18 June 2015

Chesley Homestead, Part 4: "The Neighborhood."

In the letter I published Monday from my Grandpa Keith he said that Charles. E. Chesley was the first to arrive in Powell Canyon, Custer County, Nebraska.  And that is right.  This is also confirmed by the Callaway (NE) history book Settling the Seven Valleys (Lorraine Smith, ed., Loup Valley Queen, Charles and Donna Meyers: Callaway, NE, 1982).  But it is a little more complicated than that.

Immigrating across the west from New York were several families traveling together and settling together -- the Chesleys, the Copelands, Olneys, Chamberlains, and others.  They travelled first to Illinois, then to Kansas, before reaching Powell Canyon, Nebraska.

The first of the group to settle in Powell Canyon was apparently Jared Copeland, who actually became a well-respected builder of sod-houses, and engineered the construction of the soddie the Chesleys moved into.  After Charles E. Chesley was in place, slowly but surely he was joined by the rest of his brothers and his parents, his sisters and their husbands (Copelands, Chamberlains, etc.)

Here is the original landowner map (be sure to click on it to enlarge) --

Map provided with permission from HistoryGeo.com Copyright 2015, Arphax Publishing Co.

It is just like my grandfather wrote that he remembered, all the families bunched up together.  He said "within three miles of each other" which I guess that when you are talking farms that is close. :-)  We even add another family into the group when Eva Pearl Chesley married James Wonch, and James' mother's maiden name is "Woodward."

Now be sure look at this map with a critical eye!  Remember that the government made you work the land for some time before they would hand it over to you via the Homestead Act.  And understand there was buying and selling going on before these official dates were codified.  But we still get a glimpse here of the picture our sources describe -- the Chesleys, Copelands, Walkers, and Wonches all bunched together.

Here is more from Settling the Seven Valleys --
The Chesleys did not become Custer County pioneer residents until 1899.  First Chesley to come to Powell Canyon, fifteen miles northwest of Callaway, was Charles E. and Maria Jane (Copeland) Chesley, who purchased a rough 160 acre homestead from Martha's brother Jared Copeland.......This couple also welcomed to Powell Canyon , the families of all five brothers and sisters (Ollnys, Walkers, etc.) as well as their parents Charles H. and Phoebe (Ward) Chesley who were in their sixties.  Now the elder Chesleys probably made their home with youngest daughter Lucy, and Henry Martin Walker....[T]he elder Chesleys purchased the Charles E. farm in 1894...... 
The last of the Chesley brothers and sisters to come to Nebraska was George, who came by  wagon in 1899.  By then his oldest daughter Eva Pearl was eighteen and like a mother to brothers, Clarence 15, Harry B. 13 and to Fern 10.  The mother Cora Densmore had died in 1898 from epilepsy after many years of illness....... 
Eva Pearl was soon married to James Wonch and to this couple three strapping sons were born, Grant, Cecil, and Luman.  James' mother, Sarah (Woodman) Wonch, a widow, was still proving up on the Wonch homestead...... 
One of the crops of Powell Canyon was cane and both the Chesley and Wonch farms made molasses in early fall.  Eugene, son of Charles E. and Maria Jane, lost his arm in the molasses press.  Dr. Mylar of Callaway amputated above the elbow, at the farm with only a neighbor, the older Bob Shaw to assist.
Some of the families moved on from Nebraska.  Most notable of those being Charles E. taking his family to Washington state.  But when you look at this map and this history, you have to come away with the conclusion that Powell Canyon, Nebraska was one of the places our family put down roots.  You might even say it is okay to call it "home."

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

1 comment:

  1. Howdy Neighbor! My Great Grandfather John McGrath homesteaded in Custer county - Section 18 Township 13 back in 1894. I've been reading with interest your Chesley Homestead series. It's beautiful country there!