In 1888, H. D. Watson established the historic Watson Ranch, at one time containing 8,000 acres, reaching from the fertile Platte Valley on the south to the rolling hills on the north and from downtown Kearney to a point five miles west. During its existence, the ranching operations were devoted to grains, poultry, vegetables, and a 250-acre fruit orchard, primarily of cherry, peach, plum, and apple trees.
Solomon D. Butcher depicted cherry pickers on the Watson Ranch in 1908. NSHS RG2608-2289 (above).
An annual cherry-picking day at the ranch attracted hundreds of harvesters, many in a gala mood, from Kearney and the surrounding area. Ranch foreman N. C. Dunlap reported in the Kearney Daily Hub, on June 20, 1908, that the “Watson’s Ranch Cherry Day,” held on June 18, had been an unqualified success.
Dunlap had carefully organized the event “so that it could be done with little inconvenience to our guests and without great cost to us. By six o’clock in the morning the people were pulling in, and by 6:15 they were pulling the cherries.” A total of 189 families, averaging four pickers per family, filled their baskets until by quitting time at five o’clock, 623 bushels of cherries had been harvested.
Foreman N. C. Dunlap picking peaches on the Watson Ranch. His friends nearby are sampling the fruit. NSHS RG2608-3079 (above).
The State Industrial School at Kearney sent a group of thirty-five boys, who “broke all previous cherry eating records for boys between the ages of twelve and fourteen.” A group of schoolteachers arrived and “ate cherries and then they ate some more. When I suggested they pick enough to make a pie, one damsel replied that she had already eaten the good ones and was ashamed to look a cherry in the face.” Also present at the Watson Ranch that day was photographer Solomon D. Butcher, “not picking cherries, but picturing pickers.”
Dunlap noted in conclusion that the pickers were careful of the trees, paid promptly for the cherries harvested, and that the event would be repeated the following year.
– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications