Perhaps no body of men, not excepting the clergy, may exercise a greater influence for good in a community than those who follow the profession of the law, and it must be admitted that to no other body, not even to the so-called criminal classes, are committed greater possibilities for an influence for evil. What that influence shall be depends upon the character of the men who constitute the bar of the community -- not merely on their ability or learning but on their character. If the standard of morality among the members of the bar is high, the whole community learns to look at questions of right and wrong from a higher plane. If the bar, consciously or unconsciously, adopts a low standard of morality, it almost inevitably contaminates the conscience of the community. And this is true not only in the practice of the profession itself, not only because of the influence of members of the bar as men rather than lawyers, but in the effect upon other professions and occupations to which the bar acts as a feeder. The members of the Legislature are recruited largely from the legal profession. How can legislation, designed solely for the welfare of the public, be expected from one whose honor as a lawyer has not been above suspicion? And since lawyers, outside of the Legislature, have a great influence in shaping the law, how can the people expect that influence to he exerted in their behalf when the bar itself is unworthy? Still more does the character of the bar affect the judiciary, which is supplied from its ranks. It is not always, perhaps not generally, the case that members of the bench are chosen from those lawyers who have attained the highest rank in their profession. If a judge be industrious and honest but not of great ability, or if he be able and honest, though lacking industry, the rights of the litigants are not likely to suffer seriously at his hands. But there have been instances where judicial office was bestowed solely as a reward for political service; and while it is sometimes realized that one who has been a strenuous and not too scrupulous politician up to
the moment of his elevation to the bench, has thereafter forgotten that there was such a trade as politics and has administered justice without fear or favor, the experiment is a dangerous one. No one need be surprised if in such a case the old maxim holds true: "He who buys the office of judge must of necessity sell justice." Let our judges be men who are subject to other influences than those of the facts submitted to them and the law applicable to those facts, let them lack that independence which is an imperative requisite to one who holds the scales of justice, let a well founded suspicion arise that their decisions are dictated by something outside of their own minds and consciences, and the confidence of the people in the maintenance of their rights through the agency of the courts is destroyed.
It has been the good fortune of the City of Columbus and the County of Platte that the members of the bar here have been, for the most part, men of high character as well as of ability and learning, so that its bar has won a high and honorable reputation throughout the rest of the state and because of the high character of the bar it has followed that those of its members who have been elevated to the bench have enjoyed the confidence and respect of the public and have been honored not only in their own locality but in many cases throughout the state and in other states.
Yet the preparation of a history of the bar, so far at least as that part of it which lies back of one's own generation is concerned, is attended with considerable difficulty. Probably few men who in their time play important parts in the community or even in the state or nation leave so transient a reputation as lawyers do. A writer on this subject, who took for his text "The Lawyer of Fifty Years Ago," said: "In thinking over the names of these distinguished men of whom I have been speaking, the thought has come to me how evanescent and limited is the lawyer's reputation, both in time and space. I doubt very much if a lawyer, whatever his standing, is much known to the profession outside of his own state." Those who attain high rank in the profession must realize that with rare exceptions, their names are "writ in water." One may turn over the leaves of old reports and find repeated again and again as counsel in different cases the name of some lawyer who must have been in his time a power in the courts, only to wonder if he has ever seen the name outside of the covers of the dusty reports in which it appears. Hamilton, in the conventions, in the Federalist and in the treasury, and Webster in the Senate and in public orations, have perpetuated and increased the fame of lawyers Hamilton and Webster; but were it not for their
services outside the strict limits of their profession one might come upon their names at this date with much the same lack of recognition as that with which one finds in a reported case the names of some counsel, great perhaps in his own time, but long since forgotten.
And there is another difficulty in preparing such a history as this, brief and therefore necessarily limited to a few names, and that is that some may be omitted who are quite as worthy of mention as those whose names appear. It is not often that any one man stands as a lawyer head and shoulders above the other members of the profession; and the same may be said of any half dozen men. In many cases the most careful measurement would fail to disclose a difference of more than a fraction of an inch, if any. Lives of eminent men who have at some period been practicing lawyers, have contained the assertion that while they were engaged in the practice of their profession they were the "leaders of the bar," but there is almost always room for doubt as to whether the title is not a brevet bestowed by the biographer alone. Therefore the mention in this article of certain lawyers must not be taken as any disparagement of those who are not mentioned, and finally, it is to be observed that this article, so far as the bar is concerned, will treat not only of those members who are past and gone, but will make mention of some of those now in the flesh. But first, attention is directed to the judicial districts in which Platte County found herself at various times.
