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Cornelius "Boots" Shepard

Railroad chef Boots (Cornelius Orville) Shepard was born on July 11, 1915, in Sedalia, Missouri to Mabel Smith Shepard and Raymond Shepard. Shepard has traced his ancestors back to slavery and many of his relatives attended the now forgotten George R. Smith College, which was a popular Methodist institution named for Sedalia Missouri’s founder and the college’s benefactor. The school was a magnet for black people for miles around. Shepard was a very strong willed child; he received the nickname “Boots” when he refused to take off a pair of his new boots before going to bed. Shepard attended Franklin Elementary School and graduated from Lincoln High School in 1935.

While attending high school in the 1930s, Shepard met his future wife, Loreatha Mae. The couple raised eleven children and emphasized the values of family and hard work. In 1935 Shepard moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where he found a job as a cook on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q). He worked for thirty-five years on the railroad and was the youngest chef at CB&Q Railroad during his tenure. This was a great accomplishment because African Americans were rarely promoted to the position of head chef on the railroads. As a chef, Shepard also traveled to Chicago where he worked on the California Zephyr. As a resident of Lincoln, Shepard joined the Newman Methodist Church and became an active member for seventy years.

Cornelius Orville Shepard died on November 17, 2007 at the age of 92.

Cornelius Orville Shepard was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 4, 2007.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Middle Name



C.C. Hubbard High School

Nebraska Wesleyan University

First Name


Birth City, State, Country




Favorite Season



Ray Shepard



Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote


Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City



United States

Favorite Food


Death Date


Short Description

Railroad chef Cornelius "Boots" Shepard (1915 - 2007 ) worked for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.


Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company.

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Brown, Green

Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Cornelius "Boots" Shepard's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes his maternal grandparents and great-grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes his neighborhood in Sedalia, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes his parents' education

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard talks about his parents' marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls his early work experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes his community in Sedalia, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls the racial discrimination in Sedalia, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard remembers his education in Sedalia, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls his involvement in sports

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard remembers playing high school football

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes the Lincoln School in Sedalia, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls his parents' influence

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard remembers moving to Lincoln, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard remembers Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls being hired as a railroad cook

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes working on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes his duties as a railroad cook

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard talks about his marriage

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls bringing his wife to Lincoln, Nebraska

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard remembers raising his family in Lincoln, Nebraska

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard talks about the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes his support for his wife's family

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard talks about his railroad career

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls cooking for special events on the railroad

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls cooking for private parties in Sedalia, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard remembers World War II

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls the creation of the Burlington Northern Railroad

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes the racial discrimination in the railroad industry

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard remembers filing a lawsuit against the railroad

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes the decision of his lawsuit against the railroad

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls instances of train hopping

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard reflects upon his life

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls the death of his grandchild, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls the death of his grandchild, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls suing a photographer for racial discrimination

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard reflects upon his career

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Cornelius "Boots" Shepard describes how he would like to be remembered







