nebraska

The town of Spencer, Nebraska is a small town of just 423 people, but on March 14, 2019, the town became more well known that it probably ever dreamed it could, or even wanted to be. Suddenly, Spencer, Nebraska was big news, or at least the dam there was. Events unfolded that lead to the collapse of the 93-year-old dam, when the pressure from an icy flood mixed with an area that had a history of unaddressed ice problems. Perhaps it was the rural area of the state, or that they misjudged the surge that could follow a collapse, but they didn’t think that many people would be affected and certainly that no one would die, should the Spencer dam fail. That proved to be untrue, when Kenny Angel, who lived just beneath the dam, was found dead after the flood washed away his home and business. Workers for the Nebraska Public Power District, which operated the dam, warned Angel just minutes ahead of time of the impending danger.

The dam was operated by the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD). Heavy precipitation during the March 2019 North American blizzard led to a failure of the dam in the early morning hours of March 14th, causing heavy flooding downstream. For a dam that was not expected to do much damage, if it failed, the damage was really devastating…affecting four counties. An 11-foot wall of water was released by the failure, as recorded by a US Geological Survey stream gage moments before it was washed away.

Nebraska regulators had categorized Spencer Dam as a “significant hazard,” which is a rating that meant no loss of life was expected if it failed. With that, no formal emergency action plan was required. After the collapse, it was noted that the Association of State Dam Safety Officials said the dam should have been rated as “high hazard,” which could have led to a plan to modify it to increase its flood capacity. Unfortunately, that was not done, and the failure was terrible. Knox County, the hardest hit of the four counties affected, saw estimates of more than $17M in damages. While the Spencer dam had a history of ice related issues, and other dams may have had ice issues too, the Spencer dam might just be the first dam in the nation to collapse due to those ice issues. The 11-foot surge of water that followed the collapse took out roads, highways, homes, businesses, and bridges. For several months, motorists were required to detour 150 miles to get past the damage. The flood cut a new channel in the river, meaning a new 1050-foot section of the bridge on Highway 281 below the dam.

Sometimes, I am amazed at what you can “sell” people. In 1977, one of Elvis Presley’s assistants saw an opportunity when Elvis didn’t finish a glass of water after a concert. The assistant held an auction and sold the few drops of water left in the glass for $455. And then, there was the two golf balls that were sold for $1400. So, what made these golf balls so special…well, they were swallowed by a python. The snake had to have surgery to remove them, and they were sold after. A British artist, after going through a period of depression, during which she simply stayed in bed, decided to sell the ensuing messy bedroom “furnishings,” so she auctioned them off for $150,000 after calling them “My Bed.” And let us not forget that on March 6, 2012, a woman from Nebraska sold a three-year-old McDonald’s Chicken McNugget for $8100 because it resembled George Washington. She was raising the money to send children to summer camp. The auction site apparently eased its rules on selling expired food for the woman, so that she could raise money to support her cause.

Granted these items are novelties, and some went for a good cause, but seriously…people will pay good money for the strangest things. It actually makes me want to look through my own possessions to see what oddities I might have that would bring in millions of dollars, because apparently, they could sell. You just never know. What is it that makes people decide that they need a few drops of water left in a glass after Elvis drank from the glass, or a McNugget that looks like George Washington, or the many food items that have looked like the Virgin Mary? I suppose that if these things are for a good cause, maybe they are simply donating for the purpose of helping the cause. Or maybe they actually see value in the item or items they are bidding on.

I suppose that in the case of “seeing value” in an item that almost no one else sees value in, I would have to say…to each his own, but that for the amount some of these items went, there must have been a few people who could see value in something seemingly worthless…at least to me. That said, I decided to go out to an auction site to see what “treasures” I could find. I was somewhat disappointed in that I found no expired food items, or famously worthless celebrity use items. Mostly what I saw were items that did have some value, depending on your need…things like bags full of vintage doll clothes, old pitchers and glassware, belt buckles, automobile emblems, vintage cigarette lighters, coins, and vintage toys. Some of these things could very easily have great value, in that the vintage items could be rare collectables. Nevertheless, I didn’t see anything I couldn’t live without, nor did I find anything that was going for a very high price. I suppose that it would be a rare thing to come across something that cost you nothing, but sold for millions. Still, the idea of selling something for big money isn’t a bad one. It’s just a matter of finding the right item, presenting it to the right audience, and finding yourself feeling very shocked when it sold for the big bucks.

