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am done. That was an ideal summer; it was the purest democracy I ever saw; no man was above his neighbor, money made no difference for few had much, and those that had could not buy the things most valuable, viz:--help and aid physically, a good temper, the faculty of assisting to pass the time, or the ability to do something in behalf of the general welfare. It was the golden age of hospitality, for the latch string of every cabin hung outside. Without an officer of the law in our community, and no known code or written law, we lived a season in which there was no crime committed, and no theft permitted. We made our own laws and obeyed them.
The bones of elk, antelope, deer, and buffalo were numerous on the prairie. It seems to me as if every forty acres must have had at least one skeleton or a portion of the remains of these animals. The heavy snow of the winter of 1856–7 wore the small game out, or they starved, and the Indians and what white hunters there were, caught them in drifts and cut their throats by thousands for their skins. Buffalo skulls could be picked up readily, and their "wallows" and trails were deep and many. The grass withered and dried up in summer, and it was a great question if this prairie soil was good for anything. This may sound foolish now; but when you reflect that we had never seen any land not naturally covered with stones and trees, and of a different color and formation, it will not seem so ridiculous. We drove ten miles in a lumber wagon to see wheat growing on the bottom. A man had half an acre fenced in round his house, and the wheat was really growing! All stock was turned loose on the prairie, and could roam westward as far as it pleased. Our daily regret was that we had not stock enough to eat up the grass that went to waste, as we thought. An old friend came from the east to see me, and when he returned, he told everybody for months, “Greatest country! Why, John took me in a buggy over a hundred miles and the wheels never struck a stone and you can plow a mile without turning round. Think of that!"
Speaking of plowing furrow. In 1858 or '59, David L. Collier got an act passed by the legislature for a road from Decatur to West Point and Columbus and to have a deep furrow plowed. S. Decatur, J. E. Wilson, and C. Dunn were the Commissioners, and the work was done in the summer of '60, as far as West Point, and it saved many a pilgrim from being lost. That was a furrow 30 miles long without turning round. Think of following a furrow now across otherwise trackless prairie; but the old "furrow road” was a great institution in its day.
By the way it has often been a source of wonder what became of all the snakes a few years later. In 1857 you could not walk out in any direction without seeing or hearing a rattler-Massasauga. Big blow snakes abounded. We never opened the stable door mornings without carefully looking to see that his snakeship was not curled up in the litter ready to strike. Two of us killed forty in one afternoon. One Fourth of July we picnicked on the Reservation. Just as a clean cloth was spread on the grass for the dishes, a fierce rattle was heard in the centre, and the ladies tumbled backward in affright, while Decatur club. bed a ten year old shake-tail to death, Bull-snakes crawled up the logs of a cabin to a bed-room window, and curled round the bed-post to the horror of a maiden lady who woke up one morning to greet such a visitor! Another lady was mixing dough, when a snake dropped from a scantling into the bread-trough. The first thing in laying out the foundation of a new cabin was to mow half an acre of grass, close, round the site, so we could see the snakes. They seemed ubiquitous. An odd genius kept a pet bull-snake around the house; would not let the women or children kill it;-said it caught flies and toads and hurt nobody. The snake had a hole under the logs, and would only come out when the old man was about the place. One day Mr. Snake crawled out and stretched himself in the sun just under the rockers of a chair. The old woman came in tired, pushed her sun-bonnet up, threw herself in the chair, and leaned back heavy. There was a squash, a hiss, a muss and the old man's pet was gone forever.
1 See Territorial Laws, Sixth Session, 128-129. Law dates from Jan. 10, 1860,-- ED.
Where did they all go to? Ask the philosopher who has accounted for the grasshoppers.
