Mr. and Mrs. James Nolan, now of Cambridge, Nebraska, were among the
pioneer settlers of Fillmore County, having come by wagon from Iowa,
and settled on a homestead six miles south of Exeter, on June 12,
They brought along with them nine head of cattle and
four horses, and were fortunate in having also a good supply of meat
and provisions which lasted them until fall. After landing on the
prairie, they took off the wagon covers and used them to sleep
under, cooking their food by camp fire, and hauled all the water
they needed from Turkey creek, a distance of about two miles. Mrs.
Nolan made her first butter out on the prairie and sold it to Dr.
Smith of Exeter, the next butter she took in, they paid her 30 cents
per lb, and Chas Smith (then a little fellow) said, "We will eat
that butter ourselves."
Their first house consisted of but
one room, made out of logs, sod and grass, having one window and one
door. Their well was dug with a spade, the lumber necessary to use
in it had to be hauled all the way from Lincoln. During the time
they were digging the well Mr. Nolan's mother, (then an old lady of
about 75 years, who made her home with them) got her leg broken.
Their furniture had not yet come, so a bed had to be made of
logs and boards, and a doctor secured from Crete. One day after her
bed had come and she was more comfortably situated, a little house
dog insisted on barking and making a great fuss over something it
saw under the bed, and on investigation it was found that a large
rattle snake was coiled up on the floor. They knew that it must be
gotten out, somehow, without letting her know it, so some of them
gathered around the bed and talked to her while her son took the
snake out with a pitchfork.
Fifteen acres was all that was
broken up the first year, but each year more of the land was farmed,
some trees and shrubs were set out, and a new sod house with a
shingle roof and a board floor took the place of the old one.
One day in August when Mr. Nolan was away from home, his wife
saw a great prairie fire about a mile west, and she, fearful for the
mother lying helpless in the house, went to fight the fire, and
worked hard all day long until sundown, coming home almost exhausted
only to find another fire coming from the east and was only a short
distance from the house, but by this time Mr. Nolan was home, and
plowing a fire guard which saved them from harm. Their first snow
came in the night and crept in all around the roof and open places
in the house, so that when they awakened in the morning they found
themselves covered with a blanket of snow. Their first Christmas
morning on the homestead found everything covered with about two
feet of snow and not an ounce of flour in the house. Mr. Nolan had
to go after it on horseback, the snow was so drifted in places that
it was almost two o'clock in the afternoon before he got home.
It was the custom of Mr. Nolan to fix a lantern on a pole in
front of the house, so that when he had to come home after night,
his wife could light the lantern that he might find his way home,
for at that time there were no roads in the country. The second year
they had fifteen acres of wheat all ripe and ready to cut, so Mr.
Nolan went to Fairmont and bought a harvester, but that night there
came a heavy rain and hail storm, and in the morning no harvester
was needed as all the grain was lying flat on the ground.
the year of the grasshoppers he was fortunate to have his wheat in
the shock, but the corn and the contents of a small garden were
eaten in about an hour, only the stumps of the cabbages remained.
Mrs. Nolan's brother, George Nugent, had a small patch of tobacco,
and they took it all so clean, one could scarcely tell what had been
in the field. Mr. Nugent said, "If they had only waited he would
have gotten them a gross of pipes so they could have had a smoke."
The first school house was built on the south east corner of
their claim, and was used as school house, church, and a place for
any kind of public gatherings, and often proved a place of shelter
for the passing home seeker. In those days the Indians were often
seen roaming over the prairie. One day just at noon one of them came
to the door and wanted his dinner, so they gave him bread and butter
and some coffee; from a good sized loaf of bread they cut four
slices, the first two he ate, but the next two he cut out the
centers leaving the crust.
During the blizzard of 1874, they
endured many inconveniences, having in the house a calf, a colt, and
two dozen chickens. The fuel got so scarce they had to chop up a bed
and other pieces of furniture to keep themselves warm. They endured
many of the trials and hardships incident to real life on the
plains. Three times the angel of death visited their home and
carried away their loved ones, but never did they think of leaving
the place they then called "Home."
Pioneers of Fillmore and Adjoining
Source: Pioneer Stories of the Pioneers of Fillmore and adjoining
Counties, by G. R. McKeith, Press of Fillmore County News, Exeter,
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