Friday, May 1, 2015

Life History and Tales of Robert Taylor (8/18/1871-6/16/1953)


Robert Taylor was the first white boy born in Fillmore County, Nebraska. When I was in high school we had a semester of Nebraska history. Dad’s name was in the book. When we had a test about that the teacher looked right at me and said, “You had better get that right!”

His father, John L. Taylor, was a trapper in the winter. One year the weather was very severe, Grandma, Lurana Davis Taylor, was cooking up a stew and she heard a noise on the door. When she opened it, there stood three Indians. They told her by sign language that they were hungry. She brought them in and fed them. They slept on the floor by the fireplace for one night. Next morning they left. After that occasionally there would appear a carcas[s] of a deer, elk, turkey, etc. on her doorstep.

One winter when they lived in the sod house, she was again cooking stew and there were wolves digging, trying to get in under the door. So she got the fire poker hot and stuck it on their noses.

Grandma was a Quaker. She was ex-communicated when she married out of the church. When there was a revival meeting down in Kansas they would load the wagon and drive down there. They’d camp out and be gone several days.

Grandpa Taylor had a short, small left arm. He fell out of a tree when a child and broke his collar bone. He also was a mean man. They lived in a house half block east of us. There was a building over the well in the back yard. On sunny days he’d sit on a chair in the doorway. While grandma was busy in the kitchen he’ yell, “Raney, get me a drink of water”. She’d have to stop everything and go out to the well house and at the pump just a foot or so behind him, pump a drink for him. He’s drink a little bit and throw the rest out on the ground. (I don’t think he would of lived as long as he did it I had to do that!!!)

When Dad, Robert Taylor, was sixteen he had a flock of sheep on the prairie east of town (Alexandria, Nebraska). He had a collie dog to help him. Dad would come into town on the weekends for supplies. He’d spend the weekend with his family. He’d leave his collie dog to guard the sheep. He would hop the hop the freight train to come and go.

One wintery day he was going to hop the train to go back to camp. The train always slowed down so he could hop on, the steps up the box car were icy and he lost his grip and fell under the train. The left leg was cut off just below the knee. When he landed the other foot flew up against the wheel and the engineer slammed on the brakes and the brake shoe caught his foot between it and the wheel. He lost two toes on the right foot.

The train crew took him home and Grandpa said to Grandma, “You aren’t going to take care of a cripple”. So they took him to the drug store. He was put on a cot in the back.

A doctor from Fairbury came through the snow, with a dentist to clean up the wound and amputate the stump at the knee. They gave him brandy till he passed out so they could saw off the stump. He charged Grandpa $50.00 but Grandpa had to sign a note for that.

The doctor filed a claim against Grandpa’s estate for the money. Dad’s Uncle John paid it.

When infection set in the wound and the town’s people were worried about him, and old Indian, that lived in a cave along the banks of the Sandy River, came [borrowing a wagon and a team of horses] and took him to the cave. A lot of the townspeople objected because they knew the Indian would let him die.

Dad told me how his left leg hurt him even after it was buried. The Indian went and dug it up and straightened it when he reburied it, it didn’t hurt Dad anymore.

The Indian doctored him with herbs and roots and in 6 weeks Dad was taken home walking and using a crutch the Indian made out of a tree limb. Dad later had a peg leg made. I don’t ever remember him having a new one, but it was repaired several times. Since he only needed one shoe, he found a man in Geneva that had the opposite leg missing. When Dad would buy a pair of shoes he’d give the other to him and next time the man bought the shoes.

Uncle John went out and brought the sheep in and sold them for Dad. Dad bought part of the homestead [30 acres] and built a one room house. That room became the kitchen after he added on the living room, dining room and 2 bedrooms. Later, I remember vaguely about this, he moved in a one room school house. That became the boy’s room.

I was told he had only six months schooling yet he was able to read, write and do math. Aunt Violet taught her brothers and sister after she graduated from Normal School. That’s what they called teachers education then. She also at one time taught in Alexandria High School. Some of our older brothers and sister were her students. I don’t know which ones.

He built up a dairy herd, had chickens and pigs. He planted fruit trees and a garden. He could handle a team of horses with the best of them. When he was 18 years old he and Aunt Dora went down to Oklahoma to be part of the “Sooner’s Land Rush”.

At 12:00 noon on April 22nd 1889 the government opened up the Oklahoma territory to homesteaders. They were driving a buckboard with their supplies. They argued who would drive the team. Aunt Dora won. They were driving a fast as they could. She drove into a rut and broke a wheel. So they lost out.

He was always looking for odd jobs to do. He was hired to mow the weeds along the right of way of the streets in town. One day he was just finishing up and as he planned he was right by his house. His collie dog was with him everywhere he went. The dog must of thought he was going into the home place and when he didn’t, the dog named “Bud”, got excited and jumped in front of the mower and his legs were cut off. Dad went to his house and got his pistol and shot the collie. He mourned the loss of his dog for a long time.

Dad lived alone until he married at the age of 26. He added on to the one room house. He also built a barn, chicken house, and later a concrete block building that became the wash house and cream separating house. (Coal was also stored there).