Along with snakes naturally comes whiskey. It was nearly as free as water. It only cost eighteen to twenty cents a gallon in St. Louis, and there were no license laws, no restriction on any one selling it or giving it away, no society bans, nothing but your own good sense of right and the strength of your constitution to prevent drinking any amount of the stuff. An old fellow lived in a log cabin half way to Ashton,--a keg of whiskey and a tin cup stood in the corner, always free; if the old man wasn't home, all you had to do was to help yourself. On the road every one carried a jug or a bottle, for the snakes were really bad, you know.
I did an odd thing once. While the temperance excitement was at its height in this State, many arguments were made regarding restrictions on selling liquor, and many disputes as to whether men would drink more if it was cheap and plenty, or no restriction legal or otherwise on its use. I happened to think of the conditions surrounding this early Nebraska colony in this respect, and I wrote down one hundred names of those I had known there or up and down the river, exposed to the same state of affairs, and then traced their careers out as far as possible, to see the effects in after life of the license and liberty of their earlier portion. Here is the result:
Out of the one hundred persons, twenty-eight were dead when I made the figures, eight were lost, but I had a knowledge of them for some years after the date named, or up to middle age, when their habits would be fixed; and in the whole lot, as far as I kept track, only six could have been said to be hard drinkers in after life. Two of these had great family troubles that might have driven them to drink; three more straightened up and are living or have died sober men; a few more may have shortened their lives, or at one time injured their business prospects, but only one could be said to have made a complete and total wreck of himself on account of drinking or other vices. Though mostly young men then, several were middle aged and brought their drinking habits with them. Two of these sobered up, almost entirely before they died. So far as I can ascertain, not one was ever under the ban of the law for any vice or crime. I do not know as these figures have any value; only, that of the Decatur lot proper I had to take every man there was at the time, and there could be no picking and choosing to make a showing one way or another.
Some years after I came across the names again, and it struck me to use them for a totally different set of facts or theories, as you may choose to call it. Out of this one hundred, six were minors. One poor fellow committed suicide, one lives in San Diego, Cal., in the telephone business, one is in railroad work in Chicago, one died assistant postmaster of Omaha, one took an Indian wife and became a trader and
trader and U. S. interpreter among the Omahas; his son is a lawyer up country now. Seventyfour I call my own group; that is, they belonged to the Decatur colony proper; sixteen came to Omaha, and live or have died there; ten scattered out on farms along the road or about Tekama; two are at West Point. Of the one hundred, one died mayor of Council Bluffs, there was one congressman from Nebraska, one territorial legislator, and one United States senator. Two have been on the district bench, four turned out good doctors, four were lawyers, including the two judges, and two were editors, one at least of whom became quite famous, none became immensely wealthy, that is, up in the millions. Of the seventy-four, only four became what you might call wealthy, as wealth goes now, and they made the money after leaving Nebraska, in Colorado and further west. Those who lived at or came to Omaha, every man of them got rich, some running up into the hundreds of thousands. In justice to my old comrades at Decatur, I must say they were just as smart apparently as these fellows, in fact it was considered a very intelligent colony, so that I come to the conclusion that environment, opportunity, has more to do with getting wealth than brains, education or good morals; or you may say that the possession of brains, education, and good habits does not ensure any person riches in this country. Here it simply illustrated the difference between settling in a growing town that became a city, and remaining in a village. Those in Omaha obtained riches mostly by the rise of land property, rather than through greater ability or even better business habits. Though several were soldiers afterwards, Captain was the highest rank any attained, I believe. Twelve lived or died poor, and to my certain knowledge six died or are living now without a roof of their own over their heads, or a foot of land in Nebraska, when they had the whole prairie to choose from once. Take eight out of the hundred-two Frenchmen, two who could not read and write, and four more who had very meagre education or advantages, and that leaves ninety-two starting out in life very nearly equal, for none had any great amount of money, and if some had a little more than others, those others had a better education, or better health, or some mechanical ability, so that as far as human eye could see and human judgment go, one was just as likely to succeed as another; and each and every one had the whole world this side the Rockies to choose from. Look at the result twenty-five years after. Sixteen go to a thriving, growing town and all succeed; four leave for the gold and silver region and do