Our Homesteaders In Nebraska

Appreciation for this picture goes to Catherine Meehan-Blount

Today I bring you stories of many of those homesteaders who daringly ventured into the Sandhills of Nebraska. You will notice that I put the wives’ names first. Although they plowed, planted and struggled right along side of their husbands, while cooking, cleaning and tending to children, they are not mentioned in land applications or proofing documents.

From Canada, they came

Sarah C. Kersey & husband William P. Walker

Bridie & Charles Murphy

Joshua Emanual

William King Riley

Matilda Gields & husband Richard Robinson

Albert F. Riley

Florence & William A. Small

James H. Washington

Mary Stanley & Ewiel L. Hayes

Ida & Austin Curtin

Matilda Gields Robinson

James Griffith

Ida andJames Morgan

Boyd McKinley

Homer Ferman

Alma & Thomas Henson

James A. Hatter

Catherine Kenny & husband Isaac Riley

Margaret & Columbus Stith

Millany and Husband Willian H. Rann

Edward Mechan

Sarah & William Waller

Leroy Gields

Susan & Henry Sirrell

Jemima Scott & husband George T. Brown

John Williams

Mary J. & Henry Gields

William R. Hayes

Lucinda Stone/Tann

Joseph T. Conrad

Robert (Ball) Anderson

Quick Facts

Significance: Nebraska Homesteader

Place of Birth: Virginia

Date of Birth: 1861

Date of Death: 22 Jun 1948

Place of Death: Cherry County, Nebraska

Burial Place: Buxton, Canada

James A. Hatter was born during slavery to Franklin Hatter and Rebecca McCord. His father was a Free Man, but his mother was enslaved by the Asquith family in Charles Town, Virginia.  Right after the Civil War, James along with his parents and some of his siblings moved to Buxton, Kent, Canada. This is where he met and became friends with the group of homesteaders that ultimately moved back across the border to claim land in Nebraska.

James first applied for land at the Homestead receiver’s office, Grand Island, Ne on 25 Jan 1893 and paid the sum of $18 filing fee for 160 Acres, application #18406.  James was charged $5.00 to advertise Final Proof Notice in March 1898 for four weeks.  James settled on the land beginning 22 Jun 1893. According to two of his witnesses, John Larson and his brother-in-law, William P. Walker; James built a sod house 20X26, Sod Stable 16X24, Well & Cistern, framed Graney 18X20, and an outbuilding. A 250 Rods wire fence, 90 acres broken land cultivated, producing crops every season since settling with a total value of improvements $650. James received his patent 21 October 1898, final certificate # 11625. From time to time, James would travel back to Virginia to visit his family and court Mary M. Sims, and by the first of 1906, James’ sister Charlotta traveled back with him to Virginia to enjoy the wedding.  They enjoyed the birth of a son they named Norman. Sadly, Mary passed away early in 1915 from influenza. Jame continued to travel between his land holdings in South Dakota and Nebraska until he fell ill. James Alphonso Hatter was admitted to the hospital in Valentine, Ne on 23 May 1948 and passed away on 22 Jun 1948. He was buried in Buxton, Canada near his family. (James A. Hatter is Joyceann’s granduncle)

2. Albert Franklin Riley

Quick Facts

Significance: Nebraska Homesteader

Place of Birth: Overton, Ne

Date of Birth: 30 May 1886

Place of Death: Denver, Co

Date of Death: 06 April 1969

Burial Place: North Platte Cemetery, Lincoln, Ne.

Albert made Homestead entry #03984 on 8 June 1907, applying for 632 acres under the Homestead Act of 1862.  Albert’s brother George had applied for his own homestead in 1907, and the brothers acquired land adjacent to the Wamaduze Valley in Cherry County and raised cattle together.  After paying a $14 filing fee, Albert began to settle on the land by first building Sod House 24X28 completed by September 1907.   To finish the proof of his land, Albert built a sod stable 22X38, hog pasture and pens, granary, cellar, henhouse, well, and pump, one mile of 2 wire fence, planted 30 forest trees and cultivated 50 acres for millet, corn, oats, potatoes, and the rest for grazing and making hay; all valued at $1050.

