Where the West Begins

by cowboylands

Another blog hiatus, but another excellent reason–a writing residency “where the West begins.” Nebraska City, dear buckaroos and buckarettes, is the place where the frontier began. Dripping from a shallow crossing of the Missouri River, pioneers were invited on their trek across the plains by a wide main street that gently lifted them to level ground and feed stores and grocery stores and dimly lit bars (wait, that’s the twenty-first century).*

During the spring and summer months, Nebraska City is a basket of green trees and quaint buildings. In the winter months, the empty storefronts glare back at you. The bars do a steady business, especially, as bars are wont to do, right after working hours. The antique/secondhand shops are staffed with people who eagerly ask how you are and strike up a conversation, as you are part of rare breed in these months–a visitor. 

Where is the fabled west? It’s in the historic Oteo County courthouse and the boulder and plaque about the pioneer trail. It’s also in the wide skies, and the stare from a group of men before a bars that follows you wherever you go. And it’s playfully subverted in the wonderful Fort Western western apparel shop with barbed-wire-print bed sheets and pink boots.**

The West is made pretty and patterned, like the wallpaper in the residences at KHN and the array of cups and glassware at the second-hand shops. But underneath it is some pretty tough stuff, like a work ethic that amounts to “put your head down and get through it,” and a little resentment, a little bemusement, toward these drifters from Brooklyn and elsewhere who have time to write and paint. 

Nebraska City is on the edge, I think. The highway swings to the northwest, pulling traffic away from the center of town. The train tracks skirt the more rundown houses and pause briefly at the terminals by the Missouri. Yet good folk make their casseroles and go to church and work on the boards of Civil War museums and run coffee shops and quilting classes.

And I sit in my studio, tapping out a novel, wondering when the sheriff will come by to tell us to get out of town and keep on drifting. 


*Thanks, Mr. Frank Sheehan, painter extraordinaire, for the succinct description you gleaned from countless historical and travel brochures while I was wrestling with whether my protagonist is a Stoner or a Loser in high school. 

**The place also has its share of gloves and boots for wrangling, but I am choosing to highlight the odd things. Rather unfairly, I will admit. 


2 Comments to “Where the West Begins”

  1. shit. that street looks scary. but the cups/plates are adorable! how much?

  2. It’s not so scary! Just empty! Which to a New Yorker means the same thing. Furnishings and pretty-fying things are all cheap here.

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