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Ogallala, Nebraska: "Gomorrah of the cattle trail."

© By Joei Carlton Hossack
  Andy Adams, a trail driver, first saw the town in 1875, and he wrote that Ogallala was the "Gomorrah of the cattle trail." Three quarters of businesses were comprised of dance halls, gambling houses and saloons. In 1870 - 1880, it formed the end of the trail as cowboys drove herds of longhorns up from Texas for shipment east on the Union Pacific Railroad. After tedious months in the saddle, the raucous cowboys were ready for a good time, and Ogallala was THE place to have fun.
     I took advantage of a history lesson from a friend and a tour of Lonesome Dove country. Remember the CBS mini-series based on Larry McMurtry's prize-winning novel, describing the cattle drive from Rio Grande, Texas to Ogallala in Nebraska?
     Joyce, a great-granddaughter, Gabrielle, and I started our collective visit with lunch at the Crystal Palace, an old-time, half-a-city-block-long saloon and restaurant on Front Street. The jail-turned museum, two gift shops, a barbershop and a Petrified Wood Gallery occupied the rest of a western façaded plaza, complete with a boardwalk. Of course, the undertaker occupied his office in the plaza as well.
     We spent an hour in the Petrified Wood Gallery, checking pictures and music boxes made from petrified wood. There were knothole-framed pictures, a collection of gemstone butterflies, toadstools, eggs and a gemstone map of the United States, displays of fossilized fish imprints, Indian artifacts and rare pieces of petrified wood, millions of years old while out the back door, there was a quiet courtyard for reflection.


     We drove by the Mansion on the Hill at the corner of North Spruce and 10th Streets, Ogallala's finest home when built in 1887 with 17-inch thick brick walls trimmed with stone. The weather was too hot to wander around outside, but three blocks west of the Mansion was Boot Hill, the town's original cemetery that I just had to see.
     In May, 1867, the first bodies were buried here: three Union Pacific track layers killed in an Indian raid a mile east of Spruce Street. A hundred more corpses were rolled in canvas and dropped into shallow graves between 1874 and 1884. Some internees were Robert Webster, a drover, shot to death while bathing in the North Platte River, naked and unarmed when gunned down, Sarah Miller, young wife of a local rancher, buried with her newborn baby, Cynthia McCey, who died from consumption and 4-year-old, Ida Alice Aufdengarten who perished from snakebite. Joseph Hayden had won $100,000 gambling with Texas cattle barons one night, and he tried to escape on the 2:00 a.m. train with a suitcase containing gold coins, but Williams Bland and his gang grabbed him from the train at Alkali (now Paxton) and Hayden was summarily shot three times trying to escape. A small girl was crushed by falling timber, and several teenagers died during the typhoid epidemic. Quite a variety!
     The next day, we headed to Ole's Big Game Lounge and Steakhouse in Paxton for lunch. It officially opened at 12:01 A.M., August 9, 1933, the very moment that prohibition ended. A polar bear with a giant paw holding down a seal greeted us, encased at the entrance. Obviously, Ole had been a prodigious big game hunter as the restaurant was filled with two hundred mounted trophies from every continent: heads of buffalo, leopard, deer, jaguar, mountain sheep, warthog, hartebeest, wolverine and several others that I didn't recognize.
     The front end of a massive elephant magically appeared halfway through a wall, its giant tusks replaced with plastic as the real tusks were aligned vertically in front of the fireplace, their formidable length ending close to the tall ceiling. The front of an adult giraffe appeared halfway through another wall farther down. Everywhere, some giant, hairy, beady-eyed creature stared back at us.
     This area certainly provides one with pause to reflect on the bizarre nature of the west, and I thoroughly recommend it!

Joei Carlton Hossack is the author of (1) Everyone's Dream Everyone's Nightmare (2) Kiss This Florida, I'm Outta Here (3) A Million Miles from Home (4) Alaska Bound and Gagged (5) Free Spirit - Born to Wander and (6) Chasing the Lost Dream. She is an entertaining and inspirational speaker specializing in world travel and writing/publishing and promotion. She can be reached at JoeiCarlton@Hotmail.com & www.joeicarlton.com. Joei is extremely well known in the RV community. She lives and thrives in a 10-foot truck camper. When off the truck, it sits on 4 electric jacks (1 at each corner). The camper sits in the bed of an F-250, 3/4 ton diesel truck.

Photo Credits
Ogallala Chamber of Commerce (Keith County)

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