Nebraska or Bust

Laura Goff evidently knew her husband had incurable wanderlust when they got married in Guthrie County, Iowa, in early 1890. At least she’d told Sherd that she would move with him anywhere in the United States, as long they had access to a public school for their youngsters.

Laura was pregnant again when Goffs crossed the Missouri on the train probably in late 1892 to Knox County, Nebraska–200 miles from Guthrie County, Iowa. Daughter Leora was two and Merl was a year old.

1897 Galbraith’s railway mail service map. Library of Congress

Sherd had sold their cows and chickens, beds and the cookstove, table and chairs. Bloomfield, founded three years earlier–was the end of the line for the train. They probably stayed with Zenas and Emma Barnes, former Guthrie Countians who were also cousins.

Bloomfield, Nebraska 1900s (2)
Early 1900s

Bloomfield did indeed have a school, built in 1892, although Leora started in country school there.

Blschool (2)
From the Bloomfield Monitor, June 24, 1892.

Wayne Goff was born in early 1893.

Wayne, Leora, and Merl Goff, 1893, Huntington, NE.

Georgia was born the spring of 1894, and Jennings in early 1896. Their older sister Leora recorded in her memoirs decades later that her first remembrance was when Georgia was born.

The next summer brought a scorching wind that blew sand and dust. To the chorus tune of “Beulah Land,” Ma, in her sweet alto voice, sang “Ah, Nebraska land, sweet Nebraska land, upon thy burning soil I stand, and I look away, across the plains, and I wonder why it never rains.”

Leora also wrote that Indians would come to their house without knocking, and indicated they wanted to trade “dress goods” for cash or chickens. One day they came when Sherd wasn’t home. I can imagine Laura sending her oldest daughter out to catch a chicken or two to trade for dress fabric. When the men left, they laughed at the family mules when they brayed.

Nebraska is a pretty big state. I didn’t know where in Nebraska they’d lived until I found Jennings Goff’s obituary, saying he was born in Bloomfield. A little research turned up a large newspaper item in an 1892 Bloomfield Monitor advertising such a wonderful community with beautiful and fertile land to buy in Knox County.

BlMonitor (2)

But I also discovered one in 1896 announcing a sheriff’s sale of land belonging to M.S. (Milton Sheridan) and Laura Goff. Others had also gone belly up including the Bloomfield State Bank. The Goffs had picked the worst decade to settle in Knox County, Nebraska. Drought had also settled there.


BlBank (2)


My husband and I decided to take a look at this gently rolling Nebraska prairie with its wide open sky. Clouds hovered thickly but not even a hint of rain the day we were there. The town of Bloomfield is about four blocks square, with a new city hall.

We located the northeast corner of block 3 and tried to envision the directions and measurements in the sheriff’s notice. An elevator and the fire station now sit where Goffs lived then, and where they had their delivery service.

Bloom (2)

Bazille Creek has been diverted north of the town, but when Goffs lived there and Sherd had a delivery service, the creek ran right through that property. No wonder Leora could remember her brother Merl, then about four, pestering his father’s team of horses hitched to the delivery wagon, backing the wagon into a ditch, probably the dried up Bazille Creek.

On  a Nebraska map you can find Bloomfield in the northeast part of the state near the corner of the Santee Sioux reservation. After the Sioux uprisings in Minnesota during the Civil War the Santee were rounded up and eventually herded to Nebraska. The government had divided out the land to them, and men from the Indian Agency tried to teach them to grow crops like the settlers. Missionaries built schools and taught them about the Bible. But the Sioux men were trained as hunters and warriors. Fieldwork was women’s work.

BlNE (2)

The Santee Sioux soon figured out they could work less and earn more by renting their lands to the white settlers. To earn extra money they traded dress goods and other items to the settlers for cash or chickens.

We ate at the Bloomfield Cafe, where the cook was a tall Native American woman. Her ancestors were probably some of the ones sent to the area after the Civil War.

“Nebraska or bust” meant they’d get there however they could or collapse from the effort. To “go bust” means to experience financial failure or ruin.

Leora, my grandmother, would be amused to learn that her few clues to where she’d lived between the ages of three and six yielded enough information for us to visit Nebrasky-land a hundred years after her father “went bust” there.

History of the Santee Sioux: United States Indian Policy on Trial by Roy W. Meyer.

Indians of the Dakotas by U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Nebraska: A Guide to the Cornhusker State, Federal Writers’ Project, WPA.

Northeast Nebraska suffered from drought in the 1890s. The spring of 2019, the same area was underwater.

March 2019

The a Goff family Santee Sioux in Nebraska story opens Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots.



    • And surprising. Sherd Goff turned into a grumpy old man (according to a granddaughter–my mom), but I think he had big plans but most never panned out, then the Depression hit. It’s surprising how much you can dig up with only a few details about someone’s life. I’m blessed that my husband puts up with scouting out remote places.

      • We all need to learn more about our past and it’s great to know you make the time. And we benefit from your digging deep. Our ancestors have so much to teach us when we make time to listen.

      • I got started with genealogy before our son was born–and my grandmothers were still living. We lived out of state so I asked if they’d write memoirs and they did! Grandma Wilson’s is how we ended up in that corner of Nebraska, and this Friday is the one that took us all the way up to Key West, Minnesota.

    • Thank you, Ginny. I already had the post scheduled way before the floods, so was shocked to see what the same area looked like just last week. I added that photo at the last minute.

    • We used to live in a Denver suburb so we saw a lot of Nebraska coming and going, but never stopped to get acquainted. I’d like to see the sand hill crane migration sometime, and I just finished reading This Blessed Earth, about farming in Nebraska, which is my Wednesday book post this week. I grew up on a farm and was glad not to have to make a living that way, but found the book fascinating–especially about soybeans.

  1. How wonderful that your grandmother left some memoirs! It sure is interesting to visit the places our ancestors lived. What a contrast with the current flooding.

    • When I started doing genealogy decades ago, having your grandparents write memoirs was one of the suggestions. Both grandmothers did it! I even had pictures to go along with Leora Wilson’s so was able to type up her story with them for cousins. Her episode with the Indians is so fascinating, but I suppose that’s why she had a vivid memory of it after so many decades.

      • Fortunately, the City of Norfolk, in all its wisdom, saw fit to construct a more than adequate flood control system of levees and gates. The only portion of Norfolk that was flooded was the southern area adjacent to the Elkhorn River. Most of the flood waters have receded. However, the Spencer Dam was washed out. A whole batch of highways have gaps and other damage. Some bridges are damaged or gone.

  2. Love your Bloomfield webpage… I’m doing research on my ancestor who by shear accident I am named after… Jefferson B Gossard Mayor of Bloomfield (1933-1940?) would like to find out all i can on him….would you have any suggestions on where I might start looking for records or photographs of previous Mayors of Bloomfield?

  3. My husband’s grandparents farmed near Bloomfield, and I am working with my homeschooled grandchildren teaching history thru genealogy. Thank you so much for posting these interesting photos and historical facts about the area.

    • I would have enjoyed history earlier if I’d had you for a teacher! Your husband’s relatives must have had more luck than the Goff family. I’m writing my third “Leora book,” her early stories, which include a story about local Santee Sioux men coming to their home when the father wasn’t home. They wanted to trade “dress goods” for chickens.

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