Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Stories: Gypsies!

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

By Beulah Dutrow Johnson

We saw their covered wagons crawling up our valley and stared in disbelief. Splashes of vivid color and dusky little faces peeking from beneath canvas flaps held we kids in spellbound fascination. "Gypsies!" yelped our mother, remembering horror stories of robbery and kidnapping in Illinois.

"It's too late to run," Dad, Eugene Dutrow told us, and walked forward to greet our strange guests. Mom, Bertha Dutrow, watched in horrified dismay as he pointed out a good camping spot beneath the lakelet and went to fetch grain for their bone-thin horses.
Romani wagon in Germany, 1930s; image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrichtendienst - Zentralbild (Bild 183)
"All they want is to be treated just like everybody else, he told her that night, but Mom wasn't fooled. At dawn she went to count her fat young chickens and found the coops empty and every trace of her strange guests gone.

"It could have been a lot worse," Dad grinned. "If they had wanted to do us real damage, we couldn't have stopped them." It didn't make Mom feel much better, though. Those were her chickens. The next time we drove to Tryon we saw our gypsy friends again.

A rancher, with pockets filled with cash from selling his cattle in North Platte, had met the gypsies and let them hold his hand while they told his fortune. He galloped into Tryon for the sheriff, yelling that they had picked his pockets. The sheriff herded the whole shebang into his shiny new courthouse where the men filled the jail to overflowing, so he locked the women and children in the courtroom until they returned the rancher's money. The crowd of gypsies was the most colorful event in the town's history and people flocked to the courthouse to stare. Just to keep things lively, the gypsy women and children kept up a constant wailing that would have broken a heart of stone. Whenever a child started to run down its mother would pinch its behind and start the wailing again. Finally the disgusted sheriff shooed away the crowd and locked the doors, forgetting to consider creature comforts of all of his guests.
The next morning was a horrible shock for the sheriff and his custodian who opened the doors to discover their guests had availed themselves of every spot in the huge room, including the judge's big desk. It took days of cleaning up and complete refinishing job for the oak floor before they could hold court again. And the whole county chuckled for days. It was a toss up who had won; the strong arm of the law or the gypsies, who disappeared into the hills and never bothered to drive that way again.

It was Eva David Haddy who the sheriff appointed as deputy to search the women and children. Problems of shaking down women in a dozen skirts ought to be a story too - at least Eva didn't find the money and to this day I don't know if the rancher got his money back.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Greeley Irish Festival

Seven years ago, North Platte developed Rail Fest and Greeley, Nebraska developed the Greeley Irish Festival on the same weekend each year. Naturally, being involved in tourism in North Platte dictated that I devote my time closer to home.

However, this year, the entertainment lineup in Greeley was just too stellar to miss! It started out with the Dublin City Ramblers, then the Wild Colonial B'hoys, and finished up with The Elders. If you love Irish music, you know you're going to see some quality performances from these groups!

I did fulfill my local obligations first - spending all day Friday hosting bus tours of Bailey Yard and filming at the Cemetery Tour in the evening. Then bright and early Saturday morning, Mark and I and our neighbors hooked onto their camper and made the three hour trip to Greeley.

Greeley, Nebraska (the official name is Greeley Center, but is more commonly referred to as simply Greeley) is about an hour north of Grand Island on Highway 281. It is a tiny community - according to the 2010 census, only 466 people call Greeley home.

As you can imagine, with a small town like this, the business district isn't too big, but there are two pubs, two markets, two banks, a medical clinic and several agricultural businesses. Driving around town (which only took about 10 minutes), we found a quaint, quiet, well-kept community.

There isn't much lodging to speak of in Greeley (wouldn't a few Airbnb homes be perfect?), but they have laid out a great campground adjacent to the festival grounds which really filled up over the course of the weekend.