Prior to the year 1875 there were only three judicial districts in the State of Nebraska. The judges of these districts were also members of the Supreme Court of the state. The judge of one of the districts at that time, who presided at the Platte County Court, was Judge Samuel Maxwell, who resided at Fremont, Dodge County, Nebraska. The territory of the district attorney was equal to that of the judge, and he usually traveled with the judge on the circuit, attending courts of the different counties in the district. The judge would come to Columbus, it being a more central point from which he could more readily reach some of the adjoining counties, and the district attorney, M. B. Hoxie, who resided in Schuyler, Colfax County, would accompany him. It was the custom of the judge, the district attorney and some of the attorneys from Columbus to go out on the circuit and hold courts in the different counties. At that time there was very little accommodation--scarcely a hotel at the county seat at which the court was to be held, and scarcely more room at which to put up than sufficient to accommodate the judge and the district attorney. The attorneys were sometimes compelled to lie on
the floor for want of room or place to sleep. That was the condition for a few years until the new county was sufficiently populated to construct courthouse buildings and the town sufficiently large to erect hotels.
The first district court was held in Platte County in 1859; Chief Augustus Hall of the State Supreme Court presided. Judge Hall had been a member of Congress from Iowa and was appointed by President Buchanan as Judge Ferguson's successor, as one of the territorial judges. He was a short, very corpulent man, with a round, benevolent face, like a full harvest moon. This jurist had the perfect respect of the bar and it was said that his decisions were rarely reversed. The old log, grass-covered Company House, which was donated to the school board and used as a schoolhouse, then abandoned for that purpose and later known as Saints' Chapel, was used by the court for its first sittings and rooms in the American Hotel were secured for the juries.
Judge Hall was gathered to his fathers and was succeeded by William Pitt Kellogg, of Louisiana fame. He was followed on the bench by his uncle, William Kellogg, of Peoria, Illinois, who presided over this court and others in the district, which was then a large one, until Nebraska became a state. At his first term of court the office of prosecuting attorney was held by Robert Moreland, who by no means was an ornament to the office. He had previously been bound over for breaking the peace and the only indictment returned that term was against the prosecuting attorney for assault and battery.
Numerous changes since 1875 have been made in the judicial districts of the state, the number being increased as population increased. At present Platte County is in District No. 6, which includes Dodge, Colfax, Merrick, Platte, Boone and Nance Counties. At the time when courts were first held in counties before courthouses were erected, the court might be held in some small place. If the judges reached the place by noon of a certain day, court would be called at once and business proceeded with and, possibly, the cases that were then on hand, which might number a half dozen or more, were tried during the day and night, and the next day the judges and some of the attorneys would proceed to the next county seat and hold court in like manner. This was the method of doing court business at that early day -- all work and very little deliberation, but in the main justice was done, possibly, nearly as at present.
Under the enlargements of the number of judicial districts in 1875, the first judge after Maxwell was George W. Post, and after his term expired he was followed by his brother, Judge A. M. Post.
Various judges since then to sit at this place have been: William Marshall, J. J. Sullivan, J. A. Grimison, J. G. Reeder, Conrad Hollenbeck and George Thomas. Two of these judges, A. M. Post and J. J. Sullivan, served as judges of the Supreme Court of the state.
Prior to 1875 the lawyers in practice at the Columbus bar were: Leander Gerrard, A. B. Pattison, John E. Kelley, John G. Higgins, Charles A. Speice, Michael Whitmoyer, Nelson Millet, Byron Millet, his son, and J. O. Shannon. When I came here, Gerrard, Higgins, the Millets and myself went out in the adjoining counties on the circuit with the judges at every term of court.
Prior to 1875 Leander Gerrard was considered the leading lawyer of this place. J. G. Higgins was an active lawyer and about that time was elected county judge of Platte County. A case was tried before him, at which time, among other things, there was a hand saw brought into court for the purpose of being identified, and one of the attorneys in the case requested that it be filed in the court in the records of the case as an exhibit. The judge said, "No, sir, you can't file that saw in this case; there is disturbance enough in the court now." He was a good trial lawyer and became successful.
Speice did not practice very much but gave his attention to other affairs, being in partnership with J. E. North in the real estate business. Nelson Millet and his son, Byron, were in partnership under the firm style of Millet & Son. They were considered rather strong at the bar, were good trial lawyers, had a familiarity with the principles of the law and knew how to expound them. The firm was successful. Nelson Millet is deceased and Byron Millet is now practicing in the State of Washington.
Shannon was in the practice here when I came. He was then a man of middle age. He was not very successful as a lawyer. He is deceased, but had left here some years before his death.
In 1876 A. M. Post came to practice at this bar, and a partnership was formed between Leander Gerrard, Michael Whitmoyer and A. M. Post, under the firm style of Whitmoyer, Gerrard & Post, which firm existed until Post was elected judge in 1878.
The attorneys who followed as practitioners at the Columbus bar after those that are first named prior to 1875, have been somewhat numerous, as the following list will show: J. G. Reeder, G. G. Bow-
man, William McAllister, Stephen McAllister, J. J. Sullivan, William Cornelius, John M. McFarland, C. J. Garlow, John M. Gondring,--Crawford, William O'Brien, W. M. Hensley, Richard Cunningham, J. N. Kilian, I. L. Albert, C. N. McElfresh, Grover Long, J. D. Stires, Lewis Lightner, Findley Howard, August Wagner, Otto F. Walter, Charles A. Woosley, B. P. Duffy, J. C. Martin, Maynard Hurd, ____ Geer, F. M. Cookingham, R. P. Drake and W. I. Speice.