Albert named the following witnesses: Joshua Emanuel, John Williams, Charles H. Meehan, and George T. Brown. Although Albert named four witnesses only Joshua Emanuel and John Williams testimonies were taken.  Both supported Alberts claim that only twice he was away working for wages to obtain money to improve his claim. They also mention how they pass by most every day and would visit often. During his last time away in 1908, Albert proposed to Leanna V. Goens. She accepted and traveled from West Virginia to Nebraska for their wedding on November 24, 1909.

 Albert received his patent #0399804 dated Apr 22, 1914. George got his patent in October the same year for his 640 acres patent #04111.

Albert, George, and their younger brother William worked the farms as one family operation.  William eventually ventured off to become a traveling livestock buyer, while Albert and George continued to raise cattle. Late in 1938, Albert Riley’s health took a turn, so he sold his land and his share of the business to his brother George, and went to work as Patrolman and eventually as manager at the Valentine Wildlife Refuge. He would work there until 1969, when he passed away while visiting family in Denver.(Joyceann and the Riley brothers are 2nd Cousins)

3. Matilda Gields Robinson

Quick Facts

Significance: Nebraska Homesteader

Place of Birth: Canada

Date of Birth: 1850

Place of Death: Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

Date of Death: 22 Jun 1948

Burial Place: Brownlee Cemetery, Ne.

Matilda was born in Canada and by the age of 11 her father had passed. Normally her mother who was left to raise the family alone would have endured serious hardship but not in Buxton, Kent, Canada. Buxton was the last stop of the underground railroad for runaway slaves from the states before the Civil War, and the settlement took good care of their own. All children went to school and if there was an adult who wished to learn they were welcome also. Widowed families were always cared for.

Matilda married in 1878, was off with her family to pursue homesteading in Nebraska.  By 1880, Matilda was residing in Dawson County, Nebraska with her husband Richard, age 28, and their four children, but only Florence would survive infancy. Matilda’s younger brother Leroy Gields and their parents Leroy Sr and Nancy also braved the 1700 mile journey from Buxton, Canada to Nebraska.  By 1883, the relationship between Matilda and her husband had deteriorated to the point that Richard packed his bags and headed back to Canada and did not contribute to the family needs. She was not left without support, her brothers and their families also lived nearby, and Matilda was not to be out done. On Feb 18, 1883, she traveled to the land office in Grand Island and applied for 160 acres of land under the Homestead Act of 1862. Matilda paid $18 filing fees and 66 cents for testimony fee, and received application #17530. Oct 10, 1883, Matilda signed a Declaration of Intention to renounce her citizenship to the Queen Victoria of Great Britain and obtained her citizenship of the United States. She was able to erect a Sod frame house 38×14, frame stable 16×12, frame corncrib 8×17, chicken house 8×10 sod cellar, frame pig pens- hog pasture1/4 acre and stock pasture, 12 acres of 2 wire fence, well 105 feet, and 48 acres of cultivated land all totally value of $248. By 1885, Matilda was divorced, and by 1893 Matilda received her citizenship papers. She was then granted her patent #9886 on 31 Jul 1893 over 10 years later.

 Matilda was an active member of the DeWitty settlement and believed in education. She was highly respected in both DeWitty and the white settlement of Brownlee. So much so she was only the second Black person buried in the Brownlee Cemetery.

Matilda’s young daughter Florence, in 1898, married Charles E. Meehan, with James A. Hatter and Miss Anna Meehan as witnesses. Matilda purchased another 480 acres of grazing land in Cherry County, Ne. also under the 1862 Homestead Act, and that patent # 02795 was issued 4 Apr 1912.

4. Ewiel Lafayette Hayes

Quick Facts

Significance: Nebraska Homesteader

Place of Birth: Missouri

Date of Birth: 1857

Place of Death: Nebraska

Date of Death: 13 Mar 1926

Burial Place: Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Omaha, Ne

Ewiel L. Hayes first heard about the homesteading opportunities from John G. Pegg, weight and Measures Inspector of Omaha, Nebraska.

Mr. Pegg was an avid supporter and promoter of the homesteading Act of 1862 and the Kincaid Act of 1904, an opportunity he offered to the Black communities around the country. He even sponsored his brother Charlie Pegg’s claim.

