Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Nebraska Folk Art - The Oconto Sculpture Garden

What a wonderful treat we found last weekend when we detoured along Highway 40 to Oconto after our road trip from Arnold to Callaway via a county road.
Right alongside Highway 40 is the Oconto Sculpture Garden, one of the most terrific examples of folk art in Nebraska I have ever seen.
Through posting the photos on Facebook, I have learned that the artist is Charles Horn, who is in his 70's and collects scrap metal for the "zoo" he has created in the sculpture garden.
Every few months he adds a new sculpture.
We learned that later the same day we had been there, he placed a grizzly bear.
The pieces that create such a wonderful sculpture garden in Oconto are only a part of his collection. The rest are at his nearby residence near the river.
On Halloween of 2000, the Oconto community was devastated by a tornado, but the community has rebounded with a new Community Center.
There are only a few businesses in the tiny community whose population numbered 151 in the 2010 census. These include Badgley Well Service, Big Jim's Bar, Custer County Feeders, Eggleston Oil Company, Evans Feed Store, Oconto Post Office, and Rock's Backhoe & Trenching.
The community incorporated in 1906. Oconto was a "forest of 232 windmills" often called the "Windmill Town", which accounts for the tag line "The Home of the Windmills" on the sculpture garden sign.
According to the history of Oconto, the population in 1989 was 150, making it very typical of small Nebraska Sandhills towns that are pretty much stagnant.
Traditionally the first Saturday in July is when Oconto High Alumni come home and enjoy dancing, a parade, and other frivolities at their old stomping grounds.
What a wonderful addition the sculpture garden is to the community and the drive along Highway 40.
You'll see a variety of species not normally found in the Sandhills of Nebraska.

Enjoy the ride!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Stories: John F. and Myrtle (Coates) Coker Family

John Franklin Coker, one of the five sons of John and Adelaide Coker, was born at Monfort, Grant County, Wisconsin, on September 8, 1868. He was 17 when his parents moved to Nebraska. Soon thereafter, he took a homestead and tree claim north of the North Platte River and ranched most of his life.

On June 27, 1894, he was married to Myrtle Coates in North Platte, Nebraska. They became the parents of five children; Hallie, Helen, Leslie, John and Neva. John and Myrtle celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary in 1956.

Frank, as he was always known to his many friends, ranched most of his life. He recalled at one time that Bob Vance, an acquaintance from Wisconsin, had told them in North Platte that “if you wanted to get in the cattle business, go north of the Platte River; if you’d rather farm, go south of the river.” This of course was a general observation of the early ranch period for today many cattle graze on both sides. The rolling Sandhills to the north afforded adequate shelter, water, and natural feed to carry the herd along.

Frank did considerable riding and cowboying. He worked for John Bratt for a number of years, much of it on roundup. He also worked for Marion Feagins, Bratt’s foreman on the Birdwood, for 10 years,and made four trips with Marion on roundups. Each trip took them to the head of the Birdwood, the Dismal, to Swan Lake and down to Lewellen. Frank stated at one time that the Chisholm longhorns that came into Nebraska carried so many brands that Sam Dikeman called them the “Clothesline and Clothespin cattle”.

Following his years on roundup, Frank and his brother, William, operated the Feed and Transit Ranch, another John Bratt enterprise near Sutherland. Cattle came in from all the states west of the Missouri River. “In the 1890s, we loaded as many as 5000 horses out of Sutherland.” A lot of these were shipped in from west coast states and some from the mountain regions. From Sutherland the horses went to farmers and eastern markets. Many horses were rounded up in the Sandhills and the Cokers were among those to take part. “Once I rode from daylight to sundown to round up one herd. You trailed the horses, you didn’t run them to death.”

Up in the lake country, he stated, Jim Hunnel of Gothenburg and “Cap” Haskell would start horses from trails found by trappers. The two men placed poles on high hills beforehand and then when the drive was under way would use the poles as location points.

