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.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Did you know...? About National Park Week?

National Park areas around the country are celebrating National Park Week from Saturday, April 20, 2013 through Sunday, April 28, 2013.  Fees will be waived at all parks from April 22 through April 26.  Many park areas are holding special events for National Junior Ranger Day on April 20, Earth Day on April 22 and National Park Service Volunteer Day on April 27.
 The theme for the week is “Did you know…?”  Did you know that Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Western Nebraska is one of 401 National Park areas across the country?  These areas were created to preserve and protect natural areas as well as historically and culturally important places.  Education is an important focus for the National Parks.  Physical field trips to the parks are important hands-on experiences for young people and many parks are developing distance learning programs so that students from one area of the country can learn about a park and its resources many hours away.

Other National Park areas in Nebraska include: Scotts Bluff National Monument near Gering, Nebraska; Homestead National Monument near Beatrice, Nebraska; Missouri National Recreational River and Niobrara National Scenic River as well as these National Historic Trails—California, Lewis & Clark, Mormon Pioneer, Oregon and Pony Express.
During National Park Week make a point to visit your favorite National Park or visit one you have never been to before; learn more about “Did you know…?”
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is located just 22 miles south of Harrison, or 34 miles north of Mitchell, Nebraska, on State Highway 29. To reach the visitor center, turn east on River Road and drive three miles. The visitor center is open from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.  Agate Fossil Beds is a free park. For more information, go to or visit Agate Fossil Beds on Facebook.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Stories Sandhills Pioneers

By Ernestine Hanna Lutes
Taken from the McPherson County History Book: Facts,Families and Fiction

I will mention some experiences which I think will recall memories to older residents of McPherson County.

Among the Nebraska pioneers were Will and May Hanna who came from Ohio with their two little girls, Irma and Alberta, early in 1904. A third girl, Ernestine, joined the family in November.

On October 19, 1906, a heavy snow driven by high winds swept over the sandhills. The Hanna family was not prepared for such unseasonable weather. Will had gone several miles to move some cattle. May and the three little girls were alone in the little soddy. May took the precaution to put the axe and a shovel indoors. In the morning snow covered the front of the house completely, but she was able to shovel her way out. She was unable to find sufficient fuel in the deep snow, so she used the axe to break up a chair and some leaves from the table to replenish the fire.

In the summer of 1907 May Hanna was seriously ill from rheumatic fever. After being cared for at home for a time, she was taken to a small “Hospital” in Tryon (Maybe in a private home.). Dr. Morris was the attending physician. After several weeks she recovered and was able to return home. She mentioned a Mrs. Jividen who cared for her in Tryon.

Prairie Fires were a dreaded menace. The most disastrous one swept in on a terrific wind just before night in March of 1910. Sparks set fire to the hay around the barn before the head fire was near. Will rushed into the burning barn to save his horses, but they were terrified by flames near the door, so he could not lead them out. Jerking off his denim jacket he wrapped it around each horse’s head as a blindfold until he got them to safety. Irma remembered a small calf and got it out of the burning barn. Fire spread quickly to other buildings. One hog perished and others escaped with painful burns. The hay roof on the chicken house fell as a flaming blanket, destroying many chickens. Three large stacks of rye were waiting for a threshing machine and they were also destroyed.
Photo of Sod House in the collection of the Nebraska State Historical Society
The fire burned over the house where the two younger girls crouched in terror; but as it was sod with sod on the roof over the tar-paper, it did not ignite. What a scene of devastation it was when daylight returned. The girls set to work picking the buckles from the burned up harness where the barn had been. Even buckles must be saved in those days. Their sorrow was great when they found the charred bodies of their two coyote hounds where they had perished (probably from smoke) in the hay-filled manger. With true pioneer grit, the Hanna family replaced their buildings as promptly as possible. Lumber for the new barn had to be hauled many miles over poor roads with horses and a wagon.

