Items of Genealogical Interest
Volume 13 Number 5
LaVonne I. Bennett
LaVonne has received permission from Grayden Slowins to edit and submit Sebewa Recollector items of genealogical interest, from the beginning year of 1965 through current editions.
THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR,
April 1978, Volume 13, Number 5; submitted with written permission of current
Editor Grayden D. Slowins:
HOMESTEADING IN NEBRASKA By Pearl Reed - In the early 1880s many Civil War
veterans went west to take up homesteads. They went with their mule teams and
covered wagons. Some took their wives with them and some let their families come
later on the train. Alonzo Ferguson was one from the Portland, Michigan area to
go west. He took his wife and son and daughter. After he got there he wrote to
Thomas Corbett Lyon of Danby and wanted him to come west and take up a homestead
also. This was in the northern part of Nebraska.
T. C. Lyonís first wife was a niece of Alonzo Ferguson and that made the
connection for us to go. My father, T. C. Lyon, had an auction, sold his
personal property and went west with his wife, Mary Brooks Lyon with their two
daughters, Jessie and Pearl and these many years later I am Pearl Lyon Reed
doing this narration. My father had come from Ohio with his father, mother and
sister, Augusta May Lyon.
I was born in Danby Township. I was a year and one half old and had had whooping
cough pretty bad and no one thought I was going to live but the Nebraska air was
good for me and my mother, too. My sister, Jessie, was older than I. I was born
October 14, 1887 and we went west in either February or March of 1889.
We arrived by train at Long Pine, Nebraska. Byron Ferguson met us there and took
us to his home. We stayed with the Fergusons for a while and then rented a farm
near them. It may have been the Avery farm. I donít remember seeing that farm.
Probably in 1890 we moved to the Thompkins farm about five miles southwest of
Bassett. Papa had bought a team of mules, a wagon, a half interest in a plow, a
few chickens, one pig and one cow. Our home was a one-room house papered with
newspapers---The Portland Observer and The Grange Visitor. It was from these
papers that I learned my ABCs. We always had the Portland paper to keep up with
We were right in the open prairie. Between the house and barn there was a trail
we could see where people had come with their covered wagons ahead of us. The
buffalo were gone by this time but there was a buffalo wallow beside the road.
At school we used to play drop the handkerchief in a ring around the little
buffalo wallow. I suppose I could have picked up buffalo horns but we never
saved any. I have said many times that we did not use buffalo chips for fires
but really we did. The climate was very dry.
The beautiful climate, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets and sometimes a mirage
helped to cheer people up out there. The land was level as a plate and there was
no difficulty plowing it. The crops on this Thompkins place were not very good.
I have records of the butter and eggs sold there. Papa planted wheat, oats and
corn and potatoes for our own use.
I remember that while we were on the Thompkins place that Jessie went to a
school called the Crooks school across the railroad track. I visited that school
one day and I still have the Winston geography book that I looked at when I
On the Thompkins place on November 23, 1891 my little brother, Walter Alfred
Lyon was born. My mother was very sick for a long time. I remember Jessie washed
the dishes and she was yet pretty small. We had this one-room house and then a
shanty attached to it. For heat we bought some coal and then there was a place
down on Long Pine Creek---they called it the section forty---where we could get
pine trees for wood. Perhaps somebody had taken up the claims down there but it
was used as a public area where people went to get wood. Crops were pretty poor
and food was pretty scarce. One day the only cow we had laid down and died. Of
course Papa bought another cow right away. When he wrote to Michigan that our
cow had died Uncle Henry Brooks went around among the neighbors and took up a
collection to send us $25 to replace the cow.
Our team of mules were named Jack and Jennie. One was almost black and the other
was a kind of a mouse color. The barn was a very tiny, small barn. Father was
busy in winter with the chores.
The railroad went from Omaha farther west to Valentine and other towns. At an
Alliance meeting my folks went to, they met the Crabtrees, who remained lifelong
friends. They had one daughter a little bit older than Jessie and they were
always chums. At the Alliance dinner---a potluck---they paid ten cent dues.
