Historical Details

Childhood on the Prairie, Part 1

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 11/22/1956

by Nellie Snyder Griffith

The late Nellie Snyder Griffith, co-publisher of The Lusk Herald until her death in May of 1955, started writing a history of her life. she started writing the article at the insistence of her relatives but never wrote more than that portion about her childhood. She was a native of Niobrara county having been born on the old LZ ranch November 7, 1888.

Mrs. Griffith entitled the first portion of her article "Prairie Child."

Strange how the memories of a lifetime fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and form a picture which gives a panoramic view of the experiences and events with which one's life span has been filled.

This story is just that; incidents of a child's life on a western cattle ranch in the late 1880's and '90's; strange and interesting characters who helped to make up the group of friendships of those early days when Wyoming was young.

I wish so much now, that I had asked my parents many questions regarding the events of their early married life as pioneers in eastern Wyoming. But what is the past now, was just yesterday, today and tomorrow when we lived it and I never thought then that those incidents might be of interest in the years to come.

When I was old enough to realize what a vast store of knowledge I could have gleaned from my parents, in regard to the settling up of the west, it was too late. So I am relating these stories as I remember them from snatches of conversation, incidents impressed on my mind, and information gathered from old-time friends who helped me in the recollection of some of my childhood memories.

A young girl stood in the ranch yard, her upraised hand shading her eyes from the afternoon sun, as her gaze followed the wagon road which stretched like a great snake across the prairie. Far in the distance a cloud of dust signaled the approach of the Cheyenne and Black Hills stage coach. In time the driver would bring his "four-in-hand" down the slope to the ranch at a lively gait and then with a great flourish would rein the horses to an abrupt halt.

This was always an exciting experience. People from many walks of life were among the passengers in the coach - gamblers, adventurers, dance hall girls and school teachers; there was also the anticipation of letters from the old home in the east, news of loved ones and newspapers only a week or two old.

The year was 1885 - the ranch was known as the "Emma Ranch", named for the owner's bride; the girl who awaited the stage's arrival was Molly Vincent. She had come to the Wyoming Territory the previous spring from her home in Pennsylvania to visit an aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. F. W. Hamilton, who lived on a place located on the banks of the North Platte River several miles from Fort Laramie. The ranch was known as "The Government Farm" and acquired its name because the Hamiltons sold green vegetables to the fort. The soldiers suffered from scurvy caused by the lack of green foods in their diet, so there was a ready market for all the garden produce that could be raised.

Most settlers in those early days made no attempt to grow gardens, but the Hamiltons irrigated from the river and raised wonderful vegetables in the virgin soil.

The girl from Pennsylvania had come by train to Cheyenne, Wyoming, then by stage to Fort Laramie, where the Hamiltons met her with a buckboard and skittish team of broncs. It had been a delightful summer, life was gay and free, much of the social life of the community centered at the fort where every girl was "Belle of the Ball" and the young army officers vied with one another for the next dance.

The dances at the various ranches were no less enjoyable with the coyboys on the stampeding line.

School teachers were scarce and when Molly Vincent was urged to stay and take a school that winter, she accepted, partly because the salary was better than that paid in the east, but mostly because she liked the west.

The terms were short and during the following year she taught at the Emma Ranch, the Water Hole Ranch, the Rawhide Buttes Ranch and at one time in a low log building known as "Robber's Roost", which in earlier days had been a saloon.

The first school term she had three pupils, one from each of the first three ranches named, so she and the children would stay a certain length of time at one of the ranches, then she would take the children and move to the next and so on.

Her second year in Wyoming found Molly Vincent a bride.

The long ride of following in the dust of the trail herd all the way from Texas was over and one long, lanky cowboy decided to let the rest of the men in the outfit return south without him. He liked this new country to which he had come, this Territory of Wyoming with its far reaching plains and abundant grassland.

He got himself a job as a cowhand at the 4P ranch on the Platte River and little he thought then that he had thrown his destiny in with that of Wyoming for the rest of his lifetime.

He had been attending college in Georgetown, Texas, when a classmate decided to hire out to an outfit that was going to make a drive, taking a large herd of cattle north.

The prospect looked so full of adventure that Harry Snyder decided to forget his education for the time and also applied to the trail boss for a job, which he secured.

He didn't know it then, but he was part of the greatest migration of men and cattle to be made in the history of the world - those trail herds of longhorns that came from Texas north during the years from 1880 to 1890.

Although this migration lasted only the short span of a decade, it was one of the most romantic episodes of early western history.

The trip had contained much of both pleasure and hard, tiring work. The only amusement to be had was made by the cowboys themselves so practical jokes were played aplenty. Each day's drive was tedious, dirty, and the long hours spent in the saddle most tiring. Stampedes were caused so easily - a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder, a coyote slinking from out of the darkness could start the herd running in sudden panic and it was exhausting work for both men and horses to stop the wild flight.

The men of the night guard had to know how to keep the herd quiet and it was a lonesome tedious job. Most of the men sang as they circled the herd, their voice making their whereabouts known to the cattle so that any noise made by the horse or rider would not startle them.

Tragedy played a part in every northbound trailherd made during the years of the big cattle drives. Men, horses and cattle lost their lives fording the streams, especially when the water was high, and there were bound to be other accidents when so large a number of men and animals were working together, and there were still Indian encounters to add to the dangers.

After working at the 4P outfit for a time Harry Snyder decided to try freighting and drove the six or eight horse teams, bringing supplies from Cheyenne to Fort Laramie, a distance of some one hundred miles. It was a trip that exhausted both the horses and the drivers, especially in muddy or snowy weather or when overtaken by a blizzard.

After a few months he returned to the ranches where he was gay and happy, and the jokes and pranks he played as a young cowboy were still related long years afterwards by his friends of those early days.

He took to courting a young school "marm" by the name of Molly Vincent and the fall of 1886 when Harry Snyder accompanied a shipment of cattle to Omaha, Nebr., on the newly laid Chicago and Missouri Valley railroad, Molly Vincent followed a day or two later in the passenger coach, attached to the rear of a freight train. No matter that the roadbed was bumpy, one expected that, the seats were upholstered in lovely red plush, the girl was young, happy and in love, so the trip was fine and on November 4, 1886, they were married in Omaha, this young couple who were to become my parents.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Griffith, Nellie (11/07/1888 - 05/02/1955) View Record
Obituary Snyder, Harry (06/24/1861 - 11/23/1916) View Record