McGee Family

McGee Family Stories

Wade and Plumb Family History

as told by Olive Wade McGee to Sharon Beach McGee

Written in 1977 by Sharon Beach McGee

Hiram C. Plumb was born December 14, 1833 in New York.  He enlisted in the Union Army at the onset of the Civil War.  As a member of the 35th N. Y. Vol., he fought in the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland.  Confederate forces under the command of General Robert E. Lee numbered about 50,000 men.  The union army of 70,000 men was under the command of General George McClellan.  Both sides suffered heavy casualties during this decisive battle.  Hiram was wounded during this battle and was left carrying a bullet in his leg.

On October 8, 1860, Hiram married Miss Ellen Mackey.  They lived until 1873 in Portland, Wisconsin.  It was in that year that advertisements issued by the “Red Willow Gazette” spread eastward stimulating would-be pioneers  to venture westward into Nebraska, specifically, into the Beaver Valley.  A few courageous pioneers started coming into the Beaver Valley in the early 1870’s.  July 4, 1873 marked the arrival of Hiram C. Plumb and his family in Red Willow County.  Under the Homestead Act of 1862, the head of a family could acquire a quarter section of land (160) acres  provide he live on it and cultivated it for a period of five years.  The only charge was the registration fee of ten dollars.  Hiram had brought his family to this Nebraska valley in a covered wagon to homestead just one mile west of present-day Marion, Nebraska.  What those early day pioneers found were rolling prairies covered with the nourishing buffalo grass and the lower lands enveloped in grasses that were “so tall they could conceal a man on horseback”.

Very few white men settled on the Beaver Creek prior to 1873.  Hiram and his family settled here, amid the deer, antelope, grey wolves and a few mountain lions.  Herds of buffalo came daily to the Beaver Creek to drink. There were no roads except the buffalo paths or Indian trails to direct them. There was a scarcity of rain in this ‘new’ land, and an overabundance of grasshoppers, rattlesnakes and fleas.  Blizzards plagued the pioneers, and the stark openness of the prairie added to their isolation. However, there was an abundance of prairie chickens and wild turkeys. Beaver Creek kept the pioneers supplied with fish.  Even though there was plenty of game, the odds of survival were against the pioneering families. Many families turned back, unable to battle the odds. Hiram C. Plumb, his wife Ellen, and their children, Tom, Alice, Nell, Betsy and Mary were among the first to brave the elements to establish a home on this virgin land. The land that Hiram homesteaded is today owned by his grandson, Jack Galusha.  When the family arrived in Red Willow County, Tom Plumb was about thirteen years old. His sister, Alice, was five. The ages of the other children at the time they settled is not known. One friendly Indian tribe settled in the large bend of the creek just below the Hiram Plumb home in 1873. Young Tom made friends with the Indian children. They rode their ponies together and fished along the banks of the Beaver Creek. It was in the same year and along the same creek that Tom Plumb discovered the remains of a massacred surveying party. The Plumb family was enroute to the land they were to homestead when they came upon the remains of the Nelson Buck Surveying Party. They found a heavy wagon, a light wagon, timber stakes (intended to be used as section corners), and surveying instruments.

Nelson Buck’s surveying party of eight men was commissioned to stake out more territory in June of 1869.  In July or August of 1869, they were driving stakes along the Kansas-Nebraska border near Danbury and Gerver precincts when they were massacred by the Sioux Indians.  A roadside marker was dedicated to Nelson Buck and his seven-man surveying party nearly 100 years later along state highway 89 less than one mile west of Marion, Nebraska.  In later years, Tom Plumb and Perry Plumb found skeletal remains they believed to have been of the men in the surveying party.

Tom Plumb, (George Thomas) Plumb wrote a poem about the days of 1873 that was published in the Danbury News.  It is as follows:


Days of ‘73

Come, all you enterprising tenderfeet,

If you will listen to my song,

I will try and not be tedious

Nor will I detain you long;

While I tell you how we used to do

Way back in seventy-three

When we wore our buffalo hocks for moccasins,

Skinned off above the knee.


We came out to this country

When it was wild and free,

And a jollier lot of fellows

You will seldom ever see

We breathed the air of freedom

There was none to make a fuss;

We each were heirs of Uncle Sam

And it all belonged to us.


We roamed these virgin prairies

From the Smoky to the Platte,

No one was there to check our sway

For we had the whole thing pat.

And when the stars would twinkle

From the heaven’s mighty dome

We would think about our dear ones

Whom we’d left away back home.


Our neighbors were the red men

Of many different types

They thought we were encroaching

Upon their rights

The pale-face as they called us,

They said had come too soon;

But all the same when we showed our teeth

They gave us lots of room.


Our game was the mighty buffalo

Of which thousands roamed the plain

And they were ours when we wanted them

And all they cost were our pains.

