When Lanny and I moved to Southwest Nebraska along with our young family in 1961, I was a -pioneer–. I was born and raised around the Chicago area, where I stayed until I married my Nebraska man. The Railroad, his employer, sent us to a small town in Southern Illinois for a year, but that was the farthest I had ever been from my growing up place.
Here was 800 miles away from my childhood niche and family. Except for Lanny=s family, the people were strangers. There was a new life-style to learn: milking livestock, raising and butchering chickens, gardening, canning, trying to operate simple machinery, early rising and long work days. The climate was different and so were the critters! (Rattlesnakes for example.) Weekends were seldom times of rest and recreation as I had been used to.
Not knowing how to drive at that time, the nearest neighbors at least a mile away, storms roaring across wide open spaces often left me with a feeling of isolation. I was overwhelmed with homesickness at times. Being a stranger among people who had lived in the area for generations and living 15 miles from the nearest town was extremely lonely. As I wrote this I not only sympathized with the pioneer woman – I knew somewhat how she must have felt.
As this farm became home to me over the years, I enjoyed and found fascinating the stories of the “good old days” told to me by the people whose roots have been in this area for 100 years or more. I have no roots anywhere. I only know where one of my 4 childhood homes is located. I know nothing of where my grandparents lived. One set had passed away before I was born and the other moved to Florida. Here “home” changes little. What a treasure!
Change is slowly beginning to happen, though. The farmsteads are fewer, the older families are dying out and their children’s children must go elsewhere for employment. The strong family ties are dying along with the stories of a way of life that will someday be forgotten.
A few years ago when the Hay family gathered at this home place for a reunion, as stories of their growing up years, of their parent’s families were told I thought, “These should be written down. This family’s roots are in REAL pioneers!’
I had been fascinated over the years that Charles, the oldest of the Hay children, had an almost perfect memory of dates of happenings and events that took place in this area as well as of the family. I asked him if I wrote would he supply me the information for a family story? He enthusiastically agreed and this booklet was born. For the next 3 years, as my time permitted, we worked together almost weekly, Charles reminiscing, answering my questions, me taking notes. We went over things many times to be sure I got everything right, to be sure there were very few missing pieces.
I knew the story would be incomplete though, without input from the rest of the family. They too had their memories and feelings of past happenings. That was what made the family reunions so much fun! Each memory was a whole new viewpoint of an event. One of the fondest memories, remembered clearly by all, was when Gaylord, as a little boy, almost burned the outhouse down while he was in it! Most amusing was his rendition of what happened. That story is definitely included elsewhere.
Because this family opened their arms, their hearts to this city stranger the past 28 years I give you a precious gift: the story, of your heritage. I hope I have made it interesting to you. I hope you will want to treasure it, handing it down from generation to generation, remembering that your genesis came from hard work and sacrifice.
This is Charles’ and my story yes, but it is a story of a family, the Hays and the Terrells. It could not be a whole story without the input of Virgil, Clarence, Gaylord Hay, Elsie Hay Rogers, and Effie Hay Carlson. Their memories of Eula Hay Andrijeski, who passed away May 21, 1983, and their tales of Keith Hay made this story perfect. I will refer to each of them by their first name only when I quote them in the story.
My gratitude to them all for the time they have given to me, their contributions of memory. But especially my loving Athank you@ to Charles who put up with my questioning for hours and hours and hours. Also I must acknowledge and say thank you to my special friend Judy Allerheiligen who edited this complete story, page by page, correcting punctuation and a few grammatical errors, created the title pages, and made most of the copy. For her and Lanny=s encouragement as I wondered if this amateur writing attempt was good enough.
Thank you, everyone. Now, ENJOYI!!
In the spring when all of nature’s life is reborn, I often climb the bluffs on this place, then sit atop and look upon the land I have come to love as if it were mine alone. It is no mountaintop, but it is a place to be alone without loneliness, a spot to feel the spirit of a gentle wind, God’s soft kiss upon his magnificent creation. It is the season when grays and browns vanish as new growth pushes through winter beds; greening wheat and grasses, the beginnings of wildflowers and cactus. Soon the creek will immerge a fat, green snake, winding its way across the countryside as stalwart trees open leaves, spreading their boughs as a mother’s arms preparing to cradle winged life from nature’s assault. Here and there a tractor turns fresh soil for spring planting. Cattle dot pastureland, grazing lazily from patch to patch of succulent new grasses, their young romping and playing baby-calf games.
Look well. Wild creatures abound in this private place – grazing deer, playful bunnies romping in the sun. A meadowlark, just home from its winter retreat, fills the air with sweet song. I am one with it all; I too feel how grand it is to be a living part of now.
How vast this land. Compared to whence I had my beginnings, it is a wilderness, but it is a tame wilderness with passable roads. Gigantic grain bins rising toward infinity surround modern homes at the top of tree-lined lanes. Electricity is a must to function daily and the underground telephone line a vital link of communication from rural living. The homes are fewer now, the farms and ranches larger, the way of life of only 80 years ago has become but a faded memory.
As I slowly scan the boundless land within my View, I think of humanity first coming to this place. Pioneers indeed they were. Did they then see the beauty in its empty space? Or was it frightening? Did this extensive space seem lonely, forbidding in its unknown? Or was it an exciting new challenge, promise of a new beginning? Had they known just how lonely it would be – the toil, hardship of “breaking out” new ground, at times building a shelter from the earth itself, the limited communication with the world outside of here – would they have come? Or is it a part of youth, this pioneering spirit? I think that is it. Adventure, yes, but, too, a new hope for a better way. Whatever their reason they did come and because they did the wealth that this land can be was discovered. Because of them a world has been fed from this place. Because of these pioneers I am here.
It could not have been easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. It had its sacrifice; it meant leaving loved ones behind never to be seen again; it meant dealing with nature’s elements that at times were so contrary to man=s needs; it meant constant striving for new and better ways to succeed; it meant often wondering if it had been the right thing to do, realizing every dream, new hope, in fact all of life’s living, has a price … and sometimes that price is dear. But because they “hung in there” this is good land and a great heritage. I am grateful to them; I am blessed to be a part of it all.
It is hard to imagine now what it looked like in its beginnings with endless prairie grasses, few trees, only a creature darting here and there on virgin land. I try to “see,” in my mind’s eye even further past that time to great herds of hulking buffalo grazing their way across the prairie (they were here; only 2 miles away a low lagoon marks the spot of a buffalo watering hole). Or I try to imagine Indian braves hunting this immense animal or any small creature that meant a meal for their waiting families. As the buffalo have left a bit of their history behind, so have the Indiana in arrowheads that surface here and there or colorful microscopic beads now used in our hotels.
The beginnings of this place, the artifacts of another time and world, go much farther into the past than buffalo watering holes and Indian hunting grounds. With erosion and modern machinery, bones of creatures 12 million or more years old emerge from beneath these weather-whitened bluffs. In the porch of our 75-year-old house are teeth, jaws, tusks, leg bones, joints, and ribs of these prehistoric beings, relics of an era, a life form once here that is now beyond comprehension.
I hold these ancient pieces in my hand and in the reality of now they are just pieces of old fossilized bone. I look at the relic Indian arrowheads and the watering hole that is an imprint of the past. It is what our own ancestry is becoming; we are lost in modern machinery – electric gadgets that have become our survival, transportation that can take us away from here fast and far. It is no longer just farming the land; it is complicated government programs, larger acreage, and sophisticated means of not only doing the work, but breeding and raising the animals involved. In this so-called “modern” process, (in another even 50 years the ways of now will be considered ancient) as another generation lies buried in the ground, we are forgetting – forgetting that we are a heritage that was built upon that generation, forgetting about the beginnings of it all. Without those beginnings we would and could not be what our now has become.
