Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday Stories: Billie Lee Snyder Thornburg

Billie is the last of the children of Bert and Grace Snyder that I have to write about. I couldn't find any information in the history books, but I did find her obituary, which I am sharing here. I met Billie in the early 2000's when I had the privilege of recording a narration of her first book, "Bertie and Me". She followed that up with three more books, "Bertie and Me and Miles Too", "Sandhills Kid in the City" and "City and Prairie Bones". All of these memoirs offer glimpses into Nebraska and North Platte's past.

The books are out of print, but can be found on Amazon from third-party sellers.

Billie Lee Thornburg, 96, of North Platte, passed away Feb. 14, 2009, at her home.

     She was born April 12, 1912, to Albert Benton and Grace Belle McCance Snyder in her grandfather McCance''s sod house a few miles north of Cozad. Her early years were spent on the family ranch 11 miles west of Tryon. She attended grade school in rural McPherson County. Billie was baptized in the Eclipse Episcopal Church at an early age.

     When Billie and her sister were old enough to attend high school her father Bert leased out his ranch and moved his family to Salem, Ore., where she graduated from high school.

     Billie was married to Tiny Riley, who later died of injuries from a rodeo accident.

     In 1955, Billie married William Robert Thornburg, a career Navy man. They lived in Japan for two years and in Norfolk, Va., where they were active in real estate. In 1977, they returned to North Platte to care for Billie''s mother.

     She was a dance instructor in North Platte for many years. At the age of 90 she began writing and was working on her fifth book when her health and eyesight began to fail. Among her books were "City & Prairie Bones," a story of North Platte''s "Little Chicago" days. She also wrote "Bertie & Me", "Bertie & Me and Miles, Too" and "A Sandhills Kid in the City." She formed The Old One Hundred and One Press Co. and published for others as well.


     She was an accomplished knitter, having made many beautiful sweaters. Billie was a people person and had gathered many friends over her long life. She also had a love for animals, most recently their cockatoo Charlie.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Know Nebraska: Chimney Rock

If you are roadtripping anywhere in western Nebraska, a detour and a stop at Chimney Rock is a must. There is no more iconic symbol of Nebraska (I rank it even higher than Memorial Stadium and the Sower on top of the capitol!). For hundreds of thousands of pioneers on their way was on all of the important westward migration trails, Chimney Rock represented an important milestone on their journey and they mentioned it most of all in their journals.


To see it is easy – take Highway 26 east from Scottsbluff or west from Bridgeport. The Visitor Center is south a mile or so on a gravel road that is well marked (of course, with Chimney Rock itself looming above you, you’ll know you’re in the area!).

The Visitor Center itself contains a wealth of information on the westward migrations, and the journal mentions of Chimney Rock, as well as a nice gift shop. There is a film as well that expands on the story.

This is one of the historical sites in Nebraska that is operated by the Nebraska State Historical Society. Other sites are managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the National Parks Service. The difference in the levels of funding of the different organizations is very apparent, as is the relative emphasis they put on historical preservation and presentation in comparison to their overall missions.
What is disappointing, is that there is no access to Chimney Rock itself. You can continue on the gravel road south, then take it west for about a quarter of a mile to the historic cemetery, but can go no farther. The land surrounding the Rock is all privately owned. It is very frustrating to see an historical marker at the base of the Rock and not be able to hike up to it to read it.

If you look closely, there is an historical marker in the center of the photo. This picture was taken from the Pioneer Cemetery.

Hopefully someday soon, the means and opportunity will become available for the Historical Society to purchase the land to enhance the experience of this landmark.

Halfway between the Visitor Center and Highway 26, you’ll find the Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing. They operate a campground and store, and I highly recommend their made-to-order waffle cones!

All in all, with no hiking available, the stop to see Chimney Rock, even with a detour to the Pioneer Cemetery only takes about an hour of your time.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Stories: Miles Snyder Log House

Excerpted from the McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction; Established in 1890. You'll find the story of Miles and Hollis Snyder previously posted here.

By Miles Snyder

Having decided, in the spring of 1935, to build a house, and not knowing what type of construction would be the most practical, money being very tight and hard to come by, my father suggested using pine logs, and spoke of the number of new log houses being constructed in the Black Hills, I thought I would give it a try.

I sent a letter to the clerk of Fall River County, South Dakota, asking for the name of a logger who could furnish logs of the lodgepole variety. If my memory serves me well, he referred to a man named Jenkins, near the town of Pringle, in the heart of the Black Hills, who agreed to furnish the logs at a cost of one hundred seventy dollars.

