Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Stories: Merle Lee and Letha Jane (Heskett) Kennedy


Merle was the son of William Franklin and Nellie Lorriane (Wilson) Kennedy, born August 26, 1900 in Gravity (Taylor County), Iowa. He married Letha Jane Heskett in 1930, the daughter of Thomas E. and Carrie (Hayes) Heskett, who was born August 17, 1908.

At the age of eight years the Kennedy family moved to Wewela, South Dakota. Merle’s father sold the farm in Iowa, and along with Mike McBean, took a contract to help build, by teams of horses and mules, the Northwestern Railroad out of Gregory, South Dakota to Colome, South Dakota. A railroad car of both horses and mules was bought and shipped to South Dakota. Merle and Dave road the emigrant car and their mother and the other children rode the “coupling” car to the end of the line at Gregory. Things did not work out well there, everybody went broke building the railroad, and thus the family was stranded in South Dakota. Merle’s father then went into the freighting business. Winters were real severe there, that first winter the snow was 36 inches deep.

It was during this time that Merle got a job with Mrs. Bismarck Ranous, who was Chief Sitting Bull’s niece. She was the first Indian registered nurse in that area; Merle was hired to herd her cows and to drive her team of horses for her wherever she would have to make house calls on the sick or go out and gather the various herbs she needed to make her medicines.

In 1910, the family moved to Sutherland from South Dakota, at the time Charles Burklund was building his store. Merle’s father did carpenter work in and around Sutherland.

Merle attended the Sutherland School three to four years, which was held in the old wooden school which sat behind the current school building.

Merle’s first job in Sutherland was at the age of 10 years, herding approximately 50 head of milk cows for the “towns” people of Sutherland for $1.00 a head, per month.

The family then moved to Keith County, and his father worked building the headgates for the K and L Ditch Company. They had 40 acres 11 miles northwest of Paxton on the North Platte River valley.

It was at this time that Merle went to work for Bill Sadle, the father of Byron Sadle. Bill had some of the finest horses and mules in the area and Merle was hired to care for the horses. Merle’s parents insisted on him getting an education, so he told Bill he would have to find someone to help with the horses and that was when Bill decided he could not afford to let Merle go to school. Mary Lawler was going to teach the local school so Bill told her that he would give her her board if she would teach Merle at night. This was done. Merle never missed work, nor did he go to school except at night. When it came time for him to take the examination, he rode horseback to Ogallala and passed the exams with flying colors.

Merle worked at various ranch and farm jobs, and in 1917 started farming with his brother, Dave, and did so until 1928. In 1929 he was farming on his own on the river north of Sutherland. In 1934 he acquired employment building the Sutherland Reservoir, working for Babbitt and Ward. In approximately 1943 he hired out to Keith and Lincoln County Ditch Company for whom he worked 20 years running a dragline, retiring in 1963.

At the age of 90 years (in 1991), Merle is still raising his own beef and hogs and is very active in the community. Merle is a fun-loving, good-hearted, friendly man. He states that he has seen a lot of changes during his 90 years of life here on earth.
Merle Lee and Letha Jane (Heskett) Kennedy
Letha Jane Heskett Kennedy was born on the family homestead located on the Birdwood Table. There were two children in her family, an older sister, Lois Heskett Brewer and herself. When Letha was approximately six years old, the family moved into Sutherland “proper”, (approximately 1915), to the home she and Merle currently reside in today.
The quaint and cozy Kennedy home in Sutherland as it looks today.
She was educated in Sutherland and graduated from the Sutherland High School in 1927. Letha furthered her education in Omaha, and returned to Sutherland to start a hair styling salon.
Merle and Letha became the parents of two children: Thomas Lee, born April 20, 1932 and Carolyn Ann Kennedy Grady, born April 4, 1934.

Merle and Letha are an enjoyable couple, both have made many, many friends over the years and enjoy visits. People are always welcomed with open arms into their home. Letha passed away November 13, 1991. Merle died November 16, 1992.


Submitted by Claudia Eberly.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Beautiful Sandhills Morning

Just a reminder that spring will come, and with it, the beautiful greens and colors of the Nebraska Sandhills wildflowers.









Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Stories: Laura Carolyn (Hayes) Heskett


Laura Carolyn (Hayes) Heskett, born April 6, 1864 in Holoway, Ohio (Harrison County). The daughter of William and Sarah (Kirkpatrick) Hayes. There were nine children in her family.
Laura Carolyn (Hayes) Heskett
She was educated in the country school of Poplar Ridge, Ohio, and became a “matron” of the orphans home in Barnesville, Ohio. She stayed there for seven years. Later on she was at the Soldiers and Sailors Home, an orphanage in Xenia, Ohio for eight years and was the house-mother to 30 boys.
When she came to Nebraska to be married, she was accompanied by her brother, John Hayes. On November 8, 1899 she filed on a homestead on the Birdwood Creek, a 170 acre tract of land in Sec. 10, T-15-N, R-33-W, a tract of land that Tom Heskett had picked out and on which he had built a three room sod house, in anticipation of her arrival. He had it furnished with the exception of her cherrywood piano, which she had shipped from Ohio. She also had shipped her bicycle and a quantity of jams and jellies for future use.

After their marriage, the next day, November 9, 18;99, they departed for their home in the Sandhills of Nebraska. The wedding supper was prepared and served by Allice Allen Saxton, one of their near neighbors, and who became one of their best friends. Carrie always had the time to play the organ and lead the singing at the Sunday School meetings in the schoolhouse on the Birdwood.

The following excerpt is taken from the book “NO TIME ON MY HANDS” written by Grace McCans Snyder.
When Tom Heskett brought his bride to the Birdwood, it turned out that they had been married in North Platte, and not in her home in Ohio, as planned. Tom had come to Nebraska in the mid-eighties and in spite of several disastrous events had done very well. He had already “Proved Up” on his homestead land on the Birdwood Table and his herd of sheep had increased. When he visited in Ohio, the previous winter, he had agreed that the wedding would be held in her home, but later he learned that a married woman had no homestead rights. So, if she went west before her marriage, she could file on a quarter section of land in her maiden name. So Carrie gave up all her wedding plans and met Tom in North Platte. She was wearing her beautiful going away gown. They went directly to the Courthouse where she filed on the land that he had selected for her. They were married soon afterward, and then started on the long journey to their home on the Birdwood Table, which he had prepared for her. 
Her first visit to a neighbor’s home (the McCans home) was made a few days later. She was a tall, fine looking young woman, wearing a beautiful sunbonnet, covered with rows of stiffly starched ruffles, and she carried a stout tree limb in her hand. She explained that the club was for protection from the range cattle grazing along the creek. She was used to the tame cows in fenced fields in Ohio, and thought these free-ranging cattle might not be so friendly.
Of course, the neighbors welcomed her with open arms, and apologized because of their delay in making the first call. They thought she should have a little tim in which to become settled in her new home. She said she did not intend to become lonely in her Sandhill home, that she could always find something to keep her busy. It wasn’t long before she was attending Sunday School which was meeting in a schoolhouse near by. In a short time, she had transferred a dim sod shack into a pretty, comfortable little home on the Birdwood Creek, with painted plastered walls and woodwork and lacy curtains up to the windows.
The lovely wedding dress which had never been worn, made of yards and yards of white shadow organdy and deep lace was sent back to a cousin in Ohio to be worn at the cousin’s wedding.
Carrie was a friend to everyone, and everyone was her friend. She was endowed with an abundance of courage in leaving her comfortable home in Ohio and journeying to an isolated unknown country to make a home for herself and her family. She was a gracious person, and a wonderful mother, never becoming impatient, and always with a smile and welcome, especially for the few travelers who went to her door.

What a beautiful word picture of a wonderful woman.

The early homesteaders sadly missed the many varieties of fruits to which they were accustomed in their eastern homes. But they were told that garden produce could be substituted. These included pumpkin, squash, groundcherries, watermelons and muskmelons. They learned to gather wild currants, chokecherries, grapes that grew on the creek bottoms. However, Tom Heskett promised Carrie that every two years, as long as he could afford it, he would send her and the children back to Ohio so she could spend some time with her family. During that time Carrie would can all kinds of fruits and make jams and jellies to bring back home with her. Sort of a working vacation.

It was during one of these later trips that while Carrie and her daughters were in Ohio, as Letha stated “Papa wrote a letter that he had bought the “old Sherwood” property in town.” Upon their return from Ohio, the family moved to town.

The Heskett Homestead land is still in the Kennedy name, with Tom Kennedy being the owner of the same.

Carrie died in March, 1941, and is buried in the Sutherland Cemetery. She is sadly missed by her daughter Letha (1991).


Submitted by Claudia Eberly

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wildlife Wednesday: Sandhill Cranes

It's that time of year again! Spring is in the air and the song of the Sandhill Cranes is floating on the breeze!