That is what this story is all about: this family, the times of their beginning here, their lifestyle, and this land that has become their possession. Come back with me in time, live again what once was, and maybe in a small way find yourself. If not that, see your heritage, be proud of what you are, and respect deeply what these people began for us.
Before our families, the Hays and Terrells, began their westward trek to the Trenton area, a taming had begun. There were no great herds of bison roaming these plains for the earliest of white men had come through – hunting mostly for sport – and had almost obliterated the beast. The great herds of millions were whittled down to a mere 551 by the year 1889. The bison had been the critical center of Indian life. With the disappearance of their main source of food, clothing, shelter and winter warmth, there was no way for them to live at peace with the white population that began to invade their territory. They became weaker and were outnumbered. Slowly they moved to other places for survival, or because they were forced by the government to do so.
There was bitter warring, bringing massacres of the white population and among the tribes themselves. A memorial to a tribal battle between the Sioux and Pawnee stands near Trenton, not even 15 miles from here. When the Hays and Terrells came to settle here, people still feared that Wounded Knee would escape and come back. In 1878 some Cheyenne escaped from Oklahoma, breaking away from the army and killing about 40 people at Oberlin, Kansas. There were a few settlers in this area, but they were not bothered by the Indians. Grandma Mary Terrell told Gaylord a story about seeing occasional Indians and that in one instance a small group had come through that was so hungry they ate the carcass of an animal which had died and been left to rot.
Many flint arrowheads have been found here in the yard and also when the farming was done with horses behind the team plowing new ground. Charles told me that his Dad found an Indian war club. The leather on it was worn, otherwise it was perfect condition. He also discovered a rounded rock used for grinding grain. These mementos testify to the presence of many Indians once roaming this part of Southwest Nebraska.
In the early 1860’s two major happenings brought population to Western Nebraska. First was the Homestead Act passed by Congress in 1862. It provided that any person over 21 could obtain the title to 160 acres (a quarter sections) of public land if he lived on the land for 5 years and improved it. The opportunities offered by this Act were advertised in not only America, but Europe as well. The second significant happening that help to rapidly settle Western Nebraska was the railroad. In 1865 the Union Pacific Railroad started a campaign to bring more settlers to Nebraska. It began building its lines west from Omaha, and sent pamphlets describing Nebraska farmland to people throughout the east and Europe.
Settlers moved westward in hoards. They came in covered wagons in large groups or, now and then, in a small group of a family or two. As the rail lines pushed farther and farther west, many came by train to the end of the rail line or to the train stop closest to their destination. They then walked to their claims. The stopping place for this area was mainly Culbertson; unlike Trenton, the rivers were bridged there. From Culbertson the first settlers traveled along various creek beds, one being the Driftwood. Though the Driftwood is now mainly a sanctuary and watering place for wildlife, in the earliest days it played a vital element in bringing settlers to the area, as it was the only readily available source of wood and water on this vast plain.
Many settlers belonged to a main ethnic group, though none did in this area which was to become “Cornell@ 15 miles south of Cornell, in Herndon, Kansas, almost all the earliest settlers were German Catholic; South of Herndon was a Swedish community. Culbertson had German-Russian settlers – the majority being Lutheran, some German Congregational, a few Seventh Day Adventist. Northwest of Atwood, Kansas, were the Czech=s-Bohemians; southwest of Trenton, the Irish Catholics.
Many of these settlers had a trade they inherited in their native country, yet became farmers upon arrival in Nebraska. In Europe, at one time, only the upper class could own land. Being independent was a strong incentive to file a claim and learn a new occupation. When one of the Cornell settlers, Carl Carlson, wanted to sell his 40 acres to our Grandfather, William Hay, Charles= father, Augustus, objected strongly because he remembered how hard it was to own land in Europe.
At one time the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad surveyed this area, projecting a line where tracks could run between McCook, Nebraska, and Atwood, Kansas. Railroads were a crucial means of inland transportation at that time and a large and competitive business. It was speculated the only reason Cornell was ever surveyed was to discourage other railroads from building through here and there was never actually any intent to lay tracks through this area at all.