I. L. Albert, J. D. Stires, M. Whitmoyer, James G. Reeder, A. M. Post, W. N. Hensley, C. J. Garlow, W. A. McAllister, W. I. Speice, C. N. McElfresh, William O'Brien, Lewis Lightner, August Wagner, Findley Howard, R. P. Drake, Grover Long, Otto F. Walter.
The pioneers of the healing art in Platte County were the guardians of a widely dispersed population. Aside from their professional duties, they contributed their full share to the material development of a newly opened country. Some were men of culture, who had gained their medical education in college. Others were of limited educational attainments, whose professional knowledge had been acquired in the offices of established practitioners of more or less ability in the sections from which they emigrated. Of either class, almost without exception, they were practical men of great force of character, who gave cheerful and efficacious assistance to the suffering, daily journeying on horseback scores of miles, over a country almost destitute of roads and encountering swollen, unbridged streams, without waterproof garments or other now common protection against the elements. Out of necessity the pioneer physician developed rare quickness of perception and self-reliance. A specialist was then unknown, and the physician was called upon to treat every phase of bodily ailment, serving as physician, surgeon, oculist and dentist. His books were few and there were no practitioners of more ability than himself with whom he might consult. His medicines were simple and carried on his person and every preparation of pill or solution was the work of his own hands.
Dr. Charles B. Stillman was the first man of his profession to locate in Columbus and was one of the original pioneers of Columbus, coming to the place in March, 1857, a few months after its founding. He was a native of Connecticut, first seeing the light of day in the year 1831. His parents moved to Illinois when he was three years of age, and obtaining a common school education, the young man, in 1856, graduated from the medical department of the Iowa State University. For nine years after his arrival in Columbus he was the only physician and druggist in the county. He had his office and small stock of nostrums in a "lean-to" of a log cabin, which was the
RESIDENCE OF DR. WILLIAM S. EVANS, COLUMBUS
home of the priest. Charles A. Speice had a log house, then standing on the site of the Catholic Church afterwards built on the south side, into which Stillman later moved and remained until he built his drug store in 1866. Doctor Stillman was a good physician for his day and generation and had a large practice. As a man and citizen he was a valuable adjunct to the community. He held the office of county clerk from 1868 to 1872 and was also register of deeds, the two offices being combined. He served some time as surgeon for the Government, was coroner of the county and the first mayor of Columbus, so it is said.
Dr. Jeremiah Polley was here early in the '70s or later '60s and practiced the profession of medicine; but no one here can say whether he was a graduate of any medical institution or not. He was a kindly, gentle old man, and attended to the sick and ailing when called upon. There are many still living in Columbus who remember him quite well, although he died a number of years ago.
Dr. Edward Hoehen, a native of Switzerland, graduated in 1853 after taking a course of lectures, from the University of Zurich. He immigrated to America in 1857 and to Columbus in 1862, where he became quite prominent in his profession. The doctor was a member of the Maennerchor.
Dr. J. S. McAllister, who located in Columbus in the '60s, was a physician of the old school and also a dental surgeon. He was hospital steward and assistant surgeon of the Thirty-fourth New York Volunteers in the Civil war. He also served in the Fifth Regiment as its major and acting company commander, and while on duty at the Washington arsenal, as officer of the day, witnessed the execution of Mrs. Surratt and other conspirators against the lives of President Lincoln and others. He was successful as a physician, as a dentist and in photography.
Dr. Samuel A. Bonesteel was a regular physician of the old school, who located in Columbus in 1868. It was not long before he built up a large and lucrative practice. He was a native of Canada. He graduated from the medical department of the University of Michigan in 1867 and first located at Detroit. He also graduated from the medical department of McGill University, Montreal, Canada, in 1881. He was married at Columbus, July 4, 1871, to Louisa D. Weaver. He was a member of the Nebraska State Medical Society, of Lincoln, and of the Medical Society at Omaha.
Frederick J. Schug, a native of the State of Ohio, attended the public schools of his home town, then took courses of medical lectures
at Louisville, Kentucky, and New Orleans, graduating from the Columbus (Ohio) Medical College in 1876. After studying methods in the chief cities of Europe, he came to Columbus and began the practice of his profession, in which he made a success. In the '80s Dr. Schug was appointed surgeon for the Nebraska National Guards and also became a member of the important medical associations of state and nation.
