Timeline Tuesday: Cherry Picking at the Watson Ranch

Solomon D. Butcher depicted a crowd picking cherries on the Watson Ranch in 1908. NSHS RG2608-2289


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. 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. . . . Registering clerks were kept busy the greater part of the forenoon, until 189 families, averaging four pickers in each family, and no one less than fifteen years of age, were all as busy as so many bees, filling baskets with vegetable rubies. By five o’clock in the afternoon the work was completed, and 623 bushels of cherries were in the baskets, the property of 189 different families. I drew a long breath and counted the cash: $517.00 in currency, $278.55 in silver; $138.86 in checks, some of which were written on shipping tags; one penny and a bad quarter.” In addition to those registered, the State Industrial School at Kearney sent a group of thirty-five boys, “none of whom covered themselves with glory as cherry picking champions, but they all covered their faces with cherry juice and broke all previous cherry eating records for boys between the ages of twelve and fourteen.” A group of schoolteachers “came in wagons, on foot, in buggies and automobiles, then like the warriors of old who came, who saw, who conquered, they came, they saw, they 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 concluded: “It was an orderly crowd of intelligent, honest people, consisting of farmers, bankers, butchers, doctors, druggists and undertakers. All were represented; all were happy and all were satisfied. They were careful with our trees, paid their bills promptly and all are cordially invited to come again when next we have a crop of cherries.”

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