But to get to the Irish Festival - it was amazing! GIF could write a book for other communities about how to do a festival right! First off, the area is completely fenced in, so you purchase tickets, show them at the gate then get an in/out wristband. This is so important because in order to survive, community festivals have to be SUSTAINABLE! If you can't find a way to make it cash-flow, the festival isn't going to be around very long.

What Irish Festival would be complete without Guinness, so the next stop is an ID check and another wristband. This is another way to make a festival sustainable! Revenue from beer sales is often what puts festivals over the top financially.

On the grounds are several large tents - beer, food, entertainment and comfort. There are multiple food vendors, souvenir and t-shirt vendors, and of course, beer. They had the old-standbys of Bud and Bud Light, but also Guinness, Smithwicks and Kilkenney, and a full bar.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking - why does there have to be alcohol? Do you have to drink to have fun? The answer is that since the beginning of time - really, since the beginning of time on earth - alcohol has been a part of daily life and especially a part of socialization and celebration. You think you can't have a family friendly event while serving alcohol? Think again. If people are going to learn to drink responsibly, you can't segregate alcohol consumption in an out-of-the-way place where adults don't have the chance to model responsible alcohol consumption. At no time did I see anyone falling-down drunk. What I did see was adults enjoying a beer or cocktail, and entire families, extended families, babies to great-grandparents (and all their friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and even complete strangers) enjoying an event together.
As soon as we arrived, we put our lawn chairs in a spot with a great view of the stage (honestly, there isn't a bad seat at the festival, though). Then went to find food - traditional Irish fare plus festival standards like hamburgers and funnel cakes. We bought t-shirts and hoodies and even raffle tickets for a quilt, which we didn't win!

There is a Cultural Center where you can learn about Greeley's Irish roots and more about Irish culture and music. Outside, between acts on the main stage, Dowd's Irish Dancers and the Omaha Pipe and Drum Corp performed - what a treat to see these talented artists.

Each main attraction artist performed two 90 minute sets, so you can really get your fill of great music! On into the night, it was fantastic to see the little kids dancing right in front while the adults were doing the same thing just a few feet away.

By midnight, it was all over - just one day of great fun. We hope to make this an annual tradition.
If you go:

  • Be sure to keep abreast of the plans for the celebration by visiting their website,
  • Secure a camper! Yes, there are lodging options listed on their website, but none are as close as you can get in the adjacent campground. Be sure to let them know you're coming by reserving your camping space.
  • If you can, arrive the day before - I understand that often one or more of the entertainers will be holding court in one of the pubs in town.
  • Purchase your tickets in advance online - it'll save you $5 each.
  • Take lawn chairs.
  • Plan on having LOTS of fun!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Water Wednesday

The water started rising in the Sutherland area nearly a week ago. Volunteers in Sutherland and Hershey spent countless hours filling sandbags to protect our communities. The efforts were successful.

On Sunday night, the flooding caused the storm sewer system in North Platte to back up, threatening many homes. Those same volunteers in Sutherland came back out to load four semis and countless small trailers with the sandbags we filled and sent them to North Platte for people to protect their homes.

It flowed on east to threaten the communities of Maxwell and Brady, and now is beyond them as well, but is not expected to cause more damage.

The water is now receding.

Our prayers continue to be with our neighbors in Colorado who suffered so much devastation from these same waters.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Stories: Cowhide Corral

I don't mind telling you that something seems to have been lost in the translation of this story. Perhaps if you were from the area and new the names and locations, it would make sense. As it is, I thought it was an interesting story even if I didn't quite 'get it'.

As told to Jane Pinkerton Mecomber by Tom Quinn

A 1967 Regional Library Centennial Award Winning Story

One afternoon in the early 1900’s, the ranch hands and Jake Crockferd were conversing about ranching and things in general. Somehow the subject was “the ideal windbreak”. Every man voiced his opinion and when it came to Jake Crockferd, he said, “My idea of the ideal windbreak is one made of sod. It should have wires stretched six inches apart, then cover this with flint hides, which are hides sundried. The hides should be wired down, then covered by hay to keep the animals inside the windbreak, dry from rain”. But where to get good flint hides he didn’t know.

