(From Ed Waite's McCook Tribune Clippings)
For the past days, weather has been the "hot" topic that everyone talks about. In 2012 it is certainly bad, and we suffer, even with our air conditioners and fans. 1883 was another bad year, and we can only imagine what our forefathers went through. One pioneer poet put his thoughts on paper:
"We've reached the land of drought and heat, Where nothing grows that's fit to eat.
"For winds that blow with scorching heat, Nebraska land is hard to beat.
"Oh, Nebraska land, sweet Nebraska land, As on the burning land we stand,
"We look away, across the Plain And wonder if it ever rains?
"Till Gabriel doth his trumpet sound, And says, "the rain has passed around."
"We have no wheat, we have no oats, We have no corn to feed our shoats;
"Our chickens, they are too poor to eat, Our pigs are squealing through the street.
"Our horses are the improved race, Starvation stares them in the face;
"We do not live, we only stay,
"We are too poor to get away."
Sept.14, 1883: Southwestern Nebraska has not had a favorable season for farming operation. The precipitation was sufficient until the middle of June and the crops gave promise of an abundant harvest. Then, there followed many days of torrid heat and scorching winds---no moisture of any consequence, until the latter part of August. In the late summer torrential rains fell, accompanied by violent hail storms and high winds, which in some localities were of sufficient severity to destroy crops and kill poultry and even calves.
The rainfall would have been ample had it not been for the exceedingly high temperatures. The early settlers have become accustomed to adversity and do not worry greatly, but the new-comers who had little means are dismayed. Those who arrived in time this spring to plant a few acres of sod corn, which is usually the first crop grown, will have fodder, but nothing more. This will be cut by hand with corn knives and shocked for winter's use. The average homesteader has a team of horses, or a yoke of oxen and a cow -- no other live stock, unless perhaps a few hens. The animals will fare better this winter than their masters. Those who are unhampered by families will leave in large numbers as soon as they have "proven up" on their claims, but many young married couples have staked everything they possessed on their pioneer ventures, and those who are unable to secure help from outside friends or relatives will face hardships to which none of them has heretofore been accustomed.
Sept.21, 1883: The wind has blown with the ferocity of a hurricane all day. It rose sometime during the night. By dawn it was surging about the frail buildings scattered over this bleak hillside like the waves of a storm-tossed sea. The sun was a crimson disk when the spinning earth brought it above the eastern horizon. At times during the day it was dimly outlined through haze, but most of the time it could not be seen.
At the height of the storm small buildings were overturned and many of them were demolished. Boxes and barrels were tumbled and rolled before the blast until they found lodgment in the shelter of more substantial objects. Papers and loose boards were carried far from where they had been originally deposited. Those who found it necessary to leave shelter were roughly buffeted. The clash and clamor were terrifying to those who were unaccustomed to a prairie storm. It was not difficult to vision the Viking ghosts riding through the upper air.
The dust made breathing difficult. It sifted through every crevice. It settled in a gray pall on floors and furniture in houses, on counters, shelves, and merchandise in stores.
With the setting of the sun the wind sank to a barely perceptible breeze and finally died away until there was an almost perfect calm. But the air was so filled with dust particles that the light from only the brightest stars shone through it, and the night was dark.
Almost as soon as the Republican Valley saw its first settlers, irrigation, as a means to bring crops to a bountiful harvest, was discussed. Already in 1882, Joseph Burns, of Denver, had come to McCook, in the interests of the Colorado Water Association, an organization that proposed to irrigate the Republican Valley. State government needed to issue permits for construction of irrigation ditches across public lands. Burn's scheme contemplated that ditches be built on the divides and the water would be taken from the Republican River and used for watering "such lands as can be reached." Work could commence as soon as the proposition could be received favorably. Burns boldly stated that Western Nebraska should raise as fine a crops as can be grown in the United States. All that was needed was irrigation, to be employed to assure adequate moisture to growing crops. Nothing whatsoever came of Burn's proposal, but the Tribune Editor stated, "This story, of the effort to bring irrigation, is not ended. It has great human interest and will, it is hoped, be eventually, adequately and successfully told in its proper place!"
On a brighter note: September 12, 1883: The citizens of this community (McCook) and the settlers on the south side of the Republican River are at last assured of a bridge across that river. For ten years those who have found it necessary to cross from one side to the other have been compelled to ford or to cross at the bridge south of Indianola, which is the only bridge that spans the river in the county. (Note: Fording the river, even in times of drought, was not only troublesome and time consuming, but dangerous as well, because of unexpected deep holes in the stream and places where the quicksand provided unexpected troubles.)
With the advent of the railroad and the founding of McCook it has become increasingly important that some way of crossing at this place, other than by fording, be provided.
The money has been raised by subscription, the businessmen of the community having contributed to a fund that, it is believed, will be sufficient for the purpose. The location selected is on the half section line just south of town. The width of the river at this place is only 270 feet, and the approaches from both north and south will be easily graded. The Lincoln Land Company (the real estate arm of the Burlington RR) has agreed to contribute $200.00 to the cost and the railroad will either build the bridge, or if it cannot spare the men for this purpose, will haul the timber in without charge. In any event, McCook is assured of a bridge. The railroad stated that in addition to hauling the material without charge, they will give a right of way for the road through its land south of the track, on condition that, if at the end of seven years the land is needed by the railroad company, it will, at its own expense, remove the bridge to the section line east. (As with so many other decisions, the new bridge did not come without opposition---from the businessmen of Indianola, who feared loss of business because of the new bridge. Those men were still smarting at the loss of the RR Division Point, and the R.R. Roundhouse, both of which they felt Indianola was greatly more qualified to have---instead of the upstart new community of McCook.)
-- Source: History of McCook vol.2, by H.P. Waite (at High Plains Museum)