In March 1889, five-year Bertha Ward traveled with her family from Republic, Kansas, to Gordon in Sheridan County, Nebraska.The John Reeves Ward family resided in Gordon for nearly three years, until his death in December 1891 from typhoid fever.John Ward taught school while in Gordon.Following his death his family returned to Republic, Kansas.
In December 1978, at the age of 94, Bertha Ward VanNortwick wrote about her early life, which included her time in Gordon. She died in January 1983, just two weeks before her 99th birthday.Bertha’s "Autobiographical Notes" was used as source for Gerald McFarland’s book "A Scattered People: An American Family Moves West" (Pantheon Books, 1985; Penguin Books, 1987), which tells the story of five generations of Wards.
Below is the section from Bertha Ward VanNortwick’s "Autobiographical Notes" which discusses her life in Gordon and Sheridan County.She mentions the following family names: Auker,Dennison, Hicks, Homer, Newman, Pierce, Shepardson, and Wassman.
But first, here is a biographical sketch of the Ward family.John Reeves Ward was born on December 10, 1858 in Owen County, Indiana, the oldest son of James Osborne Ward and Sarah Jane Steele.On March 2, 1882, 23-year-old John Reeves Ward married 18-year-old Frances Sybil Dancy, the daughter of William H. Dancy and Frances Sybil Servis.John and Frances’ first child, son Orie, was born on December 19, 1882, and their first daughter, Bertha, was born 13 months later on January 24, 1884.The John Ward family, as well as the James Ward and William Dancy families, had moved to Republic, Republic County, Kansas by the time of Bertha’s birth.What follows is Bertha’s story about the John Ward family’s move from Republic, Kansas, to Gordon in Sheridan County, Nebraska, and the family’s return trip to Republic nearly three years later.The bracketed material and footnotes are mine.
BERTHA WARD VANNORTWICK’S "AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTES"
"In 1889 when I was just five years old father decided to move to northwestern Nebraska.Many things I can not recall but I do remember the overland trip to northwestern Nebraska.We were just a month on the road.We left Grandfather Dancy’s on the morning of March first.There were two wagons, the first was a covered wagon, drawn by a pair of oxen, with two cows tied behind.The second wagon was also drawn by a team of oxen and contained most of our worldly belongings.Uncle Joe Ward drove the second wagon while my father drove the first.We got as far as Byron, Nebraska that day where father wanted to have some blacksmith work done.We left Byron the next afternoon headed northwest.
"There are three special events that I remember on that long drive.One was when we crossed the North Platte river.There was just a make shift bridge–planks laid across on stakes with no side rails of any kind.The oxen rebelled, they were afraid to cross, so finally mother and we four children got out of our wagon and father and Uncle Joe, one on each side, succeeded in leading the first team with wagon across.Then back and got the second team and wagon across.Mother and we children followed on foot.There was a terrific wind blowing and we were told to hang on to mother while she carried Bula, who was then the baby.We had difficulty in keeping from being blown off into the water.
"Another time it rained so hard father and Joe decided we had better just stay off the trail that day.There we were all huddled in the lead wagon all day with the rain pouring down.Seven of us, for the second wagon was not covered.Uncle Joe had a bed roll and slept under the wagon when it wasn't raining.Some nights when the weather was nice brother Orie slept with him.Orie was seven when we started on that long ride, I was five, there was just thirteen months differences in our ages.Jesse Ray was four and Bula was twenty months.
"While on that trip the four oxen and the two cows were each staked out at night with lariat ropes so they could feed along the road side or over the prairie, most of the time over prairie land.At times when we passed through populated country father would buy some grain for the stock.
"The front wagon had a four hole cook stove right in the front, the stove pipe went up through the top a full joint.One amusing incident, I remember, father and Joe often walked along beside the wagons while driving.One afternoon while they walked and Orie was riding on the second wagon, Orie saw the stove pipe joint fall off.No one else noticed so he began to holler for them to stop.Well, we had been taught to mind, when father or mother said ‘no’ that was it.So when Orie kept hollering, father turned around and told him to keep still, not another word.Well that was it, until time to camp for the night and the folks missed the stove pipe.Orie said ‘I tried to tell you when it fell off but you told me to keep still.’
