My great-aunt wrote about her family and her childhood, from Fayette County in Illinois, to Buffalo County in Nebraska, to Texas, and then back to Nebraska.  This portion tells of their life and the conditions in Nebraska from 1885-1894.


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Excerpts
From an Autobiography

by
Pauline Amanda Schukar Stubbs


      My parents were married in 1880 at my mother's parents home in Fayette Co., Illinois.  My parents came to Armada in Buffalo Co., Nebr, in 1884 (by train).  In 1885 they moved into a sod house on the Brink Butterfield ranch and lived there until 1891.  In 1887 on March 10th I was born.  Since mother had no people here, her sister Amanda came from Illinois to help her.  In 1888 my sister Josephine was born on Dec. 30th.  In 1891 we moved to a farm three miles north of Amherst that was rented from Jim Broadfoot, who later sold it to a Hostetler, and slowly accumulated some cattle, hogs, and horses.  We kids (there were also 2 older brothers, Adolph and Fred) used to herd cattle on the open prairie.  In 1893 another sister Eleonora joined us.

      I can remember they fought many prairie fires with barrels and gunny sacks.  One especially I remember was on a Sunday forenoon.  My father had gone to church and got home just in time to help the other members fight it.  My mother was overcome from heat and exhaustion of fighting to save a straw hen house, and was nearly blind for days.  Everyone always kept a strip of land plowed all around the buildings called a fire break, as most of their out-buildings were made of hay or straw.  Rattle snakes were a common sight also but none us us was ever struck or bitten by one.  Coyotes came close to homes and carried off pigs or chickens and my father would shoot at them and sometimes kill one at night.

      {One extra comment: yes, relatives on both sides of the family were Schukar.  Emma and Carl were second cousins and had the same surname even before they were married.}

      In 1894 it was very dry and three days of south-west hot winds burned all crops and grass to a crisp.  It was then they felt beat, so my parents [Carl and Emma Schukar], my mother's uncle [August Schukar] and family, also my father's uncle [Carl Henry Schukar] and family planned to leave by covered wagon for elsewhere.  They all agreed it was not to be back to Illinois, however.  At that time some men from Texas were advertizing land bargains, so uncle August was sent to look at the country.  He came back highly elated over the land and the price.  They sold their cattle and grown hogs for almost nothing and started getting the wagons ready.  Another neighbor and family joined to go as far as Oklahoma so they had twenty-four horses and six wagons.  They started with crates of chickens tied on the outside of the wagons and also wash tubs, boilers, forks, spades, etc.  They fried down fresh pork, put it in five gallon crocks, covered it with lard which sealed it so it would keep as hogs were so cheap and it was a great help.  We took no cows.  It took some time to get ready but by September they were ready to start.  They crossed the Platte River at Kearney as it was bone dry.  They all met there the first night to camp and check their supplies.  They planned to go about forty miles a day.  We had many breaks and hindrances, crossed rivers at crossings that cattle men had made and used, many gullies with no roads.  Through Kansas, Oklahoma and its mountains we had to waste many miles to find a trail.  One was called the "Devil's Backbone" and it was.  It took two days to get over it.  We had to double up teams on one wagon at a time.  We crossed some rivers that way, too.  One man on horseback always had to take the lead.

      How good it seemed when Sunday came and they rested the horses.  The men would go hunting if it looked worth while and the women washed chothes.  How good that food tasted cooked over a camp fire! They made the best biscuits by putting one iron skillet on the three legged stove over the live coals and then turning another one upside down over the top.  They were so nice and brown.  They also roasted meat that way and, of course, any food was delicious.  We all did much walking to rest us from riding.  The horses finally had to have shoes as one by one they had become foot sore.  We tried travelling from sun-up until sundown, but if we found an exceptionally good camping place we would stop earlier.  We never met any Indians except friendly ones who could talk and understand a little English.  One day we came to a lovely river and the horses just couldn't get their fill of good water.  Later when we tasted our coffee it was so salty no one could drink it and there was really worry about the horses, but I don't remember that it had any effect on them.  On that Saturday we came to an unusually beautiful mountain and decided it would be a lovely place to spend Sunday.

