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Nebraska...Our Towns

"A good rider and a bad horse" Hyannis, 1914. Home of "Old Time Rodeo Association" 1974, where they still do it the same way.
Main Street, May 19, 1915, after a late spring snow storm, Hyannis.
Another view of Main Street in 1915, showing a collection of first and second generation buildings.
Main Street, June 21, 1987. Large white building is Hotel Hyannis, narrowly saved in the explosion and fire of March 11, 1989.

HYANNIS -- GRANT COUNTY

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad extended its line from Broken Bow into the Sandhills in 1866-68, with Whitman, just inside what would become Grant County, becoming a terminal station. At this time, the area between the Platte and the Niobrara in north central Nebraska was a favorite hiding place for outlaws. There were so few people and no local government.

The first herds of Texas longhorns arrived in the late 1870s when drought forced them into new regions. Cattle men soon recognized the potential of this virgin land and spread the word that Nebraska was "God's own cow country."

In 1887, after Whitman station was established, Governor Thayer sent Sheriff Bud Moran to "clean up the territory." After posting a warning to cattle rustlers, he broke up outlaw gangs and established law and order. Judge Abbott was obliged to hold the first trial outdoors, since there were no buildings, save a small store, in what was later to become Hyannis.

In 1887 the railroad extended its line across Grant County, and established a station at Hyannis. Saloons and gambling houses were first, while lumber dealer and general merchandise stores followed. Settlers arriving at the end of the line quickly took up claims, and established homes, churches, and schools. Dancing became a favorite pastime, with breakfast often served to departing guests before they started homeward.

Grant County also organized in 1887, with Whitman named the county seat. Residents immediately petitioned to change it to the more central location of Hyannis, and the election favored their choice. The records, taken by force from Whitman, had to be guarded until a suitable building could be found to house them. Bitter feelings lasted for many years between the two towns.

The Kinkaid Act brought a new wave of settlement as people attempted to farm the fragile Sandhills. Once plowed, the soil quickly deteriorated into "blow outs." Would-be homesteaders struggled, then sold out to ranchers who accumulated large tracts of land, some in excess of 50,000 acres.

A third town, Ashby, was established near the western edge of Grant County when the railroad extended to Alliance. Kinkaiders flocked to that area, but many moved on when farming the land proved to be out of the question.

All three towns are located on what is now the Burlington Northern Railroad. They have modern schools and the social activities found in the typical Nebraska small town. Of the three towns, only Hyannis took steps to become incorporated.

Descendants of the settlers who survived the uncertainties and hardships of the early days -- prairie fires, outlaws, hostile Indians, and blizzards -- now enjoy modern homes, improved equipment, and the same comforts found elsewhere in the "good life" that Nebraska promises. Highway 2 which follows the BN tracks, provide easy access -- east and west -- by car. Many ranchers use their own airplanes to facilitate travel to and from their homes to "civilization" in Colorado, Wyoming, or Big Red country.

Cultural life in Grant County has improved through the years. There are churches in each town. Hyannis' fully accredited K-12 school was reorganized into a Class VI junior-senior high school in 1968, serving all rural schools, and several districts in Sheridan and Cherry counties. A high school built at that time now serves this large area.

As a result of a bunch of old-time cowboys reminiscing in McKillipp's hotel in Hyannis in 1974, an "Old Timers Rodeo" was planned. It was so successful that there are now 60 such groups in the United States and Canada, and a National Old Time Rodeo Association that sponsors final contests all over the nation.

With the help of grants, Hyannis has a very advanced cultural arts council. A group called "The Village Players" presents stage shows, dinner theatre productions, art shows, and quilt exhibitions at the historic opera house.

On March 11, 1989, an explosion and fire next door ended all that. The building was destroyed, as was the filling station and a trailer home, while most of the buildings in town suffered broken windows or damage. Miraculously, after nearly eight hours of fighting the blaze, no lives were lost, but several people suffered from smoke inhalation and burns when a second explosion rocked the town. The town, still in shock, is thanking God that it was not worse, and making plans to rebuild. Had the hotel, just across the alley from the station burned, it would have taken many more buildings with it. Fire fighters from Mullen, Arthur, and Alliance also helped the local volunteers fight the blaze.

The town reflects years of loving care with trees, well-kept lawns, birds, and flowers -- not at all the desolate prairie, and home to outlaws and rattle snakes that it once was. Of the 877 people who live in Grant County, 336 of them reside in Hyannis, with many more who move into town for the school term.

From material submitted by Alma Edelman, Curator, Box 324, Hyannis, NE 69350

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Grant County, Its friends and neighbors 1979, now outof print; "Letters to Bob" by Raymond Gentry; "Sandhill Horizons", by Earl Monahan and Robert Howard.