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7 April 2014 / leggypeggy

Broken Bow Nebraska—home to a great museum

Custer County Museum

An early-day pharmacy

I share two allegiances—I’m a Nebraskan and an Australian.

While I was born on the USA’s eastern seaboard, New Jersey was never my home, but Nebraska certainly was. I moved there as a young’un and stayed until my late 20s. It was where I grew up, was educated and worked for some years after graduating from university.

snow shoes

Bill Porter’s snow shoes

Today, I suppose I’m mostly Australian. I’ve been here more than 30 years and have become a citizen. That said, my broad Nebraska accent has people thinking I arrived here last week.

I get back to the USA every couple of years, and always find time to visit Nebraska—even though my parents have died and my sisters have mostly moved away from the state.

Nebraska isn’t a popular or likely tourist destination, but it is a great place to grow up. I’ve enjoyed showing Poor John around and introducing him to people who have been important in my life.

On our most recent visit to the USA we had a few days up our sleeve so I decided to drive Poor John to Valentine in northwest Nebraska. We headed north out of Kearney to Ravenna and then on to Highway 2.

The 272-mile stretch of Highway 2 between Grand Island and Alliance is famous—in Nebraska. Known as the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, it has several places that are worthy of stops.

Melodeon

A melodeon, a portable reed organ that was unique to the USA

Our first stop was at the local museum in Broken Bow in Custer County. What a great country museum. The displays are beautifully presented and very reminiscent of the Nebraska I know.

Bill Porter’s snow shoes caught my eye immediately. Porter was a Custer County rancher caught in the huge blizzard of 1949. That storm was so bad that 7500 passengers on 50 trains were held up as far west as Pocatello Idaho and as far east as Chicago Illinois. Wind blew at 65mph and packed the snow so densely that rescuers needed dynamite to blow open paths. I had landlords who had been caught by that storm on their property in rural Nebraska. They were snowbound for four months.

There were also great displays of musical instruments, an old-fashioned soda fountain, a chemist’s shop, clothing and much more. The museum also holds a lot of historical and ancestral documents for the county.

But without doubt, my favourite display was the SD Butcher gallery of photographs and a wood carving that depicts the pioneer photographer taking a photo of a family. For 26 years, Butcher travelled widely in Nebraska, capturing images of early settlers in their new environment, often in front of their sod houses.

His efforts began in 1886. Over the next five years, Butcher took almost 1500 images in Custer County alone. He used this work to produce the Pioneer History of Custer County, Nebraska in 1901. The success of this book, one of few successes in his life, prompted Butcher to expand his photographic work to surrounding counties.

In 1904 he produced Sod Houses or the Development of the Great American Plains: A Pictorial History of the Men and Means that have Conquered this Wonderful Country.

Today the collection, comprising about 3500 glass plate negatives, is held by the Nebraska Historical Society.

Wood carving of SD Butcher at work

Wood carving of SD Butcher at work, by a Mr. Mooney

I don’t have any of Butcher’s work, but I do have a wonderful painting of rural Custer County—with gentle sandhills, browned fields and rolled haystacks—by Sid Jablonski.

Sid was a student of mine when I lectured in journalism at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He was the main artist for the student newspaper, The Antelope. The painting hangs in our living room, over the fireplace. It’s been there for more than 30 years.

But I got off the track. We thoroughly enjoyed the Custer County Museum and I recommend it to anyone in the neighbourhood.

I’ve already written a bit about our stop in Valentine (which is north of Highway 2) and I’ll stop back with posts about our visit to Halsey State Park, and the residents and scenery in the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.

16 Comments

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  1. weggieboy / Apr 8 2014 1:11 am

    Nebraska Highway 2 is my favorite road through and to Nebraska as most people never know the state. The Nebraska Sandhills is where the controversial Keystone XL pipeline was/is scheduled to go, and anyone who loves the hills has problems with that.

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    • leggypeggy / Apr 8 2014 7:04 am

      Oh yikes, I didn’t know about the pipeline proposal. Horrible prospect. I love the sandhills and Highway 2 too. One of these days I’ll make it all the way to Alliance.

      Like

  2. micheltrudel2012 / Apr 8 2014 5:08 am

    Peggy Do you plan to come in Canada? in Québec? Let me know Michel Trudel, the friend you meet in Quito.

    Date: Mon, 7 Apr 2014 10:58:43 +0000 To: michel-trudel@sympatico.ca

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    • leggypeggy / Apr 8 2014 6:50 am

      Hello Michel. Poor John and I have such wonderful memories of meeting you in Quito. We aren’t planning to come to Canada this next, but maybe in 2015. We will be sure to let you know. And do you have plans to come to Australia?

      Like

  3. Joy / Apr 8 2014 12:24 pm

    Wonderful blog, Peggy. My Grandmother had one of Butcher’s History of Custer County books. Some of my Mother’s cousins were born in a sod house in the Custer County area.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Apr 8 2014 1:22 pm

      Thanks for the detail about your family Joy, it’s so good to know about their Custer County and Butcher connection. We were so impressed by the museum.

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  4. Darbro / Apr 8 2014 1:28 pm

    Great post, Peggy! I love the Sandhills and visit Cherry County and Valentine every year. Good fishing and canoeing to be had. I will stop in Broken Bow and check out the sites you mentioned.

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    • leggypeggy / Apr 8 2014 9:04 pm

      HI Mike. Come back and let us know how your next trip to the Sandhills goes.

      Like

  5. gpcox / Apr 17 2014 9:11 pm

    That piano is to die for !!

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    • leggypeggy / Apr 17 2014 9:25 pm

      I don’t want to hear that you managed to sneak in and steal it! But let me know if you decide to try and I’ll give you a hand. 🙂

      Like

  6. David / Apr 22 2014 12:52 pm

    How fun, Peggy! Leave it to you to make a great place on Earth even greater! I remember Sid Jablonski and I’m wondering where he is today.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Apr 22 2014 1:58 pm

      It’s a great museum, Dave. You should drive up there the next time you’re in the state. Also, I think Sid is back in Nebraska.

      Like

  7. kelleysdiy / Jan 13 2017 8:41 am

    Love the old museum! What fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 13 2017 9:55 am

      I love museums everywhere. I have pics of lots of old museums and I should do more posts on them. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

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