Sargent and The Times

James E. McCray of Sargent, Custer County, Nebraska. NSHS RG2608-768

The above photograph of James E. McCray, seated in front of a newspaper office in Sargent, was taken by Solomon D. Butcher in 1886, just three years after the Custer County village was established by Ezra P. Savage, later governor of Nebraska, and Joseph W. Thomas. The Times, owned by Frank M. Currie and edited by McCray, succeeded an earlier paper, the Loup Valley Eagle.

McCray arrived in Sargent in the spring of 1886, joining an influx of other settlers who expected the imminent arrival of “the iron horse in all her majestic splendor” and the town’s designation as a county seat. The Omaha Daily Bee on May 27, 1886, noted growing indications that Custer County “will be divided soon into four equal parts, thus making Sargent the county seat for this portion of the county. Seeing that this will undoubtedly be done, many are coming in looking for locations, while the price of real estate is low.”

McCray, among the new settlers, came from Papillion and was said by the Bee to be “a shrewd businessman, as well as a practical miller, . . . and he at once let the contract for the erection of a steam flour roller mill, with a capacity of thirty-five barrels per day.” Evidently the editorship of The Times was another of McCray’s efforts to boost the community in which he had invested.

Unfortunately, all did not go as planned. The expected rail service did not immediately materialize, and the 1886 Custer County division plan (that would have designated Sargent as the county seat of a new county) fizzled. The Times was discontinued in 1894, probably a victim of the hard economic realities of the 1890s. However, McCray remained in the Sargent area until his death in 1899. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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Sailing through Fort Kearny in a Wind Wagon

This artist’s conception of Samuel Peppard’s wind wagon as it was departing Fort Kearny in May 1860, appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on July 7 of that year. NSHS RG1576-2

Samuel Peppard’s wind ship was one of the most unusual vehicles in the history of Great Plains transportation. Designed by its inventor to carry freight, the craft in its trial run followed the Oregon Trail to Fort Kearny and then turned westward up the Platte River, reaching an ignominious end near what is today Fort Morgan, Colorado. 

Peppard, a twenty-seven-year-old millwright, and his crew had learned in trial runs that the vehicle would be hard to control. At one time it even became airborne for a short distance. Yet, about May 10, 1860, Peppard and his crew sailed out of Oskaloosa, Kansas, with five hundred pounds of cargo, headed for the goldfields of present-day Colorado. A few days later they entered Nebraska via the Independence-St. Joe Road southeast of Rock Creek. 

Files of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper tell of the strange ship. “The Wind Ship of the Prairies: Fort Kearney, May 27, 1860,” sent by a Leslie’s correspondent to his paper from Fort Kearny, said: 

“The ship hove in sight about eight o’clock in the morning, with a fresh breeze from N.E. by E.; it was running down in a westerly direction for the fort, under full sail across the green prairie. The guard, astonished at such a novel sight, reported the matter to the officer on duty, and we all turned out to view the phenomenon.” 

The vehicle was described as “a very light built wagon, the body rounded in front, something in shape like a boat, to overcome the resistance of the air. The wheels are remarkably light, large and slender, and the whole vehicle strongly built. Two masts somewhat raked carry large square sails, rigged like ship’s sails with halyards, braces, &c., &c. In front is a large coach lamp, to travel by night when the wind is favorable; and it is steered by a helm attached to the fore wheels. A crank and band wheels allow it to be propelled by hand when wind and tide are against them.” 

About a week later the ship was sighted one hundred miles west of Fort Kearny by A. L. Frizzell of Iowa, who on May 31 noted the appearance of the “sail wagon” in his diary. Attaining speeds of fifteen miles an hour, Peppard cruised to within one hundred miles of Denver before his invention was demolished by a small tornado. The voyage had taken three weeks, but only nine days were spent in actual travel. He and his crew rode on into Denver by more conventional transportation powered by four-footed draft animals. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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The Fort McPherson National Cemetery

Photographer Solomon D. Butcher’s view of Memorial Day at Fort McPherson National Cemetery in 1911. NSHS RG2608-2926-b

The approach of Memorial Day calls to mind Nebraska’s Fort McPherson National Cemetery, located  south of Maxwell in Lincoln County. If the men who lie underneath its peaceful sod could tell their stories, a living panorama of the winning of the West would unfold. Here are interred veterans of some of the bloodiest Indian wars in the nation’s history. Spotted Horse, the famed Pawnee scout, is also buried here.  