Each summer the family enjoyed at least one picnic on the Dismal River. These were never-to-be-forgotten days looked forward to weeks in advance. Who cared that they always got into nettles and poison ivy, that skin and clothing were torn by heavy brush, or even that the river was swift and treacherous.
Photo of the Dismal River from a blog recording hydrologic oddities.
It's a fascinating read about the steadfastness of the stream.
A post office was established in McPherson County at the Sol Cloud home about 1907. It was named Ney. Ernest Ensign, my grandfather, was the first mail carrier. Ed Wentz was another of the early carriers.

In March, 1913, a raging blizzard swept the Sandhill region, causing much loss of stock to some people. It was impossible to face it, even for a short time. The fine snow sifted in through windows and eaves, later melting and dripping from the ceiling. Will expected most of his livestock to perish, as it was impossible for him to reach them. But rugged bronco horses knew how to survive. In places they had kept trampling the snow until it resembled a room with walls. Not one of his perished. The fury of the storm abated in about 24 hours, but huge drifts lasted for weeks.

We are proud of our county and state as it is today; but let us honor the rugged men, women and horses who endured the early day hardships; and paved the way for a more progressive, convenient way of life in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Little Piece of Paradise for Sale

My friend Kate has recently listed her house for sale once again. This time she has listed it with a realtor, and you can find the details of the listing here.

When she first listed it for sale back in 2010, I blogged about it. Below is that post. It truly is a wonderful property, and with a little TLC could be a paradise.

We first became acquainted with Kate when we started tanking the North Platte river a couple of summers ago. Our favorite tanking route ends right at her property, and while we take out on the opposite bank, our acquaintance has led to a friendship. She is a frequent guest at our House Concerts, and is one of the most thoughtful, free-spirited individuals I know.

As much as she loves her home along the North Platte River, circumstances dictate that she sell it, and to that end, I have taken some photographs of her beautiful home and am blogging about them, in hopes of generating interest in the right places and bring about a sale.

This big, beautiful 2000 square foot farmhouse was built in 1910. Yes, that's right - this year marks the 100th anniversary of the construction of this wonderful home.
Two of the outbuildings on the property are a garage with room for a vehicle and additional storage, and a three-stall horse barn. Kate hosts a horse motel for traveling equine enthusiasts.

As you can see, the exterior of the house has been completely updated, yet retains the historical feel. It is surrounded by a white picket fence, and has new siding and all new windows. The mature trees surrounding the property offer dense shade in the summer that cools our hot humid days.
Inside it is a treasure! High ceilings, hardwood floors, wonderful light from the numerous windows, completely refinished woodwork and fresh paint have all been done just right! As you can see, the front room, which originally would probably have been livingroom and parlor, has been opened up to provide one large airy space.

What I didn't get a good picture of is the half bath (also completely redone with all new fixtures), which is the door you can see in the far back right.

Here in the dining room, you can again see the spacious dimensions of the room, the well-done woodwork and the creative and whimsical staging, which gives testimony to the character of the charming woman who lives here.

The door to the right of the picture opens onto an enclosed porch which boasts a wood burning stove and the laundry room. You wouldn't expect someone with Kate's kind heart not to open it to four-legged creatures, and that area is home to her many dogs and cats.
The dining room opens onto the kitchen and the quaint staircase leading to the second floor.

This is a view from the dining room back to the living room, showing the kitchen door and the staircase opening on the right.

On the south wall, a large inset window adds to the charm and the open feeling of the room.

Upstairs are the three roomy, beautiful bedrooms. This one is in the southwest corner, at the top of the stairs.

Through this window, earlier in the spring, Kate spied a falcon chick that had been blown out of it's nest during one of our frequent violent storms. She rushed outside to rescue him, patiently coaxing him to eat over the next few days before she reintroduced him to his family who were overjoyed to see him. They eventually succeeded in teaching him to fly and survive on his own, and his now once more a proud member of the free animal kingdom.

Oh yes, and this also gives you a close-up of the new double-hung windows, which are energy efficient and make cleaning a breeze!

