Covered wagons bounce along as teams of horses and mules pull them across the prairie, over the rocky terrain and through water. Green flowing grasses blanket the ground and blue forget-me-nots line the clear, babbling brooks. People on horseback trot along as the landscape changes from flat, lush pastures to dangerous, steep bluffs.
It was like a scene out of the 1800s.
But the pioneers in this scenario were participants in last month’s Cheyenne to Deadwood Wagon Train and Trail Ride, featuring a group of Miller family members, including Leonard Miller and Melanie Miller from Neligh, and Pat Miller and Bethany Miller and her children Gemma, Kinley, Charles and Sloane, all of Elgin.
The five-day journey, sponsored by the Days of ‘76 Museum, started near Four Corners on the Wyoming border and ended at Deadwood, So. Dak. Their group traveled with about 30 wagons and at least 40 on horseback, Pat said.
“It was the old Cheyenne to Deadwood stagecoach trail,” Melanie said.
The Millers heard about the experience through one of their cousins who posted it on a family Facebook page.
“It was completely Luann, my husband Jim’s cousin,” Pat said. “We have a Miller family Facebook page that’s private to us and she put on there trying to get a bunch of us to go last winter. And once I decided I was retiring, I’m like, ‘Hmm, I could go on this now.’ And that got Melanie involved and then at the last minute, Bethany.”
Bethany said when there was a late cancellation, she decided to go.
“t was enough money that you definitely thought twice about it,” she said. “Then when Luann was like, ‘Somebody backed out, you can have their spot. I was like, well, how do you say no to that?’”
Since children were admitted free, Bethany was able to take all four of her children along as well.
There were 29 family and friends in the Miller group, which was part of an even larger group, totalling nearly 300 people from all over the United States. On this trip, all of the Millers were descendants of four brothers, Lyle, Paul, Harold and Berle.
“As I was getting ready to leave, somebody said, ‘Remember the Oregon Trail game? Nobody ever lived through that,’” Pat said with a grin.
Fortunately, this modern-day wagon train didn’t have any serious problems along the way, she said, but they did have to contend with severe weather at times. The second day of the trip, it started raining, and then the rain turned to hail.
“You have these huge draft horses attached to wooden wagons,” Bethany said. “And what happens when the horses get spooked and they’re attached to your only means of transportation for the entire trip?”
Pat said it was “pretty exciting.”
“They could’ve pulled it apart,” she said. “So there was one person stationed with each team, holding them down in the hail. And we didn’t know it was coming. So they didn’t have their rain gear out. I happened to have a raincoat in my little pack, but it was just a windbreaker thing. We just got soaked. Here were these guys that stood with the horses and they were just drenched to the skin. The ones with the riding horses took them into the trees because that protected them from the hail. We were in the wagons and it blew the hailstones halfway down the wagon. It seemed like it lasted forever, but it was like 3 minutes of hail. It felt like 3 hours. It just hailed and hailed.”
There was another instance when the horses started getting restless and things got a little exciting again.
“Every horse had their squirrely moments and our horses, kind of on a hill, started jackknifing,” Bethany said. “All of a sudden they were on the side of the wagon. There were all these kids on there with me. I was trying to decide if you go out, which way do you jump? Because I think the way you would have rolled, you would have gone over the edge of the hill. Thankfully, somebody got out and grabbed their harnesses and settled them down. That’s all they needed.”
A typical day on the wagon train involved less excitement and one where everyone had their roles to fill. They woke early in the morning in their tents and campers, grabbed a cup of coffee and got to work.
They said one group rolled ahead with their vehicles to the next site and were then bussed back. Another got the horses fed, watered, harnessed and hitched. The other group made lunches and ensured there were enough snacks and water for the day.
“Of course we did some peanut butter and jellies and stuff like that, but it was neat because some of us made fruit leathers, canned meats and things like that,” Bethany said. “Things like they might have had.”
By mid-morning, the wagon train was ready to hit the trail. People rode in covered wagons or rode on horseback. The path varied from dirt roads to cowtrails to paved roadways, but the route was largely cut through privately-owned land.
“I would say it was about 90 percent on private land,” Pat said. “They told us one of the reasons the fee was fairly high was because they had to pay right of way access through these lands.”
During the day, they stopped for short periods along the way, mostly water breaks for the horses, and arrived at their next destination around 4 p.m.
“We thought, ‘Oh, we’re here early,’ but it was always shocking how much time it took to get the horses harnesses off, get them watered, get them hay,” Melanie said. “And set everybody’s tents set up.”
Bethany said that’s why the catered meals in the evening “were a God-send.”
“We would eat by 5-5:30 and go to bed early, like 8-8:30, we were tuckered out,” she said.
Pat said they usually dressed in layers, with tank tops, sweatshirts and jeans due to the cool mornings. However, on the final day, they looked like true pioneers traveling on a wagon train.
