I will not attempt to write a connected story, but just write what I can think of.
The first question, "Who was living in the Bunker Hill, or what is now called the Bunker Hill neighborhood?"
Peter Gould Foale and family in a small log cabin near the mouth of the branch that runs through the Howe place. The cabin was on the south side of the creek and west side of the road. George McMahan, in a little bigger cabin, near where the Wopata's built their house a long time after. Artemus Armstrong, in a log cabin on what is now the Vrtiska place. Bill Dyer, living in a dugout on the west side of the hill above the spring on the place Uncle Theodore Pepoon bought and afterward sold to Stanek. (Badger Smith was living there when Uncle Theodore took it over in 1869. I don't know whether Smith had bought it or not, but Dyer was there when we came.) Alexander Allen, living in a log cabin on what is now the Howe place. These made up the population of Bunker Hill. Of course Bill McClure had a little frame shack on what was afterward the Johnson place. Bill was supposed to live on the place but I think that he stayed at his fathers mostly. I think that Dyer and Allen had homesteaded in 1866, but Foale, McMahan, and Armstrong came in 1856. Foale located his land in the fall of '55. He did not know the date but the wild plums were ripe. I think that the McMahans were there when Foale and Armstrong came. They probably came in the spring of '55.
Sam McMahan took the place that old Mr. McClure had when we came, below the Morton school branch. I don't know when the McClure's came but they were living in Longbranch in 1863 when the horse thieves were hanged at Table Rock. J. B. Morton was living just below the McClure's when we came. And John Wood west of Morton. The Robison's, Tom and Jim, were there north of Foale. Gordon and Mrs. Robison came later. I remember when they came. Jim McMahan took land further up the river toward Tecumseh, I think. Armstrong's brother-in-law, whose name was Mc -something-or -other, took the place that Simmons had later. He sold out pretty early. I saw him once when he was visiting Armstrong.
Our folks came to Nebraska in 1867. My mother and I came by train and steamboat to Brownville, and the Pepoons, Shaws, Willie Lyman and my father came to Al Davis's place on Longbranch. After my mother and I arrived, we rented a farm back next to the river between Salem and Falls City where my father made a crop of corn. The Pepoons and Shaws rented a place on the Muddy, the George Weir place, on the Tecumseh and Brownville road. I stayed all night there once when gathering cream and the same George Weir, and old German, was living there then. I don't know what Lyman did that summer. Will surmise and say he worked for Mr. Foale and courted Sophy Allen. He did both sometime and very likely it was in that summer of '67. There was a ditch dug with a spade on the west side of the road between Foales and Allens. It was dug to drain the land of water that came down the draw across the Werner place and spread out on the bottom land. It is a deep gulch there and a menace to the road. My mother said, "That is the ditch that Will Lyman dug.
When we came to the homestead in the fall to build a house, (our lumber was hauled from Rulo and the black walnut casings were still there when we left the county in 1906,) James Dobson and family were living on a dugout on their place and Hiram Billings in a dugout down the hollow a way on the land that Mort Pepoon, Mike Wert, Daniel VanLaningham and old Gandy have owned since. I think I would show you the spot were that dugout was although the land had crops raised on it for years before we left there. Dobson and Billings had taken their land after we did. The Kovandas were building a house on the old man's place, east of the J. B. Pepoon place where Jim Kovanda lived in after years, having taken their land and moved right on to it. My mother said she thought Joe Werner was living in a hole in the underground on his place when she moved in, but she was not for sure. He was not married then. His wife was a Novak, Zelenke. I think that the Duders homestead over in the Clear Creek neighborhood about the time we did. I suppose that Cooper and Windover had taken their lands when we moved in but they had no buildings up.
Now for the school. You say according to your father (J. B. Pepoon) the school house was built in '68. I did not know just when it was. I think I can give you the role of pupils for the first term of school in Bunker Hill. Here they are: From what is now Bunker Hill:
Woody, Charlie, Elllen, and Mary Allen.
Mary, George, and Emma Armstrong
Jane and Anne Dobson
James and Antony Kovanda
From below the line in what was later the Morton District.
Ada Mc Clure
Martha and Nancy McNeil
Charlie Morton- perhaps, but I think he was too young then.
