By Mickey Douglas
Students in ENG 442 are sharing their reading responses to the Major Nebraska Writers we have encountered this Fall. Mickey’s post was inspired by her reading of Mari Sandoz.
Mari Sandoz, a Major Nebraska Author, wrote about home and family. She writes in great detail about the Nebraska Sandhills and her early years, particularly in the Chadron, Rushville, Gordon, and Hay Springs area. Mari’s father, Jules Sandoz, was born in Switzerland. He was a medical student, spoke French fluently, and was considered by all who knew him as very intelligent. In the early 1880’s he immigrated to America. Possibly, he chose to venture into the more isolated section of the United States because he had been accused of murder in the “Old Country.” Sandoz, described as a violent man, had four wives; the fourth became pregnant so was unable to leave him. Their home was a shanty shared by Jules, Mary and six children. He worked the land, struggled, experimented and left his mark on the landscape, always calling the Sandhills of Nebraska home.
Another Nebraska pioneer also arrived in the early 1880’s. His backstory is very different from Jules Sandoz. Tom Lockett built the log cabin now standing just southwest of Chadron, next to the Dawes County Historical Society Museum. His journey began in Missouri, at age 19, when he enlisted in March, 1861, to fight for the Union Army. When the Federal Military was being depleted due to expiring enlistments, he reenlisted, February 28, 1864. Lockett fought in at least eight different battles, including Shiloh and Vicksburg. He mustered out of military service on January15, 1866, in Memphis, Tennessee as Corporal Thomas Lockett of Company B, 11th Regiment of the Missouri Infantry, choosing to leave the scars, sounds, and sights of the battlefield behind him.
He met, fell in love, and married Mary Debney, on Christmas Day, 1867, in Savannah, Iowa. After 17 years, with their 5 children and a few belongings, they began their trek by covered wagon and headed to Dawes County, Nebraska. Whether they planned a three month stay near Valentine, Nebraska, or not, the arrival of Nellie Rose, January 25, 1884, gave a much needed respite. Nellie comfortably continued her trip to Bordeaux Creek, tucked safe and warm in a small feather cot in the back of their wagon.
The cabin on Big Bordeaux Creek, with stairs on the outside leading to the loft, became home to eight children, plus Tom and Mary. The Bordeaux Trading Post, now the Nebraska Museum of the Fur Trade, helped to supply their needs. Occasionally, a new cooking pot for Mary, bright colored, red gingham cloth for the girls’ dresses, or sharp skinning knives for the boys, added some enjoyment to the daily routine.
The Trading Post was a place folks, mostly men, gathered. During this era many people were passing through Nebraska, some stayed, all were looking for a better life. Travelers would bring letters and news from the east side of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Local men who hung around the pot belly wood stove checked out all newcomers. While chewing on a stem of grass or tobacco plug, they would debate whether the “green horn” could make the grade here in the Panhandle. They swapped tall tales about war, cattle prices or just inflated yarns about anything. Indians from the Spotted Tail Agency came daily to trade. Nellie, sucking on a peppermint stick, occasionally sat on a whisky barrel behind the giant, black, wood stove and listened to graphic stories of the Custer massacre.
Early in April, when nine year old Nellie was home alone, two Indians with painted faces came to the house. She was too frightened to answer the door so hid under the bed and prayed that her brothers, Dode and Tommy, would return from rabbit hunting. Upon their return, the boys shared some bread and beans with their visitors, but Nellie remained in her hiding place.
By 1884, Chadron had bloomed into a bustling little town and the Bordeaux community was also continuing to thrive. Tom’s donation of land, for the purpose of building a school, was greatly appreciated by the neighborhood. Nellie loved attending the Lockett School and guarded her little, grey, “The Aldine Readers Primer” with her life. At 15 years old and not quite 5 feet tall, she left the security of the Lockett School and attended Chadron Academy. With long, black braids and bright, dark eyes, it wasn’t long before she attracted a polite, soft spoken, kind man, named Oscar Jones. His father, John Jones, had also served in the Union Army. Jones had the misfortune of being incarcerated in the notorious Confederate Andersonville Prison, in Andersonville, Georgia. Oscar Jones and Tom Lockett’s beautiful daughter, Nellie, were married in 1902.
I found Mari Sandoz’s life and novels interesting and the historical fiction intriguing. Although Jules Sandoz and Tom Lockett may or may not have met each other, they both moved to the area in the 1880’s. Lockett is slighter in appearance and approximately 20 years older than Sandoz, however, both shared some of the same experiences. Both men built homes, raised families, and contributed back to society. Sandoz gave back with his experimentation in the field of botany and Lockett with his hospitality and generosity.
Tom and Mary Lockett, with two children, moved to Ash Fork, Arizona in 1901, again traveling in a covered wagon. In 1985, Lockett’s frontier home on Bordeaux Creek was donated to the Dawes County Historical Society Museum by the John Cogdill family.
Tom and Mary Lockett are my great grandparents. My grandfather, Oscar Jones, graduated from Chadron Normal School. I am currently finishing my bachelor’s degree, which I started in 1960. With the option of on-line and zoom technology, I have been given the opportunity to achieve my life-long goal of graduating from Chadron State College with a Bachelor of Arts Degree.
Although I have resided in seven different states, I choose to call Sheridan, Wyoming, “home”.
State of Missouri. Thomas Lockett Discharge Document, 1866.
United States of America. Thomas Lockett Pension Document, 1912.
John Jones Family Bible. Thomas Lockett Obituary, May 1935.
Chadron Record. Lockett log home to be dedicated, July 13, 1990