say nothing of food for ourselves.
We walked two and a half miles to Harrisburg, carrying back washings -- for mother did her best to keep the home fires burning. Chopping wood! Yes I really could do that job. Pine was easy to break through.
For coffee, mother roasted some of our precious wheat seed in the oven and ground it in our coffee mill.
How well I remember Jan. 12, 1888, and we were lost in a blizzard at night with no fences to follow. Mother and I were trying to make home, trying to find a landmark, a hill or some beacon to bring us out of the dilemma for certainly it was a precarious situation.
I remember we circled the hill three times and finally arrived at home at two in the morning. Mother froze one foot. My fingers pained me for weeks, but we were used to it.
We walked two and one half miles to Harrisburg and were always wet to our knees. But it make little difference, as I just had to get enough learning to teach school and help the folks.
Again the ghost of the past brings a vision of a team of oxen hitched to a plow -- a young girl trying to get some plowing done for corn before her father got home from Cheyenne where he was laying brick.
Memories of riding a side saddle eight miles to and from school, in all kinds of weather, teaching east of Harrisburg at the princely wage of $30 per month. This was better than the $25 per month I received for teaching at Big Horn when I was 16 years old. Clyde, Harvey, and Cal Wyatt were among my pupils then.
I remember an early teacher in Kimball, Prof. E. P. Cromer. Yes! I put a tack in his chair once "just for fun," but was pretty "broken up" after he gave me some fatherly advice among other things. This is where I first met George Cromer, present chairman of the Half Century club.
How well I remember the fourth of July celebration at Harrisburg -- a merry go round drawn by a horse who walked 'round and 'round a pole -- the eight or ten swings were always filled with young people.
Memories come of the old well which yielded water after a strong pull, hand over hand, bucket after bucket. Memories of hauling water on a sled, season after season, day after day, for the thirsty milk cows. Came midwinter and a neighbor trying to steady a barrel of water which he had hauled for many miles on an icy sled. He slipped and broke his leg. The barrel was pushed off, neighbors hauled him to our home where father, E. M. White, and William Bruce set his leg as the doctor was 30 miles away in Kimball and it was bitter winter weather. The man was Frank Stewart, a cripple for life. But we did the best we could.
Straining my eyes to make out another vision of the past, I see Seth Raymond with his freight wagon drawn by two teams of oxen, freighting between Gering and Kimball.
Another event of great moment in our young lives was our trip to secure the log for our ridgepole. It was cut high on Hogback bluff, the highest point in the Wildcat range, and rolled down the slope where the ox team waited to take it to our new home, a sod house near the present site of the Wildcat dude ranch.
Ghosts of the praires are many and varied and would make a large book, but these few remembrances are shared with you; and I close with a verse from the pen of Harry Wisner:
|© Oldtime Nebraska -- Lulu Callaham Snyder, submitted by Thelma Nation, December 1998|