from Wood River Sunbeam, April 5-May 24, 1923
narrative continues as follows:]
Wood River Sunbeam "The Life History of Norman Reese" April 5, 1923
When we came here in 1860, old Geo. Moody ran from Eagles Island to Fort Kearney as a mail guard, occupying the seat inside the iron railing on top of the stage, and armed with a Sharps Carbine, a Remington revolver with an eight inch barrel. In 1859 the stage had been help up in that locality by road agents, relieving the passengers of what little spare change they had in their possession, so the stage company put George on for mail guard for one year. West of Fort Kearney it was deemed advisable to sent a guard of soldiers to protect the stage, mail and passengers. West of old Phalon Bluffs Squire Land drove from his station to Fort Kearney, a thirty-five mile route, he changed his teams at Wood River Center, where he usually put on four big grey mules which he drove through the Platte river. When the river was at bank full it made a dangerous crossing, but he never touched the lines or used a whip on the animals while they were passing through deep water. He guided the mules by the throwing of little stones that he carried in the front booth, and when he did whip the mules, it was done with a trace chain, when he desired the animals to go up stream, he would throw stones and rattle the trace chain, and they would get in the collar in a hurry. The channel next to the last channel on the south, which is called Ox channel, was very dangerous, and in high water was very deep and the current very swift. More or less stock was drowned in this channel at different times, and passengers on the stage would get wet on their travel. The stage company of Omaha finally built a sand wagon with five inch tires on the tread, and between seven and eight feet high, its steps going up from behind. This wagon was sent out by the company for this Platte river crossing. The drivers would leave the stage on the north side, and the passengers and trunks would be put aboard the sand wagon. I was sent up with the sand wagon on the first trip through the river, and the passengers crossed in safety without getting wet. I sat in the front booth with the driver. Going into Ox channel, the mules were obliged to swim for about fifty feet at one stretch, and all we could see of them was their ears, their entire bodies being submerged. I remarked to the driver that the mules would drown, and he replied that so long as their ears were two feet, six inches out of the water they would not drown, and that they got their breath through their ears. I never knew that mules breathed through their ears before that time. All stage lines came into the stage barns at Kearney about the same time hardly ever any one being more than one hour late. If they were late it was usually on account of snow drifts or swollen streams. The stage barns were located across the road from the fort, where was kept extra horses, mules, stage coaches and other accessories and when there was an over-plus of passengers for the west, they would put on an extra stage on the Overland route. West of Kearney the Pony Express put in. Through Salt Lake to points west, they payed fifty dollars and board which was considered very good wages. A dollar in those days looked as big as a wagon wheel. There was a limit to the weight of a person driving the stage, which was 135 pounds. The agent at Kearney measured my chest, weighed me, and said I filled the bill. He wrote to my parents, but they refused to give their consent as they thought I was worth more than fifty dollars to them. They also thought it was too dangerous to go on a route of that kind. He didn't want me to take any chances as I was considered a good and easy rider. I liked the saddle. The stations being twelve miles apart, the rider would cover a hundred and twenty mile route in fifteen hours, and lay over twenty-four hours before returning. I never heard of a pony express rider being held up although they carried the most valuable parcels. Squire Johnson as he was called, living south of Wood River, on the Bonsin farm told me that in Green River, Wyoming, he was a pony express rider for seven years, and this was the most enjoyable time of his life. The struggle of the great Civil war began late in 1861, and ended with much blood shed, which the old soldiers well know. In 1862 the Indians became very troublesome. They would make a break down the valley and run us in our cabins, and take all of our buffalo meat, we would not get our cabin up again before they would make another raid, which was very discouraging to the settlers. Some of them would stop and converse with Mrs. Eldridge as she could talk the Sioux and Cheyenne tongues, and one or two different times she saved the settlers from serious trouble. The Redskins, knowing of a conflict going on between the north and south went on the warpath themselves. Depredations of all descriptions were committed on the plains. Immigrant trains were attacked, horses and mules stampeded and white villages attacked. Some of the depredations were planned by white outlaws, but not all. As a rule the Redskins were mean without the white men putting them up to any worse. As Mrs. Eldridge has often remarked, they would sign a treaty with one hand and scalp you with the other. In the years '62 and '63 many reports of Indian attacks would come down the valley. Some of them were not true, and on the other hand they were only too true.