How does love grow? Sometimes people start out not liking each other, and later, things change. Other people like my Aunt Dixie Richards and the love of her life, my Uncle Jim Richards, it was pretty much love at first sight. Uncle Jim lost his dad at the young age of seven years, and when his family moved from Bassett, Nebraska to Casper, Wyoming, following the job search, Jim found himself befriending the Byer family. Because Jim had lost his dad, my grandpa George Byer became a father figure to Uncle Jim, who had never really had a dad in his life.

When Aunt Dixie and Uncle Jim fell in love, it was settled in their minds. The were married on June 3, 1961 and they never looked back. Over the years they helped many family members when they needed a hand or a place to stay. No one was ever turned away. Uncle Jim’s mother lived with them until she passed away. They always had extra mouths to feed, but God always made sure there was enough food to go around. He does that for those with a generous heart…and they definitely had generous hearts. I think that when two people are of like mind, and agree to be generous, helpful caregivers, they will be blessed. During the time when they were taking care of Uncle Jim’s family, they were also taking care of her parents whenever that was needed too. In reality they were lifelong caregivers, and that is a hard job that brings great blessings.

All during the years that they were helping so many people, Aunt Dixie and Uncle Jim were also raising their own family. They have three children Jeannie Liegman, James Richards (who passed away on February 16, 2021), and Raylynn Williams. They also have 6 grandchildren, Jacob Liegman, Gabriel Williams, Gideon Williams, Noah Williams, Jonah Williams (who passed away at birth), and their lone granddaughter, Mayme Williams. Their life has been greatly blessed, especially in that their children all live very close to them and they see them every day. Their children have always been there for them and to help with any other family members that needed their help too. Their children learned their loving and caring ways from their parents.

Aunt Dixie and Uncle Jim have lived quite a life, but there has never been a day that they thought it was all a mistake. They loved each other then and they love each other now. They saw each other all those years ago, and they never had eyes for anyone else. Sixty years is a long time to be married to someone. Many marriages don’t make it that long and those that stay together, often don’t live long enough to be married sixty years. It is a rarity. Today is my Aunt Dixie and Uncle Jim’s 60th anniversary. Happy anniversary Aunt Dixie and Uncle Jim!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My great grandfather, Cornelius Byer was a kind and a fair man. He was generous and honest. It was these qualities that earned him the respect of the Indian tribes in the Gordon, Nebraska area. Great Grandpa passed away on October 23, 1930, but the celebration of life, really began before the day of the funeral, and even before he passed away. Over the years of his life, my great grandfather became a great friend of the Indians. He was invited to their pow wows, he was asked his opinions on things…and they listened when he spoke. He was helpful to the Indian tribes, and they, in turn treated him with great respect.

The Indians would often show up at his home…something that would most likely panic most people. Most often the women and children would stay outside, while the men went in to visit with Great Grandpa. It was another show of respect. The Indians often camped near the house when the men were visiting. I’m sure it was a very interesting lifestyle for my grandmother.

While all that was interesting, probably the most interesting thing happened as Great Grandpa was dying and after his passing. When he lay dying, the Indians came…long lines of them. Each one, including the women and children, passed by his bed. They spoke words of respect and admiration. I’m sure it took hours, but none were turned away. Great Grandma knew how much they loved him, and how much they needed to say goodbye. I would love to have had the chance to see that scene. These were two groups of people who normally didn’t get along, and yet they showed so much love and respect for one another. There was no warring with, no stealing from, no depriving of one another. There was simply love and respect. I’m sure it made my Great Grandmother Edna (Fishburn) Byer and their children feel very safe over the years.