“The last day, on our descent into Deadwood, we were all dressed to the hilt in period costumes,” Bethany said. “But nobody got to see us because all the rain flaps were down on the wagons because it was raining so much.”
She said she felt like they “got a really good taste of what a wagon train would have truly been like” and was glad her children could experience it. The kids loved making prairie dolls out of fabric strips with a walnut for the head and hand-grinding the coffee beans.
“That’s what I wanted my kids to experience, going without things,” Bethany said. “We had to adapt to our situations the entire time. That was a really great experience for them.”
Melanie said the interesting thing was, no one tired of it.
“It was essentially the same thing day after day, but with different scenery and different terrain, but it never got old,” she said.
Pat said she “just felt like this was a once in a lifetime thing.”
“Because I don’t know if (Luann) will actually do it again,” she said. “And it was just something I needed to experience once. I looked at it as an adventure. I didn’t look at it as a vacation as much as it was an adventure. Now, I had a camper to sleep in, so that’s how much I adventure.”
Melanie agreed that it was “totally a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“I don’t have horses,” she said. “I’m never going to spend that kind of money on something like this. The fact that Lu was so incredibly generous to invite us on her bucket list adventure, for me, I just had to go. And for me it was just about family.”
Bethany said “the scenery and working together to get to the end” were her favorite parts.
“It was kind of like a mini survivor,” she said. “We got to take more than one item, but I thought it was pretty awesome.”
Pat said she used to “play wagon train” when she was a child, so it was like fulfilling a childhood dream.
“That’s a little known secret,” she said. “I would get on my bed and imagine it was a Conestoga wagon. I would bring all my dolls and we were headed across the prairie.”
Pat said when she asked the children on the trip what their favorite part was, one of them answered, “Getting to know my cousins.”
“That tickled me to pieces,” she said. “For me, I think it was being unplugged for six days. It was just really nice. Not getting up and watching that 7 a.m. news and going, ‘What is going on in this world?’ Not worrying about anything, but just how to eat and how to sleep and just being apart from the world a little bit.”
The Pope John students will hold a paper drive on Saturday, September 15.
Those in the Gonzaga and Joshua Houses are in charge of the project. The following are the contact persons:
Clearwater …………………Blake Hupp……. . .(402-336-6556)
and Rural St. John and Ewing
Neligh………………… . . .…Layne Bullock. . . . . . .(402-929-0157)
Petersburg …………….…Kyle Schumacher. . . . .(402-386-5202)
The students will collect:
1.NEWSPAPERS, PHONE BOOKS, PAPERBACKS and SHREDDED PAPER
2.MAGAZINES, SLICK PAPERS and MAILINGS
3.ONLY FLATTENED CEREAL BOXES, etc., of that quality
1.If at all possible, please have papers bagged, (brown bags or plastic bags).
2.They may NOT collect:
-corrugated cardboard boxes
-hard covered books, unless the covers are removed
-spiral notebooks, calendars, manuals, unless the spirals are removed
Please have the materials at the pick-up locations by 8 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15, or placed in the protected area in front of the St. Boniface Gym NO SOONER than FRIDAY, but NO LATER than 10 a.m. on Saturday.
The 6th Annual Elgin Car Show will be held in conjunction with the inaugural Treasurers in the Park event on Sunday, Sept. 9 in the Elgin City Park.
Local crafters and home-based businesses will be on hand for the first-ever Treasures in the Park, sponsored by Elgin's Young N Lively group. A lunch stand will be on site as well. The event will run, rain or shine, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The car show is open to cars, pickups and bikes and will begin with registration in the park at 10 a.m. on Sunday. The show will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. A "Best In Show" award will be presented for car, pickup and motorcycle divisions.
Pope John XXIII Central Catholic students in grades 9-12 recently welcomed 2016 Pope John graduate, Terri Seier.
She visited with students about her recent studies abroad in Taiwan. Seier talked to the students about her interest in traveling, how she obtained scholarships to be able to go abroad, and her adventures while in Taiwan.
She is currently a student at Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln and is an English major. She is the daughter of Paul and Shawn Seier of Petersburg.
Ten Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School students were mandated as lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC) on Wednesday night at a special 7 p.m. Mass.
Archbishop George Lucas, along with many area priests, conducted the mandation at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Norfolk. The Archbishop thanked the students for their willingness to serve both their school and home parishes.
Students mandated were Breanna Bartak, Simon Beacom, Brynn Dilly, Luke Henn, Kayce Kallhoff, Faith Kinney, Conor Ramold, Maddie Schrage, Lauren Seier and Kyle Schumacher. The group will serve their home parishes of St. Boniface in Elgin, St. Bonaventure in Raeville, Rural St. John's near Clearwater and St. Francis of Assisi in Neligh.
