W. H. Taylor was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, a country which has given birth to some of the fairest women and brightest men of modern times. Though not among the very first settlers of any country, he has seen something of pioneer life in both Canada and the United States. At the age of four years, he with their family left Ireland on a sailing vessel; the voyage lasting eight weeks, during which time most of the family including himself had the smallpox. They arrived in Canada and settled in Carleton County, in what was then an unbroken wilderness; wild animals and Indians being their nearest and most numerous neighbors. In the same county was a Burgh called Byetown, now the beautiful city of Ottawa, the Capitol of the whole dominion of Canada; a country larger than the United States.
Cutting down trees and clearing off the logs and brush was the bane of pioneer life in Canada, and it was heartbreaking work compared with anything the early settlers of Nebraska had to contend. At the age of sixteen years, he left Canada and came to Seneca County, N. Y., an old settled county whose well tilled fields, fine orchards, and beautiful lakes make it one of the most delightful countries in the world. So he became (as he says) a citizen of the United States by choice and not because of accident of birth, and such people ought to, and usually do, make pretty good citizens. Mr. Taylor says: “People like cabbages, improve by transplanting, and transplanted brawn and brain rule the world.” He is proud of the fact of having always been an asset to the country, and never a liability, so he makes no apology to anyone.
After working by the month on a farm and chopping wood, a chum and he took a wild goose chase west, working as they went, till they crossed the Mississippi at Quincy, Illinois, their objective point being Leavenworth, Kansas, from whence they expected to drive mules across the plains to Salt Lake. They went no further, and within a year Mr. Taylor was glad to find himself back in Seneca County, N. Y., with a very poor opinion of the West.
Having saved some money he now turned his attention to securing a better education, and being blessed with a retentive memory soon mastered the common branches, and then obtained a higher education in the Waterloo Academy, the Fort Edward Institute, and the Oswego Normal School, teaching school between times.
It was during this time that Doctor Smith, who had known Mr. Taylor from the time of his coming from Canada, came out to Nebraska and founded the town of Exeter, so when “Horace Smith joined Horace Greely in telling young men to go west,” he took the advice and came to Exeter on the last day of April 1873, and on the first day of May had a half interest in the firm of “Smith and Taylor.” He was too late to get a homestead, but though he missed the homestead, he lost no time prospecting, and therefore suffered none of the privations some of the homesteaders went through.
Mrs. Smith very kindly provided him with accommodation in her home, the only dwelling on the townsite; one room and a leanto, but he had a comfortable bed on a couch behind the cook stove.
Mr. J. W. Dolan had just opened a lumberyard but had his office in the store, he slept on the counter and opened the store in the mornings.
Mr. Taylor was from the first, delighted with the gently rolling prairie, and never was homesick. It rained the first night of his arrival, and came very near keeping it up for the traditional forty days and forty nights, till the whole country was nearly flooded. In going “from the Smith home to the a store he would take off his boots and socks, roll up his pants, and wade through the water.
Some things in the new country seemed strange to him: the frequency and velocity of the wind storms, and the amount of electricity in the atmosphere. He had not been long in the store, when a man came and asked if he had seen a stray car go by? It seems that a boxcar with open brakes had been left on the siding at Fairmont, and the wind blew it onto the main track, and it went clear to Dorchester before it was headed off.” In the usual thunder storms of those days there was one continuous glare of lightning, and peal after peal of thunder.
A thing that surprised him in the Pioneers of Exeter, was the ability of some who from appearance did not seem to have much. The county, towns, and school districts had all just been organized, and someone had to fill the offices; so nearly every boy or man held an office of some kind. One was Justice of the Peace, another Notary Public, another Constable, and some School Officers. A person appointed to an office even if he had no special qualifications, but was of the right stuff, could soon qualify. These people had qualified, and he felt cheap to hear them using legal terms of which he knew nothing. Here is one illustration: “When the settlers began to break up the land it was difficult to prevent ‘movers’ from driving across the plowed ground. Two miles east of Exeter a very youthful looking boy from Maine, was plowing with a team consisting of one ox and a cow; he was barefooted and arrayed in an old straw hat, a cotton shirt, and an old pair of overalls, held by one suspender with nails as buttons; when on the west side of his plowing he saw a ‘mover’ drive onto the east side. He stopped his team and hailed the man: ‘Didn’t you see my sign telling you to keep the section line?’ ‘Yes! but this don’t do any harm, and I’m in a hurry’ To which he replied, ‘ I don’t care if you are, I can’t have people driving over my plowed land, and I want you to go right back and keep the section line!” ‘Guess I won’t go back now,’ said the man. “Well, if you don’t I’ll have you arrested when you get to Exeter!’ ‘Where is Exeter?’ the man asked in surprise. ‘Don’t you see that building off to the west?’ ‘That’s Exeter is it? Then, who will arrest me?’ ‘I will, I am the constable!’ Then with a look of contempt, the man replied, ‘A$$ H$$$ of a looking constable you are! Get up ponies!’ and he drove on and was not arrested, but no one enjoyed the joke more than Fred Sturtevant the boy constable.
