Historical Details

Gagstetter Family History

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 10/16/2020


by Mrs. Walter Schnorenberg

My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Gagstetter, my brothers, Raymond and Rollie and myself arrived at Coffee Siding, Nebr. in March of 1910. The folks rented a house at Coffee Siding from a Mr. Baker, where we resided while the folks built the barn on the homestead.  My Dad had filed on 3 1/2 miles south of Van Tassell, 320 acres.

My folks owned a home at Phillip, S.D. which they disposed of and came with an immigrant car. We had lived in Dakota 18 months, originally coming from Sublette, Lee Co., Ill. where we three children were born.

Van Tassell at that time was only a box car and gradually came to be a thriving little town in the ensuing years.

The next day after we arrived at Coffee Siding, my Dad went to Harrison, Nebr. on train to buy the lumber for the barn and the house.  We woke up the next morning to what was to be a four-day blizzard, so bad you could hardly get your breath outside.  My mother weathered the storm back and forth to the chicken house, bringing the chickens in and putting them in the basement of the house as the chicken house was filling up with drifting snow. The horses and pigs were in the open, horses being tied to a feed rack and pigs in a small pen.

After the storm, the horses were stand­ing on snow banks with their heads tied down to the feed rack. The pigs were completely snowed under. We dug them out and they were snug and alive in one corner of the pen.

My brother Raymond and I attended school in the Rocks north east of Coffee Siding where a Miss Hanson taught. Attend­ing there were the Hansons, Yorks, Velma Rice Boyles and others.

Across the railroad track to the south, a Mr. King, wife and another lady lived.   He had a hold on the Railroad Company and dealt them loads of trouble.   I understood they did not buy a right to cross his land. He took everything the railroad unloaded on his property, charged rent on stock yards and I understood even charged for each train passing over it.   I do not know what became of the Kings after we moved, but evidently the railroad bought their land at their price and they moved away.

The folks built the barn first, parti­tioned the half off for the horses and we lived in the other half. We lived in it until they got the house built. Our neigh­bors, George Leonards lived in a tent while they were building their buildings.

We burned cow chips for heat and I can remember Mr. Leonard saying that's all he got done was fill the fire and take out the ashes. There were plenty of chips to gather, as the Van Tassell Ranch had lots of cattle and had grazed a lot of the homestead land and were not so happy with the homesteaders coming in.  Therefore we had to fence good to keep out their cattle.

Near neighbors coming in were to Leonards.  Maude Long and Mars McClellan, Alva Hollings, Harley Seegrist, Ed Leives, Conners, Lewellyns, Langdons, Winifred Seegrist, Maude Rice, Dallams, Humphreys all close neighbors.

The first school we attended was at Maude Rice's homestead house and she was our teacher for several years. Attending were we three, the Leonard children, Ceda, Mary and Irma.  They had two older children, Pearl and Fred. June Humphreys and Ruth Rodabough, her folks lived southwest of us and she boarded with Maude Rice during the school week.

Maude Rice later married Ernest Stevens.  Maymie and Carl Dallam then taught the neighborhood school. The Charles Calhoun children also attended when they lived on the homestead, as Mr. Calhoun ran the livery barn in Van Tassell.

George Leonard was land commissioner and my Dad located many a homesteader on his homestead using team and buggy until it got so far to go. Then he and Tom Christop­er coming from Valentine, Nebr. entered a partnership and bought two Buick cars to transport the people coming in.  They hired Jim Hill as a mechanic to keep them running.

We never knew when we could sleep on a bed and spent most of the time on the floor those years.  I can remember one night we had 26 men besides our family.  My mother had wall to wall carpet she had brought from Illinois.This was placed on the floor and they slept one next to the other.  My mother cooked for all these people and bedded them. I've often wondered how she managed, no washing machine, no conveniences whatever.

When the homesteaders moved in my Dad took care of them until they were settled. I can remember of two families building their houses in our yard and moving them to their homesteads.  Many went to town for supplies, spending the night at our house on the way home.

My Dad was also justice of the peace and Mr. Leonard, constable. I can remember of one of the homesteaders who took on the realty business, locating a widow, and when she did not pay the $40 location fee, he sold her homestead shack at a police sale.

My Dad and Mr. Leonard were subpoenaed to Cheyenne as witnesses. My mother also, as the papers went through them.  The man received a jail sentence for selling some­ thing off a homestead which she had evidently not proved upon.  It took two days to go to Cheyenne and two to come home.

Roads were not much at that time.

For entertainment we had dances at the Harley Seegrist home and at our house.   Many a school doings were held.   We three each had a horse which we used to harness and drive singly. We would attach a single tree to a large Russian Thistle, put a gunny sack on and ride all over the country.    When we came across a nice big thistle we would attach that one as they would wear out.  We never wanted for something to do and even though those first years were dry, crops were poor and we did not have much, we were happy.

