The North Bend Eagle


 

Original Old Settler recalls 1856 North Bend homesteading

Originally published 7/30/1925, reprinted 6/20/2012

Below are excerpts from the July 30, 1925, North Bend Eagle of recollections of Jean Millar McVicker, who came with her family to settle North Bend in 1856. Her memories, written at a later date, were read at the 1925 Old Settlers gathering by North Bend High School principal Adda Newsom. They were later printed in the Omaha World-Herald.

Back in Lake Zurich, Ill., in May 1856, a group of young Scotch relatives of the Robert Millar family gathered to start on the long, unknown trail westward. Most of the nine were in their 20s, and none of the group has seen more than a year or two beyond 30.

Nine grown-ups and seven children then, they started with ox teams on their perilous undertaking. They intended at first to make Kansas their destination but rumors of the unsettled conditions in that state due to the Kansas-Nebraska bill influenced them in directing their course to Nebraska. The events of this journey, although memorable, we shall for the most part omit.

From Nathan Arneal's, June 20, 2012, "From the Banks of the Maple Creek" column:

I hope you enjoy the pioneer story on page five. As we gather to for our annual Old Settlers celebration, it’s amazing to read a first-hand account of the real old settlers.

It’s easy to forget that Old Settlers started as a gathering of the area’s earliest pioneers for an afternoon of reminiscing and celebrating survival. We’re lucky that stories like Jean McVicker’s have lasted, and that someone unearthed it from a 1925 Eagle. Just think of all the stories that must have been told at those early Old Settlers gatherings, now lost and forgotten forever.

What we printed on page five is less that half of McVicker’s story. Perhaps sometime we will reprint the whole thing because it provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives and the minds of the first North Benders.

The three families that made the trip and settled near North Bend on July 4, 1956, were Mr. and Mrs. George Young, Mr. and Mrs. John Millar and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Millar and their children. John, Robert and Mrs. Young were siblings. Jean, the source of the story on page 5, was a daughter of John Millar, making the journey to Nebraska when she was five.

So as you go about your carnival riding, your parade watching, your beer drinking, your swing dancing and your indoor plumbin’ enjoying this weekend, take a second to remember the true Old Settlers.

I hear their souls are marching on.

They halted at Omaha, an unpretentious little village overlooking the Missouri. They was no Fremont, although a town was laid out there in the fall of that same year.

One of Mrs. McVicker’s most vivid recollections of the journey is of the moment when her father stopped his team on the bluffs of the Elkhorn, about where Elk City now stands, from where the eye commanded a view of the endless stretches of Nebraska prairies.

Beautiful they looked in the early June sunshine, green and billowy as a field of wheat, no rocks to be plowed out, no tree trunks to be uprooted, a glorious land! Theirs for the taking! Mr. Millar voiced the feelings of the company when he said reverently, “Surely this is indeed the promised land.”

The little company made a permanent halt (just west of present North Bend proper). Pioneers in very truth they were. A vast emptiness as far as the eye could see. The Platte River to the south of them their only connection with vanished civilization marked by the military road, not much more than a trail, along which they had come and which they could see disappearing far to the westward, leading they knew not whither. On that memorable day - the Fourth of July, 1856, it revealed no secret of future glory, or the prosperity and power which were to some day make Nebraska shine among her sister states. It merely stretched on and away, accenting their loneliness.

Nebraska blizzards were a new and bitter experience to them. They lived during the first few months in sheds made of hay cut from the prairie with scythes, as the men began the work of erecting log house. One room affairs these were with dirt floors. The first blizzard came down on them and blew the snow in little drifts upon the floor while her father worked at mixing his mud mortar in one corner and finished daubing the chinks while the blizzard howled outside.

The first winter a group of Omaha Indians wintered in the timber along the Platte near them, but did not molest them except to come begging.

Past their door they watched with never-waning interest the pageant of the west. On this road, surveyed in 1855 by John C. Fremont, they watched the Mormons coming in from Salt Lake to their settlement in Florence.

But the most memorable day in Mrs. McVicker’s very early memories of the Military road was on the Fourth of July, 1858, when the first stage of the Western Stage Company passed by the house going to Fort Kearney. Her mother explained to her that the stage meant they would get mail. No more walking all the way to Omaha for a letter, perhaps then to be disappointed in receiving none.

The stage, too, meant a daily paper and as the war clouds began to gather over the country, Mrs. McVicker heard her father read aloud the ominous threatings of the coming disaster.

The stage gave them direct contact with the outer world for another reason. Mrs. McVicker’s parents for several years kept the stage station and among other duties it fell to them to feed the passengers, many or few, who might be making the trip. We can imagine what topics for discussion was brought to the pioneers.

Early in the morning on July 4, 1859, they were awakened by the startling fact that an extra stage had rumbled to a halt outside. Indians! the stage driver informed them. The Pawnees were on the war path and had already killed cattle and terrorized the settlers along Pebble Creek, near where Scribner now stands.

The men were requested to be ready the next morning to join other volunteer forces and march against them. One here gets further insight into the dauntless pioneer spirit by the fact that although the men were to march away the next morning and the women of the little settlement would be left practically unprotected, this did not prevent everybody, except those who stayed home to tend babies, from joining in a dance at Shell Creek that night in celebration of the glorious Fourth.

The Indians were pursued as far as Norfolk, where they were routed without a battle and ten days later the volunteer forces began returning home.

I (Adda Newsom) might say that of the nine courageous young pioneers who made the first North Bend settlement in 1856, non are living. But their works live after them, and into he annuals of Dodge County history, their souls go marching on.

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