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My grandmother’s stories of rural Nebraska

Dee Ritter
Lincoln, Neb.
The home place was a safe haven for the James and Elmina Jones family in Saline County, Nebraska.

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My great-grandparents, James and Elmina Jones, arrived in Saline County, Nebraska, in the spring of 1874. They purchased land from the railroad, land for a farm. That first July on their prairie farm grasshoppers came without warning in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and the beating of their wings sounded like a storm. Some called them Rocky Mountain locusts, but regardless of what they were called, the hoppers destroyed all of the crops except the wheat, which had already been harvested. That year was the beginning of the great grasshopper plague. It lasted for another 2 years. During this time James and Elmina managed to get a loan of $100 from relatives still living back in New York enabling them to stay on their farm. This was one of the stories my grandmother, born in 1877, heard during her childhood.

When sorting through my aunt’s papers I came across several short essays my grandmother wrote for her descendants. She wrote of family and farming, grasshoppers and gypsies. She wrote about the Indians that occasionally stopped at her parent’s farm. She wrote about a world that has vanished and will not be seen again.

Grandma knew old settlers who saw the first train come through Saline County in the early 1870s. The train brought the mail, groceries, and almost anything else people needed. Before this supplies had to be hauled by team and wagon, a time consuming affair.

Before the coming of the railroad Indians traveled along the Blue River and Turkey Creek near my great-grandparent’s farm. Old settlers recalled a time when up to a thousand Indians camped along the river near the farm. By 1875, the Federal Government stopped treating Indian tribes as separate nations and began pressuring them to move to reservations. Nomadic tribes found their freedom curtailed and the buffalo were being destroyed with the coming of the railroad.

My grandmother was 13 years old when Sitting Bull was killed in December 1890. She wrote, “Men who belonged to ‘The Sons of Veterans of the Civil War’ were quite enthusiastic about organizing a company and offering their services to the government.” She had two brothers who were members and she was worried, but “it soon blew over and peace was restored.”

Grandma wrote about wild ducks, geese, quail and prairie chickens that were plentiful on this prairie Eden. There were wild grapes, mulberries, gooseberries, and elderberries growing along the creeks and rivers. They never went hungry. The family owned a team of oxen named Buck and Bright and her older brother, Asa, at the age of 8, learned how to drive the team. He broke sod for neighbors for 25 cents a day.

But life was not all work. Grandma wrote of parades on Decoration Day and picnics on the Fourth of July. There were bean suppers where folks could eat all the baked beans they wanted along with other delicious food brought by the pioneer wives. There were medicine shows that came through town, stage plays and dances.

In one of my grandmother’s stories she wrote: “Once two men with a brown bear, led by a chain, stopped at our house and wanted to stay all night. Father told them they could stay in the corn crib. In the morning they came to the house and told my mother that if she would give the bear a pan of milk, he would dance for us. The bear lapped the milk up and then stood on his hind legs and did a shuffle while one man sang a funny tune. The bear then put a stick over his shoulder and marched like a soldier.”

She wrote about “play parties” that were held in different homes. Sometimes it was charades or other quiet games. Often they would sing and go through the steps of a square dance or minuet. They danced to “Buffalo Girl,” “Skip to My Loo,” or “Here Comes a Red Bird Through My Window.”

One of the square dance songs she remembered was “Happy is the Miller.”

“Happy is the Miller boy who lives by himself. As the wheels roll around, he is gaining in his wealth. One hand in the hopper, the other in the sack. As the wheels roll around, the bags fall back. The ladies step forward, and the gents fall back. (This is where the dancers change partners as they march around the make-believe miller.)

There was entertainment at the schoolhouse: recitations, dialogues, spell downs, and debates. Grandma’s older brother and sister both taught school where she attended and for a time her older brother was her teacher.

My grandmother passed away in 1969 at the age of 92. Many years have passed since she wrote these stories. I wish I could sit once more on her fading pink sofa with the picture of magnolias hanging on the wall behind me. Her sturdy Morris chair would be in the corner next to the French doors that closed off one bedroom in the winter to conserve heat. Red geraniums would be blooming in her bay window and I would ask her for more stories. Stories about a vanished world and wouldn’t she be surprised to hear about my world.