      We decided to try climbing the mountain so all of us young enough and old enough started out.  {Pauline's younger sister Josie, who was not quite 6 years old, was deemed too young.  Her disappointment about not being included was one of her few memories of the trip.} My father had to pull me up and over many big rough rocks.  We finally made it to the top and it was quite level with straggly weeds and almost square chimney-shaped box-like rocks sticking up that was a growth of isinglass.  You could cut it off in slices and was used in heating stove doors or lantern chimneys and many other uses.  Then the climb down and we found it had taken eight long hours and were we starved.  I heard all these things discussed and retold so many times that I could remember them.

      We planned making the trip in four weeks, but it took six so we made it in the middle of October.  The uncle and grown sons got ranch jobs right away.  We found a nice little four-roomed house right by the river so they did a lot of bank hook fisihing.  They caught big catfish six to 12 pounds and really enjoyed them.  That land was full of rocks and no good for farming so we only stayed there through Februrary, then traveled another month through much timber across the state to El Campo, Wharton Co., Texas, where it was mostly level prairie.  There were, of course, agents anxious to have people settle on that land so four of the relatives including my parents bought one section and built houses.  The houses were built up on big round blocks or tree trunks about three feet off the ground to make them cooler and safer from hard rains as that soil was like clay.  We kids used to mold play dishes and pans out of it that would hold water for days.  Cotton and sweet potatoes had to be planted on listed ridges as water would stand in the ditches for days.

      They planted the field and their garden in February, and the first crop of cotton would be ready to pick in July, and the plants would be in full bloom for the second crop and we would finish picking it in December.  We had long sacks made of coarse material with a strap over the shoulder to drag them.  Our shoulders would get very sore and skinned up from dragging them all day.  It couldn't be picked while the dew was on it or after a rain, and a heavy rain would knock it out of the bolls that it grew in and get it muddy; then it would be second class or grade cotton and not bring as much on the market.  At that time it was only two and a half cents a pound.  A whole bale would be worth only about sixteen dollars and it took a double box wagon to make a bale.  Any one who could pick a hundred pounds a day was a number one picker.  I was nine years old then and twenty pounds a day was a good day's work.  That was the only crop they had to sell as they couldn't raise corn or small grain because a weevil worm would get into it.  Hogs wouldn't fatten on any food but corn, so they were just razor backs.  We never owned a cow the three years we lived there, as those Texas longhorns wouldn't give milk except to their calves and were so mean to handle.  We had a flock of chickens and we had to get the eggs to market twice a week or they would spoil..  We got about five to seven cents a dozen.  They couldn't make caves or cellars as they would fill up with water as it was so close to the surface.  The grass was wonderful and the hay also and plentiful, but it had no strength.  The horses couldn't do a day's work without some grain.

      The houses were only built with wide boards and slots over the cracks to keep the rain out.  They also need a good roof and screens but not because of flies.  The animals needed lots of shade and smudges against muskrats.

      Mother learned to make cakes and rolls without milk or butter.  We all learned to love sweet potatoes and kept some in the oven most of the time to eat for between-meal snacks.  We couldn't can any as there was no cool place to keep them.  We did have jellies as berries grew plentifully in the woods about a half mile from our place.  The woods also provided fuel and fence posts and all kinds of big timber to build with.  There were also walnuts and the biggest pecan nuts you ever saw.  We would gather a wagon load and dump them in the yard to eat all winter.

      We never needed any shoes until we got ready to move back to Nebraska.  It snowed one time while we lived there, but it melted as it fell.  It seldoms snows there but it rains in torrents and the next day we could pick up crawfish and a small sort of lobster by the bucketsfull. The boys would cook the tails and eat them.  The shell would come right off like shrimp.  I never liked them.  Winter was far more livable than summer even if we did pick cotton until Christmas.  Our first year there we didn't get even a stick of candy.  The folks told us that Santa Claus just hadn't found us.  We couldn't believe it so we looked everywhere all over the place but found nothing.  So we had to believe it, but we were a bunch of disappointed kids.  But they just couldn't afford anything.  The next year was a little bit better.  We girls got ten inch dolls with china heads and the boys got some games.