We were armed with good sharp rifles

And they were dandies too

We caused many a beast to bite the dust

For they sent the bullets true.


For this noble beast was staple goods

From his heels to the top of his head;

And we even gathered up his bones

Long after he was dead.

His flesh was legal tender,

Is sinews made our threads,

His tallows made our candles

And his robe we used for beds.


Our houses they were homely,

We had neither bricks nor planks,

They were only little dug-outs

Which we made along the banks.

Our furniture was the fireplace,

Grub-box and coffee can;

But our flap-jacks looked enticing

As we flipped them with the pan.


We will name a few old timers

Just to be somewhat precise

And hope none will be offended

For we try to do it nice.

If you find that we have missed a few

Be sure we’re not so much to blame

For it’s mighty hard to make a rhyme

To fit everybody’s name.


And we’ll begin with Jonnie Townley

With his coat of British arms,

John always had the money

As well as diverse other charms;

When we asked him why he brought

So many guns along

He said he wanted to be ready

For the beggars when they come.


Then there was Samuel Messner,

For short we called him Stub

Sam surely was a dead shot,

And was always there for grub.

His partner, William Henton, was

a boy as square as Brooklyn’s piers;

Bill always washed the dishes

While Sam tended to the steers.


And one there was we called Jean Dolph.

He by a long shot wasn’t slow;

And also Jean a brother had,

The boys called him Brier Joe

Of buffalo hides and wolf pelts

They always had a store;

But I guess the boys never think

Of those times anymore.


There were Jess and Barnett Ashton

From Indiana they both came;

They came out to Nebraska

Just to stake a settler’s claim

Jess stayed at home and worked the mules

And tended to the flocks,

While Barnett worked at old North Platte

To keep grub in the box.


Then there was B. B. Duckworth,

An all-around square man;

He walked the whole way to North Platte

To prove up on his land.

And when it came to bagging game

Duckworth was pretty soon,

For he busted all the gun he had

On the head of an old raccoon.


And also there was H. C. Plumb

He was a nimrod mighty leery;

He had no longing for the chase

For of buffalo he was wary.

He said when they were good and dead

Their beef made bully grub;

But the very sight of live ones

Would quickly chill his blood.


Now some of these old timers

Have long since bit the dust;

They have gone across the river

Where their guns will never rust.

And when I think about it

I feel sad I do declare,

But, boys, we’ll make the buffalo get,

When we meet over there.


Now here I am among you yet,

A relic of days gone by;

A hayseed, so they call me now,

But aught for praise care I;

For my heart is filled with good old days

That I never more can see;

The grand old days of the buffalo

The days of seventy-three.


Author George Thomas "Tom" Plumb


Alice Nash Plumb came with her parents from where she was born March 11 , 1868 to Red Willow County July 4, 1873.  She attended the primitive school which gradually improved as she approached womanhood.  She became one of the best instructors, and taught in Missouri Ridge, White Hall, Fowler and Shiloh districts.  John Charles Wade was born November 12, 1856 near Springfield, Ohio, in Clarke County. He was the son of John Butterfield Wade, born March 23, 1821 Clarke Co., Ohio, and Julia Ann Townsley, born September 1, 1828 Clarke Co., Ohio.  Julia Ann Townsley’s mother was Hannah Marshall Townsley (died January 7, 1852 Dayton, Indiana).
John Charles Wade came to Red Willow County, Nebraska, as a young man, at the same time as John Ambler. It was here that these two men met the Plumb sisters, Alice and Mary. Alice Nash Plumb married John Charles Wade in Indianola, Nebraska, October 30, 1895.  Alice's sister, Mary, married John Ambler.  The two couples homesteaded adjoining properties.  Charles Wade, as he was most often called, and his bride, Alice, built a three-room sod house two-and-a-half miles south of Danbury, Nebraska. Their house was in Decatur County, Kansas, but their mailing address was Nebraska, as it was the closest town. John and his wife, Mary, built their sod house directly across the road from the Wades.  Their home was a little larger and nicer.  They had a stile which the Wades did not.

The sod house that the Wade family lived in consisted of three rooms:  the north room, the middle room, and the south room.  The north room housed two full-sized beds, and Alice’s treadle sewing machine.  The middle room had one full-sized bed, a large wardrobe that nearly reached the ceiling, a trundle bed, a clock shelf that had a lower storage area, and a wood-burning heater.  This room was used also as the living room.  The south room was the kitchen.  It had a wood-burning cook stove.  Beside the cook stove, in the corner, was the woodbox.  This was where Charles Wade made his children sit quietly if they had been up to mischief.  They were cautious not to make a sound until their father allowed them to get down off the woodbox.  Also in the kitchen were a large table and several chairs and the only entrance to the house.  The double-door entrance was on the east side of the south room.  The kitchen had a board floor.  The sod house had dirt floors originally.  Later, the middle-room had a rug laid down over straw. The soddies were usually built on a level area and a rank growth of buffalo grass was sought out.  Then a breaking plow was used to turn the heavy sod over about three inches thick or even thicker if the root system happened to be deep. The root system was important because it would continue to grow a little and fuse the bricks of sod together. The sod was about fourteen inches wide depending on the plough share. These strips would then be cut into about two foot strips that were more easily handled. These were laid like bricks and the mortar was dirt placed between them. The walls usually were about two feet thick and about seven feet high. The roofs were poles laid across the walls, sometimes covered with tar-paper, with sod slabs overlaid like shingles.

