Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Sandhills in Spring

Black and white mama cow surrounded by Blackbirds.
Beautiful Sandhills vista and cows enjoying the spring morning.
Fog in the Sandhills
The road north out of Sutherland
The Birdwood Creek valley
Tree and Shadow.
What? You want us to move?
Windmill in the fog.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sandhills Stories: A.B. "Bert" Snyder and Grace Snyder McCance, Part Two

This is part two of the story of the A.B. "Bert" Snyder and Grace Snyder McCance family.

Excerpted from McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction; Established in 1890
In 1927 when Billie and Bertie were ready for high school, Bert leased the ranch to Ed Younkin for five years and the family moved to Salem, Oregon, where the girls graduated in 1932. In the meantime, Nellie had married Harry Yost and moved back to Maxwell, and in 1928, Miles enlisted in the Signal Corps in the U.S. Army and spent the next three years in the Philippine Islands. Returning to Salem in 1931, he moved back to Nebraska with the rest of the family. The following year he and his parents settled again on the ranch, restocked it and took up where they had left off five years earlier.

In 1935 Miles married Hollis Blackstone of Curtis, who had been teaching at the Huffman school, and built a second home at the ranch beside that of his parents. In the intervening years the ranchers of the area had bought out most of the Kinkaid homesteaders and put all the land under fence. With the removal of the homesteaders many of the little country schools had disappeared and there was no longer even a schoolhouse in the big district where the Snyders had gone to school.

Although cars were much improved over the models of the ‘teens and ‘twenties, the roads were the same old crooked, sandy trails of former years. Under the best of conditions it took at least an hour to drive the eleven miles from the ranch to Tryon, so, when Miles’ and Hollis’ oldest son, Jim, was old enough to go to school Miles bought a small plane, learned to fly it, and flew the boy to Tryon in the morning and picked him up in the afternoon. The plane was a help, too, in checking windmills, fences, and making quick trips after supplies and repairs. All three of the second generation of Snyder children, Jim, Jerry and Jean, graduated from McPherson County High.

In the meantime back at the ranch Grace was putting in her spare time piecing the uniquely beautiful quilts that were later to make her famous all across the United States. When gear shift cars came into use her husband had refused to bother to learn to drive them. Consequently, when he wanted to check a windmill or a fence or the condition of a pasture, he often asked his wife to drive him to the location. Since she always had a box of quilt pieces ready to take along, she sat in the car and sewed pieces while Bert repaired a mill or a fence or a gate. Thus, parts of most of her collection of fabulous quilts were pieced in some Sandhills pasture.

This is Grace Snyder's 88,000 piece Flower Basket Petit Point Quilt.
You will see more of Grace's quilting in further posts.
Two of Grace’s quilts won the “Best of Show” in the arts division of the Nebraska State Fair. All of the collection has been photographed and written about in various national quilt magazines, and most of them shown “in person” at huge quilt shows in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Kansas, Texas, Michigan, California and other states. Now in her ninety-ninth year (in 1981) and living with her daughter, Billie; Grace Snyder enjoys the fame her quilts has brought her. Probably the most outstanding compliment came when a man in Detroit, after a long and careful examination of her masterpiece, the 88,000 piece Flower Basket Petit Point, said “THAT is the Stradivarius of quilts.”

After their return to the ranch in the ‘30’s both Bert and Miles began promoting better roads in the Sandhills. Paving of “all-weather” roads were urgently needed in this vast area but even the minimum miles needed would prove frightfully expensive for so sparsely settled a region. Both drove many miles to attend highway meetings and spent much time helping to raise the money needed to match state and federal highway funds. As a result of their efforts and those of many of their neighbors, Highway 97 many years ago connected at the county line with the portion coming north from North Platte to Tryon, and later built on north to Mullen.

Bert and Grace retired to a pleasant home in North Platte in 1946, but when, five years later, the paved strip wound on west past the ranch on its way to Arthur (and on to the state line), the Snyders never ceased to marvel that they could now drive the eleven miles from Tryon to the old home in less than twenty minutes. Where, in pre-pavement days, the Snyders had had to make a two-day trail drive to deliver market cattle to the Union Pacific railroad on the south, or the Burlington on the north, now big trucks could come directly to the ranch and haul them away, quickly and efficiently; a great satisfaction to Bert, who had practiced the old way for half a century.

In October, 1953, Bert and Grace celebrated their Golden Wedding Day at their North Platte home. In January, 1956, Bert passed away and was buried February 2nd on his eighty-fourth birthday in the North Platte cemetery.

Grace McCance Snyder
Grace passed away December 8, 1982
Miles, (who served a term, 1942 to 1946), as commissioner of his county with his son, Jim, continues to operate the ranch.

