Christian Kobe of York County

Christian Kobe is a native of Bremen, Germany. At an early age he heard the call of the sea; those unmistakable voices appealing to him from cut the distance, inviting him forth to investigate the hidden secrets beyond the horizon, and to venture into the great possibilities of a vaster world. The song of the sirens allured him onto many seas, and across many oceans, providing opportunities of entering into the secrets of a hitherto unknown world. Commencing at the age of 14 years he lived the life of the sailor, visiting nearly every country on the Globe, thus, gaining a wide knowledge in travel, and passing through wonderful and exciting experiences such as fall to the lot of but few men.

He could easily enumerate sufficient stories to make an interesting book, which, commencing with his first attempt at milking a goat at sea, the meeting of an Orangoutang when alone on the West coast of Africa, and his lonely tramps over the western part of this Continent, together with his pioneer experiences in Nebraska, would make an interesting autobiography.

After spending several years on the high seas, he thought it was time to try his fortunes on the land, but instead of returning to the old country, he went to California, working for two years around San Francisco. With the incoming of the Chinese, which was the introduction of cheap labor into the country, he had to move on, passing through experiences which are worth recording. We next find him among the Mormons at Salt Lake City. To make it possible for him to live there at that time he had to pay the regular 50 cents to have his gentile ship washed away, this taking place at a spring at the city gates.

He then entered the city and secured employment with a provision merchant as delivery man, in this capacity he traveled into the surrounding country of Utah. It was a great sight to see the crowds of Indians attending service outside the Morman Tabernacle, (they were never allowed inside) their services being held immediately after the regular service.

Mr. Kobe, not being willing to join the church, he thought it best to seek work elsewhere, and undertook the arduous task of walking back to California, traveling mostly at night time and sleeping during the day. During this journey he would meet with bands of Indians, and would invariably ask for the chief, they in turn would ask if he was a Morman, replying that he was, they would ask “How many squaws?” The Indians considered a Morman a good man, and if he had only one squaw, he was a good Morman. If a man proved to be a gentile he was considered a bad man, and they cared nothing for him; they might even take his life. Having secured the confidence of the Indians (so much for the 50 cents and the washing) he was received into the tent, allowed to sleep, and the squaws provided him with food before again starting on his midnight tramp. He would sometimes manage to get a meal at some ranch, the charge being invariably $1 for a mess of pork and beans, the beans would have made better shot for a gun than food for a man.

He was often compelled to drink ditch water, after he had found his way through the green scum floating on the top. His experiences go to show how wonderful are the protecting mercies of a kind providence in spite of the lack of those modern sanitary and comfortable conditions of life which some persons tell us are absolutely necessary if a man would live long and remain healthy, be that as it may, Mr. Kobe lives on, and enjoys good health in spite of having passed through experiences the conditions of which were a contradiction to the theories of modern science.

He next thought he would try his fortune in Nebraska, and with a Mr. John Frank, he came to Omaha, then back to Lincoln, where they filed for homesteads, taking up land near the Blue River, in York County, in 1870. He made a dugout which was much like a cave, and in which he lived for nearly three years. Horses were scarce, so he worked for long with two yoke of oxen, and did a great deal of breaking for other settlers at $4 per acre. During those pioneer days he was often without money, he would have some due to him, but, “it delayed its coming,” then he would seek the kind aid of others, and says he will never forget the way Dr. Smith would trust him for provisions during those hard times.

Mr. Kobe was one time making his way to Nebraska City, a distance of over 80 miles with his ox team and a load of wheat and potatoes. When near the Middle Creek he saw a prairie fire coming, and at once thought of burning off the surrounding grass, he set to work making this protection, but match after match failed him, and when he had come to his last match the fire was fast approaching and things looked desperate; when with a prayer that he might be spared, he struck the last match which had the desired effect; he had just burned off sufficient to make a fire break, and had led his team and wagon onto the cleared space when the fire leaping like something gone mad, surrounded him on every hand. Had he not been thus providentially saved, he would have been burnt up in broad daylight. We can well imagine what an experience like this would mean to Mr. Kobe! I have had the privilege and pleasure of reading a copy of the original manuscript of “Samuel Allis’ ” experiences as a missionary among the Pawnee Indians, (1834) probably the first missionary to those people, he tells of a prairie fire, when a hunting party was encamped on the Platte bottoms, when four Indians and several horses were burnt to death. Surely friend Kobe accomplished a great deal when he saved his team, wagon and himself in a singlehanded fight with the fiery monster.

