Historical Details

Whitman, Estle Rollo

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 01/22/2021


by Milton Whitman

My father, Estle Rollo Whitman, better known as E.R. of Whit, was born Oct. 16, 1883 at Warrensburg, Mo.   His folks were of mostly English decent. He grew up on the same place where he was born. He was the next oldest in a family of eight children, three of whom died in infancy.

Times were rough in that part of Missouri at that time, so as soon as the boys were old enough to help with the family income, they worked around the neighborhood getting what seasonal jobs they could.

Corn harvesting time was their busiest time. They worked by contract cutting and shocking the corn for so much a shock. (I believe there were 15 hills to a shock). The shocks had to be tied at the top with corn stalks. They boarded themselves while cutting the corn and if they were close enough they would go home at night; other­ wise they would stay on the place that they were working. The little villages were close together, so in the evenings after work they would go into town and loaf the evenings away.

Another source of his personal income was selling wood. His father let him have the wood off the home place. This he would cut up into stove wood and fire place size and haul it to Warrensburg which was 12 miles from home, to sell.

In Warrensburg there was a courthouse square (it is still there). The courthouse sat in the center of a block and around the block was a pole fence. He would park his wagon just outside the square, then would try to get somebody to buy the wood. Other farmers did the same so there were several wagons parked around the square. Sometime it would take all day to get his load sold so it would be pretty late by the time he would get home and the next day he would start getting another load ready.

In the fall, when the cane was ready to be harvested, he helped his dad make sorghum molasses. They made it for their own use and also the neighbors brought their cane over to be made into sorghum. This they made on shares and sold their share. It was quite a lengthy process making the molasses, and seems it had to be cooked nearly all day with a low heat and somebody had to be there all the time to keep the fire just right. To  pass away the time while he was cooking the molasses, he would make puzzles; some he whittled out of wood and others he made with nails and wire, and a lot of the time he just whittled.

When he was in his late teens, he worked with threshing crews in North Dakota. He said when he would come home from working in the wheat fields, his mother would make him wash all his clothes as well as himself with lye soap before she would let him in the house.

My mother was also born in Warrensburg, Mo., March 30, 1884 to Milton and Mary Sprague. She was one of six children. One sister, Louie Van Blarcum is still living. When she was born she was given the name, Lina Dot, because she was so little.

When she was just a small girl, her folks moved to Cortland in the southeastern part of Nebraska. After they lived there a few years they moved back to Missouri about 14 miles southwest of Warrensburg.

Both my father and mother attended the same school, which was called Tater Hill. It sat at the edge of a large wooded area. At that school they didn't have grades such as the first, second, third and so on, but went by readers, such as the first, second reader and so on.

Her family was rather religious. They attended church and revival meetings quite a little.

My father and mother were 23 and 22 years of age when my mother's folks decided to move west to Crawford, Nebr. My dad said they were going to wait until they got to Crawford before they got married, but Mom's dad said he would pay their way out, so they were married in Mom's home Nov. 1, 1906 and they all came out to Crawford on an immi­grant train.

When they had been in Crawford a short while, they hired out to Mr. McClain who owned a farm east of Crawford near Crow Butte. While on the McClain place, their four children were born: Elizabeth, now Mrs. Chas. Seaman, of Lusk; Milton; Esther, now Mrs. Walter Gibbs of Casper; and Hazel, now Mrs. Ollie Seaman, Harrison, Nebr.

In 1910 my dad took up a homestead 32 miles northeast of Lusk in the valley a half mile east of the S-Hill where they lived the rest of their lives. The com­munity became known as the Whitman community. At the time he filed on the homestead that part of the country was Converse County with Douglas as the county seat.  Daniel E. Goddard was the land commissioner who handled the paperwork for the homestead.

He and my Uncle Claudia Van Blarcum homesteaded at the same time and they built their houses one mile apart in sight of each other. They worked together building their houses, corrals and barns. They hauled the lumber from Crawford. Their route was north of Crawford a few miles, then west up the valley.

