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Nebraska...Our Towns

Deweese

Clay County

Young boys and girls were exposed to "fisherman's fever" at an early age by dipping their poles in Liberty Creek not far from where it empties into the Little Blue River. [Petr]
"The last motor through Deweese, 1935." Deweese's depot in the background. [Petr]

Our earliest history dates back to James Lemmon's Liberty Farm Ranch, near the confluence of Liberty Creek and the Little Blue River, which supplied travelers on the Oregon and Overland trails in the 1850-60s. Located just northeast of the present town of Deweese, it was used as a Pony Express station in 1860-61. The buildings, destroyed in 1864 during an effort by Indians to reaffirm their claim to the region, were rebuilt and later sold to Wells Fargo & Co. Records show that in 1871 Rueben Peachy was appointed postmaster of Liberty Farm, but the station was discontinued in 1874.

A wave of settlers, including many Civil War veterans, arrived during the 1870s. John Epley established a water-powered grist mill on the Little Blue in 1877. A number of businesses that sprang up near the mill site were destined to become a prominent thread in the tapestry of the life of Deweese for the next 60 years.

An even larger wave of settlers, recruited directly from Czechoslovakia by the railroad company, arrived in the mid 1880s. When the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad crossed to the south side of the Little Blue River in 1885, a town site was platted. Named for the railroad attorney, J.W. Deweese, it soon became the center of activities.

The first freight arrived on Thanksgiving Day, 1886. New businesses sprang up, and more families arrived almost daily. Telephones came to Deweese before 1905. After the Hubbell family purchased the mill, they replaced the old brush dam with one of concrete and added a hydroelectric plant, giving Deweese electrical power as early as 1910.

Churches were important to the settlers, who made arrangements for services almost as soon as they arrived. A Christian Church was built in 1909, and rebuilt in 1945. A Catholic Church built in 1910, was replaced by a larger one in 1978. Two rural churches also existed for a time, a German Congregational and St.Martin's Catholic, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Methodist Church was moved to town from the country, but it disbanded in 1914.

Schools were also a high priority. The school built in 1888 was replaced by a "red brick school on the hill" in 1915, and Deweese had a high school from 1926-45.

Newspapers published in Deweese between 1886 and 1920 include "The Recorder," "Herald," "Hustler," "Bugle," and the "Booster."

The town had its largest population of 156 in 1930. Suffering the loss of both a good number of businesses and well-established farmers during the drought, the population of Deweese is now about 70. Also gone is much of our rural population. In 1910, one section of land three miles west of town had 16 people residing on it, along with a school and an active church. Now there are no people, no school, and St. Martin's stands empty.

The State Bank was built in 1905. During a robbery in 1908, the safe was blasted open, making a terrible mess. In 1915 an attempted robbery by a local chap resulted in the murder of the young cashier and the suicide of the would-be robber. Soon thereafter the building was replaced by a brick structure. The bank failed in 1928, but today the building serves as the post office.

Fires had a hand in reshaping our business district. An early grain elevator, replaced after a 1910 fire, was not rebuilt following a fire in 1922. A building on main street, housing Chamberlain's drug store and Price's hardware and implement store, burned in 1916. Pappas' general store burned in the mid-1920s and Janda's garage was lost in a 1935 fire. Lightning struck the steeple of the Christian Church in 1945. Again, with no water or fighting equipment, all was lost. Today, Deweese has a water system, a fire truck, and a good volunteer fire department.

Business activity in Deweese peaked in 1910-20, and has over the years supported,in addition to the usual enterprises, a weaver, a hay-stacker manufacturing business, a mink and skunk farm, and a taxidermist.

During the centennial year, 1986, businesses center around our ag-based economy. We still have a post office, filling stations, a sand & gravel business, a good cafe/tavern, and two churches. The Community Club maintains a hall, and sponsors ball games, an annual festival, and spark plugs other community activities.

 

By George J. Petr, 311 East 6th, Hastings, NE 68901

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Deweese Centennial 1886-1986 , copies available from the Deweese Community Club and found in libraries in Hastings, Fairfield, and NSHS; A Frontier Life, by Charles Wesley Wells; and Hamilton & Clay County History 1921, the story of Deweese as related by James Bainter in 1889.