One day he was breaking in a field when he saw three Indians approaching him and was not inclined to pay any attention to them, but they persisted in their demands for money and provisions. Having sent them away unsupplied they made their way to the neighbor’s house a newly married couple the woman was alone in the dugout when they entered, yelling their exclamation, “Ouh! Ouh!!” much to the young: woman’s alarm. They wanted everything they could see, and helped themselves to the man’s wedding suit which happened to be hanging near.

After they had gone she sought her husband, and he in turn sought the help of Mr. Kobe, and each mounting a horse they chased the Indians to their camp near Beaver Crossing, demanded the stolen clothing, which the Indians with great laughter handed back.

Another neighbor named “Joe Cunningham” had just got married, and his wife was busy with her washing and alone. Mr. Kobe saw an Indian coming up from the Blue, and judging what might happen he made occasion to go and return a corn knife he had borrowed. The Indian had made his way into the house and was demanding meat and flour, much to the discomfort of the young woman, when Kobe called out, “Don’t be afraid!” and then he called for the dog, at the mention of which the Indian was glad to make his escape.

Another day he was passing through the timber when an Indian carrying a rifle made his appearance, the situation was not very encouraging, Kobe having nothing of a defensive character but a pocket knife. The Indian asked for tobacco, and Mr. Kobe willingly shared what he had; offering him half, but the Indian wanted more, saying “No! No! Me wants bigger, bigger!” That being refused, he yelled “Ouh! Ouh! You a bad white man, if me had you west, me scalp you!” Mr. Kobe with his blood rising said: “You go to thunder,” and then tried to get a gun from a neighbor, who on seeing his excited condition refused to let him have it, the Indian in the mean time having gone to the river.

Nothing vexed an Indian more than the reckless way white men killed the Buffalo, and leaving them lying on the prairie without making any use of them, they having accomplished their object in the mere sport. This was a shameful waste to an Indian, who depended on the buffalo for his food, clothing and tipi covers. No doubt many men lost their lives at the hands of the Indians as a result of this wasteful habit. This can be easily understood, when we know that they had very strict rules among themselves regarding the hunting of buffalo, they had “Buffalo soldiers” appointed by the chiefs, and if anyone was caught going near or hunting buffalo without a special order from the chief, they got a severe whipping. The aggressions of the “pale face” and his willful destruction of the buffalo seemed to the Indian mind to demand something more than a severe whipping hence the murders!

When the grasshoppers came, Mr. Kobe was cultivating corn, they fell so thick and fast that work became impossible, so he left the cultivator in the field, led the oxen to the stall, and when he returned his corn was all gone. He suffered the loss of a barley crop with the “chinch bugs”, he had done well the previous year with his barley, and now looked forward to a small fortune from his 20 acres, but “man proposes and the chinch bug disposes.” They came by the million, and lay six inches deep on the ground, so he set fire to the field burning both the barley and the bugs.

During the blizzard he had to feed his cattle with corn through the barn roof, and had to shovel in some snow, that they might quench their thirst, this method of feeding cattle lasting for two weeks. During the storm he was only able to find his way by having a lariat rope running from the house to the barn.

We may add that Mr. Kobe, during the days of his sailor life on Lake Michigan, had the misfortune to lose all his personal property in the Chicago fire, including all his “Ship discharges,” “Citizenship papers” and “Jewelry.” He had to take out his “Citizenship papers” a second time. After proving up on his claim, he visited the “Fatherland”, after an absence of over twenty years, during that visit he saw the young girl who afterwards became his partner in life, who now shares with him the quieter, and more restful days of a very eventful life.


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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