My great-grandparents, James and Elmina Jones, arrived in Saline County, Nebraska, in the spring of 1874. They purchased land from the railroad, land for a farm. That first July on their prairie farm grasshoppers came without warning in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and the beating of their wings sounded like a storm. Some called them Rocky Mountain locusts, but regardless of what they were called, the hoppers destroyed all of the crops except the wheat, which had already been harvested. That year was the beginning of the great grasshopper plague. It lasted for another 2 years. During this time James and Elmina managed to get a loan of $100 from relatives still living back in New York enabling them to stay on their farm. This was one of the stories my grandmother, born in 1877, heard during her childhood.

When sorting through my aunt’s papers I came across several short essays my grandmother wrote for her descendants. She wrote of family and farming, grasshoppers and gypsies. She wrote about the Indians that occasionally stopped at her parent’s farm. She wrote about a world that has vanished and will not be seen again.

Grandma knew old settlers who saw the first train come through Saline County in the early 1870s. The train brought the mail, groceries, and almost anything else people needed. Before this supplies had to be hauled by team and wagon, a time consuming affair.

Before the coming of the railroad Indians traveled along the Blue River and Turkey Creek near my great-grandparent’s farm. Old settlers recalled a time when up to a thousand Indians camped along the river near the farm. By 1875, the Federal Government stopped treating Indian tribes as separate nations and began pressuring them to move to reservations. Nomadic tribes found their freedom curtailed and the buffalo were being destroyed with the coming of the railroad.

My grandmother was 13 years old when Sitting Bull was killed in December 1890. She wrote, “Men who belonged to ‘The Sons of Veterans of the Civil War’ were quite enthusiastic about organizing a company and offering their services to the government.” She had two brothers who were members and she was worried, but “it soon blew over and peace was restored.”

Grandma wrote about wild ducks, geese, quail and prairie chickens that were plentiful on this prairie Eden. There were wild grapes, mulberries, gooseberries, and elderberries growing along the creeks and rivers. They never went hungry. The family owned a team of oxen named Buck and Bright and her older brother, Asa, at the age of 8, learned how to drive the team. He broke sod for neighbors for 25 cents a day.

But life was not all work. Grandma wrote of parades on Decoration Day and picnics on the Fourth of July. There were bean suppers where folks could eat all the baked beans they wanted along with other delicious food brought by the pioneer wives. There were medicine shows that came through town, stage plays and dances.

In one of my grandmother’s stories she wrote: “Once two men with a brown bear, led by a chain, stopped at our house and wanted to stay all night. Father told them they could stay in the corn crib. In the morning they came to the house and told my mother that if she would give the bear a pan of milk, he would dance for us. The bear lapped the milk up and then stood on his hind legs and did a shuffle while one man sang a funny tune. The bear then put a stick over his shoulder and marched like a soldier.”

She wrote about “play parties” that were held in different homes. Sometimes it was charades or other quiet games. Often they would sing and go through the steps of a square dance or minuet. They danced to “Buffalo Girl,” “Skip to My Loo,” or “Here Comes a Red Bird Through My Window.”

One of the square dance songs she remembered was “Happy is the Miller.”

“Happy is the Miller boy who lives by himself. As the wheels roll around, he is gaining in his wealth. One hand in the hopper, the other in the sack. As the wheels roll around, the bags fall back. The ladies step forward, and the gents fall back. (This is where the dancers change partners as they march around the make-believe miller.)

There was entertainment at the schoolhouse: recitations, dialogues, spell downs, and debates. Grandma’s older brother and sister both taught school where she attended and for a time her older brother was her teacher.

My grandmother passed away in 1969 at the age of 92. Many years have passed since she wrote these stories. I wish I could sit once more on her fading pink sofa with the picture of magnolias hanging on the wall behind me. Her sturdy Morris chair would be in the corner next to the French doors that closed off one bedroom in the winter to conserve heat. Red geraniums would be blooming in her bay window and I would ask her for more stories. Stories about a vanished world and wouldn’t she be surprised to hear about my world.

