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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A key McCook business, 1882, the livery stable

Monday, August 29, 2011

In retirement, in the 1930s, H.P. Waite of McCook wrote an extensive, and highly entertaining history of our town. Mr. Waite was quite a man.

He had been a school teacher in Iowa, but was overcome with the longing for adventure and quit the teaching profession and came west with his brother, Ed, in 1879 -- first to a claim they filed near Wilsonville. The brothers were apparently nothing if not optimistic -- their capital stock consisted of three horses, a covered wagon, and $14.

To supplement their resources, (after filing their claim), H.P. did carpenter work for area farmers, while Ed improved their claim. In the winter Ed returned to Iowa to work at his old trade, that of a printer. H.P. went on to Colorado to work as a mule skinner. When they returned to Nebraska, in 1881, both brothers worked on the reconstruction of bridges, which had been destroyed by the flood of 1881, beginning at Red Cloud and working west to Culbertson.

H.P. continued as a builder with the railroad and worked on jobs in the Denver area. When he married, he and his wife moved to McCook. In McCook he was a very active builder, building homes, commercial buildings, and the (early) First Congregational Church.

In 1896 the Waite brothers purchased the LaTourette Hardware Store, one of McCook's first businesses, which they operated until 1925, when they sold to Hoyt and Jennings.

H.P. Waite was very involved in civic affairs in McCook, more so than his brother. He served as McCook's Mayor in 1905-06. He recalled that during his tenure the first sewer system was laid in the city. A large controversy arose when he refused to allow the Burlington railroad too close East 6th Street to traffic. He contended that farmers and residents south of B Street should not be forced to drive to East McCook to enter the shopping district. The Burlington RR eventually saw things his way and erected the viaduct on East 6th Street.

Mr. Waite carefully gleaned stories from the early papers of McCook and area, and the stories he gathered constitute his history, to which he added bits of background material and editorial explanations concerning the events covered.

In June, 1882 the rail line from Chicago to Denver was finished, and there was daily rail service through McCook, one passenger and one freight train, each way, but the trains did not normally stop -- there was no railway station, and no services, except the miniscule little settlement of Fairview, on the south side of the Republican River. When a passenger did want to disembark at McCook the train let him out at about the spot where the depot now stands -- to almost complete empty prairie.

The first issue of the McCook Tribune, J.P. Israel editor and publisher, appeared in June. The paper was published in Culbertson, since there was no printing press, or even buildings to house a paper in McCook at that time. Nevertheless, Mr. Israel reported the first meeting of the "Fourth of July" Committee, which was held on May 26, barely a week after the first lot was sold in McCook.

It was resolved that a celebration be held in McCook, to celebrate "that memorable day which gave us our Liberty as a Nation."

Everyone was to send special invitations to "everybody, far and near, to join...with us to make it a day long remembered by all ... They would procure the most profound and able orators ... and secure the best musical talent of the West -- great plans for a "city" that was not even a scheduled stopping place for the railroad and did not have a single completed building.

Word had gotten out, however, that McCook was about to be named the division point for the railroad, beating out the established towns of Culbertson and Indianola. Businesses were being moved from those two towns, fearing loss of business to the new town of McCook. In some cases "being moved" was a literal term.

The Indianola House, of Indianola was cut in half and moved by horse drawn wagons to McCook, where it became the Commercial Hotel, on Main Street, and became a quite famous area hostelry, till it burned in the 1920s. W.C. LaTourette moved his established hardware store from Culbertson to take advantage of the new boom town.

In 1882, a livery stable was a profitable and popular business for a town.

"The livery stable is one of the most important business institutions in a new town ... usually called a livery, feed and sales stable, which means that horses are kept for hire, that horses ... are cared for and fed, and that the proprietor buys, sells, deals in and trades horses.

"Livery stable operators are of all kinds -- some are men of character and standing, some allow their business as a rendezvous for the rough element, which is found in every community. The business is lucrative. Settlers are coming in in large numbers ... those arriving by train require conveyances and horses to take them to view the country. Those who come in their own wagons shelter their horses at the livery stable in stormy weather ... Journeys of 50 to 100 miles with a team of rented ponies and a buck-board or on horse-back, are not unusual.

"The livery horse is a pony, a bronco as he is usually called, descended originally from half wild Indian stock, good for 30 miles a day, for day after day, good for 50 miles a day when necessity requires ... wild horses are brought into McCook in droves and sold to whoever, for a few dollars per head. The bronco is never completely broken. Given a few days' rest, he will run with an unskilled driver, spill his fare along the road and demolish the vehicle to which he is hitched. Yet, he is tractable and susceptible to kind treatment from a good master. The west could not be settled without the bronco.

"Prior to the Spanish Conquest (about 1519, there were no horses in America. Before the white man came the Indian walked, of necessity, so did not travel far from his habitat. The Conquistadors brought horses (Arabian and Iberian mix) to America, and those horses that escaped from them became wild horses, or were captured by the Indians, who took to them quite naturally. All the American wild horses of today (Broncos, Mustangs) are descendants of the Spanish horses.

"The livery stable is the gathering place for loafers -- a place for gossip, discussion of topics not usually chronicled in the newspapers. After morning and evening chores with the horses, there is not much to do and there is plenty of free time. Employment in a livery stable is a favored occupation among those who do not care to work hard...yet...a convenient way to make a living.

"Personnel consists of the proprietor and a couple of boys who sleep on an iron bed with sagging springs, in the office, which is used also used to store tack ... Horse blankets and discarded quilts comprise bedding. As these are never laundered their condition becomes indescribable.

"Ashes fill the shallow box around the cast iron stove, to accommodate the tobacco chewers ... The combination of odors (including those peculiar to stables) emanating from the place is disconcerting to sensitive noses.

"The livery stable is ready for service at all hours, day or night, and in all weather. Sometimes a customer wants a driver. When he does, one of the hostlers, or one of the loafers is sent to care for the horses -- someone who knows the roads and can act as a guide.

"Cowboys coming to town for supplies make the livery stable their headquarters, sleeping in the hayloft. "In these days, men do not spend money needlessly, do not have money to waste, and would not waste it if they had it. All of the inhabitants of this new country are young ... many are country boys, accustomed to plain living, even hardships -- able to sleep as well on the hay as on the hard mattress, and none too clean bed in a cheap hotel. Moreover, by accepting the free accommodations they save the two bits (quarter of a dollar) the bed in the hotel or rooming house would cost."

Thus, a bit about a key business and conditions in McCook at the beginning of our town in 1882, a business and conditions that we (thankfully) no longer see or think much about today.

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By