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History

 

Stratton, Nebraska

Quasquicentennial

 

1886-2011

Stratton, Nebraska

Quasquicentennial

1886-2011

 

Original Centennial Booklet published by

 

The Stratton Centennial Committee

The Stratton Alumni Association

 

New Edition published by

The Stratton Area Chamber of Commerce

MNB

Village of Stratton

 

Original Text in Centennial Edition compiled by Janet Latta

Additional Text from 1986-2011 compiled by Bill Zahl

Cover Designed by Melissa Sis

                               

Moments in Stratton’s Past

 

1870’s & 80’s - Large longhorn cattle ranches flourished in southwestern Nebraska.  The headquarters of the Kit Carter ranch were located a mile west of the village (currently home of Dan and Rawleyce Rife).  The Carter ranch extended from the Republican to the Frenchman River Valley.  Other large ranches in the area included the McGillin spread north and south of town and Ed Wilson’s Circle outfit.

Spring 1879 - C.V. Bailey and his three sons, Ed, Seymour, and Frank, arrived from Kearney in a prairie schooner and built a log cabin where the Dairy King now stands.  The logs for the cabin were cut several miles up the Muddy Creek and pulled by two horses to the building site.  The cabin served as post office and store as well as home.  Later the town of “Frontier” gradually began to add a few settlers.

1881 or 82 - The first school was built just east of town.  The 14’x26’ frame building was soon outgrown by the expanding community.

Late 1881 - The railroad reached the town on its way to Denver and a C.B.&Q. depot was constructed with loading pens nearby.  The railroad offered to rename the town after Miss Mary Stratton in exchange for her 80-acre squatter’s right claim to the village site.  Miss Stratton later married Harvey Gunder.

1884 - C.B. Diehl began a general merchandise store in Stratton with his partner, a Mr. Padget.

1885 - A new frame school building was constructed on approximately the same site where the current school stands.

January 14, 1886 - The Hitchcock County Commissioners accepted a petition to incorporate the Village of Stratton.  The petition had been signed by 54 of the taxable inhabitants and stated that over 200 people lived in the community at the time.

Mary 14, 1886 - The original members of the current Christian Union Church organized as the Church of Christ.  In 1895, the church became affiliated with the Nebraska Christian Missionary Society and became known as the Christian Church until it incorporated as the Christian Union Church of Stratton, Nebraska, in 1947.

1887 - W.G. Morten came to Stratton and became a partner with J.P. Price in a store that his daughter Mrs. Martha V. Grosse, ran until her age and health forced her to close the store in 1971.

March 30, 1887 - The first building of the current Christian Union Church was dedicated.  It was built on lots one and two of block five on Bailey Street, which had been given to the church for $1 by H.S. and Mary (Stratton) Gunder.  The total cost of buildings and furnishings was $714.40.

November 19, 1887 - Robert Burns Lodge 173 AF & AM was organized with 12 charter members.

1892 - The congregation of the present Church of Christ began meeting in the Miles schoolhouse.

1893 - A brick school was built north of the frame schoolhouse.  Although a McCook contractor built the structure, the bricks for the building were made in Stratton.

1893 - McCabe Chapel, a forerunner of the present Methodist Church, was built.

1894 - A severe drought and grasshopper plague caused many of the early settlers to give up hope and relocate.

1897 - The first class graduated from the Stratton Schools.

1900 - Dr. W.E. Stewart came to Stratton and practiced here until his death in 1938.

1904 - The Stratton Telephone Exchange was built by the Wray Telephone Company.

December 16, 1906 - The original Methodist Church was dedicated as the Nicholas Vrooman Methodist Church.  Cost of the church was $3,300.  Governor Mickey was the speaker at the ceremony.

1907 - The Eden Church was built northwest of Stratton.

1909 - The Catholic Church purchased a former Protestant Church and began the first Catholic Church within the city limits of Stratton.  The building, after extensive remodeling, is now the present home of Denis and Deb League’s family.

October 14, 1910 - Stratton’s original waterworks system was approved for construction.

1911 - Bonds of $3,500 were authorized for a municipal electric light plant.

January 1915 - Fire destroyed a large part of Stratton’s brick schoolhouse.  High school classes were held on the second floor of Mrs. Grosse’s store for the rest of the year.

1917-18 - In World War I, 56 men served from Stratton.  Two of these men died in France and two died in camp.

December 1921 - The municipal ice plant began operation.

February 23, 1922 - After struggling with technicalities to issue the bonds, the village upgraded the light plant with $12,500 in improvements.

March 16, 1923 - The Stratton Woman’s Club was organized.  A traveling library was one of the club’s first projects.  The books were kept in Elmer Martin’s shop.

1925 - A total of $25,000 was pledged to build the Veteran’s Memorial Hall.  Approximately 300 names were listed on the subscription list.

1926 - Miller Manufacturing Company was founded by Gustaf E. Miller on the same block on which League Builders Supply is also located.  The company built a small hammer-type grinding mill for small farm use which was sold nationwide and in Canada.

1927 - A gymnasium and vocational agriculture workshop were added to the school.

October 30, 1930 - The present Methodist Church was dedicated as Community Methodist Church.  The cost of this church was $25,000.  Bishop Leete preached the dedicatory sermon.

May 31, 1935 - The Republican River flood hit the Stratton area.  Mrs. Alva Stonecipher, her daughter, Mildred, and her niece, Ethel Black, were drowned when their rescue boat capsized five miles east of town.  Many other local people barely escaped with their lives and hundreds were left with memories of the disaster to share with future generations.  The southwest portion of Stratton was flooded as water from the Muddy Creek found nowhere else to flow.  Miles of Burlington railroad track were washed out, as well as most of the river bridges and some of the highway.  A one-man pontoon foot bridge was later constructed so people south of the river could reach the town for supplies.  Between 94 to 135 Nebraskans were killed by the flood.

