Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Stories: Allen's Sod Store

{As you read this story, allow yourselves to be transported back to 1881, you have the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of R. E. Allen to cut posts on the Dismal River and haul them to Cozad to lay in a stock of supplies to sell to homesteaders - or you have the determination of Lovira Allen to care for the homestead in his absence - remember the desolate photos of this area when they first settled here!}

As more families came, Allen decided it would be profitable to lay in a small supply of necessities to sell to them, saving them the long, hard journey to Kearney or Cozad, the nearest market places. December of ’81 was unusually mild, so Allen went to the Dismal River, cut a load of posts and hauled them to Kearney to trade for one hundred dollars worth of goods he hoped would sell – kerosene, sugar, nails, etc. He reached home just before Christmas and put the items on display in the sod house.

The little stock was gone before the winter was out and as soon as weather permitted in the spring he made more trips to the Dismal and on to Kearney or Cozad. He would often be gone two weeks at a time, during which Mrs. Allen would mind the store, milk the cow and tend the babies. A second daughter, Blanche, was born in ’82.

The winter of 1882-83 was severe and spring slow in coming. Swain Finch lost one hundred head of sheep in a late storm. It was reported the wild horses had been thinned out and those that survived were weak. A party was sent out to bring them in where food was more plentiful.

As soon as the weather warmed, Landis “Elder” Correll put out the word he would hold a preaching service in the old Henry Brothers cabin, occupied by Morgan and Lydia Parks and a family named Frazier. About twenty-five people came and twelve signed up to become members of a Christian church.

Richard Allen made a trip to the land office in North Platte to preempt the quarter joining his homestead on the north and hauled lumber from Cozad to build a frame room on the south border. When connected to the log cabin, it made a fairly large dwelling and fulfilled the requirements for a residence on each quarter. The house served as store and post office and there was room in one corner for photographer Dan Austin to have a tiny studio.

Early in 1883, Stephen Leland and his father, Samuel, another experienced miller, moved up the river from Milldale to start a grist mill beside Allen’s store.

With the help of Alvin Harris, they dammed the river south of the sod store and using lumber hauled from Cozad, built a two-story structure to house the mill machinery, located on the east side of the river. Just across the road east of the mill, Stephen Leland put up a small frame house. As Harris had done at Milldale, the Lelands planted a field of buckwheat nearby.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Know Nebraska: Lincoln Highway, North Platte to Lodgepole

As President of the Nebraska Lincoln Highway Historic Byway, I love to drive the road and promote it whenever I have the opportunity. Recently the Board of Directors traveled to Lodgepole for their bi-monthly meeting. It turned out to be an unseasonably beautiful December day, perfect for taking pictures along the way. Enjoy this road trip from North Platte to Lodgepole!

Reproduction Lincoln Highway concrete marker in Hershey.
Buffalo along the Lincoln Highway just east of Sutherland.
Service station and public art in Sutherland.
Meats and More country store in Paxton, right on the Lincoln Highway.
Newly renovated depot in Paxton, now Anne Marie's coffee and gift shop.
Of course, Paxton is also the home of Ole's Big Game Lounge and the Windy Gap Saloon, but those places get a lot of press, so I passed them by on this trip.
Roscoe Lincoln Highway frontage.
Ogallala's Front Street (yes, it's for sale).
Ogallala's Spruce Street Station.
Brule City Park on the old Lincoln Highway.

California Hill historic marker just east of Big Springs.
Big Springs Phelps Hotel.
Waterman Sod House and Sam Bass Train Robbery historical markers in the Big Springs Park.
Downtown Chappell Street Corner.
You've now traveled nearly 90 miles on the historic Lincoln Highway through western Nebraska. I didn't get to spend nearly enough time in each community to truly explore, but that will have to wait for another day. Stay tuned for more travels.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Stories: George Arnold and the Post Office

Since 1876, mail destined for this part of the Loup valley was brought by horseback every two weeks from Plum Creek and addressed “Arnold & Ritchie Ranch, c/o Postmaster.” The partners had taken turns handling the mail – now a change would have to be made. Allen offered to have the post office in his sod house and on March 21, 1881, he, with Landis Correll and George Arnold, met to choose a name for the new office. “Correll” was considered, so was “Allen,” finally “Arnold” was chosen and a letter sent off to Washington for a new rubber stamp.

George Arnold, partially paralyzed from a stroke suffered the year before, probably never knew the little office given his name ever developed into a town. He went back to the family home in Ohio, where he died in 1900, leaving no relatives in Arnold. Later residents by the same name had no connection.

Before entering the cattle business, Arnold had served in the Civil War and married Ella Taylor, daughter of Edward Taylor, editor of the Omaha Bee and one-term governor of the state by appointment. The Arnolds had four children, one a baby when they came to the ranch - the only baby in the country.

