As a child growing up in the Dawson community,
the person who was recognized by us all as the local historian
and writer of history was Elma Heim Griffith, (April 8, 1903 Ė
August 22, 1979). She
was the editor and publisher of several books on the Nebraska
Pennsylvania Colony. These
books along with the ones written by Melvin Heim and his sister Mary
Bilsing are enjoyed nor only for the historical data included but
also for the pictorial and descriptive way they wrote.
The following article is being included in book,
"The Sweet Spring Still Flows", as a
memorial to Elma Heim Griffith and her great writing skills. These notes were found among her things following her passing
and kept for their historical significance.
For those of you who do not know the Jake Heim Farm,
northwest of Dawson, Nebraska,
now owned and farmed by Dennis Thacker --- you will enjoy the
visions of life experienced by all of the Pennsylvania Colonists who
lived the life of an early pioneer in the region.
Iím going through some of Dadís papers.
We found the deed given by I. H. Burr to Grandpa John J. Heim
for the farm where Dad and Mom lived from the time they were
married. Grandpa bought
the 160 acres in January of 1889 for $5000.
Mr. Burr had homesteaded it.
Dad farmed this place several years and it was
also rented part of the time. Then
when the folks were married on March 17, 1892, they set up
housekeeping there. None
of the buildings on it were good.
The house had 3 rooms downstairs.
There was also a ďlean toĒ kitchen with a dirt floor.
All kinds of people had lived there on the years between and
some were none too clean. They
strongly suspected it was infested with bedbugs.
So. Before the folks moved in the lean-to kitchen was pulled
away and became a chicken house.
They cleaned the house thoroughly and papered all the rooms
carefully and painted woodwork and the wainscoating.
There was no cellar under this house.
The barns and sheds and lots were all north of the house as
was also the windmill and well. The lane from the road was north of the house too.
||Elma Heim Griffith, with her sister Verna
Heim Coons on the left at the Dawson Old Settlers
Centennial Picnic in 1976.
Elma was crowned Queen and given special
recognition for the many hours of work she did on Dawson
Four generation picture taken in
August 1941. Verna
Heim Coons, Arlene Masonbrink, John Jay Masonbrink, and
Grandpa Jake Heim.
During the earlier days when all was prairie
and there were no fences, there were roads or trails going off
across country. No one
paid any attention to section lines
One of these roads angled across this farm, going across the
southeast corner of the front yard and and on across the farm toward
the south west corner. This
trail was still visible in the piece of prairie Dad kept in several
acres in the southwest corner of the farm.
The prairie grass grew over it by then but the deeper
indentation of the old road was still quite plain to see.
This, I believe, was known as the Pawnee City-Brownville
trail. At the very
corner of the farm where the 4 quarters of the section met there
was a large buffalo wallow. There
was no sign of this anymore except as a low place and rather wet
ground where the sumac grew in a big thicket.
But I can well imagine the people using this trail stoppig
here to water their horses. I
believe, O. W. Barr, son of Ike, once told of going swimming in this
In later years, when I was small, and this spot
was a large sumac thicket Dad decided to kill out the sumac or at
least make the thicket smaller as it was getting so large and was a
nuisance. The cows were
sure to be in that thicket when he wanted to round them up and bring
them in at milking time. He
used an ax and a grubbing hoe (no bulldozer dreamed of then) and as
it was a long way from the house he took water along for drinking.
One day when he had made quite a lot of
headway on the job and the spring weather had warmed up quite a lot,
he was at work on it again. All
at once here in front of him was a rattlesnake, kind of a lazy one
but a rattlesnake none-the-less.
He killed it of course.
Soon here was another to one side, and a bit later another
over here and then here was another. He decided there must have been a rattlesnake den there where
they had hibernated over the winter.
Soon after that rattlesnakes were rarely seen and now are not
found in this part of the state.
I donít believe Dad ever did get the sumac entirely killed
over in that corner.
Burning the prairie was another story.
All this end of the state and extending far west was prairie
grass during the days of the Indians.
No trees except along rivers and creeks.
The Indians wanted it that way as the buffalo was their main
source of meat and the prairie was their grazing ground.
