Monday, December 11, 2017

The Ancestors, Part 7

The windmill that was in our valley when we arrived was still there after our well was operating, and we really needed one.  Clyde talked to the rancher who owned it, hoping to buy it, but he said, "Go ahead and use it this winter," so Clyde and Bob moved it up over our well and pump.  We had never heard of borrowing a windmill before.  We had to buy a new one the next spring, the kind that controlled itself so that we could leave it on all of the time.  Clyde ran the water into a covered barrel for house use, then into a big galvanized tank for the horses and our few cows.  Later he build a big low cattle tank of cement and wooden staves.
The garden that we had planted that first spring hadn't done much.  We didn't really know how to plant in sod, but we did think we had a good crop of watermelons, but just as fast as the watermelons ripened the coyotes broke them open and ate them.  We were able to buy potatoes, dry beans, cabbage, rutabagas and beets very cheaply from neighbors to the east who had learned how to garden out there.  It was necessary to have water available during the hottest weather and to build up the soil.  The next year we really had a wonderful garden, even tomatoes, which others didn't really grow, but my aunt in eastern Colorado sent me some very early seed which produced ripe tomatoes by the first of August which were a real treat out there.  Clyde built a really good cold frame to start the plants, which helped a lot.  Tomatoes took the place of fresh fruit.
By Thanksgiving time we were pretty well ready for cold weather, but didn't realize how close it was.  Clyde had picked up loads of chips and piled and covered them with some pieces of canvas and he made his last trip to the railroad, we hoped.  We ordered necessary warm clothes from Sears in Omaha to be delivered parcel post and delivered to our mailbox, which was two miles east of our east line.  Hopefully it was delivered twice a week.  There were four mailboxes standing together on a lonely trail.  Ruth had learned to go for the mail when the weather was good.  She had to get off Molly to open and shut a cattle gate, but Clyde had taught her to close the gate so the cattle could not open it and she never failed to do it right.

Next week: Prairie Dogs and Other Animals.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Ancestors, Part 6



