Third Generation (Continued)

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Family of Thomas David SKILLMAN (C2) & America JOHNSON

C6. Jeremiah "Jerry" Thomas SKILLMAN.37 Born on 6 Sept 1866 in a dugout about a mile north of present Highway No. 11 and two and one-half miles west of the present city of Seward.37 He was the first white child to be born on Lincoln Creek.37 They resided near Lexington, Nebraska.37 Jerry Thomas died at his home near Lexington, Nebraska, on 29 June 1931.37 Cause of death: paralytic stroke.37 AKA: "Jerry," "Jeremiah" on 1870 Seward Co. Census.

On 20 June 1889 when Jerry Thomas was 22, he married Minnie BIRNEY, a teacher in the Seward schools and daughter of another Illinois family.37

Jerry Thomas SKILLMAN and Minnie BIRNEY had the following son:
C8 i. Cleon B.

C7. Moses SKILLMAN. Born about 1868 in Seward Co., Nebraska.37 Moses died at the age of one month.37

From Nebraska: the Land and the People: Volume 2, pages 521+522:37

Thomas David Skillman, one of Nebraska's territorial pioneers, son of Randall Skillman and Magdelene Vorhees, was born in Somerset County, near Trenton, New Jersey, on November 1, 1843.

His father died in 1849 and two years later his mother was remarried to William Hageman and the family moved to Fulton County, Illinois.

At the age of about twelve years Thomas was "farmed out" to a man by the name of Davis for his clothes and keep and $12.50 per year. Later this was raised to $25 per year. In the winter months he and Mr. Davis did considerable work in a coal drift, hauling much of the coal to Peoria on bob sleds. He always spoke very kindly of Mr. and Mrs. Davis.

In 1861 he presented himself for enlistment in the Union army and was turned down, being told by the examining physician that he had only one lung and the other was nearly gone, and that he could not possibly live more than a year.

In 1864 he married Miss America Johnson. In the early spring of 1865 this young couple, together with a younger brother, Abraham V. Skillman and three other young couples, Mr. and Mrs. John Roberts, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Richard Sampson and Mr. and Mrs. John Durland, left by wagon train for the territory of Nebraska. At this time there was only one log cabin at present site of the City of Lincoln.

The Skillmans selected a piece of land for their future home at a point on Lincoln Creek about a mile north of present Highway No. 11 and two and one-half miles west of the present City of Seward. They spend the winter of 1865 and 1866 on their land thus becoming the first settlers on Lincoln Creek, which by the way had only received its name about March 1, 1864, when W. W. Cox, William and David Imlay were exploring the valley and admiring the beauty of the stream.

Their first home was a dugout, a place dug in the ground about three or four feet and the top part built up with logs cut on the creek. The roof was clap board and sod made by splitting the larger logs. In this home their son Jerry Thomas Skillman was born on September 6, 1866. He thus claimed the distinction of being the first white child to be born on Lincoln Creek.

In the spring of 1866 Mrs. Skillman's brother, an ordained United Brethren minister, Rev. E. W. Johnson and his wife arrived from Illinois and made their home on a piece of land that joined the Skillman's on the south. The first school was taught in the summer of 1868 in a cabin on the Rev. Johnson's place and the first church organization was effected by him at the old Slonecker school house, date unknown. These two families were neighbors for nearly forty years, starting with practically nothing but their homestead right, going through the years of drought and privations and eventually building permanent homes for themselves. Timber and water being a major consideration they settled close to the creek and in later years Mr. Skillman used to tell how on most any day when they first came to Nebraska, he could see antelope grazing on the ridge to the west. There were also deer and a few elk but he never saw a buffalo at that location.

