Perkins County, Nebraska homesteaders wrote about a very different lifestyle
Recently, I acquired a newspaper article featuring Mr. and Mrs. T. K. Davis. They were my husband Ben’s great grandparents and early homesteaders of Perkins County, Neb.
The article written by their daughter, Minnie (Davis) Mickels had some interesting and informative homesteader stories in it. Following are some excerpts of Minnie’s article:
My father lived in Illinois when he was a young man, but he decided to come to Nebraska to seek his fame and fortune. Before leaving Illinois, he picked out a girl for his wife; and in March 1885, he sent for her. Catherine came to Minden, Neb., and was married to my father there on March 15, 1885.
Mother stayed in Minden while my dad worked and looked for a place to settle. He decided on a piece of ground one-half mile east and six miles south of Madrid. Of course, the land was all raw prairie then. The nearest town was Ogallala. There were no roads. Travelers just aimed the team in the direction of town and drove until they got there.
On October 7, 1886, their first child, a boy, was born to my parents. As soon as he was able to travel, Mother joined my dad.
Dad had broken up some ground to build a soddy to live in. That was the only kind of homes the early settlers had except dugouts. Dad also made a dugout for his team of mules. He used the mules in helping to build the railroad.
The first winters were very hard on people. There was no fuel to burn except the wild prairie hay and the sagebrush. Mother braided the tall grass and molded it together to make it burn longer.
The early settlers endured many hardships, including droughts, prairie fires, snakes and grasshoppers, but the blizzards were the worst. I remember Dad telling about one blizzard. The place where he kept his mules started to drift over with snow, so he brought the mules into the house. He tied them to the foot of the bed. During the night, he had to get up and move them as they were eating the straw out of the straw tick the folks were sleeping on.
In the early 1890s, Dad traveled to Minden to shuck corn. During those trips, he would leave Mother along with the small children. One time the children had bad colds, and Lottie got the croup. Mother was afraid to leave her alone, because she was so sick. She carried her to the neighbors about a quarter-of-a-mile. They gave her some skunk oil, and she hurried home with it as the other two children were home alone.
After the folks got some cows, they were able to sell milk and butter, which along with the eggs and chicks, helped to buy some groceries. I don’t know whether the chicks were wild or tame ones. There were a lot of prairie chickens at that time. I noticed one entry in the ledger kept by my parents, which recorded the sale of some quail, so this could have been prairie chickens they sold. In addition to the prairie chickens, there were many jackrabbits.
Watermelons grew well here in the early days, and the folks raised enough to have some of them to sell. I remember hearing my dad tell about a watermelon story. One night, the dog began to bark. As the coyotes had been bothering the watermelons, Dad got up, took his shotgun and went outdoors. He shot down toward the melon patch to scare the coyotes away. A few days later, he went over to one of the neighbors and noticed that one of the boys was missing. Dad asked if he was sick. The neighbor replied, “Oh, he is laid up with rheumatism.” Later, Dad found out that the neighbor boys had been in the melon patch and one of them had been peppered with shot. The boy wasn’t hurt very bad as the patch was quite a distance from our house. The boys spent several nights picking the shot out of his skin. They hadn’t told their dad about being in our melon patch.
My dad hunted prairie chickens and brought three or four home at a time. It was now my older sister Lottie’s job to clean the prairie chickens at night for the next day’s meal. When you consider that she had to feed the big, old cook stove with cobs, it was quite a job.
In 1900, Dad bought a building in Madrid and moved it to the homestead. He didn’t want his last child to be born in a sod house.
Dad was among the first to get a telephone. He later sold telephones and kept them in working order. He also looked after the lines. The lines were barbed wire, being the top wire of the fences. Whenever the line got “out of order,” someone would come for Dad as he had a test set. He could find out where the trouble was. Sometimes he had to drive many miles to repair telephone lines. Mother had a call station in the home and would relay messages.
Dad also had a machine called a header and would cut grain for all his neighbors. All the neighbors would help one another during threshing. Mother would have to cook for as many as 18 men. It took a lot of men to haul the bundles in from the field. The men had to eat in shifts, as we couldn’t make the table big enough to seat all of them at one time.
I remember well one Fourth of July celebration held in Grant. We had a surrey that had curtains. They could be rolled down in case of rain. It was lucky for us that it had those curtains. Shortly after we got to Grant, the rain started. People took their lunches to the basement of the courthouse. After lunch, the rain was still falling so Dad hitched up the horses, rolled down the curtains and we started home. We drove through water all the way home.
After the Perkins County Fair started, we always managed to attend. Early on the morning of the first day, Dad would hitch a team of horses to a lumber wagon, go to the field and pick out the tallest stalks of corn, the biggest watermelons, pumpkins and squash. Sometimes he would take grain to the exhibit. My dad got quite a few prizes.
My folks worked very hard and did without a lot of things. They saved money and bought land so that when their children married they could give each of them a piece of land.
Minnie concluded her article about her parents, T.K. and Catherine Davis like this, “The early pioneers were truly a great people and should have a place in history.”
She did her part by writing the informative article. The weathered article managed to find its way through the hands of several generations. Thus, a bit of Perkins County, Neb., and family history were preserved.
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