Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Stories: Sandhills Hardships

Excerpted from McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction, published in 1986

Jess Anderson, was born near Florence, Nebraska. His step-father beat Jess with a braided strand of barb wire. Jess carried the scars to his grave, but when fourteen years old he ran away from home and made his way to McPherson County where he became a cowboy. He worked on several spreads including the holdings of Cap Haskell. Gertie Calkins Anderson, was born near Wymore, Nebraska. Jess and Gertie married, homesteaded and had seven children while living in the county.

An example of a dugout shelter.
Jess continued to work for neighbors while proving up his homestead. The depression in the thirties caused him to lose his homestead and all of his other possessions. They moved into a corn crib on the Seiler place while Jess improvised a shelter into the side of a hill in the southwest part of Tryon. This house would be considered energy efficient now but didn’t prove to be very good at that time. It only had one window, one door and a dirt floor. They lived in it for about nine years and several of the children have had ailments which can probably be attributed to that house.

The five oldest Anderson children received all of their formal education in McPherson County. While living on the homestead they attended School District #22 which was three miles across country. They walked to and from school, stacking and bunching cow chips as they went. On weekends they retrieved these chips with a team and wagon. The cow chips were their primary fuel supply.

Iris Pennington is the oldest child. She spent several years in a TB clinic and eventually had to have one lung removed. She later fully recovered, married and raised a daughter.

Jack Anderson was the oldest boy. He entered the United States Army soon after the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. Jack served in the European theater of Operations, starting in North Africa and going into Europe via the southern route. After being discharged in 1946, he settled in Missouri. Jack hired out to the Missouri Pacific Railroad in the Bridge and Building Department and retired to an acreage near Holden, Missouri in 1983.

All of Gertie and Jess’ children have traveled extensively, but the third child, Enid, got a head start. While they were living on the homestead southwest of Tryon and at the tender age of two she took off. About nine in the morning they discovered she was gone and at sundown that night she was found near Squaw Creek almost six miles due west. At this time Jess showed how fond he was of his children; he wore out three saddle horses searching for Enid.

The Nebraska Sandhills - easy to become lost in.
Perhaps there are still men alive who will remember this search as it happened in 1924. A crippled man by the name of Kenneth Johnson traveling in a wagon found her quenching her thirst at a pond. One old Cowboy, Charlie Moore said a coyote followed her for a while and he nick-named her the Coyote girl. She didn’t suffer any from this experience as she went on to graduate from McPherson County High School. She married at eighteen and had two children, a boy and a girl.

Neil was the next Anderson child. Neil was young when he entered the United States Marine Corps. At the time he finished boot camp, the United States was really taking a beating in the Pacific. Neil didn’t even get to come home on leave before being rushed into combat against the Japs. He was killed by a sniper on Okinawa in 1945.

Leon joined the U.S. Navy and served during the latter part of WWII. He saw action against the Japanese in the Pacific. After he was discharged in 1946 he settled near Sutherland. He married and raised six children, retiring from the Nebraska Public Power District.

Gene wasn’t old enough to serve in WWII but got in the army during the Korean Conflict. He was wounded in 1951. He recovered and has worked very, very hard ever since. He settled in Sutherland, working on farms and ranches in the area, then working for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and as a self-employed carpenter.

Keith, the youngest of Jess and Gertie’s kids, went to Missouri when Jess and Gertie moved there in 1943. He joined the Army and served in Alaska. He hired on with the Ford Motor Company and retired from there.

Jess was a strict father and if he wasn’t sure which child had created the mischief he whipped all seven. That way he was sure the guilty child got punished. His children all became outstanding citizens so it never hurt any of them.

No history of the Jess and Gertie Anderson family would be complete without mentioning a few other McPherson County residents who contributed to their well-being. Kenned Johnson, who averted tragedy when he found Enid after her trip through the Sandhills. Reuel Conroy, when the bank foreclosed on Jess, bought Jess’ milk cow then turned around and gave her to Jess so the kids would have milk. John and Eithel Dahlin who were newly married and very, very poor, but they willingly shared what they had with the Anderson children.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: Four Blue Stars in the Window

They're there for all of us - standing behind us, around us... those faceless, personality-less, often times nameless predecessors. We don't credit them with loving, laughing, crying... living their lives with the same joys, sorrows and stresses we live with today.

If we're lucky, some of them are the wrinkled faces we visit in the nursing homes. If we're unlucky, they're the names carved into the stones we visit at the cemetery.

