Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Moomaw's Corner," a Relic of Western Nebraska's Homesteaders

Whether it’s the Oregon or Mormon Trail, Chimney Rock, Fort Robinson or the Scottsbluff National Monument, the vast prairie lands of western Nebraska abound with pioneer history.

Although, the story of “Moomaw’s Corner,” on U.S. Highway 26, three miles north of Bayard, is not of national significance, the story behind it depicts the rugged spirit of the pioneers who settled this area.

To a passerby, “Moomaw’s Corner” consists of a rundown building, with “Tony’s” painted on it in big, black, gaudy letters, a dilapidated stucco house with a broken fountain fronting it, and a forsaken beanery. All of this on property inundated with weeds, from tall to taller, to tallest. As it sits, “Moomaw’s Corner” is an eyesore, and in the near future plans are to burn the buildings and the weeds to the ground.

However, to those in the know, the story behind “Moomaw’s Corner” is integral to western Nebraska’s culture and history. To anyone who treasures this culture and looks past the weedy rubble of “Moomaws,” they gaze upon, feel and absorb the history of those who homesteaded this area.

In 1862, to facilitate the settling of the western half of the United States, the Federal Government passed the Homestead Act. This act allowed brave and stalwart entrepreneurs the opportunity to own 160 acres of government land, simply by paying a filing fee of five to ten dollars, building a dwelling place on the land, and living there for five years. After meeting those prerequisites, the government gave the homesteader full title to the land.

Unfortunately, though, the Homestead Act did not take into account that the vast and flat prairie land of western Nebraska was cattle country, and homesteaders needed more than 160 acres to make a living. As a result, an amendment, the Kinkaid Act of 1904, became part of the original Homestead Act. This amendment, allowed a homesteader, in any of 37 counties in western Nebraska, to claim one section of a township of undeveloped land.

Before Leon Moomaw and MinnieYoung married, they lived in Lincoln, Nebraska. While there, they filed for land under the Kinkaid Act. Minnie filed in 1913 and her homestead was in the Wildcat Hills, south of Bayard, while Leon, who filed in 1912, received land north of Bayard. The remnants of “Moomaw’s corner” are part of Leon’s original homestead.

In 1913, accompanied by either Minnie’s mother or her sister, Leon and Minnie traveled across Nebraska to their homesteads. When they first viewed them, perhaps hand in hand, their greeting was prairie grass and unfulfilled plans. More than likely, the ever-present-western-Nebraska wind billowed through their acres of hopes as they stood there.

Nevertheless, despite the hardships they would face, they had that intangible, which was, and is still a part of western-Nebraska culture. There are words to describe it: determination, grit, wills, resoluteness or stubbornness, but whatever it’s called, it’s an essence that permeates this area.

Minnie’s diary contained many experiences of their new life on the prairie. Among the entries of her initial exposure to homestead life included washing clothes in canyon springs, and carrying water in cream cans to their cabin. She mentions a milk cow, Beauty, who gave them three gallons of milk each day, and killing five rattlesnakes during their first summer as homesteaders. Minnie writes about making jelly, baking bread, sewing, upgrading their cabin, and going to nearby McGrew to buy groceries or pick up their mail.

Yes, they were here and it was home, and they fought to make a go of it. Part 2 will peek at the hardships that were their life, and the activity that revolved around “Moomaw’s Corner.”

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