“I once was on bondage … owned but owning nothing … now I am a free man, a citizen of the United States, a property owner, and the boss of my own ranch.” — Robert Ball Anderson (1843- 1930)
Robert Ball was born on March 1, 1843, in Green Co., Ky. He was born a slave and was raised in a cabin with four siblings that was only 12 ft. square. He got the last name Ball because the plantation owner’s last name was Ball.
He was mistreated as a slave and the Civil War changed his life. When he was 21, in 1864, he fled to Lebabon, Marion County, and enlisted in the Union Army. His regiment was the 125th Colored Infantry, which was later known as the Buffalo Soldiers. He saw the end of the Civil War and continued serving for nearly three years. After he was discharged, he returned to the Ball plantation; all was chaos. He and his siblings decided to take his father’s last name, and the remainder of his life he was known as Robert Ball Anderson.
For three years, from 1867 to 1870, he worked in Iowa. With savings from the Army he was able to buy some worthless land from a dishonest real estate agent. He then hired out to a local farmer and worked that land for three years.
In the spring of 1870 Robert had arrived in Butler County, Neb. He filed a claim but it was very hard due to the economy, drought, and grasshoppers. He lost everything in 1881, and moved to Kansas. After three years of working in Kansas, he started for Nebraska to find another homestead. He was 41 years old in 1884 when he arrived in what is now Box Butte County. They were giving away government land to anyone who would plant trees on the land. After the trees were planted, he built a sod house near Hemingford. He then got a job as a cook for Burlington Railroad for a group of construction workers. He went broke again because a man he loaned money to left and did not pay him back.
Life on his land was good. There were a lot of animals for him to hunt. Antelope were plentiful but his favorite was rabbit, prairie chickens, and grouse. By 1895 he owned 480 acres. By 1900 he owned 1,120 acres and eventually 2,000 acres. He planted fruit and sold it from his wagon in Hemingford.
By 1920 Robert had quit farming, sold the farm, and replaced his sod house with a very nice big house. The land he owned was worth $61,000. In 1922 he returned to Forrest City, Ark., and there he met his soon-to- be bride, Daisy Graham. They got married on March 19, 1922, and 30 days after that Robert turned 79 and Daisy was only 21. For their honeymoon, they traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo.
In 1927, he dedicated his autobiography to his wife, Daisy. The title is “From Slavery to Affluence: Memoirs of Robert Anderson, Ex-Slave.”
After coming back from a visit to his brother in Arkansas, Robert passed away in an auto accident near Lincoln. He died at the age of 87 on Nov. 30, 1930. He was buried in the Hemingford Cemetery.
Although there was not many of his own race in Box Butte County, he gained the respect and friendship of everyone until the day of his death. He was born a slave but died a free and wealthy man. His autobiography ends: “After all is said and done, I find that there is no greater rule for making and holding friends, for happiness and contentment, and real enjoyment in life, than in doing unto others as I would like them to do unto me and try to do it just a little better.”