Monday, July 19, 2010

Early Chadron: Hollywood of the Plains?

More than a decade before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences began staging Academy Award ceremonies in Hollywood, one of the earliest western films about Wild Bill Hickock was produced in…….Chadron, Nebraska?

Not that the movie would have won an Oscar. According to the Nebraska State Historical Society, it wasn’t even close to being an accurate depiction of Wild Bill, but it was an ambitious undertaking for a group of local folks in Chadron who produced the film.

Entitled Wild Bill and Calamity Jane in the Days of ’75 and ’76, the 1916 movie was said to have embraced several “state of the art” production techniques, including film masking and titles within the film. Most intriguing for us was the fact that local citizens created the Black Hills Feature Film Company and sold stock in an effort to bankroll the project. We don’t know how many shares they sold, but one “William Chalk” was the proud owner of Certificate No. 4, shown here.

Interestingly, the certificate is signed by Willis Schenck, Secretary, and A. L. Andrews, President, of the Black Hills Feature Film Company – and Schenck also performed in the film. According to the credits, he played the role of “Nettie’s father.”

But the real limelight of this film was focused on a young lady by the name of Freeda Hartzell Romine, who – according to the Centennial History of Chadron, Nebraska (1985) – was born in Nebraska but grew up in Deadwood, South Dakota. That’s where, so the story goes, she learned to become an expert rifle shot and honed her skills well enough to appear in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis with Will Rogers. She would have been only about 12 or 13 years old. The photo here shows Freeda with fellow performers in Wild Bill and Calamity Jane in the Days of '75 and '76.

The young lass also toured with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Western Show for several years, according to an account in Dawes County - The First 100 Years, published in 1985. She and her railroader husband, Guy Romine, had a daughter, Catherine. Many years later, the Romine’s divorced. Freeda reportedly lived for several more years in Chadron, but also had a home in Indiana. We know nothing about her final days.

Other "locals" in the film included Freeda's mother, Mary Hartzell, who portrayed Calamity's mother, and A.L. Johnson, who was cast as Wild Bill. Barney Efting played the infamous Jack McCall, while Dick Iaeger was Calamity's brother. In researching this local drama troupe, we discovered that Iaeger was an uncle to Karen (Kindig) Schlais, who still lives in Chadron.

Alas, this film – and the film company – were also lost in obscurity. Fortunately, the movie was finally “re-discovered” some years ago and placed in the Nebraska archives in Lincoln. It was dusted off and featured a few years ago by Nebraska Educational Television in their Next Exit series.

Enjoy this glimpse of film magic that is nearly 100 years old.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Remembering teachers past

VERNE LEWELLEN was one of the most highly respected coaches to ever come through Chadron High School.

A native of Minatare, he was a standout athlete. During World War Two, “Coach Lew” served with Patton’s 16th Armored Division that helped liberate Czechoslovakia; he then enrolled at Chadron State College after the war. A top flight defensive back at Chadron State, his four pass interceptions in the “Bean Bowl” football game against Idaho State in 1949 established a school record that has never been broken. His superb football career earned him a berth as a charter member of the CSC Athletic Hall of Fame.

Lewellen was also a top notch baseball player and likely could have had a career in the major leagues. After teaching and coaching at Hay Springs for three years, he came to Chadron as basketball coach and taught in Junior High, becoming Principal. He took the Cardinals to three state basketball tournaments, including 1960-61 when CHS won the Class B championship.

Lewellen retired from coaching and left Chadron to become Superintendent at Rushville for five years. He and his wife, Erma, then returned to the “Valley,” where he served 20 years as Superintendent at Mitchell.

A staunch supporter of CSC, he has served on the Foundation’s Board of Directors. The Lewellens still live in Mitchell, not far from their son Curt and daughter Tammi Greenlee.

A “surprise” tribute luncheon for “Coach Lew” and Erma was held in Chadron on July 8, 2010.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Remembering teachers past

LaVONA SMITH LEMONS taught Home Economics and Physical Education at Chadron High School in the late 1950's.

A native of Crawford and a graduate of what is now Chadron State College, she taught in Grand Island for three years before coming to Chadron High. Con Marshall wrote last year that “she remembers when Cindy Huls dressed up like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and did some tumbling stunts during halftime at a couple of basketball games during the holidays, much to the delight of the crowds…after leaving Chadron, the Lemonses moved to Scottsbluff, where Larry taught special education and physiology for 20 years and LaVona became a stay-at-home mom. While still in Scottsbluff, Larry left education for nine years and became involved in sporting goods sales and management.”

The Lemons family moved to North Platte in the mid-1980s. LaVona became Volunteer Coordinator for North Platte Schools, while Larry worked as the counselor at the Hershey Schools. Their son Jay is president of Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania; daughter Jill is a counselor in Loveland, Colorado, and daughter Holly has a real estate license in Fort Collins. They have seven grandchildren.

LaVona and her husband Larry Lemons were able to attend the joint reunion last year for the classes of ’58 and ’59 at CHS. LaVona

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

As Chadron Prep grads assemble

Although the Chadron Prep high school was shuttered in 1961, memories of that fine school linger. Prepsters continue to assemble annually to celebrate their good fortune at having been a part of the school.

For many folks, the basketball dynasty honed by the legendary Archie Conn, is synonymous with Chadron Prep.

There is a long list of names that ring true when thinking about outstanding basketball players at Prep. Muma. Amstrong. Lytle. Kuska.

And within that list – if not at the top – is one James Hampton.

A four-year letterman for the Junior Eagles, Jim Hampton was a bit on the short size for such a stellar player; he was an all-around athlete who performed nearly as well on the gridiron and the diamond as he did the basketball court. He was an integral part of the outstanding Chadron Elks baseball team for a few years back in the '50s.

We can’t recount all of the statistics about this fine player, but we do know that he garnered 310 points in 24 during his senior year. Jim was a Class C All-State player on a team that dominated the Northwest Nebraska Conference – and most other competition. Of course, Chadron Prep also brought home several state championship trophies in those years.

At a sprightly 73 years, Hampton still shoots hoops regularly in Michigan, where he and wife Shirley (Durham) have lived for many years. He has retired from a successful career with Dow Corning. We’re told that his free-throw percentage is considerably higher today than back in the 1950’s, and he was a superb shooter back in those days.

If you have good photos of other Prep players from that era, we’d enjoy being able to share them here on Dawes County Journal. Drop us a line at

Monday, July 5, 2010

Remembering teachers past

JAMES ZEMAN, a 1956 graduate of Chadron High School, returned to CHS to teach English and Speech in 1960-61 after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree from Nebraska State Teachers College at Chadron in 1960. It would be the first of his 42 years in the teaching profession.

“I thoroughly enjoyed teaching the senior English class that year,” Zeman told us. “I still remember fondly the senior class play, and I can’t forget Murray Schmechel coming out on stage in the barrel in “Tons of Money.” That was Zeman’s only year of teaching at CHS.

He spent the next six years teaching speech and coaching speech activities at Lead (SD) High School while working summers to complete an M.A. in Speech Communication. After a one-year stint back at Chadron State as a one-year replacement, he signed on at Northern State University in Aberdeen, SD to teach speech and handle forensic activities. It turned out to be a 34-year gig. He completed a Ph. D. in Speech Communication at Pennsylvania State University and was very actively involved with the South Dakota Education Association for many years.

Jim Zeman retired in 2003 as a full professor at Northern State and spends his time in both Aberdeen and the Black Hills region – as well as a couple of weeks each year on the Oregon coast.