The year 2021 marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of colonists that would go on to found the community of Gibbon.
To coincide with that anniversary, the Clipper is presenting stories about people, places and events from the past 150 years for those who were too young to watch all 150 years of history unfold.
The following story was assembled from a 1996 story written by Rhonda O’Brien and Margaret Tunks from a number of Reporter stories published during 1971.
The lonely site of Gibbon Switch (also known as Gibbon Siding) had been established in 1866, when the Union Pacific first built through central Nebraska, to serve as a supply terminus for General John Gibbon who was the commanding officer at Fort Kearny, approximately eight and-a-half miles west of Gibbon Switch.
Although Gibbon Switch is where the builders of the railroad expected General Gibbon to come and get his supplies for Fort Kearny, it appears he forded the Platte River north of the fort and received his supplies at Kearney Station, later known as Buda.
A spur had been constructed for General Gibbon’s supply cars at Gibbon Switch and although it was not used by the fort, box cars were often set aside at the location. The section men at Gibbon were responsible for the cars, as well as maintaining and improving the railroad tracks and bed in the area. The section house, also built in 1866, was where the section me lived.
John Thorpe, a land promoter and railroad immigration agent, had previously located a colony at Salina, Kansas. He made terms with the Union Pacific Railroad, and began the work on Ohio and other parts of the east, of raising a colony for location at Gibbon Siding. Many of the people induced to come were from the Western reserve in Ohio, but nearly every northern state east of the Mississippi had a native born representative in the party.
The colonists arrived at Gibbon on Friday, April 7, 1871. The appearance of the country to the colonists upon their arrival was not inviting. The only house that could be seen was the one occupied by the railway section men. The prairie had all been burned off by a fire on April 2 and the country had a gloomy and dismal appearance. No rain or snow had fallen since the previous August and where there had been timber on the rivers only stumps and underbrush remained. The building of the railway through the country had created a demand for wood and ties, and every tree within miles of the right-of-way that was large enough to furnish either commodity had been felled. As one member of the colony said, “It was the most desolate looking country that human eyes ever gazed upon.”
That may have been an exaggeration but it was reported that the first railroad agent that arrived at Gibbon Siding refused to get off the train when he saw the area, and the railroad had to send another agent. This agent was James Ogilvie.
On Sunday, April 9, “after breakfast” it was planned to hold a religious service at 10:00 o’clock. On such short notice one might suppose that not many would attend, but it was reported that practically every member of the colony attended the service.
One of the merchants-to-be had brought along some lumber for the building of a store and seats were improvised from this lumber. The location of this pile of lumber was where Gibbon City Hall and O’Brien Mortuary are now located.
The sermon was reached by the Reverend Josiah N. Allen, a member of the colony. After dinner, most colonists went sight seeing. Only one settler did not stay and file a homestead claim. He stayed less than
24 hours and took the next train head “back east.”
Sunday, April 9, began as a bright, sunny day. By 2:00 o’clock it began to spit snow. By nightfall a furious storm of wind and snow was raging. By Monday morning snow had drifted as high as the top of the box cars and passenger cars where the colonists were staying. There was a heating stove in each end of the passenger cars but they were tiny things, almost like play stoves. The source of wood was in a pile
40 rods away. It was a job for several men to go get the wood and then reduce it to a size that would fit in the miniature heaters.
Tempers flared at one time and three men were thrown out of one of the cars when they tried to take a stove down and take it to another car.
They then decided that the should tell why they wanted the stove. Dr.
I. P. George and wife had no stove in their car. (Footnote: A son was born to Dr. and Mrs. George on May 15).
Mr. D. P. Ashburn had a car with livestock in it and took the livestock out into the storm and made the car available for other members of the colony that needed the shelter. The storm ceased on Monday.
When the colonists arrived at Gibbon Siding they found a string of 30 cars on a sidetrack placed there by the Union Pacific for their use.
Most were ordinary box freight cars but some were passenger cars and cars used for boarding purposes in construction of the railroad. (The railroad was constructed through Gibbon in August of 1886). The cars were occupied by the colonists at once, some of the men sleeping on the floor of the passenger cars, as well as in the seats.
These temporary quarters were used for about a month, by then most of the settlers had selected their land and were living upon it.
Those whose home was to be in the country lived on their land using what they could as a shelter. One family had brought with them a lard cupboard which served as the north wall of temporary shelter. The roof was made from two two-by-fours and a carpet thrown over them, slanted down like a tent. Not much shelter for two adults and two children but it served until a half-soddie half-dugout could be built.
Others built all sod houses or even all frame houses. The frame houses were not weather tight as we know them today. Ed Lowell once told that as a child many a winter morning found his bed in the loft of their house covered with snow that had drifted in through the cracks.
At the same time the homes were built wells were dug. Lester Bayley another who came as a child with the colony, told of using an old brass cooking kettle to pull the dirt up out of a hand dug well.
After the April storm subsided the Gibbon colonists got down to the business of why they had come in the first place – securing their own land. Selections for land was decided by drawing lots.
Sixty-two persons took part, but because some wanted to secure claims adjoining each other only 28 drawings were made. This drawing by lots was held on April 11. It is noted that these 62 people were all strangers on the 4th of April and by the 11th, over three-fourths of the group had selected friends they wanted to live close to.
By a curious bit of fate the man that drew choice number one was also the first man to die, William Brady.
One colonist after viewing his selected land on the north side of the Wood River stream realized that there were no bridges as yet and in cases of high water would be isolated from town. He gave up his place in line and made another land selection after all others had picked their land. This put him 3 1/2 miles from Gibbon.
The formal filing of the homestead claims was made on April 17 and 18, 1871.
As far as is known, no one selected land upon which people were living, even though these “squatters” had not filed upon their land.
These earlier arrivals soon did file upon their land at the United States Land Office at Grand Island. They thus lost their squatter status and were made honorary and eventual permanent members of the Soldiers Free Homestead Colony.
Before the Gibbon colonists had even filed their homestead papers for the land they had selected, they held a public meeting to establish a school.
This meeting and one held a week later was highly irregular, as none of the persons at the meeting were legal voters, nor had they resided in the state or county long enough to vote. However, they agreed to tax themselves $1,000 and in a 12’ x 16’ wing of the first dwelling house in the village established a school. They hired Mrs. Frank Chamberlain at $35.00 per month and had school in session June 26, 1871, 49 days after they arrived.
A more permanent building 22’ x 32’ was built in December of 1871 and the teacher’s salary advanced to $50.00 per month.
A Fourth of July picnic was held in 1872, fifteen months after the colonists arrived in Gibbon. It was held in the Henry Dugdale grove four miles east of Gibbon, on the bank of the Wood River. Four different Sunday school groups attended and each marched into the grove bearing a banner with the name of the group on the banner. The Wood River Sunday School, from Hall County, with 60 members came first. Next came the group from school district number one with 115 members. Third in line was the group from the Gibbon Sunday Schools, numbering 150, and finally came from the Wood River Union group from Centre Township with 65 members.
There were no fireworks, although the day had started with the booming of a big cottonwood log and the ringing of bells. The assemblage sang “America,” Professor Worley played a musical selection on the organ (probably taken to the site in a lumber wagon). Col. Niles gave an oration. The Declaration of Independence was read by Rev. Place, recitations were given by four young ladies, Rev. Morse gave a prayer and the Master of Ceremonies was S. B. Lowell.
Reprinted by permission of the clipper publishing company. www.clipperpubco.com