"My trip was taken at the instance of Mr. I. B. Wambaugh, agent of the Dayton Emigration Association, who secured a free pass over the Indianapolis, Bloomington & Western, and Burlington & Missouri River, and Union Pacific railroads, from Indianapolis to Kearney Station, which is but four miles from Fort Kearney, Nebraska....I saw all the country my passes would carry me through, making good time and having first class cars in which to travel. My object in accepting this free ride was twofold: First, to see the country along the lines of these railroads in Nebraska...and inspect it as a field of missionary labor; second, a cheap way to visit our missionaries in Dakota Territory and Southern Illinois.
|George and Rebecca Cornell
members of the Dayton
"There are already about thirty claims taken, among whom are Mr. Collins and son, and two of the Mr. Smiths, who have built a two-story frame house thirty-two feet square, in which Mr. Collins lives and furnishes boarding and lodging for the Smiths, who are bachelors, and for newcomers, at $4.50 a week, as good as it can be had in Dayton at the same price. Messrs. Faddis, Mack, Comstock, Wilt, Cornell and Wambaugh, members of the Dayton Emigration Association, accompanied me to Kearney Station. All but Mr. Collins have taken claims, and at once commenced preparing them for homes, leaving their families in Dayton till this is done, except Mr. Wilt, whose wife and children went with him. Immediately across the river from their lands is Fort Kearney and a few miles below it Kearney City, both being in sight. Owing to a heavy rain I was prevented from going to these places....There are thousands of acres of good land near this place....One of the most surprising facts respecting this place is that last winter a large drove of cattle were herded the winter through without any protection but that which the bluffs, which are some distance from the river, afforded them. Around Kearney an abundance of good water may be had by digging from eighteen to twenty feet, and upon the table lands the same may be had by digging as much deeper as they are higher than the valley, say from thirty to fifty feet. The uplands are equally as fertile as the valley, and in some respects, more desirable.
"For further information respecting the Dayton Emigration Association and the advantages of uniting with it, address Mr. I. B. Wambaugh, Dayton, Ohio."
I.B. Wambaugh settled in Buffalo County, but later moved to Phelps County. George Cornell and J.A. Wilt lived the rest of their lives in Buffalo County. As to Faddis, Mack and Comstock, and other members of the Dayton Emigration Colony who came to Buffalo County, we have no further information.
Irene Rebecca Bishop Reynolds, a grand-daughter of Dayton Colonists George and Rebecca Cornell, has written for her family an account of her grandmother's life in Nebraska. In June of 1972, at age 83, she recalls the story as related to her by her grandmother, Rebecca Cornell, and her mother, Mary Cornell Bishop.
My grandfather Cornell was made president of the organization (Dayton Emigration Association) and was employed to head groups of men who went by train to investigate the possibilities in the territory along the railroad and in the towns that were springing up in central Nebraska along the Platte River. As a result, quite a colony from Dayton did settle in and near the new town called Kearney Junction.
My grandmother did not feel any desire to become a pioneer. They had a pleasant home with all the modern conveniences of those days and a freed slave as a household servant. However, Rebecca and her two daughters, Florinda, aged about 12, and Mary, about six, did move to Nebraska. She was leaving her lovely home, her parents, brothers, sisters, and other relatives and friends, as well as her church. I often heard her say she had always regretted leaving Ohio and coming to the raw western country where Indians, prairie fires, and wild cowboys terrorized the people. However, Grandmother had the fortitude that was needed to meet the problems of the pioneers.
I don't recall hearing of droughts in those early years, but their crops were menaced by hordes of grasshoppers. The skies became overcast as the insects flew in and swarmed over the fields and gardens and devoured all the vegetation. Also great flocks of large gray and white wild geese landed at the Platte River as they were migrating on their way north to their nesting grounds. In the early morning they would rise like a cloud and drop down on fields of tender green crops and utterly destroy them. Farmers and their families would run out waving old clothes to try to get them to leave. As they were driven from one spot, they flew to another. Their loud squawking and the fluttering of their wings made such a noise that voices could not be heard above the din.
There were no churches in Kearney when the Cornells came, but groups of different denominations met in the homes of others of like beliefs to worship, and they felt that God was with them in these services. Grandmother's church in Ohio had been the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She was one of those who were instrumental in forming the first organization of that body in Kearney. Before long they were able to provide a small church building.