My great-grandparents, James and Elmina Jones, arrived in Saline County, Nebraska, in the spring of 1874. They purchased land from the railroad, land for a farm. That first July on their prairie farm grasshoppers came without warning in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and the beating of their wings sounded like a storm. Some called them Rocky Mountain locusts, but regardless of what they were called, the hoppers destroyed all of the crops except the wheat, which had already been harvested. That year was the beginning of the great grasshopper plague. It lasted for another 2 years. During this time James and Elmina managed to get a loan of $100 from relatives still living back in New York enabling them to stay on their farm. This was one of the stories my grandmother, born in 1877, heard during her childhood.

When sorting through my aunt’s papers I came across several short essays my grandmother wrote for her descendants. She wrote of family and farming, grasshoppers and gypsies. She wrote about the Indians that occasionally stopped at her parent’s farm. She wrote about a world that has vanished and will not be seen again.

Grandma knew old settlers who saw the first train come through Saline County in the early 1870s. The train brought the mail, groceries, and almost anything else people needed. Before this supplies had to be hauled by team and wagon, a time consuming affair.

Before the coming of the railroad Indians traveled along the Blue River and Turkey Creek near my great-grandparent’s farm. Old settlers recalled a time when up to a thousand Indians camped along the river near the farm. By 1875, the Federal Government stopped treating Indian tribes as separate nations and began pressuring them to move to reservations. Nomadic tribes found their freedom curtailed and the buffalo were being destroyed with the coming of the railroad.

My grandmother was 13 years old when Sitting Bull was killed in December 1890. She wrote, “Men who belonged to ‘The Sons of Veterans of the Civil War’ were quite enthusiastic about organizing a company and offering their services to the government.” She had two brothers who were members and she was worried, but “it soon blew over and peace was restored.”

Grandma wrote about wild ducks, geese, quail and prairie chickens that were plentiful on this prairie Eden. There were wild grapes, mulberries, gooseberries, and elderberries growing along the creeks and rivers. They never went hungry. The family owned a team of oxen named Buck and Bright and her older brother, Asa, at the age of 8, learned how to drive the team. He broke sod for neighbors for 25 cents a day.

But life was not all work. Grandma wrote of parades on Decoration Day and picnics on the Fourth of July. There were bean suppers where folks could eat all the baked beans they wanted along with other delicious food brought by the pioneer wives. There were medicine shows that came through town, stage plays and dances.

In one of my grandmother’s stories she wrote: “Once two men with a brown bear, led by a chain, stopped at our house and wanted to stay all night. Father told them they could stay in the corn crib. In the morning they came to the house and told my mother that if she would give the bear a pan of milk, he would dance for us. The bear lapped the milk up and then stood on his hind legs and did a shuffle while one man sang a funny tune. The bear then put a stick over his shoulder and marched like a soldier.”

She wrote about “play parties” that were held in different homes. Sometimes it was charades or other quiet games. Often they would sing and go through the steps of a square dance or minuet. They danced to “Buffalo Girl,” “Skip to My Loo,” or “Here Comes a Red Bird Through My Window.”

One of the square dance songs she remembered was “Happy is the Miller.”

“Happy is the Miller boy who lives by himself. As the wheels roll around, he is gaining in his wealth. One hand in the hopper, the other in the sack. As the wheels roll around, the bags fall back. The ladies step forward, and the gents fall back. (This is where the dancers change partners as they march around the make-believe miller.)

There was entertainment at the schoolhouse: recitations, dialogues, spell downs, and debates. Grandma’s older brother and sister both taught school where she attended and for a time her older brother was her teacher.

My grandmother passed away in 1969 at the age of 92. Many years have passed since she wrote these stories. I wish I could sit once more on her fading pink sofa with the picture of magnolias hanging on the wall behind me. Her sturdy Morris chair would be in the corner next to the French doors that closed off one bedroom in the winter to conserve heat. Red geraniums would be blooming in her bay window and I would ask her for more stories. Stories about a vanished world and wouldn’t she be surprised to hear about my world.

