Nebraskaland Jan/Feb 2019

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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Page 44 of 63

January-February 2019 • Nebraskaland 45 reached the Nebraska shore when suddenly his horse broke through with his fore-feet. He got out and unhitching him pulled the buggy back and then took the horse by the bit and tried to get him on the solid ice. The animal, however, fl oundered about so that he broke the ice in all directions about him, letting himself and his owner down in the water. Mr. Mayne scrambled out, but the horse worked himself under the ice, all but his head, which rested on a cake of ice which alone prevented him from being drowned." Oscar Phelps was in serious trouble. His unusual name probably wasn't a good omen. He may have been named for a character in a syndicated 1880 short story in which a young man using the alias "Oscar Phelps" is killed in a duel by a disguised woman seeking revenge. Or he may have been named for the soon-to-be-defunct town of Oscar, in Phelps County, Nebraska. Either way, he was in danger of being pulled under the ice by the current. Mayne ran for help. The nearest business was Boyd's Pork Packing House, Omaha's original meatpacking plant, north of present-day Lauritzen Gardens. Several plant workers came with planks and ropes. For the next two hours they struggled to rescue the horse while a crowd of some 500 onlookers gathered along the riverbank. It was dangerous and unpleasant work. Oscar was fl oundering just below the spot where the plant discharged its untreated waste directly into the river. And the plant was no small operation, having slaughtered some 112,000 hogs during the previous year. Omahans were used to living in a smoky, smelly, and muddy city, but the Bee noted that the "work was done in the face of sickening fi lth and stench." Meanwhile, other drivers and teams of horses crossed the river that day, oblivious to the danger. It was how things had always been done. The Bee recommended waiting for another "cold snap." It was getting dark by the time Oscar was pulled from the cold and fi lthy water "in a half dead condition." But the horse was tough as well as fast. He recovered and was later sold to Mayne's business partner. The following year the Bee reported that Oscar Phelps was "winning some fast races and high honors at Ohio fairs this fall." Running on the soft dirt of a track probably seemed easy after crossing rotten river ice. Visit History Nebraska's website at Travelers and workers often braved the icy Missouri River, just like these bridge workers near Rulo in 1886. History Nebraska RG2457-5-24 Future Nebraska Governor James Boyd opened Omaha's fi rst meatpacking plant in 1872. From Alfred Sorenson, Early History of Omaha (1876), p. 242.

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