|Dundy County Nebraska Genealogy Trails|
Dundy County History
Dundy County is in the very Southwest corner of Nebraska and has four populated towns, Benkelman, the county seat, Haigler, Parks and Max.
The Republican River runs through it, providing a beautiful river valley with canyons along the south side and sand hills to the north. Rock Creek Lake is nestled along the spring-fed Rock Creek which flows into the Republican River at Parks, Nebraska. The Arikaree River arrives from Colorado through the northwest corner of Kansas to join the Republican at Haigler, Nebraska. The South Fork of the Republican enters the county from the southwest at the Kansas state line south of Benkelman, Nebraska. Max, sits in the river valley on the east edge of the county.
Dundy County was organized in 1873, but the population was sparse up to 1880 when it reached 37.
During the 1880s the Texas-Ogallala cattle trail moved into the county as the settlements began to move westward because of the Homestead Act of 1862 and the completion of the railroad line from Chicago through Dundy county and onward to Denver in 1882. By 1895, the population of the county was over 4,000 with a total of 22 settlements scattered across the prairie.
The first settlers were cattlemen who found the prairie grass ideal for producing fat cattle to sell at the railroad connection in Ogallala. More people came to the county when the railroad reached across Nebraska through the Republican Valley.
After a severe drought during the late 1890s many of the “homesteaders” of the area were ‘starved out’ and returned ‘back east’ or moved on to other parts of the country, leaving a low population in 1900 of 2,434 only to swell again through the next 3 decades to a height of 5,610 in 1930. During this time period, farming became easier with the introduction of equipment that outdated the horse and one row plough. Much of the grassland was broken up for farming, thus preparing the way for the devastating effects of the “dustbowl” days of the early 1930s. The poplulation again dropped when settlers moved on to make sure their families survived.
The county’s name came from a Nebraska Territorial Judge, Elmer S. Dundy, who presided over the trial of Standing Bear, a Ponca Indian, making the decision that gave the Native American the right to be treated as a “person.” (14)
The four towns with post offices and the farmers and ranchers spread over the county brought the total population in 2000 to a little over 2200.
During the mid 1800's people were beginning to settle in Nebraska Territory and wanted to found their own town, not only to settle the frontier, but to become rich. The Federal Act of May 23, 1844 allowed for a town council or corporation to claim up to 320 acres as a townsite allowing groups of people to organize a town by staking out 320 acres and dividing it up into smaller lots and selling it in 10 share plots to individuals who wanted to move into the area.
Once the legislature had incorporated the town the founders would advertise the town's merits, many times through newspapers, and encourage people to locate there.
Not all towns prospered and many quickly faded away.
In 1895 there were 22 towns listed in Dundy County Nebraska. Only 4 of these settlements remain "on the map"; Benkelman, Haigler, Parks and Max.
The majority of the county is still farm and ranch land. The soil north of the Republican River is rolling sandhills, broken with spring creeks, canyons and small lakes. If you look at it from the air, you will see mostly circles from the irrigation pivots on the tops of the hills and grassland and roads entwining around them.
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