Mr. William N. and Mrs. M. E. Babcock came to Nebraska in the fall of 1870, remaining through the winter in Ashland. Mr. Babcock took up a Claim in February, 1871, and they moved onto it in May of that year. The land joined Dr. Smith‘s on the West, part of which is now the Town 1Presumed to be speaking about Exeter, Nebraska. Mr. Babcock died eight years ago and we are indebted to Mrs. Babcock for these reminiscences, who, let me say, fully appreciates the experience of having grown up with a new Country.
Their first shelter was a tent made of four sheets sewed together, a habitation which was not destined to long life. Within the first week of this new experience, they were favored with one of Nebraska’s remarkable storms, which in the hours just after midnight brought down their tent in such a shape as never more to be erected. From their sad predicament they wended their way barefoot toward the Smith home, being assured they were on the right land by locating a furrow which the Doctor had struck around his claim, they made what runs were possible with each lightning flash as an illumination, finally reaching the dwelling to receive a glad welcome from Mrs. Smith who told them she could well guess what had happened. The following day revealed the sad condition of their belongings, to say they were wet is probably making it too dry! As a result of this experience the men went that morning, to secure lumber for a more permanent home, during the building of which they stayed with the Smiths.
During the days of their tent life, Mrs. Smith was their first caller, who having made her way over the prairie, found it necessary to wade through a ditch; on reaching the other side she saw a large rattle snake crouching on the grass, knowing the Babcock‘s slept on the ground, she wondered if she should tell Mrs. Babcock about it? Would she like to know of such a thing? Would it make her frightened? Then thinking that if a snake were as near to her house she would like to know of it; she told her all about the snake, but it is said, Mrs. Babcock only laughed!
It was necessary in those days for Mrs. Babcock to go to the Woodard home, a distance of one mile, whenever she needed a pail of water. Mr. Woodard was the first Post Master, and she would go there for the mail, during one of those trips she was overtaken by a storm, and had to wade through water waist deep to get back home.
On another occasion she was caught in a storm, and sought shelter in the Smith home, catching Mrs. Smith going through one of her wet weather experiences, she was sitting on the bed with her umbrella up and basins were placed around the floor, catching the water.
The Babcock Sod house was 12 ft. by 14 ft., and in this building she commenced and taught the first local school, having as pupils, three Woodard children, C. C. Smith, and her own boy, Fred. In this small home, too, she provided lodgings one stormy night for a family of eight persons who were passing over the country.
It was no uncommon thing for men to get lost on the prairie, perhaps the women were not so venturesome, and yet they must have been courageous at times. One dark night when Mr. Babcock was from home, a man knocked at the door, saying he was lost, and could they direct him to Dr. Smith‘s house, nothing daunted, Mrs. Babcock went out, put the man on the right road, telling him to look for the lighted lantern which the Doctor kept burning and he would be sure to find the place. Dr. Smith was called to a sick case where the help of a Nurse was needed. Mrs. Babcock being asked to go, they set out in the wagon with Mr. Henry Sheldon. After traveling for some time they realized that they were lost, then they saw a house which the Doctor thought was his home, there was the usual “it is” and “it is not” and to make sure the Doctor made his way to the building and called out the name of his “better half” but the response was very disappointing it was not his home. They went on again, and at last a light was seen, and on approaching the dwelling it was found to be the Sheldon home, their destination, but the experience had been so mystifying to Mr. Sheldon that he failed to recognize either his home or his barn, and with difficulty was persuaded to unhitch his horses.
I can quite understand how, people lost on the prairie would act like people lost at sea, by going round and round in a circle, and coming back to where they started from, but I have not learned the reason for their becoming so mystified as not to recognize well known people and places, that such was an actual experience is shown in the following story.
Mr. Job Hathaway called on the Babcocks one evening and visited till dark, then he started out for his home about a mile distant, it was a very dark night, and sometime after he had left a man knocked at the door, and asked if they could tell him where Job Hathaway lived? “Why, what’s the matter with you Mr. Hathaway?” asked Mr. Babcock, “It is only fifteen minutes since you were here!” and Hathaway replied, “You are mistaken, I never was here in my life.” Mr. Babcock led the horse and went home with him, and it was quite a time before Hathaway recognized his own home.
One Sunday morning an Indian looked through the window, and before any information could be given, he was in the house. On looking round the room he saw a scarlet shawl, then commenced some sort of a rigmarole, the only word discernible being “papoose,” so taking it for granted he wanted the shawl for his baby, Mrs. Babcock let him have it, then he admired Mr. Babcock‘s cap, and being anxious to get rid of him they gave him the cap also, to his unbounded delight, and he left.
The Texas cattle passed over the Prairie, often 15,000 in a herd. One day a cow strayed from the herd and was seen by the Dolan boys. They of course could not undertake the catching of that cow alone so they sought the help of Woodard, Babcock and Smith. These set out after the cow; no easy task for if the cow saw them first, it was sure to go for them, and sure enough the cow saw them, and was about to make a rush at them, when they all fired, bringing it to the ground, the animal was killed and quartered, each home having a quarter of beef. The Dolans had no place to store their share so it was packed away with the Babcock‘s beef on the Sod roof, all went well until about midnight, when the wolves scented that meat and would have had it, (for they had already brought it to the ground,) if they had not been able to frighten them away; and thus the meat was saved. It has been suggested that a few stray Texas Cows might come in handy these days of dear meat, seeing we are not all vegetarians as yet.