Wood River Sunbeam "The Life History of Norman Reese" April 12, 1923
In February of 1862, Captain Smith and his wife, two daughters and two sons, 12 and 14 years of age, located on what is known as the Frank Howe farm, with two wagons and two horses. Mr. Anderson, a distant relative of Smith, with his wife and son William about 19 years of age located on what is known as the old Bill Johnson farm and like a great many of the settlers was without arms or ammunition. Mr. Anderson also had a team of horses and made a sled, as there was eight inches of snow on the ground and all indications pointed to a late spring as there was nothing else to do, they decided to haul up a lot of wood for summer use. As Mr. Smith's horses were quite high strung, he got William Anderson to drive one of the teams and the two Smith boys went with their father to help load wood. Mr. Anderson got his load and started home. The other two wagons were not loaded, but nearly so when he left. Mr. Anderson got home with his load and unloaded it and wondered why Mr. Smith was not yet in sight as it was snowing and drifting badly. Finally Mr. Anderson decided to go back and get the other load and see what kept the others. On nearing the channel he saw the two wagons loaded with wood standing on the ice, but no horses, and could not understand what it meant. On reaching the place where they had been, he discovered that the harness had been cut into pieces and thrown in the snow. Near the wagon lay Captain Smith with his hand clutched in each of his son's hands and an arrow through his heart. The oldest son had two arrows through his body and the youngest son's head had been hacked with a tomahawk. He at the sight of arrows knew this to be the work of hostile Indians, but no where seen his own son. He supposed that he had been taken into captivity to be torchered and burned by the Indians. His heart was wrent with agony, for he realized that his own son faced the greatest danger, and it rested upon him to break the sad news to the lone wife and daughters of Mr. Smith. My father and myself had just reached the top of the hill with a load of ash logs, at what is now known as the Bill Dristy farm, when he saw Mr. Anderson coming at full speed. He came up and stopped all out of breath. My father asked him what the trouble was and all he could answer was "Indians" and my father being very cool headed, sent me home with the logs and father got into the sled with Mr. Anderson, giving me instructions to bring his medicine case to the Anderson home in less than a half hour. William Eldridge's brother, Jess, Richard Moore, James Jackson and my father accompanied Mr. Anderson back to the scene of the murder and loaded the bodies into the sled. On investigation it was found that faint tracks in the snow lead down the channel about forty rods below, where they found William Anderson on the toe-head with a green cottonwood pole across his head, which was mashed to a pulp. His hand were pinned to his sided by arrows. The tracks in the snow plainly showed that there were Indians on each side, and they took this method of ending his life and did not scalp any of them. They put the body into the sled and took it to the Smith home. Jess Eldridge and Richard Moore and Jim Jackson went to Fort Kearney that night and reported the matter to the quartermaster, but he told them they could lend them no assistance. They at once went to Doby Town, which is two miles southwest of Fort Kearney where they got in touch with John Talbert, who has business interests in Doby Town. Tolbert was employed as interpreter for the government at Fort Kearney and was very kind to the settlers. He used his influence with the quartermaster, and he agreed to furnish us with arms and ammunition. Each one of the settlers was then given a musket and Remington revolver, one hundred and fifty rounds of cartridges, bullets, powder and caps for our revolvers. Next day the stage coach was loaded with the arms and ammunition for the settlers, and they were sent word that they would be compelled to protect themselves from any attack by hostile Indians. He had strict orders from the war department to hold the soldiers in readiness as they were liable to be dispatched south at any moment, and were already drawing soldiers from western forts. The next morning after the murder, Jess Eldridge, Richard Moore, Jim Jackson and John Talbert armed with carbines and revolvers, went down the island east of Fort Kearney thinking that they might locate the guilty Indians, but unexpectedly ran onto eighteen Sioux warriors. The Sioux quickly formed a line of battle, and John Talbert in the Indian tongue demanded that they throw up their hands, which they refused to do. Talbert ordered his companions to put their carbines to their shoulders but told them not to fire until he gave them orders. He once more ordered the Indians to throw up their hands. At this last command their hands went up for they knew Talbert meant what he said. They were marched to the Fort and given their hearing, but declared they knew nothing of the murders on the day previous. They were let go on promising to return to their reservation as they had no horses or ponies in their possession. I took my father's medicine case to him, leaving my older brother standing guard at the cabin. My mother, sister and youngest brother crawled under the bed with an ax and pitchfork for their weapons. It is hard to imagine the feeling and the agonies of the mother and daughters, as they reviewed the remains of their husband and brother, who a few short hours before had left their home alive and well. In such a short time they had been brought home brutally murdered by arrows and tomahawks by bloody thirsty redskins. Kind friends, a dark cloud hovered over the entire settlement, as no one knew who might be the next to fall a victim and meet a similar fate. The bereaved ones at times became hysterical, and my father was obliged to administer stimulants to quiet their nerves. Boxes were made, as caskets were not obtainable, and two days later, they were laid to rest, side by side in one grave under an elm tree, where over hanging boughs marked the grave. Anderson and his wife, Mrs. Smith and her oldest daughter, sold out their rights in this part of the country and returned to the east. The youngest daughter, who had married a man by the name of Miller, received the shock of the murder very hard, and this hastened her to an early grave. Kind friends, a-- like this on the frontier was a life of dread, misery and torture, which was very heard both on the mind and body. Bill Eldridge, who was a very open hearted man and a good neighbor was also a heavy drinker, and when he could not get whiskey he would buy bitters which he claimed made him strong. His wife pleaded with him as only a wife could for him to break himself of the habit of drink, but all her pleadings had no bearing in the case. Throughout all she bore her burden well and took things as they came. When he was gone she would come to our cabin at nights and return in the morning to attend to the stock.
