The Rescue of Oscar Phelps

“Quite an exciting scene was witnessed last evening, on the river bank just opposite Boyd’s packing house,” said the Omaha Daily Bee on January 23, 1882, “which came near resulting very seriously.” An accident victim, rescued from a fall through Missouri River ice in a “Narrow Escape,” was a horse. The owner, Omaha businessman Clifton E. Mayne, also slipped into the icy water but managed to extricate himself and summon rescuers for his drowning horse.

Like other travelers, Mayne was accustomed to crossing the Missouri on the ice when it was frozen over during the winter months, and he was returning across the river to Omaha from Council Bluffs when the accident occurred. His horse, a valuable animal he had named Oscar Phelps, was hitched to a light buggy. The Bee said, “When part way over, he observed some boys who were skating making violent signs at him and stopped to see what was wanted, when one of them came up and told him he was driving on dangerous ground. On getting out and examining the ice he found his horse’s fore feet within six inches of a space where ice had been cut out and the new ice was so thin that the boy who warned him readily broke it through with his skate.

“Mr. Mayne then made a wide detour and had nearly reached the Nebraska shore when suddenly his horse broke through with his fore-feet. He got out and unhitching him pulled the buggy back and then took the horse by the bit and tried to get him on the solid ice. The animal, however, floundered about so that he broke the ice in all directions about him, letting himself and his owner down in the water. Mr. Mayne scrambled out, but the horse worked himself under the ice, all but his head, which rested on a cake of ice which alone prevented him from being drowned.”

Once out of the water, Mayne wasted no time in getting help for his horse. Several workmen from James E. Boyd’s Omaha packing house, located nearby on the river bank, “took ropes, planks, etc., and finally succeeded in getting the horse out, in a half-dead condition. Dr. Chambers was telephoned for and the horse was taken to one of Mr. Boyd’s stables, where he was cared for until he was in a condition to be driven home.

“The accident happened about 4 o’clock and it was 6 o’clock before the horse was rescued from his perilous condition. It was a wonder that he was ever rescued at all. A crowd of not less than 500 people gathered on the bank and watched the efforts made to save the animal. A number of teams had crossed in the same locality during the day and it is a matter of surprise that some did not meet the same fate.”

The rescuers of Oscar Phelps certainly deserved a suitable reward for their successful efforts. The Bee noted, “The point at which the accident happened was just where all the filth from Boyd’s packing house is discharged into the river and the work was done in the face of sickening filth and stench.” Clifton E. Mayne. From Omaha Illustrated (Omaha, 1888). Clifton E. Mayne. From Omaha Illustrated (Omaha, 1888).


Men from James E. Boyd's packing house near the Missouri River helped rescue Oscar Phelps. From NEGenWeb Archives. Men from James E. Boyd’s packing house near the Missouri River helped rescue Oscar Phelps. From NEGenWeb Archives. 


Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast.

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.