After dinner one of the men came into the house and said ďeverybody get your
teams and wagons as quick as you can. There is a storm coming.Ē They did get out
of there really fast and went home. During that blizzard we burned some corn
that Papa had in the shanty. It must have been corn that he had put in there for
seed for the next year but he burned it for fuel to keep warm. He tied a
clothesline between the house and barn so that he could get out to do chores
without getting lost in the blizzard. The next day he did not go to the barn all
day. There were two nights that he did not go to the barn on account of the
blizzard. Then the sun shone before night. Thirty degrees below zero was quite
We got our mail once a week and sometimes not that often. We had to drive in to
town to get it---that was Bassett. Long Pine was a little larger town but in the
1900s Long Pine got to be almost a ghost town and Bassett grew to be the center
of the state, almost, for cattle conventions.
My brother, Walter, grew up and bought a farm near Papaís farm in Danby near
Frostís Corners. In 1918 he was stricken with the flu and he was one of many
Danby boys who died that winter. He was buried on the first Armistice Day.
We stayed in Nebraska seventeen years. We moved from the Thompkins farm to a
contested timber claim. This timber claim had only two trees growing on it but a
half mile away was a beautiful grove where people had planted trees and did not
have to live on the timber claim to get the deed to the land. Then Papa bought
more land until he had about 400 acres all in the same section. There was no
schoolhouse in that area. People met at our house---two neighbors came in---to
organize the school district. Papa was the director as long as we lived there.
Dave Litz was one of our neighbors on the adjoining section. Papa and Mr. Litz
found a small schoolhouse that they could move down across Long Pine Creek.
Everybody knew how to put two teams on a house and move it. When they moved the
schoolhouse across the creek our mules were so afraid of the edge of the bridge
that they almost pushed the other team off.
Dave Litz was treasurer and Herman Clauz was the Moderator at the School
District. The schoolhouse was located a half mile from our house, a half mile
from the Litz house and a half mile from the Clauz house. We were west of the
schoolhouse. Our first teacher was Gertrude Harrison. That little schoolhouse
was still standing when my son-in-law, John Stair, and Ben Root went to Wyoming
We were in Nebraska for 15 years. It was my parentsí homesickness that brought
us back to Michigan. Papa and Mama were homesick for all the fifteen years but
they couldnít sell their homestead for enough to buy a farm in Michigan. During
the years of the drought there was one covered wagon after another, sometimes
three or four at a time, following the railroad on the way back east to the
places they had once known. Litzs had come from Iowa and the Crabtrees from
Illinois. Oscar Sylvester Crabtree and Bert Smith had come west with their
covered wagons and mule teams. Mr. Crabtree was a blacksmith and he was also a
sort of a carpenter as was my father. Mr. Crabtree built a fairly good house
with an upstairs in it and he also had a better barn than we did. The lumber was
shipped in on the railroad to Bassett.
After we moved to the homestead we moved the little house and shanty onto the
homestead. Then Papa bought another building that he put in between the little
house and the shanty. It was larger than the first building. That made our
kitchen. Papa was a carpenter enough so that he fastened it onto the house.
In our community we had box socials, play parties where we sort of danced our
round dances on the grass. We always had a supper of some kind, sometimes home
made ice cream. When the Morrisís came from Kentucky and the Davenports also
came from Kentucky, they started a church at the schoolhouse and we had church
and Sunday School and Epworth League there. The church was organized as a Free
Will Baptist group. There was a boy from Long Pine that came and started the
Epworth League---a Methodist institution. These other two families started the
church and occasionally we would have a minister come---there was Tommy Holt and
Elder Frazier and Albert McGath as the young man with the Epworth League.
There was a cemetery near the Cook school on the north side of the railroad
track. The first funeral I remember going to was that of Mr. Litzís mother. The
Litzs lived in a sod house. When his mother died, his two brothers, Andy and Ben
Litz and Dave all wore overalls to their motherís funeral. Mama thought that was
pretty bad. Papa always wore his wedding suit to all the funerals he went to. He
still had his wedding suit when he came back to Michigan. I do not recall any
funeral director or undertaker. There was the lumber wagon to move the home made
casket to the cemetery. None of my family died in Nebraska and we were always
very thankful for that. Also none of the Crabtree family was left there. When
Mrs. Crabtree died, they brought her back to Illinois for burial. Mr. Crabtree
sold his farm and lived with his daughter for a while after his wifeís death.