June 16, 1935 - Flood waters again endangered the Republican River Valley.

1937 - Diehl’s Lake, located two miles east of Stratton, was completed on Camp Creek during the Depression under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.  Several local farmers used their teams of horses to help build the structure.

1938 - The Eden school was built.

1940 - Oscar E. Miller began production of his rod-weeder with semi-chisels which he had invented in 1938 while experimenting with stubble-mulch tillage.  The first Miller Weeder factory was located a half block west of Bailey Street along the highway.

1940’s - Stratton’s business district included automobile and farm implement dealerships, furniture and clothing stores, lumberyards, feed stores, general merchandise and grocery stores, as well as two factories.

1941-45 - In World War II, 227 people from the Stratton area served in the military.  Six of these men were killed.

1947 - The first uncounted disc harrow was built by Miller Manufacturing Company.

October 1947 - Stratton celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Morten-Grosse store and the Commercial Bank.

1948 - The Church of Christ congregation moved into the town of Stratton and began meeting in the building just north of the present minister’s residence.

Winter 1948-49 - Heavy blizzards, which began in November, continued throughout the winter and kept much of Nebraska buried in an unusual amount of snow.

September 21, 1949 - A ground-breaking ceremony was held for the Trenton Dam, a $23,000,000 project.

1950 - Stratton’s swimming pool was constructed.

1950-53 - The Stratton area sent 54 men into military service during the Korean War.  There was one local fatality.

1951 - The Stratton Volunteer Fire Department purchased its city fire truck.

July 25, 1951 - The present St. Joseph Catholic Church was dedicated by Bishop Louis B. Kucera.  The cost of the building was $45,000.

February 10, 1952 - The second Christian Union Church building was dedicated on the same site as the original church.

1954 - A one-story, $300,000 addition to the Stratton School was completed for the elementary grades.

1955 - Gustaf Miller retired from Miller Manufacturing Company and, by 1958, Maurice E. Miller became sole operator of the business.

1956 - The Stratton school district consolidated with about seven other rural districts.

1956 - The Stratton Rural Fire Department was established and began serving the surrounding farming community.

1957 - Dr. Jack Harris began his practice in Stratton and continued his work here until his retirement in 1975.

November 7, 1957 - “The Stratton News” and “The Palisade Times” consolidated with “The Trenton Register.”  The paper later became “The Hitchcock County News” on October 7, 1965.

November 1957 - The first oil well in the Stratton area was drilled.  The well, known as #1 Hudson, was located NE NE of Section 1, T. 1 N., R. 34 W. and produced only 1,064 barrels of oil before being plugged in 1964.

1960 - The current Miller Weeder factory was built east of Stratton and the company was incorporated.  The company manufactured rod-weeders, basin tillers, lister dammers, feed grinders, tractor guides, and stubble punchers for customers from Texas to North Dakota and Canada.  The factory employed approximately 30 people throughout the year.  Oscar retired in 1967 and his son, Warren, continued to operate the business until 1976.

August 1962 - Both the Indian and Muddy Creeks flooded, forcing several nearby residents to flee to higher ground or the upper stories of their homes.

March 23, 1963 - The Hitchcock County Hospital was dedicated.  The building was constructed at a cost of about $265,000.

1965-73 - During the Vietnam War, 26 local men entered military service.  No local casualties were reported.

October 1966 - An early snow and ice storm downed electrical and telephone lines throughout southwestern Nebraska.  Many people were without power for several weeks.

May 26, 1967 - Stratton celebrated Nebraska’s centennial with a 35-unit parade and a barbecue which fed more than 1,000 people.

1968 - Highway 34 was expanded to four lanes through the Village of Stratton’s limits and changed the view of the town to travelers on the route.

August 31, 1973 - An explosion in a small building used as the art room of the Stratton Schools seriously injured teacher Sally Yost and custodian Mike League.  Miss Yost died three weeks later at a burn center.

January 1974 - Emergency medical technicians first began serving the community with a new $16,000 ambulance.  The first squad of 16 men and 11 women were trained in emergency care.  Before this time, ambulance service was provided by Ralph Jones for many years.

February 12, 1974 - Amtrak’s San Francisco Zephyr No. 6 derailed near the east edge of Stratton.  The derailment injured 21 people.

1974 - Stratton School’s Industrial Arts Building was completed.

1974 - Miller Manufacturing Company plant space was expanded to approximately 66,000 square feet.

1974 - Stratton won first place in the Nebraska Community Improvement Program in the 301-800 population group.  The village won $450 for its efforts.

1976 - A new gymnasium and cafeteria was added to the Stratton School.  The total cost was $377,046.

1976 - Miller Weeder was sold to Ron Bieker and associates.  The factory continued to operate east of Stratton.

August 8, 1976 - The tragic collision of the Sunday School bus of the Church of Christ and a Burlington-Northern freight train killed minister Thomas Nerren, his wife, Shirleen, and seven local children.  Eight other children were injured.

Late 1970’s - Miller Manufacturing Company built a second manufacturing plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, to help build the wide line of Miller discs and later the silo-press.  The company also built a truck facility in Stratton to service and house its trucking fleet.  Both the Stratton and Grand Island factories employed over 100 people and sold Miller products throughout the United States, Canada, and several other foreign countries.

1977 - The Commercial Bank moved to its new location.

September 18, 1977 - Members of Community United Methodist Church celebrated their 90th anniversary as an organized congregation in Stratton.

1978 – The Hitchcock County Hospital (first dedicated in 1963) was forced to close.

1980 - The Christian Union Church added a sanctuary and basement classrooms to the existing structure.  The work was done by the members themselves.

1981 - A declining farm economy forced the closing of the Miller Manufacturing Company plant in Stratton.