Dr. Carroll D. Evans is a native of Pennsylvania, born in 1856. He acquired a good common school education and was a student at Duff's Business College, at Pittsburgh. A preparatory course in medicine was taken in Philadelphia and graduation was from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Baltimore, in 1882; also a postgraduate course at the New York and Chicago Polytechnic the same year. He began practice in 1882 at Bradford, Pennsylvania, and remained there one year. Then removing to Columbus -- in May, 1883 -- he opened an office and became eminently successful. He was at once appointed physician at St. Mary's Hospital and for many years was the leading surgeon of that institution. In 1902 he was appointed by the governor a delegate to the American Congress of Tuberculosis, at New York, and delegate to the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, at Washington; in 1903 he was appointed surgeon-general of the State Guards, and by the State Medical Association as delegate to the American Association, at Milwaukee. The doctor is not only prominent in medical circles, but also in military and fraternal societies.
Columbus always has had men of the medical profession whose abilities have been of a high order and their social standing unquestioned. Those now practicing in the city are Drs. C. A. Allenberger, C. H. Campbell, A. G. Luschen, F. B. Cyphers, F. H. Morrow, D. T. Martyn, Jr., William Neumarker, W. S. Evans, B. C. Tiesing, D. T. Martyn, Sr.
In answer to a circular letter, issued by Doctor Wilkinson, of Lincoln, secretary of the Nebraska State Medical Society, requesting the physicians of the several counties to organize medical societies within their respective counties, the following physicians of Platte County assembled in the parlors of the Meridian Hotel, on the evening of the 12th of February, 1902: Frank Grabel, of Creston, P. H. Metz and J. M. McKinley, of Humphrey; F. H. Geer, D. T.
RESIDENCE OF DR. CARROLL D. EVANS, COLUMBUS
Martyn, Jr., Hans Petersen, Homer F. Hansen, H. J. Arnold, L. C. Voss and B. C. Tiesing, of Columbus.
A motion was made and carried that a county medical society be organized. Dr. H. J. Arnold was then made temporary chairman, and Doctor Tiesing, secretary. A constitution, already prepared, was then read by Dr. L. C. Voss. The organization was then perfected by the election of H. J. Arnold, president; Dr. B. Tiesing, secretary; and Dr. F. A. Hansen, treasurer. Dr. J. McKinley was selected as the delegate to the next meeting of the Nebraska State Medical Society. Drs. Frank Grabel and P. H. Metz composed the committee on program; Drs. D. T. Martyn, Jr., and F. H. Geer, on credentials; and Drs. Hans Petersen and L. C. Voss, on arrangements.
The society has maintained considerable interest in its meetings, which take place quarterly. Theses and papers pertinent to the profession are carefully prepared and read and discussed by the members.
The present members of the society are as follows, namely: C. A. Allenberger, D. T. Martyn, Sr., D. T. Martyn, Jr., C. D. Evans, William S. Evans, W. R. Neumarker, Charles H. Campbell, B. Tiesing, F. H. Morrow, H. J. Arnold, of Columbus; Robert Seasongood and A. A. Bald, Platte Center; F. B. Cyphers, Duncan; D. G. Walker, Lindsay; H. G. Morris, Creston; George F. Pugh, P. H. Metz and F. E. LeMar, Humphrey.
Other physicians practicing in the county but not members of the society are: L. C. Voss and E. S. Ross, Columbus; B. L. Benthack and R. N. Ryan, Platte Center; E. A. Conley, Humphrey; E. J. Gillespie, Monroe.
Past & Present of Platte County, Nebraska - Volume I
The natural resources of new countries provide liberally all the necessities for human existence, until such time as the pioneer may acquire, if diligent, a more reliable and convenient supply, better adapted to his previous habits and customs. The Indian was not destructive during his occupancy of the country and left for the white man's use all the wealth of game and forest and soil, just as he had received it from Nature's bountiful hand. Thus the pioneer settlers found in great affluence wild game and fish.
If the settler came during the spring or planting season of the year, usually his first employment was in planting such crops for which he was able to prepare the ground, and then came the building of a sod or log house; meanwhile, "camping out" in the wagon or in a tent, for all were prepared for outdoor living. If he arrived at other than the springtime, house building was first in order of importance. The pioneer always settled either in a forest, or on the prairie borders of one, but in the latter case, a little way in the timber. And, if he was early enough to have choice of a location, he selected a site facing the prairie to the south or east. In nearly every case the settler had been born, raised and always lived in a heavily timbered country. But he found here far more prairie than timber and, instinctively, he seemed to know that, soon or late, he must use the prairie largely for farming operations. Thus, most of the early settlers sought to include in their "claims" a piece of adjacent prairie land.
The settlers of 1857 and years later, without an exception, built and dwelt in sod and log houses. The sod house was constructed of the tough, fibrous sod of the prairie, which was cut in square blocks and laid together, like the modern cement block. Walls constructed with this crude material were strong and durable, and made for
warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer. Primitive mortar, made of the mucky soil, served to weld the seams together and smooth the inner walls, which often were whitewashed and gave to the eye a very homelike and presentable appearance. As a rule, probably two-thirds of the structure was below the surface. It usually was square and was provided with a door and window. Becoming thoroughly dried by the hot summer winds and the heat of a roaring fire in the winter, this common habitation of the Nebraska settler proved to be comfortable and served the purpose of economy well and satisfactorily.
