Christmas on a Sherman County Homestead, 1884

Amos Edwin Donnell, Sherman County homesteader, left a record of his activities between 1884 and 1888 in the form of letters written to his parents in Missouri. The letters, written at intervals of two or three months, record his hopes, his hard work, successes, and failures. Among other topics, he reports on the coming of the railroad to Loup City, a well digging project, and his marriage in 1885 to Ettie Terhune, a Sherman County neighbor.
Map of Nebraska showing the Union Pacific Railroad Land Grant, 1884.

Map of Nebraska showing the Union Pacific Railroad Land Grant, 1884.


Nebraska History (June 1960) includes selections from several of the letters that report Donnell’s first Christmas in his sod house. On December 24, 1884, he wrote his parents: “It has been cold the last two weeks-been snowing a good share of the time. It has been 22 below. They say it is colder than they ever saw it before. “Tonight is Christmas Eve. Where are you all going? I am going to set by the fire at home in my sod house. If it is not too cold tomorrow I am going a deer hunting. We have been out twice this winter and killed four, 2 do and bucks. We divided equal, there was four of us out.” Several months later Donnell wrote to his mother about his holiday presents: “I told you I got 2 Christmas presents and I got 2 more since. One is a match safe made out a black cloth trimmed in blue with three blue tassels, and a watch pocket to hang on the wall-it is made out of green cloth all flowered with red crochet work and three silk beaus [bows], 1 at the top and one on each side. A nice meat dish, and a shaveing mug that cost 75 cents. Dud [Dud Godard, a fellow homesteader from Missouri] gave me that.” Because of the hard work, the severe climate, and his consequent failing health, Donnell left the Sherman County homestead soon after 1888 and moved his family to Arcadia, where he engaged in business for twenty-eight years. He died at Hulett, Wyoming, in 1921.


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