The upstairs bath is really a charmer! As I mentioned earlier, the house is 100 years old, so this bathroom wasn't in the original builders plans! A converted bedroom insures that the bath is spacious and airy.

This may also be a good time to mention that all of the plumbing, wiring and heating/air conditioning systems have been completely re-done.

The large modern shower stall compliments the antique soaking tub. The binoculars on the chair attests to the wonderful views to the west and north from these windows.

A converted dresser for the vanity adds just the right touch of history to this thoroughly modern room.

Down the hall are two more bedrooms, one in the northeast corner and one in the southeast corner. All three of the bedrooms have roomy walk-in closets.

This is the north bedroom, as you can see it has north and east facing windows - perfect light for an artist! Regardless of which room should be chosen for a studio, there is wonderful light at different times of the day in each.

Back downstairs, to the wonderful country kitchen. While the formal dining room opens to the south, there is certainly enough room in here for a large table for your family and friends to gather around to enjoy delicious meals.

The door to the left opens onto the laundry room on the enclosed porch. Again, don't forget that all of the plumbing has been redone.

Outside, this is the east side of the house, and includes a screen porch and covered carport. The abundance of wood attests to the efficiency of heating the home with the woodburning stove.

Past the covered parking, you can see the children's play area and a stock shed.

Towards the rear of the property, a snug chicken house is just waiting to provide a home to your home flock of layers.

Kate has a green thumb, and these beautiful flowers and herbs tell not only of her talent, but of the fertility of the garden plot.

While not a very good picture, taken as it was at about 7:00pm, looking directly into the setting sun, it does provide a good view of one of the magnificent mature trees.

Out front, this is the road that goes past the property. This view is looking south toward the hamlet of Sarben. While the property is secluded, you are only minutes from the town of Paxton, home of 5 Trails Winery, Ole's Big Game Lounge, the Windy Gap Saloon, and Hehnke's grocery store. All of these fine establishments have world-class reputations for their specialties.

And this is the road looking to the north. This has been the starting point of many of our unforgettable Sandhill adventures. At one time a mail route, this road leads into the heart of some of the most beautiful country on God's earth.

Let me say this at this point - you may be thinking that this beautiful retreat is out in the middle of nowhere, and you might be right - at least you can see it from here! But, I have perfect 3G and cell service from my Verizon phone, which I often use as an alternate to wireless Internet service. Kate neither wants nor needs television, but Dish Network or Direct TV can provide you with all of the channels you could desire. So secluded and peaceful doesn't necessarily have to mean cut off from civilization!

And here is Kate's landing on the beautiful North Platte River! Water is precious, and Nebraska's weather is unpredictable. We are just coming out of a ten year drought. Lake McConaughy, which feeds the North Platte, is nearly at capacity, which means plenty of water flowing down the river. This has been a boon to us who enjoy tanking, tubing, canoeing or kayaking down the river, but it also means there's a limit to the lazy sand bars perfect for the youngsters or to search for beautiful rocks. Don't worry! Whichever river you like, it's bound to return!

This is the river view of Kate's landing. While only a few feet off the road, it is far lower and secluded by large trees. Heading as it does up into the Sandhills, it is understandable that the road isn't very heavily travelled. This spot is just perfect for enjoying a quiet read on a beautiful afternoon, soaking your toes in the water if it gets too hot.

Closer to the bank, you can see the underside of the Sarben river bridge. When I was a child growing up in the Sandhills about 30 miles north of here, this was our usual route into "town". At that time, the bridge was a rickety wood structure. The young me would scream at the top of her lungs during the entire crossing, absolutely sure we were going to plunge to our deaths in the six inches or so of water flowing under the bridge! Ah, the folly of youth.

Looking across, you can see tubers picnicing on the opposite bank of the river. This bridge is home to hundreds of swallows who, like their cousins in Capistrano, return on the same day every year to build or repair their nests and raise their young. Their darting flights are not only beautiful, but functional - eating many times their weight in mosquitos.