The log houses were of three general types -- of round or unhewn logs, hewn logs or built of "poles." Where the settler had time and help was sufficient, he hewed the logs in timber, where the trees were felled, and hauled or dragged them to the site of the house. Enough men were then notified on a certain day he would have a "house raising." It was universally the rule that a notification of a "raising" was a "draft" on the services of the man notified for that whole day. He was not invited, requested, or even asked to attend; he was simply notified. Of course, there might be some prior engagement that would prevent the "notified" person from being present and, for this reason, upon notification he was asked but one question: "Can you go?" During the first year or two so thin were the settlements that sometimes "drafted" neighbors would have to go from eight to fifteen miles.
As the "raisings" began early in the morning, so as to be sure of a finish by night, those from a distance must start before breakfast time at home. But as no breakfast was served at the "raising" they must hustle out early. Some sort of a dinner, served in some sort of a manner -- the best the newcomers could possibly do under the circumstances -- came at noon. As a rule, no supper was served and none expected. Of course no pay for the day's work was given, or would have been accepted if offered. It was a duty each settler owed the newcomer in return for like service rendered him when he came to the country.
The early settlers of this county were largely teetotalers, or very moderate users of intoxicants, and, therefore, it was the exception when whisky was furnished at these "raisings." When offered at all to those who chose to drink, moderation was the rule, since to take too much was dangerous to the others.
The "raising" of a log house included the carrying up of the four sides, the gable end logs; proper placing of the cross poles, or logs,
which held the gable end logs in place, and to which the clapboards would be nailed or weighted down by poles, and such sills for the floor to rest upon as the owner chose. The door and window places and fireplace were left for the owner to cut or saw out as he chose and the roof and floor he could add at his convenience.
The "raising" of an unhewn log house was in the same manner. Generally, the owner would later employ an expert to hew the logs in the wall. Good hewers were rather scarce and if the owner could not hew, he had to build his house with the crude logs and hire a hewer when he could. Good hewers commanded higher wages than common woodsmen, and for hewing logs in the wall a still higher price was demanded, it being more difficult and slower work, besides, the logs, when left for some time, became more or less seasoned and consequently tougher.
A "pole" house was built of very large and straight poles, or small logs, never hewn, and otherwise built as regular log houses. Comparatively few were erected and they were far from desirable. They were intended but for temporary use as a habitation and eventually were turned into use as stables.
Log houses cost little except in labor and often were completed without the expenditure of a cent. Nothing was bought -- not even a nail, a window glass or a door hinge. In such case the roof was of clapboards, weighted down by large poles, laid from end to end of the roof across the lower end of each tier of boards; the windows were of light colored paper, well oiled or greased; the doors were "batten" ones, made of puncheon or clapboards, fastened together by wooden pins, and hung by wooden hinges. The fastening consisted of a wooden latch.
The early settlers found the prairies covered by grasses that grew tall and coarse and rank, some kinds growing taller than a man. Some seasons the "blue joint" grew as tall as a man's head on horseback. The grass roots were large, coarse and matted the ground so closely than in places in the sloughs near the surface there were more roots than earth. Such pieces could not be broken by any plow the first settlers had.
The very early settlers did not come prepared with plows and teams strong enough to break either the heavier prairie lands or the brush. For several years after settlement began only the easily
AN EARLY DAY SOD CHURCH IN NEBRASKA
plowed pieces were brought under cultivation. In those days all kinds of plows were made at individual shops and wholly by hand. If a farmer needed any kind of a plow, he went to his favorite blacksmith and gave his order, to be filled when his turn came. But not every blacksmith was a plow maker.
Thus, for three or four years the little fields of the settlers were mostly along the edges of the timber, where some trees could be deadened and later removed as they decayed, or there came leisure time to cut them down and burn them. And then close along the timber line the grass sod was easier to break. It should be remembered that at first there was but very little or no brush -- it was either timber or prairie because the great, sweeping prairie fires kept down all kinds of undergrowth.
The earlier settlers brought few horses or cattle, which led them to adopt the custom of "splicing" their team forces when breaking land. A little later on "breaking" became a business quite exclusively its own. Plowing had to be done at a certain season of the year, between May 20 and about July 1, while the grass and brush grew most vigorously. As this was also the cultivating season of the year and corn was the leading crop, a farmer could not both break and cultivate the same season, so that one or two men would rig up a suitable breaking plow and with plenty of teams (always oxen), make contracts with those in the neighborhood wanting breaking done and continue the work during the breaking season. The price for breaking until 1870, when the custom mostly ceased, was around $3 per acre, for prairie land, and $4 to $5 for brush. Horses and mules were seldom used, and never on brush land, because they were too fast in their movements and not steady enough. Oxen were slow, steady-going animals, stepping no faster when the draught was easy than when it was heavy. However, considerable of the prairie lands, during the early '70s, were broken by horses and mules, because clear prairie and the sod had by long pasturage become much easier broken.
