Mr. and Mrs. James Alexander

Mr. and Mrs. James Alexander left Aberdeen, Scotland, for Exeter, Nebraska, on June 22, 1872, after passing through the vicissitudes of a long sea voyage, and the initiations of the immigrant entering a strange country; they made their way westward, and ultimately arrived at the Pacific Junction in Iowa. Here they were left on the open platform without a home or shelter, but having with them some beds and rugs, and the weather being fine, these were unpacked, spread very carefully on the platform, and there with the starry heavens for a covering they passed the night. They next made their way to Lincoln, a small town in those days, and were provided for a while with accommodation in the Burlington Immigration House. In due course they came out to Exeter, and on arriving at the getting off place (there being no depot) they were put off the train with their boxes and trunks and again left to make the best of a new situation. The party consisted of six persons: Mr. and Mrs. Alexander, two small boys, a grandmother, and a girl who looked after the children. Mr. J. K. Barber happened to be on the ground at the time, and offered to take them to their destination, the place being three miles east near the railroad. This offer of help was gladly accepted, and they made their way to where many years of their life would be spent.

Mr. Alexander was able to buy the rights of a homestead for $50.00, and sent the necessary tiling fee of $14.00 to Lincoln. It was not for some time afterwards that he learned of the $14.00 having been used for some other purpose, which meant, that the land in the Government’s eyes was not his, and it became necessary to pay the $14.00 a second time. Such was the character of some people with whom the pioneers had ‘o deal.

They secured the use of an old soddy built on the adjoining land at a rental of one dollar a month; such a charge would appear unusually reasonable in contrast with char;4es in their native •’Granite City,” but this house was not of granite, it had but one small room, the roof was of such a character as to necessitate the use of umbrellas in rainy weather, and the floor being dug out made a good receptacle for the water, and was at times more like a duck pond than ought else, probably the rent charged was sufficient for such a house.

During their sojourn in this house they were called upon to celebrate their first “July Fourth.” Mr. and Mrs. James Home having heard of the new arrivals from Scotland, and being themselves of the same hardy stock, they naturally felt led to make a friendly visit to bid the strangers welcome to the new country; making the Fourth of July the occasion of the visit. With their two children they called upon the Alexander’s who at the time of this visit were without a stove or chairs, table or bedsteads; but they had brought with them some of the Scotch oatmeal, the real stuff that makes their people muscular, sturdy, and strong; some cheese and tea, which, with the aid of other good things they celebrated their independence of many other things.

A dugout was made on their own land for a home, this also being a house of one room; wherein they had to make the most of little space in this broad land. The capacity and furnishings of this house were at times taxed to their utmost possibility. On one occasion when Mr. Alexander was attending prayer meeting in town, seven wayfaring men presented themselves at this humble home for a night’s shelter. Here indeed was a task and the responsibility, yet with that large hearted responsiveness to the call of the hour so often demanded and so often granted in the hospitable west, these men were taken in and sheltered, being made as comfortable as possible on the floor; while the members of the household slept on boxes.

Mrs. Alexander’s first trip to Friend was through the kindness of a neighbor; the journey was made over the prairie on a Bob Sled drawn by an ox team named Buck and Berry. The condition of the trails were such (there were no roads in those days) that the passengers were as often off as on their seats; all the joyful bumps and jumps of a modern automobile ride are not to be compared to the pleasures of that Bobsled ride over the prairie, for Mrs. Alexander declares she enjoyed that trip to Friend.

They were often brought to church services by an American named Harry Sturtevant; whose name appears as a charter member of our Congregational Church; he had a good measure of the old time religion in his soul; in fact it was “pressed down and running over,” and so great was the overflow that the journey by wagon was made lively with his singing, his favorite song being, “Jesus Died and Paid it All,” so real was his experience of the love of Christ which sought outward expression, that where he failed in voice volume; he made up with his feet on the bottom of the wagon.

