Monthly Archives: May 2015

Nebraska Historical Marker In Rememberance Of Our Ancestors Dreams and Hopes

Friday June 19, 2015.

We’re still at it and need your help!

Group Raising Funds for Nebraska Historical Marker on Highway 83

 Northloup, NE
Spot near North Loup River on Hwy 83 in where the marker may be placed.

Descendants of a legendary Sand Hills settlement, the Cherry County Historical Society and a Nebraska-born author are teaming up to have a historical marker placed along Highway 83.

The Nebraska State Historical Society recently approved a roadside historical marker for DeWitty, the longest lasting, most successful African-American rural settlement in Nebraska.

DeWitty — in later years called Audacious — was first settled in the early 1900s by a group of homesteaders along the North Loup River in Cherry County, just west of present-day Brownlee. They were taking advantage of the Kinkaid Act of 1904, which allowed settlers to claim 640 acres of land, or one square mile, in the 37 counties that comprised the Sand Hills.

Now that the marker has been approved, the group is trying to raise the $5,100 the state historical society requires as payment.

Donations can be mailed to or dropped off at or mailed to:

Security First Bank

PO Box 480

Valentine, Nebraska 69201

Make checks payable to: “DeWitty Historical Marker Fund.”

The first group of DeWitty settlers came from Overton, Nebraska, in Dawson County. But they were originally from the Buxton Settlement, Kent County, Ontario, where many escaped slaves and free people of color resided.  The settlement placed a high value on educating its children, an ethos they had brought from Canada. More than 100 families lived in the settlement during its roughly 40+ years of existence.

“The homesteaders of DeWitty were just that —Audacious,” says Catherine Meehan Blount, one of the Meehans’ last two living grandchildren. “They were Audacious for believing that the American dream belonged to them, too, and they were Audacious for committing all they had to attain that dream.  Remembering DeWitty pays homage to those who confronted barriers in the pre-civil war United States, in Canada and in the Nebraska Sand Hills with a ‘we can’ attitude. Remembering DeWitty gives anyone who knows their story a reminder that they can, too.”

Joyceann Gray and Marcia Thompkins great granddaughters of DeWitty homesteaders William P. Walker and Charlotte Hatter-Riley Walker, say:

“When we can clearly mark where our ancestors have been — and by name — we can ensure the full story will be told and we can then better understand the purpose of our journey.”



Example of Nebraska State Historical Society Marker


“This is really the tale of two communities: DeWitty-Audacious and Brownlee,” says Stew Magnuson, former Nebraska nonfiction book of the year winner, and author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma, which has a chapter on DeWitty-Audacious. “Relations between the two communities were by all known accounts, excellent. The mostly Danish settlers of Brownlee and the African-Americans in DeWitty held a July 4th picnic together every year. William Walker was the county Veterinarian supported both communities.

Some of the one-room schoolhouses were integrated. goldies-classroom                           Teacher Goldie Walker Hayes and her one room school

There is also another photograph in history books that shows the Brownlee residents on the day they came to help build the DeWitty Church. People had to depend on each other in that remote, harsh land,” says Magnuson.

Magnuson first encountered the DeWitty story in a Nebraska land Magazine article he found in his grandparent’s home in Stapleton, Nebraska when he was a teenager.

“The thought that there was a black settlement in the Sand Hills blew my mind because I had been raised on a diet of Hollywood westerns and TV shows that portrayed the American West as populated only by white folks and Indians. The towns and homesteads were in fact far more multicultural and racially integrated than the media and history textbooks have portrayed.I hope the sign does a little to dispel that myth,” he says.

Posted by Stew Magnuson at 6:12 AM

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Labels: African-American Homesteads, Audacious Nebraska, Cherry County Nebraska, DeWitty NebraskaNebraska State Historical Society


  1. Joyceann Gray May 26, 2015 at 6:58 AM

Thank you for your efforts and this excellent write-up!!
Just a side note: Goldie (my grandmother) and her sister Fernnella Walker were the teachers in district 164 and their brother George Riley was the director of the schools you spoke of!!!