They were hauling lumber in October, 1910, and on their trip back to Crawford it happened to be on my dad's birthday. When they stopped on their overnight camp, They had frozen oysters for supper. He said that was the first time he had to eat frozen oysters on his birthday. It was a tradition with him to always have oysters on his birthday. it was a tradition with him to always  have oysters on his birthday.

In the spring on 1911 he moved the family from the McClain place to their new home in Wyoming. He used a hayrack to move their goods and family.  Two other families moved the same time: my uncle Claudia; Aunt Louie and their two daughters, Frances, now Mrs. Ralph Berg of Lusk; and Genevieve, now Mrs. Fay Swope of Lusk; and Mr. and Mrs. John Swope and their daughter Edith.  It made a three vehicle caravan from Crawford. Mr. and Mrs. John Swope stopped off at their homestead about seven miles northeast of home.

Their main furniture they brought with them to their new home was two iron bedsteads, an oblong expansion type table and four high back chairs, a wood burning cook stove and heating stove, a glass door cupboard, an organ and a five gallon crock dasher butter churn, The furniture, harness, saddle and son grain just about filled  up the two room house which was all that was built at that time.

During that summer my dad and uncle each dug a well, They build a windlass and pulled the dirt up in a bucket. They dug the wells down about 40 feet but only got a small trickle of water, however it was enough for the house use and water their work horses. They each hewed a watering trough out of a log about 12 feet long. these troughs lasted a long time. i was in high school when ours finally became unserviceable.

The livestock they moved up with was one team of horses, named Clyde and Charlie. They were a matched dapple grey team, one saddle horse called Penny and I believe two milk cows.

After they had been on the place a short while and started breaking sod, he traded Clyde and Charlie to James Christian for more horses.  He kept Penny to work and ride.

To get money to buy groceries and clothing, my dad and Uncle Claude worked away from home quite a bit. In the summer they worked on farms near Crawford, Neb. and in the winter they worked at sawmills. At that time there was activity in that line of work around Harrison. One winter they spent quite a lot of time at a sawmill on the Preddy place in the Monroe Canyon north of Harrison.  One fall they worked for the town of Lusk digging ditch for water mains and sewer.

There were several of the neighbors working in Lusk at the same time. They started out by contracting, getting so much per foot. Dad said they made fair wages while they were down on the flat land, but when they got closer to the hills on the north and west side they got into rock and they hardly made enough each day to pay Mr. Vollmer to keep their picks sharp, so they went to work by the day.

To communicate back and forth while Dad and Uncle were away from home, Mom and Aunt Lou would hang a dish towel on the clothes line if they wanted one or the other to come to the place. If we were to go up to Aunt Lou's place, Mom would put us kids on Penny and go up, and if Aunt Lou was to come down home, a lot of the time Mom would put us kids on Penny and go up and then putting Frances and Genevieve on Penny with us for the trip back home. One time while the men were away, Mom saw a white animal wandering around by the barn. She didn't know what it was so she hung the dish towel on the clothes line and in due time Aunt Lou, Frances and Genevieve got down there. They put the animal in the barn and kept it there until the men came home. Somebody had moved a band of sheep down the valley and one ewe quit the bunch there at the place.

A year or two after the folks had moved on their homestead other people began to come in and a community began to grow.

The first telephone line they were on was in 1912. The only one over on the line at that time were Sam Thomas, Sr., Sam Thomas, Jr., Arthur Thompson, Claude Van Blarcum, John Burke, James Christian and the folks.

Some of the early problems they had besides the elements, heat, droughts, hail storms and long cold winter nights were keeping the range cattle out of their crops. Fences didn't seem to stop the cows if they wanted to go through and Mom and Aunt Lou were afraid us kids would get bitten by rattlesnakes, which in those days there were plenty of.

As the community began to grow, social life began. There were neighborhood dances, Sunday get-togethers and they made a social time when there was work to be done when it took more than one to do it.

