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Trek Across Nebraska in 1882

Written by Saige

Now that we have built our sod house, let’s back up, put the ox before the cart and explore how we got to central and western Nebraska, as portrayed by S.D. Butcher in his book “Sod Houses.” In 1904, he wrote:

It was in May 1882, after the first pioneers had made a dim, shadowy trail, that I first found my way over the border into Custer County, Neb. I use the word “found” properly, for it was an actual discovery of a most difficult way into the then-promised land.

In company with John M. Morrison, I left the main road leading from Kearney to this upper country at a point in Buffalo County in Pleasant Valley and went north through the hills, following a dim trail which persisted in growing dimmer and which, as darkness came on, disappeared altogether. Our hope was to reach McEndeffer’s on the Muddy that night, so we pressed on, over high hills and down long, winding canyons, one of us walking in front of the team to figure out the trail and the other driving as directed by the guide.

A more gloomy and desolate prospect could hardly be imagined as the shades of night began to come down over the brown prairie, tumbled and piled about in the most hap-hazard manner; high hills, long terraced ridges, each seeming higher than the other and two “tenderfeet” alone amidst all this waste was enough to make one wish himself back to civilization again. Finally we struck a broader trail, made by the stock, leading to the ranch and had less difficulty in keeping the way. 

I saw something just ahead of me in the darkness I took for a post, and believing we had come to a post, I felt on both side for the wire, found none and discovered to my dismay that it was a stove-pipe and still warm. By the time my investigations had resulted in this warm discovery Morrison was close to me and demanded a reason for my stop. I explained the nature of my find and suggested a backing of the team for fear of a tumble through the roof, which would probably disturb the sleepers below.

I had seen enough of “dugouts” to know we had discovered one and started on a voyage of discovery. The problem of the lay of the “dugout” was soon solved to the satisfaction of all concerned. Of course it was dug out of a bank, but just where the bank ended and the house united with it, I could not tell, but I soon discovered that there was about four feet between the end of the dugout and bank, which sloped toward the house. The way I discovered this opening was by the happy one of falling into it, and the way I gained admittance into the house was by rolling down the sloping bank and in at the window, and the way I aroused the household was by alighting on a promiscuous collection of tinware, which made noise enough to stampede a bunch of plow horses.

It was with some misgivings we had sought the hospitality of Mr. McEndeffer, as it will be remembered he was a cattleman and in some manner connected with the Olives in the burning of Mitchel and Ketchum. What were my feelings to be precipitated in this fashion into his house and find myself clawing and kicking around among the dish pans and milk pails, while a gruff voice was demanding, “Who’s there?” “Get out!” “Scat!” “Get a light!” “Get the gun!” and like exclamatory remarks, interspersed with more or less profanity and a chorus chiming in from other members of the family.

Had the team fallen through the roof, it would have raised no greater row than did my plunge through the window. 

I had finally extricated myself from the tinware and frying pans and beat a hasty retreat under cover of darkness and excitement out through the window and around to the door, where I gave a loud rap more in accord with civilized ways, and when a light was procured, explanations made and an inventory taken to find what damage was done, the ceremony of “breaking the ice” was not necessary after breaking my head, a milk crock, McEndeffer’s cob pipe and several other articles of less importance, we were made welcome.

The next day our journey was uneventful and we put up with . . . whoa, let’s take a rest here and proceed across Nebraska next time we write.