Sunday Stories: Eunice (Phelps) Hoatson

Eunice (Phelps) Hoatson

I was born July 7, 1914 on a farm northeast of Lexington, Nebraska to Clyde and Elsie (Bowden) Phelps. I was welcomed by a sister, Opal, who was 13 months older than me.

In 1916, my father decided to move our family to Colorado to stake a claim on some homestead land in the southern part of the state near the Tempest-La Junta area. The land was too poor for farming so Dad had to find another way to make a living. After building the required house and barn and putting in a well, Dad went to work delivering milk for the farmers to the then Libby McNeel and Libby Condensery in La Junta.

After a few years, Dad decided to move back to Nebraska, and our family settled in North Platte. In North Platte, Dad worked at the old Ice House pulling 50-100 pound cakes of ice to put in refrigerator cars for the Union Pacific Railroad.
My father loved to hunt coyotes using hounds. He met a man that went by the name of Coyote Shorty who had hunting hounds. Together they took a trip in to the Sandhills. While there, Dad met another man by the name of Lorenzo Pickle. Pickle had a farm for rent, so once again our family packed up our household goods, including one dozen chickens and a milk cow, and headed for this farm.
We started out early in the morning heading north across the river at Hershey. At the bridge, the cow broke through the floor of the truck. After unloading the cow Dad found a board and patched the hole. We then reloaded the truck and went on to the farm.

Upon arrival, we found the house to be a one-room sod house. By then it was dark, but things had to be unloaded by lantern light and cared for. We were all so tired that we put the mattresses on the floor and tumbled down on them. The next morning, we all looked as though we had the measles. This was our first experience with sand fleas and bed bugs.

Moving day on rented farms was always March 1, in time to get ready for spring planting, so there was still school to attend until May. We lived a mile from District 60, so we walked there each day until Dad got a spotted pony to ride. This made the trip much quicker.
What remains of District 60
Dad also bought four work horses, five milk cows, and enough farm machinery to plant the first crop of corn. We were farmers.

Our nearest neighbor was the Fred Seifer family. North of us was the Nick Arensdorf family.
About six months after we moved into the sod house, a big section of the west wall slid down into the room while we were eating breakfast. We had to patch the hole as best we could with sacks and pieces of sod until my father’s brother, Jake Phelps, came from Lexington. When he arrived, the built a three-room frame house.

Dad also bought four hunting dogs, and when we went anywhere, the dogs went along. If they spotted a coyote, off we went across the prairie. All went well with that until one day while were in the fields, the dogs got into the house and ate four loaves of bread and a ten gallon can of cream. The dogs were not around much longer after that.

Since we lived on a farm, there were always a lot of chores to keep everyone very busy. Farm animals had to be cared for, corn had to be husked, rye had to be drilled, and hay had to be cut and stacked for winter feed. From early spring until late fall, everyone was busy. When winter came, things because easier with just morning and evening chores to be done, and that is when the social times started.

Schoolhouse dances, barn dances, or clear out the front room dances – just pass the word and you had a dance. Whoever sponsored the dance would get a roll of bologna, some loaves of bread and a pound or two of coffee. The ladies would always bake a cake. There was a community copper wash boiler for making the coffee and dozens of tin cups that were passed to whomever was giving the dance. A midnight lunch was fixed for everyone; then a hat was passed around for you to drop in whatever you could afford to pay. This money was used to pay for the lunch fixings and a couple of dollars went to the musicians. Small children who could not stay awake were put to bed in corners on coats, or if we were in a house, a bed because the dances continued until the wee hours. We danced to waltzes, the good old “hug ‘em up tight and go like thunder” square dances, and the two step to a good old country music of a fiddle, guitar, and accordion. It was usually daylight when you got home, so many chores had to be done before you could catch a little nap.

Ice cream was always a winter treat with plenty of milk, eggs and ice from the water tanks. A lot of people would plant a little patch of popcorn so winter evenings were quite enjoyable.

We lived at the Lorenzo Pickle farm about three years when Dad got the chance to buy a section of land just south of the Birdwood Creek. My sister, Opal, finished the eighth grade there and was finished with school. That left only one student in that school district, so I had to finish my schooling in the town of Sutherland the next year. I boarded with the Dick Wilson family who owned the East Tavern in Sutherland at the time.
Looking south toward the Birdwood valley. The trees in the distance on the left are the Shaw place, where the Phelps family would have lived.
My mother, Elsie, loved the out-of-doors so she always planted a big garden and raised a large flock of chickens which provided plenty of fresh eggs. We ate some of the eggs and traded a 30 dozen case of eggs for groceries at Wiig’s or Aden’s store in Sutherland when we needed supplies. When purchasing a 10-pound pail of coffee, you also received a cooking utensil such as a dish pan or kettle, so you always had plenty of pots and pans. In the fall, we would always buy a 25-pound box of prunes, apricots and dried apples. Along with the 200 or so quarts of home canned vegetables, jars of jam and jelly, and a big crock of sauerkraut fermenting behind the cook stove, we were ready for winter’s heavy snows and roads closed because of snow drifts.

My mother later decided she would try raising turkeys, so she purchased 150 ready-hatched poults. When they were about one-third grown, she and her German Shepherd dog took the turkeys out across the prairie to feed on grasshoppers and wild seed. The dog, whose name was Bonzo, would help herd the turkeys like a sheep dog herds his flock. Bonzo would help round them up and bring them back to the yard in the late afternoon. When the turkeys were ready for sale around Thanksgiving, they were loaded in the truck and take to North Platte to be butchered for the holiday markets. The money from the sale of the turkeys was used for buying winter clothes and shoes.

In the spring of the year, a hog and a beef were butchered. The meat was canned, or put up in 10-gallon store jars, for summer use since we had no refrigerator. In the winter when it was cold enough, we also butchered a calf and hung it in the well house where it would stay frozen until we needed it. We then cut off whatever we needed.

On hot summer evenings after a day in the field, we all piled into the truck and headed for the Birdwood Creek. Dad had put a plank across the creek like a dam; this washed the sand away on the down side and made a nice swimming hole. The water was always very cool even in the August heat. It felt so good to have a good swim before getting into bed for the night.

My sister, Opal, married Alva Harshfield in 1931 and started her own chapter in life. I, Eunice Phelps, married Harris “Larry” Hayes and started mine.

My parents sold the farm at Birdwood Creek to Lawrence Shaw and bought property in North Platte where they lived for several years until my father’s death in October 1949. My mother sold that place and moved to Sutherland where she lived until her death.

After bearing five children – Shirley, now Mrs. Richard Linn; Patricia, now Mrs. Lyle Kirts; Marilyn, now Mrs. Stanley Molinda; Linda, now Mrs. Virgil Schultz; and Richard Hayes – I divorced Larry Hayes and later married David Hoatson of Sutherland where I lived for several years.

I am now the grandmother of 12 and the great-grandmother of seven. Life is good (written in 1991).

Eunice Phelps Hayes Hoatson passed away February 10, 1994.


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