"There was just room to get into the wagon and slide between the stove and the side of the wagon, back to where we slept and sat on our make shift beds to eat our meals.Mother always managed for us to have our meals.We always had just corn meal mush and milk for our supper.Mother would prepare the mush while father milked the cows, then we had fresh milk for our mush.
"There is one thing I have not mentioned, we never traveled on Sunday.Father was a God fearing man and believed that we, as well as the animals, should rest on what we believed at that time to be the Sabbath.
"After a long month we reached our destination.There were some people living there that my folks had known when they lived in Nebraska, so we went to their place where we were made very welcome.We camped in their yard for a week or more while father looked around for some government land, then went to the county seat to file on it. He filed on 160 acres and soon we were living there in a tent that a kindly neighbor was willing to loan.Also the covered bed of the first wagon was removed from the wagon truck and sat on the ground beside the tent.After living cramped for so long, we felt we were in a huge house.
"Meanwhile father and Uncle Joe were busy making us a ‘house’. The place was partly hilly and they dug, back into the side of a hill until the south and west sides were left exposed, then walled up those sides with sod. You have heard of the dugouts and of the sod house – well I suppose this would have been called a semi-sod house – two walls, the north and east were solid earth, while the west wall had a full window and the south wall had a full window and the door.Just one large room.Those sod houses were warm in the winter and mother had those windows full of house plants.All of the neighbors had them and would give her slips to root.There were no flower pots, old tin cans, old buckets, wooden boxes, anything that would hold soil was used.
"The first winter we were in Nebraska father taught school five miles from home, walking the distance twice a day.It was also this winter that Grace was born on December 2nd.
"Now I want to tell you of an incident that happened that summer .About a half a mile east of us along a range of hills there was a large patch of wild berries right up the side of a rather high hill.One hot afternoon mother gave Orie and me a syrup pail and asked us if we could pick enough berries for supper, of course we could and off we went.We had our pail filled when suddenly a black cloud came over and it began to thunder.We had not noticed it until then.I thought we should go home but Orie said ‘No its going to rain, we better go up there.’‘Up there’ was a rock like over hanging ledge that provided a cave like spot.So we scrambled up the hill and just in time for it just poured down for awhile.It was just a passing cloud and the rain did not last very long, but we sat up there high and dry.I don’t suppose we ever thought that mother might be worrying about us.When it was over we scrambled down and started for home.Just a little way and we met mother coming to find us.She had Grace, who was the baby, in her arms with Bula and Jesse Ray hanging on to her skirts, running to keep up with her.When she saw us dry and unhurt she just dropped down onto the wet trail.I have often thought about it since, there she was alone, for father was helping a neighbor that day, busy in the house with the work and the three children, she had not seen the cloud coming over either.She must have walked the floor wringing her hands wondering where Orie and I were, however, it was a happy ending.
"It was that summer that father came in with some wonderful news.A Mr. George Auker, who lived near the school that father taught, had come to him with a good proposition.He had filed on some land near the school and had a neat dugout on it.He told father that he wanted to go east for the winter, and that if we wanted to, we could move there for the winter.It was only about a half a mile from the school that father would be teaching.All he asked for was that father would take care of his team of mules and a cow.The oxen had been sold and father could use the mules at any time.Well it was great news for now Orie and I could attend school too, with father for our teacher.I forgot to say that George Auker was a bachelor, so it was a surprise to find what we considered a fine home.The dugout had two rooms, though the two rooms to-gether were not as large as our own home.The dirt walls had been covered with some hard substance, I do not know what it was.There was a small built in cupboard, large enough though for what dishes we had.There were half windows, to the ceiling, but best of all there was a board floor.Our own place had just a dirt floor, part of it mother had covered with a rag carpet.
"Well things went pretty well for us that winter, for the most part.The Sioux Indian War was on, but was so far north of us that my parents were not unduly alarmed.There was for awhile, as I recall, that the men in the community took turns going into the town of Rushville, which was the county seat.One neighbor would go in one day, then all from nearby would meet at the schoolhouse that night to hear how things were, then another would go the next day.I cannot remember how long they kept that up.
