Saturday, March 1, 2014



I don't think I ever was acquainted with anyone else who homesteaded. Probably only knew a few who stepped barefoot on a snake, but that's a later story.

Frank and Ada moved into the Clark house, about a half mile west of our place. It wasn't that far, a bit more than half mile, especially when riding a tall, registered American Saddlebred mare such as the one my mother was riding that stormy Sunday afternoon.

So now we have three semi-related stories, and I will take them in their chronological order, not that it is important to do so. Just arbitrarily starting with Homesteading.


Homesteading was pretty well completed in my part of Nebraska and east of there by the early 1880's. Grandpa Sam, my paternal great grandfather, bought the place that is still in the family in 1884, one year after it was homesteaded, but Nance county was late to the party because it had been designated an Indian reservation. Genoa was founded in 1857, mostly to serve the Indian population and the surrounding areas, but the settlers had been kept at bay for many years.

Finally, the Pawnee tribe was packed up and sent to Oklahoma where they eventually had land either stripped by the Oklahoma land rush or land that had oil under it. The beautiful territory that is southeastern Oklahoma is still mostly "Indian land." But the farm land around Genoa was deemed too valuable for them to remain.

The homesteading spread west, and young men, mostly, sought their fortune in the wide open spaces of Wyoming and Montana. Jerry and Pat had a picture on their wall that we took on the "Jones Place," an abandoned homestead barn in the Powder River country of Montana. This homesteading persisted into the 20th century, although  the Depression and drought of the mid-1930's brought a practical end to "farming" and small ranching in Wyoming.

Somewhere in the 1920's, somewhere in Wyoming, Frank Pickett homesteaded. Since I found his stories to be absolutely fascinating, he related all of this to me and now, half a century later, the stories come back to me.

He was born in the early 1890's, served in the Great War, survived the flu that claimed more American soldiers' lives than enemy activity and decided to make his fortune in Wyoming. They battled dry land, harsh weather and the impracticality of trying to make a living on 160 acres in Wyoming versus 160 acres in Iowa or Illinois. A "quarter" was just not going to cut it economically. Plus, there were infestations of locusts and plentiful pack rats which he told me he would shoot with his pistol for sport...inside the house. The houses were nothing more than lean-to shacks, bachelor quarters, so it isn't quite like it sounds. Without telephones or electricity and without cars or tractors, it was a throwback to an earlier time.

After working all week, they would "do chores" early (always a cow, maybe some hogs), saddle up and meet with neighbor men to ride for hours to a dance. Dance into the wee hours, saddle up and ride back the rest of the night to work all day the next day.

Not long after the place was homesteaded, the reality set in and Frank left Wyoming. I didn't know what he did for many years after that, but he was retired from the post office by the time I first knew him about 1960.

He taught me to play cribbage (he must have been a terrible teacher because I am a terrible cribbage player), took me to my first round of golf, (ditto on the poor teacher thing) and told me lots of good stories.


Flying Glory was a tall, beautiful, athletic bay mare with a colt. The American Saddlebred is known as the "peacock of horses" because of their regal bearing and ability to perform showy gaits. She had two colts when we owned her, the names forgotten now, and the oldest one perished in quick sand after we sold it. A real shame.

She was my mother's horse, and a fine animal.

I mentioned that Frank and Ada lived in the Clark place west of us, and the event that is, again, vivid in my memory happened on a spring Sunday. I know it was a Sunday because no work was being done in the middle of the day, just chores.

Before Frank and Ada, that place was owned by Jim and Grace Clark and, after their passing, by their sons, Jim and Tracy. I don't think I ever knew old Jim, but I remember Grace cruising past our house on her way to St. Edward to teach, driving her Model T Ford. Young Jim, on the other hand, was quite a modern man with the latest cars (he owned a Hudson) and a Jeep that he had put together after WWII after buying it surplus, still packed in cosmoline.

Brother Tracy was the horseman, always buying and rehabbing horses with behavior problems who eventually became an equine veterinary professor at Iowa State. Jim was good with horses, also, and that Sunday was breaking a young buckskin. The colt was skittish and with a storm brewing dark in the afternoon sky, my mother volunteered to ride back with him to calm the colt. They took off, and just as they reached Jim's driveway, the rain was approaching from the hills to the southwest. My mother turned for home, Flying Glory was not happy to be away from her colt that was still in the barn at home, and when the first big cold drops hit her rump, she took off.

My mother was an accomplished if unenthusiastic horsewoman, but there was no way that she could rein in that mare on her way back to the barn and her colt. By this time, the rain was coming down pretty good with a few hail stones thrown in and that mare was flattened out with her ears pinned back, just like her name, "Flying Glory." We, my dad, my brother, the hired man and me were all standing in the alleyway of the barn with the doors slid wide open. The horse and my mother came into the driveway, through the mud and into that alleyway going way too fast. Glory sat down on her hindquarters and since her hooves were wet, slid on the polished planks the entire length of the alleyway, finally crashing into the wall at the end. It was a miracle she didn't fall because if she had, it would have most certainly caused serious injury to my mother and probably the horse.

She stood up, my mother still on board, walked to the door where her colt was nickering and waited for someone to get that stupid saddle off! A traumatic injury avoided, to horse and rider, the event is now recorded only in my memory as everyone else is gone.


Somebody thought it was a good idea to insulate the Clark house, and that it would furthermore be a good idea to use local products. That is apparently how the Clark house came to be insulated with ground up corn cobs blown into the exterior walls.

Like so many good intentions, this one was fraught with unintended consequences as the cobs had some corn on them, the corn was a banquet-in-waiting for mice and the mice were just the ticket for snakes. Eventually, there were snakes everywhere--Ada opened her cupboard one time just to have one tumble out in front of her.

To be fair, they were just bull snakes, harmless and beneficial, but for someone like myself, they were still snakes and I just don't like 'em.

Frank complained about the snakes a bit, but Ada was in my camp and they eventually moved from the house because of the snakes. During their stay, however, Frank told me about getting up to go to the bathroom and, while walking barefoot across the floor stepping on one of the snakes. Well, at that point, for me, further progress toward the bathroom would have been pointless. Also, I would have devised a way to never get out of bed in the dark ever again!

So many of these details reside in my brain. No wonder there isn't room to remember what I had for breakfast or the name of someone I met recently. The more recent memories get bumped and these old ones just stay in their original places. Maybe I will dredge up some memories of my horse, "Klinker." Until then.

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