And the view from the bridge to the west, just at sunset. If you have followed this blog, you have seen this sight captured many times as we reveled in yet another memorable trip down the river.

Kate's home is listed on Here is the description of her property, in her own words:

Small acreage (almost 8 acres) with easy access to your own private beach on the beautiful N. Platte river. Bathtub temperatures in the summer make sunbathing, swimming, colored rock collecting, tubing canoeing & throwing sticks for dogs to fetch a joy. A small lagoon on the soft sand beach lets toddlers wade safely in the water. Minnows, fish, herons, sandhill cranes, pelicans, seagulls, swallows, eagles, ducks, geese and songbirds grace the tree-lined river.

Russian olive trees and grape ivy add a tropical fragrance to the air. The property has woods and fields, enjoying variation.

I designed several separately fenced areas with top-of-the-line no-climb dog, horse and child safe fencing.

"Mulberry Lane" is a lovely shady spot with 20 mulberry trees. The large backyard has flowers, 3 big apple trees, lilac bushes, rhubarb, garlic, currants and wild ginseng.

The front, back and side yards are surrounded by huge cottonwoods. The front of the house gives an unobstructed sunset view with the hills to the south and a tree line to the north. The river can be seen from one upstairs bedroom & large bathroom.

The renovated two story farmhouse is simple and beautiful. It really feels like home! All 10 upstairs windows are new. There are 3 bedrooms a hallway & large bathroom with ceramic tile floor. Downstairs an open arrangement of livingroom, diningroom, kitchen, 1/2 bathroom, laundryroom and open space with ceramic tile & fireplace.

There are 10 new large windows downstairs and a backporch. Floors are hardwood. Central heat & air, new plumbing and siding by Revere.

There are 2 good outbuildings; one could be made into a guesthouse.

Children have a choice of two excellent modern schools- one larger and one smaller. The bus comes to the front door. Easy access to I-80 on the county maintained road leads to North Platte (pop. 27,000) to the east. That city has good people and everything you need for the good life. (Hospital, college, shopping, restaurants, parks etc.) Denver, to the west is only a 3 hr. drive when you miss old friends, family or sophistication. Ten miles from home is a small recreation fishing lake. About 25 miles away is the huge Lake McConaughy with endless white sand beaches.

Everyone who visits me for the first time is blown-away. The beauty of this place is obvious, but the thing that really overwhelms my visitors is the feeling of peace that overcomes them. The pictures of the river do not capture its beauty! The sky did not cooperate the day I had the camera. Wildflowers hadn't bloomed yet and two days of rain darkened the color of the sand. Yet, as I soaked in the sun while I stood in the warm water snapping pictures, with swallows flying all around me, with no one else around, I wondered how I could ever give up such a paradise! For the price of a modest house in the city you could own an entire world! I am computer illiterate. Please call 308-650-9510 and leave a message.
The pictures below are from Kate's listing. They were taken earlier in the spring, when all of her beautiful paths and special areas were easier to see and photograph.
The nearly eight acres is a combination of woodland and pasture, which at one time was planted into alfalfa. These pastures could easily accomodate multiple horses or other farm animals.

These peaceful paths just beckon you onward toward your own personal adventure.

Or maybe it's not adventure you're looking for, but peace and solitude - you'll find it here, too.

Even looking at these pictures and remembering my recent visit to Kate have started the creative juices flowing. Just what I needed to get back into the blogging ritual (that and my restored home Internet!).

So whether you're a young family looking for a home where your kids can stretch their legs and their imaginations, an artist seeking your muse, or retirees looking for a project as well as a home, this is the place for you.

Can't you just see yourself walking these paths as the trees begin to bud out in the spring or the leaves begin to turn in the autumn? Or what about on a fine crisp winter morning with snow crunching under your feet and ice crystals shimmering in the sunlight on all of the trees.