A few days after this conversation, some of the –HL cattle were missing. The foreman didn’t know what happened to them. Somehow word got to Gordon Jewitt that Jake Crockferd had talked about a kind of windbreak using flint hides. Mr. Crockferd might have stolen the cattle for their fine flint hides. Gordon decided to find out. Gordon, Reuter, Beno, and another man decided to meet Tom Quinn on the northeast corner of Cogger Box Lake for this expedition.

When they met, Gordon had a pitchfork. The wind was really blowing so they wouldn’t be heard by the Crockferds. The min hid their horses and ran to the corral one hundred fifty feet away. Tom was to be the lookout for the men on the north side of the corral. He was to watch for Mrs. Crockferd, because if she saw them they were in trouble.

They started pitching in with the fork into the windbreak. Gordon found a 7-L hide and gave it to Tom. Mrs. Crockferd came around the corner of the house and saw them. She ran into the house and came out with a shotgun.

Tom was so surprised he fell off the corral corner and ran with his hide. Gordon found another hide and ran with the other men to get the horses. While they were running, one man fell through the wires. Gordon told him to cover up with the rushes, so he stayed there.

They had left their horses behind a hill. As they ran up over the hill they spooked the horses and they ran away. It was six miles to Rush Fowler’s and Ollie Nelson’s, so they walked to the ranch. The men got there at noon and Ollie came out to tell them they could come in. He said, “Leave your hides out there and  come on in for dinner”.

Gordon said stubbornly, “Oh no! We won’t let loose of these hides”.

Ollie answered, “If you’re afraid someone will get them, bring them in”. The men brought them in and leaned them against the kitchen wall.

The men sat down at the table and ate their dinner. After dinner they rescued the man on the roof.

Gordon got out a warrant for Cogger and Crockferd. Crockferd took the blame. He served a three-five year sentence in the penitentiary.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Palisade, Nebraska

We had the privilege of making a delivery run for Seifer Farms Chickens the other day, the only one we've had a chance to do this summer, it's been that busy!

Our route took us south of Sutherland on Highway 25 to Palisade, then across on Highway 6 through Wauneta, on to Imperial and north to Grant and then back home. It was a beautiful drive!

There's a little 25A cutoff from Highway 25 that takes you into Palisade from the north. It is so picturesque coming down from the hills into the valley of the Frenchman River.

Downtown Palisade is one of the cutest little rural Nebraska towns you can imagine. I've always been amazed when we come through the town that there always seems to be some kind of activity.
It's not to say that the small community hasn't fallen on hard times, though. We always tried to time our visit so we could eat at the cut little community-run cafe on main street. Sadly, on this trip, we found out that it had been closed.

Are you looking for a change of pace? Want to get out of unsafe, stressful metro areas for a rural community? Palisade, Nebraska just might be the place for you.
We spoke to a retired gentleman during our last stop. He said that several years ago he was asked to list ALL of the buildings on Palisade's main street for sale - at a price of $5,000 each! Sadly, there weren't any takers and they were taken off the market. That doesn't mean that they wouldn't be available if someone inquired!

Across from the business district downtown is their Veterans Memorial.
There isn't a school in Palisade any more. The consolidated Wauneta-Palisade school district is just nine miles away in the equally cute community of Wauneta.

You can tell the community of Wauneta cares about the quality of life of its residents by the park it maintains.
It is adjacent to the swimming pool, picnic area, tennis courts, ball fields and a walking path.

I really think rural Nebraska is a viable alternative for folks who can telecommute or conduct their business online or via mail order. You might consider the wonderful quality of life and affordability in these rural communities. It's worth thinking about!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Golfing and Kayaking with the GoPro

I got a GoPro camera for my birthday in early September and I've enjoyed taking it out with us on our adventures, though I'm not pleased with the results. It's not much of an investment of time - just 12 and 20 seconds to follow us Kayaking and Golfing in the Nebraska Outback.