      We were all German Lutherans and on Sunday morning we would all go to the old uncle's and he would read the Bible and prayer book to us.  Some Sundays we would spend at one or the other homes.  We had no other neighbors so we almost forgot what little English we knew.  My brothers had started school before we left [Nebraska], and my aunt worked for a real English family for six years [presumably in Nebraska], but we were far from a school there, and in those days education wasn't so important anyway.  My parents had gone to German school [she in Illinois, he in Germany] so they could read and write German and my father did learn to read English print.  He could read newspapers but couldn't write.  Mother could correspond with her family.

      During our second year there some people from Lincoln, Nebraska, came out there and as one of the cousins wanted to sell his place and go farther south, my folks bought his place and sold theirs to the folks from Lincoln.  So then we had one neighbor who wasn't related but who soon became one of the clan and exchanged work with the men.  They had only one small daughter.  We lost all track of them after a few years but we did enjoy them as neighbors.  My family had many card games with them and even dances.  My mother played the accordian, and one cousin played the violin and some mouth harp.

      With all of them having to make payments on their land, they barely eked out a living, so we all planned on selling out and leaving.  But where to go? My father said, "Right back to Nebraska," so in January of 1897 he had a chance to sell our place and they weren't long in making up their minds.  The people who bought it were anxious to move in, but it took some time to get all the arrangements made and not much money.  So it was decided that my mother and two sisters would come on a passenger train as children under eight could ride for free, and my two brothers and I would be hide-aways in the emigrant car that they shipped the household furniture, machinery and six head of horses.  They built us kids a hide-away out of hay bales so my father of course took care of the stock and kept us fed as we couldn't bring much [food] with us as it would have spoiled.  About a hundred men and boys watched them load that car and we didn't get to leave until late into the night.  All the rest had already left.  My father smuggled us into the car and into the hide-away and then left a hole the size of a bale for us to get in and out.  He had to be on the watch all the time so the brakeman wouldn't see us.  That was on my tenth birthday 1897 [March 10].  Every day the car was side tracked so Dad could water the horses and then at night a train would pick us up and we would travel all night.  Our hide-out was built well or it would never have stood the trip with all the awful bumps we got when the car was sidetracked.  We had a lantern all day and at night my father would make his bed right by the opening as we were pretty scared.  Ours and the horses toilet facility were the same and thankfully it was removed twice a day.  We did get fresh water twice a day and we could eat any time he dared to go to some store if there was one and there were no railroad men hanging around.  It was some ordeal, but we finally made it to Kearney [Nebraska] on a Saturday night sometime, although we were going to live at Watertown right close to the track.  They had to unload at Amherst as Watertown had no depot agent.

      We stayed with old friends for a few days, then with my aunt a few more days, then finally got moved in and settled.  The house we moved into belonged to my mother's cousin, by the name of August Horstmann.  He had ... run a blacksmith shop, but ... moved to Staplehurst, Nebraska.  They had built the bouse and shop so my folks rented it for one year and then bought it.  It wasn't plastered so they had that job to do before winter.  They used the shop for a barn and another little building that was there for a hen house.  It was full of ear corn that some man had stored there.  I remember that my father paid eleven cents a bushel for it.  Watertown at that time had two other families living there.  An Al Fitch who owned the general store and the post office and a nice home.  His help lived in the other house.  Watertown had a nice depot, stock yards for loading cattle and hogs, a grain elevator, and got its name because trains took water there.  There was a large reservoir and a large windmill on a hill just west of it.  The water was piped down to a huge stand pipe.  At that time there were two trains daily, one to Kearney from Callaway and back, and one from Callaway to Kearney and back [each train going just one way each day].  They hauled much freight and passengers, though of course the cars and engines were not as large as now days.  How we enjoyed watching all that.  They had one passenger car on each end and what a treat it was to see all the people come and go. Family or friends meeting them or seeing them off, and the loading and unloading of the stock.

      They had built a new school house just west of the tracks.  It had opened the fall before we had moved there and had thirty-two scholars, and what fun we had after school racing around that depot platform and walking the rails and ties on the tracks, and how our parents would warn us to look out for the cars as we had to cross the tracks to go to school.