On their Sunday visits, one or two families would be visiting some neighbor and before the day was over, usually just before noon meal, two or three other families would come. The kids played games outdoors and older folks visited and played cards until late afternoon; then they would hitch their horses to their wagons and head for home. Usually there was a little excitement at hitching-up time. It seemed there was always one or two colts being broken to drive, so they always gave the crowd a good send-off.

The day of the neighborhood dance the family would spend the day moving all the furniture out of one room. Another room was fixed up to put the kids to bed in. The rest of the neighbors spent the day baking buns, cooking meat for sandwiches and baking cakes. I always thought my mother made the best buns. She was a good bread baker and she always put sugar in her buns. That night before the dance started, the floor manager, as he was called, put slices of paraffin on the floor to make it slick. Of course, most of the kids had to have chunks of it to chew. They danced the waltz, two­ step, schottish, square dance, polka and what they called the rag. The rag was just sliding around when you couldn't dance the other dances. Charlie Swope furnished the music himself. He would start playing the violin about eight o'clock in the evening, and except for the midnight supper break, he never took a break.  I always thought he went to sleep about 3 o'clock while he was playing the Missouri Waltz, because that was an awfully long dance.

When dad was home during the winter,a lot of the time was spent hunting rabbits, which were used as food. Also, in the spring the neighbors would spend several days digging out coyotes dens.

It was in the early spring of 1913 that he killed his grey wolf. Some neighbors to the north of us saw the wolf coming south.

He got on Bill with just a rope around her neck and went to meet the wolf with his 30-30. He killed it just north of the house about a mile. In 1917 another grey wolf wandered in from the north. We kids met him about a half mile north of the house while we were going to school. Need­ less to say we gave him a wide berth. My dad saw him about 10 o'clock that morning lying beside the cattle trail leading to water. He killed him and had his hide made into a rug which we used many years.

In the winter of 1912-13 the family went back to Missouri and spent several months visiting, my Uncle Roy and family came from Washington and we all went back together. I thought that was the longest train ride. My dad got Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Chard and their two boys, Arloph (Mike) and Bunny to stay on the place while we were gone.

When the folks moved to Wyoming their post office was at Arid, across the state line in Nebraska. In 1912, when the government was going to do away with it, my dad applied for the position as postmaster. He was commissioned and the post office was moved to our home and remained there until 1916 when it was done away with.

There was no mail carrier, so whoever went to Harrison brought out the community mail and it was distributed from the post office. Between 1916 and 1923 there was no post office and the neighbors picked up the mail at the place of whoever picked it up. In 1923 the Whitman, Wyo. post office was established and my dad was commissioned as postmaster and my mother as assistant. It was discontinued in 1953. The government retired my dad who was at that time 70 years old, and extended the route north about three miles then back into Harrison so the patrons of the post office could get their mail on the mail route.

During the latter part of the 19's the country was pretty well settled up and most everyone was farming and raising grain.

During threshing time it took all the neighbors to help each other get their threshing done. At first the grain was bound - then stacked. Later in the fall when most of the other work was done they would thresh the grain.        The first machine they used was one powered by horses. Five or six teams were hitched to a turntable; from the turntable a tumbling rod ran to the machine that did the threshing. It took one man on the turntable to keep the teams moving, one man cutting the twine from the bundles, one man handfeeding the grain into the machine, a man on the straw stack to keep the straw away from the straw elevator, a grain bailer and a couple of men on the grain stack. When the horse powered machine outlived its usefulness, August Ring came around in the fall with his machine and did the threshing. In the early 1920s the neighbors formed a company and bought their own machine, then started threshing out of the field. The women named it the Owl Eye Threshing Company be­ cause the machine was never stopped until they couldn't see to thresh anymore, then it was started again at sun-up or as soon as the grain was dry enough to thresh. That time of year there wasn't much dew.

This period of threshing lasted through the 20s, but began to taper off pretty fast in the early 30s then played out altogether.