Kayaking is on the North Platte river between Paxton and Sarben. Flows are really low, less than 400 cfs, so it's just a leisurely float.

Golfing is at the beautiful 9-hole Oregon Trail Golf Course on the shores of the Sutherland Reservoir just south of Sutherland, Nebraska.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Stories: Eclipse Cemetery

Taken from the McPherson County History Book: Facts,Families and Fiction

The following is written from an article by Mrs. Mabel Quinn who had corresponded with Mrs. Thomas P. Wood, Cressage, England. Mrs. Wood was the former Elvira (Vira) Tucker.

On a very hot July day in 1890, a man, woman and little baby drove into Tucker’s from the east, in a covered wagon. They asked for milk for the baby and a meal for themselves. The three month old baby was very ill with dysentery, and had been very badly neglected. Mrs. Tucker bathed the little girl in an effort to abate her fever.

The man and woman claimed that the baby’s mother had died and the woman was a sister of the man. They insisted that Mrs. Tucker keep the baby for awhile as they had no way to keep milk for it, as they traveled to Whitman. Mrs. Tucker had four little children and would soon have another. She felt she must decline but suggested they go see the Dave Edwards family who lived a half mile down the Dismal River on the Grant Keith homestead. They consented to keep the baby and the father agreed to return for it the first rainy day they could get time off from his hayfield job near Whitman. They never returned and nothing more was heard from them. They had given a false employer’s name and the address was fake as well.
The little girl had seemed to be getting stronger and nearly well when suddenly a few weeks later she fell into convulsions and died.

There was no cemetery near. Mr. Tucker made a little pine coffin. Mr. Edwards dug a grave on the northwest corner of Mr. Tucker’s tree claim, located thirty miles southwest of Mullen, Nebraska in Hooker County and the little unknown baby was laid to rest. Mr. Tucker put a barbed wire fence around the grave. Some time later the Edwards lost a baby and soon after so did the Tyrrels, neighbors of the Edwards to the east.

Mr. Tucker eventually fenced a plot of land and said he wanted it used for a community cemetery. After the post office was established in the Tucker home and named Eclipse, the cemetery became known as “Eclipse Cemetery”.

Funerals were usually held at the homes if a minister could be found but most times only a hymn was sung by the group of gathering neighbors and friends and the Lord’s Prayer said in unison at the gravesite. In summer, prairie flowers were gathered and used and in winter the flowers from the house plants that every pioneer mother grew in her sod house windows were offered. There was no embalming of a body, no telephone over which to call a doctor if one could be found. Many a saddle horse made its last trip whose rider was endeavoring to get a doctor “in time” or to order a casket from Alliance or Broken Bow. Baptism was often administered by Mrs. N.L. Reuter.
The Tucker’s hospitality was always extended to the funeral parties and the women of the community always brought food and prepared a meal for their comfort. The men dug the grave and acted as pall-bearers. In bad weather, the trip to the cemetery was made one day and the burial the next.

Of the many “who have come to make their bed” are those of diverse faiths, Mormons, Roman Catholics and almost any Protestant denomination one can mention.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Nebraska State Fair Sky Tram

I finally got to ride on the Sky Tram at the Nebraska State Fair this year! This is the view from Labor Day, 2013.

I'm sure plans are under way for an even bigger and better state fair in 2014. The final building included in the original plans will be completed. If you've never been, I really encourage you to go! It is fun, educational and entertaining - and affordable.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Nebraska's Public Lands

With the recent announcement by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission regarding the early closure of several public lands, this post from back in February is more appropriate than ever. The Nebraska State Chamber went to a lot of trouble and expense to prepare this study, and what came through is that Nebraskans want MORE outdoor opportunities. I'll be blogging more about the decision to close the public properties.