Harry Yost passed away in 1968, and at the time of writing this history in 1981, Nellie was living in North Platte.

Billie married Bob Thornburg, a Navy career man, and spent two years in Japan. They then returned to Norfolk, Virginia, and went into the real estate business. In 1977 they moved back to North Platte (Bob’s boyhood home), bought a new house, and moved Mrs. Snyder in with them. In spite of her near one hundred years, Grace is well and happy.

Bertie married Glenn Elfeldt of Sutherland in 1934. Ranchers and manufacturers of that community, they have three children and eight grandchildren. Bertie, long an active and enthusiastic member of the Nebraska Cow-Belles, served her term in 1968-1969 as State President of the organization and still attends meetings and works consistently for the good of the industry.

The old home place in the valley was completely treeless during the early years the Snyders lived there. Hundreds of little cottonwoods, patiently set out by hand, died out in succeeding years. Then came the “wet period” in the Sandhill valleys and new trees took off and grew. The valley is now well timbered with cottonwoods, willows, pine and other varieties. The 1912 barn still stands but the old frame house was torn down more than twenty years ago when Him built his and his wife’s new home. An airplane hanger and a four-car garage and machine shop, undreamed of when Grace Snyder went to the ranch as a bride in 1903, have further changed the valley. “Only the Sandhills are the same,” she says.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Then and Now

While researching the McPherson County (Nebraska) history book for my "Sunday Stories" series on my blog, I came across the scanned photo in this post of the "Sod House on old Fred G. Seifer place." Fred Seifer was my grandfather, and it is this homestead to which we trek on a regular basis to make repairs to the old homesteading cabin.

The photo here is of the barn, that is still standing, that can be seen in the background of the black and white photo.

Please notice the pump jack in the left center of the scanned photo and in the left in the color photo. Still there after all these years! The original photo had to be taken sometime in the 1920's, as that's when my grandparents purchased the homestead from the original homesteaders.
I wish I knew who the people in the photo are.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Stories: Bert and Grace Snyder, Part One

This story builds upon the origins of the Snyder family posted last week, and follows the history of Albert and Grace Snyder.

Excerpted from McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction; Established in 1890


The A.B. Snyder Family By Nellie Snyder Yost



A.B. “Bert” Snyder was born on his father’s Nemaha County homestead on February 2, 1872. Ten years later he moved with his family to Maxwell, Nebraska. At age fifteen he went West and cowboyed in Wyoming and Montana in the closing years of the open range period. It was there that he was given his well-known nickname of “Pinnacle Jake”. Ten years later, in the spring of 1897 he filed on a quarter section of land on Squaw Creek in southwest McPherson County. That section of the country was still open range and he began to accumulate a herd of cattle of his own. In 1902 he sold his quarter and bought the “Patterson place,” a quarter section homestead eleven miles west of Tryon. The following year, in October of 1903, he married Grace McCance and brought her to live on his ranch. The couple made the trip from Maxwell in a covered wagon. Grace, born in Cass County, Missouri, in 1882, had come with her family to a Custer County homestead in 1885. She was eighteen in the spring her family moved sixty miles west to the Bill Sherman place on the Birdwood north of Sutherland.
During the summers of 1901-1902 and 1903 Grace attended “summer school” in North Platte, a teacher’s course that enabled her to obtain a third grade, then a second grade, certificate to teach in the state’s public schools. In the winter of 1901-1902, she taught six months term of school at the Bernard Aufdengarten ranch near old Lena in what is now Arthur County. The following winter she taught nine months term at the Lower Birdwood school near her home. (The schoolhouse where she taught more than seventy years ago has now been restored and, with its original furnishings, moved to the grounds of the Lincoln County Historical Museum at North Platte. The little white schoolhouse makes a satisfying link with the present for a way of life now far in the past.)

The historic Birdwood School on the grounds of the Lincoln County Historical Museum in North Platte.
Before Grace could use her new second grade certificate she had met and married Bert and moved to his McPherson County Ranch. It might be well to mention here that she taught her first temr of school for a salary of $15 per month and her room and board. Her salary the second year was $30 a month and she lived at home. The second grade certificate would have enabled her to earn as much as $45 per month.

The Snyder’s first home in the valley, near a spring-fed lake, was a five-room sod house with wooden floors and ceilings. The majority of sod houses of that period were one or two-room affairs with dirt floors and no ceilings, merely a pole and sod roof to keep out the weather. This roomy structure had a large living room, a kitchen (with inside pump and sink) and three bedrooms. Their daughter, Nellie, born in 1905, was the only one of their four children to live in the sod house. By the time Miles was born in 1906 the family had moved into a three-room frame house some forty feet north of the soddy. Two more daughters, Billie and Bertie, were born in 1912 and 1914, respectively.

