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Nebraska...Our Towns

Cody

Cherry County

Cody's "Nebraska Street" with all buildings facing the railroad, 1880. Incorporated in 1901, sand streets, graded by scrapers, were "paved" with railroad cinders.
The East yards at Cody. Water tower, depot, and hotel, dubbed the "Red Onion" for its spicy reputation. The hotel fell victim to an arsonist in 1913.
No corrals were used in Red Cross fund-raiser held on main street. "Hazers" on horseback try to keep bulls and broncos from trampling onlookers. (See humorous account of "The National Game at Cody," by John Jenkins, "Neligh News" 1916.
Cody's second school, K-10, Narrow strips of canvas anchored to upper windows for fire escape. Famed Tad Lucas rode horseback to school and later became world-champion trick rider and rodeo queen.

Wrongly presuming the town to have been named in his honor, the famous "Buffalo Bill" once stopped to visit Cody. In reality, that honor belongs to Thomas Cody, foreman of an 1884 railroad camp crew. Already designated as a terminal, the campsite had real potential, as did Peter Vogt's homestead adjoining the tracks. Until a post office had been established in the depot that June, Tom Cody's shack served as communications center. Travelers, instructed to "take this to Cody," had left messages there, so when the town site was surveyed and dedicated in 1886, it was named "Cody."

Settlers flooded in. A two-room schoolhouse, built in 1886, soon proved inadequate. A multi-roomed frame structure served until 1916, followed by a brick K-12 school in use until 1981. Currently, bus routes feed a consolidated system in which pupils attend K-6 at Kilgore and finishing at Cody's modern high school. School events are well-attended.

Beginning with the murder of a camp resident by a ranch cowboy, Cody's story resembles a western novel. Some deaths went uninvestigated and arson proved a convenient method of eliminating business competition. Cody became notorious as a gambling and bootlegging center. A carload of sugar a week was used for manufacturing "moonshine." "Cody Hootch" was delivered far and wide. Niobrara River brush provided excellent cover for hideouts, but the most elaborate still ever investigated in Cherry County was located right in Cody. Raids resulted in token arrests; trials brought minor penalties or dismissals.

Encouraged by circuit-riding preachers, law-abiding citizens built churches. Hunt's Methodist Chapel was built in 1904, was followed by St.John's Episcopal in 1920. Those of Catholic faith attended Nenzel's St.Mary.

Old west flavor is manifested in accounts of "wild and wooly" rodeo and baseball competition between early-day ranch crews. "Open rodeos" were held on Cody's one-sided main street. Horse races stirred the dust on the edge of town. Even today Cody's annual "Circle C Celebration" features an amateur rodeo and barbecue.

Our first newspaper, the "Cody Cow Boy" (1900-1926), featured ranch brand ads. It first competed with the renegade "Cody Enterprise," printed in Valentine. Its editor coveted income derived from printing homestead notices. The "Cody Booster" (1929-1934) and the "Cody Round-Up" (1936-1942) carried on. A single weekly "Valentine Newspaper" now serves all of Cherry County.

Cody incorporated in 1901. Minutes of the first 18 years following organization reveal many bizarre happenings. Marshals were hired and fired. A 10-by-12 foot "calaboose" built of stacked 2-by-4 lumber held their prisoners. But, when contracts were let for telephone and electric services, the town lost some of its pioneer piquancy.

Cody's population rose from 185 in the 1920 census to 428 ten years later. The "Dirty Thirties" diminished the rural population upon which the town's economy depended. Cody's livestock yards once shipped out cattle by the thousands. When rail traffic began losing to the trucking industry, the population decline continued.

The railroad, long a factor in Cody's economy, has been stripped of depot and yard facilities and now handles mostly interstate freight. The farm crisis of the mid 1980s further contributed to the trend. The 1980 census figure was 180.

An attempt in the 1900s to move the county seat from Valentine to the "more centrally-located Cody" ended in failure. So did the suggestion to divide ponderous Cherry County, with Cody as seat of government for the west half. One can only speculate as to the effects these changes might have had upon our town's current status.

Of 30 businesses listed in a 1929 Cody Booster Card, few survive. Money formerly spent locally continues to be siphoned off. Both early financial institutions are gone; Ranchers State Bank failed in 1930, and after 85 years of service, the Bank of Cody's assets were assumed by Abbot Bank Group of Alliance. Despite all this, our July 1986 two-day centennial celebration was a decided success.

Cody is still "home" to many people. Organizations and individuals have been responsible for many civic improvements. In 1942 Ada Adamson's Community Hall was an outright gift. A well-kept cemetery, park and athletic field, and a lighted softball arena are further evidence of Cody's healthy and on-going community spirit.

By Marguerite Wobig, Box 126, Cody, NE 69211. Historical photos courtesy of Delbert Fullerton, Marguerite Wobig, and the Frank Benett collections. Recent photos by George Johnson, Ronald Schneider, and Barb Gale.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: An Early History of Cherry County, By Reece, 1945; "Potluck Papers," by Cherry County Extension Council, 1974; "Adventures of the Steer Camp Kid," by Emily Lewis as told by Nile Dunbar; Sandhills Century in two volumes 1985 & 1986, by the Cherry County Centennial Committee; and Cody, Nebraska, 1886-1986, by Marguerite Wobig.