Ewiel L. Hayes first applied for land on March 4, 1910, application number 05261 for a tract of 280 acres, which was later enlarged by amendment so as to cover 360 acres altogether.

By 15 July 1910 Ewiel Hayes settled on the land with the help of his son William Roy Hayes and wife Mary Stanly Hayes.

The land improvements consisted of a Sod house 24 X 30 Barn: 18 X 18 Well and pump and tank and hen house. 1 mile of 3 wire fence for 500 young forest trees, 40 acres of fenced pasture, and 40 acres of cultivated Broken Land with planted corn, at a value of $815.

Ewiel L. Hayes could read and write and secured a leasing agreement with Neighbor Bert Anderson for the use of a fair share of the 40 acres that he fenced in. One of his witnesses for his final proof was his son William Roy Hayes. Ewiel L. Hayes received his patent on 10 June 1914 Number 412356.

At the time of the application in 1910 Ewiel and Mary Hayes rented a home in Omaha at 2420 Patrick Ave and just blocks from the Pegg residence at 4308 Patrick Ave.

In 1940, Mr. Pegg’s son Gaitha Pegg would marry Mr. Hayes’ granddaughter Sweet Wilma Hayes in Valentine, Ne. (Joyceann is the granddaughter of John G. Pegg and the great granddaughter of Ewiel L. Hayes.)

5. William Roy Hayes

Quick Facts

Significance: Nebraska Homesteader

Place of Birth: Brunswick, Chariton, Missouri

Date of Birth: 17 July 1889

Place of Death: Fall River, South Dakota

Date of Death: 12 May 1944

Burial Place: Mount Hope Cemetery, Valentine, Nebraska

William Roy Hayes was born 17 July 1889 in Brunswick, Chariton, Missouri to Caroline Burch and Ewiel Lafayette Hayes.

At age 26, William Roy Hayes followed his father’s lead and took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 of free land to farm. He applied for land June 10, 1912, entry # 07616.  Within 3 months Hayes built a 14 X 16 sod house, with board and Ruberoid roof, a 12 X16 Barn frame with a board roof, a windmill and dug an 80-100 ft deep well. He also strung two miles of 3 wire fence. All this was valued at $800.

William Roy’s Land Patent of 295.88 acres#509535 was approved Dec 28, 1915, issued Jan 24, 1916.

William Roy married Goldie Walker in 1917, Shortly after he went off to fight in WWI in France in 1918. He wrote to the Department of Interior, questioning would his wife still be able to apply for land on her own since he proved upon his land prior to their marriage and if he is eligible to purchase land in another state.  William Roy also wanted to know since he served in the US Army for 12 mos. how much longer would he need to live on his property to prove it, since the homestead is in small parts spread out, and how far apart can they be?

He suffered from a gas attack, (which is reflected in his medical records during his rehab in the National Home for Disabled Soldiers). Chronic arthritis and the weakening of his lungs caused him to reconsider his farming. He was already leasing his land to rancher Gilmore McCloud and continued to after returning home.  By 1920, Roy could no longer manage farm work, so they sold much of their property and moved just outside of Valentine, Ne.. The Hayes family grew to five as Goldie continued teaching school, and William Roy worked part time training horses on the Mc Cloud place when his health allowed.

Roy and Goldie Hayes

After the passing of William Roy Hayes in 1944, his wife Goldie would be elected the County delegate for the Teachers Association in 1947 at the Nebraska Statewide convention (The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); Oct 18, 1947) and Principal in Norris, South Dakota in 1954. She died a year & a half later in July 1956 of Tuberculosis. They are buried together in the Mount Hope Cemetery, Valentine, Nebraska. (They are Joyceann’s maternal grandparents)

6. William P. Walker

Quick Facts

Significance: Homesteader

Place of Birth: Chillicothe, Ohio

Date of Birth:16 APR 1831

Date of Death: 18 May 1931

Place of Death: Valentine, Nebraska

Burial Place: Brownlee Cemetery, Brownlee, Nebraska     


William P. was an educated young man trained by his father in the Coopers Trade (the making of wooden barrels).  At sixteen, he became a sailor on Great Lake Steamers and was known through the underground to help runaway slaves reach Canada.  Along the route was a port at Windsor, Canada; it was there that William learned of the Buxton settlement. A yearning for life on land led William along with his family to relocate to Buxton and safety.

