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To protect railroad workers vulnerable to Indian attacks, the federal government created Fort Ogallah. Interestingly, the name “Ogallah” has two different origins. Ironically, one origin is Native American; some believe it is an Oglala Sioux word for “big hill.” As the railroad moved west from Ellis, many early locomotives had difficulty scaling the steep incline to Ogallah. This may have prompted the use of the name “Ogallah.” According to Ruth Shearer, some people claim Ogallah’s name originated from a woman who stated, “’O, golly, how far I can see’,” when she stepped off the train.
According to James Randolph Simmons, a descendant of Ogallah settlers, Ogallah’s first location became Park’s Fort, a soldier’s camp. Ogallah was moved further west. Having successfully promoted their settlement at WaKeeney, Warren, Keeney and Company began promoting Ogallah. Its plats were filed in April of 1879.
Union Pacific Railway Plat
In the booming years, Ogallah’s businesses included general stores, grocery stores, grain elevators, a school, a bank, and a creamery. Two business ventures, a race track and a saloon, were short-lived due to the townspeople’s objections. At least three churches served the religious community in Ogallah. Although it was built in 1878, the post office did not open until January of 1879.
Unique among the settlements, Ogallah had a State Forestry Station which the state legislature created in 1887 (pictures). There, west of Ogallah one mile, trees were planted to help settlers obtain timber claims and to help them forest the barren plains. Numerous settlers throughout the state received these trees at no cost. Although dry conditions hurt the tree crop in 1888, over 1.96 million trees were grown the following year. Twenty-five years after its creation, the station closed in 1913.
Most settlers came to Ogallah from Illinois, but others came from Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, New York, and North Carolina. Ancestry of the settlers can be traced to England and Wales, Germany, Holland, Sweden, and Scotland. For example, an early settler, Scottish Joe Tompson ran a boarding house for railroad workers and passengers. Born in Germany, Henry D. and Dora (Heitmann) Hillman were married in Nebraska before they moved to Kansas with their five sons, William, Amiel, Otto, Lewis, and August.
Several settlers have Swedish ancestry. Born and married in Sweden, Swan and Sissa Lofstead and their first four children arrived in Trego County in 1881. Six more children were born later. Another Swedish settler, H.L. Olson faced hardship before he moved to the prairies of Trego County. Returning to Sweden to get his family, Olson delayed his trip back to America because of his wife’s illness and death. Remarried to a woman named Bertha, he brought his family first to Assaria, Kansas, in July of 1879 before they homesteaded in 1880. Born in Norway, Sarah Ericson met and married her Swedish husband Swen Pearson in Illinois in 1875. They homesteaded in Trego County but also lived in Ellis, Kansas, because of Swen’s railroad job.In 1896, the John Saleen family first arrived in Trego County. Upon hearing of a Swedish settlement south of Ogallah, he investigated the community’s religious activities. Anxious to have church services in their native language, Swedish settlers, led by Saleen, first met in 1896. Since they had no church building, they conducted their services and a Sunday school in the Sunny Slope school house. On August 25, 1902, Reverend Carl Waleen laid the cornerstone for the Swedish Evangelical Emmanuel Lutheran Church . The church’s first choir sang “Du Kyrka Po Den Grundvald Bygd” for its dedication. Construction continued until 1904. Services were conducted in the Swedish language until 1920. Services were then conducted in English for at least two reasons: settlers encouraged their children’s use of English and the new members of the church only spoke English. Still, the church kept its nickname, “The Swede Church on the Hill.”
Swedish Evangelical Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Early settlers and Dutch descendants, the Christopher Christian “C. C.” and Elizabeth (Kief) Yetter family became prominent in Ogallah. A Civil War lieutenant who was commissioned on Colonel Benjamin Harrison’s recommendation, C. C. homesteaded in 1878. In April of 1879, his wife and three children, Bereniece, Norah and Culver joined him. Son Judd was born later.
