Henry Eberstein of Fillmore County

Henry Eberstein, now of Wichita, Kansas, was born and raised at Kalamazoo, Michigan. In the winter 1863-4, he enlisted in the first Michigan Cavalry, and served in the army of the Potomac under Custer and Sheridan until the close of the war. After the grand review at Washington the Michigan Cavalry Brigade was shipped to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and began the march to Salt Lake City. Other parts of the brigade were sent by another route. During this expedition they protected the “Ben Holliday” overland stage line from the Indians, and when winter came they moved to the city. The Mormons at that time were bitter enemies of the government, and never missed an opportunity to insult the soldiers or the flag. One incident more than others is worth recording.

One Sunday at the Tabernacle, or “Bee hive” as it was often called, a sermon was preached by Brigham Young knowing that the colonel of the brigade, Peter Stagg, of Detroit was present in which he boldly proclaimed: “Brave boys, are they! but a dozen of my women with broomsticks can put the whole regiment to flight.”

It seems the colonel challenged and invited an attack from the broomstick squadron; as the next day he mounted the regiment, strung the column out to a mile in length, and headed it toward the city, which was something unusual. Those who heard the ‘talk’ the day before ‘caught on’, and passed the word along the line, and there was ‘fire in the air’. They marched and counter marched the principal streets, with colors flying, and for once the rule of silence in the ranks was suspended. “Danger at the front! danger at the rear! and danger on the flanks!” was shouted. “There she comes! they’ve got the colonel! the coward won’t fight etc. etc.” Half the men would have surrendered had the enemy come in sight, the colonel included.

On March 10, 1866, the men were discharged and became ordinary citizens; they were 2000 miles from home, with nothing but a daily stage coach for transportation. There were no two cent fares or cheap lunch counters in those days, twenty-five cents per mile, and “jump out boys and push up the steep hills.” Each new driver soon discovered, however, that the lazy soldiers held his best push for the hill ahead. After turning turtle a few times in the ruts, and a six horse runaway on the plains caused by a drunken driver, they landed at Atchison, Kansas, nine passengers very much the worse for the thirteen days and nights on the road.

Two years later, Mr. Eberstein returned to Nebraska, and on May 30, 1870, homesteaded in Glengary township, Fillmore county, then unorganized. The family now consisting of three bachelor brothers, worked and lived together for some time. They built a log house on the claim, rolling the logs up to the place by horse power. Having no funds for glass doors they hung a blanket over the entrance, and one night a rattle snake came in without knocking. A sister, Mrs. Ramsdell and a child, were staying there, and were sleeping on a mattress on the floor and the ‘varmint’ located itself under head of the bed. When the bed was gathered up in the morning ‘his snakeship’ gave his usual signal of displeasure at being disturbed the sound of the sister’s voice still lingers in their ears.

Sleeping under these conditions brought bad dreams by night, and homesickness by day even the chickens being disturbed at night would climb afterwards to a higher limb, the instinct is common.

They broke prairie with five yoke of oxen hitched to a 24 inch plow, and often argued as to which of the three could “gee, haw’ them best. After three or four years of this life, they began to see the disadvantage of not having wife’s relations in the east to send supplies, so they started a campaign to change the situation, and in the course of time, in spite of many reverses, their strategy brought them the desired results.

The advent of the railroads and other monopolies in the west, under the protection of the ‘big elephant’ began to flourish. The Burlington ‘swiped’ half of the land along its line for ten miles on either side and wrote a freight schedule that caught poor ‘lube’ coming and going. To illustrate: An enterprising farmer of Grafton, who thought to ‘cut’ the elevator trust, leaded and shipped a car of wheat direct to Chicago, but with the returns there came the claim for fifteen dollars more to balance expense charges.

The price of a pound of coffee at Taylor’s pioneer store equaled the market value of three and a half bushels of corn. If you were prejudiced against burning corn fuel you might ‘swap’ 150 bushels at Lou Robertson’s elevator for a ton of Colorado coal, or you could step over with plenty of collateral and warm your family through the banks at 36%.

Calamity cronies began to breed and increase in numbers till they became a reckoning factor in politics a class of office seekers high and low, then as now, like the tumble weed, drifting and shifting with the wind.

The Henry Eberstein family spent their last winter in Nebraska mining in the snow banks. A long horizontal tunnel was dug to the chicken house, and a short perpendicular shaft onto the haystack. Theirs was a feat of engineering for the times. They could almost oil the windmill standing on a snow bank, and the apple orchard was out of sight. Later in the summer when the ‘beautiful’ snow had thawed and settled, and the limbs split from the tree trunks had settled also, right then, they also ‘settled’ as to the time they would leave the country. What was left of the trees had the appearance of mule’s tails closely clipped, pioneer experiences were heaping up so heavily and crowding so rapidly that they tired under the load, and dropped out of the procession. When afterwards reading of school teachers and children freezing to death on the way from school, they wondered if it was foresight or providence that led them out from the wilderness.

Source

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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