Alonzo and Palmer Rice of Sarpy County

Mr. and Mrs. Rice Celebrated Their Golden Wedding Anniversary, August 7, 1914
Mrs. Palmer Rice, Who Located on a Homestead in North East Fillmore County, in July, 1870. Mr. and Mrs. Rice Celebrated Their Golden Wedding Anniversary, August 7, 1914.

Alonzo Rice, who is a native of New York State, came to La Platte, (formerly Lorimer Mills), Sarpy County, from Pennsylvania. After working there for about three years he came with his brother. Palmer, and secured a claim on section 14, taking the south half of the southeast quarter, July 30, 1870. The only thing to be seen on the prairie when he located was a tent used as a home by “Bill” Miner; there were no houses of any kind, and the nearest thing to a tree was a sunflower.

To find one’s bearings when traveling over the prairie, one had to look for some stove pipe sticking out of the ground; the sure sign of a dwelling, and then ask their township, section number, and probably the lay of the land. North, South East and West.

The nearest town and post office was Camden, and he set out very early one morning to go there, and it was his custom when traveling in the dark to note the location of a certain star, but after traveling for some time, somehow the stars got changed around. He lost his “lucky star” or his “star of hope.” After continuing the journey for some time, still believing he was going in the right direction, he with the coming of the early dawn, recognized in the near distance his own house. It is suggested that the horses, realizing the aimlessness of the effort, had made tracks for home.

During those early days Mr. Rice would go to Hebron, on the Little Blue, and work in the stone and lime quarries. The sections west. No. 15, and a School Section, remained open prairie for some time after he located, and several antelopes grazed around there in the summer time. Mr. Rice remembers distinctly the incoming of Mr. James Alexander. “The canny Scot, brand new fra the land o’ heather,” he had failed to locate his land, and Mr. Rice had to help him do it. The corn growing in the field on the Rice farm was a source of great wonder to the stranger, it was so unlike anything he had seen growing in the old country; where its cultivation is impossible. He might have asked the question, “When is corn not corn?” remembering that Robby Burns, sang:

Upon a simmer Sunday morn,
When nature’s face is fair,
I walked forth to view the corn
An’ snuff the caller air.

Palmer Rice, brother to Alonzo, worked for five and a half years as a day laborer in the lumber woods of Pennsylvania, and in 1869 became a renter in Allegheny County, N. Y., his native State, where with his wife he had a dairy farm. They both felt that their chances for success were too limited, so they decided to strike out West. For the journey they secured a three horse team and a covered wagon. (He never had seen a covered wagon till then). They set out on April 25, 1870, m spite of the snow that had fallen in the forenoon, and made their way to Nebraska. For many miles along the road, as they passed through the villages; the covered wagon was such an unusual sight, that the youngsters called them Gypsies, and in some places they were not allowed to camp. The journey to La Platte was accomplished in seven weeks.

After staying a few days with his brother at La Platte, Mr. Rice took ferry across the Platte river, and then traveled on a construction train to within seven miles of Lincoln, and then on foot to the city. While there he inquired about homesteads, and found many people quite ready to give the and desired information, and especially willing to help them locate in their particular county. He heard their reports and concluded that the descriptions given about this district were especially favorable, he returned with the information to La Platte, when it was soon decided that the brothers would come out and secure homesteads.

They made their way to Camden, an old freighting town; where they met Mr. Fred Roper, a land agent, who brought them into the country to see the land, and liking the land of this neighborhood, they decided to locate here, selecting the South half of Section 14, as being the best to meet their purpose. They stayed overnight with the Miner brothers, who at that time lived in a tent. The following day they had dinner with Schyler “Elkhorn” Jones. They were able to locate the land with the help of Mr. Roper, he counting the horse’s steps from Miner’s corner, and then looking for the next stake, which at once gave them the situation of the land. It was decided that Palmer would take the South half of the Southwest quarter, the brother-in-law, J. Tanner, the North half of the Southwest quarter, brother Alonzo the South half of the Southeast quarter and their mother the North half of the Southeast quarter.

They returned to La Platte, and they returned again to the claims in the fall and put up a sod house, and made some hay, and again returned to La Platte for the winter. In January, 1871, Mr. Rice helped to move Mr. Tanner onto his claim, and on the return trip had his first experience of Nebraska’s cold weather, he was not prepared for such an experience, it was with difficulty he kept himself going, and had he in the least missed his way, he would have been frozen to death.

He made another trip in March, bringing Mrs. Rice and part of his goods. The sod house in the meantime had shrunken so much that the winds had no difficulty in finding their way into the house, especially at the caves, and as a result of the cold condition of the house, Mrs. Rice was sick for some time afterwards.

Mr. Rice made another trip to La Platte in April to help in the removal of the other relatives to their homesteads, and on reaching Camden, saw Dr. Smith with a load of lumber, nails, etc., stuck fast in the Blue river. He went at once to the doctor’s assistance, and having secured some chains and ropes, they brr.ced the wagon so as to bear the strain, and then hitched the extra horses and soon had the wagon on dry land.

Because of the loss of the corn crops by the grasshoppers in 1874, many people were returning East, but the Rices decided to remain; fuel would be scarce that winter, so they had the stove fixed down the cellar, and lived there, using corn stalks for cooking and heating purposes. One day when Mr. Rice was in the field cutting corn stalks, some Indians made their way to the house. Mrs. Rice was alone, but she knew the dog was able to keep Indians at bay, they looked around the house, but when they knew of the dog they soon went away.

Many of the farmers in the district were afraid to sow their wheat the spring after the visit of the grasshoppers, it was thought that owing to the large number of their eggs left in the land a wheat crop would be impossible that year, but Mr. Rice believing that there was no great risk, he secured extra land, the farmers supplying the wheat and accepting his note. The average yield of wheat was 12 bushels an acre, the first sales bringing 55 cents a bushel, but the price went up to $1.30 a bushel, so that Mr. Rice had made a good speculation. He helped his living for sixteen years by working the taxes for the railroad.

During the first year of his residence, this district was under the jurisdiction of Saline County, and settlers paid the taxes there. Then Fillmore County was organized on the 21st day of April, 1871, and he sat on the first election board for four townships, the meeting being held in “Jim” Horne’s yard; Mr. Home was away buffalo hunting at the time.

The first trail across the prairie was made by Schyler Jones from Johnson creek to his own place, Mr. Rice made the trail from Jones’ to his place, and “Boss” Woodard continued the trail to where he lived, this remained the chief road to Exeter tor some time.

The Tanners had the misfortune to lose, by death, in the early days, a little boy named Alonzo, aged four years. His body still lies buried on the Palmer Rice farm.

Thomas Edwards, a brother-in-law, (an Englishman) died at Hebron; he had no blood relatives in this country, and his last request was, that he might be buried with the Rice family. He was buried near the little boy on the farm, But was afterwards removed to the new Cemetery and now lies under a lilac bush.

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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