Most pioneers have some ‘snake stories,’ but candor compels him to say, that, although a great walker, and he had wandered over the prairies at all times of the year, he has never seen a live rattle snake.
He just missed the April storm of 1873, but has had some experiences with Nebraska blizzards; one he is not likely to forget:
A party was being held at Walter Doyel‘s five or six miles north east of Exeter, Mr. Dolan and he being invited. It had been a beautiful mild January day, and they hired a team and lumber wagon and started a little after dark for the house. Mr. Taylor did not know the way, but Dolan claimed he did. A gentle snow from the south began to fall soon after they started, and soon the wind whipped around to the north, and they were in a blizzard; they were soon chilled to the marrow, and could hardly see the horses and got completely lost somewhere along Indian creek. He fears he said some uncomplimentary things to Dolan for taking him out on the prairie and losing him, but finding that Dolan‘s hands got cold and numb, he took the lines and drove he knows not where; but after what seemed a long time, he spied a light and drove straight for it; and it happened to be Doyel‘s house. He often wonders how many have been lost either in a forest or on a prairie? A person loses all sense of direction; hardly knows ‘straight up,’ and can scarcely believe his own eyes when he comes to familiar scenes. Having been lost in a wood in Canada with night coming on, with bears, wolves, and panthers at no great distance, and again after dark in a blizzard on Nebraska’s plains; he can testify that it is not an agreeable sensation.
But, “Sweet is pleasure after pain,” when they got into the house, the dance was in full swing, and the discomforts of the trip were soon forgotten, especially as this was where he first met the girl who has been the partner of his joys and sorrows ever since.
He had once an Indian Scare: It was in the fall of 187o, the first telegraph operator had come to the office, and he was a man who never made anything less in the telling. On Saturday the news came over the wire, that the Indians were on the ‘war path’ and had committed some depredations, and had killed a few homesteaders about seventy five or one hundred miles west of Exeter, and the agent said they were headed this way.
On Sunday evening the agent and most of the men folk were scattered in different directions; visiting their best girls. Will Dolan and Taylor being the only able bodied men left in town, the rest being women and children. As they were eating supper by lamplight, the talk drifted mostly to Indians and the probability of their coming to Exeter. The Indian stories went around the table, when all at once a big Indian stuck his face right up against the window, then he with his squaw came in and said. How! and, shaking hands all round, asked for something to eat. They naturally thought these two were the forerunners of the whole tribe, so Dolan and Taylor went out to reconnoiter, and every dog in the vicinity was barking. Taylor had a revolver, and Dolan had an old army musket, but there was nothing in the store larger than No. 8 shot. There was some bar lead, and this they hammered out and cut into slugs. Dolan armed with the old musket, and Taylor with the revolver and a corn knife did valiant picket duty most of the night.
In the morning the old Indian and his squaw called and were again supplied with food, and so ended the Indian scare.
Mr. Taylor says: “I had been used to Indians in Canada where they had the reputation of being truthful, honest, and civil; no one in Canada thought of having any fear of Indians. When only seven or eight years old I was often the only man (?) about the place, and we slept soundly with dozens of Indians camped across a narrow stream from our shanty. When I came to the United States I was surprised to hear them spoken of as being dishonest, treacherous, and deceitful. It was simply a reflection of treatment. It is easy and popular to find fault with the English Government, (and it has faults in plenty) but the way England has always treated the Red man and Black man stands out in happy contrast to the way those people have been treated by any other nation.”
Source: Pioneer Stories of the Pioneers of Fillmore and adjoining Counties, by G. R. McKeith, Press of Fillmore County News, Exeter, Nebraska, 1915