Schuyler (pronounced sky'ler) is unique in many ways. The Mormon Trail, over which thousands traveled from Winter Camp near Florence to Utah starting in 1847, ran along the south edge of what later became "our town." The Military Road, commissioned in 1859, used the same general path.
Moses Shinn's ferry across the Platte near the mouth of Shell Creek allowed travelers from Omaha to use the south side of the river, where there were fewer streams to cross. The Union Pacific Railroad's route across Nebraska in 1866 also chose the Platte Valley but stayed on the north side of the river, establishing a depot called "Shell Creek Station."
The railroad bypassed the early settlement of "Buchanan" just north of the Platte. At that time, mail delivery arrived infrequently and usually at night. Buchanan's mail bag was tossed out in that general vicinity and, come morning, the postmaster was obliged to search for it. One day, after a band of Indians came up the track trying to sell the contents of a mail bag to every section hand they met, a petition was circulated to close the old post office. The two-by-three-foot box, that had held the mail until it was claimed, was taken by Dan Hashberger at Shell Creek Station.
In 1869 the Legislature divided the over-sized Platte County into three smaller ones. The eastern portion was named "Colfax County" with Shell Creek Station (designated as county seat) renamed "Schuyler," honoring US Vice President Schuyler Colfax. There was only a depot, a section house, a water tower, and a fuel storage area until the Smith brothers opened a small general store.
Soon other businesses set up shop, and in 1870 Schuyler was incorporated. This was the year that Texas cattlemen started driving large herds to the stockyards at Schuyler. This caused the town to grow to over 600 people with more than 100 businesses, including a brewery, livery stables, and other establishments to serve the cowboys. Over 40,000 head of cattle went through the chutes that year.
A drought and grasshopper invasion hit Nebraska the next few years and brought a sudden halt to this seemingly solid enterprise. Several hundred cattle spooked during a late-night thunder storm, met with "misfortune." During the early-morning hours, hungry settlers from south of the river in Butler County killed and butchered as many of the longhorn critters as they could find for their own consumption. As a result the cattlemen chose "safer ports" further west. Times were hard until the rains came again in 1877.
There was a huge influx of settlers from 1870 to 1890. Czechs settled the north end of the county, with Irish and Scots in the southeast, and a large German settlement in the southwest. With homestead land all claimed, the railroad sold its lands (every other section for 20 miles on either side of the line) for $3 to $8 an acre. These hard-working, thrifty people were primarily farmers. Many held to their own language and customs for several generations.
Schuyler, on the mainline of the UP, showed a steady growth. By 1900 there were 2,157 people and 104 businesses. The population increased to 2,500 in 1930, and to over 3,000 in 1960. By 1980 the population had reached 4,151, largely due to the opening of a beef packing plant west of town in 1968.
The packing plant, built by Spencer Foods and currently owned by Excel Corporation, has proved to be a mixed blessing. The economy surges when things are going strong, but the entire community struggles, financially and emotionally, when labor disputes, such as the three-month strike of 1,200 workers in 1971, or the plant closing from December 1982 to March 1984, occur. Construction of new homes cease, businesses close, and even governmental services are cut back. The ag-crisis in the 1980s placed further stress on the already hardtimes. With the gradual up-swing being experienced across the area, the future looks promising.
Schuyler is known as a friendly town. People take good care of their lawns and homes. This contributes to an attractive city, making it a good place to live. Many of the citizens are third and fourth generation descendants of the immigrants who settled the land.
Written by Harold Griepentrog prior to his death, July 17, 1990.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of Nebraska , 1882, A.T.Andreas; County of Colfax 1902; Schuyler Nebraska, Founders Day , 1870-1935; The History of Colfax County Centennial Year 1967; Industrial Facts, 1986; and Lutheran Messenger.