The interior walls were whitened with whitewash, and the ceiling was stretched muslin. The muslin was tacked to the ridge log at the center of the ceiling. The ridge log ran the entire length of the sod house and was kept varnished. The stretched muslin was supposed to keep any dirt or bugs from falling down into the rooms. There was at least one time that the muslin wasn't enough protection at the Wade house. Olive Fenton Wade, daughter of John Charles and Alice, recalls one time when a large bull snake fell through and landed on her brother’s trundle bed. She related that is was difficult to sleep for several nights after that and that she steered clear of her brother's bed.


The outbuildings were east of the house. There was a barn, a granary, and of course, the outhouse.   Drinking water was drawn from the cistern.   Fresh milk was kept in a pail and lowered into the cistern to keep it cool. Further east from the outbuildings was the Ol’ Swimming Hole. The sod house was kept warm by using wood, corn cobs, and cow chips burning in the wood-burning stove. The rooms were lighted by coal oil lamps.

The Wade family raised hogs, milk cows, and chickens. They used work horses to farm the land. One horse, "Rocket", was used to pull the light buggy. They raised corn, wheat and barley. They sold what wheat they could grow, and would retain part of the corn and barley for their own use. Olive Wade McGee recalls her mother, Alice, cooking up huge batches of hominy from their corn.  Charles Wade always kept a large garden where he grew their watermelons, potatoes, etc.  After he had dug the new potatoes, he would place some of them in a bucket with a rock and whirl it around.  The spinning action would peel the potatoes!  Their potatoes were stored in the outdoor cellar.

John Charles did all of the barbering for his own children and the neighbor kids. One of his sons, Howard, later became a barber in Danbury, Nebraska, and Oberlin, Kansas.

Mount Center School District #94 where the Wade children attended school was one and a half miles south of their house. The children walked to school and never thought anything of it. There was a large rock down the road on the way to school. The children would race to see who could get to the 'half-mile rock’ first. They called it the half-mile rock because that was how much further they had to go after they had reached it. In bad weather, the Amblers and the Wades would trade off taking the children to school in the buggy. All of their traveling was done in either the buggies or the sleigh, depending on the weather. The school that the children attended was bought by Curtis Young, a farmer.  He moved it to a farm southeast of Kanona, Kansas to live in. When he died, his widow moved it to Oberlin, Kansas, on Highway 36, where it is now used as a tavern called the Oasis.


John Charles Wade and Alice Nash Plumb had seven children: Perry Plumb Wade, b. July 11, 1896; Olive Fenton Wade, b. September 14, 1897; Robert (Bob) Townsley Wade, b. December 15, 1898; George Thomas (Tom) Wade, b. December 8, 1900; Howard Ezekiel Wade, b. July 24, 1904, Charles Butterfield (Chig) Wade, b. May 24, 1906; and Mary Kathryn Wade, b. July 6, 1910.   John Charles Wade was a kind and loving father to his children, but his heavy drinking was a problem that stood between him and his wife. He was unkind to Alice when he was drinking. When their youngest daughter, Mary, was only a small child, they separated. He went to live in Danbury, Nebraska, where he made his living as a house painter.  Alice and her children kept the farm going themselves.  John Charles Wade kept in close touch with his children, but his marriage to Alice Nash Plumb was never reconciled.


One of the Wade children, Olive Fenton Wade McGee, has fond memories of growing up in the household surrounded by her brothers and her baby sister, but the word she used most often to describe her brothers was ‘ornery’.  One brother, George, cut the end of her long braid off while sitting behind her in school one day. Another time, her brothers took her rag doll, affectionately named Mary, and daubed its underpants with mustard. Then they ran around her singing, "Look what old Mary done in her pants!  Look what old Mary done in her pants!”  There were two times that Olive recalls embarrassing her brothers.  One time was at their school.  She was standing at the front of the room when she wet her pants! Her brothers were mortified and never let her forget about it. Another time, she had decided to give a recital at a 'Literary’ held at her school. When it came her turn to recite, she got up on the stage and became so frightened that she couldn’t speak. ..or move.  Once again, Olive had embarrassed her brothers.