Barbara Eymann Mohrman brings her people to life in "Four Blue Stars in the Window", and we can all benefit from the knowledge that, even if we don't know our own story, it is much like this one. Our ancestors came from somewhere else, they settled in a harsh, inhospitable environment; they endured incredible hard times; they fell in love, married, had children; they made mistakes; they persevered.

Four Blue Stars tells the story of Chriss Eymann as he was uprooted from his native Switzerland to settle in Oakdale, Nebraska. There he raised the all-American family - boys who loved baseball, hunting and basketball, girls who fell in love, married and gave him grandchildren. We see him and his bride, Hattie Mae as handsome, bright eyed newlyweds ready to settle down to a sedate, predictable married life.

Then came the stock market crash, the dust bowl, the grasshopper plague and World War II. Their family faced the very real specter of starvation, and just when they had survived those hard times, their boys were sent off around the world to unheard of places to fight in a war Chriss couldn't understand.

It is also the story of how a family kept the reverence for their ancestors alive. Family reunions, the visiting of the Oakdale cemetery each year on Memorial Day to care for and decorate the graves, picnics. All instilled in Mohrman the connection to her family and those who went before. Then she discovered the cardboard box in her basement that told her that her father had a life before he became the man she knew as dad. Her curiosity led her to dig deeper into her family history, and her education and writing skills led her to share her story with the world.

Four Blue Stars in the Window is an easy read, yet a poignant story of a family's life. It will be available on, on January 8, 2013, but can be found now at local Nebraska bookstores and from Mohrman's website.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Stories: Alfred Combs Part 2

Excerpted from the Sutherland Centennial Book, published in 1991.

When Pearl had just turned eleven years old, in about 1913, Alf’s investigative experience as marshal qualified him to accept a position in North Platte as a special detective for Union Pacific Railroad for the territory from North Platte to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and he was often away from home.

An example of a hay crew of this era.
Pearl says “It was a good training period for me, for I learned not only to cook and sew and crochet, but also to help with business matters like paying the bills, at such stores as the E. T. Tramp and Sons Grocery on Front Street. Members of the Tramp family became my lifelong friends, even after they later went out of the grocery business to start a quality shoe store on Dewey Street in North Platte.

But Alf was looking for a more secure home and job for his growing family when he met Mr. Dolly, an old family friend on the street in North Platte, who happened to be in town on business from Chicago. Mr. Dolly said, “Al, you are just the man I am looking for. I know a family that owns a ranch and farm at Hershey, Nebraska. The man who was living there most recently was killed in a car accident. We need to get the ranch leased out.” The Bank of Lincoln County put up the money for Alf to enter into a five year lease on the ranch. The family moved to Hershey and operated the ranch for 20 years until 1933 as the “A.C. Combs & Sons Ranch.” The ranch produced thousands of bushels of wheat and corn plus thousands of tons of wild hay. Clover seed was threshed by a steam engine and threshing machine and about 30 men, for whom Pearl Combs did all the cooking.

Pearl recalls, “The ranch house was so small that a large kitchen and bedroom were added, as well as a large bunkhouse, barn, garage and permanent cook shack, plus a portable cook shack 12 X 30 and a bunk shack also 12 X 30, each on runners so they could be moved from hay camp to hay camp during the cutting season. There would always be 10-15 hired men surrounding the long kitchen table for meals three times a day, regularly served at exactly 7am, noon and 6pm. You could set your watch by the tolling of the loud dinner bell mounted outside the kitchen on a pole and also used to call the men for an emergency or for an urgent phone call. The bell had been a school bell and held a special charm. That bell is now in use at the dairy farm of Ada McConnell, O’Fallons, Nebraska, daughter of Archie Combs and granddaughter of A.C. and Clydia.”

“Most of the Combs men were good all-around cowboys in their own right. Guy was the bronco-buster. Ted was the bull dogger. Lane was the horse racer.” Pearl recalls, “I wasn’t so bad a horsewoman myself. I rode several miles by horseback to school in Hershey every day, sometimes in weather 15 degrees below zero. Reba was the lady rider. I think Edith may have been scared of horses, if the truth were known.

We were all pretty good dancers. The ranch was a place of love, hospitality, and good food following hours of backbreaking hard work in the fields or with the cattle, often in scalding hot or freezing cold, harsh and windy weather. There were good times, loud laugher, and always friends – many, many friends and relatives who often and regularly came miles for meals and stayed long after for good conversation, always in abundance there.”

A dust storm of the 1930's
“The stress, deprivation and heartbreak of the first world war gave way to hope and recovery. Even during the great depression of the 1930’s, with all the problems plaguing us – ranging from prairie fires and terrible storms of dust one day and hail the next, there was still much happiness and many good things to remember through the worries and sorrows, even though no one ever had enough money during those years, even for necessities.”

