Yes, we are now officially on our way in Part III of our American tour. After a lovely sunset and sunrise in Denver, we hit the trail and headed north.
Travelling across miles of very flat plains and farmland, we reached our first destination, Sterling, Colorado, home of the Overland Trail Museum. It is on Route 76, which runs parallel to the old Overland Trail, a 19th century stagecoach and wagon road. Starting from Atchison, KS, the trail descended into Colorado before looping back up to southern Wyoming and rejoining the Oregon Trail. The stage line operated until 1869 when the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad eliminated the need for mail service via stagecoach. This is cattle territory, and we got many reminders that we are still in the West. The branding irons in at the top of this post say that so artfully.
They call the Smithsonian “the nation’s attic.” Well, the folks in Sterling decided to keep it local, so all their memorabilia goes right to this museum. which is also a collection of old buildings that give you the flavor of life in pioneer days. Let’s start with a few farming relics and mementos of the founding family, whose matriarch for some reason did not discourage new settlers.
Other homey items include a quilt made from men’s garment labels, darning eggs, and other treasures of their day.
But this is a farm community, so most of the action took place in the back, where you can see more old farm equipment and cattle implements. The brands were beautiful in their way, but that process must have really hurt those cows, no? Have to warn you that one of the main attractions of this place for Don was the stuffed two-headed calf (calves?). Don’t look at the last picture in this set if you are squeamish.
They have also collected an old school, a church, a house, barbershop, gas station and a general store plus one of the original Yellowstone Park coaches. The barber shop was the best, and even had one of the very old permanent wave machines. So glad those days are long past. All in all, nicely done and very evocative, especially since we were the only people there, and a very hot prairie wind was blowing our way. More trees, please!!
The last building here was a memorial to David Hamil. The docent was a little surprised that we didn’t know Dave. After all, he was the guy who led the rural electrification movement of the New Deal. And I really should know about him. My grandparents were third-generation Nebraska pioneer farmers, who didn’t get “the electric” till WWII, and I know it was really a big deal, as well as a new deal. So thank you, Dave. We enjoyed seeing you pictured with all the presidents, and loved the part of your map showed the electrification of eastern Nebraska, which made all the difference to my grandparents.
Speaking of Nebraska, we crossed over its border from Colorado and headed northeast to the town of Ogallala. Say it a few times – it grows on you. This was the real deal as a cattle town on the Texas Trail from 1870 to 1885. Longhorn cattle were driven up the trail from Texas to Ogallala, where they were shipped off to the east. In its day, it was evidently such a Sodom-and-Gomorrah place that some trail bosses from Texas wouldn’t let their crews linger there – it was just too nasty, with nary a church to be found among the saloons and gambling halls.
Today? Well, it wouldn’t occur to you to keep the women and children away, unless they are easily bored and crave excitement. But the town does have some evidence left of its past, and we found a glimpse of it on Boot Hill. Yup, this is where lots of the bad guys and the card sharks ended up – toes up, but still in their boots. On the summit of the hill is a statue of “The Trail Boss,” facing south toward Texas, where an identical statue faces north from Dallas. The markers are reproductions and most of the bodies have been reburied, but you do get the Wild West feeling here all the same.