Our barrel of meat that we brought didn’t last as long as we expected it to, because of the extra meals that I got for the travelers who stayed all night at the McNamara place, but Clyde found a very good substitute for it.  While we were haying they went through the cornfield that Bob had plated.  By that time the corn was just in the roasting ear stage and the young prairie chickens had founds them good to eat.  Clyde would take his shotgun, a handful of shells, and Don, and on the way home would get a half dozen young fryers.  Bob showed me how to skin them very easily, so there was no scalding and plucking and they were delicious.  Clyde really got enough for the Frosts, too.  Frostie didn’t have a gun or dog to point the chickens out and knew nothing about hunting.  He finally got enough lumber together to frame a one-room sod house.  When the haying was finished, Clyde, Bob, and another man by the name of Gunn too their tools and really built a sod house for the Frosts.  Little Mrs. Frost had been company for me and enjoyed rocking her baby in one of our rocking chairs every day.  They didn’t get their well down right away and had to carry water from the McNamara place, a full mile, so I loaned our baby buggy to push little Emma.  She wore it out pushing it over the rough ground and next year I wished that I had it myself.
Clyde and Bob spent week cutting hay on our valley for our stock and the stacks they put up looked so small in that big valley.  Then we chose our building spot, up in the northwest corner of our section with hills around on both north and west so we would be protected from the coldest winds.  The building spot was on a slight slope toward the narrow neck of our valley leading into the Wilson place.
Then the well had to be put down.  Clyde had the necessary pipe and a post-hole digger on hand, also some screens that they would need.  He and Bob hauled the materials over one morning and came back at noon very happy that they had reached water at 16 feet and only had to go a little deeper to get good coarse gravel so that the water was clear and cold.  They put a hand pump in and we had all of the best water in the world for as long as we lived there, and I hope it is still as plentiful now as then.  Not long ago I read something that makes me wonder if it will be as plentiful, for the writer said that the Ogallala Aquifer had been tapped for irrigation in three states.  They just called it sheet water when we were there but seems it is really a huge lake that is fed by underground springs.  I somehow feel that they have invaded the water rights of the cattlemen who still live out there and raise cattle for a living.
Theodore Roosevelt had had this land set aside for tree planting, and I really believe if the young trees had been taken care of for the first two or three years they would have lived, but nothing was ever done about his plan and the cattlemen rented the land for two cents an acre for many years.  Then a Nebraska senator by the name of Kinkaid pushed a bill through congress that resulted in the land drawing in 1913.  We who home steadied there were called Kinaiders.
When Clyde was busy one morning marking out his plan for the buildings, dear old Mr. Wilson came over apologetically to tell him that he was starting his buildings on the Wilson section.  Clyde had to take him up the hill to show him his corner pin.  Son Gene had told his parents of how our valley belonged to them.  Clyde hated to see the disappointment on the old man’s face.  Gene had misinformed them on many things.
Clyde built a small sod building, with the idea of using it for storage, but it took him longer to build and the more he worked with the sod the more he felt that it wasn’t strong enough to last.  There was just too much sand and too few grass roots to make solid building blocks.  But the small room would do as a kitchen so he floored it and plastered it and we moved our kitchen equipment into it the last of August.  Then he made a trip to Keystone and came home with lumber enough to build a big frame room that he joined to the sod kitchen.  Before he had it finished Grandpa and Lloyd, his fifteen-year-old grandson came out to see us.  Grandpa loved it.  The weather was beautiful and he would get up as soon as it was light.  He would get on Molly, the little mare that Bob had taught Ruth to ride, and he would ride all over the place.  We had bought Molly from Bob, and Ruth had been herding the four milk cows while we worked on the building.  We had put up the big tent and used to sleep in it and store thing, too.  When we brought the chickens up from the McNamara place we tried to get them to roost in a bi box that Clyde fixed for them, but the insisted on coming inside the new building every night.  They kept furnishing eggs for though, even if we did have to carry them to bed every night.
Grandpa was worried about the new frame room not being warm enough for the cold winter weather that he knew we would have.  He really wanted us to com back to Kansas with him, but there was no way we could get care for our animals and we wanted to get the fenced that fall before it got too cold.  Then he insisted that Clyde let him help build a sod living room between the sod kitchen and the big frame room.  So they cut for sod pulled the frame room away from the kitchen a built a comfortable room which we really did appreciate that very cold winter.  We had a big “Round Oak” heating stove that kept that room warm and comfortable but it took lots of chips and that was the only fuel we had that first winter.  While Grandpa and Lloyd were there they put up a small barn and fence a lot to keep the stock in, and they found time to hunt prairie chickens and wild ducks at some lakes north of us.  The ducks were flying south from over the Canada wheat fields and landing on the lakes over night.  They were fat and such good flavor.  Clyde too Don to retrieve them when they fell in the water.
As I look back, I realize how much help that Grandpa was that fall in getting us ready for winter, and in really warning us of conditions that we had never thought might exist.  The summer and fall had been so ideal, weather-wise.  But after they were gone and some of our neighbors went through our valley on their way home, we were glad that we had made preparations for a different kind of winter than we were used to farther east.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Ancestors, Part 5


