In the late fall of 1873, my father, my two brothers and some neighbors went about sixty miles west of where we lived, where buffalo were plenty and killed enough buffalo to make as much beef as could be hauled home in three wagons. I tell you, there was feasting when they got home! Many of us had not tasted meat for several months.
This meat was salted down in barrels and boxes, after the bone had been taken out, and the weather turning cold soon after, it was all frozen together in one solid mass. The cold spell continued till late in February and the only way we could get a buffalo roast or steak was to chop it out with an ax!
During the two grasshopper years many homesteaders became so utterly discouraged that they either sold out their right for almost nothing or abandoned their claim altogether and pulled out. Many, however, took advantage of the six months leave of absence and taking their families, would go far enough east to secure work and stay until the time was nearly up, then return and remain long enough to establish their residence, going off to work again. In this way a great many saved their land and tided over the hard times till enough land could be broken out and brought to a state of cultivation to enable them to remain permanently at home.
This state of affairs brought out a class other than the sturdy, burden-bearing pioneer, a class known as the claim jumpers. This class had come too late to secure the best claims, so they watched their chance and if an absent homesteader let the time pass when he should have been back on his land, one of these claim jumpers would be sure to take out contest papers and start a suit to gain the land. This contest business caused much trouble and there was even a murder or two as a result of it.
There were also some amusing incidents connected with claim jumping. At one time there lived near Beloit, a young man who had taken up a valuable claim on the Solomon River. After baching for a time, he concluded to go East and bring his sister out to keep house for him. Before he returned, a claim jumper had built a shack on a corner of the land and started a contest. When the young man and his sister arrived on the scene of action they were much perplexed to learn that their right to the land was being questioned. The homesteader went over to see the intruder, but he refused to leave and declared he would go on with the trial. As the young homesteader and nearly, if not quite, let his time run out, he was very much in fear of losing his valuable quarter section. The sister took a more cheerful view, however, and tried to comfort her brother by saying he would not lose his claim.
The young woman was a good shot and often went hunting along the banks of the Solomon. One day while the claim jumper was cutting cord wood, a bullet went zip! close by his head. He looked up to see through the bushes some distance away a woman with a gun. She did not seem, though, to be looking in his direction! Soon another bullet whizzed by and struck in the snow close beside the wood chopper. By this time the chopper, feeling it would be a little more healthy somewhere else, concluded to quit for the time. So sure was the claim jumper that the young woman was shooting at HIM that he had her arrested. When the young woman came to trial she came in bright and smiling and not a bit daunted. When asked if she shot at the wood chopper she declared she did not, but was shooting at a rabbit! So persistently did she stick to this statement that she was released. “I was not shooting at HIM,” she declared, pointing at the plaintiff. “I am a good enough shot to hit him, if I take a notion!” The claim jumper seemed to think the young woman MIGHT take a notion to shoot at HIM, so packed his grip and left for “parts unknown!”