My great-grandparents, James and Elmina Jones, arrived in Saline County, Nebraska, in the spring of 1874. They purchased land from the railroad, land for a farm. That first July on their prairie farm grasshoppers came without warning in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and the beating of their wings sounded like a storm. Some called them Rocky Mountain locusts, but regardless of what they were called, the hoppers destroyed all of the crops except the wheat, which had already been harvested. That year was the beginning of the great grasshopper plague. It lasted for another 2 years. During this time James and Elmina managed to get a loan of $100 from relatives still living back in New York enabling them to stay on their farm. This was one of the stories my grandmother, born in 1877, heard during her childhood.

When sorting through my aunt’s papers I came across several short essays my grandmother wrote for her descendants. She wrote of family and farming, grasshoppers and gypsies. She wrote about the Indians that occasionally stopped at her parent’s farm. She wrote about a world that has vanished and will not be seen again.

Grandma knew old settlers who saw the first train come through Saline County in the early 1870s. The train brought the mail, groceries, and almost anything else people needed. Before this supplies had to be hauled by team and wagon, a time consuming affair.

Before the coming of the railroad Indians traveled along the Blue River and Turkey Creek near my great-grandparent’s farm. Old settlers recalled a time when up to a thousand Indians camped along the river near the farm. By 1875, the Federal Government stopped treating Indian tribes as separate nations and began pressuring them to move to reservations. Nomadic tribes found their freedom curtailed and the buffalo were being destroyed with the coming of the railroad.

My grandmother was 13 years old when Sitting Bull was killed in December 1890. She wrote, “Men who belonged to ‘The Sons of Veterans of the Civil War’ were quite enthusiastic about organizing a company and offering their services to the government.” She had two brothers who were members and she was worried, but “it soon blew over and peace was restored.”

Grandma wrote about wild ducks, geese, quail and prairie chickens that were plentiful on this prairie Eden. There were wild grapes, mulberries, gooseberries, and elderberries growing along the creeks and rivers. They never went hungry. The family owned a team of oxen named Buck and Bright and her older brother, Asa, at the age of 8, learned how to drive the team. He broke sod for neighbors for 25 cents a day.

But life was not all work. Grandma wrote of parades on Decoration Day and picnics on the Fourth of July. There were bean suppers where folks could eat all the baked beans they wanted along with other delicious food brought by the pioneer wives. There were medicine shows that came through town, stage plays and dances.

In one of my grandmother’s stories she wrote: “Once two men with a brown bear, led by a chain, stopped at our house and wanted to stay all night. Father told them they could stay in the corn crib. In the morning they came to the house and told my mother that if she would give the bear a pan of milk, he would dance for us. The bear lapped the milk up and then stood on his hind legs and did a shuffle while one man sang a funny tune. The bear then put a stick over his shoulder and marched like a soldier.”

She wrote about “play parties” that were held in different homes. Sometimes it was charades or other quiet games. Often they would sing and go through the steps of a square dance or minuet. They danced to “Buffalo Girl,” “Skip to My Loo,” or “Here Comes a Red Bird Through My Window.”

One of the square dance songs she remembered was “Happy is the Miller.”

“Happy is the Miller boy who lives by himself. As the wheels roll around, he is gaining in his wealth. One hand in the hopper, the other in the sack. As the wheels roll around, the bags fall back. The ladies step forward, and the gents fall back. (This is where the dancers change partners as they march around the make-believe miller.)

There was entertainment at the schoolhouse: recitations, dialogues, spell downs, and debates. Grandma’s older brother and sister both taught school where she attended and for a time her older brother was her teacher.

My grandmother passed away in 1969 at the age of 92. Many years have passed since she wrote these stories. I wish I could sit once more on her fading pink sofa with the picture of magnolias hanging on the wall behind me. Her sturdy Morris chair would be in the corner next to the French doors that closed off one bedroom in the winter to conserve heat. Red geraniums would be blooming in her bay window and I would ask her for more stories. Stories about a vanished world and wouldn’t she be surprised to hear about my world.

