W. H. Taylor was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, a country which has
given birth to some of the fairest women and brightest men of modern
times. Though not among the very first settlers of any country, he
has seen something of pioneer life in both Canada and the United
States. At the age of four years, he with their family left Ireland
on a sailing vessel; the voyage lasting eight weeks, during which
time most of the family including himself had the smallpox. They
arrived in Canada and settled in Carleton County, in what was then
an unbroken wilderness; wild animals and Indians being their nearest
and most numerous neighbors. In the same county was a Burgh called
Byetown, now the beautiful city of Ottawa, the Capitol of the whole
dominion of Canada; a country larger than the United States.
Cutting down trees and clearing off the logs and brush was the
bane of pioneer life in Canada, and it was heartbreaking work
compared with anything the early settlers of Nebraska had to
contend. At the age of sixteen years, he left Canada and came to
Seneca County, N. Y., an old settled county whose well tilled
fields, fine orchards, and beautiful lakes make it one of the most
delightful countries in the world. So he became (as he says) a
citizen of the United States by choice and not because of accident
of birth, and such people ought to, and usually do, make pretty good
citizens. Mr. Taylor says: "People like cabbages, improve by
transplanting, and transplanted brawn and brain rule the world." He
is proud of the fact of having always been an asset to the country,
and never a liability, so he makes no apology to anyone.
After working by the month on a farm and chopping wood, a chum and
he took a wild goose chase west, working as they went, till they
crossed the Mississippi at Quincy, Illinois, their objective point
being Leavenworth, Kansas, from whence they expected to drive mules
across the plains to Salt Lake. They went no further, and within a
year Mr. Taylor was glad to find himself back in Seneca County, N.
Y., with a very poor opinion of the West.
Having saved some
money he now turned his attention to securing a better education,
and being blessed with a retentive memory soon mastered the common
branches, and then obtained a higher education in the Waterloo
Academy, the Fort Edward Institute, and the Oswego Normal School,
teaching school between times.
It was during this time that
Doctor Smith, who had known Mr. Taylor from the time of his coming
from Canada, came out to Nebraska and founded the town of Exeter, so
when "Horace Smith joined Horace Greely in telling young men to go
west," he took the advice and came to Exeter on the last day of
April 1873, and on the first day of May had a half interest in the
firm of "Smith and Taylor." He was too late to get a homestead, but
though he missed the homestead, he lost no time prospecting, and
therefore suffered none of the privations some of the homesteaders
Mrs. Smith very kindly provided him with
accommodation in her home, the only dwelling on the townsite; one
room and a leanto, but he had a comfortable bed on a couch behind
the cook stove.
Mr. J. W. Dolan had just opened a lumberyard
but had his office in the store, he slept on the counter and opened
the store in the mornings.
Mr. Taylor was from the first,
delighted with the gently rolling prairie, and never was homesick.
It rained the first night of his arrival, and came very near keeping
it up for the traditional forty days and forty nights, till the
whole country was nearly flooded. In going "from the Smith home to
the a store he would take off his boots and socks, roll up his
pants, and wade through the water.
Some things in the new
country seemed strange to him: the frequency and velocity of the
wind storms, and the amount of electricity in the atmosphere. He had
not been long in the store, when a man came and asked if he had seen
a stray car go by? It seems that a boxcar with open brakes had been
left on the siding at Fairmont, and the wind blew it onto the main
track, and it went clear to Dorchester before it was headed off." In
the usual thunder storms of those days there was one continuous
glare of lightning, and peal after peal of thunder.
that surprised him in the Pioneers of Exeter, was the ability of
some who from appearance did not seem to have much. The county,
towns, and school districts had all just been organized, and someone
had to fill the offices; so nearly every boy or man held an office
of some kind. One was Justice of the Peace, another Notary Public,
another Constable, and some School Officers. A person appointed to
an office even if he had no special qualifications, but was of the
right stuff, could soon qualify. These people had qualified, and he
felt cheap to hear them using legal terms of which he knew nothing.
Here is one illustration: "When the settlers began to break up the
land it was difficult to prevent 'movers' from driving across the
plowed ground. Two miles east of Exeter a very youthful looking boy
from Maine, was plowing with a team consisting of one ox and a cow;
he was barefooted and arrayed in an old straw hat, a cotton shirt,
and an old pair of overalls, held by one suspender with nails as
buttons; when on the west side of his plowing he saw a 'mover' drive
onto the east side. He stopped his team and hailed the man: 'Didn't
you see my sign telling you to keep the section line?' 'Yes! but
this don't do any harm, and I'm in a hurry' To which he replied, ' I
don't care if you are, I can't have people driving over my plowed
land, and I want you to go right back and keep the section line!"
