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Column: Nebraska, Ohio communities share a common thread

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared July 1, 2006.

WORTHINGTON — Do you know Niobrara, Neb.? Niobrara is in Nebraska’s northeast corner. I have a cousin, Norma Kolterman, who has a Niobrara address.

There are two reasons why some of us might want to visit Niobrara this summer.

One is that the people who first lived in our region went to Niobrara. This is true. The Mdewakantonwan and Wahpekute people who lived in southwest Minnesota — the Santee Sioux — these people were settled on the Santee Reservation at Niobrara after they were forced from Minnesota in 1863.

The Episcopal church at Worthington is gone now, but the original people from this region still hold to the Episcopal faith. They have a church, Our Most Merciful Savior, which is a National Historic Site and one of the quite fascinating places to visit in that area.

A second thing that makes Niobrara different from other prairie towns of our region is that it once was moved, padlock, livestock and rain barrel.

Niobrara began as a town — a — at the edge of the Missouri River, the Big Muddy. Floods were ever a peril. In the 1960s, as the Missouri dams were being completed, the Corps of Engineers moved everything in Niobrara from low ground to high ground.

There is a steel building, a kind of mall, near the center of the relocated community. This building is the downtown business district. Around this is the town, in the pattern of a modern suburban community, except that many of the transplanted houses are — I don’t know — perhaps 90, perhaps 100 years old.

There was a town in Ohio — New Burlington — which shared Niobrara’s fate. Just before old New Burlington was erased, a newsman, John Baskin, went and talked at length with the people whose town would soon be gone.

I treasure Baskin’s book. Following are some of the things people told him as their townsite was about to disappear. These could have been Niobrara people.

  • “How we prayed for rain, only to turn around and pray for it to stop when we were in the mud.”
  • “The boys courted in buggies and if the horse was well behaved, they could wrap the lines around the whip socket. The young men of my day didn’t have Fords to get about in, so they married who was handy.”
  • “We didn’t travel about because cows and hogs can tell time. At feeding time, the hog is at the gate and so is the cow. That was the way we lived. It was our way of life.”
  • “I won only two things in my life. My husband and a chicken feeder.”
  • “If I married an old man, I would want him to have $90,000 and a very bad cough.”
  • “So many people work strange ways and there are no more Sundays and no more nights and I wonder: where will my grandchildren have their potato patches?”
  • “My mother was a grown woman before she met a Catholic. She knew one Jew. He was a pack peddler who gave cheap cut glass for rags.”
  • “Their recipes began: take 30 eggs…”
  • “The Methodists had organ music and liked loud sermons.”
  • “He tells of a fellow driving in the country where he sees a farmer holding a pig so it can eat apples off a tree by the road. ‘What are you doing with that pig?’ the man asks. ‘Feeding him,’ says the farmer. ‘Don’t that take a lot of time?’ asks the man. ‘What’s time to an old hog?’ says the farmer.”
  • “Luther Haines’ brother, Everett, died of a heart attack here while he was trying to replace this stone on his uncle’s grave.”
  • “I was just a young boy but I heard people talking a great deal about ‘illegitimate.’ I thought perhaps it was an epidemic and I might catch it. I asked my mother and she told me only girls catch it.”
  • “There was a great urge to rove. They told each other these things — ‘Get away. Go some place else.’ The word filtered back. They wrote to each other. Boxes of letters. Trying to get the ones at home to move. Go west, they said. Go anywhere.”

What happened to those who roved afar?

“Some of them married women who smoked.”