Cornelius "Boots" Shepard recalls his early work experiences
Cornelius "Boots" Shepard remembers moving to Lincoln, Nebraska
Can you tell that story again about the bottles? Now, you said that you used to collect whiskey bottles (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Well, my father [Ray Shepard] worked for the white bootleggers and the gamblers, and upstairs they had the gambling and downstairs they had a front, cigar store. It'd be about four or five feet wide and a (unclear) going across in the back door over here it'll go back, all in the back, that's where the whiskey and everything was. And my father would be back there cleaning the whiskey bottles and filling 'em up. Well, when I'd go in they'd say, "Go on back there, take 'em back there to him, Boots [HistoryMaker Cornelius "Boots" Shepard], your dad's back there. Go back there." And my father would take 'em, and he'd count 'em and tell--and give me a paper, I had ten or twenty. I'd go back out there and give it to the guy at behind the--on the cash register, and he'd reach over and give me--he'd count my money out to me, nickel a bottle. I'd go down the street, turn, come back up the alley, pick my whiskey bottles up, take 'em about two blocks over to the white bootlegger--I mean, black bootlegger and sell it to him and he'd pay me three cents for 'em. So I got eight cents for one bottle. All the rest of the black kids didn't know where they were, where to go and everything. And I wouldn't tell 'em. And I'd be getting eight cents for bottles and they were getting three cents.$$Now, put it in perspective now. How, I mean, eight cents per bottle in those days, that wasn't too bad, was it? I mean, that's like getting what now (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) No, that was good, that was good. I don't know what they get for 'em now that's 'cause I don't guess they sell 'em like that no more.$$No, but it would be like--it wouldn't be like eight cents now, it'd be like fifty cents, a dollar, or something?$$No, it wouldn't be that much.$$It wouldn't be that much? You don't think?$$Might give you a nickel for 'em or ten cents for 'em maybe.$$No, I'm saying what eight cents was worth then, what is that worth now?$$Eight cents is worth about a quarter of what it is now.$$Oh, okay, all right. So it'd be like a quarter apiece then?$$Yeah, it'd be like a quarter. Yeah, eight cents was a whole lot. Three cents was a whole lot.$$And what could you get with--how much did a bottle of milk cost then?$$Bottle of milk? Ten or fifteen cents. Ten cents, twelve cents.$$And now it's like--$$Eggs (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) It's over a dollar now for--$$Yeah, you go, go buy eggs, and mother tells you--before they started raising chickens--you go to the store, give you a nickel or a dime, tell you go get me two eggs, go get me one egg. Whatever you have.$$Okay. So that money went pretty far in those days?$$Oh, yeah, yeah. You never know--didn't know what it was--on a Saturday I'd go uptown at the shining parlor. It was owned by the fellow that had that had the bowling alley, and it was (unclear) shining stand. And he would hire--he had two or three boys that worked in there regular. And, if you got in with him, you could go in there and set around with him and you shine shoes and you'd make--your tip was yours. 'Cause everybody got a shoeshine, it was a dime, bet he's gonna tip a nickel or a dime. You could bet on that. And everybody--on Saturday that shining stand would be full of--would be sometimes we'd have three, three guys going--you'd be going down shining three pair of shoes at a time. See. You get that rag and then you learn to pop it, and put it on its heel and then jerk it out and pop it. Then you know it--when you did that, you know you got a tip coming. Then if you could go long toward two like its pop, pop, pop, you got folks--if you're good enough to do that, you bet you gonna make some money on Saturday. Stop by Clover's store [ph.] and Sunday, you bet we gonna have meatloaf and spaghetti. And get that, get a quarter worth of sugar, quarter worth of hamburger and sausage mix, that's for the meatloaf, and a pack of spaghetti and can of tomatoes. You carry that home, you got Sunday dinner made for mama. And that was, that was all right. You didn't buy no ten pounds of sugar, quarter's worth of sugar. Quarter's worth of this, dime for this. You knew it the whole time you had over a dollar in your pocket, when you done been up there hustling at the shining stand and made some money. And (unclear) all the rest of you have a dime or fifteen cents in your pocket, hell, you was rich.$So when you were getting ready to graduate from high school [Lincoln School; C.C. Hubbard High School, Sedalia, Missouri]--$$Uh-huh.$$What did you think you were gonna do? Did you (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I wanted to be a cabinetmaker--$$Okay.$$--'cause I was good in math and manual training. I was good at that. I could--I used a lathe, I've got--when I left home I had went out in the country and got a piece of wood, a log of wood, of walnut and come back home after school, made lamps out of 'em, made a pair of lamps out of 'em. My mother [Mabel Smith Shepard], when I left home, I left all that stuff there when I was a kid. My brother [Willard Shepard] and I both, we made stuff like that all the time. When they bought the lathe, I learn how to run a lathe and take a stick of wood, take and put it on the--had the band saw. Learned that saw and turn a--take a stick wood, cut it, get it squared up. You'd square it up and put it on that lathe and take that thing little closer and take your little compass and see how round you got it and how many (unclear) you wanna put in it and all like that. You draw it out on paper and then put it up in front of you and you do the lathe. Yeah.$$Okay, but you ended up going to college, right?$$Huh?$$You ended up going to college and (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, I ended up going to college.$$Now, where did you go and how did you get there?$$Right here, right here at Nebraska Wesleyan [Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, Nebraska].$$Nebraska Wesleyan, okay. Now, how did that happen, what happened?$$Well, the--when I went to school--went to--come to Lincoln [Nebraska] back to Lincoln that--in September, I was been up here in '34 [1934] in the summer for my dad [Ray Shepard], and when I came back to Lincoln I went to church and the minister there was raised up with--and his wife was raised with my own mother and father. And they, of course, from the same church my grandfather [William H. Smith] preached at and everything. But he didn't preach here, and one of 'em, when church was out he asked me, said, asked me did I play football. I said, "Yeah." He said, "What are you gonna do tomorrow?" I said, "I don't know, nothing. I just came up here, thought maybe I'd find a job." Well, I said, "I can get a better job here than I can in Sedalia [Missouri]." And I came up here, and so he said, "Well, where will you be?" I said, "I'll be at home." And that Monday about noon he called and my auntie answered the telephone and he asked me, said, "What'd you got to do this afternoon?" I said, "Nothing." Said, "You know where Wesleyan University is?" I said, "Yeah, not too far," 'cause I'm living right over on 30th [Street] and Apple [Street]. And I'd go right up there to Overland [Trail] and walk out to the school. And he said, "Well, you be out there at three o'clock this afternoon and go right to the locker room where the coaches are." Said, "Go out there and they want to--he wants to talk to you." I said, okay. I went out there, I didn't have the least idea of going to school. School'd been going on a week or two weeks before I got there. And I went out there and he said--something's missing. Said, "Can you kick a football?" "Yes." "Can you thow a football?" "Yes." He said, "What position did you play?" I said, "Quarterback." He just stood there a while. He said, "What formation did you run?" I said, "Run the T formation." He said, "Well, that's good, that's what we run." That was it. And told me to go over there to the locker room, and they threw me a pair of shoes, socks, pants, athletic sweater, everything. Say, we had to give parties to raise stuff in high school. White kids got theirs free. We had to give parties to raise money to buy ours. So, he sent me there and then when I got my uniform and everything, told me to put it on.$$Now, this is a white school, right?$$Yeah, yeah. Right up at the top of the hill there.$$This is a white coach?$$Yeah. And went out there and got out there and had the center to come out, told the center to center the ball. He said, "Let me see you kick." And I centered the ball and I kicked, and I kicked about three times. He said, "You're kicking good but you're holding the ball wrong." I said, "What'd you mean, holding the ball wrong. Ain't no other way to hold it." He didn't know I was left-footed. And when he woke up and saw I was left-footed, he said, "No wonder I'm thinking you're wrong, you're left-footed aren't you." I said, "Yeah. I kick with my left foot, I don't kick with the right foot." So he says, "Well, that's all right." Said, "Well, you kick it all right." And then he had me take several plays from the center, and the center kicked the ball, and he had me throw several passes, did that. Said, "Okay." He said, "Go over there and they'll give you a slip to go down to the bookstore and get your books." So, I went over there and they give me a slip, went on down to bookstore, got my books.$$Okay. (Laughter) It was just like that, huh? Well you--you were (simultaneous)--$$Yeah, just like that. And got fifteen dollars a month.