Historical Details

Changes That the Railroad Brought Described in 1891

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 05/24/1956

In his diary, written by Mrs. Isabel Willson, E.B. Willson describes the area before, during and after the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad was built through the area. The following is taken from the diary.

Things went on quietly and satisfactorily for several years at the new ranch. But few new settlers came in before the building of the railroad in 1886. A couple of years earlier there had been a whisper about it from “somewhere in the east”. Then the rumors were confirmed by a party of surveying engineers, who set a line of stakes running west from Chadron, Nebraska. Not long after, a man who proved to be a grader came to the ranch, stayed overnight, and before leaving in the morning, he asked if we had any hay to sell. “I see you have quite a nice lot of hay”, he said. We told him we could sell some if we could get a good price for it. “What is it worth?” he asked. “About $15 a ton,” I answered. “All right, I will take ten tons at that price,” he said and pulled a handful of gold out of his pocket, from which he paid for the hay. A few weeks later it was definitely known that the Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley R. R. would be built thru the country hereabouts. Then there was a great influx of people into this region. The price of hay went up to $25 a ton and was sold by measure, as there were no scales available to weigh it. We set stakes in the stack to show each man’s share of purchase. When they went to haul it away they got all mixed up in their shares, of course, but no one got killed over it and all got their hay.

At that time the terminus was set at the point where the little city of Douglas is situated.
It is difficult now to visualize the counties of Converse and Niobrara all one then as the country then appeared. Few roads or trails, fewer homes or settlements, scarcely any fences and business centers, even post offices, almost none at all and those of the very simple kind. Then with the approach of the railroad, the map of civilization began to unroll towards the west and as if by magic, new settlers who were not the real pioneers, tho they call themselves so, flocked in and settled down on the cloud-shadowed plains of the Rawhide, Niobrara, Muddy and LaBonte Creeks. A large construction camp was located at Silver Cliff. Almost overnight a town complete in itself was the result. A tent–town.

Calkins started the publication of a weekly paper, in a tent, there were numerous restaurants and rooming accommodations, many saloons and plenty of barber shops, a jewelry and drug store, and with Ellis Johnson’s pioneer ironclad general supply store , a man could want but little here below that he could not get with cash or “hardware”. This construction camp was the forerunner of the town of Lusk, which was located by the RR company after the trains were ready to run and named for Frank Lusk and his mother, Mrs. Cornelia Lusk.
When it became known that the road was destined to run right thru the heart of the new ranch and the owner was to receive only a mere pittance in return for the damage done. Eugene felt greatly discouraged. They had put in so much careful planning and such desperately hard work and with the road going thru the whole length of the meadow, which was now under irrigation and yielding fine crops of hay each season, it was not fair and he could not sit down quietly and let it go without at least a protest. He went down to Cheyenne to ask a lawyer what he could do. Mr. Riner of the firm Corlett, Lacey and Riner, told him what he could do but gave no great encouragement as to the outcome. It was quite disturbing. At least it came to a suit brought against the RR Company. In time, this was settled in Eugene’s favor but even at that, it has always been a detriment to the ranch in certain respects, although no words can tell the manifold advantages which the railroad brought to the region at large and the ranch came in for its share of favors.

In April the work had advanced so far to the west that the Willson and Rasmussen cabin (became) headquarters for the F.E. & M.V. Construction Company. Eugene hired a good man cook and the crowd of engineers and workmen boarded there all summer. One of the engineers had a camera and was an adept at many of the tricks of photographic art and he quickly formed a friendship with Eugene. They passed many a happy hour together taking pictures of the cabin and the men about the place and later in a “dark room” developed the same. The glass plates of those early scenes still print out clearly, and show scenes around the ranch as it was at that time. One gives a good view of the large water wheel made and set up by E. B. in front of the cabin. Another is a very good picture of the pet antelope that Eugene had adopted and brought up from its babyhood. All this brought new interest and increased revenue to the ranch. So many new faces and voices around made life seem more cheerful. Often the head officers of the company would be there for a few days at a time, watching the progress of the new railroad.

When at last the first train whistled at the cut east of the cabin, I think the “Red-roofed-Runningwater-Ranch” house must have given a great sigh of satisfaction. It had helped in the building of that road.
The Willson & Rasmussen bands of sheep had increased in numbers by then. The owners had prospered. No longer need they haul their flour and baking powder, bacon, and beans from Cheyenne, on three-week trips with a four-horse team twice a year. Nor must they freight their wool-clip the 150 miles by mule-team. Nor go forty miles to Fort Laramie horseback to get a tooth pulled or to see a doctor if you got the “shingles”.
But the new settlers caused the diminishing of the range, threatening the future.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Willson, Isabel (09/20/1865 - 09/19/1955) View Record
Obituary Lusk, Cornelia (11/17/1832 - 04/22/1921) View Record
Obituary Johnson, Ellis (08/04/1845 - 02/14/1910) View Record
Obituary Lusk, Frank (04/27/1857 - 08/06/1930) View Record