Harry Eugene Chrisman, 1906-1993 [RG2640.AM]


RG2640.AM:  Harry Eugene Chrisman, 1906-1993

Papers:  1879-1978

Butte County, Mont.; and Custer County, Neb.:  Western writer and family researcher

Size:  3.25 cu.ft.; 7 boxes


The Hunter-Luse family pioneered in Custer County, Nebraska and later Butte County, Montana. Family descendants, Bernice (Berna) Hunter Chrisman and her son, Harry E. Chrisman, were both published authors. They shared an interest in the family history, in particular, what the family referred to as “the Montana Tragedy.”

The “Montana Tragedy” occurred in 1900 in Butte County, Montana when Avilla Hunter Walbridge accused her father, Lyle (J.C.) Hunter, of killing her husband and of sexually abusing her. He was convicted of murder despite the testimonies of several people who claimed to have seen the victim alive after the date of the alleged murder. At the time of the trial, Avilla had already married her second husband, George Melville. Shortly after the trial, Avilla married her third husband, Harry Northey, without first divorcing Melville. She was convicted of bigamy and sentenced to six months in a Catholic home for girls. Upon her arrest she told the press that all of the accusations she had made against her father were false and he was actually an innocent man. Nevertheless, Lyle Hunter died in prison in 1911, while awaiting a new trial.

Berna Hunter Chrisman was born August 8, 1877. She was the first daughter of J.C. (Lyle) and Flora Hunter in Pennsylvania. In 1879 Lyle moved his young family to Custer County, Nebraska. They moved several times, from one sod home to another. Berna learned to play the violin at a young age, a talent that made her popular in Custer County. She would often be called upon to play for local dances. Before her marriage to Henry Eugene (Gene) Chrisman in 1897, Berna was a schoolteacher in Custer County. She quit teaching after her marriage and moved to Gene’s Ranch, also in Custer County. They had their first of eight children later that year. Four of her children would die in infancy.

Berna was a self-proclaimed “typewriter jockey.” She participated in magazine contests asking for recipes, household hints, and western stories. Later in life her son, Harry Eugene Chrisman, paid her to write reminiscences of pioneer life. She wrote two manuscripts, Pioneer Musician (unpublished), and When You and I Were Young, Nebraska! (published). She died in Scottsbluff, Nebraska in 1963.

Harry Eugene Chrisman was born February 7, 1906 in the Custer County sod home of his parents, Bernice (Berna) and Gene Chrisman. He was educated in the public schools of Broken Bow and Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and later graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology. He had a variety of professions throughout his life, including positions as an editor, salesman, and advertising man. He participated in World War II as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. In the late 1940s he married his wife, Catherine. The couple lived in Liberal, Kansas. Harry was a well-known Western author and editor. The Ladder of Rivers, the story of I.P. Olive published in 1962, is probably his most popular book. Other books include Lost Trails of the Cimarron and Chariot of the Sun. Harry also edited his mother’s book, When You and I Were Young, Nebraska! He died in December of 1993 and is buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.


This collection is arranged in seven subgroups: 1) Hunter-Luse Correspondence 1879-1963; 2) Research correspondence and notes, 1956-1978; 3) Publication correspondence of Harry Chrisman, 1968-1991; 4) Writings; 5) Family Account Books, 1901-1955; 6) Berna (Bernice) Hunter Chrisman Scrapbook; and 7) Miscellaneous. Many of the subgroups are further divided into series and subseries. Note: Additional materials have been added since the collection was processed. See Box 7 for additional materials.

The collection consists primarily of research materials related to the Hunter family. The bulk of the material, with the exception of Harry E. Chrisman’s Ladder of Rivers, revolves around the correspondence, reminiscences and family history of Berna (Bernice) Hunter Chrisman. Berna Chrisman wrote about life in pioneer Nebraska in her manuscripts, Pioneer Musician and When You and I Were Young, Nebraska! Her son, Harry E. Chrisman, shared her interest in the Hunter/Luse family history as well as the history of Custer County, Nebraska. Harry began to collect old correspondence and gather personal accounts of important events in the lives of the Hunters and the early settlers of Custer County. Estelle (Stella) Chrisman Laughlin, Harry’s sister, helped research events of interest, including the “Montana Tragedy” and the first businesses in Custer County. Harry’s desire to publish some of these materials, especially those concerning the “Montana Tragedy,” was halted by his family’s disapproval. Researchers will find notes and comments, written by Harry Chrisman in both red and blue ballpoint ink, on the original Hunter/Luse/Chrisman family letters and documents in his possession.

