Biography of Parker Ryan of Fillmore County

Parker Ryan was born at Waterloo, New York State, and afterwards lived in Peoria County, Illinois. He came to Nebraska in company with Lawrence Ryan, his brother, Pat Drummond, Michael Sweeley and Henry Hammond in 1870. They filed for homesteads in that year, Parker Ryan taking the N. E. quarter of section 8, town 8, Range 1, Lawrence Ryan taking the S. E. quarter, and Pat Drummond the N. W. quarter of the same section. Michael Sweeley settled on the S. W. quarter of Section 4, and Henry Hammond on the N. W. quarter of that section. Mrs. Ryan and the children left Peoria, Illinois., in March 1871, and on the way spent a week at Afton, Iowa, where they were met by Mr. Ryan and then came on to Lincoln, from whence they completed the journey in wagons, arriving at the homestead on April 6.

For some time after they arrived they camped, using the wagon beds for sleeping. Five days after their arrival the two Ryans, Drummond, and Sweeley had set out for Lincoln to obtain goods and machinery. On the Sunday morning the sun was shining brightly and gave promise for a pleasant day, but ere long the clouds began to gather; rain began to fall, followed by a snow storm which developed into a blizzard. Mrs. Ryan with her little girl and baby sought shelter about 10 o’clock Sunday morning, in the wagon where she could keep the children warm. The brother-in-law, Oliver Johns, nailing some carpet over the wagon front to help matters; then he with his wife and the mother of the two women went into the other wagon, they fortunately had a barrel of crackers with them, while there was nothing eatable in the wagon with Mrs. Ryan and the two children. The storm increased in fury and continued incessantly until 2 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, during which time the mother and little girl had nothing to eat or drink, and the baby just what was possible from a mother receiving no support. Mr. Johns had come near them a time or two to ask after them but was unable in the storm to render any help, and when the storm abated and he speedily sought to relieve them, everything was frozen so hard that an axe was necessary to cut a way into the wagon. Soon after they had been liberated and a fire started the other men returned, they had gone no further than Walnut creek where they stopped owing to the storm, and now, without going to Lincoln, had returned to see if their people were still alive.

Their cattle were lost in this storm, but were afterwards found near the Turkey creek; a homesteader down there had taken them in and fed them.

The Sweeley house was built first, then P. Ryan’s was erected, and dugout was made for Drummond; after which they all helped to erect houses for Hammond and L. Ryan; most of them lived in the wagons till June.

Shortly after the Ryans went into their new home; a house of one room, 14 by 16 feet, they had to entertain three Gentlemen who were traveling through the country, these were a Judge and two Lawyers from Omaha. The accommodation possible was very scanty, but they were determined to stay, so the Judge and one Lawyer slept on the table, while the other Lawyer slept on a piece of carpet under the table. Matters would not have been so bad considering these limitations had not the Judge fallen off the table onto the Lawyer, who happened to be lying at the time partly from beneath owing to his unconscious search for a softer place.

As is well known, the homesteaders had to live very close to their lands in those days, or someone was sure to jump their claim. The Ryans were away for one week visiting friends in the East, and on the return journey they met several men with two wagons, and having entered into conversation with them; the men told them they were on their way to jump a claim, giving number and location of the land; which as it happened was Ryan’s homestead. Here was an opportunity to show tact and wisdom, and to prove that “a closed mouth makes a wise head.” They journeyed on, but when near their homestead the Ryans managed to get ahead of the other wagons, and had their wagon full length on the claim in time to retain it before the men realized what had happened.

The south West quarter on section 10 was jumped 5 times, three men losing their lives as a result. Two were killed outright, and the third died of his wounds. Two of these men fought and killed each other, one being shot dead just as he ran his pitchfork through the other; so that each lost his life as well as the claim. Two of the three killed had been soldiers in the Civil War.

A large herd of Texas cattle had passed over the prairies and one of the drovers was returning on horseback alone, and well armed. He called at the Ryan home and demanded to know if any of the men were at home. It happened that though Mrs. Ryan was alone at the time she saw Lawrence Ryan coming in the distance; so she said “No, the men are not at home, but one is coming.” It was evident the man meant to be mean, for he became insolent and abusive. When the brother came up he demanded to know his business, and soon would there have been serious trouble had not the husband put in an appearance and separated the two men.

