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Barneston -- Gage County

The old Oto & Missouri Mission House, built in 1875, photographed shortly before it was torn down. [Nebraska State Historical Society]

The history of this village is intermingled with that of the Otoe and Missouri Indian tribes. The Lewis and Clark expedition found a village of about 500 Otoes living just south of the mouth of the Platte in 1804. About 300 Missouri Indians lived with them. Prior to 1841 they lived for a time near Bellevue and then at a site near Nebraska City.

In 1854, when Nebraska Territory was being organized, Chief Arkeketa of the Otoes was instrumental in designing the terms of the treaty that reserved 250 sections of land (162,000 acres) along the Kansas-Nebraska line for the tribe. They built a permanent village along the banks of the Big Blue River near what was described as "a splendid spring which supplied the entire tribe as well as the white population at the agency," and the government built an agency office, a blacksmith shop, and a stream saw and grist mill. Historians noted, "...During those days, with land cheap and abundant, settlers rarely turned their eyes toward Indian land." A post office was established at the agency on July 8, 1867.

Francis Barnes became associated with the agency in 1870, and in time he married the daughter of Ma-com-pli-mie of the Otoe tribe. Mary Jane Barnes ran a traders store while her husband established a ranch on the reservation. A three-story mission school was built in 1875 where young members of the tribe came to live and get an education.

When white settlement neared completion and land became scarce, Gage County's Senator Algernon Paddock introduced a bill in the U.S.Congress that would relocate the tribe and "put the reservation on the market." Barnes was selected by the Indians to help set the price, which was determined to be $6.42 per acre. In October 1881 the Indians moved to Oklahoma, but the Barnes family was allowed to remain, "...because of the extensive improvements they had made on their ranch." After the agency closed, a post office was approved as "Barnston" on January 27, 1882. Not until 1950 was the spelling corrected to "Barneston."

The reservation land was sold at auction in 1883, and on May 17, 1884, a plat was registered in Gage County for the town of Barneston. The Marysville &Blue Valley Railroad built a depot for the village in 1884 at which time passenger service was established. Soon Barneston had two elevators, loading pens, a full line of businesses, and a population of 300.

The Union Pacific acquired the line around 1890, by which time Barneston had several churches, a school, and a local paper heralding the news. The town's apapearance was altered by number of fires: the town hall burned about 1890; business on the south side of the street were destroyed in 1911; during World War I (1917) the entire south side of main burned; in 1922 the hotel went up in flames; in 1923 the north side of the street was ravaged by fire. Most of the buildings that were destroyed during those years were replaced with more-permanent structures.

In time a locker plant replaced the old ice house, which had stored ice blocks harvested from the Blue River in winter. Filling stations and garages evolved from livery barns, and in the early 1920s a hydroelectric plant established on the Big Blue just west of town brought electric power to the area. A city sewer system has been built, direct dial telephone service was established, and all-weather streets were completed.

In the 1970s information was gathered about the earth lodge village and agency of the 1850-80s. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. On April 30, 1978, as a result of a cooperative effort of the Barneston Bicentennial Committee of 1876, the town board, the Nebraska State Historical Society, and the Nebraska Department of Roads, a historical marker was dedicated with descendants of both Frances Barnes and Chief Arkeketa present.

The community of Barneston, with a current population of just under 150, proudly shares its heritage with the people who resided here during the early days of territorial history.

From material gleaned from History of Gage County 1918, by Hugh J. Dobbs; Nebraska 1882, by Andreas; Barneston Centennial, 1984, Ila L. Malicky; the Barneston story in Gage County History, 1988.