Sandhills Stories: A.B. "Bert" Snyder and Grace Snyder McCance, Part Two

This is part two of the story of the A.B. "Bert" Snyder and Grace Snyder McCance family.

Excerpted from McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction; Established in 1890
In 1927 when Billie and Bertie were ready for high school, Bert leased the ranch to Ed Younkin for five years and the family moved to Salem, Oregon, where the girls graduated in 1932. In the meantime, Nellie had married Harry Yost and moved back to Maxwell, and in 1928, Miles enlisted in the Signal Corps in the U.S. Army and spent the next three years in the Philippine Islands. Returning to Salem in 1931, he moved back to Nebraska with the rest of the family. The following year he and his parents settled again on the ranch, restocked it and took up where they had left off five years earlier.

In 1935 Miles married Hollis Blackstone of Curtis, who had been teaching at the Huffman school, and built a second home at the ranch beside that of his parents. In the intervening years the ranchers of the area had bought out most of the Kinkaid homesteaders and put all the land under fence. With the removal of the homesteaders many of the little country schools had disappeared and there was no longer even a schoolhouse in the big district where the Snyders had gone to school.

Although cars were much improved over the models of the ‘teens and ‘twenties, the roads were the same old crooked, sandy trails of former years. Under the best of conditions it took at least an hour to drive the eleven miles from the ranch to Tryon, so, when Miles’ and Hollis’ oldest son, Jim, was old enough to go to school Miles bought a small plane, learned to fly it, and flew the boy to Tryon in the morning and picked him up in the afternoon. The plane was a help, too, in checking windmills, fences, and making quick trips after supplies and repairs. All three of the second generation of Snyder children, Jim, Jerry and Jean, graduated from McPherson County High.

In the meantime back at the ranch Grace was putting in her spare time piecing the uniquely beautiful quilts that were later to make her famous all across the United States. When gear shift cars came into use her husband had refused to bother to learn to drive them. Consequently, when he wanted to check a windmill or a fence or the condition of a pasture, he often asked his wife to drive him to the location. Since she always had a box of quilt pieces ready to take along, she sat in the car and sewed pieces while Bert repaired a mill or a fence or a gate. Thus, parts of most of her collection of fabulous quilts were pieced in some Sandhills pasture.

This is Grace Snyder's 88,000 piece Flower Basket Petit Point Quilt.
You will see more of Grace's quilting in further posts.
Two of Grace’s quilts won the “Best of Show” in the arts division of the Nebraska State Fair. All of the collection has been photographed and written about in various national quilt magazines, and most of them shown “in person” at huge quilt shows in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Kansas, Texas, Michigan, California and other states. Now in her ninety-ninth year (in 1981) and living with her daughter, Billie; Grace Snyder enjoys the fame her quilts has brought her. Probably the most outstanding compliment came when a man in Detroit, after a long and careful examination of her masterpiece, the 88,000 piece Flower Basket Petit Point, said “THAT is the Stradivarius of quilts.”

After their return to the ranch in the ‘30’s both Bert and Miles began promoting better roads in the Sandhills. Paving of “all-weather” roads were urgently needed in this vast area but even the minimum miles needed would prove frightfully expensive for so sparsely settled a region. Both drove many miles to attend highway meetings and spent much time helping to raise the money needed to match state and federal highway funds. As a result of their efforts and those of many of their neighbors, Highway 97 many years ago connected at the county line with the portion coming north from North Platte to Tryon, and later built on north to Mullen.

Bert and Grace retired to a pleasant home in North Platte in 1946, but when, five years later, the paved strip wound on west past the ranch on its way to Arthur (and on to the state line), the Snyders never ceased to marvel that they could now drive the eleven miles from Tryon to the old home in less than twenty minutes. Where, in pre-pavement days, the Snyders had had to make a two-day trail drive to deliver market cattle to the Union Pacific railroad on the south, or the Burlington on the north, now big trucks could come directly to the ranch and haul them away, quickly and efficiently; a great satisfaction to Bert, who had practiced the old way for half a century.

In October, 1953, Bert and Grace celebrated their Golden Wedding Day at their North Platte home. In January, 1956, Bert passed away and was buried February 2nd on his eighty-fourth birthday in the North Platte cemetery.

Grace McCance Snyder
Grace passed away December 8, 1982
Miles, (who served a term, 1942 to 1946), as commissioner of his county with his son, Jim, continues to operate the ranch.

Harry Yost passed away in 1968, and at the time of writing this history in 1981, Nellie was living in North Platte.

Billie married Bob Thornburg, a Navy career man, and spent two years in Japan. They then returned to Norfolk, Virginia, and went into the real estate business. In 1977 they moved back to North Platte (Bob’s boyhood home), bought a new house, and moved Mrs. Snyder in with them. In spite of her near one hundred years, Grace is well and happy.

Bertie married Glenn Elfeldt of Sutherland in 1934. Ranchers and manufacturers of that community, they have three children and eight grandchildren. Bertie, long an active and enthusiastic member of the Nebraska Cow-Belles, served her term in 1968-1969 as State President of the organization and still attends meetings and works consistently for the good of the industry.

The old home place in the valley was completely treeless during the early years the Snyders lived there. Hundreds of little cottonwoods, patiently set out by hand, died out in succeeding years. Then came the “wet period” in the Sandhill valleys and new trees took off and grew. The valley is now well timbered with cottonwoods, willows, pine and other varieties. The 1912 barn still stands but the old frame house was torn down more than twenty years ago when Him built his and his wife’s new home. An airplane hanger and a four-car garage and machine shop, undreamed of when Grace Snyder went to the ranch as a bride in 1903, have further changed the valley. “Only the Sandhills are the same,” she says.


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