"It was nearly spring, in fact the first day of March, that there came the worst blizzard in years.Father and a neighbor had gone into Rushville on Saturday for supplies when the blizzard came on.They did not get home that night either.And how it did snow and the wind blew the snow into great drifts.Our runway (steps into the dugout) was filled as were the windows.When mother realized we would be snowed in, she got all of the fuel she could under cover and got out to the stable to see about a baby calf.She was told afterwards that she was very foolhardy to do that because of the driving wind and snow.By this time most of the government land had been filed on, nearly every one lived in a sod house, so we had plenty of neighbors.By Sunday morning the fuel was getting low, but mother kept some fire in the cook stove and before father reached home she had taken out bed slats and broken them up to burn.
"Meanwhile some German neighbors, who lived across the prairie from us, knowing that father had gone into Rushville, decided that mother might need help.There were three grown boys in that family, so they gathered together all of the ropes they had, tied them together and tied one end to a hitching post.Then the other end around the waist of one of the boys and he fought his way over to our place.The runway was filled with snow but he dug it away from the window and talked to mother.She assured him that we had food and that we would be all right.Father reached home about noon on Sunday. He and the neighbor had gotten part way home on the day of the blizzard, then had to hole up with someone along the way.I do not remember the names of these people, only a part of them, but everyone was willing to help another. Wassman was the name of the German family.
"The reason for all the ropes was that in those days there was as yet, no fences. Everyone had long ropes with a stake fastened to one end that could be driven into the ground, while the other end was tied around a cows neck and she could graze on the grass without wandering away, the same with horses.
"Well the winter passed, school was over and we moved back to our own place. Summer as usual.Father had bought a team of horses and the only conveyance we had was a lumber wagon, but we enjoyed life.There was a family named Hicks lived about a mile south of us and mother and Mrs. Hicks became very good friends.The Hicks had an only daughter, she was about my age and I must say that she was the most ornery person I ever remember.Spoiled rotten and she always had her own way.If she struck one of us, as she often did, her mother would say ‘Oh, she did not mean to hurt you.’Years later, when I was about fifty years old, mother learned through a friend that Mabel Hicks had never married, right then I said ‘Who would want her, she was so ornery.’
"There was another woman who lived southeast of us.People walked a lot in those days and the first year we lived in Nebraska she went by our house three and four times a week.She never stopped, just went on up the road to her parents home.Afterwards mother learned that this woman, Lizzie Pierce, had told others that Mrs. Ward was such a proud woman she kept her children in white for every day wear.The joke was that the white waists and dresses she saw were made of flour sacks.When we left Kansas, Grandmother Ward had given mother a dozen fifty pound flour sacks (all bleached) so when the children needed clothes, mother made use of them for there was no money to buy any.
"The second summer passed. Rose was born on the fourth of September, 1891.A sod school house had been built a mile and a half north of us and father started teaching there.
"Soon an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out and many families suffered loss by death of loved ones.There was one family I well remember, I believe the name was Newman.I had gone to school with the children. The mother and two of the children died.The girl, Emma was the oldest, and one day at school she and I were in the ‘out house’ together.When I started to open the door to leave, she said “Wait a minute I have to fix my underskirt.”With that she pulled her dress skirt up around her waist and what was she wearing but a piece of an old bed quilt pinned around her with safety pins.I watched while she made the thing a bit more tight around her, then we went on into the school house.