The Fourth of July and Christmas were the two big days of the year in Bassett.
One speaker came to Bassett came to give a fourth of July speech. He said that
he had passed so few houses in coming that he wondered where all the people came
from. People came from far and near when there was a Fourth of July celebration.
We would have horse races---horse and saddle, not a sulky race. There were some
fire crackers. We had a pavilion covered with branches they had gotten from the
woods along the creek to make a bower over the plank floor put there for a
dance. I cannot remember what was the source of the music. That was the only
time I ever saw Papa dance. He danced with Florence Crabtree. Mother never
danced. She had joined the Methodist Church when she was young and she did not
believe in dancing.
I remember Christmas on the Thompkins place. I found a little boy doll in my
stocking. He was dressed like a little sailor boy. There was not very much in
the way of candy or peanuts but there were some. The first Christmas after the
schoolhouse was brought in there before we had started school, we had a
Christmas tree from Long Pine Creek. It was decorated with popcorn and a few
cranberries on strings. There was a doll on the Christmas tree but it was not
for me that time. I had had a doll before that so I did not get a doll this
time. I donít remember of any Santa Claus attending any of our Nebraska trees.
At another Christmas we had a tree at our house. The tree kept up a slight
movement. People wondered what made that tree move. A few knew that Mrs.
Crabtree had brought a cracker box about a foot square with a rooster in it and
that caused all the commotion. I think the Litzís came to the Christmas tree
also. Our families were very close. Mrs. Crabtree made me a pin cushion stuffed
with wool from the sheep they had. We often said that Christmas and Fourth of
July were about all there was to living out there. After the phonograph came
around we would meet at the schoolhouse and play the phonograph records. We
usually had ice cream and cake afterward.
For games at school we played pom pom pull away, drop the handkerchief and
anti-I-over. We did not have any woodshed at our schoolhouse. It was anti-I-over
the schoolhouse and we never broke a window that way. There were no serious
discipline problems with the school children. We had four months school in the
fall and four in the spring. January and February were months of such bad
weather we did not have school then. We had July and August for vacation in
summer. Sometimes we had a different teacher every term. One teacher drove from
Long Pine with her horse and cart. She drove past our house so that I used to
ride with her once in a while.
One day on the way home from school I saw something in the little wheel track
and I though somebody had lost a piece of rope. When I approached it a little
closer it wiggled and I saw it was a rattle snake. I gave it a plenty of room in
getting around it. We saw many rattle snakes out there. We were always scared of
them because a rattle snake bite was pretty likely to be fatal. I heard of a
lady at Ainsworth who was bitten by one. One of my teachers had been bitten by a
rattle snake. She was pretty sick afterward but she lived through it.
Nebraska surely was not like Michigan. One time we had bought some cabbage to
make sauerkraut and my folks wished they had a stone to hold down the cover on
top of it. We went across the road and picked up enough stones in a gallon pail
to make a weight to put on the sauerkraut. Our fields were as level as a plate
but a little farther back in the pasture there was a low place where once in a
while there would be a little water standing in it.
The Fergusons had built a house right in the edge of the sand hills. They were
three miles from us. They had a lovely house. Not only was it plastered but the
plaster was covered with a kind of a glaze. When they sold their farm and house
and moved to Kansas, the house was cut in two pieces and Dave Litz bought half
of it and the Garland family bought the other half. Mr. Ferguson had a nice
barn. It was fun to go to their barn because you could go upstairs in steps
while the other barns did not have steps in them.
We always had cats. We never had a dog until just a short time before---well, we
had a dog when we lived on the Thompkins place. It followed Papa to town one day
and on the way back he missed the dog. A train had gone by and when he went back
he saw where the train had hit the dog. (To be continued.)
November 16, 2013