Thursday, July 28, 2016

Minatare, Nebraska - The Home of My Ancestors

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been invited to Nebraska by someone I had corresponded with regarding my Nebraska ancestors. Wanda invited me to visit her in her home and offered to show me the land of my ancestors.

Little did I know what an amazing adventure this would be. Wanda was born the same year as my mother. If my math is right that means that she is just three months shy of 90 years old. She lives alone in the house she and her husband, who died a few years back, owned in Gering, NE. Gering is in Scotts Bluff County, the same county where my ancestors Wellington Clark (great-great-grandfather), Harry Clark (great grandfather) and Wellington Wesley Clark (my grandfather) lived beginning in 1885. 

Wanda is one of the busiest ladies I know. She is involved in activities of the Scottsbluff Presbyterian Church, a local book club, a quilting guild, and a water exercise class. She plays bridge with a group of friends a couple times a week, volunteers at the museum, regularly walks the trail near her house, and is an integral part of a committee of ladies who are writing a book on the history of the early founders of Minatare, Nebraska (including my Clark ancestors). The book-writing committee is what brought us together, as she emailed me seeking information on Wellington Clark. Her grandfather and my great-great-grandfather married sisters, Mamie and Lillie Wynkoop, although these marriages were both second marriages for the men, meaning that Wanda and I are not related by blood in any way.

I went to Gering with stereotypical expectations about the landscape I would see . . . probably nothing but flat prairie land planted in corn and wheat. So you can imagine how surprised I was to drive into Gering through a pass between breathtakingly beautiful, towering sandstone bluffs. 

I arrived on Thursday evening (July 21) and left on the next Tuesday morning (July 26). In those few days Wanda made sure that I saw as much of the area as possible . She first drove me to Minatare, where we identified some of the homestead properties belonging to the Clarks and Wynkoops. On one of those quarter-sections stands a house that the locals still call the Wellington Clark house.  The property and buildings have recently been purchased and the new owners are working on restoring the house.

The Wellington Clark house

We drove to the Minatare Cemetery where Wellington and his mother, Polly, are buried. Wanda feels sure that Wellington's wife, Lillie, is buried there, as well, although there is no stone and no record in the cemetery registry. We spent time at the Scotts Bluff County Courthouse, where I was able to get copies of Wellington's probate records, which answered some questions I had about the family.

We met with the Minatare book committee, which was really fun. I can't begin to tell you how much history is in the heads of these women who, themselves, have parents, grandparents and other ancestors who settled this county.  It is marvelous that they are putting together this book, so that history will be preserved. They are close to having the writing completed, but still need to find a publisher.

The Minatare Book Committee - Wanda in purple, on right.
While at the Scotts Bluff Museum, where the ladies met, Wanda showed me and the other ladies an historic early-twentieth-century quilt. This quilt commemorates the early days of the community of Minatare, and bears the embroidered names of many of the pioneer members. It was discovered back in 1958, at Pender, Nebraska, in the home of a man who had died. The woman who bought his house found the quilt and sent it to the Minatare Presbyterian Church. There, on this quilt, are the names of my great-grandfather (Harry A Clark), "Grandma Clark" (Polly Clark), and my grandfather, Wellington (who as a child was, apparently called Willie). The Steffensmeier names on this same square were Wanda's ancestors. This quilt will eventually be displayed at the Scotts Bluff Museum, where it is now being held

One of the highlights of my visit was going to the Scotts Bluff National Monument. At the base is a museum, situated beside the old roadbed of the Oregon Trail, which is marked by some covered wagons and cattle.

These wagons mark the Oregon Trail as it passes through the gap in the Monument bluffs

We drove the paved road to the top of the bluff and then walked the two trails on the summit, which extend from the parking area to two overlooks. I apologize for including so many shots from the top, but it really is an awesome view, whichever way one looks. The monument is composed of five rocks, known as Crown Rock, Dome Rock, Eagle Rock, Saddle Rock and Sentinel Rock.

Eagle Rock with the Scotts Bluff Museum in front

Some Random Views from The Top of the Monument:

Wanda at one of the lookouts

From down in the valley, the bluffs change shape, depending on your viewpoint:

The Oregon Trail passed  through the "U" shaped gap towards the left of the picture (just to the right of the inverted "V" shaped bluff)

Eagle Rock

Crown Rock

Saddle Rock
Dome Rock (left of center)

We also drove to Alliance, NE, primarily to tour the museum there, but also to visit Carhenge. Yes, I did say "Carhenge." Does it really need an explanation? I will say that the thirty-nine automobiles were carefully placed, by its creator, in the same proportions as Stonehenge. The circle is approximately 96 feet in diameter.

We took one more outing to Chimney Rock. First we drove up into the old Chimney Rock Cemetery, where Wanda has family buried.

Chimney Rock as seen from the cemetery
Then we went down to the visitor center, where we had a closer view of the rock. It is impressive, with a "spire" rising 325 feet from a conical base

Wanda had lots of memories of coming to Chimney Rock with her family, as a child, to watch the annual outdoor passion play that was performed on summer nights. She told me in great detail about how the angels stood on the rocks and were lit up, and of the fantastic costumes the performers wore. When we went into the museum, we were surprised and pleased to find this old poster advertising that very passion play.

It wasn't all sight-seeing. We also toured the research center where Wanda works on local history, and I even got to try a new-to-me cuisine - the "runza." For those of you who also are not familiar with a runza, it is a beef and cabbage mixture baked inside a homemade bun. And it really was delicious. Many people in this northwestern corner of Nebraska are of German-Russian descent, and the runza originated first in Russia, spread to Germany, and eventually came, with these immigrants, to America. Yum! It really was good.

On Tuesday morning I departed from Wanda's welcoming home. What a wonderful time I had, and what an amazing lady is my new friend, Wanda. These two pictures were taken as I headed out of town to begin my two-day return trip.

The early morning sun lights up a corn field in front of one of the many bluffs in this part of Nebraska

One more glimpse of Chimney Rock, shrouded in morning mist. Goodbye Nebraska!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You had a very interesting trip! I didn't Nebraska was so pretty! Glad you were able to make the trip.....Genie