2. Marcia Thompkins May 26, 2015 at 11:24 AM

Thanks for that great article, Stew, and all of your efforts to recognize and memorialize an important piece of American history! To add to Joyceanne’s side note, Fernnella Walker is my grandmother. Her husband, Charles “Boss” Woodson organized and lead the DeWitty dance band and was widely known (and remembered by many) in Cherry County for his impressive musical talents. 🙂

The Hatter Family Video by Joyceann Gray

This video was taped and produced  by Jim Surkamp, September 2014 in the Perry Room at the Charles Town Library in West Virginia. This is second of three video parts to this Family story. You can view part one about  Elizabeth and Reuben Hatter  I felt it was important to get on tape as much of our family’s story as much as I had uncovered. Other  historical video’s produced by Jim Surkamp can be viewed at Hamilton Hatter’s  tense hometown part one and Hamilton Hatter  part two.   Future video’s will be specifically dedicated to the lives and legacy of our ancestors as we feature other members. If you the viewer have any information to add or feel a correction is needed for any portion, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for viewing and please pass this knowledge on to other family members. Joyceann Gray

I Found this on Black time Travel- “The Invention of the White Race”


There are some people who love Raven Symone for being outspoken, but then there are those who simply wish she would just stop talking. This week on “The View,” Symone said that she would rather not see Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill because ” we need to move a little bit more forward.” Symone feels that Rosa Parks is a better reflection of the progress that America has made, and Tubman (“closer to the progression that we’re doing now), to Symone is just an ugly reminder of America’s racist past.

Some of the comments were strikingly informative, here’s one exchange:

  • Aqeel Furqan · Top Commenter · 

  • Madeline Rose · 

    So what if she think‘s she’s “white” what even if She WAS? That’s really racist to say. 
  • Deborah Martin · Top Commenter 

Madeline Rose Why are you here on this site speaking of things you have no clue of? This is not a joke. The humanity of displaced Africans whom Raven descends from has been denied and maligned for centuries and we’ve had enough. Don’t waste your time here. Go to some other site where they make non-issues important. This would suit you far better. If you wish to learn a little something read the books “How the Irish Became White” and “The Invention of the White Race”. The idea of being White was invented, in order to control the solidarity of labor on tobacco plantations in Virginia in the 1690’s. The groups that were divided were made up of many different laborers from many different places in Europe and Africa and they were called Indentured Servants. This includes the Africans there. All of those people aligned together proved a power threat to the English in power as bond labor holders reaping huge benefits off of the tobacco industry. English, with their ancient fights with the Irish and Scottish called the Irish a race in order to justify their oppression and then spun it to apply to the Africans who had so much ancient knowledge that they were the desirable workers. When desperate Europeans came to other parts of Africa, the Native Indigenous world and Asia they NEVER met starving, homeless people with no culture. Instead, they met people with cultures and practices more ancient than Europe itself. Let’s be clear, the afro pick is 6,000 years older than the oldest thing in China and the River Ganges in India is named after and ETHIOPIAN warrior King named Ganges. Europeans and their ways are destructive. No one in the world needed Europeans for ANYTHING. It was the starving desperate homeless European whose economic system leaves things in shambles that needed everyone else. 

