Dr. and Mrs. H. G. Smith Homesteaded in 1870

Dr and Mrs. H. G. Smith homesteaded in 1870. When Dr. Smith first visited this district, he walked from Lincoln to Milford and then on to where Exeter now stands. When looking for a place to locate, he noticed a line of survey stakes along where the B. & M. Railroad was afterwards laid, and another line of stakes about one and a half or two miles south. Being desirous to be near the railroad, he selected a homestead close to each line of survey and left it with God for final decision, he having asked for divine guidance in this as in other matters. He knew either homestead might be taken before he reached Lincoln, and, that the railroad would not be laid in both places. On his return to Lincoln, he found the south location had already been filed upon by another, so he accepted and filed on the North location, securing a 160 acre homestead.

For some reason the north location was chosen by the railroad company. Thus Dr. Smith’s claim was near the railroad as desired. In the fall of 71, the “Townsite Co.” wanted a town site, and though the location here was considered a little flat for a town, the correspondence between Dr. Smith and the company was such as to lead them to accept his homestead for the townsite.

The Smiths came from Allegan, Mich., coming by rail to Lincoln, then in a lumber wagon from there to their homestead. After coming part way from Lincoln, it was found the load was too heavy, so the lumber for the stable was unloaded and left at a farm house to be secured later. Young Charles was taken sick on the way and the mother had to make him comfortable on the spring seat, and manage for herself as best she could on the lumber. Night overtaking them before reaching their destination, they had to seek shelter. Seeing a small ‘house with a light in the window, they drew up and sought hospitality for the night. The house was composed of one room, in which lived the man and his wife and two ‘hired men. There were only two beds, but in spite of the meager conditions, and in harmony with the hospitality of the times, shelter was secured; the Smiths using a bed in the one corner, the host and hostess had the bed in the other corner, and the men were comfortably tucked away somewhere on the floor. The journey was resumed and completed the following day. A house of boards and battens was built in such a way as to be ideal for a dry climate which at that time suggested this form of construction. But it rains sometimes in Exeter, and it began to rain about three weeks after the house was built. Mrs. Smith found an umbrella too small to cover a bed and had to resort to carpets with which to keep the sleeping place dry. The house was the last one west at that time, the next being twenty-two miles away.

It was in this house of one room, two windows and a door, that they entertained the gentleman sent out in behalf of the government to take the particulars in the laying out of the town.

The nearest post office was Lincoln, the mail being brought by any friend visiting the town. Provisions were scarce in the immediate neighborhood. Dr. Smith had brought a good supply for their own use, but was not willing; to sell out of the little stock. As a result of so doing he was led to order a stock of goods from Chicago, and open up a store. They built a store room 8 feet by 16 feet, the counter was composed of two dry goods boxes. The stock of goods arrived at Lincoln in due course and Dr. Smith went to town to look after them but hadn’t the money to pay the freight. Their doings as heretofore were left in the hands of a Kind Providence, and as the Dr. wandered about Lincoln wondering what to do, he was accosted by an old friend who on learning that he had ventured onto a claim, and knowing something of the needs relative to such an undertaking, suggested that he must need money, and if such was the case he had just to ask and receive! Li this way the case was providentially met. The Dr. received his goods, returned home and was able to meet the demands of the neighborhood through the little store.

The nearest medical doctor was twenty-six miles away, which made it necessary for Dr. Smith to attend many sick cases; though he came west with the intention of being free from medical practice. The exigencies of the hour often found in him a responsive heart and a willing hand. The doctor also acted as land agent for the railroad company and others for many years.

In due course a larger store was built by Dr. Smith and Mr. Dolan, for general merchandise. This building was built where Ziska’s store now stands. Over the store was a large hall, in which services were held. The Sunday School and church services being union gatherings. The Congregationals were organized as a church in March, 1872; the Baptists in May, 1872; the Methodists about the same time, but they met together as one organization until 1878. The Congregationalists provided preaching half the time and the Baptists and Methodists the other ‘half. Then as a result of denominational pressure from without rather than from within these disbanded and became separate Churches.

In 1878 the Congregationalists suggested the building of a church between the Baptists and themselves, but their suggestion was not accepted.

The Union Sunday School was disbanded in January, 1879, what little property there was being divided between the three denominations.

Among the pleasant gatherings were what were known as “the sings,” held in the homes of the people, When the singing of favorite Hymns was a joy and delight to all. As many as fifty people coming from far and near to share m the gatherings.

The jumping of claims has been a common practice in the western states, and many were glad to know of such a possibility. One such case was that of the Rev. Ingham, a Baptist minister, who came here looking for land. Dr. Smith knew of a claim two miles west of town which was abandoned, and others had their watchful eyes upon the place, waiting for the day when they might lay claim to it. The Dr. knowing when the time would expire, had the Rev. gentleman well posted, and with a Mr. Payne, a member of the Baptist church, who loaned a plough and team, they went out, and had just struck a few furrows when another man came rushing from the west on horseback, but ‘he was too late, the land was taken.

The Smith house was once visited by two Indians from a car that had been switched off near the town. As their custom was they stealthily drew near the house, looked through the windows and then walked in. Mrs. Smith was scared at first. She says one was a handsome young man, stately in bearing; he carried a bow about four feet across, and a quiver of arrows. After a serving of fried cakes and other eatables, they went away satisfied. On another occasion, a Pawnee Indian called. Mrs. Smith happened to be out of the house, and after trying the doors and windows, ‘he passed on his way.

One day an Irishman arrived on horseback and wanted a drink, probably the white flag with the red S, used as a Store sign attracted his attention, this being in some parts the Saloon sign. The pail of water with dipper stood quite near, so he was told to help himself, but I want a drink; said the Irishman. Well then, there’s the water, help yourself said the mistress of the house. But I want whiskey! and on being told that no such drink was kept there, he tried several of the patent medicine bottles and failing to find whiskey he left.

During a thunderstorm, a flash of lightning made its way down the chimney, and melted the ends off the wires which stretched across the store, upon which were hung different kinds of tin ware, the commotion can well be imagined, but fortunately the lightning missed the Kerosene Can and passed through the corner of the floor without causing a fire.

The first child born in Exeter was Anna E. Smith, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Smith.

The first post office for this community was opened in the spring of 1871 at the Woodard home, and called Woodard, with that gentleman as post master. It was soon moved to Exeter and Dr. Smith was appointed the first postmaster at a salary of $10.00 a year.


Pioneer Stories of the Pioneers of Fillmore and adjoining Counties, by G. R. McKeith, Press of Fillmore County News, Exeter, Nebraska, 1915.

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