History of the Old Settlers Picnic- August 6, 1946
Compiled and read by Mrs. R. F. Heliker at a program in the park at Allen, Nebraska.
The first pioneer Old Settlers Picnic was held in Dixon County, September 11, 1894, 52 years ago, in Hurley's grove near Martinsburg. People living in or near Allen, Concord, Wakefield, Emerson, Ponca, Dixon, and Waterbury came in wagons, spring wagons, or on horseback. The horses were tied to the wagons and given their daily ration of grain and hay. The women brought well-filled baskets of home baked food and everyone enjoyed a picnic dinner with friends and neighbors. After dinner, there was a platform program of band music and singing. Then Congressman Latty gave the address of the afternoon, followed by interesting experiences told by the old settlers themselves. After the program there was a ball game, horse and foot races. There was a stand where candy, peanuts, and lemonade were sold. Watermelons and muskmelons were sold from a wagon for 10 and 15 cents each.
The first picnic was such a grand success that those present decided to make it an annual event. At that time, a constitution was adopted and the following officers elected: C. F. Putnam, President, N. S. Porter, Vice-President, George Herrick, Treasurer, and C. W. Schram, Secretary.
For a number of years, the picnic was held at Martinsburg, bur of late, it has been held in or near Allen.
New attractions were added yearly for the younger generation, such as the horse drawn merry-go-round and box swing (which was later replaced by the steam powered merry-go-round), striking machines, shooting galleries, balloon ascensions and a dance in the evening.
The platform programs have remained much the same.
You may ask, as I did, just who were the pioneers and old settlers of 1894, where did they come from, and how long had they been here. History tells us that the first settlers came to Dixon County in the spring of 1856 and in 1858, there were approximately 300 people living here. They came from Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and other states. Here they found beautiful country; grass covered prairie, fertile soil, timber along the river and creeks, pure water, and a healthful climate. The Free Homestead Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Lincoln in 1862, giving every settler 160 acres of land if he lived on his claim for 5 years.
Nebraska became a state I 1867 and it was then that thousands of immigrants came west in search of free homes and many located in Dixon County. Most of them came in covered wagons or prairie schooners drawn by horses, mules or oxen. All their possessions were in the wagon, often with a box of chickens tied on behind, while a few cattle and the family dog brought up the rear. These early settlers worked hard to break the land, build houses and dig wells. They had little money and depended on the good Nebraska soil and found it raised all they needed to eat and sell. Most of them lived in dugouts, sod houses and log cabins. They were God fearing, law abiding citizens who came here to establish their homes and rear their children. Among these pioneers were farmers, doctors, ministers, carpenters, blacksmiths, lawyers and merchants. They brought with them the customs, law and religion of their home state. Their only market at first was Sioux City, Iowa. Later, Ponca became a trading point.
The newcomers met many hardships and discouragement. There were hard times, Indian scares, grasshoppers, drought, blizzards, prairie fires and earthquakes, but better days came, bringing better crops, better prices and hopes to those who endured so much.
Thirty-eight years after the first settlers located in this county peopled only by Indians, they were having a picnic. They had seen this prairie country transformed into farms and villages. New frame houses replaced the dugout and log cabin, with better and more cheerful furnishings. Large groves and orchards, good fences and well-cultivated fields were seen everywhere. The farms were well stocked with cattle, hogs, and horses and there were good crops of corn, wheat and oats.
Substantial frame buildings had replaced the log schoolhouse and church. The towns had many prosperous business places. Numerous flour and lumber mills were doing an immense business. There were general stores, drug stores, lumberyards, hotels and livery barns. Since 1882, the Dixon County Fair had been held at Ponca. Large crowds attended to see the exhibits of livestock, grain, vegetables and flowers, and to watch the horse races and baseball games. Railroads had been built and people traveled by passenger train and shipped their grain and stock by freight.
So, at this first Old Settlers Picnic in 1894, the pioneer fathers and mothers looked back over the hard, lean years and felt that success had rewarded their efforts.
Death has taken its toll of those pioneers and old settlers. They are all gone and countless others who came later have answered their final summons to join that innumerable caravan that moves to the pale realms of shade, where each has taken his chamber in the silent halls of death. They were sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust and surely the Lord said unto them "Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord".
Time sped on. The mind and hand of man has continued to transform Dixon County. The men and women who are here today are enjoying modern conveniences and luxuries undreamed of by the pioneers who followed the dim trails 90 years ago. We are thankful for their example of courage and faith and should never forget what they did here.
The years have brought many changes within the memory of us all. Even styles have changed. Do you remember when girls wore rats in their hair, tight waists, three starched petticoats, ankle length skirts and used corn starch for face powder? When young men wore derby hats, high celluloid collars and ate sen sen? When the two step and the cakewalk were the most popular dances and everyone sang "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree" and "Down by the Old MillStream"? When a boy's ambition was to own a top buggy with red wheels, a good whip, light weight lap robe for summer and a wool one for winter, and have a lot of red, white and blue rings on the harness and yellow fly nets? Sometimes, the horse's heads were checked so high they could hardly travel, but they did look very sporty.
If you remember, you needn't tell us your age, but needless to say, you are wearing an Old Settlers ribbon today. Those were the good old days.
We of that generation have seen droughts, depressions, unprecedented progress and prosperity, and two World Wars. The sons and grandsons of these early settlers (many of whom belonged to the Grand Army of the Republic) are now members of the American Legion, having served in the armed forces at home of over seas. We are proud of our Legionnaires. They are now active in local and state affairs, the leaders of today. They are a fine group of men.
God has blessed America and Dixon County. Nebraska has shared His blessings. May we who are here today be worthy of our heritage.
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