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.
Banks, George Sr.
came to Chase County on March 3, 1996, along with quite a few other settlers. Most
of them later went back to where they came from, except the Gardners and Val and Angelo
Hill, who still live in this county. There were two brothers of the Gardners.
We came from Iowa to Holdredge on the train, shipping by freight our horses and farm
machinery, wagons and so on. The minister who preached at our church in Iowa told us
about this part of the country. He thought it was wonderful and he was responsible
for quite a number of families from there coming out here. It was at Holdredge that
we met Val and Angelo Hill and as they said they were coming to Chase County, too, we
traveled together. Most of us who settled in Canby Precinct were Scotch.
In Iowa I was a coal miner, but had a farm and a man to work it for me. I had never plowed a furrow before coming to this country. I sold my farm in Iowa and used the money to settle here.
When we arrived in Holdrege there was a very bad snow storm and blizzard and we had to stay there several days before we could come on. The snow was from six to eight inches deep. The storm finally stopped and we came on the rest of the way in covered wagon. We did not have our families with us when we first came out but sent for them later after we were settled a little.
When we first got here, we thought it was a wonderful country. There were many lakes and lagoons and little creeks, and as there had been much rain and snow that winter, just thousands of wild duck, geese and al kinds of wild game. We thought it would be like that all the time but later the water holes and lagoons and creeks dried up, and when it didn't rain, the drought were as bad or worse than now. I have seen cane and corn that didn't grow over three feet tall for lack of moisture.
A man by the name of Cap Hayes located me and most of the fellows who came in the same bunch with me. We had to go to McCook to file our claims. There were three different kinds of claims we could take at that time: the Pre-emption claim, Tree Claim and a Homestead.
A lot of us including Tom and John McGinnis, Old Mr. Halstead, who is the father of Mrs. ANgelo Hill, John Alexander, Judge McCawley, Val and Angelo Hill and the Gardners got our homesteads and settled in what is now Canby Precinct. About the first thing we did was got together and build a school house. It was made of sod and is where District 22 now stands. We also organized a Sunday School and held the meetings in the School house. It was one of the first Sunday Schools organized in Chase County. This same Sunday School is still in existence out in Canby Precinct except that those attending now are the children and grandchildren of the organizers.
We sent for our families then and built sod houses to live in. Our barns, chicken house, cow sheds and all our buildings were made of sod. The first houses had nothing but dirt floors and then later we put in wood floors. We plastered them on the inside and many were papered also. I was a plasterer and did a lot of that kind of work. One time I plastered for a family living near Lamar and when I had finished, they said they could not pay me. They had just killed their winter's supply of meat, about five or six deer, which were hanging out in the yard, so I asked them to give me one of the deer for my pay and they gladly did so. There were quite a few deer here then and many antelope but we didn't often kill any, so it was quite a treat for us and a surprise to my family when I came riding home with a big deer across my horse. We gave our neighbors some of it, too.
There were only a few houses in Imperial when we first came. Mr. C. M. Cottrell was here and Mr. Fliesbach. Thomas Mercier had the post office and one of the first houses in town. Mrs. Cottrell used to bake bread for some of us who hadn't gotten our families out here yet. She was a good cook and very nice young lady.
The first house built in Canby Precinct was for a man by the name of John Alexander and was made of sod. It stood about where the Adam Jaeger place is now. The first election held in Canby Precinct was about 1888 and was held in the farm house of a man called Judge McCawley. His place was about where the Casebeer place is now.
I helped to dig the first well in Canby Precinct. Before that we had to drink water out of the creeks and lagoons and we didn't like that very well. After the well was dug the people living around there hauled the water in barrels to their homes. There were no roads then and when we went from one place to another, we just set out across the prairie. There were many buffalo trails and we sometimes followed them from one place to another.
All of the supplies here, like lumber, food supplies, wagons, hardware and so on had to be hauled by wagon. I had some very good horses and did a lot of hauling from Ogallala, Benkelman and S tratton. We got about $15.00 a trip. I hauled some of the first loads of supplies to Mr. Cottrell and Mr. Fliesbach. It took a day to get there and two days to come back loaded. We would stop at night about half way back and feed our horses and eat a little supper and stay the night. After our fire went down a little the wolves and coyotes would start howling and would keep us awake a lot. They wanted to get to our horses.
There were no fences from here to Colorado then and we had to Lariat our horses to keep them from running away. There were many bands of wild horses here then and our horses wanted to join them whenever a bunch came near. We had to go out and simply hold them as much as we could to keep them from breaking their ropes and running away. I have seen bunches of wild horses over a mile long with a leader at the head of the column.
After the first year or so times got hard, much harder than any since and I would hate to see anyone have to go through what we went through then. I have hauled corn from here to Grant and then get 10 cents a bushel for it and have sold hogs for 2 1/2 cents a pound at Wauneta. However, all of us early settlers went through the same hard times. There was nothing but prairie and all we had was what we brought with us.