"Soon the epidemic struck our home, of we six children all had the fever but Rose, who was a tiny baby.Both Orie and Jesse Ray had a light case, as did Bula, but the lives of both Grace and I were despaired of, we lay unconscious for days.Finally the tide turned, then by the time we were able to be up and around father took down.He had kept right on teaching and helping care for the sick at night, also many neighbors helped out too.Uncle Joe had left Nebraska long before this, so we were alone.Father felt he could not give up for he needed the money.Mother would write to our folks at Republic and give the letters to the doctor to mail.Unknown to her he had taken the address and wrote to them himself.He said that father could not possibly live, so Grandfather Dancy and Grandfather Ward both took the train for Nebraska.Then when they arrived they took a ride out to our place with the doctor.We saw them drive in, four men in a two seated carry all and mother said ‘Oh why did he bring those men out here.’Then when the knock came on the door she opened it and there stood Grandfather Ward.The doctor was right behind him and she did not see Grandfather Dancy, but turned her back and was watching father’s reaction to seeing his own father.It was then Grandfather Dancy reached out and put his hand on her shoulder.I was watching and saw mother turn and cry out ‘Oh Pa’ and throw her arms around his neck and start to cry.Not for long though as there was much to do.
"Strange as it may seem mother never took the fever.Father lived just a week after that.Grandfather Ward stayed only two or three days then left for home.Meanwhile Mr. Hicks, who was our neighbor, was stricken with the fever, he had been among those who had sat up of nights with father.He lived only a short time after father’s death and is buried near by him in the Mt. Hope Cemetery.The night father died it seemed to me there were so many with us, there was a Mr. Dennison and a Mrs. Shepardson as well as another woman whose name I cannot recall, besides Grandfather Dancy.
"We children were in bed and I was awakened by mother screaming ‘Oh, John’ then the woman came to get we older children, that is Orie, Jesse Ray and myself to say goodbye.Father died on December 7th which was mother’s birthday and was buried on his own birthday, December 9th, 1891 at the age of thirty three.The funeral was in our own home and the house was filled full of people as well as was the yard filled.We, that is mother and we children were not taken to the cemetery.A Mr. Homer preached the service and Mrs. Shepardson and Mr. Auker sang.It was just a short service. Since it was December, the day was short and it was dark by the time Grandfather and some neighbors returned from the cemetery.
"Early the next morning we were all bundled up and taken to the Shepardson home, where we stayed for a week or so before we were headed for Kansas.I remember hearing Grandfather saying to mother, ‘The last thing Ma said to me was “bring Fannie and the children home with you.”’There was nothing else mother could do, so that week was a busy one for all.Mother was the only one of us to ever go back to our home.She and Grandpa packed what few things she could keep and disposed of the rest as best she could.Mother was taken to the cemetery to visit father’s grave one afternoon and came home weary and depressed.
"Sometime during the time we were in the Shepardson home the neighbor women had a sewing bee for us.Grandfather got the material for both mother and myself to have a black dress, and of course the younger children were given many things.Some women in Gordon got together and fixed up a Christmas box for us, but we were not allowed to open it until we were back in Kansas.
"We were taken into Gordon one forenoon in a lumber wagon, with all of our worldly possessions.Grandfather and mother had people to see, the doctor, the undertaker, etc.Then we went to the home of a friend, another Auker family, where we stayed until time to take the train at about ten o'clock that night.We traveled all that night and until we reached, I believe it was Grand Island, Nebraska.Then to a hotel where we spent the night.The next day on a train headed for Superior.There we were to spend another night.We had hardly left the depot when a man who had lived neighbor to us before we left Republic recognized Grandpa.He stopped us and insisted that we spend the night at their place.I can not remember the name though I think it was Cole, they had a daughter older than I named Bessie.You would have thought they were in the habit of a whole family dropping in on them the way the Cole’s welcomed us.
"The next day we took the Missouri Pacific for Republic, the last lap of our trip back to Kansas.We were two or three days and two nights getting from Gordon, Nebraska to Republic.Then we were delayed again, the train which was composed of an engine, several box cars, the mail car and the passenger coach was about two miles north of Republic when the passenger car became uncoupled from the rest of the train and the train went right on without the passenger car.Not until they were almost into Republic did the crew notice that they were with out the passenger car.We had just rolled along for a short distance, then sat there and waited until the engine backed the whole train back up to where they coupled the car on again and at last we reached our destination.
