Winter Travel – by Joseph E. Johnson

In April 1860 Joseph E. Johnson, established a road ranche at Wood River Centre, today’s Shelton, and began publishing The Huntsman’s Echo, the first newspaper in Nebraska west of Omaha. He had earlier edited papers in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and in Omaha. Johnson was a keen observer of the early Nebraska scene, which he discussed in a vigorous and breezy style suggested by his paper’s motto, “Independent in Everything, Neutral in Nothing.” His description of a hazardous winter journey from Omaha to his home in Buffalo County appeared in The Huntsman’s Echo on February 21, 1861. The account includes numerous references to the road ranches – both good and bad – that provided food, shelter, and other services to travelers.

“I left Omaha for my favorite home on Wood River, near three weeks since, and before reaching the Elkhorn encountered the worst storm I have experienced this winter. Drove in, or rather, got drove in, at Reed’s Ranch No. 1, where we took a thaw out, and partook of the landlord’s generous hospitality, only to be worse frozen next day – but finally reached ‘the [Elkhorn River] bridge,’ and put up at McNeil’s [McNeal House], who took kindly care of our creature wants, and brought us again to life.”

Johnson’s party pushed on the next day, but that night had to “take our chances in a log cabin where the wind whistled through the chinks as if angered at the attempted obstructions. The kindness of the occupants made some amend, however, for the suffering. Next day, met many teams, and found a slight track, made a point above North Bend, . . . Next day made a point within eighteen miles of Columbus, and put up at Thomas’, a whole-souled and obliging Scotcher, whose excellent family made us as comfortable as possible for several days . . . .

“After vainly waiting some days for favorable [weather] indications, without success, I took the stage for Columbus, leaving the teams to get back to the river. The hotel at Columbus is well conducted, and is a comfortable and pleasant home for the traveler. Here I learned of a train of freight having started from Plattsmouth for Denver, on the south side; finding the distance too great between stations, that four horses were frozen to death, and two men very nearly so. . . .

“We also learned that two men named Peter Murie and William Thomas came near perishing on the worst night of the storm. They came to a place on the Pappillon, called ‘Taylor’s,’ and kept by a pair of selfish, heartless creatures, who would neither sell these men hay for their stock, nor let them tie to the fence, and sleep in the shelter of the house; the consequence was, in the endeavor to reach Reed’s, on Spring Creek, both were badly frozen.”

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