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.


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