Homestead near Paxton, Nebraska, c. 1887

Nathan and Mary McClain acquired a homestead near Paxton, Nebraska about 1885 (just months after son Arthur was born). They lived on that homestead until 1901, growing wheat and raising some livestock.

This is a photo of the homestead. According to the stamp on the back, it was taken by “I. M. Askren, Traveling Photograph Artist.” There is a lot of detail here, so be sure to click/tap on the image above to view the larger version of it. There are several sod structures in the photo. I’m thinking maybe the structure on the left with the wooden gable and roof is the house (because there is a flue). To the right of that is another small sod structure (perhaps serving as a root cellar or something along that line). On the right edge of the photo is a large sod structure, maybe a barn. In the middle area behind the windmill is the cow pen and a pasture. I’ll leave it to you to find the cat, chickens and other animals in the photo.

In the foreground at right, sitting on the horse-drawn binder (at least I think it’s a binder), is Nathan (I assume—his face is hidden, so I can’t be sure). Just left of the windmill’s base, in front of the small sod structure, is a girl and a boy. Another girl and boy are in front of them, standing in the weeds closer to the camera. Further left is a woman (I think Mary) sitting on a chair with an infant in her lap. (Looking at the original print of this photo, I would never have guessed there was so much detail in it. I didn’t even realize there were people in it, except for the man on the binder. Such are the benefits of digital image processing.)

I am not at all confident of these identifications for the children, but here are my guesses: The girl and boy in the weeds are Mae and Jim (age about 5 and 7). The children standing in front of the sod structure are Nellie (8) and Arthur (3). And the infant in the woman’s lap is Frank, less than a year old. Charlie and Bill (ages 12 and 10) don’t appear to be in the photo (they’re probably working on the farm somewhere). All this would mean the photo was taken in 1887.

The boy I’ve identified as Arthur, standing in front of the small sod structure, looks very much like the boys in the photo in this previous post (Arthur, Frank and Ray about 1890).

There was no irrigation in those days, of course. It was dry land farming. In 1901, after three successive years of weather so dry the wheat didn’t even sprout, let alone produce a harvest, the family left the homestead and moved to Oregon.

As mentioned in this previous post, that land today seems very productive, judging from aerial photography. This is thanks to a huge irrigation boom. That was not an option in 1901, of course.

A quote about the homestead from a brief biography of Ray McClain seems to fit here:

They lived in a sod house and material possessions were scarce, but family love was abundant.

(author unknown, but I assume it was someone in Ray’s family)

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