Chase County, NE
The Chase County Historical Society, located in Champion, Nebraska, has since it's inception in 1938 collected personal histories of residents of Chase County, Nebraska. These oral histories provides a history of Chase County that goes beyond facts and information about the state. Listed on these pages are transcripts of interviews of many early settlers of Chase County, Nebraska. I am grateful to the Historical Society for the work it's researchers did in preserving these stories, and for permission to share them here with other researchers. These stories and other important historical information about Chase County can be found in their published Histories of Chase County, copies which can be purchased from the Society or viewed in the Imperial Republican Library.
The very inception of our pioneer
experience was a visit from our nearest neighbor, John Van Dyke, in northern Missouri.
He had just returned from several months sojourn in western Nebraska. He
related that after much travel and investigation, he had decided upon a choice location
consisting of 160 acres of level, rich, prairie land not far from a small village called
After numerous family councils, my parents decided to migrate to western Nebraska. This was the year 1886. We soon joined company with many other homesteaders. Our rate of travel was about 25 miles per day depending on our ability to locate camping sites for the night. At such place groups of travelers would gather around the camp fire and engage in animated conversations about the great opportunities to be found in the Golden West.
Father succeeded in finding a vacant 160 acres near the head of the Frenchman River. The other men returned to their eastern homes somewhat disenchanted. Our journey had been completed after five weeks of tiresome travel, a distance of about 450 miles.
My parents seemed quite jubilant over the acquisition of 160 acres of land and even spoke of another 160 as a tree claim. To them that would be deemed a king's domain.
My father made a trip to Haigler for his lumber and supplies. Two bachelor homesteaders, skilled laying sod, were employed. Kindly ex-cowboy Levi Kunkel showed them where to get the best sod on his creek bottom homestead and with the help of my brother John, a lad of 18 years, and a pal of his who had come from Missouri with us, the one-room sod house was soon completed.
Soon after we moved into our new house, my brother John and his pal, who each owned a good saddle horse, took Dutch leave and returned to Missouri. They made the return trip in ten days. My middle-aged parents and their lonely 11- year-old boy were left to face the future. The outlook was gloomy indeed. There were just a few scattered homesteaders, many of them single men.
Just one mile north of us lived a family named Dishman. A boy in this family named Alter Dishman was just my age. Their homestead is now Wayne Lee's home. We two boys formed a friendship that lasted for years. We spent much time together looking for old Indian camp grounds where we picked up numerous arrowheads and some other Indian artifacts. Or we tramped over the pastures in search of buffalo horns. During the bad weather, we would spend hours dressing them down by scraping them with pieces of glass. When finished, they would be a shiny, coal black. Then we would mount them in pairs and hang them on the wall for ornaments.
In the years of 1887-88, the real development of Chase County began. Hundreds of acres of prairie land were broken by the use of "grasshopper" plows. These were light walking plows with removable share and then sometimes four long curved rods for mold board. Crops planted were not always too successful because the farmers had not yet learned to adjust their efforts to the natural conditions.
The years of 1891-92 were splendid crop years. The Burlington completed their road construction by laying track as far as Imperial in 1982. They delayed further work and finally abandoned their 40 miles of grade between Imperial and Holyoke.
There was a short period of comparative prosperity, then the roof fell in. We had five consecutive years of drought and hot wind. This was a period that really separated the men from the boys. The years of 1893-94-95-96-97 were a time of hardship and heartbreak. There was almost a complete exodus from town and country. Our population decreased more than 60%. People sacrificed their homes and everything they had for just enough to get out. To illustrate: W. S. Bailey bought a choice quarter two miles northeast of lamar with a complete set of improvements for $160.00. Henry Blanke traded a team, wagon and harness straight across for a quarter three miles southeast of Lamar. This included a good frame house, all out buildings and windmill. They estimated the property at $250.00.
I taught school in 1896-97-98 for $20.00 per month and was tempted to buy a quarter one mile south of Lamar for $200.00 but was advised against the deal by men in whom I had great confidence. I tell of these instances to show how everyone was so completely disillusioned.
In the 1940's rural electrification was established throughout the county. Great progress was made in the development of all rural areas. Fine modern farm homes now occupied the place of homestead shacks of former years. In those new homes are found the exact duplication of the ultra modern appliances and conveniences that are used in the homes of the aristocracy of the land.
Ellsworth E. and Bella Epperson Arterburn
Ellsworth and Bella Arterburn both homesteaded in Chase County, and that is where they met
and got married. They were married in the home Bella Epperson Arterburn's parents in
Rio, Illinois on January 10, 1889.
Ellsworth Arterburn left is home in Kansas shortly after his graduation from college and went to Chase County. He had a homestead, a preemption and a timber claim. During his life he served as Deputy County Clerk, County Treasurer, Register of Deeds and Clerk of the District Court. He transcribed the recorded from Hayes County when Chase County was established. He was a bonded abstractor and had the only set of abstract books other than those held in the Court House.
E. E. was very active in the real estate business and was responsible for bringing new settlers to the areas. He bought many hundreds of acres of grass land which he developed into cattle ranches, wheat and alfalfa fields.
His daughter reported to the Chase County Historical Society that he first started the Arterburn Ranch west of Imperial, near Lamar. The area had been open range where cattle had grazed freely. When he fenced the ranch the barbed wire was cut between the poles. He replaced the wire and it was cut again. He then sent for bloodhounds, and when word got round about this, there were no more fence cutting.
Bella Epperson came to Chase County shortly after graduating from Lombard University. She took the train to Benkelman, Nebraska, and then to Imperial. She had a homestead next to the homestead of her brother, J. Frank Epperson. They built one house on the borderline between the homesteads, and they were then able to sleep on their own homesteads, which was required. Bella Epperson kept house for herself and her brother.
The Eppersons became interested in Christian Science and Church services were held at their home or at the Millie Flieisbach home.
The Arterburns sold their real estate interests in Chase County and moved to Lincoln in 1905, where Mr. Arterburn believed there would be greater educational opportunities for his family.
(Information provided by Lucille Arterburn Henry, daughter of Ellsworth and Bella Arterburn, and published in 1965 by the Chase County Historical Society in Chase County History Volume II)
H. E. and Gordon Athey owned the Wauneta Mill. After the mill burned down, they installed a generator and sold electricity in the town of Wauneta. Athey also bought the Champion light plant from Jay Hoke. He did some work on the dam after his purchase. A little building housed the generator and a man by the name of Frank Norman took care of the plant in Champion for Athey. The building eventually burned down and Athey sold the distribution. Athey was taught surveying by A. Cunningham and was the Chase County Surveyor for many years. (Information provided to the Society by Marvin Athey, son of H. E. Athey.)
email Linda Banks at: FlorenceEm@AOL.com