From its founding in 1863 to its abandonment in 1880, Fort McPherson played an active role in the Indian wars, with many important campaigns and expeditions launched from the fort. The site of the post, at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon, was a strategic location in the Platte Valley.

Front entrance to Fort McPherson National Cemetery in 1909. NSHS RG2154-4-3

In addition to the regular troops,  Maj. Frank North’s Pawnee Scouts were stationed at Fort McPherson. Buffalo Bill also was a frequent visitor at the post, and Gen. Phil Sheridan headquartered there for a time.  

On October 13, 1873, a tract of 107 acres was set aside as a national cemetery, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Subsequent reductions have limited the size of the cemetery to twenty acres. Burials in the Fort McPherson National Cemetery have included soldiers who served in the Indian wars throughout the West, as well as those who have served in the Civil War, Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War.  – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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Pulitzer Prize Awarded for 1930 Editorial on George Norris

George W. Norris. NSHS RG3298-2-3

On May 5, 1931, the Fremont Evening Tribune reported that Tribune editor Charles S. Ryckman had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the best editorial article published in an American newspaper during the year 1930. The award was among those given each year for excellence in American journalism, letters, drama, and music. 

A Pulitzer Prize was awarded Ryckman for an editorial on Senator George W. Norris entitled “The Gentleman from Nebraska,” published in the Tribune on November 7, 1930. The Tribune noted that in making the selection, consideration was given to “clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction, . . . To be selected for this honor, one of the highest possible of attainment in the newspaper profession, is a signal tribute to the young editor of the Tribune. In being considered for the prize, Ryckman’s work was placed in competition with that of all editorial writers in the United States, including those on the large metropolitan journals.”  

The article selected as the outstanding editorial of 1930 was written by Ryckman following Norris’s re-election to the United States Senate in November. When the senator was returned for a fourth term, after defeating Democrat Gilbert M. Hitchcock, Ryckman tried to analyze the spirit and sentiment of the Nebraska voters who had re-elected Norris, writing in his prize-winning editorial:  

“As a senator, Norris has given Nebraska something the state never had before. He has put the ‘Gentleman from Nebraska’ on every front page in America, and has kept him there. . . . But the publicity Norris gets for Nebraska is not the whole story. His real strength in Nebraska is measured by the antagonisms he stirs up beyond the borders of the state. His people take delight in setting him on the heels of the ruling powers, whether of government, of finance or of industry. The more he makes himself obnoxious to a political party, to a national administration or to Wall street, the better they like him.”

George W. Norris. NSHS RG3298-3-12

Norris’s home in McCook, Nebraska, which served as his home base throughout his political career, is now the Senator George Norris State Historic Site. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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Sliding to Safety

A student or teacher slides down what appears to be a flexible fire escape outside York’s Central School during a fire drill, February 10, 1910. NSHS RG2856-9-62

As Nebraska communities built large, multi-story schools in the late nineteenth century, providing a means of escape in case of fire was always a concern. One of the biggest problems was finding a safe way to evacuate people on the upper floors if the inner stairwells collapsed. The deadly Collinwood, Ohio, school fire of March 4, 1908 (in which 172 students, two teachers, and a rescuer died), was an impetus for Nebraska and other states to take action.  

In 1909, Nebraska’s Fire Commission, forerunner of the present State Fire Marshal’s office, was created by the Legislature. Among the Fire Commission’s duties was the promotion of fire prevention and fire drills in schools. It established the first Friday in November as “State Fire Day,” to be observed by public and private schools, and recommended that observances conclude with a fire drill and “the use of the fire escape where such is provided.”  