William P. Walker first purchased 160-acre tract of land in Johnson County, Nebraska from Redmon Caddin. The reason isn’t clear for the transaction, but this sparked Williams initial decision in returning across the border after the civil War. The Walkers were joined by the Riley’s, Bill Tann, Joshua Emanuel, and about six other families and headed back across the border in search of enough land that would provide them with true ownership and peace.

By this time, William P. was married to Sarah Kersey and their family included five children.  Additionally, Walker made application for homestead entry on the 26th of March 1880 under the Homestead Act of 1862 for additional acreage.  It was during that spring and summer of 1880, to meet the requirement of improving the land, Walker housed his family with neighbors until he could build a house suitable. That first year was the driest year Nebraska has seen in many years. There was no rain in which to help make sod bricks for building, so Walker had to dig a well 68 feet before water began to flow. Walker spent many a night sleeping under the open sky and working during the day. He built a shed for his oxen to protect them during the coming winter months. He also built a chicken coop, planted a vegetable garden, and plowed and planted 40 acres of Wheat and from 25 to 40 acres of corn. Walker was only able to get the walls of his house built and store up wheat for his oxen before he ran out of time and money. Winter had set in, so everything had to wait until the first thaw.

May of 1881, William P. was able to bring his family to the newly built 14×30 foot home, a garden and acres of planted wheat and corn; all improvements valued at $1600. As the years went by the Walker’s wer able to expand the size of the house by using wood to it.

William King Riley, one of Walkers friends and witnesses passed away after a fall leaving a wife, Charlotta Riley, three young boys and a sizable farm.  A year earlier Sarah Walker had passed away right after childbirth.

Charlotte B. Hatter-Walker

Charlotta was a strong woman but understood what her reality was with her land, cattle, all the chores plus having three boys in tow.  It wasn’t long before William P. Walker and Charlotta Hatter Riley joined their families and were married on May 12, 1894. William, his sons and neighbors helped to build a much larger home; with nine children, the house was overflowing. Eventually, they welcomed four more children to the family.

Early in the 1890’s, the land use changed from farming to cattle raising and grazing lands. Walker became the unofficial community Veterinarian with a special touch for the horses.  By 1914 the Walkers had aquired 1,920 more acres in Richardson, Johnson, Cherry and Dawson Counties. The Walkers enjoyed watching as each child came of age, their quest for education materialize into various professions. The oldest Son Amos became a college professor, Two daugthers Fern and Goldie became teachers with Goldie going on to become a principal, Baldwin the youngest became an engineer, and Sweet became a nurse. I mention them to make the point of how important education was to this family.

Charlotta passed away in 1823 while visiting her daughter in Kansas, and in 1931 William P. Walker passed away at age 100. He was one of three Blacks buried in Brownlee’s Cemetery, Brownlee, Nebraska. (William and Charlotta Hatter are Joyceann’s maternal great grandparents)

7. William A. Small

Quick Facts

Significance: Dawson County, Nebraska Homesteader

Born abt. 1853

Place of Birth: Buxton, Ontario, Canada

Place of Death: Possibly Pittsburg County, Oklahoma

Date of Death: between 1910 – 1920

Burial Place: Unk

 On March 15, 1880, William A. Small paid $2.00 to file a Declaratory Statement #4850 for NW section 34th Township 9N of range 19west containing 160 acres and settled upon March 11, 1880. He signed his name in perfect penmanship as did all the homesteaders raised in Canada.

William had four friends; Joshua Emanuel, Elijah Tann, Thomas J. Shull, and brother Franklin Shull prepared to give testimonies but only Thomas and Franklin were required. William and his witnesses attested to his family joining him on the land continually during the preceding five years and valued the improvements at $1000. William and his wife Francis and their 5 children were able to present at least 40 acres every year in crops.  They build a Frame house 10X23, a stable 18X22, Hog pen 30X8, and dug a well 16 feet deep. They planted 2000 forest trees and 30 fruit trees. In 1885, William paid the final portion of $8.00 filing fee Application #12047.

On March 20, 1885, a patent was approved for William A. Small #6220.  This as a day of great pride for William, a man that never knew his parents and in fact didn’t know their names. And was literally raised by the community in Buxton, Ontario, Canada.

