Settling Panhandle of Nebraska
When things come together, some call it serendipity, and others say it’s fate, while a few feel it’s consequence. I just call it damn lucky.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend gave me a dozen glass plate negatives and a rare book entitled “Sod Houses or the Development of the Great American Plains.” This slick publication is “a pictorial history of the men and means that have conquered this wonderful country” of Western Nebraska.
Just by luck, Saige Albert, managing editor of the “Wyoming Livestock Roundup” notifies me that this week’s special edition of this great paper will feature farms and ranches of the Nebraska Panhandle and wondered if I had any stories and pictures I could share about that country.
Luckily, the 1904 book written, illustrated and copyrighted by a Solomon D. Butcher of Kearney, Neb. and published by Western Plains Publishing Co. of Kearney, Neb. and Chicago, Ill., contains several stories and more than 100 photographs of that area. During the next few weeks, I will share some of those stories and pictures with you faithful readers.
First, here are several excerpts from the book’s introduction:
The pioneer in every new country is the man who has to devise the ways and means for taking the country as nature has left it and he finds it, and bring it into subjection to the will of man.
Such a man finds himself and family alone in a vast expanse of country face-to-face with nature and the problem of how to subdue it. One of the first problems to be solved is how to provide shelter and how to provide food for himself and family while he is engaged in the task before him, that of treating mother earth so that she will respond to her functions relating to seed time and harvest.
In a forest country, a man begins by felling trees, and with the logs thus secured, he erects the “log cabin,” famed in song and story and which is such an important factor in the history of the growth and development of America. During the performance of this task, he with his family live by the camp fire and get most of their food necessary to sustain life by recourse of his faithful gun in securing game, while the family busy themselves in picking the berries and wild fruit that are found in the forest and securing fish from neighboring streams.
When his family is sheltered, he begins the greater task of clearing away the forest to secure open ground in which to plant the grain and vegetable seeds that will in due season produce the necessary food for himself and family. This work takes many months and many years of patient toil and effort to accomplish the desired result.
When the pioneer on the plains finds the spot that to his eye invites a home, draws the reins upon and halts his faithful horses or oxen that have brought his “prairie schooner” or canvas-covered wagon safely to the end of the journey with its precious load, consisting of wife, family and supplies with the few chosen tools and implements that are so necessary to aid in giving him victory, he sees only an endless grass-covered plain with not a tree or bush and very often not a hillock to break the monotony. Here he takes up his burden, but note the contrast of his work with that of the pioneer in the forest.
The plainsman soon gets his “grasshopper plow” from among his treasures in the wagon, hitches his team to it and, cutting furrows through the prairie on a chosen spot of ground, turns over strips of sod 12 to 14 inches wide and about four inches thick, and after turning over a sufficient amount of these sod strips, they are cut into lengths of about three feet, after which they are gathered and from this material a house is erected; but how different from the “log cabin” which we have mentioned. Taking the strips of sod, he selects and levels for his foundation the same as for a brick house, then lays his sod exactly in the same manner as he would a brick wall, neatly breaking the joints and filling in and leveling each layer of sod, keeping the walls perfectly true as they are built, otherwise in settling they will fall down unless . . . . let’s take a break until next “Postcard,” when construction of our sod house resumes.