March 14, 1983 - The Hitchcock County Senior Center served its first meal at the Grandview Retirement Center.  The Grandview Retirement Center is located in the former Hitchcock Country Hospital building.  In addition to the noon meals program, the facility provides apartment living for senior citizens.  Many social activities are also coordinated by the Hitchcock County Senior Center.  Noon meals are delivered once per month to each of the other three towns in Hitchcock County.  The Stratton Industrial Commission, Inc. is the owner/operator of the building and administers the operation of the Hitchcock County Senior Center and the Grandview Apartments.  The first administrator was Bev Earnest.

1985 - A new building for worship and Christian education was built by the Church of Christ congregation.  Most of the work and labor on this structure was donated by church members.

Summer 1985 - Cable television was installed in Stratton by Custom Cable of Denver.

November 11, 1985 - St. Joseph Catholic Church celebrated its Diamond Jubilee.

December 31, 1985 - The area with a 10-mile radius of Stratton boasted 380 producing oil wells which pumped 1,697,000 barrels of oil during 1985.  Most of the production in Hitchcock County was in the Stratton area since there are 546 wells in the county which produced 1,984,000 barrels of oil during 1985.  The wells outside the Stratton area were approaching 25 years old.

New addition for 1986-2011

1989 – St Joseph Catholic Church installed new stained glass windows.

1989 – The Village of Stratton purchased the old bank building from Commercial Bank.  The Village Office was moved from within the shop building into the newly purchased building at the corner of Bailey and Highway 34 (311 Bailey Street).  Remodeling was completed and it serves as a very nice village office with a meeting area for Village Board meetings.  The Village also purchased the two lots immediately south of the new village office location.  This was purchased from TP Inc. (Ted Pierce) This area is used as a small park with gazebo.

1990–1991 – The Community United Methodist Church constructed an addition to the south side of the church.  This addition added two new restrooms and an elevator that serves the basement, ground, and sanctuary levels.

September 13, 1991 – A new addition to south side of the Grandview Retirement Center was dedicated.  The 720 square foot “sun room” or “Grandview Room” was provided by Venus Lionberger in memory of her husband, Carl.  The plaque, located on the north wall of the addition, states “This addition to Grandview Center has been donated by Venus Lionberger in memory of her husband Carl Lionberger, a long-time, highly respected businessman in the community of Stratton, Nebraska.”

1993 – Lakeview Lodge was incorporated.  This facility is located approximately three miles east of Stratton on old US Highway #34.   The property was purchased from the Golden Rod Girl Scout organization when their board chose to discontinue its operations.  It provides a great setting for weddings, hunting accommodations, nature studies, family reunions.  Numerous improvements have been made to the building and grounds.  It actually sets on land controlled by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.  The hunting in the area is very good.  The proximity to Swanson Reservoir (less than a mile) also makes it a great retreat.

1994 – Little House Museum Inc. was formed.  This entity purchased a little house situated at the northeast corner of the park and north of the swimming pool.  It was purchased from the Georgia Williamson Estate (Mother of Irene League).  Little House Museum, Inc.’s goal is to provide displays of both permanent and on a private collection basis to preserve the history of the area  with educational activities both literary and cultural.  The museum is open the first and third Sunday afternoons from 1 pm to 5 pm in June, July, and August.

1995 – The Stratton Community Foundation was established, in conjunction with the Nebraska Community Foundation, for the purpose of receiving, administering and distributing funds for community betterment.  All contributions to the fund will be available for allowable projects and programs to promote the general welfare of the residents of the Stratton Community, its rich heritage, and provide incentives for its continued growth.  Donations are tax deductible.

1999 – The last graduating class of Stratton High School was in 1999.  The following school year (1999-2000) Stratton, Culbertson and Trenton entered into a Unification Agreement.  Stratton & Trenton combined forces with a K-8 in Stratton and a 9-12 in Trenton.  This school was known as Lakeside Central.  Its mascot name was the Falcons.

2000 - The Stratton Industrial Commission, Inc. was able to build two new duplexes to the north of the Hitchcock County Senior Center/Grandview Apartments facility.  New concrete streets and driveways were also built around the new duplexes.  Underground sprinkling was installed to water the grass around the duplexes.  This construction was made possible through receipt of bequests from the estates of Alta Miller and Venus Lionberger. 

2001- Timber Creek Homes, Inc., owned by Charles Pelkey and Carl Rasmussen, opened their modular home manufacturing company at the east edge of Stratton.  Approximately 85% of the homes are sold as up-scale homes in the ski and recreation areas of Colorado.  The remaining new homes have been sold in other states including Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, California, and New Mexico.  The factory has provided very important employment for thirty to sixty employees over the years.

September 8, 2003 – The Commercial Bank (established in 1887) was sold to the McCook National Bank.  All employees continued to work for the merged organization.  The McCook National Bank has a long history in Southwest Nebraska after being founded in McCook in 1907.

2004 – In 2004 Culbertson’s school enrollment dropped enough that they were unable to maintain a K-12 any longer.  Stratton, Culbertson, & Trenton were already a part of the Unification Agreement established in 1999.  So, the schools then became known as Hitchcock County Schools with Stratton and Culbertson each maintaining K-6 and all 7-12 students attending in Trenton. 

2007 –   The unified school of Stratton, Trenton, and Culbertson was still in financial trouble.  The Stratton district had two options:  The first was to close the schools in Stratton & Culbertson and the students of all three communities would attend in Trenton, or, Stratton could join with Dundy County in an effort to keep a K-6 school in Stratton.  After an advisory election in March 2007, it was decided by the school board, following the wishes of the voters, to consolidate with Dundy County.  In this agreement, Stratton would keep a K-6 by combining classes.  So, in 2007 the Stratton facility became a part of the new Dundy County-Stratton School District and is now known as Stratton Elementary.  Remodeling of the north part of the Elementary, which began the summer of 2007, included modernizing the elementary wing & new heating/AC.  The newer gym and lunch room continued to be used.  The old gym and west hallway (four class rooms and offices) were scheduled to be demolished the summer of 2009.

