(from the Hayes County Heritage Book 1877-1977 )

In the 1800's this area was still the land of the Indians and the buffalo. Settlement was delayed for many years because of the hostility of the Indians, and many bloody battles were fought between the various tribes, particularly the Pawnee and the Sioux, over the possession and use of this ground.

In 1867 General Custer and his Seventh Cavalry were sent south from Fort McPherson to fight Indians. This was the beginning of a military trail which crossed Hayes County. Marching toward the Republican, they went south to the Medicine, then west across country to the head waters of the Willow, across the Blackwood, coming out just east of Palisade, on the Frenchman. This was later called the old Fort Hayes or Fort Wallace, Kansas.

Hayes County was first part of a huge county called Shorter County. It included most of southwest Nebraska, south of the Platte and west of a line south from Kearney County. It was later changed to Lincoln County. It was not until 1877 that the legislature defined the boundaries of Hayes County.

In the 1880's the famous Texas Cattle Trail wove its way along and across the Stinking Water Creek in the west part of Hayes County and on to Ogallala.

Hayes Center, became the county seat at a special election on Jan. 10, 1885.

A census in 1880 showed a total of 119 persons living in the county, ten years later the number was 3,953, today it is 1,530 (in 1977).

The first freight was brought up from Culbertson as that was the end of the railroad, it was a long trip by wagon, especially with no road. They just struck out south seeking the shortest route and avoiding the steepest canyons. They went down one day and loaded up the next day for the long trip home. For a couple of years freight could be picked up at Beverly as the railroad advanced. Finally in 1891, it reached Palisade and the trip for freight was a little shorter. One important item always on the load of freight was coal oil. It came in large wooden barrels which invariably leaked, care had to be taken to keep it off of the other freight.

The early school was held in a room or building that could be found. Seats were made of boards and boxes. The teachers desk was a large dry goods box.

Hayes County still has at least three sod houses that are livable, although no one lives in them at the present time.

Hayes Center was known as the Wind-Mill City as each family had their own wind-mill for their water supply, there was also a public wind-mill and tank that was located in the middle of main street, where people watered their livestock. But today wind-mills are a thing of the past, as even most farmers use electric pumps to get their water supply.

The country now included in Hayes County was formerly part of the great buffalo range, the cherished hunting grounds of the Indians. Settlement was delayed for many years because of the hostility of the Red Men. Many bloody battles were fought between the various Indian tribes, particularly the Pawnee and the Sioux, over the possession and use of this ground.

The first white men were hunters. Doctor W. F. Carver, "Buffalo Bill" Cody, and other famous frontier characters hunted here to supply meat for the workmen and soldiers during the building of the Union Pacific railroad in 1868-69. In the early seventies sportsmen came from all over the world to hunt in the valley of the Red Willow, the Frenchman's Fork and the Stinking Water, the latter stream got its name from the hundreds of rotting carcasses left on its bank and in its bed by the hunters. Carver claimed in 1873 that he himself had killed at least thirty thousand buffalo. This was the year after the famous hunt staged with elaborate ceremony in honor of Grand Duke Alexis, twenty-two year old brother of the reigning Czar of Russia. This party, led by "Buffalo Bill" Cody as chief of scouts and accompanied by General Sheriden and officers from Fort McPherson, camped the Big Blackwood eight miles northeast of the present site of Hayes Center. The famous Sioux Chief, Spotted Tail, along with one hundred warriors presented a demonstration of the Indian method of hunting. Followed by a war dance, the whole affair was a brilliant success and the Duke himself succeeded in killing several buffalo.

D.L. Neiswanger of Cambridge has placed a monument at the site of the camp. On the reverse side of this monument are carved the names of early settlers: Samuel Tate, first settler, (date not learned), John Ryan, 1881; Joseph K. Paxton, 1870; Mary A. Keeler, 1870; Elisa Keeler, 1872; L. K. Sitler, 1874; Samuel E. Clifford, 1880; W. R. Braugh, 1868; Edna S. Keeler, 1874.

After the battle of 1873 between the Sioux and Pawnee at Massacre Canyon in Hitchcock County, the Indians gave no more trouble. Most of the buffalo had been killed and cattlemen began bringing in their herds to fatten upon the old buffalo range. As early as 1875 cattle were ranging on the Frenchman and John Delay, later connected with the Hour Glass Ranch in Dundy county, is said to have been the first cattleman.

The first homesteads were taken in the vicinity of Carrico postoffice on Red Willow creek in 1874. It is claimed that the Sitler, Keelers and Paxtons came about 1870, this many be true, as settlers of ten occupied the land several years before filing claims.

In 1878-79 a settlement had sprung up in the Thornburg vicinity further down the creek. Daniel Fuller, Michael Brennen and Joab Copeland made the first filing.

