John T. Borland of Fillmore County

Mr. John T. Borland had made his way over the country from Crete to Pleasant Hill, and when there met Mr. James Home who persuaded him to come nearer his place where he might find a location, he accepted the help offered and Mr. Home helped him to locate one mile West of his own homestead. Mr. Borland returned to Illinois, and making everything ready he and his wife with their goods came over with a Mule Team, commencing the journey on April 17, and reaching the homestead on May 12, 1871, having crossed the Mississippi at Keithsburg and the Missouri at Plattsmouth, nothing of an unusual character happened on the way, they had the common experiences of Pioneer Emigrants.

On reaching their homestead, Mr. Borland set to work and made a kind of gipsy tent or cabin, by making walls of sod on which he placed the top boards of the wagon box, and the wagon cover. In this home, the size of ail ordinary wagon box containing one room which did service as kitchen, bedroom and living room, they lived nearly three months. The cook stove stood at the “entrance with the cooking plate just inside the tent, the back part and pipe being on the outside; their bed of straw covered the ground floor, and of course was on the ground, but was carried out of doors in the day time to give moving room.

During these early experiences, Mr. Borland had occasion to go to Lincoln with Mr. O. P. Chapman, another Pioneer, since gone to his reward, Mrs. Borland being left for a few days with their only child. On the third evening after his departure, Mrs. Borland retired as usual, having as was her custom, carefully fastened herself in the little home by means of a Shawl spread over the entrance; the lower end of which rested on the baby’s chair and was held in position by a jug of water placed on the edge, somewhere near the uncanny hours of midnight, that Jug of water was knocked over, giving a pair of feet an unexpected baptism, and their owner a great fright. Up to that time Mrs. Borland ‘had never felt nervous. The secret of the affair is not to be found in an Indian story. Mr. Borland had found it possible to make the homestead a day earlier, but in trying to do this was caught in the darkness and missed his road, it was late when he found his bearings and reached his little home, then in trying to make an entrance he unexpectedly found a miniature “moat” behind the shawl, which on account of its being above instead of below the level of the ground he upset it, the sleeping woman receiving the benefit of the accident. There were Moats, and a Shawl, which played an important part in the life story of the unhappy Mary, Queen of Scots, but these in the life story of Mrs. Borland, were in no sense of a tragical nature.’

The first July Fourth celebration held in the neighborhood was at the Turkey Creek, when a Rev. Beggs of the Free Methodist Church gave the Address, everyone present enjoying the event. This taking place July4, 1871.

Mr. Borland soon set to work and erected a sod house with a shingle roof, a board floor and plastered throughout with a mixture of lime and sand, having one of the best equipped houses of that day. Being some three miles from the railroad, they were not visited by either the Indian or the Adventurer, but they had their share of visits from the Coyotes, which relieved them of their chickens and turkeys. They also lost a few small pigs in the Blizzard of 1873, otherwise they were comfortably fixed. An interesting incident regarding the grasshoppers was the way that nature freed the country of the pest. As a result of their visit there were millions of eggs left in the soil waiting to be hatched in the spring, but the spring that year was of a varied character, thus, when a few warm days helped to hatch out the young grasshoppers, then there would come a cold rain or snow or a frost and killed them off. This happening several times until hardly a grasshopper remained. Mr. Borland had the honor of bringing the first load of lumber into the town of Exeter; it was secured at Crete, and used in the Smith and Dolan’s Store Building.

It was customary in those early days to have a lantern burning at the top of a high pole especially on very dark nights to help any belated traveler to find his way over the prairie. The Rev. Whiting’s house being on raised ground was especially suited to this service and he never failed to keep the light shinning. In this way he literally fulfilled the scripture injunctions in two ways “Let our light so Shine,” “Ye are the light of the World” in the service of his fellowmen.

Among the many sad things that happened to the pioneers, perhaps the suffering and loss caused by the blizzards were the worst. Many indeed were the lives lost in those storms, parents, school teachers and children alike becoming victims in their efforts to save each other.

It has been known for men in their efforts to save their lives when caught in a blizzard on the open prairie, to kill their horses, and rip them open that they must have the warmth of their intestines in he hope that the storm would soon pass over and hey would be saved in this peculiar way. One man so caught in a storm had actually crawled into the horse’s body and sheltered there, but unfortunately the storm was long in passing and he was ultimately found frozen to death, his strange couch having become his tomb.


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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