The services at that time were held over the Smith and Dolan store, and they presented several unusual features to the Scottish Presbyterians. It seemed odd to find the men and women divided in worship after the fashion of the Jews; the men on one side of the room and the women on the other, a custom still surviving in the services of country school houses. It was equally strange to find the people visiting together in the building immediately after service, a custom which does not obtain in the places of worship of older countries, and not even in this country among Episcopalians or Roman Catholics.

The men thought nothing of attending services then in their blue overalls; often the color of the main garment was washed out, or had faded in the sun, while relief was given to the whole aspect of the garment by the brighter blue of the new cloth patches about the knees, how the original knee parts had been worn out is not told, though we believe many of them were men of prayer, and one thing is certain, the fashions did not count with men and women attending divine service in those days. It was the fashion to go to worship, and as their custom was they went, and He, who looketh not on the outward appearance, but looketh into the heart, gave them their meat in due season.

During those early days many and varied were the casual visitors at the Alexander home; their house being near the railroad made it a place of call. On one occasion a train pulled up nearby, and to the consternation of the women folk especially, the railroad people switched off a car containing Pawnee Indians, and left it on the siding. The Indians were on their way to make a friendly visit to the Omahas; being hungry and left here in this way, soon scattered themselves among the neighboring houses. Five of them called en Mrs. Alexander, who, well knowing that the best thing to do with an Indian was to feed him, provided for their needs and after having all they could eat and a scarf each; they went away saying, “Her a good squaw.”

On another occasion they were visited by twenty Omahas, braves and’ squaws, these however, instead of asking to be fed, had brought some buffalo meat with them and were quite willing to share it with the household for the use of the cook stove. One young brave saw a cap belonging to one of the Alexander boys lying near the well, and soon donned it on his own head, but the Scottish blood that had flowed through a thousand generations, and had defied the Danes and the English in bygone times was soon aroused, and would ‘not be cowed by a young Indian buck; so Mrs. Alexander soon had the cap restored to its rightful owner. In spite of all precautions the squaws managed somehow to secure some of the household clothing. During their sojourn a train put in an appearance, and the braves stood on the track to stop the train, for which act the Engineer presented them with a good squirting of hot water; when they replied with their well known Ouh! Ouh! Ouh!

Among the more regular visitors was an Indian known as Pawnee John; when visiting a home he usually wanted flour, but he never refused tobacco when he could get it.

During the blizzard of April 1873 a man on horseback came and asked for a night’s shelter, but such was the storm that he remained three days; after he had gone away he sent by mail the sum of two dollars in acknowledgement of the kindness he had received. It was in this storm that many cattle and horses were lost, many being driven into the Blue and drowned. A Mr. Butler lost several cattle between his home and Turkey creek, when Mrs. Alexander asked after his horse, because it was missing; such was the easy and contented disposition of the man even in trouble that he replied, “The horse is all right” yet, the horse was dead.

There was a great difference between the homesteaders going west who would call for help, and the people going west to Pikes Peak for gold; the latter were invariably adventurers; after they were gone some chickens were usually gone also.

An old man named Gibson, known by the children as “Gibby,” would call at the home and stay overnight, he came from Geneva and had on this occasion been to Crete, he was a dealer in cattle, and it appears that on this trip he had lost some money; the loss of which worried him a great deal. The beds were arranged in each corner of the room, and during the night someone heard him talking to himself and saying, “I will kill myself” and “throw myself in front of the train.” He was remonstrated with for talking so foolishly, but he managed to secure an old razor from one of the boys for which he gave ten cents, and was found actually cutting his throat. A doctor was sent for, and he stitched up the wound, but the Newspaper report declared that the doctor had sewed the man’s head on with the face to the hack.

The year 1874 in known as the grasshopper year, several incidents have already been given, it was dinnertime at this home when the dark cloud was seen; after dinner, as with others, nothing remained in the corn fields save the stump ends of the corn stalks.

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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