Some people think the idea of a railroad was the reason the town of Cornell came into being, but the town originated around the post office. The only connection with loved ones left behind by those pioneers was the mail. The drop-off for rural mail here was Culbertson, at first. Though nowadays the 17 miles to that town seems but a short distance, to those people it could have been a thousand due to crude roads and horseback or wagon then being the only means of transportation. It would be best in what had become a populous area to have a post office nearby.
Before the railroad ever surveyed the town, a postmaster was appointed and a small vacant building set up for the new post office. Now the mail was brought to a central close-by place, then picked up by area residents from the new postmaster. A post office stood south of what now is the drive into Johnny Underhill’s farm. The little building was a sod house. One of the first postmaster’s was Isaac Underhill, who continued as postmaster for many years. Though the first post office had its own building, with time it was moved into a corner of the general store – a mere cubbyhole with lock boxes.
On March 31, 1886, Roland Cole gave a dedication deed to the town of Cornell and a plat was drawn up. The original town of Cornell, near where the church still stands, had streets: Kansas, Cooper, Cole, Nebraska, Underhill, and of course, Main Street. Mr. Isaac Underhill was the prominent citizen of Cornell. He had been a Union Army Veteran and is buried in Cornell Cemetery along with one other Union Veteran, D. C. Manful.
The town of Cornell was now official – a plat with designated streets and a post office. Next came a general store, which was built in the late 1880’s. It was a western type store – a rectangular frame building with a roof that could not be seen. It was next to the first post office and was called “Cornell Store & CO.”. After the post office was moved in with the store, the soddy was used as living quarters. The store operated until 1936 and had 4 different locations in the same area. The first one burned down while Mr. A. C. Armitage and John Terrell, who were managing the store at the time, were in the liquidation process. In 1923 the store was moved to a cement building and stayed there until 1936, when it closed. Toward the last, the store was not used much. Ball games held during the summer were all that kept it in operation.
The building still stands with windows boarded “and inhabited only by local creatures of nature” a small and empty part of yesteryear towered over by today=s modern machinery that farms the nearby fields.
One of the first store managers was Mr. Alvin Davis. (Mr. Davis came to Cornell from Wray, Colorado.) In his diary Mr. Davis writes about coming to Cornell and about his new business:
AI … then traded my place to a feller from Cornell, Nebraska. Al Kerns brought this feller up and we got to talking and I traded him two half sections for 80 acres of land and a store and post office… I packed my skillet … in a box and shipped it to Cornell. There was a sod store there, it was L shaped. The house was 2 rooms on the east and the store on the west. I ran the store by myself. I had a little bit of everything in that store. Later I built a frame store just west of the old one in 1910. Ronnie Veal and Scott, fellers who lived 2 or 3 miles from me in the Sandhills, came down and helped me build it. I got the lumber from Trenton Lumber Co… Mode Logan was in partnership with me for awhile… I traded the other one half section of my land in Colorado for some dry goods, suits, women=s coats, and stuff like that, to an outfit in Trenton. I didn’t make too much on the suits …
We had a dance in the store when we got it done, before we moved in. They had dances all over that country down there … We ran the store till 1914. We sold gingham and calico dress materials. Calico brought more than gingham. I’d buy calico for around 2 or 3 cents a yard and sell it for 5 or 6 cents a yard.
At the Post Office we sold money orders and registered letters. We had pigeonhole boxes in the corner of the store. The people picked up their own mail. We had a switchboard in the house for telephone calls. Three lines ran into the house and you could call Trenton, Atwood, or out in the country. We charged 3 cents a call. We’d keep track of people=s calls and they would pay when they came in. (Etta [wife] told the story, how shortly after they were married they had sat down to eat and the switch board rang and she got up to answer it. They were having side meat for dinner and when she got back Alvin had eaten all the lean and left her the fat.) When we built the frame store, it had one room, later I built a room on the back for a cream room. The farmers would bring their cream in and we’d take it to Trenton, 2 or 3 times a week…”
Goods were hauled to the general store by wagon. Tobacco, kerosene, flour, sugar, rice, beans, canned goods, candy, some clothing and a small amount of bacon and fruit were the main items sold. (Charles said he could remember seeing bread in the store only once in 1920.)