Wood River Sunbeam "The Life History of Norman Reese" April 19, 1923
In the year 1864 three hundred
warriors, squaws and pappose surrounded the Eldridge home, and Bill thought
his time had come, but they had come only to offer him his pick of ten
ponies out of five hundred for his wife. They wished to take her to Pine
Ridge or Rosebud, but she refused. She had no fault to find with the Indians
as her happiest days had been spent in the Indian reservation, but she
had married her pale face as she wished to live the remainder of her life
among her own people. The Indians told her if she did not go with them
that before twelve moons came around they would massacre the whole settlement.
The Indians were committing crimes west of Kearney on the Overland trail
near Cotton Wood Springs, where there was a small squad of soldiers stationed
and were stampeding horses [a]nd stock and running them out on the Republican
river. Shortly after the Cottonwood Springs was called Fort McPherson
on the north [sic] side of the river. When the railroad went through,
a station was built, and called McPherson, later on it was changed and
called Gothenburg [sic]. At Plum Creek which was twenty-four miles west
of Kearney, and which was a post in command of one officer and thirty-four
mounted men, with eighteen supply mules, experienced a massacre half a
mile west of the Post bluffs. A supply train of overland wagons was all
loaded with supplies for Fort
Wood River Sunbeam "The Life History of Norman Reese" April 26, 1923
When the rail road built through this part of the country, a station was put in north of the river at this place called Plum Creek, but later named Lexington. After our work on the graves was completed that day, we were guarded back to Fort Kearney, staying all night in the fort and returning home the next day. Excitement ran very high down the valley on account of the terrible massacre and things began to look very critical as the redskins kept up their terrible work whenever they saw an opening. One night at midnight Richard Moore rode down the valley at full speed warning all the settlers of the movement of the Indian warriers [sic] and to be on the look out as there were 700 redskins all in war paint holding a scalp dance up they valley. They had killed two Pawnees that day, scalped them, wounded another and taken him in captivity on Prairie Creek northwest of Richard Moore's place. They finally scalped him and burned him to a stake. They would dance and yell around their victim until they would fall exhausted. The settlers sat up night after night with their muskets in readiness, waiting and watching for the approaching redskins. The German settlement, as it was called, had fine homes started with good supplies of poultry, chickens, ducks and geese, and fine hogs and cattle. They lived in the bottom lands, where they had plenty of corn, cabbage, vegetables of all kinds and good grain. Just getting well fixed, they were reluctant to leave their homes because of the Indians and tried to think of some means of protection. Koenig & Wiebe, who had a good stock of groceries and dry goods on the north channel of the Platte which the people in Grand Island call Wood River, they also felt the same way. By the movement of the redskins, the Germans knew there was going to be serious trouble sooner or later. They also knew that they had too many possessions to move it out of the country, and Koenig & Wiebe also knew that with their large stock of goods it would be impossible to move out of the country. Consequently they called a meeting of the settlers, and in the course of ten days by working together they had a large [?????????? line or two missing] of Koenig & Wiebe's store. This was a long structure with walls made of sod about eight feet high and three feet wide with port holes. It was one of the finest forts one would want to see. The settlers would take their families to the fort at night, and return in the morning to attend to their chores and field work. The Indians, like any nation of war, had spies and knew of the movement of the Germans, but they being well supplied with arms and ammunition in case of an attack, they put up a big defense. The Germans were very anxious to give this Fort a name, some wished to call it Fort Grand Island, and others wished to call it Fort Wiebe, as Koenig's and Wiebe's store was known as the O. K. store. But Henry Timpkie, who lived a half mile from the store, said it should be name Fort Sour Kraut, and it was known by this until the store was removed. But nevertheless the Germans were prepared to put up a good fight against nine or ten thousand warrers [sic]. But after that the hostile Indians never put in their appearance, but should they have done so they would have received a warm reception. In July of 1865 Mr. Eldridge, Mr. Lamb and my father set to work putting up hay on the bottoms near our home. They had put up three stacks, one for each of the men, and we were going to cut and draw the rest home. The Redskins had run us out of the bottoms three or four times, but on the first of August the critical moment had arrived. The Redskins had cut the telegraph lines east and west of Fort Kearney, the stage was stopped and freighters were blocked. All was excitement up as far as the Jim Boyd ranch, one mile and a half west of where Gibbon is now located. Northwest of Wood River Center, which is now known as Shelton there were nine hundred Indians in war paint preparing to strike a fatal blow to the settlers and forever