As young children, they always had a Christmas celebration.  Part of it was bringing a tree into the house and decorating it. The children adorned the tree with ornaments and with candles that had to be placed very carefully. Their father nervously supervised the placing and lighting of the candles, fearful that they might burn down the house.

One of the tragedies that struck the Wade family was after John Charles and Alice Wade had separated. One day, Howard, their son, drove the team and buggy over to a neighbor, Jack Smith's, to visit. After Howard had tied up the team and buggy and left it, Jack Smith's little boy, Oliver, climbed into the buggy to investigate. He may well have been fascinated with the buggy much the same as a young boy today would be fascinated with a racing car. Oliver reached under the buggy seat, pulled out a gun by the barrel, causing it to discharge, killing the little boy instantly. Howard felt responsible for the little boy's death. He brought the gun back home and it was not touched again until Alice had their new frame house built just to the west of the sod house.  When the cement was poured for the foundation, Howard placed the gun in the cement where it could never be used again.  The house still stands and is being lived in, with the gun still cemented into its foundation.

In 1917, tragedy struck the Wade household again when Alice Wade chose to end her life. She was taken to St. Catherine’s Hospital in McCook, Nebraska, where she passed away after having drunk lye. Her two youngest children, Chig and Mary, were only eleven and seven years old, respectively, at the time. When her obituary came out in the local paper, it stated that ‘the dying mother gave the custody of her little daughter, Mary to sister, Mrs. Mary Ambler’.   Finding this out in the paper, and not knowing who provided the paper with this information caused Olive and her brothers a great deal of confusion. They were not willing to let Mary go to live with their aunt. The boys called on their sister, Olive, to come home from Oberlin where she was attending high school, to take care of Mary.  She returned to the farm immediately and took care of Mary and Chig. She later took them to Oberlin with her where she rented a home across the street east of east of 307 West Oak where she and her future husband later lived. The home they rented was owned by Henry Sage. Olive cleaned house and babysat for people to make ends meet.  Her brothers helped to support her, Mary, and Chig financially. But because of the need for her to raise her younger sister, she was unable to finish her schooling. It was here, in Oberlin, Kansas, that she met Walter McGee. They had known each other for some time, and one day he decided that they should be married. They were married, without telling anyone, by Probate Judge John C. Lathrop in Oberlin, Kansas, the afternoon of May 1, 1921.  They were married in the upstairs of the building where the Decatur County Bank now stands.  John Street was the only witness to ceremony.


The new Mr. and Mrs. Walter McGee had, by getting married, created a problem for themselves. Since no one knew they had been legally married, it would not have looked good for Olive to be going in and out of the home where they roomed.   So, for several days after the ceremony Walt and Olive sneaked around to see each other.  On about the fourth day of their marriage, they decided to tell Walt's parents. Walter McGee was the son of James Fenton McGee, born May 20, 1865 in Abingdon, Illinois, and Mary Susan Payne , born December 11, 1865, Davenport, Iowa.


The newlyweds rode out to James Fenton and Mary Susan McGee’s farm.  Mary Susan had just baked fresh bread.  When both Walt and Olive had gone into the house, Walt announced:  “I brought my wife out to see you.”  After a time of visiting, Mary Susan, (Walt’s mother) said:  “Do you know who she reminds me of? …. Goldie Bennett!”  It was compliment to Olive, as Goldie Bennett was a very good friend of theirs.  She was immediately accepted as the new Mrs. McGee.


When they returned to Oberlin from visiting his parents, Walt and Olive McGee lived in one room.  They moved later to Olive’s Aunt Betsey Dimmitt’s home in Oberlin.  However, the house they later bought at 307 West Oak was what they considered to be their first real home.  Olive’s little sister, Mary, lived with Walt and Olive after they were married.  She was only eleven years old when they married, so they were more than guardians to her.  She was a close member of their family, living with them until she married Harold L. Koehler, July 24, 1929.


Olive's father, John Charles Wade, died in April of 1922.  After returning from the funeral in Danbury, Nebraska, Olive became ill.  It was a day or two later that Lowell Wade McGee, their first son was born. The child was born prematurely at home.   Walt’s mother, Mary Susan, tried to warm the baby, but his circulation wasn’t good, and he died two days later, April 7, 1922.   The infant was buried in the Oberlin Cemetery.


Two more children were born to Walt and Olive. On April 28th, 1925, their only daughter, Enid Wyonne McGee was born. Two years later, on August 11, 1927, David James McGee was born. Both children were born in St. Catherine's Hospital, McCook, Nebraska.

Olive’s husband, Walter W. McGee, was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, November 11, 1898.  He taught school in Oberlin for two terms after he graduated from Decatur County High School in 1918.  In 1920, he took and passed his Civil Service exam.  In the same year, he began his career as a Rural Letter Carrier. He retired October 27, 1961.  Walter died December 7, 1973.  Burial was in Oberlin Cemetery.

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