Early Southwest Nebraska history

Friday, October 7, 2016

We took a Harley circling trip through some central Sandhills communities this last weekend and I can state for a fact that rural Nebraska is alive and well! I saw towns that I had never visited and with the exception of Kearney, all were smaller in population than McCook but just as vibrant and dedicated to preserving a lifestyle that we all enjoy here on the western side of the state.

We did not turn a wheel on the interstate, but rather took the "roads less traveled" to places like Arnold, Anselmo, Brewster, Taylor, Sargent, Ord, North Loop, Arcadia and many, many more! We stopped at Uncle Buck's Lodge in Brewster, a charming trip back in time full of wonderful historical pictures and a great hostess. Our wandering included a night at the Arrow Hotel in Broken Bow and we were chauffeured to the Kinkaider Brewery. Other stops included the Bootleg Brewery, a beautiful rural brewery near Brewster, and Scratchtown Brewing Company in Ord which included a tour and history of the Sandhill's first brewing company.

One of the most interesting stops was at the Happy Jack Chalk Mine near Scotia. The mine, no longer active, is owned by a consortium of locals and is open for tours. If you don't mind being underground (the mine is well lighted) you will be astounded by how the chalk was cut from its walls. A building in downtown Scotia built from the blocks of chalk still stands today.

Moving on to some of Southwest Nebraska's history, from the McCook Tribune, May 3, 1895, is this reprinted article from the Wauneta Breeze: "Charles Wylie brought in a bunch of calves, Monday. He put them in the railroad corral and then poured on oil to kill the lice and then took a hot branding iron and proceeded to brand them. He succeeded in doing it to perfection as when the hot iron came in contact with the first one it ignited the oil and set the said calf on fire, which in turn set the others all ablaze, they broke out and some of them ran against Benjamin's barn and came near setting it on fire and then proceeded to the station and from there took to the hills, and when last heard of they were still running. Mr. Wylie is a sadder but wiser man-calves ditto."

In the same issue of the Tribune came this note: "As a hustler perhaps Frank Stillman has no equal in southwestern Nebraska, and he is farming on an elaborate plan, this season. He has just rented 200 acres of land and will put an even 1,000 acres of land into crop, this year. The Tribune does not believe that there is another farmer in this section of Nebraska that can equal this. We hope that his enterprise and nerve may be abundantly rewarded."

Old obituaries often are full of information on the early days. This one from the Feb. 22, 1901, McCook Tribune was concerning a Thomas M. Scott who had passed away. Here is a clue to early McCook in his obituary: "The deceased was a most eccentric character, and was known all over this section of the state, being a resident of this part of Nebraska for a quarter of a century, coming here from Indianola shortly after McCook was laid out as a town. He was McCook's first postmaster, and old citizens will recall his characteristic conduct of the post-office in the early days in his drug store- the little building now used by C. L. DeGroff & Co. for their clothing department." Further in the article it is revealed that he came to McCook in the summer of 1882 and was rumored to have driven the first stake on the town site.

If you have homesteaders in your history, Southwest Nebraska Genealogy Society is hosting an exposition on the Homestead Act on Saturday, Oct. 15. Watch for the signup sheet in the Gazette or on our Facebook page.

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