My grandfather, George Byer arrived at the homestead on October 20, 1930. My grandmother, Hattie Byer stayed home with their newborn daughter, Virginia, who was just 4 months old at the time. Grandpa brought almost 2 year old Evelyn with him. His letter at the time said that all the children were there, or soon would be. Three days later, Great Grandpa Cornelius Byer passed away. I’m so glad my grandpa got to see his dad before he passed. When it was time to have the funeral, they would have to travel into Gordon, Nebraska. We would never think of transporting our own loved one to the funeral, but those were different times. Nevertheless, the Indians would not leave their dear friend to go alone. With the casket in a wagon, and his son driving, Great Grandpa went to his funeral. Little Evelyn sat in the back of the wagon, wide-eyed in wonder as a long line of Indians followed the procession to the cemetery. In death, as in life, their respect for this man, who was my great grandfather, was on display. I can’t think of a greater honor than this. Cornelius Byer was truly loved and respected by all who knew him.

uncle-jim-aunt-dixieMy Uncle Jim Richards has lead quite a life. After his dad passed away, when he was just eight years old, Uncle Jim took it upon himself to become the man of the house. In many ways, that decision was the beginning of many years of taking care of other people. Uncle Jim worked hard in school, and the people in his class and even some of the other classes really looked up to him. You could always count on Jim Richards. In fact there were a number of classmates who felt like they owed their life to Jim Richards. One boy, driving drunk, followed Jim home, and that was truly the only way he made it home. Of course, Uncle Jim didn’t know that, because he would have taken the boy home, if he had known. People knew that Uncle Jim was not driving drunk, because he set a standard of behavior at his high school in Bassett, Nebraska. He was also a track star there, having set records in hurdles, and several other sports. Uncle Jim would have made his dad very proud of the man he grew up to be. I don’t know if that thought occurred to him or not, but he would have accomplished that feat anyway. I’m sure that there were many times that Uncle Jim thought of his dad over the years, and what his dad would have done in a situation. I’m sure he did what he thought would make his dad, and his mom proud. Uncle Jim’s dad was a hard working man, working for the railroad for a number of years. I’m sure he instilled that same work ethic in his children. I know that his son Jim worked hard all his life, taking care of family members now and again, and helping out with his grandchildren, while his children worked.

Times have changed to a degree for Uncle Jim, and for his wife, my Aunt Dixie, because all of their grandchildren are in school all day now, or grown up. They need a lot less care. That can be a lonely time, but always the caregivers, Uncle Jim and Aunt Dixie, do anything that is needed, from picking up the kids at times, to dropping off payments while the kids are at work, and generally just being there for whatever they are needed for. I’m sure that at times, they get weary, at times they feel lonely, and at times they aren’t sure just jim-richards-dadwhat their role in life is supposed to be. I know this, because in many ways that is how I feel. So much has changed over the years, and the things we were needed for then, we aren’t now. But, that in no way diminishes the value we have as a person. Uncle Jim and Aunt Dixie are as valuable to their family as they ever were, and in fact even more. As our parents grow older, we start to truly understand how precious they are, and that is exactly how Jeannie, Jim, and Raylynn and their families feel about Uncle Jim and Aunt Dixie. They are precious to them. Today is Uncle Jim’s birthday. Happy birthday Uncle Jim!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Benjamin Franklin DeGoodMy husband, Bob Schulenberg’s 2nd great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin DeGood was a blacksmith in Galena, Kansas in 1900. He and his two oldest sons ran the business together, as often happened in families. If the parents were farmers, often so were the children. So in this case, because their dad was a blacksmith, William and Clyde grew up in the trade, and began working with him. In 1900, Galena was a town of 10,155 people…the largest population it had before or after that time. The railroad established the territory of Galena in 1871, but the town wasn’t established until the discovery of lead there in the spring of 1877. As with any mining operation back then, there were other occupations that became necessary, blacksmiths being one of them.

