When the city of North Platte, Nebraska, celebrates its 150th anniversary next year, the Church of Our Savior will have much to contribute. North Platte exists today because in 1866 the Union Pacific Railroad extended its line to that point along the North Platte River.
North Platte’s identity as a frontier town — a way station between railroads and covered wagons moving further west — has given Church of Our Savior several brushes with history, and attorney Steve Kay has recorded them with diligence.
Much of the parish history is evident in everyday surroundings. A wood altar and reredos in St. George’s Chapel are the handiwork of the Rev. Charles F. Chapman, the parish’s rector from 1905 to 1913. The wood came from two saloons, including “Guy’s Place,” which benefited from the business of Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
Kay cites the late historian Nellie Snyder Yost on the importance of Guy’s Place in Cody’s life.
“In time Guy Laing’s saloon, across the street from the depot, came to be the favorite with Cody and the general run of cowboys,” Yost wrote in The Call of the Range: The Story of the Nebraska Stock Growers Association (Sage Books, 1966).
Yost wrote 13 years later: “If half the stories told of Buffalo Bill and his drinking are true, he must have patronized all of them, although only a few are mentioned with any frequency by those who knew him. One belonged to Guy Laing, his rancher friend; it was a highly popular Front Street place, directly across from the depot” (Buffalo Bill: His Family, Friends, Fame, Failures, and Fortunes; Swallow Press).
William and Louisa M. Frederici Cody donated a stained-glass window to the church to honor the memory of two of their children, Kit Carson Cody and Orra Maude Cody. Kit contracted scarlet fever and died on April 20, 1876, at age 5. Orra died in North Platte on October 24, 1883, at age 10. Another Cody daughter, Arta, lived longer and was the parish’s organist in 1885.
The Rt. Rev. Daniel Tuttle, first Bishop of Utah, slept on the floor of the Union Pacific Hotel before traveling further west. He visited North Platte again in 1921.
Of more recent memory is the Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano, who was imprisoned with fellow Japanese immigrants during World War II. Kano, who earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska, became a missionary to fellow Japanese immigrants in 1925, at the urging of the Rt. Rev. George Allen Beecher, Bishop of the Missionary Diocese of Western Nebraska, as it was known then.
Fr. Kano was arrested immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack. During his imprisonment he taught his fellow captives about nature in the swamps of Louisiana. He was a beloved figure, including among those who oversaw the internment camp.
The 77th General Convention in Indianapolis took a preliminary step toward adding Fr. Kano to Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints. In 2012 Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman designated July 29 as Father Hiram Hisanori Kano Day.
Two rectors of Church of Our Savior became Nebraska bishops: Beecher, and James Edward Krotz (bishop in 1990-2003).
And future Tonight Show host Johnny Carson knelt in the parish with Joan Morrill Wolcott when they were married in 1949. They remained married until 1963 — a longevity surpassed only by Carson’s fourth marriage, to Alexis Maas, which ended with his death in 2005.
Steve Kay believes that “every parish probably has an interesting history,” if only someone will take the time to search through library records, archives, and the web.
“The church has been such a part of my life, and it has done so much for me,” said Kay, author of Episcopal Church of Our Savior: Our Second Century of Service, published by the parish in 2014. “The Episcopal Church is a wonderful church, and I wanted to give back.”