The only time we had a doctor was when the folks built the barn.  My brother, Raymond, crawled up on the roof where my Dad and Fred Langdon had been working before they came in for dinner.  They had loosened the ladder and where he crawled up on it it came down breaking his elbow and injuring his shoulder.  My Dad took him to Harrison to Dr. Priest, in the wagon, having to make several trips.

Mary Wilson (Aunt of Fay Brunckhorst) was the first postmaster and I believe she had a small store.    Gradually we had two general stores.    Bert Peet, husband of Lillian Peet, owned one and H. L. Bushnell the other. Nick Van Sant had the butcher shop.  A. P. Steward the lumber yard, Lathrops had the hotel. The Van Tassell Booster was the weekly newspaper operated by Jim Mayes with the help of John Pendray and Edith Ammons.  Charley Williams operated a saloon and Romie Cunningham a pool hall, Charley Calhoun the livery barn, R. A. Mc­ Hale the blacksmith shop, Ed Walter and Will Ladwig owned and operated the garage.  Later Walt Adams bought Ed Walters out. The bank was owned by H. L. Hoyt and associates and Howell Jones was the cashier.  Catherine McCabe came and ran the drug store and post­ office in her home for years.    My Dad and O. I. Stenger both had real estate offices.

We attended school in Van Tassell one term and Tony Larson was our teacher.

I married Walter Schnorenberg on July 8, 1920 at Chadron, Nebr. going there and back by train as that year they had some heavy rains that had washed out the roads between Harrison and Crawford.

Walter's folks had located on a homestead eight miles straight west on county line, too. We lived with his folks for a time then moved on the Fred McDonald place south of Node for the winter while he was in Chicago.  In the spring we moved on the Carl Ferteg place and later bought the Fischer place where we lived until my mother in-law became sick and had to go to a T.B. Sanitorium for treatment.  We then moved to the Spaeth home and were there several years. Then after her death we moved to the 0. I. Stenger place formerly owned by Ed McKelvey. We lived there 10 years, then spent the year of 1929-30 operating the Van Tassell Hotel and Cafe. The fall and winter of 1930 and 1931 were spent at Milwaukee, Wisc.

In the spring of 1931 we moved to the Fred Thielbor place where we lived until 1941. We moved to Milwaukee to live with Dad Schnorenberg from June 1941 until Sept. 1942 when we returned to Lusk where we have since resided.

Walt worked for State Highway Dept., roughnecking and was Lusk's first paid garbage man, later going into sand and gravel and general trucking until his retiring in 1963.

Our three boys, Richard, Leslie, and Walter were born near Van Tassell, attended school there and in Milwaukee and Lusk High Schools.

My brother, Raymond, was killed in   June of 1955 in a wrecker accident.   Rollie married Helen Hammond and they now live in Redondo Beach, Calif. where they have a small business.

Richard served in the Navy in World War II.  He married Esther Vondra in 1945, they had two children. Diana, Mrs. Ronald Wilki­son, passed away Aug. 8, 1971 in a car
acci­dent leaving our three little great-grand children, Bradley 8, Kenneth 5, and Wendi 2. Bernie was in the U.S. Navy.    He operated R &   C Motors with Cliff Wilkison.   Leslie married Bette Morehouse. He was in the Army in anti-aircraft in Europe. They have four children, Mrs. Randy Ball (Cindy); Rodney, now in college; Carol and Carmin at home. Les is vice president of all western states for Petrolane Gas Co.

Walter Jr. married Betty Kelly in 1954.

They have two sons, Kelly and Steve.

"Babe" was in the Army during WW II and spent time on Guam and the Phillipines. He has been employed by Wasson Chevrolet the better part of his time since he married.

Names I can remember who lived south of Van Tassell and east and west, are:  the Ellicotts, Jaspers, Wolfes, Harders, Immesoetes, Tangens, Hennebecks, Wineys, Hazens, Ferd Branstetters,Gaskels, Peter­sens (Henry and John) and families, Newmans, Bush,Valentine, Foote, Rooney, Hurst, Werner, Rice, Nelson, Price, Britton, Meeker, Splittgerber, Harding, Burnham, Fischer, Brown, Tadewald , Baldwin, Sherk, Spaeths, Miss Lemon (Orin Zink), Meyers, Halferty, Des Enfants, Handke, Zielinski , McCabe, Dan Santa, Fertig Shaw, Erlewine, Wales, Perkins, Doolittles, Porters, Vaughns, McCormick,  Hebners, McKelrup, Herrens, Bass, Holmes, Thielbars, West, Jones, Siebkens, Calhouns, Rodebaugh, Hayes, Martin, Robeys, Vondra, Allens, Childers, Selders, Van Kleeks, Norris, Rider, Benshoof, Browder, Cornett, Glant, Holden, Chambers; most of these my Dad located.

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