So how about it? Go to Kate's listing on, get all the details and become our neighbor. We'll stop by with a homemade cake and an invitation to a House Concert, tanking trip or a cruise in the delightful Sandhills.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Nebraska Sand Dunes

The posting of a video of the sand on the eastern plains of Colorado reminded me of these photos I took a couple of weeks ago on a road trip through the Nebraska Sandhills. Last summer numerous wildfires destroyed many hundreds of acres of grassland. The drought has exacerbated the problem, not giving the grasses the opportunity to regenerate. The situation is very serious for Nebraska ranchers who rely on the grass for their cattle.
Birdwood Creek Canyon
Burned canyons south of the Birdwood Creek
It is very obvious where the fire burned,
though the surround grassland isn't in much better shape.
A windmill sits idle amid the burned grasses.
The sand blows away in your hand.
The root systems of the bunch grasses holds a little sand.
These dunes will soon be blowing.
The denuded grassland reveals interesting bluffs.
The wind-blown sand resembles ripples on a beach.

The description of the Nebraska Sandhills includes "the largest formation of grass-stabilized sand dunes in the western hemisphere." Without the stabilizing influence of the grass, they are simply Sand Dunes.

Though we would prefer to have it in the form of rain, even moisture from the recent unseasonable snows is appreciated.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Stories: Where have all the little towns gone?

Maxwell, Nebraska

Lincoln County’s earliest little towns, OFallons, Nichols, Warren, and Gannett, flourished for a few years then disappeared. Maxwell (formerly McPherson Station) and Brady grew and prospered, as did later towns, Sutherland and Hershey, all on the Union Pacific. Further south, Wellfleet, Ingham, Wallace, Dickens, and Somerset followed the Burlington Railroad into the county in 1887. Of these, only Wallace and Wellfleet are still in existence. Bignell, a few miles southeast of North Platte, was born of the expectation of a railroad that never arrived. Platted and laid out in streets in 1908, its lots were sold and numerous buildings erected before its citizens learned that the railroad, a branch of the Burlington, would never come. The town then died a lingering, painful death. (See the University of Nebraska 1925 Place Names.)

Hershey, Nebraska
Once lusty towns all, their stories follow nearly the same pattern. In horse and buggy days, each village was an almost complete unit in itself and its residents seldom needed to travel to North Platte except on county business. Each town boasted a depot, a Post office, and a telephone office, one or more hotels and restaurants, general stores, blacksmithies, livery stables, harness shops, feed and lumber businesses and cream stations. Each had at least one newspaper, meat market, theatre, poolhall, furniture and undertaking store, drug store, barber shop and shoe shop. Most had two banks, two doctors, two or more churches and lodges, and some even had a jeweler and a milliner’s shop.

Brady, Nebraska
Wallace, Nebraska
As cars and better roads brought all parts of the county closer to North Platte, the villages began to fade. Today, (1969) with one exception, most of them have less than a tenth of their former business activity. The hotels and restaurants have closed, most have neither doctors nor drug stores, none has a newspaper. Even the once vital depot has disappeared from some of them, but all except Wellfleet have good schools and run numerous buses out into the surrounding areas to bus the children in. In the Wellfleet district, there are only 2 children of school age and a rural school is maintained for them. Next Year (1970), they too will be bused to a larger school.

The exception, Sutherland, is still a vigorous town, supporting a good newspaper, a fine hospital, busy bowling alley, a small exclusive dress shop, a motel, restaurants and beauty parlors, and numerous other prospering businesses.
Wellfleet, Nebraska

Farms and ranches over the entire county are now consolidated under fewer owners and county schools have almost disappeared. One can drive for miles today and see neither a farm house nor a school, but large herds of finer cattle, and fields producing double the crops of a quarter century ago are on all sides.

Sutherland, Nebraska
(Nellie Snyder Yost prepared the History of Lincoln County for the Atlas. Title Atlas Co. thanks Mrs. Yost for the time and effort she took in writing this excellent history.)