The Federal Aviation Administration has closed the investigation of an incident involving an airplane west of Elgin this summer.
FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said the investigation was closed “as there was no intention of flight.”
“The National Transportation Safety Board looked at the event and the pilot statements, and determined that the pilot did not intend to fly,” the spokeswoman said. “He had stated he was only warming the engines. That means the event was not an accident or incident that the NTSB or FAA would investigate, as we handle aircraft that are in the process of flight. The NTSB closed it out, and the FAA followed suit.”
The investigation stems from a June 22 incident in which the Antelope County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call reporting a downed plane 7 miles west of Elgin near the Midwest Flying Service Building around 6:30 p.m. Officers from the Antelope County Sheriff’s Department, Nebraska State Patrol and Neligh Police Department responded to the scene.
A search was conducted at and around the scene for the pilot and no one was located. According to the Antelope County Sheriff's Office, Tim Grothe of rural Elgin was believed to be the pilot of the downed plane. Grothe's family members were contacted, and at 8:41 p.m., officers at the scene were advised that the pilot was uninjured.
FAA investigators arrived at the scene the following day and conducted a lengthy investigation.
With all of the things going on in today’s world, Elgin Public School officials have been looking at security issues for several years, according to Superintendent Dan Polk.
Chain-link fences and a new buzz-in system may have looked intimidating to students on the first day of school, but have since become the norm at Elgin.
“The students, and the public for that matter, had heard all kinds of rumors of big fences and crazy security measures; but I think the actual implementation has been pretty ‘underwhelming,’” Polk said. “We are just five days into the new plans and usage, and it is going much better and easier than anticipated. The kids have picked up routines and combinations seamlessly and we have had many positive comments from parents and patrons. I'm sure we will have some changes to make here and there, but we are quite pleased so far.”
He said the four buildings on a campus that stretches out over two blocks in Elgin presents significant challenges.
“While we have an extensive set of cameras for surveillance, we have been trying to come up with something more immediately effective, while at the same time, not inhibit students from traveling between all four buildings as many of them have to do daily,” Polk said. “After working on it, re-working and discussing over the last couple years, we decided to use several different concepts together to try and make the campus more secure.”
He said the school had “a lot of fencing already on the one block with the three buildings and also had combination locks, for public use reasons, on the gym building and weight room.”
“By simply closing in the fencing around the three buildings with certain access gates, we could significantly limit accessibility to any building at any time without locking all external doors and having a vulnerability when traveling between buildings,” Polk said. “The fencing and gates allows the three buildings to be an enclosed area where students and staff can freely travel between. By then putting a buzz-in system on the main office and two combination locks on the gym building, that change at certain times during the day, we secured the campus substantially to the outside world."
For all threats, whether they be internal or external, he said they have also allowed staff members to have resources to confront any severe threat that might be imminent, but for obvious reasons, are not making that information public.
“I think it is logical to say that while a determined individual is impossible to stop from some kind of mayhem, the steps the Elgin School Board and administration have taken make the campus substantially safer, even if it is just a matter of giving us a few more seconds or minutes to act on our safety plans,” Polk said.
As summer winds down, the American Red Cross urges individuals to give blood now and help end an emergency summer blood shortage that began last month.
Elgin is offering a blood donation opportunity on Wednesday, Aug. 22 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 117 S. 2nd St.
A critical need remains as many regular donors delay giving to take final summer vacations and prepare for school to start. To ensure lifesaving treatments remain available for patients in the coming weeks, donations are needed now, especially type O.
In thanks for helping at this urgent time, all those who come to donate blood or platelets July 30 through Aug. 30, 2018, will receive a $5 Amazon.com Gift Card via email. (Restrictions apply; see amazon.com/gc-legal. More information and details are available at RedCrossBlood.org/Together.)
Make an appointment to donate blood by downloading the free American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Those who donated blood earlier this summer may be eligible to give again. Blood can be safely given every 56 days, and Power Red donations can be given every 16 weeks.
It was a night of fun and community.
The National Night Out event, sponsored by the Antelope County Does Care (ACDC) coalition, was held at the Elgin swimming pool on Monday night.
Attendees were able to swim for free, check out a fire truck and ambulance and eat brownie sundaes.
“National Night Out is a nationwide campaign to bring the local police force and the communities closer together,” said Tyler Stracke, prevention coordinator for the North Central District Health Department.
Stracke said ACDC, a substance abuse prevention coalition, utilized funding through a mini-grant out of Region 4 Behavioral Health to bring the event to Antelope County.
“Last year the coalition had the event in Neligh, but they decided that with the new pool in Elgin, it might be fun to try a new venue,” he said.
Stracke said local EMS, fire departments and law enforcement officers were invited to participate, as well as a few local businesses that have donated.
“We want to have positive interactions with the service departments of Antelope County and its community members, and hopefully this event continues for years to come and gets better,” he said.
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