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Nebraska...Our Towns


Custer County

The caption on the back says, "First train to arrive in Sargent, September 25, 1899." Obviously a work train, as it is loaded with railroad ties. [Custer County Historical Society, from Butcher Collection, Nebraska State Historical Society]
Maintaining the main street was a job for six horses, and a crew of men. 1902. [CCHS]
Bird's eye view of Sargent's main street. n.d. with the sandhills rising in the background.[CCHS]
Main Street looking west, sargent. From Butcher post card. [CCHS]
The sign says, "Opportunity Knocks To-day." This photo of Sargent's main street is the most recent one available. [ My thanks to the Custer County Historical Society for their help in gathering information and pictures about this community. ejg]

If there had been more people living in this part of Nebraska, Sargent might have been the county seat of Garber County. Early cattlemen and ranchers who lived in unorganized areas complained when they were required to pay taxes, for which they received nothing in return. It was "obvious" that the area would never be more than rangeland, but there was need for some semblance of law, and at least a few schools. To do this, the area had to be organized into a county.

A 24-square mile county just west of Valley County, was proposed in 1875. Despite the fact that it was named in his honor, Governor Garber vetoed the bill, feeling that it lacked enough inhabitants to maintain a local government. The remainder of the area that is now Custer County carried the name "Kountze County," recognized, at least for a time, with letters posted to persons at that address.

A post office, named "Sargent," was established a mile east of the present town in 1879. When Ezra Savage and Joseph Thomas started the town in 1882, the postmaster, Mrs.George Sherman, agreed to move to the new location if they kept the Sargent name.

The village of Sargent, laid out in 1883, is one of the oldest settlements in Custer County. Located about a mile north of the Middle Loup River, it was described as a "hustling village of over 800 inhabitants" in 1919. The population peaked in 1920 with over 1,000 residents.

J.K.Spacht built the first store in 1883 in the middle of a wheat field. The first bank in Custer County was also built in Sargent. The town grew rapidly and was "particularly lively" in the summer of 1888 when the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad grade was built. It was hoped that train service would be in operation by fall. But because of a big labor strike on the Burlington, work was not completed until after the drought years of the 1890s. This caused the fledgling town to dwindle "to a mere shadow of its former proportions."

The railroad was completed from Arcadia to Sargent in the fall of 1899, with Sargent remaining the terminus. The town immediately sprang to life and showed substantial growth. An independent telephone company extended its line from Broken Bow to Sargent in 1900.

A two-story school was constructed in 1914..."which now houses one of the best schools in the county..." Fully accredited, it had 12 grades and ten teachers. There was a Congregational and a Methodist church and a business district of several blocks.

Sargent has had a string of newspapers, including the "Loup Valley Eagle" and the "Sargent Times," discontinued during the depression and recession experienced in 1894. Other newspapers serving the town included "The Grip" of Alliance, and the "Custer County Commoner" which later changed its name to the "Sargent Leader." In 1919, owned by Guy Livermore, a native son, it was described as "fairly prosperous." The "Leader" now printed in Broken Bow still serves the town.

The Blizzard of 1888 was recalled by local settlers as "a match for the great storm of 1882." Striking shortly before noon on January 12, it dropped the temperature rapidly, in places down to 20 to 52 degrees below zero. No lives were lost in this area owing to the fact that, "Custerites were past masters in the lore of storm, winds, and snow" and did not panic as the storm raged across Nebraska and the Dakotas. Children and teachers caught in their schoolhouses stayed the night and next day, waiting for the winds and blinding snow to subside. "If they had enough fuel, they were fortunate, and suffered only slight inconvenience..."

Sargent is currently listed as a second class city with a population of 828 and supports a K-12 accredited school system.

The Burlington Northern railroad branch line to Sargent was abandoned in 1985, so primary access to the town is Highway 183.

From material gathered by Jane Graff. Pictures by Custer County Historical Society.


ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: History of Custer County, 1919; Happy Birthday Sargent 1883-1983, Centennial Book Committee