June 30, 2007 - The Advisory Board of the Stratton Community Foundation, accepted a $50,000.00 Challenge Grant from the Robert and Jeannette Hunt Community Fund. Mr. and Mrs. Hunt were the founders of Great Plains Communications, our local telephone and internet service provider. Their foundation board selected Stratton as one of only ten communities in the state to receive their $50,000.00 Challenge Grant. This challenge had to be matched by the Stratton community on at least a 3-to-1 basis within a three year time frame.  A total of $150,000.00 needed to be raised (and was raised) by February 10, 2010 in order for Stratton to receive the $50,000.00.  This means that the Stratton Community Foundation now has a $200,000 endowment fund.  The newly formed endowment fund of the Stratton Community Foundation is, in essence, a savings account for the Stratton community. Contributions to this fund are placed in financial vehicles that will grow the funds year after year. A certain amount of the interest generated by the endowment fund will be given back to the Stratton community in the form of grants, gifts, and scholarships.

December 2007 – The Stratton Country Market opened in the same building where Paul’s IGA had served the community for some twenty-six years under the management of Kerry and Cindy Krutsinger.   Kerry and Cindy sold the store to Craig Horibik in 2001 and he operated the store for about three years before being forced to close it.  The community then had no grocery store for almost three years.  The Stratton Area Community proved they were “hungry for a grocery store” when they worked together to update the freezers with twenty-five newer upright glass door freezers cooled by brand new refrigeration units. A new produce/dairy refrigeration unit was also installed.  The produce/dairy/meat cooling room and the meat refrigeration chest line had their refrigeration units replaced with new.  Checkout scanners and scales were also introduced.  The total funds raised within the community to re-establish a grocery store in Stratton came to approximately $200,000.  Gladys Brockway was the store’s first manager.  The store employs an equivalent of three full time employees.  Ongoing assistance from volunteers takes care of a good share of shelf stocking each week along with many other grocery store tasks.

August 2011 – Timber Creek Homes, Inc. was sold to NexGen, LLC.  NexGen LLC looks forward to continuing operations in Stratton.  One of the main reasons that this manufacturer has chosen Stratton is because of its people’s very strong work ethic.

September 2011 – Commodity and Farm Real Estate Prices

Corn - $6.50/bushel; Wheat - $6.52/bushel

500 Lb. Feeder Steers - $1.44/lb average per Tri-State Livestock, McCook

500 Lb. Feeder Heifers - $1.34/lb average per Tri-State Livestock, McCook

Pivot Irrigated Farm Land - $2,760/acre per University of Nebr. March 2011

Dry Farm Land - $875/acre per University of Nebr. March 2011

Pasture Land - $490/acre per acre per University of Nebr. March 2011

 

Reminiscing

Kit Carter, with the wealthy St. Louis company en route to California in 1849, was warned it was too late to cross the Sierras and, remembering the Donner tragedy, shifted to the Republican Forks and thence south on the ancient Trader’s Trail (a north-south trail which crossed the Republican River just east of Benkelman).  At Santa Fe, the migrants traded their wagons for pack mules and, while crossing the Colorado River on the Padres trail, met two Indians who told Kit the Jayhawkers were taking a short cut via Owens Lake to avoid the long sweep through Southern Utah and Nevada.  Near starvation, Kit left the “lost Jayhawkers” in Death Valley and, in time, outfitted at Stockton.

Two years later with a poke of gold, he returned to St. Louis, loaded his family in a schooner and headed for Texas to join his wife’s people, the Ross clan, one of whom was governor.  Settling on the Brazos, with a secondary ranch of some 100,000 acres at present Paducah, cattle were trailed to northern markets.  Remembering the Republican Valley in 1849 with belly-deep grass and spring-fed streams, Kit associated with the McGillins and organized the Harlem Cattle Company, furnishing the cattle and considerable money.  During the early 1880’s, they controlled much of the range between the Republican and Frenchman rivers with headquarters at Stratton, Nebraska.  President Cleveland double-crossed his Democrat friends not only here, but elsewhere by canceling land entries made by the cowboys, which then opened the land to bonafide settlers and ordered all illegal fencing removed.

The McGillins welched on payments due Carter following his death.  Carter’s son-in-law, Isham R. Darnell, and wife came north in 1891 to untangle the snarl… lawsuits ended in uncollectable judgments against the McGillins and in the end a $3,000,000 outfit went down the drain.  Attorney fees of $48,000 took the Paducah ranch.  Practically nothing was salvaged by the Darnells, but they liked the country, even the Republicans.  After living at Stratton for about 20 years, the Darnells moved to Benkelman, where he opened a law office, eventually serving as county judge of Dundy County.

- “Teepees to Soddies,” E.S. Sutton

Additional Notes on the Carters and McGillins:

Edward M. McGillin was a Cleveland businessman who heavily speculated in land and cattle in southwestern Nebraska in the 1880’s.  He eventually lost his fortunes in Cleveland because of his ranching ventures and the settlement of our area by homesteaders.  His younger brother, William, managed the ranches here.  The main headquarters of the McGillin ranch are now covered by Enders Reservoir on the Frenchman River.

Kit Carter, an experienced Texas rancher, also invested thousands of dollars in longhorn cattle on the Republican River.  When the bottom fell out of the cattle market in 1886-87, the Carters sold the Connolly (Riverdale) ranch west of Stratton to McGillin in an attempt to help meet their financial obligations.  McGillin and his associates defaulted on their payments and numerous lawsuits began.

It is interesting to note that the home ranch of Kit Carter near Palo Pinto, Texas, is now also covered by the waters of the Possum Kingdom Reservoir.

-Paul D. Riley, Nebraska State Historical Society

While C.V. Bailey and his sons, Ed, Seymour, and Frank, were building their log cabin in 1879, several of the area’s ranching families warned them of a possible Indian attack and suggested that the Baileys go with them to the safety of Indianola, the nearest settlement.  The Baileys decided to stay with their half-finished cabin, but they buried most of their store’s supplies as a precaution.