By 1908 the Kinkaid Act (passed in 1904) had sounded the knell of the open range in the Sandhills and homesteaders were moving into the country by the hundreds. This act permitted a homesteader to file on a full section of 640 acres, as compared to the original 160 acres of the Homestead Act of 1862, and “Easterners” were eager to take advantage of it. Since Bert had already used his earlier right by filing on the Squaw Creek quarter, he could now file on only an additional three-quarters. This he did claiming the land to the north and west of the Patterson place. When surveyed, the Snyders found that their new frame house was just barely on the south line of the new tract. Since all the old corrals and sheds were south of the house, they had been moved or rebuilt north of the house, thus fulfilling the “improvement” obligations necessary to “proving up” on the Government land.

In 1912 the Snyders built a two-story, four room addition onto the original three rooms and added a two-story frame barn and garage, along with a set of new corrals to the earlier out-buildings. The garage was necessary because they had just bought their first automobile, a two-seated, four passenger Ford with a wooden body, carbide headlights, a huge rubber ball beside the front seat on the driver’s side that honked the brass horn protruding from the front beside the engine, and back doors but no front ones. The Snyders soon found that this was a good idea. The Sandhills roads being what they were, the front seat passenger often had to leap out in a hurry and give the car a push through the sand before the engine died. A door would have gotten in the way. One of the first cars in the country, it did well to hold together during the twelve years its owners put it over the crooked trails that passed for roads in the Sandhills.

Along with the rest of the early McPherson Countyites, the Snyders endured blizzards (the terrible storm of 1913 killed half their cattle), prairie fires, drouths, and lack of mail and school facilities. During their first years on the ranch they had to go so far to get their mail that they seldom enjoyed that privilege more than five or six times a year. Then, in 1917, when no one else would have the little Lilac post office, Grace agreed to take it in and serve as its postmaster. Up until then it had been moved about over most of the western half of the county. It was to stay at the Snyder place nearly twenty years. The mail came out from Sutherland (on horseback or by horse-cart of car) twice a week at first, later three times a week. Several families used the little post office and mail days were big days at the ranch.

Most of the homesteaders who ringed the Snyder ranch were bachelors and it was several years before enough families with children were near enough to make possible the organization of a school district. When this came about it was a large district, with most of the children living in the northeast part of it. The schoolhouse, built in the center of the district, was five miles from the Snyder ranch. Nellie was ten and Miles was eight when they first rode off on the ten-mile round trip by horseback to the new little schoolhouse. Until then their mother had taught them at home and they started in about where they would have been had they been in school regularly. The first term of seven months was further shortened by the death of the teacher, Florence Hatch, a month before the end of the term. Other pupils at that long gone little Hllsdale school were the Pinkerton, Clifford, Powell, Frazier, Kirts and Dale children. Nellie graduated from the eighth grade in Tryon, where she boarded and roomed with the Tom Conroy family, then went to Maxwell High School, where she graduated in 1923. Later she taught the 1925-26 term of school at the Diamond Bar.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Stories - Joseph Snyder Family

No series of stories of important names in area history would be complete without including the Snyder family. Many descendants of Joseph Snyder continue to make valuable contributions to communities in both Lincoln and McPherson Counties in Nebraska.



By Janelle Snyder Blake

Joseph and Mary Snyder are the earliest known of my Snyder ancestors. They were born in Pennsylvania, Joseph in 1796 and Mary before 1810. In 1830, they were raising their family in Stark County, Ohio. One son, Jeremiah, my great-great-grandfather was born there on April 15, 1830. During the thirties, Mary died and Joseph moved to Grant County, Indiana in 1838 and continued in agriculture.

Here also, Lorenzo and Phoebe Moss Miles lived with their eight children. The oldest was Frances Elizabeth Miles, born April 4, 1834 in Steuben County, New York. Her brothers and sisters were William, Nelson, David Franklin, Edam Winslow, Lewis I., Margaret Ann and Hester.

It is appropriate here to mention that Nelson Appleton Miles (1839-1925) who was born near Westminster, New York, was either a son or a nephew of the above mentioned Miles family. Nelson A. Miles was a noted American soldier who fought in the Civil War, the Spanish American War and the Indian Wars. At the age of twenty-six he became a major general, commanding 25,000 troops. IN 1895 he became Commanding General of volunteers. In this state he is perhaps more famous for his battles with the Indians. The museum at Fort Robinson, Nebraska contains much information on him. See any encyclopedia for more information. Miles City, Montana was named for General Nelson A. Miles.