During the first few years very few bedsteads were brought from former homes by the settlers. As soon as the log cabin was covered, two 2-inch augur holes were bored into the logs, the proper distance from one corner for the length and breadth of the bed, a round or squared post for the other corner support prepared, into which like holes were bored; round poles were fitted into these holes for bed
railings -- and the bedstead was completed. Bed ropes were always brought along. Sometimes pole crosspieces were fastened to the logs or wooden pins along the logs, to which was fastened the inside section of the bed rope, and thus was made ready for the bed clothes. To economize space, trundle beds were made to fit under each bed of standard height. These were for the children, but often were used by "grown-ups."
In those primitive days nearly every family kept a flock of geese. The very early settlers usually brought along a pair of geese, sometimes more, which traveled along with the cattle and sheep while moving. These furnished feathers for beds and the woman who could boast of the largest number of feather beds stood supreme among the women of the neighborhood. Every family who could afford them slept in winter between two feather beds. To say of a family, "Why, they haven't a feather bed in the house," was to express the direst poverty of their condition. Until comparatively late years, if the parents failed to give a newly married daughter a good feather bed, it became the talk of the neighborhood.
The boots worn by the early settlers were coarsely made. Women's shoes were of much the same rude material. Indeed, women and girls often wore men's boots, especially in snowy and muddy weather. The footwear was bought ready made at the stores and seldom were mended, but worn as long as they held together. Women and children usually went "barefoot" from early spring to late in the fall. Men also followed this practice in the season of the year when their work admitted it. Men, women and children roamed over the prairie, through brush and timber, in their bare feet when it seemed impossible for human endurance, and many women and children, whose work did not require protracted hours in the cold and snow, wore no shoes during the winter, substituting for them home-made moccasins fashioned out of remnants of woolen clothes. Cash was always required to buy boots and shoes, and that was generally scarce and often impossible to obtain. A pair of boots or shoes was the limit of affluence for nearly all persons in the country. Going "barefoot" was necessary, if not popular. There was no caste or exclusiveness in the pioneer days of Platte County and necessity established customs. So that when one neighbor tried to "lord it over" another, means, were at hand to discipline the culprit. Often even large girls
were laughed out of wearing shoes at summer school. The "barefoot" scholars set the "pace" and insisted on it being observed by all. It was common, during the '60s, to see women and men at religious meetings in their bare feet. This all seems strange to us nowadays; but necessary economy in all things then required sacrifices of this character.
In most country neighborhoods there was some one who mended boots and shoes -- cobblers they were called. Once in a while a farmer, who mayhap had worked in an eastern tannery, would make a try at tanning a few hides at home for himself and neighbors. The leather turned out proved of inferior quality, but as it cost nothing but labor to produce and the raw hides were cheap, the stuff answered many purposes.
The first blacksmith in the county was Jacob Ernst, who settled in 1857 in Columbus, bringing with him a small supply of tools, besides a bellows and anvil. There was, of course, very little blacksmith work to do in 1857, that being the year after the first settlements of the county were made. Later, he did not care to work much in his smithy and abandoned the bellows and anvil entirely.
Before 1865 blacksmiths made everything required by their customers, out of bar iron or steel; horseshoes and nails were pounded out by hand. Until about 1870 charcoal alone was used by the smiths in this county.
At first and until sawmills began to cut the native timber into lumber in the latter part of 1857, there was no employment for mechanics in woodwork. Buildings were all of logs and the finishing of them was of the rudest kind. The pioneers were, with rare exceptions, all farmers, and the exceptions readily adapted themselves to that industry.
As sawmills increased and people began to use the lumber for houses and other purposes, workmen in wood appeared. Some were carpenters, who could build a house but were unable to put in doors, windows or do the finer work inside or outside; this class of work belonged to "joiners" and there were many more carpenters than joiners. Ready-made doors or windows were not in the market, so that all had to be made by the hand of some local joiner out of native lumber. Unless a carpenter and joiner had the contract, a carpenter
would do the rough work and the joiner finished the job ready for the plasterers. During the middle '60s ready-made doors and windows came on the market and a few years later were on sale in smaller towns. This nearly ended the trade of joiners and since then the carpenter and joiner, as such, rarely has been heard of.
Prairie grass was the only kind of stock feed, except grain, for several years after the county was settled. Until the advent of mowing machines, near the middle '60s, the grass was cut with a scythe. This was a slow process, but generally the grass was heavy on the bottom lands and in the prairie sloughs. The upland grass was a finer quality for hay than bottom or slough grass. It cut much less to the acre and was neglected until the quantity on the bottom lands, and increased number of stock, made the use of it necessary.
