By Josie M. Fattig
Early in the 20th century, our family, B.H. and Nina Fattig and we seven children, were living on a farm northwest of Riverton, in Franklin County, Nebraska. Due to adverse circumstances, the struggle to pay off the mortgage had become a losing battle. Then a severe drouth in 1913 resulted in a complete crop failure; and so a change was decided upon.
In the spring of 1914 the farm was sold to a neighbor and a homestead was filed on in northeast Wyoming. The family, and the furniture, farm machinery, and livestock were moved by train to the new location.
An attempt was made that summer to raise some corn. But instead of soil, the ground was found to be hardpan and shale, and only one light rain fell all summer. The rapid diminishing of the limited cash resources realized from the sale of the Franklin County farm, made another move imperative.
|Present day Riverton, Nebraska|
Relinquishing the homestead back to the government and selling what improvements had been made – principally a twenty-foot square log house built with logs hewn out of the nearby Pine Ridge timber – we began the long trek back to Nebraska. This time the goal was the Sandhills area north of North Platte.
|The Pine Ridge country of Nebraska|
One freight car of machinery and furniture and part of the livestock was shipped through to Stapleton; and the main move was made with two wagons plus cattle and horses being driven by the menfolk, on foot, along with the wagons. Initial efforts to drive the livestock on horseback were too tedious, and the on-foot method proved more satisfactory.
It took twenty-two days to make the trip. Where the traveling was on gravel and shale the hooves of the cattle wore down til they got so sore that we were unable to make more than eight miles per day.
One day we made our noon stop near a railroad track. The landscape looked like a wasteland. But a little shack was in view not far away; and from it a woman with two or three small children came over to talk with us. We learned that her husband was a railroader, and she and the children were maintaining a residence on a homestead there so they could prove up on the land and obtain a deed. She told us that every time the train went by her husband rolled off a chunk of ice for them. She and the children were so isolated that she was starved for someone to visit with and she stayed and talked the entire time we were preparing and eating our dinner.
The tree boys, Harvey, Dewey and Glenn, were included on this trip. Elmer, the oldest, was on his own at this time.
One of the wagon was loaded with furniture, crated chickens, etc. The other had a hayrack on it, with tall uprights front and back. At night a tent was put over this, thus providing our sleeping quarters.
Father and the three boys, one at a time, took two-hour shifts during each night watching the livestock so that none of them would stray away. The animals were able to graze during the evenings and nights while we camped.
Crossing the corner of South Dakota, we entered Nebraska near Ardmore, South Dakota. Here we encountered our first rattlesnake, which, of course, was dispatched forthwith.
In the Chadron area we stopped at a stream to water the animals. The stream was narrow and deep, with very steep banks. One cow got in a hurry and rushed ahead, and fell in. She went down completely out of sight; but she came up, blowing and snorting, and was unable to scramble out under her own power.
One of the boys straddled the stream – one foot on each bank – and the three of them formed a bucket brigade, passing water up to a wash tub for the waiting animals.
One evening at camping time we arrived at the ranch of a retired physician. He had a fenced pasture on either side of the road – one containing his horses; the other, his cattle. He invited us to put up our livestock for the night – our horses with his cattle and our cattle with his horses. Thus, for this night our menfolk were able to get a full night’s sleep – a favor that was deeply appreciated.
Wherever we stopped for the night we always had to make sure there was water available for the animals. At one place which we reached at camping time there was a fine ranch with huge tanks overflowing with water, and we were delighted at the sight. But when Father asked permission to water the stock the owner refused, saying it would make too much confusion among our animals and his. He assured us that down the road about three miles was a pond where we could water. He said he had been by there just that day, and there was plenty of water.
We drove on and found the pond, but it was bone dry. So on we went, and had to travel till ten o’clock before we found water so that we could camp for the night.
Mother cooked our meals over an open fire, including the noon meal, when we always stopped for a rest.
It was difficult to keep a bread supply on hand with four menfolk to feed plus three growing girls: I was nine and a half; Lottie, eight; and Alma, nearing three.
Traveling down through the ranch country, it wasn’t always easy to find a place where we could buy bread. At one store where we inquired they had no bread, but they sold us a half-size egg crate that was filled with soda crackers, which was an acceptable substitute.
At another time, with no towns accessible, we asked at a ranch if we could buy bread. They had none, but they had flour on hand; so they sold us a sack of flour. With this, Mother made bread dough and then fried it over the campfire.
|Present Day Arthur, Nebraska|
Near Arthur a wheel on one of the wagons broke down. Our men, not to be defeated by this misfortune, put their inventive genius to work and came up with a satisfactory repair job. The spokes were replaced by telephone wire which they attached, all the way around, from the hub to the rim. This wheel not only got us to the end of our journey, but was kept in use for a considerable time afterward.
Whenever we came to a place where there were cornfields on both sides of the road, it took all four of the men to drive the livestock through and prevent them from getting into the corn. In such cases, Mother drove the lead wagon; and I, perched up on the front of the second one, followed. The men, herding the animals along, brought up the rear.