The sun painted the eastern sky orange at 6 a.m. Wednesday as I stood along Highway 50A near the Fort Kearny State Historical Park entrance looking through my camera’s zoom lens for a westbound horse and rider participating in the National Pony Express Association re-ride from St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento, Calif.
Finally, there they were on the highway’s north shoulder, illumined by headlights from three pickups pulling stock trailers.
The caravan of volunteer riders had started the event’s Hastings-to-Fort Kearny leg at 1 a.m. Horses and riders took turns carrying the mochila (mail bags), changing every mile or two.
The job was more difficult for the original young Pony Express riders who provided cross-country mail service from April 3, 1860, to Oct. 24, 1861. A NPEA brochure says they earned $25 a month to ride 75 miles at a time, changing horses every 10-15 miles.
There were no motorized escorts, farm and ranch yard lights or well-marked roads to guide them in the dark.
I think about the stories they could tell along with other common folks of the past who had no idea their daily lives might be of interest, let alone historically important, years later.
I hope some stories I’ve written the past 41½ years as a Nebraska newspaper journalist can help future generations interested in history to better understand our lives, times, interests, issues and cultures.
My late brother James was an expert in Nebraska and Civil War history who spent his entire 49-year career with the Nebraska State Historical Society. I used to say I help write the “first rough draft” of history and he puts into context information from rough drafts written by past journalists, letter writers and journal keepers.
His NSHS roles included archivist, senior research historian and contributor-editor for the Nebraska History quarterly publication. Its highly researched, detailed articles are a mix of topics — people profiles, places, cultures, social issues, significant events, discovery and settlement of what now is Nebraska, technology and transportation advancements.
I skim some stories and read every word of others, including two I found this week in the summer 2018 edition.
The cover story, “Louise Vinciquerra, Nebraska Bootlegger Queen,” has Prohibition era tales of law breaking and enforcement, organized crime, and even, murder. A profile of Nemaha County settler Benton Aldrich says he served his neighbors by creating one of the first lending libraries in his sod dugout, but was pompous, narrow-minded and bigoted.
I found my fall 2012 Nebraska History at the bottom of a work desk drawer Tuesday and realized I’d saved it — possibly as a column idea — because James wrote, “Wearing the Hempen Neck-Tie: Lynchings in Nebraska, 1858-1919.”
Who says history is boring?
Nebraskans have much history in common, but each person and place has unique experiences and stories. Some are preserved in museums. Others are little more than oral histories passed from generation to generation.
It’s easy to find museums, historical sites and natural wonders in Nebraska because there are so many of them. Information is available from state and local tourism offices, and publications such as Nebraska Life and NEBRASKAland magazines.
The current edition of Nebraska Life has brief descriptions of nine Nebraska scenic byways. I hope to have time someday to travel all or part of each.
For now, I’ll use the time I have to go around corners, down rural roads and along nearby highways where I know I’ll always find beautiful and/or historic places filled with Nebraska sights, sounds and stories.
Lori Potter is a Hub staff writer.