One day two men rode up to the house and were asking particulars regarding the country when they noticed the well marked trails of the Texas Cattle, and one asked the women if they were Indian trails? And one answering in fun, said they were. It was noticed that they looked rather frightened, so when they next asked; “If the women ever saw Indians?” One of them put on a bold front and said, “Yes! lots of them; we saw 20 Indians not long ago,” but did not have time to say they were with the Government agent. That proved sufficient for these men, for they instantly turned their horses and fled back East, and though the hat of one of them blew off they did not stop to pick it up.

The men were digging a well at Mr. Drummond’s, and one morning Mrs. Ryan said to her husband, “I would like to go and spend the day there,” so they started at daybreak, returning late in the evening, and left the screen door open overnight. The second night they reached home about 11 o’clock, and as she laid the baby in bed she heard an unusual noise, and wondered what it could be, the husband said he could not hear anything, so she got into bed, but soon jumped out again declaring that there was something that made a noise like a muffled rattle, at which the husband replied, “Get into bed, there is nothing! that is just like a woman, scared at the noise of a cricket.” The next morning they were up early Mr. Ryan returning to the well digging, and Mrs. Ryan made ready for the washing. When she was busy about the boiler and stove the little girl came running out of the house screaming and shouting, “A Snake! a snake!” On going into the house, Mrs. Ryan saw the snake sitting upon the bed “rattling to beat the band.” It had been lying between some comforters that were between the bed and mattress, and right in the place where she had slept all night. In pulling off the bedclothes for the washing, the snake had been liberated and so made its way onto the top of the bed. A hoe was secured with which Mrs. Ryan attacked the snake. It would stand on its tail and strike at her, then coil and strike again, she managing to keep clear of its blows, after great difficulty and determination she succeeded in laying the reptile low. Needless to say there was no washing done that day, she being completely overcome with fright and exertion. When Mr. Ryan returned he found his wife in a sad state, she could not speak, and he was at a loss to know what had happened, and there was nothing that seemed possible for him to do to help her seeing she could not talk, and no doubt his patience was tested. At last she struggled to the door and out to where the dead snake lay, and with one desperate effort, she said, “There’s your cricket!” There was no going to bed that night, everything in the house was turned out to make sure there were no more snakes around, for even the brave man had become weak at the thought of having slept in the bed with a rattle snake. It had 8 rattles and a button, (nearly 9 years old) and measured nearly 3 feet long.

When visiting the little town of Exeter, in the days when there were no drinking fountains with flowing sparkling water in the street, (as now), they had to quench their thirst by drinking the water from the “draws, ” covering the cup with a handkerchief that it might act as a filter. The water for home purposes was brought from the Blue, until it was possible for them to have a well.

A church and Sunday School were organized in the district Schoolhouse, the preacher being Rev. Simson of the U. B. church, but as a result of the changed conditions, neither church or Sunday School is now held.

The first crop upon the Ryan farm was a 5 acre field of oats, which seemed in every way satisfactory. This being the first to be thrashed in the neighborhood, everyone was desirous to know how it would turn out; so they all came to the thrashing. From far and near the homesteaders gathered that day at the Ryan home, bringing not only their horses to pull their wagons, but other stock as well, seeing there would be no one home to feed them. The house, as already mentioned, was only of one room, but 60 men, women, and children were provided with dinner and every horse a feed of oats. The horses were tied up wherever possible around the place and for each group a bushel basket of oats was thrown on the ground, which necessarily meant some amount of waste. When the thrashing was over, there being no money, the thrashers had their share of oats, probably 10 or 12 bushels for doing the work. Then, when Mr. Ryan came into the house, Mrs. Ryan wanted to know how he would take care of his oats seeing he had no granary. “O! I think I can manage to take care of my share of the oats all right,” said Mr. Ryan, and undoubtedly he could do so for the quantity of oats that fell to his lot after his wholesale feeding of his neighbors horses measured half a bushel.

Mrs. Ryan is now Mrs. Wolstenholm and still lives in Exeter.


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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