Postoffices were established in 1880 at Carrico and Thornburg on the Red Willow creek and at Estelle on the Stinking Water creek in the southwest part of the county. Land office records show no homesteads in the vicinity at this early date, but there were large cattle ranchers twenty-five Carrico postoffice. Only one of these ranchers was in Hayes County. Raum and Ray's six miles southwest of the postoffice.

In the summer of 1881 a correspondent of the Omaha Daily Republican reported trouble in this vicinity between cattlemen and the settlers. The recent release on a technicality of a cattleman who had killed and burned two homesteaders in Custer County had emboldened the cattlemen who saw their range being appropriated by the settlers. They resorted to threats and persecution to drive out the new-comers. The postmaster at Estelle, an old man, had obtained a power of attorney from certain Texas cattle owners to collect their stray cattle from the general round-up. These cattle had been regarded by local ranchers as their legitimate prizes. Furthermore the postmaster had been skinning the carcasses of cattle that had perished in the severe weather of the preceding winter and selling their hides. He was visited early in the spring by two cowboys who demanded possession of a cow. The old man would surrender the animal if they would get an order of replevin from the Justice of the Peace a half mile away. They declared there was no law in this county and left threatening to raise a mob and hang the old man. A few days later fifteen men met at a ranch near the mouth of the Stinking Water and discussed plans for lynching but give up the idea.

Hayes County was created by an act of the State Legislature Feb. 19, 1877 but no organization was effected until the latter part of 1884. According to John S. Wise a meeting of the special officers appointed by Governor Dawes was held at LaForest on Blackwood Creek, the home of LaForest Dyer. J.W. Dyer was special clerk; John M. Daniels, H. H. Troth and William Keith were special commissioners. Their first act was to call a special election for Jan. 10, 1885, to choose officers for the new county and submit a proposition to suspend the herd law. The following officers were elected: Clerk, J.W. Dyer; Treasurer, J.M. Daniels; Sheriff, Charles Bailey; Superintendent, Mrs. Mary W. Daniels; County Judge, M. H. Coons; Commissioners, H.H. Troth, John S. Huges and John H. Wise.

Coons resigned and Bailey refused to qualify, so Samuel Tate and Joe Small were renamed acting judge and sheriff respectively for the new county. John M. Daniels also refused to act as treasurer and Lou Armstrong was appointed. He deputized James Cooper who did the office work during his term.

At the special election on Jan. 10, 1885, location proposed for county seat were Hayes Center, Estelle and LaForest. Non received a majority of votes and another election was called for April 10, The two receiving the highest number of votes, namely Hayes Center and Estelle, were voted upon and Hayes Center won.

The first seat of government was housed in two rooms rented from J. W. Dyer for which he received $10 per month. The county offices were moved from time to time. One courthouse burned down on May 5, 1891 and a new one costing $5,000 was built in 1906.

Estelle in 1885 was a little town with a postoffice and a general store, a blacksmith shop, a harness shop and a mill. The mill was owned by Doctor Bostock who combined the practice of healing the sick with that of grinding flour to feed the hungry. That year Hayes Center had been built as a location for the county seat by promoters. It claimed a population of 100. M.J. Abbot, attorney, was also editor of the Hayes Center news. It began publication of April 9, 1885, the day before Hayes Center was voted the county seat. Dambaugh brothers had a drug store. A.J. West and Hicks Martin each had a stock of general merchandise; B.F. Yates was a wagon-maker; I.M. Davis sold agricultural implements; J.L. Meredith was a physician; T.J. Galeway practiced law; and R.C. Waler had the postoffice.

Many of the first schoolhouses in the county were of sod but a least one differed, a stone schoolhouse at the A.J. Irvine ranch on the Stinking Water Creek. This is still in good condition.

The first teacher in Hayes Center as far as can be learned was Andy Hatch, who taught in 1885 in a little house near where Loren Enyeart's barn now stands. He was followed by Mrs. Will West. Other early teachers were Mrs. John Snee, Mrs. Mary Hillman, Mrs. Margaret West, J.E. Hammond, and Joseph Crosby. In 1906 Hayes Center added high school grades. There was one room on the business street where the ninth and tenth grades were taught by the principal, H>S> Robinson. A little later a county high school was built at Hayes Center.

One of Hayes County's features is the Duke Alexis recreation ground eight miles northeast of Hayes Center. The area contains approximately 140 acres, including a 100 acre lake, well stocked with fish.

Hayes County today is purely an agricultural and stock raising community. The same land which made buffalo thrive now fattens hundreds of beef cattle and yields excellent crops.

Copied from Who's Who in Nebraska.

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© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 by Brenda Lawless Daniel