Perhaps about 1890 the Cornells left the farm and moved into Kearney. Two other children had been born to them after they came to Nebraska. The family lived at several different locations in the city. Grandfather Cornell died in January 1907, and a few years later, Grandmother broke up her home and went to live with her daughter Mary and her husband, Will Bishop. Her possessions that she no longer needed were placed in the homes of her children and grandchildren. She died December 3, 1920 and was buried in the Kearney Cemetery, which is in view from the house where she first lived when she came to Nebraska. She was not quite 84 years old.
Among my earliest recollections are my visits to my grandmother's home. In my mind's eye, I can still see the pictures on the walls, the big clock which struck the hours with a melodious gong and other articles which I will tell of as I continue the story. All were cherished things which Rebecca had brought along from her beloved Ohio home and are now treasured in the homes of her descendants a century later. She often spoke of that home and there was a tone of sacredness in her voice as she related events of those days long ago.
There was the marble-top table, oval shape, about two and a half feet by two feet, as I recall. It has four carved legs that drop in somewhat of an inward curve from the wooden frame that supports the heavy marble slab. I remember it in Grandmother's large living room. The big family Bible rested on it. I was allowed to leaf through that Bible. Along with some pictures that illustrated familiar Bible stories, there were the records that told the births, marriages, and deaths of the family. My sister Crete's recollections are that a tall kerosene lamp stood on the table, resting on a green lace doily. The lamp had a green crystal bowl and a bulbous chimney of clear glass with floral designs.
I can still see the big wall clock that stood on a small shelf near by. It was perhaps as much as 28 inches tall and 14 inches wide. A large glass door was opened to wind it. I've seen my grandparents open the door and take out the crank-like key and insert it in holes, one on each side of the face, and turn it to lift the heavy weights which kept the clock running from day to day, and striking the hours. What made the clock most attractive was a picture of luscious strawberries painted on the lower part of the door, below the face or dial. How tempting that fruit looked in those early days when there was little fruit except the wild plums and grapes which were found along the creeks and rivers. It kept time in the Cornell household for perhaps 50 years.
An interesting wall hanging in Grandmother Cornell's living room was the hair wreath made some years before she came to Nebraska. Grandmother had had it made, using strands of hair from at least 16 members of her family. The hair was wound and laced through coils of fine wire forming different shaped leaves and flowers, some quite tiny and others larger. Some colors are blond and some shading to almost black. These were formed into an intricate design forming an oval wreath about 10 x 12 inches in size. In the center was written the name of Rebecca's parents, three sisters, seven brothers, her husband, and others we are unable to identify. The names are numbered and can be matched up with the different flowers on the wreath. This wreath is set in a deep wooden frame.
One antique that hung over a door was the framed motto, "No Cross No Crown," about three feet long and one foot deep. It is worked with colored yarn or thread on some kind of paper that has holes in it, much like little girls' sewing cards of today. It was made by the black woman servant Grandma had in her home in Ohio.
Another picture that hung on the wall of Grandmother's "sitting room" was one that was called "Lost in the Park." As I remember, I never tired looking at it as I lay on the floor when I was a little child, studying the faces of the two little girls dressed in their finery, clinging to each other. They were among dense, tall trees and their faces expressed their fear as some friendly deer came near them. It is a large picture, brightly colored, and in a neat frame with glass over it. When I was about nine years old I was very ill with pneumonia and my grandmother drove the fifteen miles from her home in Kearney to see how I was. As she was ready to leave she bent over my bed and told me to hurry and get well and when I could come to see her she would give me that picture. I was very happy to bring it to my home later.
A cherry wood drop-leaf table was brought to Nebraska from Ohio and was in Grandmother's dining room until she broke up her home. It still serves gatherings of the family, now down to the sixth generation from the Cornell grandparents.
A mirror, five feet by two and a half feet with a wide frame, was also brought from Ohio. It always hung in Granny's "front room." Other keepsakes include glassware, china, silverware and kitchen utensils; also articles of clothing, including her gray-checked wool shoulder shawl and a white apron. There is also a little glass thumbprint dish that was a wedding gift when the Cornells were married in 1860.
All of these heirlooms have been handed down to descendants of George and Rebecca Cornell, and are cherished and used in their homes.
The Religious Telescope, July 26, 1871; Kearney Times, July 20, 1876, Bassett's History of Buffalo County, Vol. II, 1916; Biographical Souvenir of Buffalo, Kearney and Phelps Counties, 1890; Grandmother's Furniture, by Irene Reynolds, 1972.
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