While in the Black Hills that summer on our honeymoon, also when transporting the logs, I studied the architecture used in constructing the walls and especially the method of locking the logs together at the corners, which were mostly simple dovetailed joints made by allowing the ends of the logs to extend beyond the line of the wall.

I did the excavating for the basement in the spring and poured the walls in the fall. Due to dipping cattle in the neighborhood and other extra work that fall, it was November before I could plan to haul the logs home.

I obtained the services of a trucker by the name of Dwight Kentral, who had a two-ton International truck and also a four wheel trailer. We juryrigged a heavy bolster on both the truck and the trailer beds.

We made two trips by way of Sidney, Alliance and Hot Springs, there being no road west of Tryon, over which such loads could be hauled. We unloaded the logs there.

In December, Reuel Conroy, and I made two trips each with a four horse hitch and wagons and trailers, hauling the logs to the ranch. Where they remained in a pile until the summer of 1936 when I finally found time to lay up the walls.

Our loads were so long that in places the center of the logs scraped the tops of the hills on the road between Tryon and the ranch.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Know Nebraska: Scottsbluff National Monument

As a lifelong Nebraskan, it embarrasses me to acknowledge that I had never before been to the top of Scottsbluff National Monument until 2015! Our family's summer vacation took us to Fort Collins, down to Red Rocks for a concert, and then on a swing through the Nebraska Panhandle (I know folks who live there don't like the "panhandle" moniker, but it is what most people know the region as, so I use it.)

We road tripped from Colorado's Bear Lake Park (operated by the city of Lakewood), through Kimball and the High Point Welcome Center. I highly recommend stopping as it's right on I-80 and has a wealth of information for all points in Nebraska.

From there it was a straight shot north through the Wildcat Hills. I have no idea how much time you would have to schedule on a road trip to do ALL of the things you want to do, but on this trip, we didn't have time to stop at the Visitor Center or hike the hills. That will have to be another trip. Suffice it to say that all travelers who believe Nebraska is flat should make a trip north of I-80 on Highway 41 to Scottsbluff/Gering.
A bad cell phone photo taken through a dirty windshield of Nebraska's beautiful Wildcat Hills
Our camping spot in Scottsbluff was the Riverside RV Park, which is right next to the Riverside Discovery Center. The Discovery Center consists of a Zoo, Wildlife World (reopening soon), Children's Museum and Splash Pad. Again, sadly, though our granddaughter would have LOVED it, we didn't have a chance to visit.

The Riverside RV Park, while very convenient to the Discovery Center, Scotts Bluff National Monument and being adjacent to a hike/bike trail along the North Platte River, wouldn't be my first choice when recommending a park in the area. The camp host was friendly and efficient, but the maintenance of the area (that includes fishing ponds and a disc golf course) leaves a lot to be desired. The foliage at the pad sites are more weeds than grass, the disc golf course is completely overgrown, as are the paths around the fishing ponds. I know with all of the high water, this has been a very bad year to try to keep up on things, but it appeared to have been neglected for far longer than just this spring.

Now, on to the subject of my post! The incredible Scotts Bluff National Monument!
Lots of interpretive markers to help tell the story
After setting up camp, with temperatures in the 90's (and a 3 year old and six-months pregnant daughter), we decided to forego hiking the Wildcat Hills and opted instead for an evening drive up to Scottsbluff National Monument.

It's a quick drive from anywhere in Scottsbluff / Gering. There is a National Parks Visitor Center at the base, and a $5 per car fee to enter. We opted to drive to the top first. The road and the tunnels, really all of the man-made structures that make the park so convenient to visit were constructed in the 1930's by the CCC!
The first tunnel on the drive up to the top.
The winding road to the top leaves one breathless with the amazing views, and we stopped frequently to take photos, but truly, you wouldn't have to - the views from the top are just as spectacular, and you won't be impeding traffic!
One of the views to the east.
There are two short trails at the top, offering 360 degree views, and a connection to the longer trail that leads back to the Visitor Center. We opted for just the two short trails.
Looking down at the Visitor Center, Mitchell Pass and the beginning of the drive to the top.
Back at the Visitor Center, there is a short film on the history of the Bluff, lots of other information on the westward migration and the early settlers in the area. The road out front goes past several larger-than-life depictions of a wagon train and leads directly through Mitchell Pass to the west. One has to remember that during the migration period, the North Platte River looked far different than it does today, so the flat ground surrounding the monument would have been boggy, filled with quicksand and covered with water much of the time.
The Legacy of the Plains Farm and Ranch Museum at the base of Scotts Bluff (One of the many museums we didn't have time to see!)

This arrow, if you could see in the distance, points to Laramie Peak, 120 miles to the west. We could see it the day we were there. It is at the far northern end of the trail on the top.

