From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

1880s Settlers in Northern Nebraska

Old book about a Pennsylvania colony in Brown County, NE


Tonight I've been browsing through the digitized edition of To and Through Nebraska by Frances I. Sims Fulton. It tells a bit of the story of some Pennsylvanians who homesteaded as a colony in Brown County, Nebraska, in the early 1880s.

It seems that in the early 1880s, around Bradford, Pennsylvania, there was an oilfield boom and bust. Many people who had speculated with their life savings lost everything.

Seeking a new start in life, the author's brother and other westward-leaning men organized "The Nebraska Mutual Aid Colony." When they had enlisted enough investor-homesteaders, they purchased 640 acres in northern Brown County, Nebraska, as a townsite. Each member was guaranteed two lots in the town plus a share in the sale of future lots. Members who wanted land were supposed to buy or homestead within ten miles of the town.

The author, a young single lady, traveled from Pennsylvania to Brown County, Nebraska, with the first group of colonists. They came by train to Stuart, Nebraska, and then went overland to the settlement area. Her intent was to give an eyewitness report about the situation to her family at home. Her father had invested, but he was worried about the settlement's distance from the railroad.

When the colonists arrived at their selected settlement area, things didn't go quite as they had planned. Some land around the townsite had already been homesteaded by strangers, and some of the colonists weren't able to get land nearby as they had planned.

The author's father wrote to her, saying that he couldn't bear to relocate at his age, so Miss Francis Fulton gave up the idea of being a homesteader. But before she went back to Pennsylvania, she spent several months in Brown County with the colonists, recording her experiences for the benefit of others who might want to emigrate to the area.

When she left Brown County, she traveled to Long Pine, Valentine, and Fort Niobrara to see the scenery. (These are still scenic areas today) She had heard stories about the wild cowboys at Valentine, so she traveled with a middle-aged married lady. They had no problems, and she observed that some of the cowboys were truly just boys. She also visited the Platte, Big Blue, and Republican River valleys in Nebraska before returning to Pennsylvania.

The book is an interesting account of a young Victorian lady's great adventure on the Nebraska prairie, one of the last American frontiers. If you like Nebraska history, I think you'll enjoy browsing through the book. And the price is right -- free.

Note:
Holt Creek and the Keya Paha River are mentioned, so I think the settlement was near the Nebraska / South Dakota state line in present-day Keya Paha County, NE. To be specific, I think it was northeast of Springview in the Burton area. A letter from one of the colonists is quoted in the book; the heading is "Brewer P.O., Brown Co. Neb." A history of Keya Paha County lists Brewer as a post office in 1884; however, Brewer is not shown on an 1895 map of Keya Paha County.

Keya Paha County isn't actually in the Nebraska Sandhills, but for simplicity's sake, I'll give this post a "Nebraska Sandhills" tag. The Sandhills are certainly not far away.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.