Several types of fire escapes were then in use. A patent for an exterior steel staircase to be used as a fire escape was registered in 1887. Metal tubes that could be used as slides were also installed on some buildings for the same purpose. A rival fire escape method that emerged in the early twentieth century was a long canvas tube suspended from the window of an upper story. The Kearney Daily Hub on December 3, 1912, reported on the recent demonstration of such a device, the “Safety Portable Fire escape apparatus,” at the city’s Whittier School. The Hub said:  

“A large canvas tube, firmly fixed in the windows of the school room, is jumped into by the occupants when cut off by fires in the stairway, and a toboggan slide is made to safety, two or more boys holding the lower end of the sack, at some distance from the building.  

“Beginning with the boys of the school room, all went down ‘a-scooting’ in perfect safety and easily, then the girls, . . . also slid down. By twisting their skirts under them, they were drawn tightly about the ankles, the friction going down holding them firmly in place.” Last came the teachers and the school principal, Marie Wenzell, without “having even their coiffures ‘fussed.’”  

The local school board was so impressed with the demonstration of the portable fire escape that they ordered twelve of them for use in the Kearney schools. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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May Day a Snow Day in 1911

Snow covered the streets on May 1, 1911, in O’Neill. NSHS RG3841-5-4

Many Nebraskans, after enjoying spring weather only a few days earlier, spent May 1 of 1911 wading through snow and shoveling the white stuff off their sidewalks. The citizens of O’Neill, for example, read in The Frontier, their local paper, a few days earlier on April 27 an enthusiastic article praising the “sweet perfume of apple, plum and cherry blossoms” and other signs of spring. The Frontier’s next issue, on May 4, included more characteristic complaints about the recent Nebraska snowstorm:  

“The storm which came April 30th, was a great surprise to most people, and not a very pleasant one at that. Some of the farmers intended to start planting corn on May 1st, but the storm caused them to put it off awhile. . . . The boys here had a little fun playing ball last Saturday, they now say that they will wait until they are sure that spring has come before they practice again. . . . The roads are again in an impassable condition on account of the recent storm, which was certainly the fiercest we have ever seen  at this time of the year. It is now the shed for automobiles, and the road for sleighs.”  

The Omaha Bee in its May 1 and 2 coverage of the unseasonable winter weather noted that “promenaders were few in Omaha. The stragglers on the street presented an array of gladsome spring garb covered with last winter’s overcoats. . . . The chilly weather this year, coming after a period of beautiful days and helpful spring rains, was by no means unprecedented. May in this [Missouri] valley often loses its sweet tranquility long enough to show us a very ugly disposition. In 1907 the month was more than half gone before it began to justify the happy illusion of its name.”– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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Preservation is place-making

Join us on June 14 for Nebraska’s first statewide historic preservation conference, Building Community: Preservation is Place-making.

“Place-making” is about creating and maintaining a community’s identity. We define a community’s uniqueness and character by its historic places—downtowns, courthouses, parks, and neighborhoods—whose stories and memories connect us to our neighbors and to the places where we live.

Vinton Street (Omaha, NE)

Vinton Street (Omaha, NE)-These two blocks in south Omaha have been drawing artists and businesses since the neighborhood's redesign by Jensen Consulting, Emerging Terrain and Omaha By Design.
(Photo credit: Omaha By Design)

This conference is meant for all people interested in their community’s quality of life. Sessions will highlight the economic benefits of preservation at the local level, and demonstrate the role of preservation for planners, architects, real estate developers, and others interested in community development. We will showcase neighborhood revitalization projects such as Vinton Street in Omaha.

