We were saturated today with stories of the West and the pioneer life that developed this part of the world. First of all, about the orphans. That job qualifier came from a poster advertising openings for Pony Express riders. Guess we couldn’t get away with that degree of selectivity now. But then, so few jobs require you to risk your life every day, let’s be honest.
However, if you worked for the Pony Express, that was just part of the job.
In Gothenburg, Nebraska, we came across one of the original Pony Express stations. What a life they had. The Pony Express wasn’t in business for very long, but it was the state-of-the-art in high-speed communication for a while. This was great glimpse into what the string of PE outposts looked like as they stretched across the West.
We started our day at the Sod House Museum, also in the town of Gothenburg. Why would anyone want to live in a sod house, you ask? Ah, for one very simple reason. We are on the Great Plains, and there were no, and I mean no, trees around. You worked with what you had. The railroads were trying to build up the population, and would drop off lumber for the roofs and the support beams, but the rest you filled in with blocks of sod, preferably some with lot of prairie grass roots holding it together.
My great-great grandfather came over from Ireland and built a sod house in eastern Nebraska where my mother’s family were homesteaders as part of the great pioneer movement. While the government did give out parcels of land in 160-acre farms, you had to work hard for five years to earn the title, demonstrating that you had improved the land. While many went west for the promise of free land, only one in three homesteaders survived to claim their land. I am proud that my great-great grandfather’s farm is still in the family, but imagine what a hard life all those people faced. Evidently many farm women turned to suicide as they just couldn’t cope with the isolation and drudgery.
Being in the Cornhusker State, we did expect corn in some form to surround us. Today it was lunch at the Pop Corner, which mixes all kinds of lunch fare with all kinds of popcorn. All was yummy and we got to sample some fresh popcorn while the sandwiches were being made. Had to – otherwise the smell would have driven us mad!
And then it was off to the main event for the day – the home of one of the most famous Pony Express riders of them all: Buffalo Bill Cody. He started riding for them when he was 14 and once rode 322 miles in 21 hours on 20 horses, setting a record even for the Pony Express. He went on to become a famous buffalo and Indian scout, before forming his famous Wild West Show, which toured the world and made him a legend.
Those of you who are faithful readers know that we have encountered William F. Cody on each leg of our trip. Last spring, we paid homage to his grave on Lookout Mountain outside Golden, Colorado. And then this fall we went to Cody, Wyoming, which he founded, had lunch at his hotel – the Irma, named after his daughter, and saw the great collection of his artifacts at the museum there.
Well, today, we visited Scout’s Rest, Buffalo Bill’s ranch in North Platte NE. There was a major kerfluffle over where he would be buried, but both this home and Cody WY lost out. But this was indeed his home from 1886 till the family was forced to sell it in 1911. It is still quite intact and a great treat for those of us who get a kick out of Buffalo Bill. You have to love a guy who took Sitting Bull and his braves on a gondola ride in Venice, right?
Then it was on to the Lincoln County Museum just down the street, and across the road from the arena where rodeos still occur – whose creation are credited to Buffalo Bill, so this is quite fitting. Lots of older buildings and local flavor. (Yet another school and barber shop and Pony Express station and more period homes.) We are full of the past tonight!
Our final stop – the Fort Cody Trading Post. A bona fide tourist trap, it provided just the right amount of kitsch and a cold root beer,not to mention another two-headed calf. We don’t even blink anymore when we see one. Oh, need to mention the giant Indian in the back that Don got acquainted with.