Not long after this a bond of 20 to 30 war-painted Indians surrounded the cabin.  The Baileys’ only gun was an old Civil War rifle which had been converted into a shotgun and seemed to have as much back-kick as forward fire power.

Charles Bailey decided to try to bargain with the Indian chief.  He placed all of their flour, sugar, and other similar supplies on a blanket and symbolically cut the blanket in half with a hunting knife.  He gave one-half of the supplies to the Indian leader and took the other half back into the unfinished cabin.

This must have satisfied the Indians, for they left the Baileys and did not bother them again.

- Earl Bailey, Great-grandson of C.V. Bailey

Many legends are told about the idiosyncrasies of the cowboys.  In 1880 there was an allegedly famous snake fight in Stratton’s general store.  A cowboy captured a live rattlesnake, said to be the largest ever seen in the county, and put it in the window of the general store.  Another cowboy produced a bull snake, which he boasted could whip the rattler.  Bets were made and the whole town turned out to see the fight.

They dropped the six-foot bull snake into the window and the rattler attacked.  At first it appeared as though the rattler had the advantage, but the bull snake finally got a good hold and that was the end of the rattler.  The cowboy who brought the bull snake was considerably richer, as the rattler was favored going into the bout.

- “McCook Daily Gazette,” Nebraska Centennial Edition, 1967

In November 1884, we located on a homestead one-half mile northeast of Stratton, now owned by Mr. Henry Kyle.  From there we moved onto a preemption on the Muddy.  Neighbors joining us were Jud Post, Mike Brady, and Dan Swayze and other near neighbors were Wards, Whistlers, Daileys, Loops, and Howells.  We all lived either in Soddies or dug-outs.  Our mansion was an 8x10 dug-out, protected from the wild, longhorn range cattle by a barb wire fence electrified only by the winds.  (Whoever heard of a storage battery those days?)  At that time there were no herd laws and the cattle roamed the prairies everywhere.  Many a time I have been chased into the dug-out by them.  Those cattle had horns so long they looked like tree branches to me and when I went to get fuel or water, many is the time a white sheet hung in the every blowing wind would put the cattle with their long horns on the run and sometimes to near stampede.  How I would hurry to get my fuel and water before they returned to scare me stiff.  The herd law was passed in 1886 and was I glad.

Range cattle were not the only pests we had to put up with.  I had to hide the children’s clothing at night where the pack rats couldn’t reach them, or there was nothing for them to wear the next morning.  I have passed many a sleepless night killing fleas, bed-bugs, rats, and mice, and seeing rattlesnakes on the banks and in the pole rafters of the dug-out.  You are right, I kept as far away from them as I could.  Oh, that was some life.

Our furniture was not the kind that we feared for scratches on it.  For a cupboard, I had a cracker box fastened on the wall with wooden pegs and a newspaper for a curtain.  Our other furniture equaled it in every way…During the drought years, there were times when I ground wheat on a large coffee mill for mush or graham bread.  There were also times when we had no milk, butter, meat, sugar, vegetables, white flour, or even salt and pepper.  Mr. Craw was teaching school but couldn’t get a cent for a school order as there was no money in the school funds.  When he was Superintendent of the Stratton school, he received $50.00 per month.  Small pay to what they get today.

- “Stratton News,” Mrs. E.D. Craw, September 30, 1937

How well I remember my first sight of Nebraska!

It was in the fall of 1885 - 52 years ago this fall.  I, then at the age of seven years, my brother, Francis, age six years, with our parents, Mr. and Mrs. T.E. Wellman, started at noon, September 23rd, 1885, from Mason, Ohio, a small town near Cincinnati, in a covered wagon drawn by two blind horses, named Big Bill and Little Billie, and blind mare named Kitt, hitched three abreast.  Also had along with us our black dog, Jack, and three canary birds, Bob, Dick, and Julia.  We were headed for a home in the west.  At two p.m. on November 25, 1885, we arrived at my father’s uncle Joseph Hayden, and family living on a sheep ranch between Kearney and Minden, Nebraska.  We were nine weeks and two hours making this journey.  Will mention here, during this trip, a complete diary was kept, also the New Testament was read thru.  Our parents always took time for their daily Scripture reading and prayer each morning.

I remember how embarrassed brother and I were one evening, while our parents were visiting with strangers, where we had camped for the night.  We were tired and sleepy and being used to saying our prayers, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” etc. at father’s and at mother’s knee, well, we finally gained enough courage and shifted around to each of them and said them, then scampered off to the wagon bed.

We lived for a few months in a vacant house of our uncle’s, who lived nearby.  Father helped with the work at the ranch and also helped care for the sheep.

Brother and I picked up many a barrel of cobs for our aunt for five cents per barrel from the prairie where the sheep were fed ear corn.  We thought we were making big money.

Then in the fall of ‘86, father met a man by the name of Roach, who owned some land near Stratton, Nebraska.  After a long conversation with him, father decided to come on farther west, so he relinquished his preemption to the Government, so he would have a right to file again if he wished to.  This Mr. Roach had a house, or rather a dugout, (a hole in the side of a canyon bank large enough for a room, with a roof over it, and a window and door in the side), on his land about four miles northwest of Stratton.  So he gave father the key to the dugout, telling him to go there and live until he could get located for himself.  Well, we all started out again with our team and covered wagon, and made the final move.  We were about two weeks making this move.

Our journey nearing an end, we soon came to Stratton, which at that time consisted of an old log house which had been built in the fall of 1879 and not finished until 1880.  A picture of this log house can be seen on the front curtain at the Veterans’ Memorial Hall here in Stratton.

In ‘86 this log house was used for the first post office and grocery store in Stratton, operated by Mr. Frank Bailey’s father.  (Frank Bailey and wife are still residents of Stratton.)  There was also a sod blacksmith shop owned by Sam Hurst, a small feed and livery barn owned by the Burney Bros., a small depot building, and a few sod houses.

