Early Marion history

Friday, March 31, 2017

Susan Doak

Southwest Nebraska Genealogy Society

Every time I go to the genealogy library here in McCook, I am astounded by the amount of researchable items our bookshelves hold. We are constantly receiving, thankfully, new books, family histories, maps, etc., as gifts from estates!

One such pamphlet which has been in our possession for many years was written by Athlene Clemons Martin and titled: A Society that Settled-Struggled-Soared and Slumped.

Athlene’s family followed to Marion, her grandparents, Robert and Margaret Sanders, pioneers who appeared on the scene at the age where most people were thinking of slowing down, not starting out new.

Athlene herself left the Marion area only to return as a school teacher after World War I. I am going to share a portion of her book, which is partially family memories but also a fascinating look at life in early southwest Nebraska as only a person who has lived it could tell.

“Marion Powell (for whom the town is named) saw to it when Marion was first established that booze could never be sold there as I formerly mentioned. But booze was, is and perhaps always will be. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was quite a new organization during the rise of Marion, and there were several women in Marion very avid, yes rabid members of that organization pursuing it diligently.

A Marion item of that period states, ‘What would you think of a town that pretends to be prohibition where whiskey bottles are found in the barn lofts and used for sidewalks?’

There were wives who, even then got up in the night to retrieve their husbands from boozing parties. So, they weren’t too different then than they are now, except that the husbands perhaps go out now to rescue their wives from the bottle. There was really some rounders and go-get-hers then, again some good Guys and bad Guys, but sometimes the so-called bad Guys were the best Guys after all.

The country dances, both then and later, weren’t all music and rhythm for there was usually a bottle hidden in some secret spot; and, before the night was over, the fisticuffs were apt to fly. There was Danbury to the east of us, where they held regular Saturday night dances in the Old Town Hall, but they had a hoosegow which was used to restrain or sober the inebriated and the disorderly, or those who disregarded the town regulations. Marion lacked a calaboose in which to confine these culprits, nor did we have a town marshal, nor had a Judge Hethcoat like Danbury. Actually we didn’t need such a place, because the hardy pioneer women used to take care of such cases themselves with tongue lashing or other methods of control.”

Continuing further into her saga she talks about a famous bootlegger: “Then there were the days of the bootlegger and even a still was discovered nearby. Louise Vincequerra, the self styled “Queen of the Omaha Bootleggers” and her henchmen, made their regular distributions of liquor up and down the valley. But the big story about the “Queen” could be better told by the second town east of Marion. At any rate, she, with the help of her associates, would not tolerate any infringements in her profitable territories nor the highjacking of her wares. These local offenders deemed it wise to scurry for cover whenever she hit town with her stock of goods and her henchmen.”

If you are interested in history or genealogy, our library, open on Wednesdays from 1-4, is the place to be. We are located at 110 West C Street, Suite M-3 and there is an elevator available for use. This Saturday will be our monthly meeting starting a 1PM and the public is always welcome.

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