Benjamin and his family were living in Nebraska, when Bob’s great grandmother, Nellie DeGood Knox was born in Springfield on October 6, 1887, but by the birth of her younger brother Ernest on December 31, 1892 the family was living in Columbus, Kansas. By the December 9, 1898 birth of Benjamin’s youngest daughter, Beulah, the family was living in Galena, Kansas. Then in the 1900 census, Benjamin and his two eldest sons had a blacksmith shop in Galena.

I have to wonder what it was like to be a blacksmith in the 1900s. Cars had made their first appearance on the scene in 1893, and while I’m sure many people were sure they were a passing fad that was less than safe. It’s also quite possible that they were too expensive for the average person, but as a blacksmith, I have to wonder if Benjamin could see the writing on the wall. The days of the blacksmith having steady work were numbered. Nevertheless, he had to continue to do the job he knew as long as there was work to do.

At some point after the untimely deaths of Benjamin’s youngest daughter, Buelah and son, Benjamin F DeGood & Mary Martha Nickell DeGood family Taken at Humansville, Missouri 1891Theodore, both of whom died as young children, and possibly because of the declining need for blacksmith services, or maybe due to declining health, Benjamin moved the family that was still at home, to Polk, Missouri. I have not found any real indication of declining health, but given the fact that blacksmiths in those days were exposed to asbestos, before we knew of the dangers, I have to think that a man who dies at 58 years of age, even as early as 1907, must have had something major going on. Lung diseases caused by asbestos would definitely qualify. I would think that the life of a blacksmith would be a hard one in every way, and when it brought with it an early death due to the occupational health hazards, it became an occupation I wouldn’t want my kids to go into…even if it was the family business.

First Labor DayLabor Day 1So often, when we have a holiday, people tend to think that it is just another day to have a family dinner and a day off of work. Often, they are celebrating the day for the wrong reason, but not so today. Labor Day is a day for our nation to pay tribute to its workers. No nation can be strong if it has no workers. So, as a show of gratitude, Labor Day was set aside to allow a day of rest for the American worker. When our nation was founded, there was largely nothing here. The native Americans lived in Teepees, so they could be mobile. They needed to follow the buffalo because that was their food supply. But, we had come from nations where there were houses and farms, and ways to get the things we needed.

Nevertheless, this was a new nation, and it was going to take a lot of hard work to turn it into the great nation it has become. The work was going to be a lot of hard physical labor. We would also need those who would teach our children and others so that they could become doctors, scientists, inventors, and all the other jobs that would be needed to take this from a vast empty land, to a thriving nation that would be able to bring about the dreams that we all came over here to fulfill.

After a time of hard work, and much growth, the nation began to give increasing emphasis to a Labor Day holiday. It was decided that we, as a nation, needed to thank our laborers for all they had done to build this country. The first bill to be introduced was into the New York legislature, but the first state to pass a law was Oregon, on February 21, 1887. Over the course of that year, four more states passed legislation to honor laborers through a Labor Day holiday that was created by legislative enactment. Those states were Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. By the end of the decade, Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania were also listed among the states honoring laborers with a Labor Day holiday. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The day began with a parade and continued on with lots of festivities. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883. That was rather odd, considering the fact that the holiday didn’t become official until 1887, and then it wasn’t in New York City. Later, like many holidays, it began to make less sense to keep the holiday on the fifth, and so the first Monday in September was chosen to be the permanent time to celebrate it. That makes sense when you think about it. If you are going to celebrate the laborers, give them a three day weekend. After all, that is Labor Day 2Labor Day 3cause for celebration for most laborers. Of course, as we all know, the holiday doesn’t give every worker the day off. That would be almost impossible for all the obvious reasons. Nevertheless, as Labor Day arrives, I hope that each and every worker knows that whether they get the day off or not, this grateful nation has set aside this day to celebrate them, and to thank them for making this nation great. Happy Labor Day to workers everywhere!!