Lafayette Hotel (San Diego, CA)

Lafayette Hotel (San Diego, CA)-Urbana Preservation is currently consulting on the rehabilitation and construction of the Lafayette, a popular destination for musicians and actors in the 1940s and 50s.
(Photo credit: Urbana Preservation & Planning)

Speakers include Donovan Rypkema from PlaceEconomics, James Tischler from the Urban Land Institute, Wendy Tinsley-Becker from Urbana Preservation & Planning, Todd Barman from the National Trust Main Street Center, and other experts from all around Nebraska. Come to network and to learn about resources and techniques that are used to preserve the identity of Nebraska communities. Sponsored by the Nebraska State Historical Society, the conference will be held at the Fort Omaha Campus at Metropolitan Community College.

We hope you’ll join us this June! Registration is now open at our conference website where you can also find more details about our sessions, schedule, and pre-conference reception! – Jackie Sojico, Public Information Officer/Historic Preservation







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Fort Robinson History Conference

Fort Robinson History Conference group photoIf you’re not one of these people, you’re missing a great conference! Participants in the Fort Robinson History Conference stand outside the Post Playhouse earlier today. The weather has been great, the fort is, as always, a fascinating place, and the speakers are some of the top scholars in frontier military history. The conference, which ends this evening, is co-sponsored by the NSHS and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

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Nebraska’s Semicentennial Arbor Day

Arbor Day parade float at Nebraska City in 1917. The bust at the front of the float depicts J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day. NSHS RG2991-2-3

Nebraskans celebrated the semicentennial of the state’s admission into the Union in 1917 on several dates, including March 1, Statehood Day; February 12, Lincoln’s birthday; and in churches, February 25, the Sunday nearest Washington’s birthday. The citizens of Nebraska City, the home of Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton, waited until Arbor Day in April to celebrate the semicentennial to “bring the two celebrations together,” said the Nebraska City News on April 24, 1917, “and make it possible to do justice to the occasion.” 

The highlight of the celebration was “one of the biggest and grandest parades ever undertaken” in Nebraska City. The favorable weather and good condition of the roads enabled large crowds to drive into town for the parade. Members of the board of governors of Ak-Sar-Ben acted as judges of the many floats. The entry of L. Gugenheim received first prize, with a car “trimmed entirely in white, with roses and two young ladies attired in white.”  

Chancellor Samuel Avery planting a tree on Arbor Day at Nebraska City in 1917. NSHS RG2991-2-4

The celebration also included outdoor ceremonies with band music; singing by Nebraska City schoolchildren and a men’s chorus; and a speech by University of Nebraska chancellor Samuel Avery. Avery, identified by the News on April 27 as “an Otoe County ‘boy,’ delivered the address taking as his subject the planting of trees. He told of his early days in this county, when trees were almost a curiosity, especially north of Unadilla, where his parents lived.  . . . He told of the civilizing influence of trees, the benefits they brought to humanity, and how they were a good financial investment. His remarks were interspersed with appropriate illustrations and he kept the audience in good humor. At the conclusion of his address he planted a tree near the one planted by ex-President Grover Cleveland at the unveiling of the Morton monument in October 1905.”

The Morton monument referred to by the News, was a statue of Morton commissioned by a memorial association after his death in 1902. Created by sculptor Rudulph Evans, the statue was unveiled at Nebraska City on October 28, 1905. More than 5,000 people attended the ceremony, including ex-President Grover Cleveland, under whom Morton had served as secretary of agriculture from 1893 to1897. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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The Risks of the Doll Business

Part two of the story of the Lincoln, Nebraska-based Terri Lee Company, an innovative doll manufacturer in the 1940s and ’50s. Part one is here. The full story (of which this is a summary) is told in a richly-illustrated article in Nebraska History. An exhibit, The Best Dressed Doll in the World: Nebraska’s Own Terri Lee, is open through September 1, 2013 at the Nebraska History Museum.

In part one we looked at the advances the Lincoln, Nebraska-based Terri Lee Company made in the toy world both socially and commercially. But for all the company’s success it also had plenty of controversy. Family tensions, financial risks, and the occasional tragedy contribute to making the story of Terri Lee interesting as well as historically significant.

Terri Lee dolls dressed in winter outfits. NSHS 13244-18, 37

Continue reading

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