This arrow points to Chimney Rock to the east.
There were so many wonderful photos I took there, but truly, you have to visit it yourself to do the view justice. Scotts Bluff National Monument is absolutely one of the "don't miss" wonders of Nebraska!

Hints: Give yourself several hours to enjoy your visit. Wear comfortable shoes (hiking boots preferred). Hike ALL of the trails! Spend enough time in the Visitor Center to learn the story and see the wonderful collection of art. Visit the Legacy of the Plains Museum. WATCH FOR RATTLE SNAKES!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Stories: Skip and Anita Elfeldt

I have been sharing with you the family stories of the AB Bert Snyder family. Bert and Grace Snyder's daughter Alberta "Bertie" married Glenn Elfeldt of Sutherland. Their son, "Skip" was chosen as the Grand Marshall of the Sutherland 4th of July Parade this past week.

Below is the article written by Trenda Seifer in the Sutherland Courier-Times. It is a nice continuation of the story. It is also a perfect example of how things get done in a small town and how people pull together to create economic development (it would still work today if folks had the inclination).

Skip Elfeldt’2 grandparents, Arthur and Edith (Wallace) Elfeldt, of Hallum, Nebraska, came to Sutherland in 1911, settling on a farm approximately 12 miles southwest of town. Their oldest son, Glenn, was born that year. He graduated from Sutherland High School with the class of 1931. Glenn married Alberta “Bertie” Snyder in 1934. They lived for a while in Colorado, before returning to the family farm southwest of Sutherland. Their son Skip was born in Limon, Colorado in 1939. Skip attended high school at Sutherland, graduating in 1957. He served in the U.S. National Guard and Reserves from 1957 to 1962.

Skip met Anita Jean Mock in 1958 at a Rural Youth dance. Anita was the daughter of Art and Sophie Mock of Holbrook, NE. Skip was a scout leader and was farming at the time.

They married in 1962, and lived on the farm. Anita taught Kindergarten at Sutherland School two years while Skip farmed.

Anita noted that at that time, female teachers could not teach once they were pregnant, so this was the deciding factor as to how long she could teach. She also remembers that there were twenty-some kindergarteners who were living on farms south of Sutherland at that time.

Anita said that after she had her children, she always thought she might go back to teaching, but never did.

Skip and Anita had three children, Heidi, Holly and Jay. All three graduated from Sutherland Public Schools and all three graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

A conversation took place between several of the families in town that there was a need for a small business to provide employment. Skip explained that seven families each put in $100 for the purpose of buying the first two commercial sewing machines. With this, Sutherland Industries was born on December 13, 1962. Their first product was a tent to protect calves from weather.

The business was originally located in the 800 block of 1st Street, and employed four party time sewers. Opal Harshfield also came in to sew extra items. In 1971, Glenn and Bertie Elfeldt purchased the shares from the other investors and moved the company to its present location on Walnut Street, just north of the Sutherland Post Office. They manufactured truck tarps and later irrigation socks, among many products.

In 1977, Skip and Anita purchased the business from Glenn and Bertie.

Skip and Anita fondly remember their many employees down through the years. Sometimes teachers worked when they were between jobs, college kids, multiple generations of kids and grandkids. They noted that there are fewer and fewer skilled people who know how to sew, and fewer that are interested in doing this type of job rather than just being in front of a computer.

Through the years, Skip and Anita have been active in a number of community and state level organizations. Skip helped organize the Nebraska Simmental Association and served as its first President. He also helped organize the West Central Pork Producers and served as their first President. He was one of two delegates from Nebraska who served on the National Pork Producers Committee approximately three to four years. He has been a member of the Nebraska Cattleman’s Association and a member of the Industrial Fabric Association International. Skip has been active in the United Methodist Church, serving on various boards, and is also a member of the Sutherland Chamber of Commerce. Other Boards have included the Lincoln County Fair Board, the Lincoln County Extension Council, the Oddfellows, was a Boy Scout leader and served as Treasurer for the Opportunity Center.

He also noted that he pushed for several years, hoping to get a Sutherland Foundation going, and also served on its first board. Skip noted that whenever a former teacher passes away, this is a good time to give memorial money to the Foundation.

Anita’s volunteer efforts have included serving on the Extension Council, serving as Extension Club President, serving as a 4-H leader for 18 years, as well as being active in the Methodist Church.
She noted that she and Skip have not missed many State Fairs since 1950. Anita said they had always worked hard every year to be able to quality for the State Fair.

She also noted that they helped start the Pork Breakfast at NEBRASKAland DAYS.
They spoke of helping build the Methodist Church in Sutherland. “Every generation should have to build a church building,” said Skip.

