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A new look at some familiar scenes


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table feet cow doorway cow on roof, 10600
cow | feet | table | doorway

Sylvester Rawding sod house, north of Sargent, Custer County, Nebraska, 1886, Solomon D. Butcher, photographer.
RG2608.PH-1784

Over the years several myths grew up about Sylvester Rawding and his family. Rawding claimed that the lump visible on his forehead in the photograph was a bullet that struck him while he was a Union soldier in the Civil War, and which had never been removed. Rawding also claimed that his stepson (the tallest of the three boys in the photograph) had evicted him from his farm and forced him to move to an old soldiers' home in Kansas. He told these stories to a newspaperman in 1897 and this account became the basis for later interpretations of this famous photograph.

Research in Civil War pension records and Nebraska newspapers revealed that neither of Rawding's tales was true. The lump on his head was a cyst or wen, while Rawding moved to the soldiers' home by his own choice after a disagreement with his stepson. The story of Sylvester Rawding's life, along with more information about the photograph, is found in James E. Potter's article, "A Cow on the Roof and a Bullet in the Head?" Nebraska History 84 (Spring 2003): 42-47.

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Last updated 27 June 2006

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