A glimpse into early Red Willow County

Monday, April 30, 2007

Through their long lives, members of the Loomis family have been one of this area's many close links to the settlement and development of Red Willow County.

Helen Loomis Meyers, who lives near Red Willow, celebrated her 100th birthday on March 13. While asking about her century of life, I learned that one of Helen's prized possessions is a book called "Prairie Schooner Days," written by her aunt, Mary Loomis McDonald.

Mary, who lived from 1865 to 1955, was the daughter of one of Red Willow County's original settlers, Russell F. Loomis. This gave her a close-up view of the region's settlement. Thankfully, Mary saw fit to record her memories during the sunset years of her life.

The typewritten edition is filled with precise accounts of the beginning of Red Willow County.

One of the stories took place 135 years ago. Mary relates:

"Father contracted with Mr. (Royal) Buck to freight four thousand pounds of household goods and farm equipment from Nebraska City to Red Willow County. For teams, they had one yoke of oxen and two yoke of milk cows. The oxen were already broken to drive but not so the cows and it took some time to break them to the yoke."

Thus it was, in April of 1872, that the Loomis party set out to establish a new home in a new land. Mr. Loomis and his son, Miriam, 11, were accompanied by a homestead couple, Mr. and Mrs. William McPherson.

It was a good 300 miles to the Red Willow settlement. Since the oxen and cows could only travel eight or 10 miles a day, it took more than three weeks to make the trip.

They ran into no serious trouble until they reached Plum Creek near the Platte River. After getting to this point, they struck out across the prairie towards the Repub-lican River, which they had been told was about 35 miles cross-country. On the journey, water was scarce and what they used was scooped from buffalo wallows..

When they finally reached the Republican Valley they began seeing buffalo by the thousands. Other game was more plentiful, too. On their arrival at Red Willow Creek, Miriam took out his tackle and caught enough fish for breakfast the next morning.

Upon reaching the Mc-Kinneys' homestead, the four-person pioneer group camped until the Royal Buck party joined them. While waiting, there was ample time to look around. Mr. Loomis set out on daily treks, finally deciding to stake his claim four miles up the creek from the first campsite on Red Willow Creek. Royal Buck and his company homesteaded nearby and the settlement grew. Soon thereafter, prairie schooner after prairie schooner trailed into the valley, starting the development that is now Red Willow County.

Russell F. Loomis settled on his family's homestead on May 27, 1872. That same day, he planted corn as the sod was turned over for the first time. The Loomises' first shelter was woven willow boughs reinforced by poles. A hand-woven rag carpet served as the roof.

***

Yes, since that long-ago day, there have been changes. Many changes. But it is also comforting to know that we remain very close to our roots. One hundred and thirty five years later, Helen Loomis Meyers lives only a few miles from where Russell F. Loomis, her grandfather, staked his original claim. Other Red Willow County families, including the Longneckers, have also been here from the start. making us proud to join Indianola each year in their celebration of Old Settler's Day.

We look forward to the future, but we are honored and inspired by the past.

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