end their career. James Jackson rode down the trail and told us to load all our effects into our wagons, as all the upper settlement was doing and move out as the Sioux and Cheyennes were on the war path, and as matters stood it looked as though we would be headed off at Silver Creek. We lost no time in getting ready. We left many things behind. My sister had to leave a chester white pig that was given to her in the spring, and we left about half our chickens to care for themselves. Feed was so high, although eggs sold at fairly good price. They sold at between fifty and sixty cents a pound. Never did our corn and vegetables look more promising and all were very reluctant about leaving their homes, but all felt they had to do it [??????? line missing] in their possession, all having a small amount of stock with them, and we fell into the ranks with our cattle and with tears in our eyes, we bid goodbye to our cabin forever. My father knew it would be useless to ever think of coming back under the present conditions. We rushed our cattle ahead on the hot, dusty road. We rushed on and on, finally reaching Fort Sour Kraut. There all the Germans were excited, and expecting at any minute, but in a few days were disappointed for the hostile warriers [sic] had not put in an appearance. We kept on, however, until our cattle became too weary for travel, and about 12 o'clock that night put to camp for the first time. We were anxious to reach Columbus, although were passed the danger line as it was. When reaching Columbus our cattle was weary and foot sore, and they telegraphed Washington in regard to the stampeding [sic] of the settlers. Without awaiting a reply the colonists went on. Lamb, Eldridge and my father cut our cattle out, as they knew it would not do to rush them, but let them feed along the road at will. The other settlers would not slow up, but as fast as their stock would play out, they would sell it for half nothing.
Wood River Sunbeam "The Life History of Norman Reese" May 3, 1923
The settlers made good time, some going to Iowa City and some to Davenport, not stopping for anything. Two ladies died on the way, one the daughter of Jess Shoemaker, who married Charley Combs, died just before reaching Omaha. Another lady by the name of Mrs. Hasington, died east of Council Bluffs. She was nervous, and could not stand the strain. Mr. Eldridge sold two heifers for about half of their value and bought some provisions, and invested in some extracts of logwood. He said that he must keep the tenth commandment, which was to keep good spirits, and our spirits were certainly down. We allowed our cattle to drift long and decided to take up land in northern Iowa where there was vacant land to be had. We were willing to go anywhere that we might be rid of the torture of the plains. On reaching Fremont, we met a man who had a hundred tons of hay cut ready to be put in the stack, and we hired out for wages, letting our cattle graze on the plains. While there a member of the town board appeared with a telegram from Pres. Johnson [sic--April 1865 or later] telling us to remain there. In less than ten days he sent soldiers to escoart [sic] us back and to remain and protect our settlement. At the time the Northwestern railroad had got as far west as Des Moines, so the soldiers and supply wagons were shipped to Des Moines, and in six or seven days they arrived, and gave us much encouragement. We started back, but could not keep within gun shot of them. They were fine looking soldiers with yellow complections [sic]. We came to find out that they were galvanized Yankees. They had been confederate soldiers who had been taken prisoneers [sic] by the union army, and rather than be thrown in prison, not knowing how long the war might last, they took an oath that they would not take up arms against the United States but would enlist in the U. S. service to protect the frontier settlers. This caused some bitter feeling among the settlers, who took their time in following them back. Before we arrived at our settlement the soldiers had stationed themselves at different places along the old trail east and west of Kearney. The Indians had burned up our hay there was plenty yet to be cut and the soldiers liking the west turned in and helped us put up our hay. As the soldiers stood guard at night the stage coaches were not long in getting into operation again. Freight and immigrant trains soon began moving over the old Oregon and Overland trails unmolested by the red skins as they knew of the presence of the soldiers and did not show up along the trail. We were glad to get back to our cabins and home. Our chickens had been killed and cooked by the old fire place and the bones were left lying out. Our pig we never saw. Four scalp sticks were stuck into the logs of our cabin and some were found about the stage station. Also as the Eldridge cabin, it was evident that the Indians had been there but why they did not burn the cabins and other buildings is not known by any. It was thought they presumed if they attacked immigrant trains, they might use the cabins as places of refuge or breast works. Most of the settlers on hearing of our protection, returned to their claims that fall, and more came in to take up claims that fall. The more that came in, the more sickness prevailed in the community and my father was kept quite busy, his charges were very moderate and he had a good business, having as his motto "Live and let Live." His good nature, pleasant ways and good judgment made