He was a very jolly man of small stature and energetic almost to the point of eccentricity. An idea of his explosive nature might be given from one incident, when after a particular hard siege of drought and grasshopper years when their crops had withered and died or been destroyed by pests and hail and the settlers could barely eke out a livelihood, help was offered them from Illinois (most all of them came from Illinois in this particular locality). A meeting was called at the school house and a list was being prepared, each party designating what they considered they needed most. When Thomas Skillman was asked his needs, he got up, his blue eyes fairly shooting sparks, and pounding the desk to emphasize his words, said: "He didn't need a damn thing, that when he couldn't make a living for his family there in [p. 522] Nebraska he would move back to Illinois." In consequence of this the meeting broke up and none of them sent for a thing.

Until 1873, when the railroad came to Seward, Nebraska City or Plattsmouth, over the Missouri River, a distance of about eighty miles, was their trading post. The round trip could be made in about four days with good luck.

A good many Indians came down Lincoln Creek hunting and trapping. One of Mr. Skillman's first experiences with them was when a small party surrounded him as he was chopping wood along the creek and wanted "tobac." He being a used of the weed, handed his plug to an Indian expecting him to pass it around, but instead he put it in his pocket, thereafter when an Indian wanted "tobac" he cut him off what he wanted to give him. Only once did the Indians ever act hostile and that was when a party of 800 warriors, squaws and papooses, were returning from a fight with the Sioux, and made camp on the creek just northwest of the homestead. They staged a sham battle at that point and several of the settlers, including Mr. Skillman, went to see the camp. In the course of the fight several arrows came real close to them and they left.

One incident Mrs. Skillman always enjoyed telling happened when their son Jerry was quite small. She had sent him down to the spring which served as their pioneer ice box, to bring the butter for a meal. He was gone longer than usual and as she went to the door to look for him, met him on the steps, dripping wet. She threw up her hands and exclaimed, "Land sakes," which was a characteristic gesture and exclamation of hers, "what happened, Jerry?" and Jerry, a sturdy little fellow, answered back, "Ma, I fell in the spring and drowned." As I remember the old spring it started in a crystal clear pool nearly three feet deep.

After the land was surveyed for roads it was found that their dugout was partly in the road. Their next house was a frame one made from logs taken to H. L. Boyes's saw mill over on the Blue River and made into lumber. As late as 1900 I can remember the depression at the side of the road where the dugout was located. In those early times there were many large walnut trees on the creek and E. W. Johnson, who was quite adept with tools, sawed some of the logs into lumber by hand and made them into useful pieces of furniture. An old cupboard that he made is still in the Skillman family.

Mrs. Skillman, who was a devout worker in the United Brethren Church, died on March 1, 1904, of pneumonia. Uncle Tom, as Mr. Skillman was known, then went to live with his son J. T. Skillman, who at that time lived at Pleasanton, Nebraska. He died from the effect of the flu at the J. T. Skillman home of Lexington, Nebraska, on October 23, 1923, lacking only a few days of being eighty years of age.

One other son was born to them, Moses, who died at the age of one month. Jerry T. grew to man hood in the environment of the new country and on June 20, 1889, was united in marriage to Miss Minnie Birney, a teacher in the Seward schools and daughter of another Illinois family. He died of a paralytic stroke at his home near Lexington, June 29, 1931. To this union one child was born, Cleon B. Skillman of Lexington, who married Miss Gertrude Henry of Bloomington, Illinois.

A fitting conclusion to this sketch is the following notation by the grandson, Cleon B. Skillman:

"Occasionally I travel down Highway No. 11, known to the old folks as "the steam wagon road," and I cannot resist turning the corner when I come to the by-road that leads by the old homestead. The fine orchard, the large cotton wood trees, every sign of the buildings, are gone from the old Skillman place, but always I recall some incident of pioneer life, for instance, the time the dugout door blew open in the night and when Mr. Skillman awoke and, slipping out of bed to close it, he was knee deep in snow that had drifted between the door and the fireplace. Then as I go on to the cemetery on the hill, to the lot with the two stones marked, respectively, 'Skillman' and 'Johnson,' a peaceful quiet seems to hover over the place where these pioneers sleep, peacefully, side by side in death, the same as they struggled, worked and lived side by side in life."


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