(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
The desk belonged to Matthew B. Cheney, a Civil War veteran, a Nebraska state senator representing Lancaster County, and the grandfather of Wendell P. Cheney, McCook city judge and Red Willow County judge until 1977.
The desk has been donated to the museum by Matthew Cheney's great-great-grandson, Will Sheehan of Lincoln. Officials with the Nebraska State Historical Society have indicated to Sheehan that they believe Matthew Cheney did use his own desk while serving in the Senate.
Matthew Benjamin Cheney was born in New York in 1839. He moved west, to California, in 1855 and then enlisted as a private in the New York Volunteers. He fought in the Civil War battles of Chancellorsville and Gettsyburg, and moved to Nebraska following his discharge from the Army.
Matthew Cheney purchased Nebraska prairie land and served in the state senate representing Lancaster County from November 1878 through November 1880. According to Volume 2 "Illustrated History of Nebraska" by J. Sterling Morton and Albert Watkins (1906), Matthew Cheney was most proud of the passage of "House Roll No. 4," which built a wing on the capitol building, " ... settling the question of removing the capital to some other town."
Matthew Cheney and his wife Lucy Stanley (also of New York) had three children, Luke, who became county attorney of Frontier county; James of Seattle, Washington, and Eliot J., who farmed near his parents in Lancaster County.
Will Sheehan wrote to the High Plains Historical Society in 2012, feeling that the desk would be of great interest to McCook because of contributions to the community by descendants of Matthew B. Cheney: Luke Cheney and Wendell P. Cheney.
Luke Cheney, the son of Matthew Cheney, was born in 1864 in New York, but attended Latin Prep School in Lincoln and graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1887. He started a law practice in Lincoln in 1889, moving his practice to Frontier County in 1891 and serving as Frontier County attorney from 1899-1901 and 1918-1922.
After moving to McCook in 1923, Luke Cheney served as McCook city attorney in 1926, 1932 and 1939. He served on the McCook board of education starting in 1924, and was elected president in 1932.
He was a trustee of the Congregational Church and a member of the Chamber of Commerce.
Luke and his wife, Clara (Vance), had three children: Newel S. Wendell P., and Dorothy.
Wendell P. Cheney was born in Stockville in Frontier County and, as a high school sophomore, moved with his family to McCook. He graduated from McCook Senior High and, in 1928, was a member of the first graduating class of McCook Junior College. He attended the Nebraska Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1935.
Wendell Cheney practiced law with his father until entering the U.S. Army in 1942. Following his discharge from the military, he returned to McCook where he practiced law for three years and served as the city judge. In November 1948, he was appointed county judge and served as Red Willow County judge for 24 years. The Nebraska judicial system changed and he became county judge for the Fourteenth Judicial District for four years, retiring in 1977.
Wendell and his wife, Donna (Warner) were members of First Congregational Church.
Wendell Cheney died Jan. 30, 2002, at the age of 93.
The "Cheney Desk" has been rebuilt, after disassembly and storage, by McCook woodworker Trevor Premer. It's been placed in the Railroad Room at the High Plains Museum, where researchers can sit and study railroad documents and memorabilia.
The museum is open, with no admission charge, Tuesday through Saturday, from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.