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Solomon D. Butcher Biography
Sadie Austin, the daughter of Cherry County rancher Charles Austin, was a woman of many talents. She was well educated and noted for her refinement, including her accomplishments as a pianist. But, when needed, she was also able to put on a split skirt and help the cowhands. She could sit a horse well and was noted for her shooting ability. She was the best known cowgirl in Cherry County.
Settlers moving into the North Loup River Valley in 1886
Ned Dunlap, foreman on the Watson Ranch near Kearney, Nebraska. Dunlap had a degree in agriculture from the University of Nebraska and was a man of many talents. In this photograph, he is tricked out to participate in the Old Settler's Day Parade in Kearney in 1902. For that parade, Dunlap bobbed the tail off his horse and crammed it under his hat. He then affixed a horn to his head, pulled hooves up into his shirt sleeves and marched as Kearney's only real Cow-Boy!
Cattle on the Mack Downey ranch near Georgetown, Custer County, Nebraska, 1903. The Downey ranch, which stretches to the horizon, was typical of cattle operations in the state. The grass-rich prairie produced superb beef, making Nebraska one of the most important beef producing regions in the world.
John Bridges at Devil's Gap, site where the notorious Olive Gang hanged homesteaders Mitchell and Ketchum. When the bodies were discovered, they had also been burned. For more information about this amazing story, read The Ladder of Rivers by Harry Chrisman, published in 1962, or The Olive Trial by Carl E. Smith, published in 1973 by the Custer County Historical Society.
One of the more famous Butcher photographs: The Chrisman sisters, 1886. Lizzie Chrisman filed the first of the sisters' homestead claims in 1887. Lutie Chrisman filed the following year. The other two sisters, Jennie Ruth and Hattie, had to wait until they came of age to file. They both filed in 1892.
Lookout Point, Cherry County, Nebraska, near the Snake River. This promontory in the near-mountainous sand hills of Cherry County used to be covered with cedar trees, and was allegedly a spot favored by horse thieves who could hide their booty in the blowout at the top and shinny up a tree to keep a lookout for the law. By the time photographer Solomon Butcher got around to photographing this site, the hill had been scalped bare by timber-hungry settlers. Thus the historic site was ruined. Not to be cheated from his story, Butcher repaired the damage by simply drawing the trees on the negative.
The David Hilton family near Sargent, Nebraska. Mrs. Hilton and her eldest daughter were adamant that they not be photographed in front of their sod house, because they wished to send copies of the picture to friends and relatives elsewhere and thought it embarrassing to be seen living in a house of dirt. But they did want to be seen with their new pump organ, so they made Mr. Hilton and the photographer drag the organ out of the house for the photographs, then drag it back in again.
James Pierce home on Sand Creek, Custer County, Nebraska. Pierce had, as a youth, run away to sea. For twelve years he cruised the Pacific in pursuit of sperm whales. He abandoned his life on the high seas to take a Minnesota homestead, which failed. In 1880 he moved to Nebraska and established the Sommerford post office, named in honor of his English wife's hometown. The mast-cum-flagpole speaks both to his pride in his new life and as an obvious metaphor for his previous life now transplanted to a sea of grass.
"Settlers Taking the Law in Their Own Hands." This well known photograph was staged by photographer Solomon D. Butcher to illustrate the tensions between farmers and ranchers created by the appearance of homesteads on the range. It is unlikely, however, that these pantomime desperadoes were likely to do much damage with their wooden wire cutters, a detail lost on many historians over the years who published this photograph as the real McCoy.
The John Curry house, near West Union, Custer County, Nebraska, 1886. This photograph is often called "Nebraska Gothic."
The Shores family, near Westerville, Custer County, Nebraska, 1887. Jerry Shores was one of a number of former slaves to settle in Custer County. He took a claim adjacent to that of his brothers, Moses Speese and Henry Webb (each had taken the name of his former owner).
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