Charles W. Hughey, cowboy, cook and general handyman, came up the Loup with cattlemen San Ritchie and George Arnold, in 1877, and worked for them and other ranchers. He was a familiar sight around the country, riding his horse, Redbird, followed by two black dogs. It was “Grandpa” or “Uncle” Hughey, as he was called, who discovered the body of the trapper frozen in Powell Canyon. When Arnold and Ritchie left the country in the spring of ’81, they sold the 320 acre ranch headquarters to Hughey. Soon after he moved into the log cabin, it caught fire and was hastily pulled down to save the red cedar logs. It was from this land Hughey, in 1884, donated a small plot to be used as a cemetery, when Dora, the small daughter of miller John Koch, died.

Hughey himself was soon buried there, killed in 1893 when a hay knife pierced his chest in a fall from a hayrack. His grave can be seen along the cemetery’s west fence, with its headstone engraved as being a gift from the town of Arnold. His wife had died before he came to Arnold, but G. J. Hughey, in Arnold in 1883, may have been his son.

By early summer, would-be settlers were coming in a steady stream. The Custer County Republican reported: “A gentlemen from over on the South Loup informs us that from Sunday afternoon until afternoon of the following day he counted fifty-two teams – land hunters – heading for the head of the Loup.”

Homeseekers coming up the dusty river valley would camp near the Allens for a few days or weeks, while their men scouted out the surrounding country and stepped off 160 acres in places that would be called Powell Canyon, Yucca Valley, Mills Valley, Kilmer Valley, Milldale, Cedar Grove, Loyal and Pleasant Hill.

Not all who came, of course, filed on land, and of those who did, many could not take the hardships, or starved out before proving up, leaving the claim open for the next comer. A survey done years later showed an average of two and a half filings on each quarter in Custer County.

There were three ways of acquiring public land. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave 160 acres to the head of a household who would live on it for five years and make certain improvements; the Preemption Act of 1841 gave 160 acres to any man who would live on it, erect a dwelling and after proving up, pay the government $1.25 an acre. It was possible for him to preempt an adjoining quarter at the same time he was homesteading another.

The third way was by the Tree Claim Act (Timber Culture Act) passed in the early 1870s, giving 160 acres to a settler who would plant 40 acres of trees and cultivate them for eight years. These requirements were later reduced, but even still, were impossible to fulfill due to natural conditions. The act failed in its intentions to forest a barren land and was repealed in 1894, but for a time, it was possible for an ambitious settler to gain title to 480 acres of public land.

Allen added a tree claim to his holdings later and wrote in 1936: “Most men on tree claims allowed the weeds to grow as high as the trees and they never had a chance. I think that is why we see so many dwarfed patches of underbrush around Arnold today.” He had attacked the problem of lack of trees the first summer by setting out the fine grove that would furnish shade and shelter for almost eighty years. The last of these trees were taken out a few years ago to make room for the swimming pool.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sandhills Road Trip Part 3

Leaving the beauty of the Nebraska National Forest, we come to the town synonymous with the forest, Halsey. We were still looking for a local tavern, but again, were unlucky.
We did, however, find the quaint Halsey Frontier Inn, which looks like it would be a fun getaway for a visit to the area.
Nebraska Highway 2 continues to follow the beautiful Middle Loup River valley, which makes the drive extraordinary. Finally at Thedford, we were able to find a place to grab lunch. While it wasn't the picturesque local diner or tavern that we were hoping for, the Sandhills Oil Company did serve a good sub sandwich.
Another gem in the Nebraska Sandhills is the tiny, newly unincorporated community of Seneca. There are still some remnants of the bitter unincorporation political fight visible in town, but it is my hope that over time it will heal.
Seneca has to be one of the most scenic settings for a small town in Nebraska. Early on the railroad recognized the importance of the location, and the community was once thriving. Today, however, it's pretty quiet and many locations are for sale.
 Including the building housing the Cattleman's restaurant.
 There is still a post office.
 And a community center.
 The school is long since closed. My heart tells me that if the right people realized what a beautiful area this is, these buildings could be repurposed.
 Heading out north of town, you can look back toward the town and the valley and experience the beauty.
You'll even see some unexpected sights, as there is an exotic animal farm on the banks of the Middle Loup River.
Farther to the north, the Seneca Road beckons into the distance, but that is a road trip for another day.
You can find out more about Seneca by following their Facebook page.
A little farther to the west, we come to Mullen where we fueled up and headed south toward home.
Here's a quick windshield tour of Highway 97 between Tryon and Mullen.
We took the time to take the Tin Camp road between Highway 92 and Sutherland. Though only a two-track, the road is always worth the extra time that it takes.

