Nebraska Homestead Used Early Telephone to Communicate

Early telephone helped Nebraska homestead warn of prairie fires, weather, and other hazards.

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One of the most interesting items in our Holt County, Nebraska, homestead was a crank telephone mounted on the wall in the dining room. Dangling from the bottom was a plug which

Mother used to connect a line running east to Amelia and Chambers to a second line running south, eventually reaching Burwell. A series of rings brought Mother to the phone where she joined the lines so a caller on one system could converse with a person on the other.

That phone system was something! The line ran on fence posts until it came to a gate; then it was over passed by tall uprights to permit hayracks to enter and leave the field without interrupting the phone service.

After a blizzard we could follow the telephone wire and pick up prairie chickens that had flown against it and died. We hung them, frozen, until we wanted to eat them.

This was a mutually owned system, and each homesteader maintained the line across his land. Sometimes the wire would break, and the owner would patrol his section, find the break, and repair it in his own fashion. Many times the line was broken in several places between our telephone and "central," but eventually service would be restored.

A signal of short rings would summon all subscribers for an important announcement. Special calls were put thru for prairie fire warnings and national news items. I remember when the news of the assassination of President McKinley came in 1901, my father called us together for family prayer. 

Carl W. Moss
Denver, Colorado

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.