'Guess I won't go back now,' said the man. "Well, if you don't I'll
have you arrested when you get to Exeter!' 'Where is Exeter?' the
man asked in surprise. 'Don't you see that building off to the
west?' 'That's Exeter is it? Then, who will arrest me?' 'I will, I
am the constable!' Then with a look of contempt, the man replied, 'A
H of a looking constable you are! Get up ponies!' and he drove on
and was not arrested, but no one enjoyed the joke more than Fred
Sturtevant the boy constable.
Most pioneers have some 'snake
stories,' but candor compels him to say, that, although a great
walker, and he had wandered over the prairies at all times of the
year, he has never seen a live rattle snake.
He just missed
the April storm of 1873, but has had some experiences with Nebraska
blizzards; one he is not likely to forget:
A party was being
held at Walter Doyel's five or six miles north east of Exeter, Mr.
Dolan and he being invited. It had been a beautiful mild January
day, and they hired a team and lumber wagon and started a little
after dark for the house. Mr. Taylor did not know the way, but Dolan
claimed he did. A gentle snow from the south began to fall soon
after they started, and soon the wind whipped around to the north,
and they were in a blizzard; they were soon chilled to the marrow,
and could hardly see the horses and got completely lost somewhere
along Indian creek. He fears he said some uncomplimentary things to
Dolan for taking him out on the prairie and losing him, but finding
that Dolan's hands got cold and numb, he took the lines and drove he
knows not where; but after what seemed a long time, he spied a light
and drove straight for it; and it happened to be Doyel's house. He
often wonders how many have been lost either in a forest or on a
prairie? A person loses all sense of direction; hardly knows
'straight up,' and can scarcely believe his own eyes when he comes
to familiar scenes. Having been lost in a wood in Canada with night
coming on, with bears, wolves, and panthers at no great distance,
and again after dark in a blizzard on Nebraska's plains; he can
testify that it is not an agreeable sensation.
is pleasure after pain," when they got into the house, the dance was
in full swing, and the discomforts of the trip were soon forgotten,
especially as this was where he first met the girl who has been the
partner of his joys and sorrows ever since.
He had once an
Indian Scare: It was in the fall of 187o, the first telegraph
operator had come to the office, and he was a man who never made
anything less in the telling. On Saturday the news came over the
wire, that the Indians were on the 'war path' and had committed some
depredations, and had killed a few homesteaders about seventy five
or one hundred miles west of Exeter, and the agent said they were
headed this way.
On Sunday evening the agent and most of the
men folk were scattered in different directions; visiting their best
girls. Will Dolan and Taylor being the only able bodied men left in
town, the rest being women and children.. As they were eating supper
by lamplight, the talk drifted mostly to Indians and the probability
of their coming to Exeter. The Indian stories went around the table,
when all at once a big Indian stuck his face right up against the
window, then he with his squaw came in and said. How! and, shaking
hands all round, asked for something to eat. They naturally thought
these two were the forerunners of the whole tribe, so Dolan and
Taylor went out to reconnoiter, and every dog in the vicinity was
barking. Taylor had a revolver, and Dolan had an old army musket,
but there was nothing in the store larger than No. 8 shot. There was
some bar lead, and this they hammered out and cut into slugs. Dolan
armed with the old musket, and Taylor with the revolver and a corn
knife did valiant picket duty most of the night.
morning the old Indian and his squaw called and were again supplied
with food, and so ended the Indian scare.
Mr. Taylor says:
"I had been used to Indians in Canada where they had the reputation
of being truthful, honest, and civil; no one in Canada thought of
having any fear of Indians. When only seven or eight years old I was
often the only man (?) about the place, and we slept soundly with
dozens of Indians camped across a narrow stream from our shanty.
When I came to the United States I was surprised to hear them spoken
of as being dishonest, treacherous, and deceitful. It was simply a
reflection of treatment. It is easy and popular to find fault with
the English Government, (and it has faults in plenty) but the way
England has always treated the Red man and Black man stands out in
happy contrast to the way those people have been treated by any
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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