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Diary of William Alford Richards, Surveyor

William Alford Richards was born in Grant County, Wisconsin, in 1849. Although denied enlistment in the Union Army due to his youth, he managed to find employment as an ambulance driver from 1863 to1864.

At the end of the war, he returned to Wisconsin and taught in rural schools, attended high school in Galena, Illinois, and in 1869 moved to Omaha. There a government survey party hired him to help survey Lincoln, Franklin, Buffalo, and Hayes counties in Nebraska and the boundary with the state of Wyoming. He also studied law in Omaha and became a civil engineer. In 1875 Richards left Nebraska for California, and then moved to Colorado and subsequently Wyoming, where he was elected governor in 1894. He was appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office in Washington, D.C., in 1903. William Richards died in Wyoming in 1912.

William Richards kept a detailed diary for the years 1869 to 1871, describing his move to Nebraska, his brief stay in Omaha, and his work on survey crews with all of the difficulties, dangers, and excitement that that life entailed. As did many diarists, he began his journal with an explanation of why he proposed to keep such a record.

(probably January 1, 1869, Galena, Illinois)
With the New Year I begin anew to keep a record of my doings. Twice before have I began and after a short time thrown my book aside and thought no more of the matter, but now I am determined to persevere and commit to the keeping of this little book an account of the every day affairs of life, which though in themselves small, go to make up a lifetime. It ought to be the rule of every man's life to take some notice of affairs as they occur so that in after years he can refer to them without having to trust to memory, which at that period of his existence is generally treacherous. I hope that I may tell all that I do to this little friend and have nothing written that I'll ever regret having done, thought if long continued that would be a wonderful record indeed for few are they who can look back over a very lengthy period of their lives and see nothing that might have been done a little better. It may be that many beside myself may some time read these lines and it is my intention that, while I am truthful to my journal, they may find but little to condemn. With this programme I close my rather lengthy preface.

Early Nebraska towns were bustling places, and diary accounts of life in cities like Omaha can reveal aspects of the community that were not what town boosters included in their promotional material.

Sunday, Morning (April 18, 1869 Omaha, Nebraska)
This is a splendid morning clear and the sun shining as warm as one would want. Haven't anything special to do today. May go out to the Barracks about four miles from here where several companies of soldiers are stationed. A Regt. came in yesterday from Richmond and will remain at the Barracks about a month when they are going to Cal. Went to the car shops of the U.P. yesterday afternoon and applied for a job. If I were a mechanic of any kind could get work in an hour. As it is I may not get anything to do. Several of their men quit last night as they have not been paid off for more than two months & the Co. is owing more than two million dollars in this city. In the evening went around to see the town after dark. Visited the Academy of Fun which is a low theater & beer hall. Their performances were not very chaste surely. On our way home stopped at a keno bank to see how the thing was done. Found the house crowded and all playing. Don't think I'll ever invest anything in the business as a fellow is bound to lose by it if he continues any time at all.
Wrote a letter to Auttie.

William's diary entries while out in the wilds surveying the land were filled with accounts of hunting for food, struggling with the heat and storms of a Nebraska summer, and constant worries about Indian attacks that never occurred.

Friday, 18th
25 Went south from camp this morning three miles & west two miles and started from the township corner & ran north six miles over a very rough country. Came back three miles and got into camp at three o'clock. Walked nineteen miles before dinner. After walked about six miles more after an elk but could not get him though we got close to him. Ran our line through a village of prairie dogs who seemed very much surprised to see their village surveyed. Came across an elk horn five feet long with seven prongs from twelve to fifteen inches in length. It must have been an enormous animal to carry such horns.

Carried my carbine today which I have not done for several days but the indians are getting so near that we think it best to be very careful.



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