Our parents came to Iowa from the state of Ohio in 1856, being old timers there.  The winters of 1856 and 1857 were very bad winters and a large number of people lost their lives on the trackless prairies.

   We came to the state of Nebraska in the spring of 1886.  Father and Frank preceded us two weeks in an immigrant car, loaded with cattle, horses and household goods.

   In two or three days we climbed into a covered wagon and started up the White River.  We were besieged by pesky locators, nine out of every ten being in that business.  Their price would be from five dollars to what they thought they could get out of a settler.  Father told them that he understood surveying and could locate himself, which he did.

   Before we left Chadron we went out to see the natural rock wall, which in those days was a great attraction.  The road had been changed, but we did not know this.  In the party were father, mother, we three children, Mrs. Conley, wife of the man who owned the team, and Mr. and Mrs. Rich and small child.  The road led through a homestead and potato patch.

   The owner came out of the house and said, "I came out to tell you the road has changed and does not go through here now.'  Mr. Rich spoke up saying, "We did not suppose it was the road," upon which the man became very angry.  Mr. Rich continued talking, saying, "O, well, people won't bother you when you get fenced.'  The man ripped out an oath, saying, "B-- G---, I don't have to fence, if you get too smart, I will make you turn around and go back."

   Father, who was driving, asked the man to point out the new road, and we would use it going back, which we did, not wishing to chance the black rage the second time.

   The next morning, Monday, we loaded up our covered wagon and started up White River to the land on which we were going to locate.  Some distant out from Chadron we passed the house of "Red Jacket", a character of the early days.  In the early fall of 1885, Charles Russell was working for the Boyd Bros. Cattle Co., known as the OU.  They were driving 500 to 600 head of cattle to Chadron to load for shipping to the Chicago market.  They stopped to water the herd at "Red Jacket's" place.  She came out with a rifle and demanded $5 pay from the foreman, J. B. Moore.  Some time after this Mrs. Dave Ransom was telling us that her father was what was called a "squatter" in that vicinity.  His horses strayed on her land, he went over to get them, an agrument ensued, and she shot him, so that he died from the wound.  Mrs. Ransom told us that when her father died, there were people who said he was the seventh person "Red Jacket" had killed.

   Before we came to Whitney, then called Dawes City, a hard rain came up.  We had been told that "it never rains in this country.'  The covered wagon began to leak, mother and we children were sitting on top of the range we had brought with us.  The rain continues in a steady drizzle, and we were getting wet, we drove up to a house, occupied by a family namned Cornwall, and got permission to stay all night and dry out our clothes.

   The next morning we took off again and came to the tent town of Crawford, about 11:00, stopped a little while, ate dinner, and looked around.  Buildings were going up, we could see the carpenters at work.  Men were at work putting in switches on the railroad track.  We went through Fort Robinson, which contained mostly neatly hewn log houses, with a few adobe houses.  The first commandant that we knew was General Hatch, who was later seriously injured in a runaway and subsequently died from his injuries, his body being taken to Fort Leavenworth, Kan. for burial.

   After we left Fort Robinson, one of the sights pointed out to us was the grave of a soldier who was killed at Lake Ranch.  He had filed on a claim and was brought back to his claim for burial.  Father said to us, "he is holding down his claim.  It took the rest of the day to get to our cabin, one which the railroad workers had left.  There was all kinds of wild animals, deer, antelope, gray wolves, wild cats and mountain lions.  Our cabin was near the White River.  One night we heard something lapping water out of a water pail.  Our mother, Mrs. Rebecca Russell, went out with a broom and struck the animal across the back and the next morning we found a dead shunk in the yard.  One night we heard wildcats digging into the chicken house and father fired the rifle out of the window and the next morning we fouhd a dead wildcat not far from the cabin.

   In the month of November, 1884, an officer from Fort Robinson had gone on a hunting trip up the White River valley on his return to the post, he camped about a fourth of a mile south of Soldier Springs.  The next morning as they were harnessing up his team he missed a diamond ring, which he had been wearing.  There was snow on the ground and they could not find the ring.  He told the Tucker children that if they would find the ring and return it to him, he would give them $25, but the ring was never found.  In the month of August, 1913, Frank Russell was riding horseback on the road down from Andrews, and opposite the Hunter place, he was idly looking down at the wheel tracks in the road when he saw something gleam.  He dismounted and from the dust and sand, picked up a large, beautiful diamond ring, which we believe is the lost ring of long ago.  Frank also had a five cent piece, which he picked up on the old freight road, with the date 1868.  The "5" on one side is encircled by 13 stars.

   After Geronimo's raid and the Custer massacre, large numbers of soldiers were kept at frontier posts.  There is a legend that General Nelson A. Miles, commander-in-chief of the United States Army, was out inspecting frontier post with a regiment of soldiers and pack train.  His Indian guide brought him from the north to Soldier Springs, then called by the Indians the Big Springs.  They camped there during the night and the next morning General Miles went on down the river and back to Washington.

   Soldier Springs was a camping place for the Indians and soldiers who gave the place its name.  Here they had rifle pits and the remains of their baking oven may still be seen near the springs.  Soldier Springs is now owned and occupied by Charles Russell and is part of the Russell Ranch.  Our father H. H. Russell, liked cattle and understood the cattle business thoroughly.  It is the only thing which brought us west.  In our fifty years residence in Sioux County, Nebraska, we have always been substantial citizens and land-owning tax-payers.

   In the early days there was a government telegraph line from Fort Robinson to Fort Laramie, Wyo.  It was kept in repair by the soldiers and they often camped at Soldier Springs.  The line ran close to our cabin.  The soldiers would talk and laugh with we children.  It was sometimes lonely and their cordiality and plesant sociability made us pleased to see them.  One of them gave me a large army cup which we have kept and still use.

   The years of 1886-1887 and the early nineties were dry and droughty and hard times beset us, and many times the bill of fare was corn bread and turnips.  The dessert was "don't put any on my plate" -- a bread pudding.  In the spring there would be three days rain, usually in May.  Our dirt roof would leak, things in the cabin would get wet, our sewing machine lost its pretty varnish.  Verily, the lot of the pioneer is hard, when one had to hold the dishpan over their head all night, they are not feeling very gay when morning comes.

by Lillie Belle Russell



copyright © Dick Taylor, 1996 - 2007   Oldtime Nebraska -- A Pioneer Story, submitted by Thelma Nation - February, 1999