him many friends. If the doctors of today used the same good judgment that he used, there would be fewer operations and a great many less dope fiends. His practice grew steadily to the year of 1869,when he passed to the great beyond. He left behind a good name and reputation that added to his memory for a long time. This country was subject to drought and also to hot south winds, so the crops only yielded good about once in two or three years, but after the stampede, the settlers had a very fair crop, which was a great benefit to them all. My life has been spent in Wood River valley since I was fourteen years of age, among the buffalos and redskins, and I knew nothing but hardships and hard work. The redskins did not trouble the settlers living on the old stage route, but a man owning a team of horses was not safe five miles away from the settlement. Elderly Mr. Story, who had returned only a short time after the stampede, was a victim of Indians one afternoon when about five miles from the settlement. At this time a band of Indians had driven a hear of buffalo down to the edge of the bluffs as a bate. The Mitters brothers, who owned a fine team of bay horses, decided to get some of the buffaloes, and asked Mr. Story to go along with them as driver. They were armed with muskets and Mr. Story was in the bottom of the wagon with a double barreled shot gun. They drove out to Prairie Creek, and the two brothers ran up a draw to get a shot at the buffalo, when a band of Indians rode down to Mr. Story. They held out their hands in friendship, and two of the Indians dismounted, standing in front of the team and patting the horses. There were about twelve in number. But upon seeing the shot gun in the wagon, one of them rode around and took the gun while the others were engaged in conversation with Mr. Story. The Indian put the gun to his shoulder, and deliberately put nine bucks in to Mr. Story's body, he falling into the wagon dead. They then cut the horses loose. The Mitter boys saw the whole affair at a distance, but were unable to do any thing, having to hide to save their lives. The shooting occured about 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon, and the young men were obliged to remain until dark. When darkness set in, they started on the run, and eventually reached the Jim Boyd ranch. Their lips and tongues were parched and bleeding, and it was some time before they could tell the story. The soldiers stations here could do nothing as they did not have horses, so consequently every few days a band of Indians could be seen prowling around waiting for a chance to get some horses. At the close of the Civil war, settlers began to drive in with good teams and implements with which to work, and they laughed and made fun of the early settlers. If they had been here, there would not have been a redskin left, and the settlers would have been worth millions of dollars.
Wood River Sunbeam "The Life History of Norman Reese" May 10, 1923
In settling up the Loup river valleys the horse stealers became very troublesome, trying to stampede the settlers' stock. After the war, the government sent soldiers to the west, and a fort was erected on the North Loup and named it Fort Hearts [sic]. With a company of cavalrymen stationed there, they did much towards driving the redskins to the reservation on the Missouri. Frank North, interpreter of the Pawnee Indians, who was raised with his parents at Columbus, Nebr., was thought very much of by the young Indians of the tride [sic], as he spoke their language as well as his own. He finally received a commission from the government to enlist these Indians into the service, and bring them to Fort Kearney, where they were located. He secured the service of the Indians as soldiers at thirteen dollars a month, and he was placed in the command. They threw off their blankets and leggings and put on soldiers clothes which made them feel quite uncomfortable and out of place. They were furnished revolvers, cartridges, government horses and rations, and as they could not get along without their blankets, they wore them over their uniforms, even though large drops of perspiration dropped from their faces. They were called the Pawnee Scouts in command of Major North, and had good success in keeping the horse thieves away. One day in the 66's [sic] along the middle Loup, Sioux Cheyenne and Cammoche [sic] warriers [sic] had Major North and his Scouts completely surrounded, and a bloody battle took place. It looked as though Major North and his scouts were about to meet their doom, when reinforcements arrived just in time to save the day. The reinforcements came from Fort Heartsuff, and for a few minutes the firing was thick and fast. The Indians eventually took to the hills with the loss of thirty warriers, while ten of the scouts had been sent to the happy hunting grounds. The pawnees went to work scalping their victims, very well satisfied with their victory. The Indians returned to Red Cloud, White Clay and Pine Ridge, where they remained for sometime but they finally decided to call on all western forts with a flag of truce and make a treaty with the government. Major North and his scouts were payed [sic] off and honorably discharged. When the war was over, it was a sight to see the soldiers uniforms fly, as the Pawnees garbed themselves in their blankets and leggings. Frank North, who was afflicted with asthma, was obliged to go west for his health, and formed a partnership with Buffalo Bill and started a horse