The Red Cloud Buttes, named for Chief Red Cloud of the Teton Dakota Sioux Indians, look down on Fort Robinson and, three miles northeast, on the town of Crawford, nestled along the White River. The peaceful scene does not indicate the energy that represents the Crawford of today or its rough and rowdy early history of soldiers, Indians, and cowboys.
In 1886, when Fort Robinson was twelve years old, the Fremont, Elkhorn, & Missouri Valley Railroad established stations at the fort and at a settlement soon to be known as "Crawford." A tent city immediately sprang up with every other establishment a saloon or gambling house. It is said that the man selling hardware piled the nail kegs inside the walls of his tent to keep stray bullets out.
An enterprising city editor obtained signatures from fort soldiers so he would have the number needed to file for the incorporation for the town. Named for soldier stationed at the fort who was killed in Mexico about the time the town was organized, many streets in Crawford also carry the names of soldiers.
A second railroad, the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy, came through Crawford in 1889, when Nebraska's only railroad tunnel was completed through the Pine Ridge ten miles to the southeast. This spelled the demise of the Sidney to Deadwood Trail, route of the stage coaches and freight wagons to and from the gold mining towns in the Black Hills. Both rail lines now haul coal from the Wyoming fields. The Burlington Northern, with the most traffic, built a double track by-pass around the tunnel in 1982.
In the early days, Crawford was the "Gate City" and local promoter, Arah Hungerford, labeled the town "The Garden Beyond the Sandhills." Leroy Hall's saw and flour mill, where farmers brought logs and wheat to trade for sawed lumber, flour, and cattle feed, was just a mile north of town along White River. The mill burned in 1929 and was not rebuilt.
Crawford's trade territory is a large area extending into South Dakota and Wyoming, with farms closer to town and the larger ranches in the outlying areas. The main crops are alfalfa and wheat. Pine-covered buttes are to the west and south and the valley to the east extends all the way to Chadron. The land which starts eight miles north of town is marginal grazing land. Known as "The Little Badlands of Nebraska," it is a popular rock and fossil hunting area. The Northwest Nebraska Rock Club of Crawford hosts yearly shows in August.
Crawford has another label, "The Deer Hunting Capital" of the state. Nebraska's first modern deer hunting season was held in the Pine Ridge area in 1949. Since then antelope, wild turkey, (since 1962) and elk, (since 1986) are hunted in the area.
Northwest Nebraska ranchers and businessmen were strong supporters of Hereford cattle in the early 1900s. The Crawford Hereford Breeders Association, representing three and four generations of some families, has held a sale the first Saturday in March since the 1920s. They sponsor the Crawford Beef Show for young peoples' clubs every July 2nd. The livestock auction market is one of the largest in Nebraska in volume of livestock sold. Sale days on Fridays are busy days in town.
Crawford's annual rodeo was started in 1945 as a fund raiser to build the Crawford Hospital. In 1949 the date was moved to July 3rd and 4th. The rodeo became a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) event early in its history and since 1979 the purses have been raised to attract nationally known contestants. Starting with Fort Robinson's centennial in 1974, the Western Art Show is also held during this event and a big parade on the morning of the Fourth.
Fort Robinson, whose existance has greatly influenced the history of Crawford, served the West for more than 70 years. Its activities include the breeding and training of horses for the army and later for the Olympic equestrian teams. Many horses and mules were shipped overseas to Italy, Burma and other locations. During World War II, it expanded to train dogs for wartime duty. Fort Robinson was also one of 20 prisoner of war camps located in Nebraska. The prisoners worked on farms in the area, taking the places of the young men who had gone to the service. Deactivated in 1948, Fort Robinson is now a state park, with many buildings restored as a part of the State Historical Society's out-state museum system. Tourism plays a sizable part of the local economy.
Crawford residents strongly support their excellent hospital, nursing home, and remodeled senior center. Active civic organizations and businesses serve tourists, hunters, and area citizens in this unique community in Nebraska's Panhandle. The town is still growing with a present population of about 1,300.