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Early Settlers

    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 Society welcomes any additional stories about early settlers that you may wish to contribute to their files.

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Lee Family

        Wayne Lee provided the following about his family in Chase County:

        My Parents, even up into their eighties, had very good memories of their early days.  My mother came to Chase County while it was still part of Frontier County.  She was ten then in March of 1886.  Her father took a homestead in the valley west of Hamilton, which later became Champion.  My father came here in early 1887 and settled with his widowed mother on a homestead south of Lenox, which later became Lamar.  Although he lived in three different houses, his home was on that section of land for the rest of his life, over 66 years.
        My mother could recall clearly her impressions of the country and her feeling of an empty land when she first arrived in western Nebraska.  Her father had built a half dug-out and the family arrived tehre one naight long after dark.  The next morning she went outside, expecting to see a wonderful land after hearing her father describe it.  But all she saw as an empty land, rolling hills, not a tree, not a house.  She did see smoke coming up out of the ground in a place or two where someone else had a dug-out.
        The country frightened her and many things that happened during that first summer added to her surprises.  She recalled a hard rain that stpring when the water poured down the stairway of their dug-out.  She and her mother tried to bail the water off the floor but finally gave up.  Her mother got up on the table and laughed about the whole thing.  But my mother saw nothing funny about it then.
One of the highlights of her first summer here was the Fourth of July celebration.   Sixty years later she gave me a copy of the program presented that July 4th at Hamilton.  One of the most interesting events was the tub rase on the mill pond.
That summer she got the worst fright of her young days.  Cowboys, bringing a herd of cattle through, watered the herd on the nearby Frenchman.  These were the cattle on their way to market at Ogallala.  They had made a dry drive from Buffalo Creek to the south and were thirsty enough that they almost stampeded to the river when they smelled the water.  The cowboys rode along, firing their guns in a effort to turn back some of the cattle so they wouldn't trample each other to death.  Mother hid at the corner of the half-dug-out and peeked around at the commotion, expecing the cowboys or the cattle to turn at any minute and run over her and the house.
Although she didn't know it then and probably never realized it, those cattle were amont the last to make the drive north to market, coming up over the National Trail that ran along the Kansa-Colorado border after Kansas was quarantined against the Texas herds.   Some of those herds went on north but many turned at the corner of Kansas and headed for Ogallala, watering at the north fork of the Republican approximately where Haigler is now, then running north across Buffalo Creek, the Frenchman, and on to Ogallala.
My Father remembered particularly the hard times the family had when they first arrived here.  He was seventeen, the oldest of four children.  His father had died the year gbefore so it was up to him to make the living for the famiily.  He broke sod for a widow who had homesteaded a quarter of land close by in exchange for schooling for his younger brothers and sister.  He hired out one winter hauling ice from the pond to the ice house, getting 25 cents a day for himself and his team.
It was a hard life that I'm afraid too many of us tehse days fail to appreciate.  If they hadn't struggled through those early days of setttlement, we wouldn't have the comparative easy living we have today.  (Written for the Historical Society by Wayne Lee.)
       

 

 

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