Historical Details

Summers, Peter Nicholas 1862-1932

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 01/26/2021


by William Clark Summers

About the turn of the century, Pete N. Summers participated in the frontier settle­ment of three states probably all within 50 miles of the point that joins Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Between 1886 and 1901 records are a little vague, but we do know that Pete "punched cattle" around the tri-state corner area of Fall River County, South Dakota, Sioux County, Nebraska and Converse County, Wyoming. He filed on a Timber Culture Claim, (application No. 1392 Alliance, Nebr.) August 28, 1889 for 160 acres in Sioux county.   He obtained a Patent Na. 1924 dated Jan. 11, 1904 on this land.  Whether he lived on this we do not know. However, we do have record that he lived neighbor to William and Anna Cole, Alexander and Jane Wallace, Walter B. Woodruff and families all of whom held homesteads in the southern most tier of townships in Fall River County, South Dakota immediately north of his Sioux County timber claim.

For about six years (19·01-1907) he ranched on Old Woman Creek in northern Converse - now Niobrara County. He applied for a Desert Entry on 320 acres, Oct. 11, 1901 astride and extending one mile along the creek, 12 miles north from the Hat Creek Junction on U.S. Highway No. 85. These lands are now part of the John DeGering Ranch.

Pete proved up on the northern quarter sec­tion under Patent No. 851 of Converse County, signed by Teddy Roosevelt, president of the U.S.A.

As the result of hard times, crop fail­ures, etc, Pete was forced to relinquish the upstream 165 acres in Mar. 3, 1904 under failure to make "yearly proof of notice".

Peter Nicholas Summers was named after Rev. Peter Nicholas Sommer, his great, great grandfather, the third Lutheran Minister to come to New York Colony, and to locate in 1743 in what is now Schoharie, N.Y.  Inci­dently, the 230 year old Parsonage of the Rev. P. N. Sommer still stands  It has been named in the National Register of Historic Places and has been restored by the Colonial Heritage Group of Schoharie County, New York. It is recorded as the oldest standing struc­ture in the county.

"Pete" Summers, as all knew him, was born near Bluff Springs, Cass County, Ill. Dec 22, 1862, son of Charles Henry and Sarah Alexander Summers.   His parents were farmers and they migrated to Cass County, Missouri, then Riverton in Fremont County, Ia. and to Vesta, Johnson County, Nebraska. At age 22 he started out for himself, farming in Johnson County.

Bertha M. Plunkett of Harrison wrote: "In  1886 he came to Fall River County, South Dakota near the Nebraska line. He engaged in ranching as a cowboy as they say ‘punching cows'.

"He lived the life of a true pioneer, camping out on the plains, sleeping on the prairie. He seldom slept in a house at night and often went to sleep to the call of the coyote howling on a hill, or the call of a wolf. He kept his eyes open, his  ears alert   and his hand ready for his six-shooter".

"Pete lived for a few years in southern Fall River County, South Dakota and he and a puncher by the name of Willie Richardson went into the horse raising business. They both got tired of living on sour dough biscuits, sow belly and rabbit. In 1887 Pete decided to quit batching and look for a cook. While on a trip with a train load of cattle he stopped in Fremont County, Ia. where he met and married the pretty auburn haired, Miss Mary Easley"

They went back to the tri-state corner area and began ranching under the remote hardship of the times.

It must have been a lonesome life, at least under today's standards of automobiles, telephones, radios and televisions.

Pete was known to be a very friendly and a kindly man. The best way to describe his character would be to quote Mrs. Hall, wife of Jesse Hall, Station Agent for the then Chicago and Northwestern Railway Com­pany for many years in Lusk. Later the Hall's and Summers visited back and forth in their homes in Southern California.

In 1967, Mrs. Hall said to. me, "Pete was one to put on a bit of an air". "He tried for attention", and "spoke with a harsh-sounding voice".  Apparently his desire to be outspoken led quite frequently to the use of profane language.  He loved beautiful horses and the automobiles when they became popular. He had the Buick Agency in Harrison, Nebr. when he retired to California. In 1967 Mr. Hall states;

''Pete's mannerisms were typical of the West, a little rough of exterior, but  inwardly big hearted and magnanimous. I recall an example of it one time when Mrs. Hall and I were weekend visitors at my brothers' ranch northeast of Harrison. We lived in Lusk and my brother did not get us to Harrison in time to meet the train, so we were stuck for 24 hours.

Pete came along, and seeing our dilemma, said 'I'll take you to Lusk'. So he did, in his Buick car a 70 mile round trip, with some snow on the ground.    And, do you suppose he would take pay for it?

Not a dime. “

Mr. Edmond Cook, now living on the Cook Ranch a few miles east and south of the Hat Creek Junction on U.S. Highway 85 told the author that his father and Pete ranched in the general area about the same time. These ranchers both got their relatives and friends to file on Hat Creek, Indian Creek, and Old Woman Creek, up and down stream from their Patented lands in order that the large ranches could control the water in the streams for their livestock. Before  the days of the windmill, water was a major ranching problem.  We know that Pete Summers induced his sister Hattie Summers, within a month after he lost several lots to file on the same 165 acres.    She taught school in eastern Nebraska but traveled to Lusk each summer to "prove up". She held this quarter section until 1911 when she relinquished it to the Government for failure to "show year­ly proof". Holding on for 6 1/2 years in­dicates crop failures were allowed over and above the five year prove up period.