They knew the only way to keep the prairie grass doing well
and to bring on the new tender growth was to burn it off every
spring. They set fire
to it and acres and acres and miles and miles of prairie were often
burned off before the fires were put out by rain or a change of
wind. It was a weapon
they used on the early settlers too, as they had almost no defense
Dad had only a few acres of the original
prairie but he liked to keep it only for sentimental sake but it
made excellent pasture in the mid summer when the blue grass pasture
was eaten or dried off from lack of rain.
In spring when the new grass had not started to grow yet, he
would take a couple buckets of water and a gunny sack (burlap bag)
mop and a pitch fork and go burn the prairie.
However, he chose a day when there was no wind or very
little, so he could keep it from going into the neighbors fields or
into the hedge fences. He
always told Mom what he was going to do and many a time she would go
to the rise of ground west of the grove where she could see it all
was well with the burning. It
also happened that sometimes the wind came up or changed direction
and Dad had trouble keeping the fire in control and Mom would go
down there to help him. It
never did get away from them very seriously.
Soon after the old grass was burned off the new prairie grass
came up in sharp, bright green spears and the wild prairie flowers
came too and before long it was a beautiful sight to see the grass
waving in billows, dotted here and there with wild flowers.
The fire never hurt them in fact it seemed to act as a sort
of fertilizer. To this
day when ground that has not been plowed is burned off and the
bluegrass is killed by the fire, the prairie grass will be as strong
and healthy as in the early days.
Dadís wheat and oats were all cut with the
binder and stacked in big cone shaped stacks to be threshed in late
summer after the grain had gone through a sweat in the stack.
Dad was a good grain stacker and rarely did one of his
stacks slip out. He was
also a good shocker, his grain stacks stood unless we had a very
severe wind storm when the cap sheaf was blown off.
Then he would go through the fields and repair the windís
work. Both these,
shocking and stacking of grain are now a lost art in this day and
age of the combine.
The Badger cultivator was an implement he
enjoyed using for cultivating corn.
None other ever suited him, he said it covered up less small
corn. He also liked the check row planter best and it was several
years after the lister planter became popular that he consented to
its use. As a boy, in
Pennsylvania, he knew what it was to cut flax with a hand sickle.
But they had progressed to the scythe for cutting hay and the
grain cradle for cutting grain and the horse powered threshing
machine. He knew how to
use the flail and the hand powered threshing that cane earlier.
In his life time they went from the hand flail sickle to the
tractor powered corn picker and combine.
Mama remembered their ox team.
ďBuck and BrightĒ used sometimes for plowing but used
especially for hauling logs in winter.
On November 19, 1895, their first child,
Verna Ruby was born. Dr.
J. A. Wagner was their doctor and of course she was born at home.
No one ever dreamed of going to a hospital for a birth. In fact hospitals were extremely scarce if they existed at
all. Certainly they
knew nothing of hospitals. The
hired girl took care of Mom and the new baby.
On April 8, 1903, I, their second and last child was born.
Again, Dr. J. A. Wagner was the doctor and I was born at
home, too. Verna was 7
Ĺ years old. Bertha
Heim (Shirley) was the hired girl this time.
She was Aunt Rosie and Uncle Joe Heimís oldest daughter.
It seems Mom had been looking for a hired girl and just
couldnít find anyone. When
Aunt Rosie found it out she said Bertha could come.
She hadnít forgotten the many times Mom had helped out
their family before Mom and Dad were married.
I donít remember hearing whether they had such a time
finding a name for Verna but it took them 6 months to find a name
for me. I guess Mom
tried them all out on me. Once
she thought Jessie would be the name but she happened to find out
that the Henry Heim had a little girl 2 or 3 years old and was being
called Jessie. They had
been calling her by her middle name,
Florence, but had recently changed.
It would never do to have 2 Jessie Heims.
She would have liked to call me Rosalee but wasnít sure how
to spell it and besides was afraid I would be called Rosy which she
didnít like. How she
finally hit on the name of Elma I donít know but she seemed to
like it best of all she had tried out.
My middle name of Bertha was given me because the hired girl
felt sorta bad when many folks used her sister Mayís name for
their children. Hence,
Elma, Bertha Heim Griffith!