“Some of those memories: The excitement of the family rodeos in the pasture; the crowded country dances in the barn loft; the 15 or 20 men crowded around the tables for three meals a day enjoying their daily jokes on each other and trading stories; the smell of cookies or doughnuts or of fresh bread (12-15 loaves a day) or of 10 pies or more cooling on the work table waiting to be downed by tired, hungry men.

There was always a little smell of spice in the kitchen and plenty of work for the women and children. There were always willow branches to be cut to shoo away any flies. Any time the flies got too bad, everyone would grab a dish towel to shoo the flies out of the corner into a swarm in the center of the room and thence out the open door to freedom, after which they would all cluster on the windows, especially before a summer storm.

There were always at least six oil lamps to be filled, glass lamp chimneys to be polished, four pails of water to be carried from the pump house, a tub of corncobs to bring in to fill the box by the stove. The wooden floor had to be mopped to a polish every day before noon, cream needed to be whompted into butter in the old stone churn, and warm milk from the separator needed to be put down in the bottom of the spring-cold water tank in the pump house.”

“We never dreamed of the modern conveniences we have today. When it hailed, though the crops may have been ruined, we scooped up the hailstones and stirred up a batch of homemade ice cream and invited neighbors. And at sunset of each day, the hayracks were lined up in a neat row as were all of the wagons, mowers, rakes and other equipment. This was the A.C. Combs Ranch at Hershey, Nebraska. We loved Hershey and the people who lived there. We loved our neighbors on the farms and ranches nearby, some of whom had arrived in this county 50 years earlier or more with our grandparents.”

In 1935, the Combs family lost their lease on the ranch when it changed hands; and Alf and Clydia moved to a 10-acre parcel of land in the north part of Sutherland, on part of what is now the high school athletic field. They lived there until for reasons of health, they relocated to North Platte to be closer to their daughter, Edith. They left a rich heritage to their descendants – an ability to see humor in nearly everything, to enjoy life fully by working and playing hard. They taught the virtues of honesty and integrity and the importance of being resilient in the face of life’s trials, of which they had more than their share.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Changing from the inside out

What an absolutely tragic time in America today, made all the more so because of the senselessness of an attack against innocent kindergarten children.

I've heard all of the arguments for gun control, against gun control, for greater mental health services, to bring God back into the schools, for limits on movie and video game violence. I'm sorry that these discussions have started so soon after this tragedy when it is a time for grief and reflection. It's not that they don't have merit, it's just that they also have a time and a place.

Individually we may not have the power to bring about great political change. We can however, change America from the inside out.

My friend, David Bernard-Stevens had this to say: It's not up to "others" somewhere out there to do something. It is up to each of us to decide to do something more to support another person, and then another. Over time, this individual effort by thousands will become millions and our nation will change from the inside out. That is where true change comes from... us. So what are we going to do today (right now) to change how we treat and support others in need.

In business it's called customer service. In life it's called being a caring, thoughtful, generous human being.

God bless those who are hurting today. When you look into someone's eyes, you don't know whether or not that person is hurting, but if you treat them nice, whether they are or they aren't, you'll make the world a better place for them.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Stories: Alfred Combs Part 1

Excerpted from the Sutherland Centennial Book, published in 1991.

Mary Jane McGrew was born in 1830 in Clinton County, Ohio. She married William D. Combs and they made their home in Palmyra, Nebraska. When William died in 1887, she was widowed with eleven children. Her youngest son, Alfred, was but fourteen. In addition to raising her own family by herself, Mary Jane also raised a set of twins who had been orphaned at birth by the death of their mother, Mary Jane’s sister. One evening while she was alone on the ranch near Palmyra, Nebraska, Mary Jane was frightened by a party of Indians peeking through her windows. She made friends with them by sharing her fresh baked bread, and the left in peace.

The Garfield Table country, taken in 2009
Alfred Campbell Combs was born at Palmyra, Otoe County Nebraska. This branch of the Combs family is descended from Zur Combs, 1763 – 1826, born in Montgomery County, Virginia, died in Highland County, Ohio. The Combs family was from England.

Ad for 1917 era
Alfred left his mother’s ranch when he was about 25 years old, heading west on his black pony he called “Billy”. He settled on a homestead claim north of North Platte in high prairie sandhills country known as the “Garfield Table” and became the local postmaster at Garfield. At that time he met the 17 year old beauty who would become his wife, Clydia Gertrude Chappell. They were married at high noon on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1897. With over 50 guests, some from many miles away, it was a gala event of some importance for those days. She had made her own wedding dress and baked enough berry pies for all the guests at her own wedding, a task she set for herself that seemed to become a tradition for nearly every family dinner she presided over for the rest of her life.