My Great Grandmother and Grandmother
Between two of Clyde’s trips to Keystone he stayed for ten days to haul sand for the new bank.  We really needed the money for we hadn’t had much money to bring with us and it was going to be at least two years before we could have income from the cattle that we hoped to raise.  First though, the place had to be fenced, a house and barn built and a well put down.  Clyde and Bob also took a contract to cut and stack some hay for a rancher living east of us.  We had brought a good mowing machine and rake and necessary hand tools.  Then there was Clyde’s violin.
On that first Fourth of July, the cowboys of the area really put on a big celebration in the new little town that was just started for a new county seat.  Rather County had been formed by the state when the land was opened for homesteaders.  By the Fourth of July there had been two buildings put up.  One was a big hall in which they could dance and Clyde and a young fellow who played guitar.  It was a hot day and someone had put up a big tent for people to eat in.  The smaller building was to be a store and they had a few supplies hauled in.  After dinner, everyone went out to watch the games the cowboys were putting on: horse races and potato races on horseback.  They put a big tub of potatoes at one end of the course and with long sharpened poles they tried to carry the most potatoes to another tub about a block across the street.  There was a wild time with the horse tearing back and forth and little boys trying to get out of their way.
I rode home with Bob and his wife, who had come over from their home to spend the Fourth.  The children were tired and so was I.  Clyde didn’t get home until nearly daylight.  If it was not moonlight the ranchers usually danced till it was light enough to see the trails.  This was the beginning of many long trips for Clyde to play for dances all over the area.  He often went on horseback, or sometimes was picked up by a crowd that got together to go a long way.  I tried going with them once or twice, but it was too hard on the children and me, too.  There was no such thing as a baby sitter in those days.  Clyde got a good trio together, a drummer, a good piano player and Clyde with his precious violin.  We practically lived on the money he earned that way.
We also had a Sunday school organized that summer.  A young missionary for the east came to the little tar-paper school house that had been built for the ranchers children, got a group together and organized a Sunday school that was as popular as the dances.  He held the first meeting in a bi tent, a picnic dinner affair.  There were seven different denominations represented.  Among the group was an elderly woman who was so right for the superintendent.  She was the mother of a young fellow that I had met when staying at the hotel in Keystone, and they turned out to be our adjoining neighbors on the west.  She and her husband made a radical change in their lives.  Mr. Wilson had been an officer at the big fort in Omaha.  Their young son who had come late in their lives wanted to be a cowboy, so they had bought a relinquishment, had a nice little four room house built on it and moved from their comfortable home in the city to this raw new country just to please their big red-headed son who knew nothing about cattle ranching and cows that he hadn’t learned at picture shows in Omaha.  He had a good little riding horse and a couple of wolfhounds to chase coyotes with.  But he did have beautiful manners.  His big hat always came off when he came in the house or met a lady and he automatically stood up when a lady was standing.  Gene Wilson was the object of many jokes, be he gradually learned the hard way.  And his mother was as good as a minister in our Sunday school meetings, which we kept going to as long as we were out there.  Later we had a larger schoolhouse, an organ, good songbooks and good membership.  It was the first Sunday school that some of the children had ever had the opportunity to attend.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Ancestors, Part 4

The weather changed to beautiful spring and soon everything was green and birds were singing, mostly meadowlarks.  We had to learn to pick up chips for fuel for the cook-stove.  I had heard my parents talk about burning buffalo chips I eastern Colorado in the 1880s when they homesteaded.  They seemed to dry very soon after all of that rain.
There was a large prairie dog town in the McNamara valley, which was very interesting and entertaining for us.  They were such clean looking little animals, living under ground, but sitting outside until someone or something came near.  Then they scurried below so fast.  They ate the grass bare for several feet all around each borough, so were quite a menace.  Then there were the prairie chickens.  It was mating time for them and they gathered every morning in the valley for a strange ritual.  The little roosters gathered in the center of a large circle, while the hens circled around on the outside.  The roosters looked like little turkeys, spreading their tail feathers and making loud noise for an airbag that swelled up on their neck.  This strange dance went on for maybe an hour, then seemingly the hen chose her mate and two by two they disappeared over the hills.  This went on for nearly a month, but one had to wake up early to watch it.
One night after we had been there for about two weeks, we heard a rattling noise coming up the road that surprised us.  It was a man who was to be a wonderful help to us, in many ways during the first two years, but we hardly knew what to make of it a first.  He had come from his homestead about 30 miles east of us to farm a little on the McNamara place.  He put a cot in the little room that wasn’t occupied and next morning he brought a month’s supply of food in and piled it on my table and told me to divide it with Mrs. Frost, and that he would eat every other mean with us and the others with the Frosts.  We also had many hungry men stop at the end of the day to feed and water their horses and ask to stay in the barn all night.  Very few seemed to have food with them and I really depleted our stock of meant and fruit getting late meals for them.  The place was just a long day’s drive for them and they went on north to their homes with their loads.
Another attraction at the place was a habit of some of the cowboys for neighboring ranchers to gather with some unbroken horses and try to break them in the big corral connected to the barn.  They came with their chaps and spurs and ropes, outfits that I had never seen worn before.  Clyde just enjoyed all of this new and exciting way of living.  He had broken horses to ride at home and had learned to rope cattle and horses at home, so he could enter into the fun.
I marvel at the helpfulness of everyone when I think back, and also the complete honesty of all that helped unload our belongings in Keystone.  The hayloft in which our things were stored was without locks and it took a month at least to get it all hauled out.  Nothing was ever taken and there were so many that needed the very things that were stored.  Also the men drove the trail that went by the McNamara place were all strangers.  We never had anything taken.  They stayed in the barn overnight and left early the next morning with just what they had brought.  Even the house doors had no locks on them.
Bob Wilburn, the man who had moved into the little room and ate every other meal with us, provided to be a great help to Clyde.  He had lived out in western Nebraska for a long time and learned to build with sod, how to put a well down, how to plant in sod: so many things that were new to us.  He had brought a little mare with him to ride and it wasn’t long before he taut our five-year-old Ruth to ride her and was sending her out in the valley for the milk cows.  She loved to do it and learned to love Molly the little Mare, too.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Ancestors, Part 3