I don't know who was the first teacher, but it was either Phila Wood or Rachel Chambers. Phila Wood was afterward Mrs. Rice Morton. I am not sure whether M. H. Marble taught there or not. I remember him riding by our house and I have always had the idea that he taught in the old school before I started. I remember when Uncle Joe (J. B. Pepoon) taught the first time. My mother sent me up to the schoolhouse with a note for him and I remember just how he looked when he came to the door with a book in his hand. I started to school when Uncle Orville (O. D. Howe) taught his first term. Then he moved to Table Rock and taught there, with cousin Kate Pepoon (Mrs. John H. Allen) for an assistant. While he was gone, Emma Linn taught one term and Uncle Joe one.
When Uncle Joe was teaching, Lafe Cooper set a steel trap under the house where there was a pile of wood at the southeast corner of the schoolhouse. He was going to catch a rabbit. The first day that Albert Kovanda came to school he was poking around there and got his thumb in Lafe's trap. He has the scar yet, if he is alive. Uncle Joe took Albert's thumb out of the trap and smashed the trap. Lafe set another trap in a few days, or nights rather and caught a skunk. There were some loose boards in the floor at that corner and the skunk came up into the room. Somebody had gotten away with the skunk before I got there, but that room had the most overpowering smell I have ever "smelt". When the fire got to going good the smell got worse. We would stand it as long as we could, then go out and get a breath of fresh air. I never knew any air as sweet as the air was outside of that schoolhouse that morning. I remember just how Uncle Joe looked as he stood by his desk with his coat collar turned up and went right on with his class as though nothing was wrong, but he had a very grim look on his face. Just before he dismissed school that night he said, " Lafey, if you set another trap around this school I will most defiantly smash it."
Uncle Joe taught us to sing the capital of the states-
Rhode Island has two capitals, Providence and Newport.
I can go through them all yet. Someone taught us to sing the multiplication tables. I can't think who it was. It seems as though it was Cousin Kate, but she could not sing.
I forgot to say that my father built the old school house. He made the seats and desks out of cottonwood lumber, the same as the house. Uncle Theodore Pepoon, as moderator, put the old house up at action at the school meeting and Henry Cooper bought it for 10 dollars. Peter Hershey built the new house-it is only about 60 years old. Peter got the contract for 450 dollars, which I think was cheap enough. Uncle Orville planned the building and some people criticized it, but I think it was a pretty good plan. His idea was to have the pupils face north so that north on the map would be north. In the old house we faced south and I was confused on the directions on the map to this day but he wanted the door to be at the same end that the teachers desk was so the teacher could see who was coming in and what was going on around the door, so he put the door to the north end of the west side and had an entry with a door on the south side of that. That is what people made fun of, but it is a very good idea. Hershey did most of the work himself, but hired By Wilcox and Julius Brent for a while. I remember that By Wilcox was rather a frail looking man at that time but he outlived all the other G A R men in Table Rock. Brent, who married one of the Brock girls, was killed by a horse falling with him in the race track at Tecumseh.
I remember very well the school-meeting when they voted to divide the district. Uncle Theodore was very much opposed to the division. They wanted to wanted to build the school house near the southwest corner of his place, the old Dyer place, near the spring so it would be handy for water. It hardly seems possible now that there was no well at Bunker Hill for years and they carried their drinking water in a pail from Shaw’s, nearly a half mile, and the water was passed around, everybody drinking out of the same dipper but that was the way it was and we didn’t know any better.
And now for the rest of the questions, or subjects to be written about.
Troubles with the Indians- none
Droughts- Plenty of them, but the worst, till the year ’90, were in the late 70’s when the grasshoppers came.
Floods- Did not come until the 80’s
Prairie fires- There were lots of them and they were very pretty to watch but the only damage I heard of them doing except they would sometimes jump the fireguards and burn a hay stack was when one jumped the Nemaha and burned Peter Foales cabin, but that was before we came.