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Stories: Ellie Heskett


Thomas Ellsworth “Ellie” Heskett was born June 4, 1865 near Bethesda, Ohio. Was the son of David Newton and Jane (White) Heskett. The Heskett family can be traced back for many years, and originated in Lancashire, and Cheshire, England, where they had large estates in that country.

Jane (White) Heskett was a direct descendant of William White, one of the 41 Pilgrim Fathers who were on the Mayflower which landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. The Whites were devout Quakers, very religious in their beliefs, very prim and quaint and uncommunicative; usually speaking only when the “Lord gave them utterance”.

While still a young man, the urge to “go West” was too strong to resist, so with a few belongings in a wagon; along with John Hillard, and Lou Cogger’s father, they started westward where they settled in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, working as sheepherders in the area. Later he decided to come to Nebraska and his final destination was in the Sandhills along the Birdwood Creek, northeast of Sutherland. In 1894 he worked for the John Bratt Ranch and it was while there that he decided upon homesteading on government claims that were available. It is not known if the trip to Nebraska was made alone or if he had a companion.

He traveled northward along the Birdwood Creek and applied for a government claim on a 160 acre parcel of land in Sec. 10, T-15-N, R-33-W. There he erected a sod shanty and started to raise sheep. It was a lonely life, with only his dog and his horse to keep him company. He took the sheep into the foothills of Wyoming every spring and many times did not meet another human being for several months. But he liked the great wide-open spaces, where he could be alone with Nature and his thoughts. His thoughts often drifted back to Xenia, Ohio to where he had met Carrie Hayes, a house-mother in a boy’s home. And after several years she consented to come to Nebraska to become Mrs. Tom Heskett.
The valley of the Birdwood. The house on the left would be approximately where the Heskett sod house was located.
Their sod house, which was built on a slight knoll overlooking the Birdwood Creek, was very comfortable. Later a large summer kitchen of framework was built just east of the house, where the cooking was done in the warmer months and where the fuel was stored during the winter, the fuel being of dried buffalo chips, which were plentiful and free for the gathering.
Thomas Ellsworth “Ellie” Heskett
Tom or “Ellie” as he had always been known, in his younger days, was a successful sheep raiser, and made annual trips to the Chicago markets with two or three carloads of lambs each time. In those early days, the livestock owner accompanied the cars of stock by riding in the caboose of the train to their destination.

Tom Heskett married Carrie Hayes on November 9, 1899 in North Platte, Nebraska.

To this union were born two daughters, Lois Margaret Heskett Brewer, April 5, 1903 and Letha Jane Heskett Kennedy, born August 17, 1908. In 1915 the family moved to town because of a heart ailment Tom suffered. He entered into selling of real estate, but even that became too strenuous, and his death came in March, 1924. He is buried in the Sutherland Cemetery.


Submitted by Claudia Eberly

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Headwaters of the Dismal River


The headwaters of the Dismal River, many miles north of Sutherland, accessed by beautiful, remote dirt roads. Taken on a road trip in October of 2009 on our way to visit the Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Festival in Valentine.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday - remember last summer?

These photos were taken at the height of summer beauty in 2014. A nice reminder that summer will come in once again!







Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday Stories: Walter Theodore "Ted" Harshfield and Elaine Mae Dodson Harshfield


Born July 2, 1902 and died April 19, 1976. Ted spent his entire life on the ranch, with the exception of a short time he served in the Army during World War II. He was the only child of John Q.A. and Susan Etta that was not born on the ranch; but he was the only child to die on the ranch.

He married Elaine Mae Dodson, daughter of Charles Prince and Ella May (Easton) Dodson on October 15, 1942. Elaine was born January 30, 1914 and had lived at Grant and Maywood communities before she came to work at Harshfield’s as a hired girl in 1934. To this union one son was born, John Edward after being married for 17 years. John Edward is their only child.

Ted found all aspects of ranching a challenge. He liked the business end of it, knew good cattle; bought and sold a lot of them. He was not gifted with mechanical or musical abilities as his father and brothers were; but he always said he sure admired a good car or a good tune.

When Ted died, a tribute was written to the North Platte Telegraph newspaper by Harvey Applegate “A distinguished citizen. Today, April 22, 196, we laid to rest a man I have held in high esteem for almost 50 years. He was a loyal friend, one of the outstanding citizens of the north country. He was a fair man, honorable in his dealings and his word was good as gold. We were neighbors and friends all this time without having a misunderstanding or unkind word. It is hard to measure how great will be our loss. Ted Harshfield, we will miss you for many years to come.”


Elaine passed away October 27, 1991.

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