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More from the early days of McCook

Monday, January 16, 2012

Frank Kimmel, McCook Tribune
McCook is a typical frontier town -- a hundred wooden buildings, cheaply built, small, many unpainted ... not the slightest pretensions of architectural symmetry ... on the north side of the railroad track. Not a vestige of shade protects them from the sun ... with temperatures this summer many days over 100 degrees, one day 108 degrees.

Originally the land was covered with buffalo grass, but this has worn away wherever there has been travel. When dry, dust is stirred by every breeze...in wet weather streets are all but impassable from mud. Outside the central part of the village streets are merely trails...disconnected stretches of wooden sidewalks are found in front of the business buildings, but there are no cross walks. In residential districts there are no walks, only paths worn in the sod leading to every door.

McCook is unincorporated -- no mayor, no council, no police offers, no government. The sheriff lives at Indianola, and on those occasions when he has been sent for, he has reached here too late to be of any service -- three hours of weary driving over miserable, hilly roads are required to reach here from the county seat. The sheriff can be summoned only by mail, by messenger, or by telegraph, the latter method being but slightly more expeditious than the others. Long before he has arrived the guilty party has fled, or tempers have cooled and there is no more desire for vengeance.

V. Franklin, Citizens Bank
The majority of McCook's population is law abiding, but a few turbulent spirits, knowing how helpless the community is, are not restrained by any sense of proprieties, or fear of prosecution. Disputes are not infrequent and are settled in a primitive way.

McCook has no saloons, but has three drug stores, a disproportionately large number in so healthful a country. These all dispense hard liquor to whomsoever has the price to pay, indeed they exist primarily for the purpose of selling whiskey, and announce to their clientele through columns of the paper the receipt of new supplies.

Gambling is openly and blatantly indulged in by well-known residents, and by itinerant swindlers whose tricks are so patent they cannot long reside in one place.

The local bad man is not the one who gives the most trouble. Fisticuffs occasionally occur, and once in a while a citizen gets under the influence of liquor and it becomes necessary to load him into a wagon and send him to his home, an occasion that the local paper chronicles as a news item in the same manner as it covers the ordinary comings and goings of the people.

The cowboys who come in from the range cause most of the trouble...they become boisterously drunk...and tear through the streets on their ponies, yelling at the tops of their voices and firing their guns. It is ghastly to consider how quickly the human animal reverts to savagery when restraint is removed.

And that is not all that is wrong with this town. Merchants remove their goods from packing boxes, and the straw, hay, and papers used for packing become playthings of the winds. Housewives and hotel cooks alike throw their garbage into back yards or the streets, where, in the sweltering heat, flies breed in countless numbers, to swarm through unscreened doors and windows -- to alight in black clouds upon the food set on dining room tables, and on the dried prunes, apples and apricots and the cheese on grocers' counters.

Butchers do their killing in the rear of their shops and leave the offal to fester in the sun, where it would remain doubtless until, like all dead animal matter, it returns to earth, if it were not found by vagrant dogs.

Around the town well, in front of LaTaurette's Store, the hogs, with which the streets are infested, have made wallows in which they resort in the heat of the day and from which intolerable stenches arise.

Cows and heifers are tethered on vacant lots, or where the individual animals are sufficiently domesticated to the trusted, are permitted to roam unrestrained.

On a more pleasant note -- from a later issue of the Tribune: The McCook Light-Brigade Band, has planned on the 18th or June to give a concert in Indianola. In November 1882, just five months after McCook came into being, 10 local men, many of whom were leaders of the new community met to organize a band, under the direction of a Mr. Spaulding. The band members were without experience, but were enthusiastic and met regularly for practice in one of the Lincoln Land Co.'s buildings. Their first public appearance came in February, 1883, when they serenaded Mr.& Mrs. J.R Phelan, the B&M Roadmaster, after which they were invited inside to partake in "a repast of cake, pie, fruit, and cider." They also played a couple of pieces on Madison St. (East 3nd & B St.). The Tribune pronounced the McCook Light Guard Band "a successful organization." In May the band gave their first "grand" concert at the Congregational Church, to 200 enthusiastic listeners. The event grossed about $80. At the same concert there was also a presentation of a farce by funny man, J.F. Forbes, whose portrayal of Hans von Smash, "drawed roars of laughter ... causing the audience to almost split their sides."

Concerning the upcoming Indianola concert -- not all the Indianola citizens were thrilled about the event, "some of the citizens of Indianola take umbrage at this proposal, declaring it is a scheme to humiliate their band -- because Indianola also has a band. Our band boys insist that this is not so, and that they are prompted solely by a desire to give Indianola a musical treat. McCook has a lot of musical talent. They are working hard to make a credible appearance and to give an enjoyable session.

The citizens of Indianola (the County Seat of Red Willow County) and the citizens of McCook are on friendly terms, and the two communities are closely affiliated in a business way. The President of the Indianola Bank, J.W. Dolan, is also President of the Citizens Bank of McCook, while V. Franklin, who is in charge of the local bank, was formerly a merchant at Indianola. Social gatherings in Indianola are usually attended by residents of McCook, and likewise, residents of Indianola attend social gatherings in McCook in large numbers.

The newspapers of the two places, The Courier of Indianola (Red Willow County's oldest newspaper) and McCook's Tribune, however, at each other's throats in nearly every issue. One such exchange came in June, when the editor of the Courier charged that the editor of the Tribune was careless with his financial obligations.

Mr. Israel, editor of the Tribune at the time, retaliated by bringing up the fact that the Courier's editor, Frank -- had not paid some $30 of poker debts to various persons in McCook --

"Frankie, he fumes and frets,

and says that we don't pay our debts,

Now Frankie, look here, We very much fear,

You've outstanding a few poker bets!"

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This is wonderful. My great-grandparents, NY and Emma Davis and CP and Margaret Dodson settled near Maywood in the 1880s and my Dad's family moved to town (McCook) in 1920. I have wonderful memories of McCook and Nebraska and still get out there whenever I can.

BUT... there's no date on the article; when was this description of the town published?

Thank you for printing these priceless bits of history.


-- Posted by MDavisDodson on Mon, Jan 16, 2012, at 3:07 PM

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By