      At that time we all used water from the stand pipe as our place had no well.  They would haul a barrel full on a little sled built for that purpose and one horse could pull it.  We used it for washing and cleaning, but for drinking water we would carry it as they had a stand pipe there, too, and one at the store where my father put a trough to water the stock and travelers could water their horses.  The Fitch's had an old oaken bucket well.  We used railroad water for two years, then had a well and windmill on our place.

      We rented land for eight years and then bought it.  It was good fertile land with some pasture and hay.  We got two hundred forty acres for fifteen dollars an acre and thirty years to pay.  By the time it was paid for, [Dad] had paid enough interest to make thirty dollars an acre and that was cheap in 1910.

      In April of 1897 my sister and I started to school.  We hadn't heard anything but German all those years and we had a terrible time understanding what we were supposed to do, but several neighbor girls who were also German helped us out many times, and by the next fall I was put into the second grade.  I learned fast for my age listening to the higher grade scholars when they recited their classes and also from the work that was put on the black board, especially from the the spelling down sessions.  At age twelve when I was through the fifth grade I had to start German Lutheran parochial school for two years.  That was a must for all of us until the age fourteen when we were confirmed.  That school was also new and the teacher or minister was the church minister.  He was middle aged and very strict.  Many boys barely learned to read as my two brothers older than me, and they never got back to English school again.  Education and add common figures one could get by.  Mother could read and write German and I learned, too, but my two brothers and sisters never could, but then I got more English school.  At fourteen I was old enough to stay at home and work, and the boys were considered grown up at sixteen and were doing a man's work.

      We had neighborhood dances and parties and played cards and other games to pass the long winter evenings.  We would go in groups in wagons and often in sleds.  Every family used them as the roads weren't worked much in those days, just enough so they could get through.  It was sure lots of fun.  Finally we had spring wagons and then carriages and top buggies.  Any boy who owned a nice buggy and a good driving team felt he had it made and had no trouble getting a girl and a wife even though he owned very little else.

      What fun we had in our long dresses.  Our stockings must never show.  Even our shoes were high and buttoned and we better not lose the button hook as every household only had one even if they did only cost a nickel.  If you did lose one you could use a hairpin, but they too were scarce, so just better not lose one.  After age fourteen all girls wore their hair pinned up in some way and that took lots of pins.  In our long ruffled dresses we dared not fly too high in a fast waltz or polka, or we were called over the carpets by our dads.  When the dance was at our house, the fiddle was great, or some times an accordian or in a pinch even a mouth harp would do.  When we went to the homes of parents who thought dancing was wrong we would sing and play party games that were the same as dancing, but it was the stepping to music that made it a sin to some church people.  My parents liked it in their young days, so allowed us to do it, and to this day I can't see the wrong in it unless people make it wrong by their actions.

      For the first year that we lived in Watertown we had no cow so we bought milk and butter from Bligh Swift [who had boarded] with my parents on the Brink ranch.  They were neighbors now, living in a little three-roomed house and I would go to their house after a half gallon of milk and one pound of butter every morning.  We had no place to keep it cool, but they had a milk tank like most farmers had in a milk house and all the water from the well run by a windmill would run through it.  It was quite an invention.  He was milking six cows and never allowed his wife to help him.  He took care of the churning and the washing of the pails and jars and all.  I always admired him for being so good a husband, but the neighbors both the men and the women thought him henpecked.  They had a large family, lost four in infancy but still raised ten all younger than I was.  How I loved those babies as we didn't have any at home any more and I would stay and play with them longer that I was supposed to a lot of times.  His wife had many good laughs at my broken English or should I say dutchy as we were called at school.


      Great-aunt Pauline continued her narrative with more personal things, what we have here is about one-fourth of the total.  Because the readers might want to know, Pauline Amanda Schukar married Duncan Stubbs, had ten children, and died in 1975 at the age of 88 years.

Mona Mueller Houser -- HeritageHunt@Sandyview.net





© Oldtime Nebraska -- Excerpt from an Autobiography   submitted by Mona Mueller Houser -- May, 1998    Graphics by Ginger Cisewski