After reaching Stratton we came on northwest about four miles to the Roach dug-out.  How happy we were, thinking our journey to an end as we camped for the night.  But the next morning we children were grief stricken over the sudden death of our faithful dog, Jack.

Mr. Roach had left a cook stove and some kettles in the dugout which he said to use, so that evening mother washed one of the kettles preparatory to making some mush in it but somehow, instead of making mush she left the kettle set over night with some water and dry bread in it to soak, which was given to Jack for his breakfast.  In a few minutes he became deathly sick - being poisoned - and soon died in spite of all we could do for him.

It was just a miracle or we all might have been poisoned.  No doubt Mr. Roach had used the kettle for rat poison and forgot about it.

We lived here for a few months and then early in the spring of ‘87, father again filed on a preemption, about ten miles northeast of this Roach land and about five miles north of Stratton.  Here he made a dugout of our own.  It faced the south with one window horizontal instead of uprights as we have them now, and a door, but it was home.  Also made a dugout stable or shed for our two horses and cows and a few chickens.

***

I’ll never forget the following event which happened on April 7, 1887, while we were living in our dugout where we had moved in the spring.  A terrible prairie fire which started from the north side of the railroad tracks, just east of Stratton - being set by the passing of a Burlington passenger train.  A high wind blowing from the south sent the flames like wild fire with high leaps over the dry hills and prairies, spreading to a mile in width and reaching to the Platte river on the north, leaving everything in its wake a blackened mass.

Father was breaking prairie sod on what is now the Buck land about a mile west of where we lived.  Seeing the awful smoke high in the air, childlike, I must run and tell father (just as if he couldn’t see it).  So I started on the run like a race horse, leaving mother and brother at the house.  In the meantime, father, seeing the fire, had started for home with his team and wagon, met me, picked me up just in time to save me from the head fire which swept by between us and home.  The horses, being blind, plunged thru the fire as father guided them.  Reaching the other side, we saw mother and brother starting to the shed.  Mother had thought of her setting hens in there.  Father shouted for them to come quick.  He got them into the wagon, gave the lines to me and said to follow him.  He then went north of the dugout, started a new fire where the grass hadn’t burnt yet, then I drove the team onto this burnt ground and kept them there until everything around us was burned.  Father had run back to the shed, dragged a couple of calves out and put them in the dugout, then wet a bed blanket in a barrel of water that had been hauled for house use, wrapped it around himself and stood in the doorway while flames from the backfire swept over the dugout and were extinguished when reaching the burnt ground where we were.

During this trying time we three in the wagon kept our faces and clothes wet with water from a ten gallon keg which father had with him in the field.  This kept us from suffocating from the intense heat and smoke.  Staying on this burnt ground saved our wagon from burning; also saved the lives of our horses, as well as our own.  Our few hogs and chickens were burned.  Our cows saved themselves by running thru to the outside of the fire.  Our dogs ran to a big water hole in a rock canyon from which we hauled water for our stock, and stayed in the water till the fire was over.

- “Stratton News,” Mrs. E.C. Miles, September 30, 1937

One July third we had a big hail storm that completely destroyed the crops.  Ice was an unknown thing in summer.  Hail was piled in the canyon several feet deep.  One man got on his horse and rode it to the neighbors’.  “Let’s have a picnic on the Fourth of July.  Everybody bring milk, cream, and eggs to make ice cream and any other food for a picnic.”  The word got around and, by noon on the Fourth, a large crowd had gathered.  Many gallons of ice cream were made in buckets and tubs.  Few owned a freezer.  Everyone had all they could eat and many gathered tubs of hail to take home.

- George Burchell, Stratton Public Library

While we lived in Sandwich one night, Mr. and Mrs. Parsons came in at midnight.  Cowboys had brought word that the Indians were coming on the warpath and we were warned to be prepared for them.  Some of us thought our time was about up.  The Coopers from over south and another family or two came.  The men staid around the store and slept in Ames and Price’s big tent.  Not much sleeping was done, though.  The women staid at the Davis home.  We would look toward Burntwood Creek and think we saw them coming, but they never came.  Some of the cowboys went to Atwood to find out what they could.  One lone squaw had passed through there.  That was the end of the Indian scare.  People went back to their homes very much relieved, though some had taken the trains at Stratton and didn’t come back.

- “Stratton News,” Mrs. Charles Ward, September 30, 1937

In 1887, Dr. Guy H. Hilderbrand of Ashland, Neb., and Dr. James Slicker from somewhere in Pennsylvania located in Stratton.  The former practiced here for several years and is remembered yet for his fine professional manner and conduct.  The latter lived in Stratton’s present-day Commercial Hotel.  His wife operated the place while he attended the sick.  An early settler relates that this Doctor lived up to his name - that he really was a “slicker.”  One time the Doctor came back to the hotel from a drive into the country to be met, not only by his present help-mate, but also by a former, undivorced wife.  The situation was an embarrassing one to say the least.  He told the two women that he could explain everything, but first he must hurry down the street to see a very sick patient.  When he reached the corner where the Farmers’ Store now stands, he saw a freight train leaving town, which he hastened to catch and slipped out of Stratton for parts unknown.  The women were left to fight it out between themselves or to congratulate each other that they were rid of him.

- “Stratton News,” September 30, 1937

In the spring of 1900, Dr. W.E. Stewart located in Stratton, occupying the office in the Daniel Strayer building vacated by Dr. Dodge some months before.  Dr. Stewart describes this office as only one room, divided by calico curtains into a waiting room and private office - a common partition material of pioneer days - with furnishings consisting of a three-dollar table, half a dozen fifty-cent chairs and a pine box which supported a tin water pail and wash basin.  It was crude pretense compared with the Doctor’s present modern office, but it was better than taking case histories from across a drug counter as the pioneer doctors had done before.