Chicken was the main meat served for the threshing crew and to add a little fun at meal time it was always a race to see who would get the gizzard - that is if they were put on the same platter with the rest of it. Sometimes the women would put them in a separate bowl and when they were passed around hardly anyone would take one, then the kids would get to eat them. 
In the fall of 1918 my dad got his first car, a Maxwell touring car.  There were two or three other cars in the neighborhood, probably Model T Fords. The day W.J. Lacey (from Harrison) brought it out to demonstrate he missed the road that went to our place and took a road that went east of Van Blarcum's place.  Just east of the house was a deep sandy draw he had to get over to get to the house. My dad and I were watching him and when Bill drove down in the draw Dad said if he gets out of there without being pulled out that will be the car for me.   The car came out on its own power and before the day was over my dad had a new car and Mr. Lacey had a few head of steers.

The State Fair started in Douglas the next day so Mr. Lacey said he would drive it to Douglas to show Dad how to drive it. Frank Moore and Uncle Claude went along.

Frank owned a Model T so  he was some help in driving. Mr. Lacey left them at Douglas so they were on their own with the new car.

The next day when they started for home it started to rain and kept raining. The roads being what they were in those days all three learned to drive the new car in mud and all three learned what it was like to get out of mud holes.  They took two days getting back from Douglas. Getting the car was a turning point in the grocery buying. Before that both Mom and Pop bought the groceries but when he got the car he told Mom she would have to buy the groceries because he would be too busy with the car.

While we kids were in grade school my dad was always on the school board in one capacity or another and he was always on the election board until Hat Creek became the voting place.

At Christmas time he always had a part in the school program as Santa Claus.
One Christmas program his true identity was revealed. Right in the middle of his giving out the gifts and candy, Bob Hughes, who was in the second or third grade, hollered out, "That isn't Santy Claus, that's ol Whit, I see his shoes".   Most of the kids didn't believe Bob so he still was Santa Claus for several years after.

While the state brand and inspection was handled through the Sheriff's office, he was a brand inspector for that part of the county.

His hobbies included playing horse­ shoes, checkers, cards and working puzzles.

One of my mother's jobs besides taking care of the garden, the family, the house­ keeping, and helping in the field at certain times, was writing the neighborhood news for the Lusk Herald, the Harrison Sun (they were separate papers at the time), and the Warrensburg Standard Herald.  She wrote the news for the three papers for over 30 years.

She always boarded the teacher during the school term.  She always did a little extra for the teacher to make her feel  welcome and as much at  home as possible. It was quite an experience for some of the teachers that had come from more populated areas. Out there they were 30 miles from town.  Sometimes they didn't get  to  town for three or four months so it was quite an adjustment for them to make.

In the summertime when the wild fruit began to get ripe, my dad would hitch the team to the wagon, Mom would fix a picnic lunch and we were usually joined by Uncle Claud, Aunt Lou, Frances and Genevieve, and we would spend all day out gathering fruit. The next two or three days were spent in canning it, making jelly and what was left after the canning and jelly making was made up into fruit butter. Then sometime in the fall we always found a "bee tree" which we would get the honey out of.

The day before the 4th of July, Mom spent a busy day cooking up a lot of food for the big picnic. She always killed and dressed two or three chickens, made pies, cakes and always cooked a lot of potatoes for the potato salad.

Both Pop and Mom took an active part in the community affairs such as the Sunday School, community plays, any business the community was involved in, promoting roads and any other affairs of the community.

They joined with the county group that put on the "Legend of the Rawhide" pageant. That was the highlight of their entertainment. They both thoroughly enjoyed them­selves while they were with the group and it really meant a lot to both of them.

To sum up their life they had a full and rewarding life.They made a success as homesteaders and raised a family they were proud of.  They experienced both hard­ships and success, and the one thing we kids can thank them for was that we never knew hard times.    As difficult as the times were for them and the poverty and hardships they had, they never let us kids feel any of it.


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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Whitman, Estle (10/16/1883 - 02/27/1964) View Record
Obituary Whitman, Tina (03/30/1884 - 11/04/1969) View Record