Nebraska's Chamber of Commerce and Industry has recently launched a Forging Nebraska's Future initiative that started with a grass-roots effort to garner ideas from across the state as to what needs to happen to make Nebraska a place our young people want to come home to.

They have just now released the results of that effort with the report "100 NEXT GENERATION IDEAS." I highly encourage you to click through the link and read the entire report for yourself.

There are a lot of good ideas in this report, there are some that make you go hmmmmm. There are a lot of things that some form of government must do. Not a lot of empowering the private sector to do. However, there are many ideas that affect the Nebraska Outback, especially in the realm of outdoor recreation and tourism and I'd like to outline those for you here.

57. Work with Nebraska Game and Parks to develop a large park and campground in the Sandhills that will play off of the unique attributes of the region and also offer top-notch lodging and recreational opportunities; include development of a new ATV park that will be the envy of the country. This will bring considerable new economic activity to the region.

58.Nebraska needs to develop pro­grams that will promote conser­vation of land, increase habitat, increase pheasant populations and in turn promote tourism in rural Ne­braska. I think a program geared toward taking marginal (high soil erosion potential or similar) farm land out of production and promot­ing use of the land for tourism-hunting would help in a variety of ways.

61. Encouraging in-state tourism. Our state could offer some sort of pack­age deal that could be personal­ized to fit an individual or family’s interest. Let’s spread adventure.

74. Offer a package deal for non- Nebraska hunters to get reduced prices on hunting permits when staying at least 4 days at a Ne­braska State Park (ideally a park that offers hunting, or is close to open access hunting land).

84. Offer a military discount for hunting and fishing licenses.

86. Complete the Cowboy Trail, Amer­ica’s longest rails-to-trails project, and construct a new trail along the Platte River.

88. Preserve surface water - enter into compacts with Wyoming and Colo­rado to protect Platte River flows; dam rivers to the extent possible consistent with wildlife habitat pro­tection, recreation, and irrigation, as well as compact obligations; utilize “gray” water for irrigation and residential watering; reduce irrigation needs by utilizing better farming practices.

99. Work with the appropriate local, state and federal agencies to make 60% of Nebraska’s lake shores available for private residential development. This has been done successfully in Missouri.

The Outdoor Recreation Economy
I find these very interesting because they coincide with another report, the Outdoor Recreation Economy released by the Outdoor Industry Association.  

Given that Nebraska is 97% private land, with the state and federal government managing just 3% of our natural resources, Nebraska's development of our natural resources for outdoor recreation purposes MUST come from the private sector, which is why I would like to have seen more empowerment initiatives in the 100 NEXT GENERATION IDEAS report.

Some statistics from the Outdoor Recreation Economy Report.

- 6.1 million American jobs
-$646 billion in outdoor recreation spending each year
-$39.9 billion in federal tax revenue
- $39.7 billion in state/local tax revenue

Americans spend nearly as much on snow sports ($53 billion) as they do on Internet Access ($54 billion).
Americans spend more on bicycling gear and trips ($81 billion) than they do on Airplane tickets and fees ($51 billion).
More American jobs depend on trail sports (768,000) than there are lawyers (728,200) in the U.S.

In Nebraska, at least 65% of Nebraskans participate in outdoor recreation each year.
Nebraska Statistics
You'll have to go to the full report to see clear images of the screen captures I've shown here.

One of the things that could have been addressed in the Nebraska report was revamping our recreational liability laws to limit the landowner's responsibility for liability involving the "inherent risks" of outdoor recreation. There is a bill in the legislature right now that would do just that, but having it in this report might have increased its chances of passage.

