Biography of Patrick Murphy of Fillmore County

Patrick Murphy came to this country from Dunmanway, County Cork, Ireland, in 1866, landing at Castle Gardens, New York. For four years he lived near Rochester, N. Y., and learned the nursery business. In April 1870, he came to Omaha, and worked for a time on the Telegraph lines, later in the year, he, in company with three other young men bought an ox team, covered wagon, and baching outfit; and having secured some tools they set out to look for homesteads. They journeyed on to Lincoln, then to Beatrice, and along the Little Blue to Spring Ranch and Red Cloud on the Republican River, but not being satisfied with the country in those parts, they returned to the edge of Saline County and camped near the Turkey Creek.

Two were then appointed to stay by the goods, while two went and sought out claims. Having secured the numbers of vacant claims, they then went to Beatrice after their mail. The other three young men received letters from their railroad employers, saying, their jobs were still open to them if they would return. This temptation proved sufficient, for they decided they had seen enough of land and returned.

Mr. Murphy had sufficient money to buy their interests in the outfit; so he bought them out, but drove them to Lincoln, where they said, goodbye, and have not since met.

Mr. Murphy was now on his own, and having fixed himself up with a supply of flour, lard, and lumber, he started out for his homestead, reaching his destination on December, first, 1870.

Within a week he had a dugout ready for occupation, the roof was made of poles from Turkey Creek, slough grass and dirt, with an upper layer of sod. During those early days he went sixteen miles for a load of hay, and had to ford the creek twice to bring it home there were no bridges then west of Crete. He would also go to Beaver Crossing on horseback, a distance of sixteen miles, carrying a sack of meal and securing flour; he worked on the railroad at Fairmont, and on to Hastings before it was a town, and saw the erecting of the first house.

During the winter of 1870 the Indians were camped along the Little Blue, and many were scared because of their presence. There was no stove in the Murphy dugout, the cooking being done on a fireplace, and the baking in a dutch oven. One night during the visit of these Indians, Mr. Murphy was lying in bed; when he heard the sods of his chimney falling into the fireplace; he was soon up and dressed, secured his loaded rifle, and stealthily opening the door he peeked towards the chimney for the enemy, wondering what might happen next, when to his surprise and relief, he found it was his ox mounted on the bank side just within reach of the chimney, and deliberately hooking away with his horns, causing the sods to fall into the house. This was very unkind of the ox to play such nerve straining pranks at such a time, but what a relief! No doubt as some people say, “his heart was in his mouth,” but it would now find a more normal condition seeing there were no Indians.

There was a neighbor named Elias Peterman, a harness maker by trade, who, with his wife and family was trying to make his way in the world, so they would take in boarders and he would go and work at his trade in neighboring towns. They had an Englishman named “Bill Haimes” boarding with them at the time, and “Elias” was away from home, all went well until one midnight a heifer managed to get onto the roof of the house, and soon had its front feet and horns sticking through the ceiling. Bill Haimes made his way in the dark to where the ceiling was falling in, and groping around with his hands, caught hold of those feet and horns, “Why,” said Bill, when telling the story. “I thought I had caught hold of the devil.” The mother and children had just got out of their bed when the heifer fell through, breaking the bed to pieces.

Such were the experiences in the days when generally speaking people had not $10 in cash. Rye was roasted for coffee, and luxuries were as George Eliot would have said, “superlatively middling, and the quintessence of extreme mediocrity.”

In speaking of the change of the physical aspect of the country, Mr. Murphy was bold enough to suggest that it had been spoiled rather than otherwise; Nebraska, locally speaking, had lost its romantic beauty by the planting of too many trees and he is a professional nurseryman. He thought of the beautiful and almost unlimited views that have been lost by these modern improvements, as we call them.

He spoke of a beautiful view formerly seen from a rise near the Turkey creek, when in the early spring he would look with delight along the valley with its opening leaf and springing grass, the water glistening in the sunlight, as it moved along serpentine fashion; winding and wending its way across a mighty continent to the mighty deep “Beautiful for situation and every prospect pleasing.”

I began to think there was some truth in the old saying, “I cannot see wood for trees.” Mrs. Keller, a neighbor would run onto the roof of her house when dinner was ready to see if her husband was coming, then, away in the distance she would see him making his way to partake of that which was the evidence of her wifely care and forethought; and surely nothing pleases a woman more, than, to see the man on time when the meal is ready. But now, she could not see beyond the house yard or the home pasture at most. Another question which might be asked, is, “have we gained anything by the loss of the ‘Mirage’ as seen in the pioneer days?”

Mr. Murphy grafted the first trees at the Crete Nursery, and planted most of the trees in the Exeter Cemetery; he has handled and raised trees for years. Ten years after homesteading he took a partner, not for the business but for the home. They have had ten children, and have the joy of knowing they are all doing well.

The last, and not by any means the least of the things we mention regarding this worthy pioneer from the “Emerald Isle,” is, his having represented Fillmore County in the State Legislature during two terms 1907-1911, (on the Democratic Ticket.)

America has given a home to many Irishmen, but in their accepting of her homes, we may also see how America owes a great debt of gratitude to “O’d Oirland” for giving her so many noble sons.


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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