Bits of History - Art's Story

Last updated: May 27, 2009

Library Archives
May 27, 2009

Written by Doris Johnson for her publication NIOBRARA NEWS.

I asked Auctioneer, Art Mahnke to tell us some stories of his childhood growing up around the Jireh/Keeline area. He was gracious enough to do such and I hope you will enjoy Art's story as much as I do.


There were dances at the old Sod Johnson place as it had a large living room. My sister and brother would go and I would tag along. About 10:30 or so I would get tired and then I would walk home about 3 1/2 miles. I got home about 11:30. Mom was home so I went to bed between 12:30 and 1:00. Mom woke me up and said our horses were making a raucus. I got up and saddled Tony, an iron grey horse we kept in the barn. I had a .22 rifle, single shot that I had cut the barrel off and also the stock so I could use it as a pistol. I had gotten pretty good at using it to shoot jack rabbits. I took this gun with me.

Tony was rearing to go he liked to run and I did not need spurs. I took off at a run and went up to a hill we called agate hill as you could see most of our place from the top. Of course it was dark so I could not see much. I rode around a little but I could not find any of our horses. It was too dark, so I went back to the barn and put Tony in but left him saddled. I told mom I would get up at sun up and look some more for the horses. Sun up came pretty fast, but I got up and Tony and I ran back up to agate hill. I could see our stallion and the colts in the north pasture but the mares were not with him. I rode down to the west end where there was a gate sure enough there were horses' tracks. I followed the county road keeping the horses' tracks in sight. I had gone about 9 miles or so and had gotten to the top of Big Bend Hill and about half way down I saw the mares. I thought I would ride down and get behind them to take them back to our pasture. About halfway down the hill and close to a ravine I noticed something red. I rode over and found a saddle blanket. I picked it up and took the mares back to the colts and got them all in the corral. Around 3:30 in the afternoon, a big car pulled into our yard. The two men in it wanted their saddle blanket back. As I was a dumb kid I gave it to them. I am not sure how they knew I had it unless their partner told them that my mom would be home alone. And not able to do anything if they took our horses. These men became prominent in Niobrara County but I always remember them as the would be horse rustler that got away with it. I know they wanted the horses because my mom sold one of the colts back east for $200.00 and that was a lot of money at the time. I heard rumors after this incident that one needed to be careful around that Mahnke kid as he would shoot you, but at least they left our horses alone after that.

Sometime later Gene Bass needed help lambing. So I went there and he hired me as his night man. It was quite a deal for a kid. It was cold and nasty but we made it through with only lanterns as there was no electricity in the area yet. After lambing was over Gene took the herder into town and he got into some kind of trouble. Gene came back to the place and asked me if I thought I could herd sheep. I said I would sure try. There was about 2000 of them. continued next issue...

continuued from last issue

Gene Bass came back to the place and asked me if I thought I could herd sheep. I said I would sure try. There was about 2000 of them. I had to go out in the morning with the herd and then when it got hot the sheep would come back to water at a dam and stay around until 3:30 or so and go out again. At about 6:30 or so I would go out and bring them to the bed-ground. That was the pattern repeated everyday. Gene would come about once a week to check on my food supply and water. I had a dog that was a lifesaver. I was out there over a month when the herder finally came back. Gene came out and said for me to take the horse and bring the other horses to the home place.

I thought this would be simple. The hills south of Manville are big though. The horses took off at a run as usual, we came down the hill at a fast clip. As I got to the bottom and level spot I noticed it was a prairie dog town. I knew if I tried to stop the horse he would sure step in a hole. So, I just let him have his head and find his own way through the town. I think I even shut my eyes a time or two but we made it through. I took the horse to the corral and my mother was there to get me. I got my bedroll and Gene paid me my wages. That was the end of my sheep herding days. I felt pretty good as I had money in my pocket. The next time I went to Lusk I went to the Midwest Hardware and bought a saddle.

Then I went to work for Doc Smith. He was not a doctor but everyone called him Doc. He put me to fencing along with Mitch. Mitch liked to drink a lot, he never went anywhere without a bottle. We hitched up a team to the wagon and got wire and posts. Mitch drove as he thought he was the only one that could and headed out to fence. At Doc Smith's I also milked as Mitch did not like to. We did many other odd jobs to keep us busy.

One day Doc said he had to sell some cows. It wasn't like it is today when one just called some trucks to haul the cattle to market. We would trail them from Keeline to the Lusk Livestock Barn. So we got started trailing those cows and calves. The first day we made it to a lane south of Manville. We camped there. We put our camp behind the cattle to keep them from going home. The next morning, we left early and got the cows to the sale yard. We put our horses in the sale yard and gave them some hay. Then Doc took us all to a restaurant for a meal. After we ate Doc told me to halter the saddle horses and lead them to the edge of town. He said once we got out of town to take the halters off and let them follow me home.

So I did and those old horses took off at a lope down the barrow pit. I was riding Old' Big Red and I had a hard time holding him as he did not want to be left behind. We were really moving right along. We came to the lane where we had camped and they kept right on going. They came to the road that is now Hwy 270--it was just a dirt road then. They were waiting for me at the gate. I looked over in the next pasture and there were a bunch of horses there. I thought we would have a mix up with the horses. I thought about trying to re-halter Doc's horses and leading them. I did not think I could do that though so I opened the gate and hoped for the best. Those old horses didn't look right or left they just took off again at a high lope toward the ridge of hills west of Manville. They were heading home. Old' Red was too, he didn't seem to know he was carrying anybody as I probably only weighed 100 or 110 pounds or so. I would follow the horses and when we came to a gate I would open it and away we would go again. Before long we ran into Little Muddy and I knew we were on Doc's land. We came to the county road from Keeline to Flattop. I opened the gate and the horses went through to the other side and waited until I opened the gate to the pasture. I was prepared for another race but they knew they were home and started eating. I still had about 4 miles to go to the buildings, but me and Red went a little slower. I put my saddle in the barn and turned Red out to pasture. I felt mighty proud as I had finished the cattle drive. The road from Keeline to Flattop is all plowed up now, it's too bad because it was nice to ride on that road.




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