It is very often the case that the overabundance of a supply in its raw state results in great scarcity in its prepared state, through negligence to prepare and wastefulness after preparation. Thus with a wilderness of prairie grass it was often that in the spring hay was scarce and very high in price. Occasionally a considerable migration through the country, or influx of settlers, would cause the scarcity and high prices. If either of these came in the spring, when otherwise there was a shortness of supply, woe unto the man who had to buy, if he had the money, or pity for his stock if he did not! In the spring of 1859, during the California travel through the county, wild hay sold as high as $40 and $50 per ton, and many were unable to purchase at any price. Settlers hauled hay as far as a day's travel one way to the roads over which the caravans were passing, went into camp and sold out their hay as they could, and then returned home feeling highly remunerated for their time. In selling hay those days, if the whole load was not "lumped off," it would be disposed of by the armful, or the seller would size up the physical ability of the buyer to carry hay, and then offer him as much as he could carry in his arms for so much. A man can never properly estimate the amount of hay he can carry until he has some experience in thus measuring hay at the rate of $50 a ton.
At the period of this great scarcity and demand, and at some later and similar periods, settlers mowed the previous year's grass, mixed it with the new hay, and sold it. Rank fraud and swindle as it was, often the buyer had to take it that way or go without hay for his
hungry team. Some years later, a very elderly and pious farmer, then in this county and well off, at least in this world's goods, bragged to a neighbor, pointing to a fine eighty acres of well cultivated land he owned, that he entered it all with money obtained by selling Californians "last year's grass," cut in the spring and mixed with good hay. He even set up justification for his reprehensible acts, repeating the same old argument: "Others were doing likewise. I may as well have their money as the other fellow."
Wild hay was put up in this manner: The grass was mown with a scythe, left two or three days in the swath to cure, forked into small piles, and when abundantly dried, hauled home and stacked. Oftentimes the mown hay was raked together and then pitched into piles. However, danger from prairie fires and theft generally prevented stacking where cut. Grass that would not make from three to five tons per acre was not considered worth cutting during the first ten or fifteen years.
Preparations for the burial of the dead in the very early days were simple and cheap. At first there were no sawmills for the making of lumber and none was brought by the immigrants. On rare occasions someone had a whip saw, with which to make a few rough boards. Up to the time when sawmills began to turn out rough boards coffins were made out of such crude material. Sometimes "puncheon" boards, made by splitting straight-grained logs into strips as thin as possible and them hewing them smooth, were good material for the purpose. Occasionally a portion of a wagon box was cut up and used, or a box in which articles were packed by the family and brought into the country.
By 1860 the local lumber supply began to furnish material for coffins and there were carpenters enough in the country to make them. In every considerable community there was at least one carpenter, who made a specialty of supplying coffins for that neighborhood. In case of a death, the deceased was measured and an order sent to the favorite carpenter and it was the unwritten law that the carpenter, upon receiving an order for a coffin, should drop any work he had on hand, except it was a similar one, and forthwith finish the order, which usually required one day. The body of a deceased person, as a rule, was kept over one whole day and buried the next. If the day following the death happened to be a Sunday, the carpenter made the coffin on that day, regardless of the artisan's religious
convictions relative to working on the Sabbath. In such cases, making a coffin was not considered as labor, but as a Christian duty due from any neighbor in assisting in the burial of the dead. After 1860, and for several years, the usual charge for making a coffin ranged from nothing up to an exchange of work, "time for time," the family of the deceased, in the same manner, paying for the lumber, and sometimes furnishing it. In Columbus professional coffin makers charged from $2 to $5, according to the size and style of finish. In these primitive times now in mind there were no extras to a coffin. The woodwork and (later) screws were all. At the very first, when lumber began to be plentiful, many coffins were plain boxes, the same size from end to end. Soon afterward, however, they were all made about in the proportion of two-thirds the width of the body for the head and one-half the body for the feet; no handles were attached. The top was all of one piece, which was nailed to the receptacle at the beginning, but later screws were used. The top, usually, was not nailed or screwed down until the last thing before lowering the coffin into the grave. At the bottom of the grave a deeper depth was dug, in size just long and wide and deep enough to hold the coffin. Then over it a single layer of rough boards was placed crosswise the length of the grave. Upon the death of a person, one or two neighbors were asked to dig the grave, the person representing the family having already selected the place in the burial ground. No charge was made for the work, and after the body was lowered into place volunteers remained to refill the grave.
Usually some kind of brief religious services were conducted in connection with the burial proceedings, by a preacher, if one was convenient, or by some elderly person of the neighborhood of kindly and religious bent. As for several years there were very few public places for gatherings, and at first none at all, funerals were held direct from the late home of the deceased to the burying ground. A prayer and a hymn or two at the house, a procession of neighbors in wagons or on horseback to the grave, a similar short service at the grave, and the ceremonies were at an end. It was customary, even among nonreligious families, to arrange with a minister to preach the funeral sermon at a later date. Because of the scarcity of ordained preachers and their prior engagements, sometimes these funeral sermons were not delivered for weeks or even months, and in rare cases over a year might elapse between the funeral and the sermon.