"Uncle Ben and Uncle Robert Dick, with a cousin of ours, were waiting at the depot, so we felt we were home at last.We all walked over to Uncle Robert Dick’s house, about three blocks over in the northeast side of town.The old house has been gone for years.Aunt Abbie was watching and came to meet us.So after about an hour or two, we all loaded into a lumber wagon drawn by a team of horses and started out for Grandpa Dancy’s.
"However we were delayed again. Grandpa Ward owned the farm that is now the Bill McClure place and Grandma Ward and Aunt Viola Price had been watching for us and by the time we arrived there, they were out in the road waiting for us.Of course we were glad to see them but when they wanted us to go in and see Grandpa Ward, Mother said, ‘No, not this time.’Grandma asked if either Orie or I, or both of us, could not stay there overnight and again mother said ‘No, but that we would go back later.’Neither of us would have been willing to stay as we did not want to leave mother.You see we had learned that Grandpa Ward was sick with what he thought was the typhoid fever. Most people thought he just had a hard case of the grippe, we call it flu now.Another reason we did not want to stay and see Grandpa, though we were only seven and nine we had sharp ears and we knew that when Grandfather came back to his own home, the Gordon doctor had talked to him and had told him he had better stay, that his son could not possibly live but because father was conscious and could talk to him, Grandfather – a know it all person – would not believe him.So we then went on to what was to be our home for the next year and a half.Grandma [Dancy] and Aunt Bula came running to meet us and soon we were settled for the night.
"It was now almost Christmas, and while every one was so nice to us, showered us with gifts and plenty of candy and nuts, it was a sad Christmas.When the day came we opened the box from the ladies in Gordon. Bula and I each received a doll.There was something for each of us, but we missed our father and mother cried so much it made us all sad.And so the holidays passed.
. . . .
"Long afterwards mother told me that the reason she and father had left Kansas and gone to western Nebraska was to get away from Grandfather Ward.She said that every time father received his teacher’s pay check, Grandpa was right there wanting a few dollars and he never paid back a cent.And I remember Grandfather talking to father while he lay there on his death bed, he said ‘don't expect any help from me.’Yes, I had big ears then.I never told my sister’s how I felt about Grandpa Ward, I just kept it shut up inside me.But when I read Cousin Estelle’s book about the Ward family and how she lauded Grandpa, well I thought, If she only knew.
"Grandfather and Grandmother Dancy took us in, though they were middle age then and had raised a large family of their own.But that made no difference, they gave us a home and it must have been hard on them to have all six of us children in their home. Uncle Ben and Jim were still at home.They were in their teens and did all of the farming.Aunt Bula was still at home and teaching in the district.So there were twelve of us all in that four bedroom house.I used to dream about my father, we still missed him.
. . . .
"For years mother kept in touch with the good neighbors on northwestern Nebraska. In later years, while she was living in Lincoln, she went back to Gordon and had a modern marker placed at father’s grave.While there she stayed with some former neighbors who by then had retired and were living in Gordon."
 "Uncle Joe Ward" was Joseph Addison Ward, the younger brother of John Ward.“Uncle Joe” was 21-years-old in March 1889 while John was 30 and wife Frances was 25.
Bula Ward, the fourth child of John and Frances, was born on May 14, 1887.Before her, third child Jesse Raymond Ward was born on September 4, 1885.
Grace Ward, the fifth child of Frances and John Ward, was born on December 2, 1889.
 "Uncle Ben" was Benjamin Butler Dancy, who was nine years younger than his sister, Frances, and was 19-years-old at the time."Uncle Robert Dick" married Julia Abigail (“Abbie”) Dancy, who was three years older than her sister Frances.
William and Frances (Servis) Dancy were then 57-years-old and had raised nine children.
James Servis Dancy, the ninth and youngest child of William and Frances, was 16-years-old.
 Frances Ward married as her second husband Perez Smith in 1895.Perez died in 1912.Frances was in Republic, Kansas in the 1920 U.S. census but was residing in Lincoln, Nebraska by 1928 and was there during the 1930 census.She returned to Republic by 1941.Frances Sybil Dancy Ward Smith died in Republic, Kansas, on August 27, 1949 at the age of 85.She is buried next to her second husband Perez Smith in Washington Cemetery in Republic County, Kansas.