In less than two years, Dr. Stewart fitted the entire second floor over the Samuel Bell hardware, located where the Farmers substantial concrete building stands.  This floor provided space for a waiting room, a private office, an operating room and two patient rooms.  With a growing practice and an income that now seemed secure and sufficient for two, Dr. Stewart was married in February 1902 to Miss Dolores Sharp, a teacher in the Stratton schools.  In 1904 he erected a more commodious office building, west of main street and the following year built a residence property on one side of the office and two years later constructed a modern, seven-bed hospital on the other.  This group of buildings were used until 1918, when the beautiful home and splendid private hospital was built on the hillside at the north edge of town.  These buildings have provided a deserving home for Dr. and Mrs. Stewart, whose lives for more than 30 years have been devoted to the care and comfort of the sick and modern, thoroughly equipped institution which has served the medical and surgical needs of thousands.  Dr. Stewart was a pioneer surgeon in southwest Nebraska and his success in this field earned for him a reputation that brought patients from over a wide territory to Stratton, as well as a most enviable consulting practice.

As Dr. Stewart’s practice grew, it was not long until he required skilled assistance to carry on his work.  The doctors associated with him were chiefly young graduates in medicine who came not only to render assistance, but to acquire practical experience before setting up practice on their own accord…In 1932, Dr. Stewart’s youngest son, John, graduated in medicine and after a year’s internship at the Immanuel Hospital in Omaha, came back to join his father and Dr. Brown in group practice.

In 1926 Dr. Stewart erected the $10,000 medical building where the three have their offices.  The building provides space for a dentist and since its opening has been occupied by Dr. F.L. Siegel.  The Stratton Clinic has not only a beautiful home in this modern building, but the equipment and facilities to provide this rural community medical services on a par with places many times its size.  For years the work of Dr. Stewart and those associated with him in the Clinic and Hospital has made Stratton well-known as a medical center.

More than 70 per cent of the income is said to come from outside territory.  Whatever their remains above expenses is re-invested to provide improved medical services.  Dr. Stewart buys at home and his entire investments have been made in Stratton.  The repeated years of crop failure since 1930 have increased medical charities and made it impossible to collect fees from those who in the past always paid.  These have been years of hard, sacrificing service on the doctors that few who are accustomed to business transactions in which profits are the chief consideration, realize and appreciate.  It is said that upwards of $100,000 in medical and hospital services have been rendered in Stratton without charge or remuneration of any kind.

- “Stratton News,” September 30, 1937

In the year 1890 Steve Welch dug a well for Samuel C. Phenice, who lived in a dugout in Freedom Precinct in the head of the canyon west of the present Neil Hudson farm.  Steve started to straighten out the inside of the well by removing some of the lumber in the casing.  By doing so, the well began to cave in.  Men tried to get Steve out, but they could not move him fast enough and he was covered by the cave-in.  There was one small crack in the casing where he could get air and some neighbors went for help.

They contacted Nels Hawkinson because Nels had been successful in digging several wells by hand in those pioneer days.  Nels dug another shaft close and cased it with boards.  Nels rescued Steve through this new shaft.  This was done by hand by lantern light at night.  It was morning by the time Nels retrieved Steve from the cave-in. 

Steve Welch was the father of Bert Welch and the grandfather of Lena Golding.  Nels Hawkinson was the father of Andrew Hawkinson and the grandfather of Arthur and Loren Hawkinson.

- “Atlas of Hitchcock County,” 1980

The ghosts of blasted ambitions now parade out there in Joe Vachuta’s wheat field, but during the early homesteading days Burntwood had the makings of a city, or so they thought.  The B & M surveyed a line from its main Republican tracks, headed for the Kansas divides, and maybe Pueblo.  Burntwood was favorably situated on the flats.  Doc Irvin nailed some boards together around a counter and called it a drugstore.  Charlie Williams laid up sod for a 40x25 general store.  Hubbards dished out grub and Howeys operated the livery stable.  There was a blacksmith, lumberyard, post office.  Water for all purposes except bathing was hauled in barrels from the East Driftwood “dripping springs.”  Some people were so particular they seined off the wigglers and skippers before drinking.  Anyone desiring a bath just went fishing.  The town modernized when Williams, Hubbard, Draper and Howey, whose quarter sections cornered, sank a 240 foot well at that point smack in the center of the metropolis.  The well was a great drawing card.  People came long distances in wagons with water barrels and stopped to shop.

The town was on its way to something important when the railroad suddenly double-crossed them.  They constructed the St. Francis branch and Burntwood couldn’t survive the shock to its pride, nor competition of its new rival, McDonald.  First one enterprise, then another, folded up and at last Drapers moved back to their homestead on the creek, taking along the post office.  Their city park consisted of two or three scrawny ash trees, but after the buildings all moved away, the well was filled.  Not even a dog was left to be associated with and the trees joined the parade of has-beens.

- “Teepees to Soddies,” E.S. Sutton

WE had a real high school baseball team during the year 1913 and 1914.  IN the spring of 1914 Stratton won from the high schools from near and far.  Cambridge high school had similar luck in competing with schools near them.  A game was finally arranged between the two schools at Stratton.  From the very beginning it simply was a pitcher’s battle.  About the seventh or eighth inning the Cambridge pitcher muffed a bad grounder and then a Stratton boy slashed out a three base hit and Stratton won the game 1 to 0.

- “Stratton News,” Thomas D. Rife, September 30, 1937

Mrs. Ralph Gummere and baby were visiting her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joe McNiece, near Culbertson when they were caught in the flood waters.  Twelve in a wagon, they attempted to get to higher land, but the box was washed off the wagon.  Fortunately they were all able to wade their way to a tall tree and all climbed into its branches, where they remained until midnight, when, the waters having receded, they descended to the ground and at daylight were able to make their way to the Rippen farm where they secured food and warm clothing.  Throughout the night Mrs. Gummere’s baby slept in her arms, unaware of their terrible plight.