Subgroup 1 consists of Hunter/Luse correspondence beginning in 1879 when Lyle, Flora and two-year-old Berna Hunter moved away from their families in Pennsylvania to the untamed prairies of Custer County, Nebraska. Encounters with Native Americans, wild animals, rattlesnakes and nature fill the letters of the pioneering Hunter family. Later correspondence is dominated by talk of the “Montana tragedy.” The correspondence of the Hunter/Luse family ends with the death of Berna Hunter Chrisman in 1963. Hunter family correspondence can also be found throughout Berna Chrisman’s manuscripts, When You and I Were Young, Nebraska! and Pioneer Musician.

NOTE:  Family Charts for the Chrisman and Hunter/Luse Families were created by the processor to assist researchers in establishing the relationships between the correspondents, and to help identify people mentioned in the correspondence of Subgroup 1, Series 1 and Series 2. These charts are located in Subgroup 1, Series 1, folder 1.

Series 1 consists of correspondence from Berna Chrisman chronologically arranged from 1885-1961. Included in these letters are reminiscences of her childhood. The bulk of this series is correspondence to “Aunt Allie” (Alice Luse Bates Smock), the sister of Berna’s mother, Flora Luse Hunter. Series 2 contains all other Hunter/Luse correspondence arranged chronologically, 1879-1963. The family made many references to daily life in pioneer Nebraska and the “Montana tragedy” in their correspondence. Flora and Lyle Hunter, Allie Luse and Delphy Weber were the main correspondents.

Subgroup 2 consists of the research correspondence and research notes of Harry Chrisman and Estelle (Stella) Chrisman Laughlin, Harry’s sister. The research conducted by Harry and Stella focuses on two main topics: the “Montana Tragedy” and the history of Custer County, Nebraska. Series 1 contains general correspondence, 1956-1978. Arranged chronologically, information on the “Montana Tragedy,” Custer County or family history can be found in this series. The majority of the correspondence is between Stella Laughlin and Harry Chrisman. Another major correspondent is Francis McGan, the lawyer in Butte County, Montana hired by Harry Chrisman to research the tragedy. Series 2 contains the “Montana tragedy” research, 1964-1978, including newspaper clippings from Butte County Montana and copies of court documents. Series 3 consists of research on the Hunter family in Custer County, 1953-1964.

Subgroup 3 consists of the publication correspondence of Harry Chrisman, 1968-1991. Copyright correspondence for When You and I Were Young, Nebraska!, and requests for Harry’s books are located in this subgroup.

Subgroup 4 contains the writings of Harry Chrisman, Berna Chrisman, Sarah Range Hunter, and Estelle Chrisman Laughlin. Series 1 contains the manuscript, index copy and galley proof of Harry Chrisman’s Ladder of Rivers. It is the only book by Harry that is located in this collection. Series 2 consists of the writings of Berna Chrisman, including Pioneer Musician, When You and I Were Young, Nebraska!, short writings used for contests in magazines, as well as her reminiscences. Series 3 contains the autobiography of Sarah Range Hunter, mother of J.C. (Lyle) Hunter. See photos of Sarah Hunter in SG7, F3. Series 4 contains the writing of Estelle (Stella) Chrisman Laughlin. Stella held an interest in the Hunter family history and wrote about family events.

Subgroup 5 consists of five Hunter and Chrisman family account books. These books are arranged chronologically and span the years 1901-1955. Not all years are represented. These account books also contain clippings.

Subgroup 6 is comprised of Berna Hunter Chrisman’s scrapbook. It contains newspaper clippings glued in, along with correspondence, research notes, and another smaller scrapbook inserted between various pages. These inserted materials were left in the scrapbook as found. Due to the poor condition of these scrapbooks, copies have been made for reference use. The originals are restricted for preservation.

Subgroup 7 consists of miscellaneous items, including Berna Chrisman’s clipping collection, the 1901 homestead certificate of Henry Chrisman and a copy of Allie (Alice) Bates’ will.

Note:  See the photo component [RG2640.PH] for related images. See also the NSHS Library catalog and the Nebraska History index for published materials by and/or about the Chrismans.


Subgroup 1: Hunter-Luse Correspondence

Series 1 – Berna Hunter Chrisman Correspondence, 1885-1961

Box 1


    1. Chrisman Family Chart; Hunter/Luse Family Chart

    1. 1885-1938

    1. 1938-1961

Series 2 – Other Hunter-Luse Correspondence, 1879-1963

    1. 1879-1903

    1. 1879-1894 (transcripts)

    1. 1903-1963

    1. Undated correspondence

Subgroup 2: Harry Chrisman Research Correspondence and Notes

Series 1 – General Correspondence, 1956-1978, n.d.