What are your thoughts? What are your ideas to help Nebraska capitalize on the huge outdoor recreation economy?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Stories: Early History - O'Fallons Bluff

Excerpted from the 1891-1991 Sutherland Centennial

O’Fallons Bluff was a famous landmark all of the travelers referred to. When they first encountered O’Fallons Bluff, the river ran along the base of the bluff. A horseman could hardly ride between the water and the steep face of the bluff. This was a dreaded place for travelers because it was the best place for Indians to hide. Wagons would converge on the area from along a fairly wide path, but then be forced to merge into one lane to get between the bluff and the river. Everything would get backed up, tempers would flare and drivers would be compared to their oxen.
O’Fallon’s Bluff was named for Benjamin O’Fallon. He was born in Kentucky in 1793 and was raised by his uncle, William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expeditions. As an army major he assisted General Atkinson in negotiating the first treaty with the Indians west of the Mississippi river in 1819. During the summer of 1825, he was appointed by the President of the United States to serve as an Indian Agent. The Indians trusted him because he understood them and their problems. He resigned this post in 1827 and entered into fur trading. It was during this period of his life that he lived for a time in a cave in the Bluff and led several expeditions through this area.
Beginning in 1843, there were large numbers of travelers on the Oregon branch of the Oregon – California Trail. Many early travelers from Omaha or Council Bluffs took the “North Side Road”. In 1847, the Mormon Pioneers commenced using segments of this trail in their historic trek to the Great Salt Lake, and in 1848 there was a mass exodus of Mormons from the winter quarters near Omaha traveling along the North Platte River north of Sutherland where ruts can still be seen.
The year 1849 was the beginning of the California Gold Rush with would-be fortune seekers trekking through Nebraska either on the Oregon – California Trail or the Council Bluffs Road – Mormon Trail to the cut-offs further west. It is estimated that in the year 1849, 30,000 travelers passed through on these routes.

During its brief history (1860 – 1861) the Pony Express Route near Sutherland traversed basically the route of the Oregon-California Trail. A Pony Express station just west of O’Fallons Bluff is identified as Dorsey’s, Dansey’s, D’Orsay’s, Halfway House or Elkhorn Station. It is located at the headquarters of Seifer Farms Pasture Poultry.
During the years 1858 to 1860, in the area of O’Fallons Bluff there was a trading post, stage station and Post Office. There were a few cottonwood trees and two young men by the names of Moore and Grimes ran the west station. It was described as one of the best on the road. It had an abundance of hay for travelers and almost every article that would be required for the journey. Wood was also available here, being the last opportunity to get it for nearly 100 miles. The station was believed to have been started by Mr. I.P. Boyer.
In the winter of 1864-65, the stage station was burned along with other damage inflicted by the Indians. Stage drivers witnessed the burning of the Stations at O’Fallon’s Bluffs and Willow Island by the Indians and within twelve hours the burning of Butts and Alkali stations. In their raids a vast amount of property was destroyed and a great deal of stage stock stolen.

Henry Carlyle gave this account of an incident at the Bluffs: “… The coach was full of mail. As we came near to one of the road ranches in the vicinity of O’Fallons Bluff, some distance west of Cottonwood Springs, we found that the Indians had captured it, had rolled out a barrel of whiskey and knocked the head in, and were drinking it out of tin cups. The whole band were in the midst of a drunken revelry. The driver was greatly alarmed and suggested that we run by at full speed. But I said, ‘No! Nothing Doing. Do nothing unusual to attract their attention. You are in the habit of watering here. Drive right up at the regular gait and water as usual. Above all keep cool, keep your seat and have your team in hand. I will get down with the bucket and water the team.’ My last words before getting down from the box were to urge the importance of keeping cool. ‘If we are lucky enough to get away from here we will let the team out’ (meaning full steam ahead.). These Indians have been lying in the bluffs for days. They have watched the coaches come and go and know all the movements along the valley.” The whiskey and Carlyle’s tact and good judgment saved all from being horribly butchered.

In 1867, the O’Fallons railroad siding, depot and post office were built north of the river opposite the east part of the bluffs. It also included a trading post and saloon.