Thank you for sharing this Sandhills road trip with us. Plan your own adventure one day soon!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday Stories: Landis Correll

Also coming in early spring (1880) was Landis Correll (pronounced Cor-ELL), an impoverished, unschooled Church of Christ preacher who had crossed the plains by wagon train from his native New York in 1849. Correll filed on the quarter joining Allen’s on the east – present Correll street marks the line between the two claims.

He was joined later by his wife, Martha, daughers, Frances (Gordon) and Lillian (Mrs. Frank Anson and son, Clarence. (The old yellow willow tree still standing in the lumber yard’s southeast corner was planted by Correll in the 1890’s west of his sod house.)
In a young man’s country, Landis Correll was old, sixty, shriveled, with a long white beard, but if any could be said to be the “father” of Arnold, it would be this good and kindly man. No matter what their faith, he served the people well, he married them, buried them and comforted them. The title of the last sermon he preached before his death in 1906 was “Can an old man be useful?”

Commentary: I especially love the quote above in bold. One never knows how significant an effect small kindnesses can have.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Sandhills Road Trip Part 2

As we continued on into the heart of the Sandhills on our road trip to the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey, we traveled along the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway. If you ever have a chance to travel along this byway, I highly encourage it!

North of Arnold, we arrived in the Sandhills community of Dunning.
The community of Dunning now boasts a population of approximately 110, down from a peak in 1920 of 289. It is the home of Sandhills High School, a consolidated school district that serves an area larger than some eastern states.
Downtown Dunning.
The Sandhills Heritage Museum in Dunning. You can find more about the organization on their Facebook page.

Though it is a tiny town, it is rich in heritage, and definitely deserves more than just a quick drive through. We were pretty desperate by this time to find a local pub in which to watch the Nebraska football game, but unfortunately, we didn't find anything open, even on a Saturday afternoon.
The Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway follows along the Middle Loup River valley, and rail fans will enjoy the frequent BNSF trains.
Soon, we made it to our destination - the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey.
According to Wikipedia, "The national forest includes two ranger districts. The 90,000-acre (364 km2) Bessey Ranger District is in the Sandhills of central Nebraska. Encompassing about 63.9% of the forest's total area, it lies in parts of Thomas and Blaine counties. It was established in 1902 by Charles E. Bessey because he believed the area to have once had a natural forest and as an experiment to see if forests could be recreated in treeless areas of the Great Plains for use as a national timber reserve. This effort resulted in a 20,000-acre (80.9 km2) forest, the largest human-planted forest in the United States. Today the forest's nursery supplies 2.5 to 3 million seedlings per year. The Bessey Nursery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places."
The big attraction of the National Forest at Halsey is the lookout tower. One can only imagine the views as the tower can be seen from miles away.
 The views don't disappoint.
There are other draws to the forest, or simply "Halsey" as Nebraskans call it. There are miles of ATV trails, and a 4-H camp that hosts many gatherings throughout the year.

Stay tuned for more of the trip.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sunday Stories: Allen's Homestead

Richard Allen and Lovira Parks had been married in Linn County, Iowa, in 1879. In the spring of 1880 they left Iowa and started the long journey by covered wagon to northwest Kansas, looking for land. When they said goodbye to their home in Cedar Rapids, their belongings consisted of three horses and the contents of the wagon. With them were their baby daughter, Gertrude, and Lovira’s sister, Josephine.
By the time they reached Red Willow County, drought conditions discouraged them, so they changed their plans, passed Kearney and struck the South Loup River, following it wherever it might lead. 
They were farmers and this was cattle country, and the location they chose to settle was between the headquarters of the two cattle companies, Henry Brothers and Arnold & Ritchie.

John Finch was the first cowboy they met on the last day of their journey. He was riding for Henry Brothers in the spring roundup when John Henry’s horse stumbled and fell, pinning the rider underneath, literally crushing him to death. In the vain hope he might be saved, camphor was thought of us as a remedy. As none was available around the cow camp, Finch was sent to get some from his Aunt Sarah. As he rode over the hill at the south of Pine Canyon, he saw a prairie schooner moving up the valley, its occupants the Allen family. They had with them a supply of Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for the baby and Mrs. Allen sent it, along with the camphor, to the injured man, who had died by the time it arrived.

Another family, the Joe Halls, also from Iowa, had come with the Allens, but stayed only a few days before moving on.

Had these land hunters come a year later, their arrival would have been different, but the cattlemen had not yet suffered the winter that was to wipe them out, and settlers were not welcome this summer of 1880.

No sooner had a camp been made than cowboy rode up to warn them to move on, so they packed up and started back down the river, but soon turned and returned to the camp site, angry at the cowboys and angry at themselves for giving up so easily. This time they were left alone, and gradually they made friends with the ranch hands.

The wagon was pulled nearer the river (about on Forrester’s garage site, Mrs. Allen would recall), the covered box lifted from the chassis and set on the ground to serve as a shelter for the family while Mr. Allen put up a small sod house. There were no wells of course, they depended on the river for water.