At Gma & Gpa Spencer's gravesAs we have traveled through six states in ten days, we have not only been connecting with family members, previously known and those previously unknown to us, but we have been somewhat following in the footsteps of our ancestors. Our travels have taken us to several of the places that our ancestors lived and died. Some graves have been easy to find, and some not so much. I think it is sad that more of the records have not been put into sites like findagrave.com, and I think I will set myself to the task of putting as many in as I can, so that more of my family members can find the graves of their ancestors, should they decide they would like to do that. The graves that had been listed and included the plot and block numbers, were so easy to find. Such was the case with my dad’s parents’ graves. We thought it was going to be hard to find them, even though Mom thought she knew where they were, and was actually very close, but in the end, Find A Grave told us exactly where it was, and we found it easily.

Our trek then took us to Webster City, Iowa, where my great great grandfather, Allen Spenser was buried. We aren’t sure why his stone spells Spencer with “s” or if that was simply an error that was made when the stone was placed, but it was definitely the wrong spelling, since his Allen Spenserwife, Lydia’s stone in Oklahoma is spelled Spencer. This grave was a surprising find in that while I had seen a picture of the stone, from when my Uncle Bill made the trip, I had no block or plot number. We started into the cemetery, and I remembered that the picture showed a building in the background. I saw a building and a hillside, and decided to take a little walk. I didn’t have to go very far before I found what I was looking for, Allen Spenser’s grave. The odd thing was that while the stone was standing up when Uncle Bill was there, it was laying down when I was there, and while the picture taken by someone else years earlier had an old house in it, Uncle Bill’s picture had none. Think what you would like, I personally think it was God’s guiding that found that grave at the first place we stopped to look.

The next memorial we found was the United Airlines Flight 232 Crash Memorial, and while it was not a grave, I must say it was beautiful. My Great Aunt Gladys Pattan Byer Cooper was killed in that crash, and since we were going right by there, I wanted to stop at the memorial the people of Sioux City put up in honor of the victims and the brave people who saved as many lives as possible. That memorial had a deep impact on me. Aunt Gladys’ tragic death was something that I felt deeply, because I had always loved her very much. To find a place that was dedicated to her memory was so heartwarming. It felt like a place of peace and reverence. No, the victims aren’t buried there, but they are remembered there, and it is a beautiful, well maintained place to remember them…and one I’ll never forget.

We stopped in Gordon, Nebraska and were again guided by Mom’s memory and a picture of At Gpa Byers graveAt UA Flight 232 Memorialthe stone. Before long, we were at my mom’s grandfather, Cornelius George Byer’s grave. The record I had also showed his dad buried there in Gordon, but we could not find that one, even with the directory, so the records I had found could be wrong. I really wished that we could have found that one too, because it would have cleared up some possible errors in the spelling of the Byer name too, but I guess that one will be a story for another day and another trek.

Max SchulenbergRecently, my interest turned to the ancestry of the Schulenberg side of my family, when I was contacted by a more famous member of the family, who I will not name at this point, as I have not asked his permission to do so, and so I will respect his privacy. He wondered if we might be related, and I told him that I expected that we probably are. Since that time, I have been looking back on that side of the family. I knew that our side of the Schulenberg family came to America aboard the SS Moltke in 1895, when Max Heinrich Johann Carl Schulenberg arrived on that ship at the tender age of 17 years, without an adult to accompany him…a bold move for a young man. He arrived in New York City, like so many other immigrants. Before too long he had made his way to Blair,Nebraska, where he met and married Julia Doll on December 16, 1902. The couple would have ten children, the oldest of which was Andrew, my husband, Bob’s grandfather. The family would eventually settle in Forsyth, Montana, where there are still family members living to this day.

But what of the German half of the Schulenberg family. They had a longstanding heritage in Oldenburg, Germany, where the family owned a farm since 1705, when the first known Schulenberg owner,SS Moltke Johann Schulenberg shows up in records as the owner. The farm was rather large and still stands to this day. It has been well maintained, and is in fact, more beautiful today than it was when Johann owned it. I’m sure that has to do with all the modern equipment and products we have today to enhance the natural beauty of a home and its grounds. Nevertheless, the farm was a productive place in 1705 too.

