Four prairie schooners, carrying several Scottish emigrant families, left Lake Zurich, IL, on May 1, 1856, bound for Kansas. While on the trail, there were reports of "border warfare" between slavery and non-slavery factions, and an outbreak of cholera among the Indian tribes in eastern Kansas. They were advised to avoid the old Lane Trail, traveling instead through Nebraska Territory.
This brought them to the north bend of the Platte River. Following the well-beaten Mormon Trail, they looked for suitable farmland on which to settle. Invited to stay for a meal at a new town site called "Emerson," and participate in an impromptu Fourth of July celebration, the group decided to settle nearby. Robert Millar, the group's leader, untied the sod-breaker from the side of the wagon and proceeded to plant corn. Temporary shelters of willow poles and slough grass were soon replaced by two houses built from logs dragged from the Platte, chinked with gumbo mud, with close-clipped prairie floors, and poured mud chimneys.
Before the thatches of slough grass roofs could be packed, a three-day blizzard swept out of the north, leaving drifts higher than the roofs. Anne Young, mother of North Bend's first child, Seth, died a few days later, and was buried on a high rounding knoll, the only spot free of deep snow.
In 1857 other settlers arrived, among them four men who had a steam-powered, combined sawmill/meal grinder. When the Omaha promotion company that encouraged their venture at the new town they called "Franklin," failed to provide the promised help, Matthew Cotterell and J. Mason Smith "jumped the claim." The settlers decided to change the name to "Wallace" to meet the requirement of an Philadelphia philanthropist who promised to build a library for any town taking that name.
When tri-weekly stage service was inaugurated between Omaha and Fort Kearny on July 4, 1858, Alex Morrison was appointed station keeper. The Pikes Peak gold rush in 1859 brought a demand for a daily run. Land was purchased from Cotterell by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1864 on which to build a depot for the proposed transcontinental railway. Since it had appeared on surveys as "the north bend" for many years, the name officially became "North Bend." The first train arrived "at the end of the line" on April 16, 1866.
Many of the seeds brought by early settlers did not do well in Nebraska's soil and climate. They soon found that potatoes, oats, barley, and spring wheat were more dependable than corn. Experiments with broom corn production, chicory, and hemp were short-lived, as was the million-dollar sugar factory, built by the Standard Cattle Company of Ames. Later, improved strains of corn proved more satisfactory.
By 1876 North Bend was a town of 250, complete with 21 businesses, a schoolhouse, and two churches. North Bend's progress has been documented by newspapers since 1879 when "The Independent" was established. Succeeded by "The Bulletin," the "Flail," the "Protector," and the "Star," the Farmers' Alliance "Argus" and "The Republican" merged in 1897, becoming the "North Bend Eagle." Edited and printed for 49 years by J.C.Newsom, the "Eagle" is still recording the weekly chronicles of the town.
Fire destroyed several businesses, including the "Eagle" office, in the 1940s. The 1950s ushered in a Golden Age, with new businesses built, main street widened, a trailer factory, and popcorn plant established, and a new elementary school built.
North Bend was "the growingest community in the county" in the 1970s during which time the population reached 1,385. In 1976 the Bicentennial Wagon Train came through town and a time capsule was placed in the park. Concerns for local medical care resulted in the establishment of a satellite clinic during the 1980s.
North Bend remains primarily agricultural community, however, many of our 1,365 residents commute to other towns to work and shop. Rural K-6 schools have consolidated into two large units, with secondary students attending North Bend Central High School. There are presently four churches, a senior citizens' home, and about 95 small businesses in our town, North Bend.
By Kate Freeman, Box 107, North Bend, NE 68649