My great-grandparents, James and Elmina Jones, arrived in Saline County, Nebraska, in the spring of 1874. They purchased land from the railroad, land for a farm. That first July on their prairie farm grasshoppers came without warning in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and the beating of their wings sounded like a storm. Some called them Rocky Mountain locusts, but regardless of what they were called, the hoppers destroyed all of the crops except the wheat, which had already been harvested. That year was the beginning of the great grasshopper plague. It lasted for another 2 years. During this time James and Elmina managed to get a loan of $100 from relatives still living back in New York enabling them to stay on their farm. This was one of the stories my grandmother, born in 1877, heard during her childhood.

When sorting through my aunt’s papers I came across several short essays my grandmother wrote for her descendants. She wrote of family and farming, grasshoppers and gypsies. She wrote about the Indians that occasionally stopped at her parent’s farm. She wrote about a world that has vanished and will not be seen again.

Grandma knew old settlers who saw the first train come through Saline County in the early 1870s. The train brought the mail, groceries, and almost anything else people needed. Before this supplies had to be hauled by team and wagon, a time consuming affair.

Before the coming of the railroad Indians traveled along the Blue River and Turkey Creek near my great-grandparent’s farm. Old settlers recalled a time when up to a thousand Indians camped along the river near the farm. By 1875, the Federal Government stopped treating Indian tribes as separate nations and began pressuring them to move to reservations. Nomadic tribes found their freedom curtailed and the buffalo were being destroyed with the coming of the railroad.

My grandmother was 13 years old when Sitting Bull was killed in December 1890. She wrote, “Men who belonged to ‘The Sons of Veterans of the Civil War’ were quite enthusiastic about organizing a company and offering their services to the government.” She had two brothers who were members and she was worried, but “it soon blew over and peace was restored.”

Grandma wrote about wild ducks, geese, quail and prairie chickens that were plentiful on this prairie Eden. There were wild grapes, mulberries, gooseberries, and elderberries growing along the creeks and rivers. They never went hungry. The family owned a team of oxen named Buck and Bright and her older brother, Asa, at the age of 8, learned how to drive the team. He broke sod for neighbors for 25 cents a day.

But life was not all work. Grandma wrote of parades on Decoration Day and picnics on the Fourth of July. There were bean suppers where folks could eat all the baked beans they wanted along with other delicious food brought by the pioneer wives. There were medicine shows that came through town, stage plays and dances.

In one of my grandmother’s stories she wrote: “Once two men with a brown bear, led by a chain, stopped at our house and wanted to stay all night. Father told them they could stay in the corn crib. In the morning they came to the house and told my mother that if she would give the bear a pan of milk, he would dance for us. The bear lapped the milk up and then stood on his hind legs and did a shuffle while one man sang a funny tune. The bear then put a stick over his shoulder and marched like a soldier.”

She wrote about “play parties” that were held in different homes. Sometimes it was charades or other quiet games. Often they would sing and go through the steps of a square dance or minuet. They danced to “Buffalo Girl,” “Skip to My Loo,” or “Here Comes a Red Bird Through My Window.”

One of the square dance songs she remembered was “Happy is the Miller.”

“Happy is the Miller boy who lives by himself. As the wheels roll around, he is gaining in his wealth. One hand in the hopper, the other in the sack. As the wheels roll around, the bags fall back. The ladies step forward, and the gents fall back. (This is where the dancers change partners as they march around the make-believe miller.)

There was entertainment at the schoolhouse: recitations, dialogues, spell downs, and debates. Grandma’s older brother and sister both taught school where she attended and for a time her older brother was her teacher.

My grandmother passed away in 1969 at the age of 92. Many years have passed since she wrote these stories. I wish I could sit once more on her fading pink sofa with the picture of magnolias hanging on the wall behind me. Her sturdy Morris chair would be in the corner next to the French doors that closed off one bedroom in the winter to conserve heat. Red geraniums would be blooming in her bay window and I would ask her for more stories. Stories about a vanished world and wouldn’t she be surprised to hear about my world.