Through the years, the Elfeldts have enjoyed travel. Their first trip was to Europe with the Rural Youth program through the Extension Service, back when they were engaged. They remember that the kids on the trip lived with farm families in Holland, Germany and Switzerland.

They have traveled in every state of the U.S., to China, to Australia, and New Zealand, on Extension trips, and to Kenya on a mission trip. Their most recent trip included a trip to Panama, and spent a day off the ship.

Skip and Anita are looking forward to this July 4th holiday, when all their kids and grandkids will come home.

Skip commented that they felt honored just to be asked to serve as Grand Marshals for the Parade. He said, “It takes a whole village to keep our businesses and our organizations going. It takes everybody.”

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Stories: Glenn and Alberta Elfeldt

Excerpted from the Sutherland Centennial 1891 – 1991, published in 1991.

Glenn Arthur Elfeldt, the oldest son of Arthur William and Edith Belle Wallace Elfeldt, was born October 26, 1911 in Sutherland, Nebraska. He was graduated from Sutherland High School in 1931 and spent most of his life in the Sutherland area.

Alberta (Bertie) Snyder was born to Bert and Grace McCance Snyder, May 2, 1914. The youngest of four children, she was born on the family ranch in McPherson County about 38 miles north of Sutherland. She was graduated from high school in Salem, Oregon in 1931.

Glenn and Bertie were married in North Platte on September 27, 1934. They spent a few years in Colorado before returning to the family farm/ranch 13 miles south of Sutherland. They had three children, William Benton, Robert Glenn (Skip), and Josee Lee.

Glenn and Bertie observed their 50th wedding anniversary in September, 1984. Glenn died just prior to his 73rd birthday of a heart attack in October, 1984 in Mesa, Arizona where they had spent their retirement winters for the past seven years. Bertie continues to spend six months of the year in Arizona and six months in their home on the hill north of Sutherland.


The Glenn Elfeldt family was honored in 1987 as the Lincoln County Great Nebraska Family, an award given by the Lincoln County Home Extension Council.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sunday Stories: Miles W. Snyder Family

While some of the details included in the stories in the history books don't seem particularly entertaining, I, nevertheless, find the tidbits about how life was lived in previous generations endlessly fascinating. People, especially the elderly, are generally much more interesting than we believe.

Excerpted from the McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction; Established in 1890
Miles married Hollis Elizabeth Blackstone on June 23, 1935 at her parents’ home in Lincoln County, Nebraska. Hollis and her two brothers, Herbert Alva and Ralph Gordon, were born to Harry and Nora Eleanor May Blackstone. Their farm was located nearest to Curtis, Nebraska but located in Lincoln County.

Mercer County, Pennsylvania was the home of five previous generations of Blackstones, beginning with Prideaux Blackiston, a young soldier in the Thirteenth Virginia Continental Regiment. He died at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War, leaving a widow, Bridget Shrader Blackiston, and an infant son, Samuel. Samuel Blackiston was my (Hollis’) fourth great-grandfather.

Harry Blackstone’s mother was Ellen Elizabeth Rittenberg. She was born in Canada on October 9, 1847. Her parents, James E. and Sarah E. Greenman Rittenburg were married at Caister in the province of Ontario, Canada. They lived to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1897. Hollis’ mother, Nora, was born March 17, 1897 in West Virginia. Her parents, Richard Clark May and Mary Elizabeth Wolfe May were also born near Preston County, West Virginia.

Hollis was graduated from the Nebraska School of Agriculture at Curtis and taught school for several years before her marriage, including the school in the Huffman-Van Meter district in McPherson county.

The children of Miles and Hollis are James Gordon, Jerry Blaine and Jean Elaine.

Miles attended school in his home district. The schoolhouse was several miles northeast and attendance was limited in the winter. The family moved to Salem, Oregon so that Billy and Bertie could attend a high school near their home.

Miles enlisted in the Army at Vancouver, Washington on September 14, 1928 and was in the Signal Corps. He spent some time in the Philippines. He was honorably discharged July 25, 1931.

The Miles Snyders lived in a log house made from timbers hauled from South Dakota.

Miles learned to pilot an airplane in the mid-forties. John Clinch of Clinch Flying Service in North Platte would come alternately to the rancher’s homes and give flying lessons. Interested men for miles around would gather at a rancher’s home and they would each take a lesson. In 1847 Miles purchased a Taylorcraft airplane. This would be the form of transportation Miles would use to take son, Jim, to school in Tryon for about four years. In 1978 Miles sold the aircraft to a family in Anchorage, Alaska and in May of 1979 Jim and Joyce flew it to Anchorage International Airport for delivery.

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