Frank worked for the Eads Cattle Company, south of Denver for two years; for Joe McClenahan two years; then went to Cortez in Southern Colorado for awhile. In later years, he ranched where the M.E. Trego place is located north of Sutherland.

Once Frank wanted to get a brand inspection job in Omaha when Wyoming was in charge of inspection for Nebraska. “You had to be recommended for the job by two cattlemen, so I got Henry Hansen and Ed Meyers to vouch for me. In three days I was approved for the job.”

In his later years, after retiring from ranching he was employed at the Village Light Plant and served as State Brand Inspector for Nebraska.

He passed away on April 4, 1956, after an illness of about one year. He had been a resident of the community for 72 years. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church and was a charter member of Sutherland Lodge 299, A.F.&A.M. He was 88 years, six months and 27 days old at the time of his death.

Myrtle passed away in 1965. They are both buried in the Sutherland Cemetery.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Windy Wednesday

From one of my very first blog posts back in February of 2009. A blow out near our Sandhills homestead on a very windy day.

When you see how fragile these beautiful hills are, you can understand my opposition to projects like the Nebraska Public Power District R Project power line that threatens to destroy them.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Stories: Henry and Alverda (Peale) Coker

In November of 2012, I featured Alverda Peale in one of the early Sunday Stories. That post can be found HERE.

Henry and Alverda (Peale) Coker

Henry Coker was born January 6, 1863, in Monfort, Iowa County, Wisconsin, to John and Adelaide (Calame) Coker, one of nine children.

When Henry was 22 years old, in April of 1885, his family, having suffered mining reversals in 1883, decided to go west. They came to Nebraska by freight train box car and settled north of the North Platte River, where they homesteaded about seven miles north of Dudley Spur, later named Sutherland. They built a sod house on what is now the W.Stewart Coker ranch. Henry stayed in Wisconsin for a time to try to salvage what he could from the zine mine and to drive a mail route.

At the age of 25, Henry came to Nebraska to visit his family and went to work for John Bratt as an appraiser of cattle damages for the Bratt Cattle Company. Five years later he took up a timber claim west of Sutherland, agreeing to plant trees as part of his land claim. He met Miss Alverda Peale, who taught school near the ranch and boarded with the Coker family. Alverda was the daughter of Franklin and Mary Ann (Comly) Peale, descendants of early pioneers, and eighteenth century artists. She was the first white baby girl born in North Platte. Alverda and Henry married on October 22, 1891, when Henry was 28 years old.
Information on Alverda Peale Coker found on
In addition to farming and ranching, Henry and his father circulated a petition around Sutherland for the creation of the first Post Office. It opened in 1892 and for six years, Henry served as the first Postmaster. Hnery also maintained the first mail route, known as the Star Route, which he served for nearly 20 years, starting from Dudley Spur and running 56 miles through roadless Sandhills to Swan Lake at Lena, Nebraska. He delivered the mail by horsecart (one horse and a small two-wheeled car big enough to carry five or six mail sacks and groceries) from Sutherland to Lena. The round trip took two days, one day there and one back. He was assisted for many years by his sons, Charlie, Ross and Vern and Negro Jake Turner when he needed time off.

Henry and Alverda lived at the old Dudley homestead for a time, later moving to the Burklund Store, where Henry was Postmaster and mail carrier. Later they built a home southwest of Sutherland for their large family of 11 children: Henry, Frank, Vernon, Harold Ross, Alverda Marie, Walter John, Charles Wilson, Gladys Helen, Theodore Roosevelt, Paul Herbert, Gertrude Evelyn and Melvin Peale who died in infancy.

Their last move, in the 1890s was to the original Dudley homestead again, later known as the Alverdale Farm, which was named for Alverda Coker. There they spent their happiest and most prosperous days of their lives. The farm was located at the northeast side of Sutherland and was the former home of Henry’s father, John Coker. While living at Alverdale, Henry and Alverda operated a tourist camp area there, and ran the first milk route in the Sutherland area.