ranch at the foot of the mountains above Denver. For a time his health seemed to improve, but at last a change took for the worse, and he returned to his old home in Columbus, where he passed to the great beyond. Buffalo Bill never passes through Columbus without visiting the grave of his old friend and partner and offering a prayer to God in his behalf. A year later the Pawnee reservation was bought by the government and thrown open to the white settlers. The Pawnees were sent to a reservation in Oklahoma, and they contracted small pox, which in almost every case proved fatal. Most of the Pawnee tribe today is in the happy hunting ground. The tribe consisted of four bands, namely the Skeedies band, Chowee band, Kitcokhaw band, and the Peter Hawweedut band, all belonging to one band, but of different families. About this time a preacher from Omaha came out on the stage to see if he could not do the settlers some good, and held meetings in a mill owned by Mr. Wainwright, and run by water power. For one third, he would make a good meal for the settlers, but he always kept the largest third. He converted six ladies, Mrs. Lamb, Wainwright, Maddock, Beal, Michael and Mrs. Baker, but it seemed that he could not have an influence over the men. William Eldridge, always with too much whiskey aboard, was always in attendance, and took the greatest interest in the sermons even though he usually had a quart bottle of liquor in his pocket. They tried to convert him, but failed. Mrs. Maddock came to me and wanted me to join. I knew nothing of Christianity, and not knowing what to do, I refused. She asked me what of heaven it would be without any men there. Dear reader, if this is Christianity, a boy of my age could truthfully say that Christianity is abused to a great extent. The Millers converted Byron Beal, a lad of about 19 years of age. He was not a bad young man, but was in the habit of picking up little things he saw laying around, such as hammers or monkey renches [sic], which he would sell to immigrants to get a little spare change of his own. In trying to convert Bill Eldridge, Mrs. Maddock took a quart of whiskey out of his pocket, although they claimed they did not use it, Mrs. Maddock handed the bottle to her husband and he hid it in the stable. After the meeting was over, the preacher wanted a private talk with Bill Eldridge. He pleaded with him to see the error in his ways, but [?????? lines missing] trying to reason with a man under the influence of liquor. Upon missing his bottle Mr. Eldridge immediately went to the O. K. store to secure another bottle on which to sober up on. He did not attend any of the meetings from that date, and Mrs. Maddock did not attend two or three meetings, and on investigation it was found that she had her husband had been under the influence of liquor for two days. In the meantime the preacher became more and more unjust in his dealing about the mill, and settlers getting their corn ground, were lucky if they got their sacks back. Finally all refused to bring the corn to the mill unless he changed conditions in regard to the toll. The preacher, becoming disgusted, took the east bound stage back to Omaha. A few nights after Bryan [sic] Beal was converted, he induced my brother and myself to go with him and make a raid on Mr. Hansen's melon patch. We did not require much coaxing, although it was our first offence, and our last. Mr. Hansen's claim joined the claim of Mr. Thompson. Mr. Hansen was a very quick tempered man, but had an extra fine patch of melons enclosed by a two railed fence along the road. Upon leaving the house Byron could not find his coat, so put on his father's which was a long pigeon tail coat with pockets in the back, into which he put two large stones to use for self defense in the event the Hansen dog was turned loose. We crawled under the lower rail, but did not reach the melon patch before the dog began to bark, and Mr. Hansen came rushing from the house, and took after us. My brother crawled under the lower rail and took up the road as fast as he could. Beal put his hands on the top rail and jumped over, but by this movement the stones bounced from his pockets and struck him in the back of his head, rendering him almost senseless. However he soon picked himself up, and warned us to run, but Hansen caught me, and if ever a boy took a flogging it was Norman Reese. He beat me most unmercifully until he was out of breath, and so was I. He then told me that he would tell my father, and I knew if he did, I had another beating in store for me. I told him I was sorry, and promised never to do anything of the sort again, and then let me go. I had gone only a short time, until he called me back, and begged me not to mention the matter to my father, and seemed very sorry, as he realized he had given me a brutal whipping. He procured two fine melons which he forced me to take, and told me whenever I wanted a melon to come to him and he would get me one. I was so sore I could scarcely carry the melon but finally caught up with my brother and Byron, who had been waiting to see how I came out. Byron's nose was bleeding and he had a large lump on the back of his head, which I convinced him was not caused by a hit from Mr. Hansen, but by the stones in his pockets. We were not in the mood to eat watermelons, and they did not taste good for some reason or other. A short time after this Byron Beal went to Lincoln, where he studied for the ministry and today Rev. Beal is one of the finest speakers of that city.
