Years ago Dundy County was the home of the buffalo, antelope, and deer. Located in the southwest corner of the state, it borders on Kansas and Colorado. Created by act of the legislature in 1873, it was named for the circuit judge Elmer Dundy. A map published in 1880 indicates that Dundy County, still unsurveyed, was a precinct of Hitchcock County with a population of 37. A post office named "Elmer" for Elmer Miller, owner of "25 Ranch," was at the forks of what was then called the Arikaree River and Republican Rivers. This is where the town of Benkelman is now located.
That post office was later named "Collinville," for Moses Collins, and was an important location for meetings or directing travelers. The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad line, surveyed in 1870 and completed to Denver in 1882, made Collinville a station. The town was named county seat in 1884, with elected officers from Haigler, Parks, and Max precincts.
James Gorthy, his brother Tom and two other lads from New York, came to this area in 1886. They improved upon homesteads and worked for the cattlemen, helping herd cattle to market. By 1887 there were five large herds on the open range along the Republican River.
The biggest cattle operation was owned by the Benkelman brothers. The railroad promised to name the town for them if they shipped their cattle by rail to the Omaha market rather than to herd them to other locations. In the fall of 1885 they brought in 20 loads for the initial trip, and the station was promptly renamed "Benkelman."
In 1887 bridges were built across the river at Haigler and Benkelman. The first school was in a sod house in Collinville, with Mrs.Harrison as teacher. In 1888 this location, now Benkelman, was also the first organized public school in the county, with the teacher paid $35 a month for the three-month term.
The first sermon was preached at Parks, half way between Benkelman and Haigler, by Reverend Marion. He established a Presbyterian Church. The first members were the Logan, Hamilton, Blair, and Bratton families.
Another small settlement established in the 1880s, called Max, is located on the Republican River east of Benkelman. Max Monvoison served as post master for 20 years.
There was a great rush of new settlers from 1885 to 1887. With homesteading acres expanded, many people filed their claims on the flat open ranges in this part of the state.
The first Dundy County Fair was held in September 1911 right on the Main Street in Benkelman.
The Depression hit this area very hard. Banks closed, and giant dust storms covered the country. In 1935 a flood roared down both branches of the Republican River with little or no warning. About 168 people lost their lives in the torrent. It swept people, horses, cattle, pigs, homes, farm buildings, trees, and railroad tracks away in its current. Flood waters spread over the pastures and cropland, leaving trees uprooted, the soil eroded, and little evidence that people had once lived along its banks.
The rivers made restitution in their own way. The valley is now a beautiful scene, covered with trees, bountiful croplands, with animals grazing peacefully.
Over the years, many Dundy County boys served their country in wartime. Hermon Bond was killed in France in World War I. In World War II Jerry Biber, MIA, and Richard Bible, died in France. Again in the 1960s, war caused deep grief and resentful feelings as several more Dundy County boys gave their lives. Each year the American Legion honors the memory of these men and other who paid the supreme price to keep America free.
Benkelman takes great pride in the talents of Ward Bond who was born and raised in this community. The family of this well-known actor, the Bonds', Baney, and Ham families, still live in Benkelman. The town has honored Ward Bond with road signs identifying this as his home town, and naming the city park in his memory.
Benkelman has prospered because of improved methods of farming, good services to its citizens, modern transportation and communications that keep the town looking forward.
By Anna Gorthy Benge. Rachel Porter, Box 138, Benkelman, NE 69021.
"Teepees to Sodhouses", by Everett Sutton
Southwest Nebraska, by Everett Sutton
"Dundy County Heritage" Dundy County Extension Council