Henry was a rancher, farmer, road and bridge builder, and a Lincoln County Commissioner and Assessor. One of his bridges is still standing on the north side of Sutherland.

For the last 30 years of his life, Henry owned and operated the Standard Oil Service Station in Sutherland. The station was located on the current Highway 30 on the corner west of Kealy’s Super Stop (Now Ozzies). Henry is remembered for opening the station at all hours of the day or night for people and would always have a piece of candy for children of customers who “filled up” their vehicles.

While Henry was a Commissioner, he was on the Committee to approve contracts for building the Lincoln Highway (Highway 30) through Lincoln County, Nebraska.

Henry was a charter member of the Presbyterian Church and a charter member of the Odd Fellows Lodge. Henry passed away on April 16, 1956, and is buried at the Sutherland Riverview Cemetery.
Alverda Coker died on July 17, 1958 at Eureka, California. She too is buried at the Sutherland Cemetery

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Winter Wednesday

Brrr! It's been almost too cold to get out and take pictures! That and a strong winter virus has kept me house bound! Thank goodness the Sutherland Reservoir is only a short drive away, and from the comfort of a warm pickup, a great place to take pictures!
There were lots of blackbirds sunning themselves in the bare branches.
Thousands of water birds taking advantage of the few open places left in the lake.
Lots of Bald Eagles taking advantage of the water birds! Even a lone pelican decided to fly by.
In the mist of the cooling pond, gulls were swooping.
A hawk was looking around to see small morsels of food stirring in the grass.
On the north shore, broken ice and wind had formed sculptures.
Lying flat on the ice to get that perfect shot didn't last long!
We disturbed a pelican who looks like he's tiptoeing across the ice to get airborne.
More beautiful ice sculptures piled on the shore.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Stories: William and Cecelia Coker

Excerpted from the Sutherland Centennial 1891-1991, published in 1991.

The entry is written by William "Stew" Coker.

William S. and Cecelia M. (Fye) Coker

William Sherman Coker (the father of William Stewart Coker), was the second child born to John and Adelaide (Calame) Coker. He was born August 12, 1867, near Mineral Point, Wisconsin. As a child he went to school and lived on his parents’ farm and helped in the family mining business. He had four brothers and two sisters: Henry, Frank, Walter, Edward, Sarah and Charlotte, all being born in Wisconsin. In 1884 after suffering flooding problems in the mining business, the entire family moved to Nebraska settling and homesteading northwest of Sutherland, the NW1/4 Section 12-14-34. The five brothers were all in the livestock and land business. My father, Will, being the one to stay on the original homestead in later years.
William and Cecelia Coker

Cecilia Mae Fye (William Stewart Coker’s mother) was born November 30, 1876 in Butler County, Nebraska to John and Harriet (Passmore) Fye. Before Cecelia was born the family had moved from Pennsylvania to eastern Nebraska near Rising City (Butler County). Her parents farmed in this area and raised their family of nine children until 1885, when they moved to Lincoln County, south of Sutherland. In 1889, my grandmother, Harriet (Passmore) Fye passed away from pneumonia. My mother, Cecelia, was 13 years old at the time and took charge of caring for the remaining family. She told me many times how she sewed for them until they were grown. As a little girl in eastern Nebraska, she remembered the Indians peeking in their windows, and how frightened they all were.

