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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Hiking to a Dilapidated Homestead, Cherry County, Nebraska

Some days ago – it all seems lost in the whirlwind of storms – we set out to find a historical site in the pasture south and west of the red house. Regular readers may recall that our first expedition was arrested by a hailstorm. Our second attempt, on Saturday, was blessed with excellent weather.  The Indian wheat is everywhere just now, but until Saturday I had never managed to get a decent photo of it. There’s something about the fuzzy head that always persuades my camera to focus on whatever’s behind it. So here we have one: a photo, not necessarily very good.

We were soon walking close to the bluffs that overlook the river from the north, and decided, since we’ve been experimenting with it, to try out my camera’s Panorama function. We’re looking at one of the bends in the river, perhaps a mile from the point where we would cross.

Steep as the bluffs are, we managed to find a way down to the water’s edge: there was plenty of loose soil to give us a good foothold, plenty of branches and tufts of grass to hang onto. We found that we'd managed to hit the river much closer to our objective than we’d realised. Once we’d crossed we had barely 400 yards to walk and there it was, right in front of us, a metal sign on a post.

The words read, “Location of John Gordon’s train of wagons burned by U.S. soldiers May 25 1875.” This was all part of the conflict with the Native peoples over the sacred Black Hills, where gold had been discovered – I think in the mid-1860s. At this stage the Army were still enforcing orders to keep white settlers and gold-seekers out of the area. I am sketchy on my history here, but I should imagine that that all changed after the 7th Cavalry were wiped out at the Little Big Horn a little over a year after this incident.

So, not the most visually thrilling of historical sites, but there was a metal box at the bottom of the marker post, and inside, wrapped in an old Victory Race Horse Oats sack, was a visitors’ book, which we signed. I was particularly pleased to have found this spot because it’s only a few weeks ago that I found it marked on a photo-copy of a map I acquired in Lincoln many years ago - in Mari Sandoz’ hand.

Down below us on the river-bank we now found what they call the Thayer place, yet another abandoned farm decaying rapidly. I have found out nothing yet about the family – or people - who lived there. I need to try to make time for that.

We had a choice now – to re-cross the river and head straight home, or to circle the heads of the several draws on this side. And guess what? We backed the wrong horse. What the map told us when we got home was that we’d walked out in more or less a straight line, covering barely three miles, whereas our return journey now described a massive U – probably seven to eight miles. We got home seven hours after leaving. We were hot, tired, dirty… and very grateful for that stash of chilled Fat Tire in the fridge.

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