The Yetters were active in their community. They ran a boarding house in their second home, the “Yetter House,” where those interested paid twenty-five cents for a meal and fifty cents for a room. A stockman and farmer, C. C. served as the postmaster for a few months, from December 1880 until February 1881. He was also a justice of the peace and a township treasurer. The first woman in the town, Elizabeth served as the town’s first school teacher.
Daughter Bereniece married Charles Henry Benson. She served as Ogallah’s postmistress from November 1891 to August 1894. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she taught at the Willcox school. The youngest of C. C. and Elizabeth Yetter’s children, Judd Hill first worked for Capper publications. Having lost his first wife, Lula Housel, in childbirth, he married Elizabeth Bartlett. The couple had four sons, Eugene who died from meningitis, Robert, Keith, and Warren. Judd moved his family to California where he worked and eventually owned a farm newspaper, the California Cultivator.
Norah Yetter married William Albert Tawney who served as the Ogallah postmaster and owned a mercantile. Like her parents, Norah was a pioneer. She became the Union Pacific station agent. Another female depot agent, Blanche Brown trained Norah in telegraphy.
Wedding picture of Norah Yetter and William Albert Tawney
Norah served as the agent from 1888 until 1901 when the depot was either repaired or rebuilt. When the depot reopened in 1902, she again served as the agent and continued until 1932. Great-nephew James Randolph Simmons stated:At the time of her retirement, Mrs. [Norah] Tawney had worked for the Union Pacific Railroad for 47 years, having taken her first station when she was seventeen years of age. This was a most unusual type of work for a young woman in that day and age. She had, however, learned telegraphy . . . with the consent and encouragement of her parents. There was not a black mark on her record in all the 47 years, which the railroad acknowledged at her retirement.*Norah’s brother Culver “C.D.” Yetter met his wife Mary McEwen (pictures of C. D. and Mary) when he was working as the station agent in Lucas, Kansas. Moving back to Ogallah, C. D. served as a Notary Public in the area and also managed the Ross and Waldo grain elevator (picture). In 1912, he began working in the office of Kansas Secretary of State J. T. Botkin. After C. D. retired, he and Mary moved back to Ogallah. Retirement did not slow him down as he was elected as the state representative for the 99th District, Trego County in 1942. He served as a representative until his death in 1947.
C. D.’s and Mary’s only surviving child, a daughter named Sadie fondly remembered her childhood: “My own personal recollections of Ogallah would begin about 1903. I remember running barefoot along the road, squishing between my toes the dust as fine as talcum powder, keeping a watchful eye out for snakes, as I ran to my Uncle Albert Tawney’s general store. . . . My arrival usually produced a handout of candy. This was a stop on the way across the tracks to the depot, where my Aunt Norah Tawney held sway. What marvelous delights it held for a child; the clicking [telegraph] instruments, the big levers to change the semaphore signals, the big bound canvas books with yellow tissue on which the records were impressed. . . . Then when the freight trains came in, there were seals to be broken, packages of all shapes and sizes taken out and then the cars resealed. The seals were numbered and strung on a round wire and sometimes I was allowed to carry the seals. This was a great thrill. I would then run over to the elevator, which my father C. D. Yetter, operated. . . . In harvest time the big teams would pull the wagons filled with wheat onto the scales, and father would take the little brass bucket with the scale attached to measure the [bushel age] weight. Then the wheat load would be weighed on the big scale, the horses driven into the elevator, the pit door opened, and the wagon tipped back. Thus, the golden grain was dumped and the empty wagon returned to the scale for weighing. What city child ever had the privilege of seeing these things. Later when I was given my [Shetland] pony, I used to ride him over to Uncle Bob Samuel’s store across the tracks. Uncle Bob, who had been a cowboy and always dressed that way, insisted that I ride the pony into the store, where both the pony and I had a candy treat. . . .
Uncle Bob’s General Store
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