The ranchers persuaded the Government to allow filing for 160 or 320 acres contig­uously in strips as much as two miles long and as narrow as a quarter of a mile, as long as the land description corresponded with the G.L.O. system. This procedure allowed ranchers to fence along the quarter sections and hold the water rights for their stock.   Likewise it enabled them to "run" larger herds. "Some 21 miles of Old Woman Creek and seven or eight miles of Indian Creek were covered by these quarter mile wide homesteads." Pete owned 320 acres of the Ernest J. Jewett homestead on Indian Creek which he sold to Ed Cook's Mother, Christina in 1919. It is now a part of the Ed Cook ranch.

These two ranchers, Summers and Cook, raised horses for the U.S. Cavalry under contracts whereby the Government furnished the sires at the rate of one stud for 20 mares owned by the rancher.  When the colts were three years old, the Cavalry had first choice to buy.  The colt must be solid color, no bald face or white sox, be sound, of good health, and above all, broken to ride.   In general, the ranchers had too little time to break the colts to ride, so it was always a small rodeo the day the Cavalry came to buy the colts.  

                                                                                         The Cavalry's rules were: the cowboy must rope the horse in the corral, saddle, mount and ride the colt 300 yards out and 300   yards back. If the horse didn't spook or throw his rider, he was purchased at prices much above that of local going price by ranchers. There was often a little "hanky-panky" going on when a colt threw his rider in the test. Many times the colt was rounded up, put back in the corral, unsaddled and allowed to quiet down. In an hour or so the colt would be slipped out of the corral and put back through his paces, probably by the best rider. This time he might pass his test, if not the rancher would try him again later in the day.

The new remounts were driven overland to Ft. Robinson where new recruits in the cavalry must have found some pretty tough unbroken horses to rope, saddle and ride. No doubt many of them valued their life enough to put a running "W" rope on the colt until he was thoroughly broken to ride.

It comes to me from some source that Pete Summers furnished some horses to the Army at Ft. Keogh at Miles City, Mont. for WW I.

Sometime before Pete "proved-up" on his homestead on Old Woman Creek, 12 miles north of Hat Creek Junction, there was an unmatched incident that occurred in his life. We found in his family Bible, an undated clip­ping, probably from either a Douglas or Harrison newspaper that reveals that he could well have been buried in the Lusk Cemetery, than in Sunnyside Cemetery, Long Beach, Calif. The article is headed:


"Lightning Bolt at Lusk Encircled Man with Fire Without Injuring Him.

"Friday morning about 4 o'clock, P. N. Summers house north of Lusk was the scene of lightning's queer pranks, says the Lusk Herald.

"A bolt struck the building just above the iron post of the bed at the foot, in which Mr. Summers was lying, darted under the carpet to each roller of the bed, burn­ ed holes in the carpet, burned the window screen, split the casing into kindling wood, scattered
wallpaper all over the room and left Mr. Summers uninjured but very much shocked and benumbed. It then burst the casing of the west window in the south­ west bedroom, splintered the partition at the foot of the bed, tore the paper and plaster from the walls to the height of the bed at the head and went out the house up­ lifting the floor on the south porch."

His neighbors probably concurred that such a close call would tend to drive the less hardy souls clear out of Wyoming.

The patent for the "Summers Place", was signed Dec. 6, 1906, certified in Douglas, Wyo., county seat of Converse County, yet we find a warantee deed, P. N. Summers to A. L. Miller, filed Nov. 3, 1906 as evidence of sale of the homestead. There is also a news item in the July 19, 1906 Lusk Herald, "P. N. Summers w as in from the north yesterday and while here sold his ranch to Lee Miller." This seems to indicate that there must have been a 6 months delay in the certification of  proving up on the patent.

On March 25, 1907, Pete bought the base ranch of Walter Woodruff at the head of Jim Creek, close to Pine Ridge, about 9 miles north and 3 1/2 miles west of Harrison, Nebr., presently known as the Con Jordan Ranch, but at one time the Slattery Bros. Ranch. Mr. Summers built this ranch up from surrounding sections to 1,480 acres, all fenced and supplied with good buildings.

He cultivated about 50 acres, some of which were irrigated. While living on this ranch he filed on 80 acres adjacent to the ranch. It is said that his wife's health was poorly and so he sold this ranch in 1913 at a substantial profit and moved to Harri­son where he bought the Walter C. Reed place, just on· the north side of Highway 20. The house has recently been renovated and stands imposingly in its location.

In 1918 he sold this property and his Buick Agency and with his wife moved to 533 Esther St., Long Beach, Calif. He re­tired there and passed away Feb. 1, 1932. His wife Mary lived until Sept. 22, 1943.

Mr. Summers took an active part in the affairs of his locality."Pete" as he was familiarly known to all, was of an unusually genial disposition. He loved well bred horses and new automobiles. He was a mem­ber of the Masonic Lodge #277, Harrison.

One does not have to use much if any imagination to see that Pete, like many of his distant neighbors, qualified as a hardy pioneer.

These Summers' had no descendents.

His closest living relatives are those of his older brother, William Cazada Summers of Beatrice, Nebr. (now deceased).   His nephew, William Clark Summers of Billing, Mont. contributed this article from his research.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Summers, P. (11/30/-0001 - 02/01/1932) View Record