Wood River Sunbeam "The Life History of Norman Reese" May 17, 1923
After the stampede, a man by the name of Jones took up a claim on the Overland Trail three miles east of Spring ranch. He put in a small amount of hay, and had a shack that was partially finished, but the Indians ran him out and he went to Fort Kearney. While there he ran across Charles Lamb and Perry Magers and offered them his claim for ten dollars. They came to our place, and we got our horses ready to go and look the place over. We ware armed with revolvers, while Lamb had a needle gun that shot sixteen times, on cartridge in the barrel and fifteen in the magazine. Perry Magers had a Sharps carbine, one cartridge in the barrel and eighteen in his belt. I also had a Sharps carbine with one cartridge in the barrel and twelve in my belt. On reaching a small island next to the South Platte, which was surrounded by timber, we saw not three quarters of a mile off, and at sundown what we thought was a drove of elk. The sun was shining and gave the objects a yellow cast, and we counted thirtytwo of them. We thought they were making for a haystack on the Jones claim, and picketed our horses out on this island knowing that if the elk went as fast as we could and got behind the hay stack, that we might get good shots at the supposed game when they came close enough. But the elk saw us, and instead of elk as we supposed, it was a band of thirty-two warriors, and headed directly in our direction as they had spotted us in our hiding place. At once they sent a burning arrow, which set the hay stack into blazes in no time. We were compelled to get away from the stack, and made for the timbers. No doubt but that the warriors had bows and arrows, but they used only arrows, as they were armed with flint lock guns. Sooner than we realized, we were in a hand to hand battle with the Redskins but it seemed that they had no shot, but plenty of powder, and they loaded their flintlocks with little stones and sand. They came toward us with their yells and warhoops, which was worse than their firing. The three of us kept close together. The smoke from the burning hay gave us the advantage, and we set up a rapid firing, but a blow knocked me flat, and I thought my head was blown off. I, however, soon gained my reason and was on my feet once again when they made their first charge on their ponies. They circled around and went back to their starting point to load their guns, when a burning arrow whizzed through the air, striking me on the left shoulder, again laying me low. This time I did not believe that I would ever breathe again, and had I known a short prayer, I would have repeated it. I knew that I had a bold body but a cowardly pair of legs. In this case my legs were too weak to give my body any assistance. I found out no matter how cowardly a boy was, in this case he would fight or die. But in this case it looked very much like it would be both fight and die, and there seemed no possible chance for an escape. I thought of all the stories I had told my parents, and how one or two different times, I had deceived them. Many odd things came to my mind, and I wished that I might see my father and mother just once, and they might forgive me for the wrongs, I had caused them, before I died. At the second charge we were more composed, and as they came forward on the run with their fearful yells, we pulled out revolvers. I shot four times thinking I shot only twice, and by that time the Indians had turned south again to reload. In this charge Lamb was shot in the thigh and chest. Perry Majors was shot in the face with a charge of sand. The wounds were nothing to speak of amounting to the scratch of a rat. We got into position again for the last charge, although my shoulder was paining me very much from the effects of the burning arrow which struck me. As they came forward I took my position, but forgot to put another cartridge in my gun. I saw my mistake, and pulling my revolver I fired in one of the redskins blankets. I looked up at this time and saw and Indian with his tommy hawk raised above his head, and aimed directly for Lamb's head, but the Lord was on his side. As the tommyhawk was descending to its mark, Lambs pony felled him to the ground, but the redskin could not withhold the weapon, and it fell to the ground at Lamb's side. He was soon on his feet again, and buckled the hostile weapon in his belt. When they were returning to the south, we fired a volley of three shots about sixty yards, and we saw a pony fall from under its rider, the rider turned a complete somersault. One pony after this carried two riders, and they made straight for the blue. All of this occurred inside of twenty minutes. Just after the Indians had left a freight train consisting of 13 wagons, with four miles to the wagon, and belonging to Bill Tomas, came along. The train had been to Denver, and was turning to Plattsmouth to reload and go back to the west. They induced us to stay with them over night, and we enjoyed a good meal consisting of antelope steak, coffee and flapjacks. They put antelope steak on my shoulder to draw out the inflammation from the wound. We also had to remove our boots to shake out the quantities of sand which had sifted down into our shoes. The men did not see how we escaped instant death nor did we either for thirty-two half naked painted warriors with their weapons and war yells, was enough to raise the scalp off our heads. The next morning we went to look over the grounds on which we had the encounter the night before. One pony had been killed with our guns, having it's neck broken, and we found dirty muslin covered with blood, but we were undetermined whether we killed any of the redskins or not. Both Lamb and Magors made up their minds that they did not want to claim on the Overland trail. Whenever I think of the night of the conflict, it gives me a feeling that is far from pleasant, but who came in two or three years later have said they wished they were in my place, and they would have gotten the scalps of the thirty-two warriors and all their ponies. But talk is cheap. I would willingly go out and fight Indians on the warpath and take my chances if they would give me half a chance, but they will fight under no conditions worse than twelve to one advantage. In 1886 [sic] the government sent out land surveyors through Nebraska, and two or three of them stayed at our place for several days going over figures. They gave us quite a little information concerning section corners and half mile stakes and told us what amount of labor would be necessary to provide for steamboats to go up the north channel of the Platte river. This channel was called the meandering stream of the Platte river, and their figures showed that the north channel put out ten miles east of Fort Kearney, which formed the Grand Island. This channel went to the old Lone tree stage section. The figures showed that Grand Island was sixty miles in length, and ranged from half a mile to two miles and a half in width. This had been known as Grand Island since the early fifties. From the island, the city of Grand Island obtained it's name in 1867