(Given by George Banks, Sr. on December 7, 1938, published by Chase County Historical Society in the Chase County History Volume I, 1938 (republished 1963,1964,1969)
John and Uryetta Baughman homesteaded in Chase County in early 1886. They raided four children, all of whom were delivered by Dr. Hoffmeister. The names of the children were: Mabel, born in 1886; Clarence, born in 1888; Leslie, born in 1889; Ethel, born in 1895. John Baughman contributed articles to a newspaper called the American in Griswold, Iowa, regarding his years spent in Chase County. (Information provided to the Chase County Historical Society by E. E. (Ike) Harshbarger, husband of John Baughman's granddaughter, and published in the Chase County History Vol. VIII)
Berry, Jack "Wild Horse"
of the most spectacular characters in early Chase County history was Jack Berry, or as
generally known, "Wild Horse Berry." To tell who he was, how he got his
name, where he lived and what became of him will be the object of this paper, together
with incidents of his rather strenuous career.
Pioneers and immigrants crossing the plains to California, Colorado, Oregon and other points west often had horses get away from them. These were joined by horses that escaped from the Indians and later by horses from ranches. These horses became wild, creased in numbers, and soon there were numerous bands of them scattered over the plains, wherever the grazing was best and the water supply good. Each stallion had his following of mares and colts, which he guarded jealously. Thus the "mustang" got its origin.
Chase County had its share of wild horses along with the rest of the plains country. Long before Chase County was organized, men hunted for and captured wild horses which they drove east and sold. Among the men so employed was Jack Berry.
The method of taking wild horses was simple but the work was hard. By keeping them away from water, by following them day and night until they were weak and exhausted, and no longer able to run away, the hunters could at last drive them into corrals. There they were watered and fed until in condition to be driven to market. As many as three days and sometimes longer were often required to catch a bunch of wild horses.
Once the chase was started it could not be abandoned until the horses were corralled. This meant going without food for the hunters, as well as their quarry. Wild horse Berry said, "I have missed so many meals, I will never miss any more if I can help it." So he never refused any invitation to stop and eat at a settler's house. He repaid their hospitality with tales of his exploits.
On one occasion he was caught in a blizzard so severe that in order to save his life, he killed his horse, removed the entrails, and crawled inside until the storm was over. In later years he was forced to give up riding horseback because of a hernia. He then drove two horses hitched to a two-wheeled cart, which which turn quickly without upsetting.
When Chase County was opened to settlement, he made entry on the Northwest quarter of Section 17, Township 6, Range 40, West. That is north of Paul Arnold's place and is the quarter west of the Bussell Mill Schoolhouse (District 8). From this base he continued his wild horse hunting until there were no more wild horses. Most of his hunting, however, was done before the homesteaders came in.
Wile living in Chase County Wild Horse Berry was a bachelor, which is a likely reason for never refusing an invitation to eat. After leaving here he was reported to have gone to Ohio, married and reared a family. D. J. Cruise of Champion tells of meeting a man on a trip home from Canada who claimed to be Wild Horse Berry's son. This man rode on the bus from Chicago to Lincoln with Mr. Cruise. He told many stories of his father's life in Chase County.
In hunting wild horses as in any other kind of profitable work, thee was more or less competition. So there had to be rules or regulations to govern the work. One of these rules was that once a man started to chase a band of wild horses, they were his until he penned them, or deliberately gave up the chase. This rule was intended to protect the hunter and to prevent a second party from coming in at the finish when the hunter and his mount were exhausted and depriving him of the fruits of his endeavor.
Not all of the hunters would abide by this rule. It's violation often resulted in trouble between the hunters. Some homesteaders were delinquent in the same way. One of them had trouble with Wild Horse Berry and hard feelings developed. Each started out with his six-shooter, looking for the other. When they caught sight of each other, they both charge shooting as the came. Luckily both missed every shot and when they passed neither man stopped, but just kept on going. This story, however, is disputed.
At another time with the help of a homesteader, he had captured an especially good stallion which they roped and left tied near a water hole. The homesteader was to water and feed it. This he failed to do and the stallion died. This time Wild Horse Berry went to law with the same result as when he tried to settle trouble himself -- failure. The case was tried by a Justice of the Peace named Wilson, who was a homesteader living on the northeast quarter of Section 26, Township 6, Range 40, West. This quarter is now the home of Sol Smith, west of Champion. Some saw he lived north of Lamar at a place called Winchester.
Wild Horse Berry is sometimes confused with Wild Horse Jerry, who also lived and caught wild horses in Chase County at about the same time, but they were not the same man as some claim for Wild Horse Jerry was killed in eastern Colorado shortly after leaving Chase County. This is a story of itself and should be dealt with separately.
I am indebted to Wm. Harmon, Frank Fleming and Sol Smith, of Champion, and J. J. Mackey, of Haigler, for this story."
(This story was written for the Chase County Historical Society by Cornelius Gardner on October 6, 1938, and published by the Society in Volume I of the Chase County History in 1938.)
email Linda Banks at: LindaLBanks@AOL.com