    1. 1956-1978

    1. Undated correspondence

Series 2 – Research Correspondence and Notes Relating to the “Montana Tragedy”

    1. Correspondence and enclosures

    1. Harry E. Chrisman research notebook

    1. Estelle Chrisman Laughlin research notebook

    1. Miscellaneous

Series 3 – Hunter Family in Custer County

    1. Hunter family

    1. Custer County

    1. Custer County research notebook

Subgroup 3: Publication Correspondence of Harry Chrisman

Box 2


    1. Requests for books

    1. Copyright correspondence

Subgroup 4: Writings

Series 1 – Harry Chrisman, Ladder of Rivers

    1. Typescript, p. 1-242

    1. Typescript, p. 243 – notes p. 45

    1. Index copy through page 209

    1. Index copy page 210 through the end

    1. Correspondence

    1. Galley proof (see oversize)

Series 2 – Berna Hunter Chrisman Subseries 1: Pioneer Musician

    1. Pioneer Musician – Volume I, Section 1

    1. Pioneer Musician – Volume I, Section 2

Box 3


    1. Pioneer Musician – Volume I, Section 3

    1. Pioneer Musician – Volume II, Section 1

    1. Pioneer Musician – Volume II, Section 2

    1. Pioneer Musician – Volume II, Section 3

Subseries 2: When You and I Were Young, Nebraska!

    1. Original manuscript, part 1

    1. Original manuscript, part 2

    1. Manuscript edited by Clara, part 1

    1. Manuscript edited by Clara, part 2

Box 4


    1. Manuscript edited by Harry Chrisman, part 1

    1. Manuscript edited by Harry Chrisman, part 2

Subseries 3: Short writings

    1. Berna Hunter Chrisman reminiscences

    1. Other Berna Hunter Chrisman writings

Series 3 – Sarah Range Hunter

    1. Sarah Hunter autobiography

Series 4 – Estelle (Stella) Chrisman Laughlin

    1. Stella Laughlin’s published writings

    1. Stella Laughlin’s unpublished writings

Subgroup 5: Family Account Books

    1. 1901-1906

    1. 1916-1935

Box 5


    1. 1935-1938

    1. 1948-1951

    1. 1952-1955

Subgroup 6: Berna Hunter Chrisman’s Scrapbook

    1. Reference Copy of Berna Hunter Chrisman’s Scrapbook (original in Box 6 is restricted)

Subgroup 7: Miscellaneous

    1. Berna Hunter Chrisman clipping collection

    1. The Violin

    1. Miscellaneous

Box 7 (added 2014)


    1. The Cowboy and the Queen, typescript w/correspondence and clippings, pt. 1

    1. The Cowboy and the Queen, typescript, pt. 2

    1. The Cowboy and the Queen, typescript, pt. 3

    1. The Cowboy and the Queen, copy, pt. 1

    1. The Cowboy and the Queen, copy, pt. 2

    1. The Call of the Plains, typescript w/correspondence and clippings, pt. 1

    1. The Call of the Plains, typescript, pt. 2

    1. Tales of the Western Heartland, typescript, pt. 1

    1. Tales of the Western Heartland, typescript, pt. 2

    1. When You and I Were Young, Nebraska!, typescript, pt. 1

    1. When You and I Were Young, Nebraska!, typescript, pt. 2

    1. Chrisman family genealogy



Authors — Kansas

Authors — Nebraska

Barbed wire — Nebraska — Custer County

Butte County (Mont.)


Children’s writings, American

Chrisman, Babe (Jennie Ruth), 1872-

Chrisman, Berna (Bernice Hunter), 1877-1963

Chrisman, Harry Eugene, 1906-1993


Custer County (Neb.)

Economic and social conditions


Frontier and pioneer life — Nebraska — Custer County


Hunter family

Hunter, Flora (Florence Luse), 1853-1930

Hunter, Lyle (Joseph Carlyle), 1854-1911

Laughlin, Stella (Marguerte Estelle Chrisman), 1897-

Luse family

McGan, Francis J.

Melville, Avilla (Avilla Hunter Walbridge), 1885-

Olive, Isom Prentice, 1840-1886

Pioneer children — Nebraska


Smock, Allie (Alice Luse Bates), -1943

Sod buildings

Violin music

Weber, Curtis

Weber, Delphy (Delphine Hunter), 1879-1956

Women pioneers — Nebraska

Women teachers — Nebraska


JSL/kfk   07-2002

Encoded TMM   03-10-2010

Revised TMM   07-07-2014

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