Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Stories: Homestead Days

By Minnie Calhoun Splinter
Taken from the McPherson County History Book: Facts,Families and Fiction

One early fall day, Uncle Dewey and Uncle Scott Wisner took Bill with them on a trip to the Dismal where they were going to cut young cedars. These would be used for fence posts or corrals, after the branches were trimmed off. Bill could fish or have fun as he chose.

In the evening, camp was made, supper eaten, and a smudge fire made using the twigs and branches of the green trees to keep away the swarms of mosquitos. They were all tired form their long day’s drive and work, so rolled up in their blankets with their heads toward the fire. When morning came, Bill was totally blind. The fire had died down. Bill with his head poked out from under the blankets had become a lunch counter for the swarms of hungry insects. His face was swelled until he could neither see nor eat. He was sick.

Uncle Scott took him down to the river to a cold spring and packed his head in wet towels until he was able to get one eye open. As soon as they had the wagons loaded, they started the long drive home with the posts. By the time they reached Omega, the swelling in Bill’s face had gone down enough so he could see out of both eyes, but he was till sick when they brought him home the next day. The thought of camping at the Dismal had lost its glamour for Bill.

The howling of coyotes at night would waken all but the soundest sleeper as they called from one side of the valley to the other. Their forays into Mother’s flock of chickens was the despair of her summer days. If a hen or rooster ventured beyond the yard, it was pounced upon by the lurking beasts. It was a common sight to see a coyote trotting towards the cornfield with a chicken in its mouth and my Mother screaming and waving a broom at it in an attempt to cause the thief to drop its free meal.

Most of the ranches kept hounds, but Mother thought it was too expensive to keep them, so was set against it. So she continued to wave her broom and scream at them while the pesky coyotes literally paved the corn rows with chicken feathers.
Typical Nebraska Coyote Hounds. More information
can be found HERE
One day Dad was called to North Platte on business, and when returning, stopped at Will Godfrey’s for the night. Will had a few hounds and as might be expected, several pups. Perhaps tired of Mother’s screaming at the coyotes and about the chickens, he accepted a gift of two fine hound pups.

Here he came the next day, riding the twenty-five miles and carrying in his arms and on the saddle in front of them, the two wriggling pups. They became pets for all of us but Mother thought they ate too much and not worth it.

One day, while the family was working in the garden in the north valley, a coyote trotted out of the hills and toward where we were. The hounds were asleep in the shade of the wagon but when the scent of the coyote reached them, they were up and away. The chase was on, out of sight behind the hills and we wondered if they could catch the coyote when it was so far in the lead. In about half an hour the hounds came back, exhausted and ready for the shade again. Mother fussed because the hounds hadn’t caught the coyote. I guess she thought they should have dragged it back with them. Jim rode into the hills on horseback and found the chicken snatcher the next day, dead.

Day after day the hounds roamed the area but except for an occasional rabbit, we never could see that they caught anything. After Dad had given them to a passing rancher, Dad and Jim, when riding through the valleys, would find dead coyotes in out of the way places, proving they had been killing the coyotes. They weren’t appreciated until after they were gone.
Nebraska Prairie Chickens. Photo taken by author in McPherson
County, Nebraska in December of 2011.
It was interesting to watch the great flocks of prairie chickens that lived in our area. They congregated in groups in early spring and their boom-boomings could be heard for a mile, as the males puffed out their chests and stomped on the ground, each with one wing striking his leg, as they called the females.

The grass would be worn thin in large circles from their strutting and prancing. Sometimes in summer we would find their nests, or see the baby birds that looked like balls of fluff.


By fall and winter the grown birds would be so tame they would come into the yard and eat with the chickens. The boys had fun as well as food for all. They would prop one end of a wooden box on a stick attached to a stout string and sit in the house, with the string through the open window.


They watched the prairie chickens follow the line of corn that ended under the box. While the bird had its head down looking for the next kernel of corn, it was not rick to jerk the string and drop the box over the bird. It had to be done just right or the bird was off in a flash and the trap would have to be re-set for another try.

Sometimes a tame chicken would have too much curiosity and be caught the same way. If it wasn’t a laying hen, we would have a nice chicken dinner anyway.

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