There were 3 blacksmith shops in the area and they were thriving businesses. A man=s survival depended on his team of horses and crude machinery, which all needed the services of a good smithy. The main shop was in the town of Cornell. The smithy, Joe Mohollen, married Elizabeth Terrell. A blacksmith shop owned and operated by Jim Haining stood here on this homestead in the 1890’s east of where the chicken house now stands. Rusted pieces of iron still work their way out of the ground – scars of its past existence.
As Cornell became more permanently settled, the need for formal education for the pioneer children was realized. The first Cornell School House, built around 1886, was a small log house. When it no longer could accommodate the growing population, a sturdy soddy became the next school house. School was held only two months of the year, at first due to a lack of funds to pay the teacher. Not too many years later it was held for 6 months. Throughout the early years, when the Will Hay children were in attendance, Cornell School only held classes seven months instead of nine. Many of the children only attended school for six weeks, especially the boys who had to work on their farms. In the earliest days survival came before education. A high school education in the newly developed rural area was virtually unheard of.
When Cornell was established, practically every quarter of land was inhabited. Some were the original homesteaders, but most of these earliest settlers had left the land in the late 1870’s, when vast swarms of grasshoppers plagued the farmers. Hundreds of wagons with signs such as AEaten” out by grasshoppers; Going back East to live with wife’s folks,” headed in that direction. It was a hard life for these pioneers. Making a new start was important, but more so was feeding their family and providing for them in the best way possible. Farming was never a moneymaking venture. As Charles said, “They were lucky to just make it.” Many were squeezed out – the same way as is happening in agriculture in the 1980s and forced to leave. Having AMother Nature” as boss has always been costly.
Every year there was a large scale moving in early spring, around the first of March. It was said some of the women were extremely depressed from homesickness, loneliness, and possibly too, from fear. Indian stragglers still passed through and often the man of the family was gone for days, leaving her unprotected and vulnerable. The haunting, mournful coyote crying out of a black starless night must have been terrifying to a woman alone or with little children to care for and protect. There was also dissatisfaction of renters with landlords or landlords with their renters. Sometimes the first pioneers were just dissatisfied and disappointed, period.
By the late 1880’s most of the original settlers were gone; the land could be had by relinquishment. Not only discouraged families left, but also bachelors who had gotten a claim by pre-emption, lived on the land for 6 months, then sold it for around $50. Employment elsewhere was uncertain and wages low. When these men left the land was untouched, just as it had been when they arrived.
If there was a storm, the migrants would have to wait, but they would go. Their belongings were loaded in wagons on racks or carried. It was a difficult time. This annual migration slackened off in the 1920’s and, by 1941, most inhabitants of the land were there to stay.
The new settlers coming to this area to begin a nesting place knew more what was needed than those first pioneers – a team of good horses and tools to break out the land. A team of horses was considered as valuable as gold to the pioneer.
Miles away from the nearest town meant being self-sufficient and livestock was a vital part of that self-sufficiency; a basic supply of livestock must be brought westward with the settler. Some still came by covered wagon, but few of the supplies needed could be brought this way. Many women had to forfeit all household belongings except the bare necessities needed to begin again, such as clothing, bedding, dishes, and pans. If there was any furniture, it was a family heirloom that could not be parted with or a stove used for both cooking and heating. Much had to be sacrificed by the early pioneer woman.