In nearly every instance the body of the deceased was kept one whole day and two nights. Watchers for the night were arranged by
the neighbors. During the very early years, generally, families were quite a distance from each other, and often couriers had to be sent to inform them of a death. Assistance, if needed, was plainly asked and always promptly given. Even if neighbors were not on friendly terms there was not the least hesitancy about asking for or receiving assistance in case of a death, no matter when they had ceased to be on speaking terms. The occasion of a death often restored friendly relations between neighbors. In those times two of the watchers always remained close to the deceased, one at each end of the casket. This close watch was for the double purpose of protecting the body from attack by rodents, or other enemies, and to detect any sign of life, but the custom has long since disappeared from this section of the country.
The prairie settlers were in great danger of prairie fires, between the time the frost killed the grass in the fall and the coming of the snows of winter, and from the going of the snows toward spring and the growth of the new grass. The grass grew generally from two to eight or ten feet high and very thick on the ground. The settlers were confined to the timber belts along the streams and their little fields furnished but little if any obstruction to a big prairie fire. At first there was little or no brush and a belt of timber, unless of much width, would not stop it. With a high wind a prairie fire would advance at a speed now unbelievable, in most cases almost as rapid as the wind. because the wind would carry sparks and blades of burning grass through the air, igniting the grass long distances ahead of the body of the conflagration, thus continually starting new fires ahead. On an open prairie, before a high wind, no horse could run fast enough to keep up with it. Such rapidly moving fires, however, were only occasional.
Early in the fall it was the supreme but oft-neglected duty of a settler to burn wide fire guards around the exposed sides of his improvements. These guards were made by first plowing three or four furrows next the improvements, and another set of furrows several rods on the prairie side. Sometimes the latter furrows were not plowed. Then the first very calm spell that came the whole family, if large, was called into the work -- or, if the family was a small one, then two or three neighbors were called upon, and the grass outside the inner furrows was set on fire in one place, close to the inner furrows, if no outside furrows were plowed, or if plowed, the fire was
set farther out. Each person was supplied with small bundles of switches, easy to wield with the two hands. One person would extend the firing line slowly and cautiously, because the wind might prove teacherous and blow quite suddenly from any direction. When the fire had burned back far enough, it was whipped out with the switches. And thus the work proceeded until the fire guard was finished. Usually burning fire guards was done some windless evening and often lasted until far into the night.
Besides accidents caused by a sudden rising of the wind, or negligence in whipping out the last spark, once in a while inexperienced settlers would attempt the work alone.
In spite of all preparations against prairie fires, quite occasionally the guards would be jumped by sparks of flying leaves, grass, or rolling, tumbling weeds. Tumbling weeds were greatly in evidence in those days and were the cause of great danger in times of fire. They grew to great size, several feet in diameter. Before a high wind they would roll many miles, or until they reached timber or some obstruction, like a fence. In case of a prairie fire they carried flames a long distance over burned or plowed ground.
Among other things with which the pioneers of Platte County had to contend was an annual visitation of grasshoppers. These pests swooped down upon cornfields and other growing crops, vast, black armies of them, and within twenty-four hours they had every growing plant stripped bare and ruined. Their devastations took on the form of calamities to the farmers, as they were left without any crops to garner, which meant no seed for future planting. Many were left utterly destitute and appeals went broadcast over the country for assistance. The state was called upon to help the needy procure seed and the minutes of the commissioners of this county contain resolutions of its members that the board supply seed to all worthy citizens of the county, whose losses from the grasshopper scourge prevented them from supplying their needs in any other way.
The press of Nebraska filled its columns with details concerning the visitations and devastations of the grasshoppers. In 1857, the Advertiser complains that "grasshoppers have been mowing the prairie farms for some time." The Huntsman's Echo "regrets to learn that clouds of grasshoppers migrating south have for several days been doing considerable damage at some of the ranches above." The
Omaha Republican of June 16, 1865, notes the presence of myriads of young grasshoppers in the northern counties making sad havoc with the crops. "That region has suffered from this scourge several times before, and if the ravages this year are as great as they were last it is enough to depopulate the country." In 1866 the Plattsmouth Herald states that grasshoppers are making sad havoc of vegetation in Salt Creek and Weeping Water regions. The Nebraska City News says: "From almost every quarter of the country we hear complaints of the ravages of grasshoppers. Fields of corn, wheat, oats, etc., are being swept away in a single day. The gardens in the city have suffered terribly from their onslaught." By July 1 the News breaks out in rejoicing because "Northward the grasshoppers take their course. Not one remains to tell the ravages done by them. The chickens since their departure are dying of starvation. They refuse to eat anything but fresh grasshoppers." The same paper advises settlers to let the grass on the prairies remain until spring and then burn it and 40,000,000,000 of young grasshoppers.
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