Clydia’s family are descendants of Richard Chappell, who came from England to Virginia in 1600 where he became the patriarch of the Virginia branch of the family known as the “Tidewater” Chappells, named for the tidewater counties in which they reside along the seacoast.

After their marriage, Alf Combs operated a livery stable and taxi service in Gandy, providing horses, wagons and buggies for rent. He also furnished transportation for Dr. McClay, the town doctor, the only one for many miles. Many times he served as Dr. McClay’s assistant and thus formed a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Eventually, Alf relocated his dray business, livery stable and taxi service to Maxwell, Nebraska. He made this move across the prairie with two small children before there were any roads and while Clydia was about to deliver Pearl, their third child. In Maxwell, Alf became town marshal, solving several serious robberies and other crimes of the day.

An example of the Lincoln Highway circa 1920,
this stretch is in Wyoming.
Alf was in demand by various companies as a manager for ranches they owned in Nebraska. One of these companies was the Kent & Burke Ranch and Cattle Company in Genoa, Nebraska, where he worked for a time. Another assignment was in Silver Creek, Nebraska, working on a project for a Mr. Holcomb. At that time there was still a lot of work in the construction of the great Lincoln transcontinental highway. The first woman to drive across the country was a movie star, Miss Paramount, probably sponsored by paramount Pictures as a publicity stunt. In any event, her auto became mired in the mud just outside of Silver Creek, and Alf pulled her out with a team of horses, for which she later sent him an autographed picture.

For extra money, Alf broke horses and Clydia would sometimes accompany him as he transported them, tied to the back of the wagon. On one occasion, they would not move, so Alf built a small fire under them and started a runaway, with Clydia alone in the wagon. He grabbed the runaway horses by the bit as they charged past him and was dragged until they stopped. Clydia was more frightened at the prospect of being left a widow than she was at being injured herself in a runaway wagon.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Stories: Christy Cafe and Candy Store

Excerpted from the Sutherland Centennial Book, published in 1991.

Elmer Lind was united in marriage at Osceola, Nebraska in 1910 to Florence Talbot, and later moved to Kewanee, Illinois. To this union, a daughter, Marjorie was born on January 24, 1915, and a son Hubert. Florence, along with her newborn son died during the flu epidemic in November 1918. They are buried together at Kewanee, Illinois.

Upon the death of his wife, Elmer took Marjorie, who was just three years old, to Stromsburg, Nebraska to live with her grandparents, the A.B. Linds. It was in Stromsburg that Elmer met and later married Adela Christy.

The Ku Klux Klan influence was very strong in the Stromsburg community and because Adela’s father, E.T. Christy wouldn’t join the Klan’s ranks, he moved from there to Sutherland in June of 1925 where they opened the Christy Bakery.

In August 1925, Elmer, Adela and their young family moved to Paxton, Nebraska where Adela was to run a café, and Elmer was going to learn the bakery business from Adela’s father. Adela operated the café in Paxton for approximately one year, and then learned that the family was soon to be increasing, so with two small girls and another baby soon to arrive, she closed the cafe in Paxton, and moved to Sutherland in the spring of 1926.

The family lived in the living quarters behind the family business known as the “Candy Kitchen,” which was the bakery. It was located on east Front Street. In August 1927, the Sutherland Courier states that Christy the Baker announced the opening of a new café in the front portion of the bakery.

The bakery business continued to prosper until a tragic accident that happened in April 1929. Clayton Malm, a young school boy came into the bakery to visit a friend after school one day. He reached into the mixer to get some dough, and got his hand caught in the blades of the huge mixer and was pulled into the large mixing vat. The boy was small for his age at fourteen years. Adela and an employee, Ella (Rhoades) Thomas were in the bakery at the time. Adela went for help; it took ten men to pull the boy out. He died later that night at the hospital.

It was a horrible accident, and when the word got around the area that the boy was pulled into the vat, no one wanted to buy their bread. They had been selling one thousand loaves of bread a day, taking bread to Sarben, Paxton, and Hershey. After the accident the sales dropped to ten loaves a week.

E.T. Christy put a notice in the paper that the mixer had been replaced by a new one, but that didn’t help matters any. The Candy Kitchen space, which was next door, was leased and the lease was not renewed. The bakery equipment was sold to Mr. Emil Seiler, who moved the business to Madrid, Nebraska. Following the sale of the bakery business, E.T. started the Christy-Lind Café in the McNeel Hotel building. This was operated until October 1929, at which time it was sold and the family moved to Grand Island to run a bakery there.

