Sunday Stories: William H. “Bill” and Leela Jane (Hunter) Lawyer

William “Bill” Lawyer was born January 11, 1876 on a farm near Perry, Green County, Iowa. When he was about 11 years of age, his family moved to near Concordia, Kansas.

Leela Jane (Hunter) Lawyer was born February 13, 1885 in Henderson County, Illinois. When about three years of age the family moved to what is now Goodland, Kansas.
William H. “Bill” and Leela Jane (Hunter) Lawyer
Bill and Leela were married at Agenda, Kansas in 1901. They lived at Horton, Brown County, Kansas, where he worked in the railroad shops. In 1907 or 1908 he fell from a high scaffold, receiving a severe hip injury and injured one hand severely which left him quite incapacitated the remainder of his life.

He had a brother that had taken a homestead near Somerset, Nebraska. This brother encouraged him to come west to seek land. He did and found land near a lake, a short distance from the head of Little Birdwood Creek in McPherson County, Nebraska. He went to Tryon which was the county seat and filed on three-quarter section of land. This was located approximately 28 miles north of Sutherland, Nebraska.

In 1909 he built a 16 x 20 foot sod house. Down the slope of the hill a short distance from the house he dug down sinking a bottomless barrel. The ground water level was such that the seepage water soon came up to fill the barrel. This method was used for the household as well as for livestock, for quite some time.

He then sent for his wife and family who had remained in Kansas until he was settled. The family, grandfather Lawyer and the family dog (Old Ring) came by train to Sutherland. He met them with the team and wagon which was loaded with groceries, supplies, furniture and they started toward the homestead. They forded the North Platte River, camped for breakfast, hen went on their journey north. The first night they camped at “Tin Camp” on the Little Birdwood Creek.
Tin Camp in the Little Birdwood Valley
Dad, as other homesteaders, must have had the faith of Abraham, “When he went from his homeland in a northerly direction, unto a place where his tent was, which he had placed there at first; there was poverty among them that lived in this land.” Genesis.

The second day of travel the family arrived at their homestead and the new sod house.

Dad helped neighbors as they came to the area to build their sod homes. William “Bill” Haines, a homesteader, bought an acre of land from Rufus D. Howard. On this ground, Dad helped William “Bill” Hossack build a two room sod building. One end was used for living quarters and the other end was used as a General Store and Post Office. This was named Flats. Bill Haines was the instigator and the first Postmaster in 1914.

Sutherland became the main source for supplies, news, mail and medical supplies. Dad hauled freight from Sutherland and the river area. He took cuttings from trees and planted them for shelter and shade. In the fall he would haul winter supplies, apples and fruits from the Hunter Orchard for our family and neighbors.

About 1912 when the Kinkaid Telephone Company was organized, Dad was instrumental in building lines and installing telephones north from Sutherland to the farms and ranches and later a line into Tryon. A switch board was installed in our home and was operated there for a number of years.
Bill and Leela were the parents of 10 children: Claude, Roy, Mabel, Jessie, Walter, Leonard, Davie, Mae and Joseph. Most of them remained in Sutherland, North Platte, and Paxton area with the exception of Roy who went into the Merchant Marines after his graduation from high school and Jessie who lives in Denver, Colorado.

Bill departed his life at the Sutherland Hospital on March 6, 1946 at the age of 70 years, following a lingering illness. Leela passed away on November 4, 1988 after having resided in the Bethesda Nursing Home in Sutherland for 17 years at the age of 103. They are both buried in the Sutherland Cemetery.


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