At this time the railroad, with its well-established line, rented freight cars – one to each pioneer family. These cars were fittingly designated “Immigrant Cars”. They were not only roomier than the covered wagon, but also the cheapest way to travel. There were ten to fifteen of these cars on the daily train, along with a passenger car or two. The family was able to bring more of their personal belongings, furniture, and most important of all, their team of horses, breeding stock (a couple of cows, chickens, pigs, and the most basic implements needed to begin: a plow to work the virgin land and a lister to plant their crops. The family would ride in the coaches, the men in their freight car or the caboose. When the train stopped at a siding, they would get their livestock out of the car for water and exercise. At the town closest to their homestead, these supplies were loaded onto wagons and hauled to the claim.
Chapter 46, the last chapter
The first day of winter 1989 is only a few days away, and the first day of 1990 will be here in not quite 2 weeks. It has been over 110 years since soil was first plowed on this homestead, It has changed tremendously … and yet it has hardly changed at all.
As this December day draws to a close, the temperature drops and I pull my coat snugly as I finish my evening chores of gathering eggs from the same chicken house where the Hay children sought them. The building is crumbling a bit in places, but still shelters fowl well on both sides. Geese occupy the space that chickens don=t.
Lanny feeds our weaned calves (more than one hundred head, a few more than Will hand pitched feed to), home grown corn, alfalfa, and cane much the same as fed to cattle by the Hay boys years ago. Now that feed is harvested by tractor and baler, then brought in for the cattle by a bale carrier, pulled by that same tractor. It is a one-man operation done from inside an air conditioned cab in the summer, heated in the winter. The baler and tractor are computerized. All modern machinery requires more repairs and we won’t even discuss the cost. Such equipment is necessary now to farm larger acreage efficiently.
A way from the Quonset hut out back, the old header and a broken wagon lie rusted in deep weeds and grass – the same dried greens that grew in that spot when they had their useful, hard-working days. Inside the nearby Quonset, our motor-driven combine idly rests in a corner waiting patiently – and hopefully – for next year’s wheat and corn harvests. It takes only one person to operate that combine and one more to drive the truck between the field and the bin. It only takes a day to harvest and safely store about every 50 acres (60 on a good cutting day) of grain.
There are no horses here any longer; they aren’t needed and Lanny has never been a horse lover. The collars of the horses past dangle on pegs in the barn, covered with blankets of soft dust webs. As long as we remain on this farm, they will hang there as a reminder of the crucial role the horse played in the early history of this location – as will the walking plow that rests in a corner in the hay mower above. Each time we look at these monuments of yesteryear we will remember the hard work and sweat that went along with past “now ancient” equipment, then appreciate what our early ancestors accomplished to make this section the excellent land it has become in but a hundred years. Considering the life span of our earth, that is a mere drip in the bucket of time.
The warmth of the house this blustery below zero day is welcome, as it was after a hard day=s winter work – choring – was finished those many years ago. We turn up the thermostat instead of counting cobs; each room is cozy day and night with consistent heat … but early rising is no easier.
The old Seth Thomas Clock on the piano gaily chimes out the hour. The clock is as old as the house. When the family moved to town they took it along. It would not work in the town house. When it was returned to the farm again, it ticked its happy clock beat. (Ada cleaned it with a feather dipped in kerosene, advising me to do the same when it was “sick”, once. I finally had to haul it to the Clock Hospital, where the -“Time Doctor@- informed me the main problem was gunk junk.)
That old clock is the heartbeat of this house. It has watched 4 generations come and go, fascinating small tots with its tick, tick, tick, and hourly bell. Now a 5th generation of Hay decedents run and listen when it merrily sings its hourly tune … a small part of yesterday and the hope of tomorrow.
All of the Hay and Terrell children that came with their parents to the new ACornell@, land are gone in the physical sense; and their children, as well as their children’s children, the life style of each era will one day be a faded memory. But it will never be an ending; each generation is a new beginning. The courage, hard work, ideals, fortitude, and pride that built the lives of that first generation are an inherent part of their extended family. Those qualities never die … because a family is forever.