The stock market crashed and the economy was bad. The bakery was lost in Grand Island. In April, 1930 they moved back to Sutherland to take back the café that had been sold because the buyer couldn’t meet the payments. The lease on the hotel building space was not renewed, so E.T. built a small building for the café west of the schoolhouse on Locust Street. This was also called Christy-Lind Café and had a patio area where people could eat outside and enjoy the cool of the outdoors. This building and the business was destroyed by fire in March 1934 and was never rebuilt.

At this time, E.T. and his wife decided to move to California. They were on the train enroute when Mrs. Christy passed away. Her body was removed from the train at Salt Lake City, Utah. Mr. Christy continued on to California. Elmer Lind and family stayed in Sutherland, and Elmer went to work for his brother, Ben Lind, who had a farming operation near the Nichols School, east of Hershey. Elmer died November 11, 1940 and upon his death, Adela’s father, E.T. Christy returned to Sutherland from California.

In June, 1940, the Sutherland Courier has an item that a business with the name of “Life’s Bakery,” located across the street from the McNeel Hotel was in operation. This business was sold to E.T. Christy in January, 1941.

On January 9, 1941 an article in the Courier reads as follows: “The first of this week, E.T. Christy, former Sutherland resident, bakery and café man, returned to Sutherland from California and purchased the O.J. Life Bakery. For the past four years, Mr. Christy had been the purchasing agent for the C.C.C. Camp near Eureka, California. It was six years ago that Mr. Christy left Sutherland to locate on the west coast.
The bakery will be known as the Christy-Lind Bakery, and will be open to the public Saturday. Mr. Christy promises the best in a full line of bakery goods, and they will also serve coffee, bakery lunches and hamburgers. An invitation is extended to al people of Sutherland and surrounding community to renew acquaintances with Mr. Christy and his products. They will be glad to meet you. He will be aided by Mrs. Elmer Lind, his daughter, Shirley and Christy Lind.” The special for this day was Giant Angel Food Cake – 50 cents.

The final word, though no date is given, is that Mr. Christy didn’t stay too long this time, the demands of bakery items in the area was not in existence any more, so he returned to California. He later returned to North Platte where he passed away.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday Stories: The first Applegate in Sutherland

From the archives of the Sutherland Centennial Book, published in 1991.

George W. Applegate

James Harvey Applegate, the second son of John Applegate (born 1784) was born in 1807, in Allegheney County, Pennsylvania and moved with his family to Montgomery County, Indiana when he was nine years old. He was orphaned at the age of eleven and bound out to a local farmer, and was on his own again at the age of fifteen. He married Raumy French in 1822. They settled in Marion County, Iowa and were the parents of seven children. He died in 1840.

George Washington Applegate, the fourth child of James and Raumy was born in Montgomery County, Indiana, September 10, 1834. He was the first Applegate in the Sutherland community, moving here in 1887.

George married Mary Jane Freeman, and together they had one child. Mary Jane, as did the child, who was scalded to death by pulling a pan of boiling water off of a stove onto itself.

Battle of Shiloh by Thure de Thulstrup.
He then married Mary Jane Palin in Fountain County, Indiana on January 29, 1857. Mary was born near Attica, Indiana. They started out from Indiana with a three month old baby, James Harvey, in a team and wagon. Due to heavy rains and mud, they were forced to abandon the wagon at Jacksonville, Illinois, and continue the trip on horseback. Upon arrival at Marion County, Iowa, he doubled up with his brother, Philander, until he had secured a house and land of his own.

George was a life-long farmer. When the Civil War broke out, George became a soldier for the North. He served with the Thirty Third Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Company I in July of 1862, where he served for three years. He was a teamster, hauling army supplies with a team and wagon. George fought at Shiloh on the Tennessee River; Yazoo Pass near Vicksburg; and Ste. Helena. He was honorably discharged at Fort Montgomery, Alabama, Company E, Reg. 33, Iowa Infantry, July 1865, after the war was over. He traveled back to Marion County, Iowa where he lived and continued to farm until 1887.

A typical Nebraska homestead in 1887
He came to Lincoln County, Nebraska in the spring of 1887, acquired a farm by homestead rights. The family successfully engaged in agricultural pursuits and the ranch and stock business until his death on February 12, 1910 at the age of 75 years. He simply did not wake up one morning. He is buried at the Sutherland Riverview Cemetery.