from our family archives

Sunday the sun came up bright and clear and very chilly with a cold north wind.  There were four wagons going our way and we got started bright and early.  Clyde had our big mules on our loaded wagon and I had our little team on our light spring wagon with the children and our trunks and food.  There was a fairly goo dirt road for the first few miles, but when we hit the hills and sand, Clyde found that he ha loaded too heavily for the mules, so he stopped and came back to tell me that he needed by little horses and tied my buggy on behind the wagon.  It was really better for the children and me, for the wind was shut off by the wagon and we were more comfortable.
Mrs. Scully had fixed a lunch for us that first noon so we didn’t have to stop for long at noon but we found ourselves only about halfway when we realized that we would have to camp for the night.  We had been traveling on a very rough road, between many small hills, but came to a nice little valley with a windmill and small corral in it where, evidently, cattlemen put up for the night.  We had hired a boy in Keystone to drive our cattle and those that belonged to the three other men.  The grass was long and very damp from the two weeks of rain, but we spread canvas down and Mr. Eilers and I got our supper while the other three men worked at putting up our new stiff canvas tent.  Clyde had cut carefully shaped tent pins, but he hadn’t reckoned on the looseness of the sand.  When the had one side tightly pined down and started to pin the other side down up came the first side.  They finally put weights on the pins and made it stay up.  Mr. Eilers and I had been putting together a new kerosene cook stove and filling it, soaking up the wicks so that we could cook bacon when the sun went down – it got dark very quickly.  Fortunately mattresses had been packed on top of the loads.  The canvas was put in the tent, mattresses were put on the canvas and we all tried to get nights sleep.
One of the men who was with Mr. Eilers had been drinking all week while waiting in Keystone and had bad dreams and woke everyone up including the children, and I had to take Dick outside and walk around to quiet him.  The moon had come up and I never seen such bright moon and stars.  The altitude (4,000 ft) and clear clean air made both moon and starts seem close enough to reach.
We were all ready to get up and get started by daylight.  We got a good hot breakfast and packed up as fast as we could, anxious to reach our destinations as early as possible.  Mr. Eilers had been out earlier and built a cabin on his land and reached it a little after noon, hungry and tired.  We stopped long enough to eat a good lunch, and then Clyde and I started our alone.  We left our cows with the other stock that the boy had been driving and sent him back to Keystone where he lived.  The other wagons took another road to get to their places.
All of the bumping along the trail I had seen very few valleys but many hills and began wondering if there could really be a big valley like Clyde had remembered.  There wasn’t a tree nor a bush taller than a little wild rose bush about a foot high, and once in a while a yucca plant 15 to 18 inches high.  They were called soap weed out there.  But there was grass everywhere, and that was what made Clyde happy, for he intended to raise cattle, and this was cattle country.
About four o’clock we did enter a nice big valley and Clyde said this is the McNamara place and we could see the buildings ahead of us.  But as we got closer we could see smoke coming out of the chimney.  When we drove into the yard, a young fellow came out of the house to greet us.  He said, “You must be the folks that were going to live here.  We took one room, you can have the other.” Just like that.  Clyde was unhitching his four-horse team and said, “Well, that’s fine, you can help me unload my wagon.”  And young Mr. Frost really did help unload our big heavy kitchen range, table and chairs, beds and the first and most important things to get started on.  This young couple and their nine months old baby had driven a covered wagon from Iowa to try to get a start of the section that he had drawn, with nothing but a small stove, a bed, table and a couple of chairs.  No farming equipment, no money.  The house consisted of two huge rooms, built in an L shape with a small connection room.  When the Frosts go out that far, they asked a neighbor if he could move into the empty house and the neighbor, not knowing that we gotten permission from the owner that it would be all right.  We felt sorry for them and really had plenty of space in that big room, when we got it arranged.  As it turned out it was rather a good arrangement, for Clyde had many more trips to make to Keystone and I was not alone so many nights.  Also Clyde took a job in Keystone using his big team of mules to haul sand for a new cement bank they were building and I would have been alone for two weeks.  We needed the money for winter that he earned and he could spare the time.
Family archives: I love to think this is Ruth seeing her new home.
The morning after we got there and had nights sleep and some breakfast, Clyde said, “Well let’s go see our new home.”  I was almost afraid to go, for fear he would be disappointed.  We drove up a hill on a fireguard (a wide plowed strip that the government required the cattlemen to keep bare on the perimeters of the land that they had rented for grazing.  It was a beautiful morning, clear and bright, and we I saw our valley; it seemed even better than Clyde’s description.  It had a windmill and big cattle tank on it that the cattlemen hadn’t removed.  That made it look like a real ranch.  There were hills on the corners, but about 350 acres in the valley.  I had to shed a few tears of real joy.  We hadn’t had a home of our own and had given up building the new house in Kansas.  This just seemed an answer to my prayers – to be alone.
I have used first person in writing this so you might see us as two very confident ambitious farm-raised young people starting a new life.  Clyde was 29 and I was 24.  We had already seen some of the hard times of life, but felt this was a new opportunity, and a real challenge.  We stayed on top of that hill for quite a while, then went back to our borrowed house, grateful that we had a good roof over our heads.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Ancestors, Part 2

