Valentines | Old Time Cowboys

by Melanie and Jim

Nebraska is a long state, about 430 miles from east to west. We stayed overnight in Sioux City, Iowa, and got an early start on U.S. 20. It would be several hours before we reached our goal for the day, somewhere in western Nebraska. In the past we only crossed the state on Interstate 80. The elevation changes on I-80, across the southern half of the state, are tiny. It follows the North Platte River most of the way. U.S. 20, Bridges to Buttes Byway, took us across the northern counties, different rivers, the Sandhills country, and showed us some beautiful sights.

We had lunch in Valentine, Nebraska. The Niobrara River is a great rafting, canoeing, and kayaking destination. The post office participates annually in the Valentine’s Day postmarking of tens of thousands of cards and letters to loved ones. And this according to Wikipedia:

As late as 1967, Valentine was split between two time zones. As described in one news report, “The mountain and central time zones meet at the center of Main Street, so an hour separates the two curb lines.” According to the report, when clocks were required to be set back one hour for daylight saving time, Valentine’s post office (which was in the central zone) split the difference and turned back its clock by only half an hour.

By mid-afternoon we reached the town of Gordon and were ready for another break. A sign advertised the Old Time Cowboys Museum. We stopped to ask some guys who were fixing a pothole where it was. We didn’t expect much as we turned the next corner.

We stepped inside and were greeted by two older gentlemen. Both of us were wearing Air Force caps, which the men noted. The caps often are a conversation starter, and they took the bait. One of the men volunteered at the museum. He pointed out some of the displays and invited us to look around.

The front room had an office and small kitchen. There were a few special displays. One honored a local war veteran. Another contained a valuable collection of spurs, many hand-worked in silver. On the wall was a large display of barbed wire examples. We had lived a while in DeKalb, Illinois, years ago. DeKalb was instrumental in the development and production of the earliest practical barbed wire fencing.

We stepped into the back room and were amazed at how much cowboy memorabilia was on display. First was this chuck wagon.

There were saddles, bridles, and various cowboy gear filling a corner of the room.

Cases contained collections donated by many others, paper clippings about significant people and events, branding irons, etc. This quilt displayed various brands from the tri-state region.

There was a display of a typical kitchen and some of the appliances.

We left with a new appreciation for the hard work and difficult life faced by many who had lived the cowboy and ranching life.

As we traveled on U.S. Highway 20, we passed through many small towns. The pace is a little slower this way, and you have opportunities to enjoy hidden treats like this one.


6 thoughts on “Valentines | Old Time Cowboys

  1. BJ Good

    It’s a treat to read your writing about your travel into the High Plains of western Nebraska. Definitely a more interesting route when going west through Nebraska. I grew up in an eastern Nebraska town about 40 miles south of Highway 20. My family as a result drove that road on our trips to vacation in South Dakota or Wyoming and even vacationed in the area. Smith Falls, east of Valentine near Long Pine, has the highest waterfall in Nebraska [wow-63ft!] in what is a cool oasis out in the Sandhills. [Our name was Smith & we fantasized that it was our family’s!] My younger brothers were thrilled to wear their cowboy hats once while riding horses on a ranch visit in the area. Gordon is known to Nebraskans because well known author Mari Sandoz wrote many books based on her life [hardships for sure] in the locale. I wonder if the Museum you visited had any mention of her or her burial site south of Gordon.

    1. Melanie McNeil

      I did see other references to Sandoz, but I didn’t notice any in this museum.

      Jim and I kept saying, “who knew?” Who knew northern Nebraska was so beautiful? Honestly (and perhaps shame on us,) we were pretty blown away. Really enjoyed that drive.

  2. shoreacres

    It’s interesting to me how many museums, large and small, have their barbed wire exhibits. In Kansas, there’s a museum dedicated just to barbed wire: testament to the role in played in the west.

    I was also interested in your mention of the Niobrara river. I’m working on a Kansas post right now that includes mention of the Niobrara chalk, and some very interesting history about that geological formation.

    As for highway 20: yes. There’s nothing like taking one of those “lesser” roads through the plains states. When I traveled through Kansas, my response was the same: who knew this would be so beautiful?

    1. Jim R Post author

      Yes, so many barbed wire museums. It lasts a long time.

      We have enjoyed taking those roads less traveled. There are countless towns across the country who are trying hard to share. So many are full of storefronts for sale.

      I’m looking forward to your Niobrara post.


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