- “Stratton News,” June 13, 1935

The Floyd League family, living on the Diehl farm south of the river, west of Stratton, are thankful people despite the fact that they lost practically everything in the flood waters.  They are thankful to have escaped with their lives.

The water descended upon them without warning.  A nephew, Jack League, living south of them, drove down with a wagon and a team of mules to take them to higher ground, but the mules entangled in their harness as the waters became higher and higher.  Mr. League, on horseback, carried all to safety and succeeded also in saving the struggling team.  Fifteen minutes after they left the house water was fifteen feet deep in the barn lot.  They got out with only a few bed comforters and a change of clothing for the children - but they are thankful.

The house and every building except the barn were floated down the river and smashed to kindling.

- “Stratton News,” June 13, 1935

“The Stratton News’ published a list of early-day settlers on October 2, 1947.  AS Mr. Cates, the editor, stated, some other names should probably have been included and any omissions are unintentional.  The list included: C.V. Bailey, H.E. Dailey, Jud Post, Ed Gummere, Frank Smith, Mr. and Mrs. J.L. Burk, Ed Earnest, Frank Taunton, Perry Taunton, Wallace Taunton, Mrs. Fannie Briggs, Bruff Jones, John Evans, Mrs. A.J. Reed, Mrs. Matty Losey, M.A. Powell, George A. Baker, Mr. and Mrs. C.B. Diehl, D.H. King, John Wiedman, M.E. Hudson, Mrs. Minnie Dahnke, W.J. Dahnke, Mr. and Mrs. E.D. Craw, J.F. Powell, Clara Shank, Mrs. Lizzie Cleveland, Joe Cowen, Fred Hannah, Mrs. Jesse Rife, G.W. Gummere, Mrs. John Lorance, Percy Clark, Day Lewis, James Boyle, Minnie Myers, Mrs. B.L. Taylor, C.C. Vennum, J.F. Vrbas, U.S. Burks, J.S. Fitzgerald, Dr. W.E. Stewart, Mrs. Fannie Jones, Mrs. Ed Foster, Mrs. E.C. Miles, David Dame, Charles Ward, Mr. and Mrs. O.I. Prindle, Maude M. Dodge, W.A. Gardner, Amos Wood, Mrs. Charles Ward, Mr. and Mrs. A.L. Rook, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Hartman, Mrs. C.M. Byrd, Mrs. W.E. Stewart, Mr. and Mrs. George C. Baker, Frank Sramek, Mr. and Mrs. J.O. Hardy, Sherman Spears, Ora Clark, Mrs. Olive Gordon, Mrs. W.H. Palmer, Mrs. Perry Hunkins, Mrs. Ana Loop, Mrs. D.R. Darnell, Mr. and Mrs. Theo. Snider, Mr. and Mrs. George Meguire, Mrs. Ralph Reed, A.J. Haller, J.E. Miles, Frank Milligan, Hattie Miles, J.U. Parsons, Bert Barrows, Ralph Sabatka, Joe Cahoj, John Updike, Mr. and Mrs. John Thomas, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Lankas, Ralph Reed, Elmer Jones, Ed Foster, Mrs. A.J. Holub, Mrs. G.L. Burney, C.A. Boyce, John A. Wyss, Godfrey Wyss, Mr. and Mrs. James A. Pitner, Wray Powell, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Dahnke, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Manning, Mary M. Kashka, Rose Gummere, Daisy Admire, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kyle, Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Gummere, Mrs. Olive Selby, Carrie Miles Gallagher, E.C. Miles, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Issac, Mr. and Mrs. Will Welch, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Janousek, Mrs. Clara Dame, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Barnett, Mrs. Jennie Harrison, W.D. Otis, Mrs. Joseph F. Sis, Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Rath, Josie Parsons, Mrs. Percie Clark, Mr. and Mrs. J.F. Faimon, Mrs. L.T. Johnson, Mrs. George E. Johnson, J.W. Reutzel, Mrs. John Evans, Mrs. Lulu Burks, Mr. and Mrs. Frank M. Hunt, Mrs. J.S. Fitzgerald, Ed Evans.

There have been many laughable incidents occurred in the space of years covered in this effort, as well as many sad ones.  But taking they years together, dear, there is no more night than day.

- “Stratton News,” J. Post, September 30, 1937

 

Sources

“The Stratton News,” A.E. Cates, publisher. Feb. 26, 1925; June 6, 1935; June 13, 1935; June 20, 1935, September 30 , 1937; October 2, 1947 editions.

“McCook Daily Gazette,” Harry Strunk and Allen Strunk, publishers.  July 13, 1954; Apr 15, 1957; May 27, 1967; Mar 31, 1978; June 21, 1977; Aug. 10, 1976 editions.

“Teepees to Soddies,” E.S. Sutton, Centennial Edition, 1867-1967.

“Atlas of Hitchcock County in Nebraska,” Western Cartographers, 1980 Edition.

“Magazine of Midlands - Sunday Omaha World-Herald, “ May 26, 1985.

“A Century of Progress - Hitchcock County 1873 - 1973,” Anniversary of the Battle of Massacre Canyon Battle, Aug. 5, 1973, published by “The Hitchcock County News.”

“Stratton Herald,” Dec. 31, 1886 Edition.

“The Hitchcock County News.”

“The Benkelman Post & News-Chronicle.”

Centennial Chronology of Nebraska, published by the University of Nebraska - Lincoln School of Journalism, 1967.

Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Paul H. Roberts, Director.

Nebraska State Historical Society.

Hitchcock County Museum.

Stratton Public Library.

William Egle American Legion Post #281.

Stratton’s Churches - Christian Union Church, Church of Christ, Community United Methodist Church, St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Robert Burns Lodge 173 AF & AM.

Many Stratton residents who lived a part of the community’s past.

History

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