Wednesday & Thursday, May 26 & 27
Loading the 5th wheel in the storage lot, to get it ready to live in for the next 4 months, is a process that requires loading the truck with boxes and bags filled with clothing, food, various supplies, tools and many personal items that we all use on a periodic basis but are easy to forget until you need it. After the truck is loaded and driven to the storage lot all this stuff has to be transferred into the 5th wheel and stored in the various drawers or cabinets. This process is repeated several times over several days and still it never feels like we have brought everything we need. I’m sure we’ll find out we have brought many things we don’t need and have left behind many things we wish we had with us.
I suppose it would be good to actually move into the trailer and live in it for about a month before leaving home. That way the stuff we really need will be on board and the stuff we don’t need can be returned to home. Well, regardless, we finally pulled out of the storage lot at 9:00 Thursday morning and pointed the rig west on I-70.
Our goal for our first day on the road is to reach Hwy US 136 in southeast Nebraska. We have traveled to Colorado so many times on I-70 (all the way) that I dreaded the idea of doing it again. Since we have a whole week before we have to be at Winding River Resort and we want to check out the “Heritage Highway” of Nebraska. US 136 runs for about 300 miles west from where it crosses the Missouri River at Brownville, NE. The highway is mostly very good two-lane asphalt or concrete with nice wide shoulders. Small towns dot the map along its length every 15 to 20 miles. Much of its length generally follows the route of the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express route from Independence, MO to San Francisco, CA.
Our first camp was at a city park in Beatrice, NE named Chautauqua Park. It was a really nice park with about 20 full hook-up RV sites. The sites were level concrete, wide and long enough to accommodate big rigs and the grounds were neatly trimmed and maintained. We liked it so much we stayed two nights.
After a good night’s rest Wednesday night we decided to explore the area on Thursday. We started by heading a few miles NW of Beatrice to the Homestead National Monument. Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law on the same day he signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. The Homestead Act declared that any citizen or intended citizen could claim 160 acres – one-quarter square mile – of surveyed government land. Claimants must improve the plot with a dwelling and grow crops. After five years, if the original people who filed were still on the land, it became their property, free & clear. One of the first takers was Daniel Freeman, a Union scout from Iowa. Daniel and his wife Agnes joined the post-Civil War wave of homesteaders who hailed from the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. Later came European immigrants lured by railroad companies eager to sell millions of acres of grant land and provide farm-to-market transportation. Daniel persuaded the land agent in Brownville, Nebraska to let him sign up shortly after midnight on January 1, 1863, the day the Homestead Act took effect, so Freeman could return to his Union regiment. His 160 acre homestead has become the Homestead National Monument.
This Homestead Act was in existence from 1863 until 1976 in the lower 48 states and until 1986 in Alaska. Thirty of the 50 states had homestead lands at some point during that time frame. And so the westward expansion was brought about.
Just down the road about a mile is the Freeman School. Some of the Freeman children were taught here. Before it closed in 1967 it was the oldest operating one-room school in Nebraska. It is restored to its 1890s appearance.
After lunch, back at the trailer, we drove about 20 miles west on US 136 and then south a couple of miles to Rock Creek Station, a Pony Express station along the route from Independence, MO to San Francisco, CA. The Oregon Trail crossed Rock Creek at this place as well and a man named S. C. Glenn established the place in 1857. Evolving from a small cabin with a lean-to and barn situated on the west side of Rock Creek, this “road ranch” catered to stages, freight lines and emigrant traffic on the Oregon Trail. The lean-to was set up as a primitive store, where hay, grain and supplies could be bought, sold or traded.
Rock creek Station might have faded into obscurity, like so many other stage and Pony Express stations, if not for what happened July 12, 1861. On that afternoon James Butler Hickok (Wild Bill) killed David McCanles there and began his career as a gunfighter. Rock Creek Station is now a Nebraska State Historical Park.
Returning to Beatrice at 5:30 we were looking for a café to eat supper in when I spied the Back Alley Eatery. We’re talk’n smoked chicken and country style pork – you can keep your Applebee’s, thank you very much!