They longed for a comfortable home but the wagon was well kept, the cover made in sections of good quality canvas that could be opened or closed, depending on the weather. There was a small cast iron cook stove, a collapsible table and bed, and boxes filled with clothing and bedding which served as seats, made comfortable with feather cushions.

Their only water container was a wash boiler, this they filled at the river. When it froze in the winter, snow was melted in the boiler. When they later acquired two cows, these were led to the river to drink.

The family had been camped for a few weeks when Lovira and Josephine’s father, Civil War veteran Morgan Parks, came by rail to Cozad where he was met by Allen. Parks owned a compass and had some knowledge of engineering, so he did the necessary surveying to locate a homestead – a move viewed with alarm by the cattlemen. Part of this homestead would in due time become the town of Arnold.

By summer the soddy was ready, built near the present swimming pool, on buffalo grass criss-crossed by the trails of deer coming to the river to drink.

Due to the cedar robbing of the Powell Brothers Company, there was not a usable tree closer than Pine Canyon, and there Allen went to cut logs for a cabin he built to replace the tiny sod one. The log cabin was finished August 22, 1880. Mrs. Allen recalled papering the walls with old newspapers, using flour and water for paste. The papers went on smoothly over the hewn logs and looked nice. Clothes were hung behind a blanket stretched across a corner. In this cabin they weathered the terrible winter of 1880-81, so devastating to the cattlemen (The 1880-81 blizzard is the same one the Ingalls family endured in the Little House book "The Long Winter).

Gaston and Humphrey’s History of Custer County gives this account of that winter:
Early in the winter a rain began falling. The grass became thoroughly saturated; then it suddenly turned clod and every stalk, spear and blade of grass at once became an icicle – all matted together in one sheet of solid ice. Immediately following this came a heavy snow, from ten to twelve inches deep, which was followed by another rain, and this in turn by another cold wave, the result of which was to cover the surface of the snow with a thick, strong crust. The country was covered with ice and snow until spring. The winter was very severe, the temperature ranging for days and weeks at from ten to twenty below zero…
The legs of the cattle, traveling about in a famished condition seeking food, soon became bruised and bleeding from contact with the sharp crust of snow. There was plenty of feed on the ground, but the cattle could not get at it. They died by the hundreds and thousands… they lay in piles behind the hills where they had sought shelter.

At first, except for Mrs. Swain (Sarah) Finch, Mrs. Allen was the only other woman in the country, and she was often called when help was needed. She nursed the sick and “laid out” the dead. She told of a man riding to her cabin door one morning seeking help for his sick child. The family was camped in a  covered wagon several miles to the east, the child suffering with croup. She took what medicine she had, mounted the horse behind the man and rode to where the wagon stood, but the child was dead when they arrived. She prepared the little body for burial while the father dug a grave. She tried to comfort the broken-hearted parents, but they soon drove on and were not heard from again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sandhills Road Trip Part 1

Late last fall, we took a road trip to rectify a deficit in my Nebraska credentials - the fact that I have never visited the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey. It was a great trip, despite the fact that
the only satellite radio station we could find that carried the Nebraska-Purdue game was a Purdue station. It made the loss so much worse!

In all, we traveled 262 miles through some of the most scenic country in Nebraska.

Our first stop was the beautiful Pony Express Station in Gothenburg. We had hoped to travel the Lincoln Highway from Sutherland to Gothenburg, but it was closed for part of the way, so we just hopped on I-80 at North Platte.
After Gothenburg, we headed north on Highway 47 to Arnold.
As we get close to Arnold, we drop down into the beautiful South Loup River valley.
 Just south of Arnold is the Arnold State Recreation Area, a wonderfully scenic lake and park that is a great asset to the community. You'll be able to read more about the vibrant community of Arnold in my Sunday Story series that will feature stories from the "One Hundred Years on the South Loup" history book.
North of Arnold, the beauty of the canyons continues to intensify.

As you can see, the canyons surrounding Arnold are spectacular! As you read the stories of the pioneers in the coming weeks in the Sunday Stories series, imagine settling this land with only the sweat of your brow and a little horse power to carve a life out of these hills. On another note, wouldn't these canyons make an incredible zipline course?

Farther to the north, we are back in the Sandhills. Enjoy this little windshield tour of the Arnold-Dunning road. This is the road that hosts the annual Sandhills Open Road Challenge Race. This quick windshield tour doesn't do the beauty of the road justice.
 In the fall, the annual Sandhill Crane migration is high and fast. Small groups cover hundreds of miles each day from their nesting grounds in the north to the overwintering grounds in the southern U.S.
However, if you are fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time in the Nebraska Sandhills, you can encounter these small groups as they take a brief respite.

Stay tuned for more images of this incredible area of the Nebraska Outback.