DUNDY County is situated in the extreme southwest corner of the state. It is twenty-four miles in extent, from north to south, and forty two miles from east to west. It is bounded on the north by Chase County and on the east by Hitchcock; on the south by the State of Kansas and on the west by Colorado.
The county was named in honor of United States Judge Elmer S. Dundy, of the United States Circuit Court. Though termed a county, it has no organization as such, but is attached to Hitchcock county for revenue, elective and judicial purposes. It is in fact but one large precinct of the latter named county, and has no powers other than as a precinct organization.
The North Fork of the Republican River flows across the southern portion of the county, at a distance varying from three to ten miles from its southern boundary. The South Fork of the Republican enters the county from the south and flows in a northeasterly direction, emptying into the main stream near the eastern boundary of the county. The Arickaree River enters the county from Colorado, and, after flowing a short distance, enters the Republican. Besides these streams, Rock, Horse, and several other small creeks enter the Republican from the north. The valley of the Republican is broad and level, skirted with a narrow strip of steep bluffs, after which comes the gently rolling upland prairies.
The soil of the entire county is fertile, and the prairies are covered with a thick growth of the very richest of wild grasses. These are of several varieties, but the buffalo grass is predominant. This grass is short, grows thickly and resembles to a great extent one great mossy field. The lowlands are covered with a heavy growth of wild blue joint grass, which, in many places, grows as high as a man's head.
Owing to the dryness of the climate, farming has never yet been carried on to any great extent. A very few have tried crop-raising, on a very small scale, but the yield of crops has never yet been such as to warrant the settler to depend on this alone for a livelihood. Were there but sufficient moisture, this county would equal any part of the State in productiveness of the soil.
The principal industry of the county is stock-raising. Thousands of cattle and sheep find the very richest of pasturage on these prairies. The buffalo grass, of which we have spoken, is very nutritious and cattle becomes exceedingly fat feeding upon it. During the winter, hay or grain is seldom, if ever, fed. The dryness of the climate insures the curing of the grass upon the ground, without the loss of any of its nutritious qualities, and upon this cattle do well with no other food whatever. The winters are usually mild, with but little snow. Shelter is never provided for stock, for, in the spring, after one of these mild winters, they are in as good order as if put up and fed with hay all winter.
But occasionally, there is a winter that is severe, with a heavy snowfall. During such seasons, there is a large percentage of loss, for, whenever a snow-storm does visit these Western prairies, it is terrible in its effects. These storms usually last two or three days; a heavy wind blowing incessantly during this time, the fine dry snow constantly blowing and whirling, renders it impossible for men to be out without losing their way, and cattle keep moving before the wind to seek shelter, if possible, in the bluffs near the streams. To this is added the fact that when the ground is covered with snow, it is impossible for them to secure feed, and, of course, many die of hunger. The winter of 1880-81 was specially a very severe one. Snow storms came every few days and the weather was very cold. As a result, the loss of cattle was large. Several flocks of sheep were nearly destroyed. But such a winter as this is unusual.
The settlements in the county are few and the population small. The census of 1880 showed a population of but thirty-seven, but this has increased to a considerable extent. Among the settlements is a cattle ranch at the mouth of the Arickaree, owned by J. Higgler, who located there in 1872. This was about the time that cattle were first brought into the Republican Valley to any extent. Before this time, they were kept out through fear of the Indians, except by a few of the more venturesome cattle owners. There are two or three settlers on Rock Creek, and Richard Davenport has a stock ranch on Horse Creek, but the principal settlement is at and surrounding Collinsville.
Early in 1882, the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad was completed through the county. This railroad extends from the Missouri River to Denver, Colo. Regular freight and accommodation trains were put on during March, 1882.
This town is the only one in Dundy County. The first settlement was made in January, 1880. The town was then located in the forks of the Republican River, on Section 17, Town 1, and Range 37 west, and named Collinsville, in honor of Moses Collins, one of the early settlers. Among the very first settlers were Moses Collins, J. G. Benkleman, J. R. King, E. E. Miller and A. King.
In January 1880, a store was established, by W. Z. Taylor & Co., and early in the spring, a post office was established, and E. E. Miller appointed Postmaster.
During the year 1881, and the early part of 1882, Collinsville was of considerable local importance as a business point, the railroad company having made this their supply station during the construction of the railroad through the county. There are now four stores and a hotel.
Early in the spring of 1882, the railroad company, having built a depot, changed the name from Collinsville to Benkleman, in honor of J. G. Benkleman, the stock raiser, who has thousands of cattle roaming over the adjacent prairies.
The town is pleasantly located on the north side of the Republican River, on the level valley land. The business houses have a good trade with the cattlemen, this being their point for provisions and supplies. The town is destined to be one of importance in the shipment of stock.