What did they raise? Until the herd law passed, (I think it was in 1868) they had to fence their fields with rails. Barbed wire was not yet invented till the late 70’s and the settlers on the uplands had no timber for rails and very little money to buy them, so there was not much land in cultivation. They planted their corn by hand and cultivated it with a double shovel. The old timers raised mostly corn. They would load it up in a wagon with shelled corn, shelled by hand or with a hand sheller, and sometimes haul it to Denver or Fort Kearney. I have heard John Allen and Gabe Morton both tell of making the trip to Fort Kearney. After the herd law passed and they would raise crops without fences, they raised corn for feed and wheat for market crop, hauling it to Brownville to be shipped by steamboat. The folks sold theirs to the mills in Peru one year, getting a better price. After the railroad came, the Granges built a big warehouse at Table Rock. That is where Lon Cooper got his start in the grain business, shoveling wheat out of the warehouse and into freight cars at $1 or $1.50 a day, but he soon found out he was getting paid better to handle the wheat and let someone else do the shoveling. But the spring whet did not yield much and the winter wheat would freeze out so they raised corn and fed it to the hogs and raised oats when they had more land then they could handle I corn. Then in the 80’s the Illinois people began coming out, buying and renting speculators land and showing the Old Timers how to raise corn-40 or 60 more acres to the team with the newer implements, and horse power corn shellers came into the country and there were big grain elevators built in all the towns. Mel Whipple came to pick corn for John Mathewson and offered to bet that he could shuck 100 bushels in a day. The Old Timers were all sure he couldn’t do it. Jimmie Dobson said that 30 bushels was the very best he could do and that no living man could pick three ears to his one. But nobody bet with Whipple. The 80’s were great corn years in Nebraska. Corn in every single direction and the good black soil had not been washed off the land then. The last big corn crop I saw in Pawnee county was in ’89. The land was mostly new, the John Reuters land, the Boomgartner and Bookwalter land and other land formerly held by speculators had just come into cultivation a few years before. In ’89 the corn was mostly listed and there was a big ear on every stalk. It yielded 50 bushels and more all over-on the uplands as well as the bottoms.
The Grange and Good Templars Lodge-The upstairs at Uncle Orville’s was not finished off for some years and that big room up there was the community center of those days. Both the Grange and Good Templars Lodge met up there. Don’t know the year they were organized but it was before the Armstrongs left. They were here in ’72, the time of the Grant and Greeley campaign, for I remember the arguments my father and Armstrong had. Our folks all supported Greeley but Armstrong was for Grant. He did not associate politically with democrats and rebels. I think it was about ’73 ’74 or ’75 they had the Grange. The papers to organize the Good Templars Lodge came to Uncle Theodore first but he wouldn’t have anything to do with it because the ritual was too religious, so Uncle Orville organized the Lodge and Uncle Theodore organized the Grange. Some folks belonged to one, some to the other and some to both. When the new school house was built community activities were transferred to the school house.
After he finished off the upstairs, people who did not have houses of their own used to live upstairs at Uncle Orville’s. John Mathewson with his sister Ella (who married Milt Pinegar) lived there with their mother. Mrs. Palmer, a half-sister of Will Lyman, before the Mathewsons, and Dr. Round, a nephew of Mrs. Peter Foale, a good while after. And the Doctor’s sister, Mrs. Miller. She married Sam Merrifield who had a butcher shop in Pawnee City afterwards. He was a brother of W. P. Merrifield who was Lon Cooper’s father in law. Some of the teachers lived there too. Mrs. Mumford with her children, and Miss Mollie Moore, though the teachers without family generally boarded with the Shaws.
And now a few more things I remember. I remember when Uncle Joe and my father made the grade by which people passed crossed the McMahan ford for so many years. Before that they were drove down the McMahan cabin and straight across and out on the other side where the banks were not steep but where the rocks in the bottom of the stream made it rather rough. I remember seeing Jim Early cross that way once when he was living in the McMahan cabin. He was the last one to live there. I remember when they first made the road over the clay hill. Before that the road crossed the creek, Armstrong’s branch, about south of the draw on the Dyer place. That was between where Stanek built his house afterwards, and the spring. In those days there were no bridges across the creeks and branches. When the fords got washed out too deep they hauled in niggerheads as the water washed granite boulders they found on the prairie were called. I remember when there was no ditch in the hollow between our place and the school house. My father put the first culvert in there. One plank wide. Then the culverts kept getting bigger and when I came back from Arkansas in 1901 there was a county bridge over the deep ditch in that hollow.
I remember the Old Fiddlers: Perry Baker, Dee Early, Will Lynn, John and Gabe Morton, to name a few, but of them all Gabe Morton was far and away the best dance fiddler I ever heard. I have heard great violinists. I heard Fritz Kreisler play English contra-dances and I scandalized my son by telling him that he couldn’t hold a candle to Gabe when it came to dance music, and Kreisler couldn’t. There was something to Gabe’s playing of dance music which I have never equaled by any one else.