Current Edition

current edition

When I last wrote, we were starting to construct a sod house in western Nebraska as per the plans outlined in a 1904 rare book entitled “Sod Houses” by  S.D. Butcher of Kearney, Neb. Let’s resume construction.

Last week we reported, “When the pioneer on the plains finds the spot that to his eye invites a home,” while this week we add:

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 propped up with poles . . .

When rightly constructed, the four walls are carried up solid to the tops of doors and windows. Then, timbers laid across where they are to be located, building the sod about six inches higher than the building needs to be when it settles, and the windows and doors are then cut the proper size.

The walls, being about three feet in thickness, are continued up at the end to form the gables, and a huge cedar ridge log of mammoth size, from 30 to 40 feet long and probably 18 inches to two feet through at the butt, is placed on these sod gables. The logs and other timber used have probably been hauled from 50 to 100 miles from cedar canyons, located still further from civilization.

From this “ridge log” to the side walls are laid smaller cedar or ash poles to act as rafters, and on these are placed, if possible, fine willow brush procured from some nearby stream. Then, a layer of sod is fitted very closely over this brush, grass side down. Then, another layer of sod is place the same way on top of the first, carefully overlapping the joints in the lower sod covering. Then a wagon load or two of clay is hauled and spread over this, which generally turns the rain very nicely until the house settles and the mice work little air holes up through the sod. Then these holes must be hunted out and stopped and more clay added until it is, as other roofs we have seen, nearly two feet thick.

A good sod house is very warm and comfortable in winter and cool in summer, and it is these “beginnings in life” we are here illustrating . . .

God willing, if the snow doesn’t get too deep, next week we will present more of Butcher’s fascinating history of the Panhandle of Nebraska. And, for those of you who noticed, be it “consequence” as reported last week, or “coincidence” as it should have been, it’s still luck.

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.

The above headline, an article and advertisement in the Dec. 22, 1911 issue of the “Grand Encampment Herald” proclaims:

Probably the most popular, as well as the most beneficial innovation ever made by any great corporation in this country is that announced by the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph company, wherein their thousands of miles of toll lines are thrown open, at half rates, to the general public on Christmas day.

This company, whose lines traverse one-fifth of the United States, and reach into the cities, towns, camps and ranches of Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and New Mexico, is certainly doing its part toward making it indeed a “Merry Christmas.”

Since the merger of the various telephone companies, bringing into one great family all of the mid-west states, the management has been doing many things that go to prove they have the best interests of their patrons at heart; and so on Christmas day, from eight o’clock in the morning until noon, the public is invited to use the toll lines freely in talking to the “dear ones at home” or whispering a “Merry Christmas” into the ear of some friend far away. And next to the joy to come from such a unique and unusual yuletide greeting is the fact that this company will stand one-half the cost, bringing it within easy reach of thousands of people who, perhaps, otherwise, would not take this means of transmitting a good cheer blessing.

It is certainly a departure from the ordinary methods of public utilities, and the public will appreciate this practical application of the Christmas spirit. While this reduction for the half day will mean a great deal of extra expense and extra work to the telephone company, it will make many hearts glad and, in a measure, dispel the general idea that “all corporations are soulless.”

In another part of this paper is the reproduction of a scene, as pictured by the artist, where son, grandchild and grandmother are having a little talk over the long distance. It will be interesting to know how many thousands of calls will be made on Christmas morning because of the reduction in charges by the telephone company.

Unlike the editor of the 1911 “Herald,” we pray that you will keep “Christ” in Christmas, and may you have a most glorious Merry Christmas.

In January 1907, a Wyoming weekly newspaper ran the following article on its front page. We deliberately left off which publication it is, since it could have been any of the pioneer papers printed in the Cowboy State at that time. Enjoy.

Last week, our talk was with the business men – those who have something to sell. This week we have somewhat to say to the man and woman who buy.

We never saw anyone who wasn’t proud of a good bargain, especially something bought cheaply. It’s all right to sell at a good price, but the average individual will walk ten miles to get a thing below the usual price, where he wouldn’t walk one mile to buy the same thing above the usual mark.