From my family chronicles.  This picture of my great grandfather in 1909 is such a treasure.  I remember him well, as an old man.

Clyde's Brother, my Great Grandfather, Oscar Henry Tilley
Two days after Clyde left the home station, Grandpa took my trunks, my two little ones and me to the depot at Frankfort and put us on the train.  I’m sure it nearly broke them up for they did love the children so much, but I didn’t realize it then.  We had to change trains in the middle of the night and had a long wait in a cold depot.  After we got into Nebraska the track ran along the North Platte River and it rained all of the way.  The next day we pulled into the little town of Keystone about noon.  It was still raining – no one was on the station platform but an old man pushing a cart full of baggage.  About two block an expanse of mud and water I got to building with a big sign on it saying Scully Hotel.  Clyde had told me to go there if I arrived before he did, and as he was nowhere in sight, I picked up my luggage and baby and Ruth and I waded across the mud.  I open the door to a room full of men and tobacco smoke.  They were all interested in the location of our land; for most of them were waiting for the rain to stop they could get on their way to their land.

Mrs. Scully, both owner and cook was busy putting dinner on the table, family-style, a hearty meat and potatoes noon dinner.  They made room for us and we were glad to have a good hot meal for it was really chilly.  When Mrs. Scully got around to it she took us up stairs to a small bare room – no carpet, just a bed, a washstand with a bowl and pitcher on it, one straight back wooden chair and a “potty” under the bed.  My sleepy little boy was ready for his nap, but Ruth was too excited to lie still, so we went back to the smoke filled room and big rough friendly men.  Three of them were to be our near near neighbors, if one could use the word near, for each of us would be on a square mile of land.

I was disappointed that Clyde hadn’t come in the day before, for there were only three trains a week on this line, but I thought sure he would be in the next day.  When the train was due on Wednesday, several of the men put on their rain coasts and were ready to go down to him unload, but there was no emigrant car side-tracked.  I was really disappointed but the men assured me that if often took a week to be picked up by trains that were to carry animals that needed to be unloaded every twenty for hours, which as demanded by law.  So Clyde didn’t get in until Friday.  Several of the waiting men went to down to the car and helped him unload the whole car in one afternoon.  They loaded one wagon with the things we would need most when reached the McNamara place, which would be our home for the first few months.

The weather was showing signs of clearing up, so Saturday morning I went to the only grocery store in town and bought a long list of staples and some quick foods that we could eat on the long slow trip the next day.  Some of the men spied Clyde’s violin and wanted him to play for a dance Saturday night.  Homesteaders and cowboys are always ready to dance and it was not easy to find music for it out there.