On November 3, 1853, Jeremiah Snyder married Frances Miles in Marion, Indiana. The ceremony was performed by Reverend Silas Parks. The witnesses were Robert Patterson and Mary W. Snyder. All of the above families appear together in the census records of Jefferson Township, Grant County, Indiana.

Jeremiah and Frances spent two years in Missouri, then moved on to Peru, Nebraska along with other relatives. Family tradition says this is where Jeremiah planted the first peach orchard west of the Missouri River. They later moved to Harlan County, living near Republican City for a short time, then moving to a farm three miles north of Alma in 1872. Ten years later, they moved to Lincoln County with eight children, one having died in Harlan County. They were, in order of birth, Mary Ellen, George Washington, Emily Frances, Sarah Alice, Joseph William, John Franklin, Hester Anna, Albert Benton and Eola Pearl.

Jeremiah was given a Bible by his wife as a wedding present and they kept a record of their children and grandchildren in it. This Bible is in the care of a grandson, Ed Sullivan, who still lives (1986) in the original one hundred year-plus house near Maxwell, in Lincoln County, Nebraska.

Albert Benton Snyder was Jeremiah’s youngest son. He was born on February 2, 1872 near Peru, Nemaha County, Nebraska. In his early teens, Bert left home to explore the country from Montana to Texas on the back of a horse.

He returned to Nebraska in 1897 and took a claim on the Squaw Creek. Artie Plummer and Sam Marants also took claims and the three young men summered about twelve hundred cattle there. The cattle arrived in the spring from Maxwell and were still weak from the winter there. They watered at the boggy creek and were often unable to get back out. It was easy to wear out a good horse retrieving cattle and the simplest answer proved to be a dam built with a drag, or a slip, pulled with a saddle horse. Bert did this and rebuilt it each spring when the sand washed out. The dam is still there on the creek although it has been rebuilt many times and is much larger now.

In 1902, Bert bought the Patterson place. It was eleven miles west of Tryon, and six miles north of the Squaw Creek claim. Bert’s son, Miles, now owns this ranch. Bert chose for a brand the AO Bar (AO). When he attempted to register this brand about 1920 he discovered it was a popular brand indeed. He was among six others in the state who were using that brand. He then chose the Ten Bar (10), this being the closest he could come to the One O One (101) brand of the ranch he had worked for in Wyoming. The Snyder family still uses the Ten Bar brand. The following year, 1903, Bert married Grace McCance on October 25, at the home of Bert’s parents in Maxwell.

In 1885, Grace’s parents, Charles Henry McCance and Margaret Anna Blaine had moved from Cass County, Missouri to Dawson County, Nebraska where they took a claim twelve miles northwest of Cozad, on the Custer County line. At that time they had three children: Flora, Grace Bell (born April 23, 1882) and Stella. In Dawson County were born Ethel, Nellie, Elsie, Roy and Esther. Earl was born later. In 1899 the McCance family moved to the Birdwood Creek north of Sutherland.

After their marriage in 1903, Bert and Grace managed the ranch in the Sandhills for another forty years. During that time they raised four children. The first, Nellie Irene, was born on June 20, 1905. She married Harry Yost of Maxwell. Miles William, my grandfather, was born on September 30, 1906. He married Hollis Blackstone. Billie Lee was born April 12, 1912 and she married Tiny Riley. She was widowed and married Robert Thornburg in 1955. The fourth child, Flora Alberta, or Bertie, was born May 2, 1914. She married Glenn Elfeldt.

About 1910 many new neighbors came as “Kinkaiders”. Few stayed, however. The land would not support crops or enough cattle to make a living on the 640 acres. There are still many places where fields were plowed seventy-five years ago and the land has not healed.

In 1912, Bert bought a Ford car. Automobiles soon became common, but the Sandhill trails made their use nearly impractical. Bert and his son Miles were among those who gave their time to collect the necessary money to have the road paved from Tryon west to Arthur. Forty years after Bert bought his first car, the road was built halfway to Arthur before the money ran out. Two years later the remainder was finished.

In Bert and Grace's time, even Sandhills "highways" were only sandy dirt tracks, much like this one.
In those days of being homebound, Grace pursued her quilting interest and made many beautiful quilts. Bert bought land from the neighboring Kinkaiders and expanded his ranch. They put up hay with horse-drawn machinery and nursed their own ailments when doctors weren’t available. Bert and Grace retired to North Platte in 1946 and turned over the ranch to their son Miles. Grace continued quilting and began taking them with her to quilt shows.

Also in North Platte, their daughter, Nellie, wrote of her parents’ reminiscing in two books: NO TIME ON MY HANDS and PINNACLE JAKE. Bert passed away on January 31, 1956, and Grace on December 8, 1982. They are buried in the North Platte Cemetery.

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