If you don’t believe it, just visit a bargain counter that has been duly advertised. If you get out with your life and your moral integrity, you are fortunate.

A few days before the writer left Cripple Creek, there was a fire sale in one of the stores. Business had been dull, and one of the sons of Moses in that town was afflicted with a fire in his clothing store. He advertised a fire sale. Sent to a neighboring town where he had a branch store and brought all the old shop-worn and unsellable goods which had been accumulating for years and put them on sale. “50 percent off,” “Goods below cost,” “$100,000 stock almost given away.”

What was the result? The opening day, a line of women stretching two blocks each way from the entrance all day long, testified eloquently to the crowd inside and to man’s desire for a bargain.

And they got bargains. Indeed, they did. Boys’ shoes which had always sold at $2.50, were actually “given away” at $1.45. Other goods in proportion. Now for the application.

Don’t be afraid to pay a fair price for a good article. To be sure you are sometimes almost robbed. But if you deal with an honorable, established firm – and there are such in all towns – you’ll be treated right. And if not, you can always go back and have your wrongs righted, always.

And you’ve always a chance to get back at least a part of what you’ve spent.

Those men live here. Their money goes to build up the community. Do you need a school house? It very largely comes from the business man. Does the town need lighting, sidewalks pavements, sewerage? The business man must go down in his pocket. He is your neighbor, your friend, your helper – even as you are his. Do you need an accommodation to carry you over a hard place? Well, you don’t write to Monty-Hard & Co. and tell them your needs. Not any. You trot around to the fellow who has been “robbing” you, and he gives you the needful until things ease up a bit.

Recently, a church congregation in a Kansas town built a new church. To pay for it, they were obliged to call on the merchants of the community for donations. They responded liberally, and $300 was soon raised from this source. The last man to subscribe was a jeweler.

“I’ll give you $20 if you will let me add something to the list,” he said.

The permission was accorded him, and he wrote at the foot of the list:

John Smith, jeweler.....$20

Sears, Roebuck & Co...$00.00

Montgomery, Ward &
Co. ... $00.00

The people saw the point when the minister read from the pulpit the list of donors to the building fund, and since the dedication of the church, there has not been any mail orders sent out from that town.

This is the first of a two-part series to be continued next week. In the meanwhile, please shop at home.

After a memorial service for a Wyoming cowboy, his family distributed a paper with the following “guide to life.” It’s an oldie, but goodie. Enjoy.

Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear or a fool from any direction.

A bronc rider should be light in the head and heavy in the seat.

Broke is what happens when a cowboy lets yearnings get ahead of his earnings.

Any cowboy can carry a tune. The trouble comes when he tries to unload it.

When in doubt, let your horse do the thinking.

When a cowboy’s too old to set a bad example, he hands out good advice.

Worry is like a rockin’ chair. It’s something to do that don’t get you nowhere.

Poor is having to sell the horse to buy the saddle.

The future has been losing the wisdom of the past ever since the freeway by-passed the corral.

Behind every successful rancher is a wife who works in town – Old Western Proverb.

Never kick a fresh cow pile on a hot day.

There’s two theories to aruguin’ with a woman. Neither one works.

Don’t worry about bitin’ off more than you can chew. Your mouth is probably bigger’n you think.

If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.

Never ask the size of a man’s spread.

After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral – when you’re full of bull, keep your mouth shut.

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging’.

Never smack a man who’s chewin’ tobacco.

It don’t take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.

Never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut.

Never follow good whiskey with water, unless you’re out of good whiskey.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

Never drop your gun to hug a grizzly.

If you’re ridin’ ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there.

When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or a person, don’t be surprised if they learn their lesson.

When you’re throwin’ your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.

Lettin’ the cat out of the bag is a whole lot easier than putting it back.

The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket.

A smart aleck just don’t fit in a saddle.

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

The author here is unknown, but we can credit it to all those old cowboys who lived and enjoyed our great western way of life.