Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2008, pp. 135-51.
Thumb through the pages of a DeLorme gazetteer of any Great Plains state .and you will find small black diamonds, each with its own place-name, scattered throughout the large-scale maps. For those who are familiar with the area, the existence of some of the diamonds, supposedly marking the location of a community, can be confusing since these markers do not represent contemporary towns. Additionally, when you travel country roads in rural areas of the Great Plains you will stumble upon markers that identify a nearby post office, which, also no longer exists. What do these diamonds on the map represent? How does the occasional countryside post-office sign relate? Some studies, such as that of Geary County, Kansas, often mention "names on the map like Wreford, Olson, and Moss Springs, which developed from slight concentrations of farms to include a post office and school, [that] never grew further,"l but fail to go into more detail describing what such "concentrations" of people were like. My goal is to reveal the past communities that the cartographic diamonds in a gazetteer represent. More importantly, I hope to contribute to Great Plains scholarship, particularly that of European American settlement, by providing a window into the personalities of boom-and-bust communities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
What would a day-in-the-life consist of for a resident of north-central Nebraska in the late 1880s? If they had gone to get their mail, settlers near the community of Dustin in Holt County might have felt as if they had stepped into a small version of a metropolis. On the main street, running north-south, the stores and the print shop were on the west side, while the manse-the home of a Presbyterian pastor-and community hall were located on the east side. The north end of the street was bounded by the blacksmith shop while the church was close to the southern end.2 After gathering the mail at William Dustin's general store, and possibly purchasing items such as wash wringers and an umbrella, settlers might stop by the hardware store to buy supplies to build a new frame for a house or barn. If a family member had been sick, the settler could purchase remedies from the drug store.