My parents were married in 1895 and started their married life living in the John Keith house. Later my father built a house in Sutherland on the North County Road where Harvey Applegate now lives.
The Coker home on North County Road in Sutherland. Taken from the book "It Happened in Cow Country".
My father was a natural born rancher and loved his work. He and my uncle, Frank Coker, were in the ranching business together for years, handling thousands of horses and cattle. In the spring of 1896 my father and a rancher, Henry Alsher, bought 2500 head of horses in Idaho that had sold for taxes owed against them. They hired a young ranch lad to drive the buckboard that hauled their gear, and the three left Nebraska and went to Salmon, Idaho, where they received the horses. It took them three months to make the round trip, and they did it with ease. The horse business in those days was very profitable and my father handled many as well as cattle. He could look at a cow or horse and tell you what it was thinking. He always told me you had to be able to do that to be good with livestock. I had the best teacher that lived. Thanks Dad!

My mother, Cecelia Mae (Fye) Coker was a great rancher’s wife and business partner. She was a religious person and a “doer” and there was nothing she could not do. During their life on the ranch it was always a stopping place for ranchers freighting supplies to their ranches, and anyone coming and going in our vicinity. Many weeks she would cook a quarter of a beef in a week, and everything that went with it. In addition, my father had a dipping vat on the ranch and ranchers for miles around would drive their cattle to the ranch to be dipped and there would be those extra men to feed. They would bring their bedrolls and be scattered all over the house, the bunkhouse and any other likely spot. 

My mother was also a good horsewoman in her own right. She had her own buggy, with a Chestnut stallion by the name of Walnut, and a black stallion named Eurallis, the best of buggy horses. Her buggy had side curtains and the top would go up or down depending on the weather. I have her single horse backband she used on her buggy horses; it is beautiful leather trimmed with solid brass. She, my mother, was also an artist. We have oil paintings and charcoals she did, as well as drawers full of fancy needlework done by her. We also have room size braided rugs all made by her hands. What a lady.

My parents had five children: Grace (Jeffords) born in 1896; Irene (Stewart) born in 1898; Adelaide (Kramer) born in 1900; Wylma (Snyder) born in 1905; and myself, William Stewart, born in 1908.

My parents were members of the Sutherland Presbyterian Church. My father passed away July 17, 1930 and my mother in 1965. They are both buried at the Sutherland Cemetery.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Winter Wednesday

The forecast was calling for winds gusting to 45 and up to an inch of new snow. What better day for a Sandhills road trip? Our route took us on some roads we had never traveled before, and the great thing is, we can do it all over again in good weather and it will all be new - since the visibility remained zero much of the time!
Just east of Keystone on the Sarben-Keystone road (or Nevens Road), the snow began just after 1pm Central time. The horses put their backs to the wind to weather the storm.
 We turned north out of Keystone on the Keystone-Roscoe road. An old wooden windmill standing alone in the field.
Red white faced cows on a hillside.
A grove of trees, probably planted as a tree claim from a Kinkaid homesteader.
A ranch sign - obviously a wrong turn - so we turned around!
Though there was little to no accumulation on the road, the blowing snow caused whiteout conditions.
We got back on to the highway about 20 miles north of Ogallala and decided we needed a break so we stopped at Sands Edge. Here is a view out the window.
It's too cold to leave even our foot prints at Lake McConaughay, but it's good to see water (or ice) up to the sign.
Yes, that is Lake Mac out there.
Down below the dam on the Lake Ogallala side, it is a picturesque view on the road to the Eagle Viewing site.
A lone bunny in the snow at the Eagle viewing site - bet he's hoping he won't be dinner for a hungry Eagle. The site closes at 2pm, so we missed our chance!
On the road back through Keystone. I believe the Bank of Keystone has a new location on the highway toward Arthur so this building is now vacant.
The Main Street of Keystone, Nebraska.
The historic little church at Keystone. It has a Catholic altar at one end and a Protestant altar at the other end so early settlers could all enjoy services.
The "modern" Presbyterian church in Keystone.
Back on the Keystone-Sarben roads, some very cold ducks in a corn field.
The perfect signs showing an interesting drive is ahead.
Some cows enjoying a mid day meal in a sheltered spot along the road.
Not bad for the first road trip of 2015. I'm looking forward to many more to come. I hope you come along to share.