Friday, May 8, 2015

The Sandhills

The Nebraska Sandhills are part of my DNA. We pastured stock cattle in the Sandhills when I was young and I worked one summer putting up hay southwest of Atkinson in the eastern Sandhills. The Sandhills total about 20,000 square miles (just a shade bigger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined), were once called “The Great American Desert” and, except for the fact that this is fantastic cattle country, the “sand” part of the desert claim is about right.

When the last glacier receded about 15,000 years ago, it was much like God dumped a handful of sand on the landscape, and especially as you approach from the west out of Gordon, that is how it appears.
The true Sandhills in my mind have always been centered in Cherry County. A bit larger than Connecticut with a population of 5,788 (less than one person per square mile even if you include the largest city of Valentine) this is cattle country and not people country. The old-timers called it “hard on men and hell on wimmin and horses.” I once drove from Valentine to Thedford, a straight shot of about 65 miles, and on the longest stretch of US-83, I met a pickup and saw two men on horses…but lots of cattle.

Our good friend and fraternity brother ranches in Cherry County and comes from a family that has been a big part of the history of the Sandhills. He participated in the research and publishing of a story called “The Day the Sandhills Died” describing a murder that terrorized the area in the 1950’s. Butch’s dad was one of the posse that organized and caught the murderer who was killed at the end of the search. The spirit of generosity, hospitality, open doors and trust was hit hard, but I would submit this story by another good friend, Danny, to refute the idea that the Sandhills “died”:

It was about 1980 and I had not seen Butch for 8 - 10 years.  I called [him] one evening and invited myself, Virginia, and my brother and his wife, up to the ranch for the weekend.  Of course we were welcome to stop by.

George and his wife Linda were living at the home ranch at that time, on a dead end trail road about 5 miles off the main trail to the home place.  

We arrived in the late afternoon and Linda invited us in for an ice tea.  As we sat in the living room making conversation we noticed a lot of Jehovah’s Witness literature scattered around the living room and, exchanging glances, my family wondered what I had gotten them into.

Linda brought us the tea and sat down to join us.  Suddenly she noticed the Watch Tower publications and quickly gathered them up.  She explained “We hadn’t had company up here for such a long time and these Jehovah’s Witness people stopped by.  They were so nice, we invited them to stay for supper."

Now, that’s what I remember about the Sandhills.

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