Wood River Sunbeam "The Life History of Norman Reese" May 24, 1923
In 1867, another company of surveyors came through and made three distinct surveys, one line running north of our cabin, one line one mile north, and the third line one mile north of the second. At this time they said they were surveying for a railroad. The second line of survey was selected for the rought [sic] of the railroad. Wood Choppers were set to work, tie choppers and saw mills put into action, and timber certainly flew along the Platte. The contracts for grading were let to some of the most noted political men, who subcontracted them to private parties, and they in turn subcontracted them. These contractors all made some money, but the men who did the work came out at the little end of the horn, and how the dirt fly. It looked like a busy world around here. But when the day for the month's pay rolled around, the gang boss informed the men that they would be obliged to throw off $5, of their wages. Most of the men had families, and inquired what this was for, and they were informed that it was for a reserve fund, which they were told was customary where they were paid cash. If they did not consent to this, they were obliged to wait for ninety days, but most of them were compelled to give in on account of their dependent families. Even at this early date monied men, speculators and corporations controlled all business matters, no matter of what nature. The little farmer and small property holders and hard working class of people paid their bills. Dear readers, I do not take those facts from anyone, I have been through the mill. I have worked for corporations and private individuals and in every case I have been obliged to pay them interest on what they have owed me. Kind friends, if you and I got into a political ring, most likely we would do the same thing. It is plain that the bigger rascal a man is, the more friends he has, and the more he is thought of. Ties and wood was being drawn to the track, at a very rapid rate, and sawmills were quickly turning logs into ties. In the fall of 1867 and the spring of 1868 the working gangs began the work of laying ties and with their force were able to average about seven miles a day. Through this part of the country, the land was very level, and therefore did not require much grading work. Early pioneer settlers about this time received small pamphlets, which they thought were records of bills which had passed congress, but in fact was a contract between the railroads and the government. It stated that the government would give the railroad company fifteen thousand dollars for each mile of road it layed through Nebraska, also every alternate section of land for thirty [sic] miles each side of this track, and also one hundred feet from the center of the track on each side of the right of way. The pamphlets also stated that all parties holding claims in these sections, taken before these grants were made, would be allowed to hold them, and the railroad company forced to take the same amount of land in others localities. Cook Lamb [???] and my father's claims were the only claims that were in section 13. Some years later under the McKinley administration, there seemed to be some misunderstanding between the government and the railroad company in regard to the right of way but through an act of congress the company was granted four hundred feet of right of way instead of two hundred feet, which caused a great deal of dissatisfaction to those who had government land along the line of the road as well as those who had purchased railroad land. For sometime there was an investigation, but so far there had been nothing accomplished. What the outcome will be is still to be seen. But I claim that money and corporations will control more than their rights, and those who are looking forward to redeeming a part of the right of way, will be compelled to take their medicine in large doses. Along in June, 1868, we heard the first whistle of a locomotive in this section of the country, and the first one we had heard since the spring of 1860. In the fall of 1869, the railroad ran from coast to coast, making a little faster time than the ox team. When the railroad first went through here, Mr. Koenig and Mr. Wiebe erected a large store on the ground now occupied by Koehler hotel, and called it the O.K. Store. They erected a flour mill where the Glade mill now stands. They conducted the first bank of Grand Island with Mr. Wiebe, cashier and Mr. Koenig assistant cashier. The old store on the channel of the Platte and the Fort has long been torn away. It was known as the old O.K. Store, and stood on the farm now owned by Mrs. Turner, called the O.K. Farm. In the year 1871, Richard Moore and myself proved up on our land, and turned over our hard earned money to the government. Sometime later we received our patent signed by the president of the United States, U. S. Grant. Sometime later the president manifested in one of his speeches, which we seen in a New York paper, a desire that all pioneer settlers in the western part of Nebraska be rewarded for their faithfulness and hardships and struggles with horse stealers during the Civil War. Looking back to 1860, when this country was a vast wilderness and to many places alkali holes and prairie dogs, and now noting the beautiful homes with orchards and alfalfa fields corn and waving grain, the development does not seem possible. Today this country is one of the most productive and cultured in the land, with its fields of grain in abundance, and with the cities crowded with churches and schools. What few of the pioneers are left say that this country has at last become a land of liberty. The antelope, elk and buffalo and bloodthirsty redskins are found no more. My dear friends, I truly hope that you who have been born and brought up on the old Oregon Trail will be interested in my life, adventures and experiences. As a pioneer since fourteen years of age, my entire life has been spent in the Wood River valley. I can vouch that my statement is true and correct in every sense of the word, and I have written the above that you may form a clearer idea of the hardships and struggles of the early pioneers in the Wood River Valley, and on the old Oregon Trail. Are not the few pioneers who are left justly entitled to a pension just as the soldiers who served in the Civil War? Did we not endure more hardships, face more dangers that the soldiers who served throughout the conflict? I can truthfully say that we have done our duty to the government and to our fellowmen. I remain yours truly, one of the early pioneers in the Wood River Valley. Norman Reese.
created: October 2, 2003 by Karen Keehr
up-dated: October 2, 2003