This called for a celebration as was the custom when each of the homesteaders received their patents. Folks from miles around would gather, bringing savory dishes and musical instruments.  This wasn’t the only time they would gather, harvest time, weddings, funerals, fencing, branding, and the list goes on. Although miles might separate the farms the community was ever so close. They had history, the struggles, and joys.  Most of these homesteaders had shared the long 1700-mile journey from Buxton, Ontario, Canada to Nebraska and fulfillments of dreams of ownership and peace.

But the land in the Sandhills of Nebraska were not friendly to farmers. Drought became more the norm rather than rare occurrences.  The Small family and others to include the Tann family began to suffer under the strain of poor crop yield. Together these two families decided to sell and start anew in Oklahoma. William and Francis sold their property to F.A. Martin and by 1890, they were living in Mustang, Canadian, Oklahoma on the farm next to Lucinda and Elijah Tann. By 1900, William’s wife Florence passed away leaving him with their three youngest children, Nellie 13, Mary 8, and William 5.  Then the trail grows cold. Were they victims of the Influenza pandemic of 1918?

8. Lucinda Tann formerly known as Lucinda Stone

Quick Facts

Significance: Dawson County, Nebraska Homesteader

Born 15 Nov 1858, Place of Birth: Buxton, Ontario, Canada, Date of Death: 27 Feb 1923 Place of Death: Pittsburg County, Oklahoma Burial Place: Oak Hill Memorial Park, McAlester, Pittsburg County, Oklahoma

Another Black woman homesteader who could read, write, and sign their name. Lucinda came from Buxton, Canada at the age of 21 with the intention of becoming a citizen of the United States. She received her citizenship in 1886.

Lucinda Stone made a preemption for another parcel of land but forfeited it because she said she couldn’t occupy it. It appears this time though, Lucinda hired Elijah to build her a Sod house 14’X28’ at a cost of $25 in Sept 0f 1881. They got married on 16 Nov 1881 with the Baldwins as witnesses. The Baldwins were the folks she worked for as a domestic to raise enough money for her claim.

She never signed over or added her husband to the deed/title. 

Over the next 5 years, Lucinda and Elijah had 3 children. The farm provided them with good crops of corn, wheat, and oats and a healthy garden.  They added a 56 foot deep well, 6 fruit trees, planted forest trees worth $250. Lucinda and her husband built a Sod stable, a 6X15 granary, 50 acres of broken ground all at a value of $591.

Lucinda reported that her home had 2 doors, 3 windows, and a board roof at a value of $150. She had a full set of dishes, a cooking stove, a table with 6 chairs, a clock, a bed frame, a cupboard, and other furniture.  As she wrote all the items and accomplishments the reader gets the sense of how proud she was.

Here was a woman of 28 with 3 children; Ada, Clinton, Ida, and a husband, a thriving working farm with a wagon, 2 cultivators, 1 harrow, 2 plows, and have owned them all over 2 years. To their credit, they also own 2 horses, 3 head of cattle, 6 hogs, and 50 chickens. At the time of proofing, they had 5 acres planted and 50 acres prepared. 

Witnesses: Wm Walker, Robert I, Allen, Wm A. Small, & Joshua Emanuel were listed in proofing ad dtd 19 Feb 1887.  Although only William P. Walker and Joshua Emanuel had testimonies written on her behalf, each would attest to her never being absent from the property and constantly improving upon her claim which apparently was enough for Lucinda Tann formerly Lucinda Stone as she wrote on every page, acquired her patent #7385 on April 5, 1887, for 160 acres in Section 10 Town 9 range 19.  

“Nebraska in the early 1890s suffered from protracted drought, and farm prices fell to new lows”1, so Lucinda and her husband first mortgaged a small parcel of land Elijah had prior to their marriage. But soon it became apparent they wouldn’t be able to meet that note. So, Lucinda agreed to sell her land and home and along with close friends; the William Small family moved to Mustang, Oklahoma to begin again. This time it was 160 acres under her husbands’ name.

Her husband passed shortly after 1910. Lucinda directed her joy in watching her children grow and achieve but in 1923, at age 65, surrounded by her six children, Lucinda passed away.

What a full life.

To be continued