For Raven and the others to wear this blond mess in their hair and acquiesce to a culture of propaganda that keeps pushing that we’re not good enough and that the invented idea of White is superior and we have keep being hit all the time.
One day Raven will be told by one of your kind that she’s not White and it will be a bitter revelation because this always happens. This time around, betrayed Blacks are learning to stop being so damned forgiving. The Black men that run after you are learning that they cannot transcend their Black reality by mixing with you and that the Black women who remind them of this situation are not the reason for the cop who will kick them in the head for fun and profit if they’re being paid a monetary incentive to get as many Black men into jails which are ‘for profit’ institutions. Those Black men who run behind you will learn the hard way that they cannot ignore the work that needs to be done and some will realize that they simply didn’t know what they could do to make a change. By the time, they realize this they will realize they’ve wasted time tearing apart the Black family rather than fighting to keep it going forwards.
You with your weightless reasonings don’t even realize why you are here talking nonsense about Black idiots being okay with thinking they’re White when they malign forebearers like General Harriet Tubman who fiercely sought to end this hell for people who looked like her.

Did you genealogist and historians know this?


Private in WWI (Gased in France) Loyal and loving family member. He has always been missed.

Private in WWI (Gased in France)
Loyal and loving family member. He has always been missed.

William Roy Hayes subjected to mustard gas in WWII had died before any of his grandkids were born.  We are told he wore a wide bandage around his stomach to hold everything in place. When he was young, he was quite a cowboy. In the Sandhills, that was saying a lot.

 We never got to experience this man. We didn’t get to laugh with him or listen to his stories. We never got to hug him or sit on his knee. There have been many an event in each of our lives that we missed him being a part.     But…..

Thanks to the long hours, days, months and years of our researching family members, we have begun to discover what kind of people we descend from. We are learning the true essence of their spirits and characters. Additionally, by researching the political and social climate during their years, it helps us put events and reactions into proper perspective. We now understand the why and how of the family migration routes and how it was possible for our parents to meet on horseback one spring day on a 22,00-acre ranch in Cherry County, Nebraska.

Now Grampa Hayes, was born 17 Jul 1889 in Brunswick, Chariton, Missouri to Caroline Birch and Ewiel Lafayette Hayes. William Roy was their third and last child.  Less than ten years later his mother Caroline died in 1897, of Chronic Gastritis. His father remarried to a lovely lady Mary Stanley by 1910.  Records show that  Ewiel Hayes and his new wife left the children with their maternal grandfather Joe Birch for a time. They traveled north to Nebraska to explore taking advantage of the Kincaid Act of free land to farm. The kids came later and in fact William Roy also purchased 295 acres of land near his father’s 360 acres. Uncle James came a bit later, and he bought 387 acres of land. The Hayes men realized early on that the land was poor for farming, so they invested in cattle and worked hard to etch out a living. They lived in a community of honest, hard working homesteaders, who only wanted a better life for their children and the respect from their fellow homesteaders. In the Sandhills of Nebraska, the race issue was not a card that was often played. These homesteaders knew they needed each other to make it in this  harsh environment of bitterly cold winters and sandy soil that was not a farmer’s friend. In Audacious, the children were all taught together. Barns were erected by the community as the women would prepare a feast. Yes, there was a division of sorts but it was not a major negative that polarized neighbors. 

Roy was remembered fondly by one of his neighbors in these stories told to me by Vickie;  ” Even after he got so sick, he would sit on the front porch of their house in Valentine, and rope the kids as they ran by……they kept him busy all day…just trying to make it by without being caught. Don Colburn told me this story. When they were living north of downtown, they were on the Chaloud place about 2-3 miles west of our home. Douglas wife said that their barn was burned down at that time, and horses killed.” Another story: According to my late aunt……one especially harsh winter, many of the homesteads ran out of hay for livestock. My grandfather Tate had a slight surplus and could share. Roy Hayes was given a wagon loaded with hay. Another neighbor was given the same (white man) – later that year Roy returned with a wagon full of corn for grandfather – the other man never stopped, again. Grandfather said, “Now, you tell me which one is white!”

So when I couple these stories with the one’s my parents told us, I’m left with a real sense of William Roy Hayes. For starters, he was kind, loving and honest!  Yes, I missed out being in the company of my grandfather but I’m so proud to know he was a good man. A man who’s character was above reproach, a man who was brave and loyal! 

Yep, that’s my Grampa!!

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