He worked at moving houses, digging water wells and putting on lightning rods on houses and barns. [For the house moving] He felled huge trees and shaped them into rollers, and he made pulleys. He had to buy jacks and rope but with his team of horses he’d move houses. The shortest distance for moving houses was across the street. The Catholic Church was moved. It was a wooden building and they wanted to build a brick one. The wooden building became a family residence. The farthest was 30 miles and it took two weeks. When he arrived to start jacking up the house the lady was packing dishes. He told her to just leave them. He’d move the house and not break a dish. If he did, he’d buy her new set. Not one was broken.

Dad had built a building in back of his furniture store, so the men could target practice. One day when she was getting old, Annie Oakley came to town. She challenged the men to a shooting match, Dad accepted. They were to hold it in his building on Saturday afternoon. She didn’t like it, because she would have to stay over too many days, but she eventually went along with it.

The farmers came to town on Saturday for supplies. The word spread fast. Dad charged admission and the building was packed. Annie was mad about that but they held the contest. Dad beat her by one shot. She left town in her buggy just a whipping the horses and cussing. She’d been taken by a cripple. Dad got the winnings and the admission money.

He owned a furniture store, sold new harness, repaired harness and shoes. He owned several houses that he rented and later sold. We lost everything in the depression except the home place. One winter we had nothing but potatoes and milk to eat until the spring garden came in. We never went on welfare like most everyone else did.

When I was about 12 (1933), Dad had about 75 swarms of bees. I helped tend them. In the winter everyone, that is, those who would, would fold the square boxes that honey came in. They were thin and fragil[e]. It took great care or they would break. It seemed we folded thousands. These fit into “supers”, (the boxes put on top of the hives).

When we harvested in the fall we didn’t use any netting. We just had a smoker. After the super was removed, the squares of honey were taken out and “brood wax” scraped off. It was packaged 5 squares to a package. I would go door to door and sell it. One day I sold $5.00 worth. It sold for 10 cents a square.

One year we had an acre of tomatoes. Mom raised the plants in the hot frame she built. When they were ripe we sold them for $1.00 a bushel. I enjoyed taking the basket and wagon to pick them. They were so big and beautiful.

When I was in high school we raised a big patch of sweet potatoes. When they were ready to dig Dad and I went and did it. He had dug one hole and I put my hand into the hole to pick-up the potatoes just as he rammed the shovel in again. It scrapped the skin off my fingers. He handed me his handkerchief and told me to go to the house. I stayed and we finished the job. My fingers were sore for a couple weeks and I was studying typing. I stayed with the class and got all my work in.

Dad never asked me how it was healing but I noticed he was always there when I changes the dressing. I know he hurt inside.

During the Japanese-Chinese war he gathered up coats, blankets, sweaters, shoes, anything they could wear and at his own expense sent them to China. I wonder how many fit those little guys. He had a book about the war with pictures. Hazel burned it when she cleaned out the house. I’d give a fortune to have had that and Mom’s cook book.

I read in a movie magazine that the movie star Robert Taylor had seen Dad on the street of Beatrice and asked his name. He liked it and used it for his stage name. His real name is Arlington Bough.

Dad was known all over the south and western parts of the state as, “Peg-leg Bob”. He never gipped anyone. His word was always good. He got gipped several time but he said they would pay later (when they died).

I couldn’t figure out how he knew what the days Sunday school lesson was, until I stayed home on Sunday and heard it on the radio. I guess you could say in his own way he believed!

One Sunday we were going to Uncle Ed’s for dinner. The whole family was invited. So on Saturday, Bob, Hazel and I washed and polished Dad’s car. We swept out the interior. It looked real good. On Sunday we were driving along and Dad spit out the window, but the window was closed! We didn’t dare laugh, but to this day it’s funny.

In the winter the boy’s bedroom was always so cold. The boys were called by Dad to get up and do their chores. The second time he called them he would emphasize his foot steps by stomping on the peg leg. You can bet the covers flew then. Bob and I were laughing about that the other day. We think Dad was laughing inside as he stomped.

On the day of his funeral all the stores closed and the church was so crowded that people were standing outside.

His death was caused by a stroke. A week before he died there was a tornado and the roof was blown off the hospital and rain was pouring in. The hospital personnel moved all the patients to a school but when my brother Lewis went to see how he was he couldn’t find him. He went to the hospital to double check but all the beds were empty.

They found him under the bed! He had rolled out of bed and under to get out of the rain.

Gone but not forgotten.

The enclosed story is written of things told me by Aunt Violet. Some I remember. I have wished many times I’d had urged her to tell me more and that I’d written it down sooner.
I claim myself not responsible of there is any part not true.
I also apologize for errors in spelling, punctuation, construction and composition. I have forgotten more than I ever learned.
Louise R. Watson
(Rosebell Louise Taylor)

(This is a compilation of letters and statements written by my mother, Louise R. Watson. One letter was dated in 1980 to my brother, Charles. I am glad she wrote this down. Very few edits were done as I believe the original should not be edited. The original contains the flavor of the writer and the times.) (Sandra Watson)