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That Guy's Wearing Red, Too!

Exploring the State of Nebraska and its unique football tradition

Homesteads and Hooper History

I crossed the Rawhide Creek yesterday on the way to Hooper, a small town of about 800 people on the Elkhorn River about 50 miles north-west of Omaha. The first thing I thought of was the 1960s TV show called “Rawhide” which had Clint Eastwood among its cast members as well as a memorable theme song sung by Frankie Laine. “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’” were the lyrics than ran through my head as I crossed the bridge over the stream. I was on my way to find out more about the town where my wife’s paternal grandparents were born and raised, but I was also to learn that the origins of the name of creek I had just crossed were far removed from the romantic picture in my mind of cattle drovers crossing the prairie on the way to market.

However I did find a very warm welcome from the good people of Hooper as they offered their help in my quest to learn more
about the German immigrant family who had settled and homesteaded in the area in the mid-1860s. Cherie at the Library was most helpful, as was Joyce at the City Office who showed me where I could find the grave of my wife’s great-aunt. Reading about the development of the town was an eye-opening history lesson for this Aussie, and I was amazed to think that 150 years ago the area had just been opened up by the advent of the rail line bringing settlers from Germany and Scandinavia while native Americans looked on.

It was during this early period that a certain band of settlers from Wisconsin decided to travel east to Nebraska to create their own homestead. Apparently one of their number, a foolhardy chap named Easterbrook, bragged that he “would kill the first Indian” he saw. When the group camped overnight on the banks of a small stream, a Pawnee woman walked by with her infant and was duly shot by Easterbrook. It wasn’t long before a large group of Pawnee came and took the entire group prisoner, demanding that the murderer be handed over. In due course Easterbrook was handed over, and the Pawnee flayed his flesh raw before eventually killing him.

While researching the family tree I also learned the origin of another name that had long puzzled me: the Republican River. At first I had imagined that it was populated by fish who all wear red ties, and then I decided that perhaps the name was derived from the fact that all of the fish swim on the right side of the river. However it turned out that the name came from the early white settlers who admired the republican-style system of government used by the Pawnee who lived in the area.

But my disappointment about the lack of a local connection to 20th century TV was overcome by a local connection to 21st century film when I learned that some of the scenes in the movie “Nebraska” were filmed at the Sodbuster Saloon in Hooper’s Main Street. I would have been puzzled by the name “sodbuster” if I had not read that many early settlers, including my wife’s great-grandparents, built their first homes out of grass sod that they dug from their land. Apparently the walls would be built from rectangular pieces of sod about 4 inches thick, stacked on top of one another, with the internal walls later being plastered and a sheet of muslin being used to provide a ceiling and catch stray insects, rodents and raindrops that made their way through the roof. Not surprisingly, the muslin ceiling would have to be washed every week or so to keep it clean.

Adding to the hardships faced by the early settlers was that the same Elkhorn River which made the area so fertile for farming also flooded periodically, inundating the town and low-lying areas. For example the telephone exchange which had been founded in the back of a grocery store in 1902 was flooded several times and eventually was rebuilt and relocated on higher ground in 1963. Today I had the pleasure of meeting Ron the technician who is responsible for operating and maintaining the telephone system, covering some 800 square miles single-handedly. Naturally Ron is a Big Red fan, but he will be unable to watch tomorrow’s game against Northwestern because he will be watching his son compete in a band competition. With any luck, and if his work schedule permits, he may still be able to find time to compete in the 2nd Annual “Pull My Finger” Chili Cook Off contest a couple of weeks from now.

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