a request for information leads us to a story about a person who spent
some time in Buffalo County and which sheds some light on the character
of others who lived here. A request for information about Gilbert
Fosdick II has done just that. Not only did we discover what happened
to this young man but we also learned more about David Anderson who was
the sheriff of Buffalo County at that time.
The letters included in this story have been transcribed here as they were written, without changing spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Apparently Fosdick did not capitalize the word “I” or use punctuation to end his sentences. For clarification extra spacing is used at the end of sentences in his letter.
Our thanks to Cathy Ward of Parkersburg, Pennsylvania for providing the information about Gilbert Fosdick and his family and for donating copies of the letters and newspaper items used in this story. The copies are now on file in the Buffalo County Historical Society’s Archives.
When Gilbert C. Fosdick II arrived in Kearney in February 1877, he found gold fever and Kearney business men laying plans to supply the prospectors. Gold had been discovered in the Black Hills but that was Indian territory. A treaty had been signed with the Sioux Indians so now the gold seekers could enter the Hills legally. They were waiting for spring and the snow to melt.
Gilbert and his sister, Mary, four years his senior, were the children of Sgt. Gilbert C. Fosdick, a Civil War veteran. The senior Fosdick had enlisted in the New York Infantry but now in the 1870’s he lived in New Jersey. Mary married Charles Helms, also a Civil War veteran, and they were living with their four children in Paterson, New Jersey. Gilbert had not married and, apparently looking for adventure, had gone west. Now, after a visit with his sister, he had returned to the west to search for gold.
It was logical that Fosdick would come to Kearney. Local businessmen and newspapers were promoting Kearney as the place to which prospectors could travel by train and then disembark to buy their mining supplies. From Kearney they could proceed on up the Kearney and Black Hills Route to Deadwood, Dakota Territory, to search for gold.
C. W. Dake, president of a bank in Kearney, formed the Kearney and Black Hills stage line in late winter and early spring of 1877. He was joined in this venture by R. S. Downing who had moved to Kearney from Lowell in Kearney County. They applied for and were granted the contract to carry mail from Kearney to Deadwood. The route had been laid out the previous summer and road ranches had been established along the way to provide supplies to the travelers.
` The Kearney and Black Hills Route went northwest out of Kearney. Tracks made by wagons on this trail can still be seen in a pasture north of the Buffalo Hills subdivision on Cottonmill Road. Once the route reached the Wood River it followed the river to Armada, a mile north of present-day Miller. From Armada the route went into Custer County, continuing in a northwesterly direction to the Middle Loup River. At this junction a road ranche had been established called Dakesberg. The Kearney and Black Hills Route followed the Middle Loup River almost to its source in the sandhills, then turned in a more north, northwest direction toward the Black Hills and Deadwood. The advantages of the Kearney to Deadwood route were loudly proclaimed in local newspapers. According to the Central Nebraska Press
The route was used by gold prospectors and freight wagon drivers as well as the stages carrying passengers and mail. It was probably only used during the summer of 1877 because Sidney, Nebraska soon became the accepted jumping off place to leave the railroad and head for the Black Hills.The route from this city to Custer City and Deadwood, is with little exception over a...fertile and gently rooling (sic) country, well watered with numerous streams, most of which are skirted with an abundance of growing timber. Grasses abound in the greatest profusion and luxuriance....
...Good ranches have been established outside the limits of permanent settlements where the traveler can find excellent accommodations both for himself and beast and at prices that do not imply robbery. To all persons contemplating a trip to the Hills, either by stage or with freight, we unhesitatingly say by all means take the Kearney route.
Although Gilbert Fosdick had come west to seek gold, he had no funds when he arrived in Kearney in mid-February. David Anderson was the county sheriff. Fosdick appealed to him for help and apparently made a good impression on the sheriff. Mr. Anderson took Fosdick into his home and helped him find a job driving stage for the newly formed Kearney and Black Hills stage line. The first stage left Kearney on April 30, 1877 with John Campbell driving.
Fosdick was assigned to a section of the route which started at Swan Lake in what is now Cherry County and went about 20 miles northwest to the Snake River. He lived in a tent at Swan Lake. In May he wrote to his sister and brother-in-law.
sWan Lake May 18, 1877
Dear sister And Brother it is With pleasure I Wright these few lines too you hopeing it Will find you And your family enJoying Good health As it Leaves Me At present i Am Now Driving stage on the Kearney And Black hills stage line the reason I Did Not (right [inserted]) No Weather i Would stop hear or Not (i Did Not [inserted]) for it is A New route And i Did Not No What Wages they Would pay i Am Now stationed At swan Lake the lake takes its Name from the Number of Wild swans that freguents hear i Am All A lone in My tent righting this letter With A Cracker Box for My table And A sack of Corn for My Chair My Nearest Neighbor is twenty Miles on eather side of Me My Drive is twenty Miles from snake river too this Lake And Back i had some slap jacks for Breckfast And some Coffee And Backer [tobacco?] for Desert i Am expecting the stage in [?]earery minute And then i Will have to go on too snake river i Was out this Morning And gatherd some Wild flowers And put them up in My tent i hope you Will excuse this short letter And paper for it is All i have Got And i Am too hundred Miles from the Nearest town in your Next Letter please too Let Me No how Gertrude Brown is Getting Along Also her folks tell Gertrude Brown that Gill often thinks of her When hee is Alone in this God for sachen Country Dear sister And Brother Not having Mutch to right At present i remain your loving Brother G. C. Fosdick Direct too Mee G. C Fosdick Cair, C. W. Dake Kearney Nebraska
Descendants in the Fosdick family have no idea who Gertrude Brown was. A month after Gilbert Fosdick wrote this letter to his sister and brother-in-law he was dead, killed by Indians. He was 27 years old.
On June 22, 1877 this article appeared in the Paterson, New Jersey newspaper:
Charles Helms apparently recognized his brother-in-law from the description in this ad and contacted Sheriff Anderson. The sheriff then wrote to the Helms’ to tell them personally about his acquaintance with Fosdick and the circumstances of his death.
Following the receipt of
Sheriff Anderson’s letter by Fosdick’s family, the Paterson newspaper printed
a notice of Gilbert Fosdick’s death.
Ever think of this area as being a part of the frontier, or of Kearney being a frontier town? We were, once, about 125 years ago.
Buffalo Tales Vol. 8, No. 2, Feb., 1985 “Freighting in Buffalo County”
by Mardi Anderson; Central Nebraska Press, Apr. 19, May 3, May 17,
Sept. 6, 1877; History of Buffalo County, Vol. I by Samuel Bassett,
pp. 199 & 375-76; family information, letters and newspaper clippings
from Cathy Ward, great grandniece of Gilbert Fosdick.
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