My great-grandparents, James and Elmina Jones, arrived in Saline County, Nebraska, in the spring of 1874. They purchased land from the railroad, land for a farm. That first July on their prairie farm grasshoppers came without warning in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and the beating of their wings sounded like a storm. Some called them Rocky Mountain locusts, but regardless of what they were called, the hoppers destroyed all of the crops except the wheat, which had already been harvested. That year was the beginning of the great grasshopper plague. It lasted for another 2 years. During this time James and Elmina managed to get a loan of $100 from relatives still living back in New York enabling them to stay on their farm. This was one of the stories my grandmother, born in 1877, heard during her childhood.

When sorting through my aunt’s papers I came across several short essays my grandmother wrote for her descendants. She wrote of family and farming, grasshoppers and gypsies. She wrote about the Indians that occasionally stopped at her parent’s farm. She wrote about a world that has vanished and will not be seen again.

Grandma knew old settlers who saw the first train come through Saline County in the early 1870s. The train brought the mail, groceries, and almost anything else people needed. Before this supplies had to be hauled by team and wagon, a time consuming affair.

Before the coming of the railroad Indians traveled along the Blue River and Turkey Creek near my great-grandparent’s farm. Old settlers recalled a time when up to a thousand Indians camped along the river near the farm. By 1875, the Federal Government stopped treating Indian tribes as separate nations and began pressuring them to move to reservations. Nomadic tribes found their freedom curtailed and the buffalo were being destroyed with the coming of the railroad.

My grandmother was 13 years old when Sitting Bull was killed in December 1890. She wrote, “Men who belonged to ‘The Sons of Veterans of the Civil War’ were quite enthusiastic about organizing a company and offering their services to the government.” She had two brothers who were members and she was worried, but “it soon blew over and peace was restored.”

Grandma wrote about wild ducks, geese, quail and prairie chickens that were plentiful on this prairie Eden. There were wild grapes, mulberries, gooseberries, and elderberries growing along the creeks and rivers. They never went hungry. The family owned a team of oxen named Buck and Bright and her older brother, Asa, at the age of 8, learned how to drive the team. He broke sod for neighbors for 25 cents a day.

But life was not all work. Grandma wrote of parades on Decoration Day and picnics on the Fourth of July. There were bean suppers where folks could eat all the baked beans they wanted along with other delicious food brought by the pioneer wives. There were medicine shows that came through town, stage plays and dances.

In one of my grandmother’s stories she wrote: “Once two men with a brown bear, led by a chain, stopped at our house and wanted to stay all night. Father told them they could stay in the corn crib. In the morning they came to the house and told my mother that if she would give the bear a pan of milk, he would dance for us. The bear lapped the milk up and then stood on his hind legs and did a shuffle while one man sang a funny tune. The bear then put a stick over his shoulder and marched like a soldier.”

She wrote about “play parties” that were held in different homes. Sometimes it was charades or other quiet games. Often they would sing and go through the steps of a square dance or minuet. They danced to “Buffalo Girl,” “Skip to My Loo,” or “Here Comes a Red Bird Through My Window.”

One of the square dance songs she remembered was “Happy is the Miller.”

“Happy is the Miller boy who lives by himself. As the wheels roll around, he is gaining in his wealth. One hand in the hopper, the other in the sack. As the wheels roll around, the bags fall back. The ladies step forward, and the gents fall back. (This is where the dancers change partners as they march around the make-believe miller.)

There was entertainment at the schoolhouse: recitations, dialogues, spell downs, and debates. Grandma’s older brother and sister both taught school where she attended and for a time her older brother was her teacher.

My grandmother passed away in 1969 at the age of 92. Many years have passed since she wrote these stories. I wish I could sit once more on her fading pink sofa with the picture of magnolias hanging on the wall behind me. Her sturdy Morris chair would be in the corner next to the French doors that closed off one bedroom in the winter to conserve heat. Red geraniums would be blooming in her bay window and I would ask her for more stories. Stories about a vanished world and wouldn’t she be surprised to hear about my world.


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