The furthest record of the family line that I have found to date is Vitter Schulenberg, who actually hailed from Schulenberg, Germany, where I expect the family originated, because as most of us know, before last names existed, people were known by the town they came from, such as Jesus of Nazareth. The Schulenberg family had been known in prior years as von der Schulenberg, which translates from Schulenberg, meaning the town of Schulenberg, Germany which is located in the district of Goslar in Lower Saxony, Germany, I don’t know if those people whose last name is spelled Schulenburg came from the same family or not, but I would expect that it is quite likely, because when people came to America, they were told to Old Schulenberg, GermanyAmericanize their name, and there was no regulation as to how to do that, so some went one way and others went another way.

I also found out that there was an older village of Schulenberg, which only appears in the fall, when the lake is at its lowest point. The lake (der Okertalsperre) or reservoir which was constructed in 1953, resulting in the flooding of the old village. That fascinated me. I found this picture of the ruins on Google Earth (taken by Harz Geist), and either there is not much left of the old village, or it was very small, which almost makes me wonder if it was originally a farm named Schulenberg, that grew into a village…but that is the subject of another story, for another day.  

Flying U RanchhandsYesterday, I came across some old pictures from my mom’s side of the family, and as I looked at the list Aunt Sandy had given me, I had to do a double take. It wouldn’t seem like it was such a big deal, because it just a picture of some unnamed ranch hands from the Flying U Ranch in Rushville, Nebraska. To someone who didn’t know anything about Rushville, Nebraska, this find would be nothing really, but I do know a little bit about Rushville, Nebraska, although I don’t recall ever having been there. I’m sure that seems odd…I mean, how could I know anything about this place if I haven’t ever been there? I could have studied about it I suppose, but for me, it is more about the people who were there at a certain time in history, than it is about the place itself.

I have long known that some of my dad’s family settled in Rushville, Nebraska. In fact, I have written about them several times. My dad’s Great Aunt Theresa Elizabeth Spencer and her husband, William Jonathan Davis lived most of their married life in Rushville, Nebraska, and had a big ranch there. Several of their children also had ranches in the area. The name of the Davis ranch was Pine Creek, and interestingly enough, it is currently for sale, with Fake Robberyan asking price of $795,000.00, a fact that I found a bit sad, because it is a bit of my family history, and it will soon be owned by someone new, if it wasn’t already.

I haven’t been able to find the Flying U Ranch so far, but I know that it is…or was…in the Rushville, Nebraska area. The Flying U Ranch was not owned by my mom’s family, but it could have been. The couple who owned the ranch was getting older, and they apparently didn’t have children or children who were still living or able to take over the ranch. They really liked my grandfather, George Byer, and they told him that if he would stay there, in Rushville, they would deed the ranch to him upon their deaths. I don’t know if Grandpa didn’t like the area, or if he thought it was too long to wait and not know when he would inherit the ranch, or if he didn’t really like the ranching life, but for whatever reason, he chose not to take them up on that generous offer. I’m sure they were sorry that he didn’t, but I don’t know who they eventually gave the ranch to or if they sold it, but it did not end up in our family.

As for me, the questions that remain, are more along the lines of…Did Grandpa ever regret his decision to pass on the Flying U Ranch?…and Did he know some of the Davis family, thereby tying Ranch hands 2the two sides of my family together long before the marriage of my parents in 1953. He obviously had some great times on the Flying U Ranch…after all, it was there that he and some of the ranch hands took pictures of their staged robbery. They must have enjoyed spending time together just goofing off. I also have to wonder how our lives might have been different, had Grandpa taken on the Flying U ranch? I had never really considered what it might have been like if we had descended from a rancher. I don’t know that I would change anything about my life, even if I could, but it is interesting to look at the possibilities when one reflects on the fact that it really is a small world.

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