Pioneers of Norwegian descent chose land in the Republican River valley near Blackwood Creek to stake their claims in 1873. In time this was to become our town of Culbertson.
The area was growing, and before the end of the month, W.Z. Taylor of the Lincoln Land Company arrived to organize Hitchcock County. It extended from just east of Culbertson to the Colorado border. He platted the town site, naming the main street for himself. Taylor also built the first store, but it did not carry much in the way of supplies. Buffalo hides were the common medium of exchange. Settlers still went to North Platte for many items.
An election was called and since Culbertson was the only town in the territory at that time, it was designated the county seat. Culbertson was a logical place for a community to spring up. Here the Texas Trail crossed another trail that ran parallel with the Republican River. While cowboys brought considerable revenue to the town, they often shot up the place after a night at the bar. Wild stories of shootings color much of the early history.
A post office was established in 1874, at which time the name "Culbertson" was officially given to the settlement. (The name is that of a well-known Indian agent and fur trader.) John Kleven, postmaster, also delivered the mail. He walked to Indianola, distributed mail as he went, then walked back the next day. Later, Mrs. Kelly (known as "Old Ironsides") delivered the mail on horseback.
The first death occurred in 1874 when a skunk bit a traveler on the nose. The closest doctor was in Indianola and could offer little help. The man soon went mad and had to be tied to a tree where he finally died of hydrophobia. Dr.Vastin moved to Culbertson in 1875 to become the first physician in the county, and the only doctor between Indianola and the Colorado state line for many years.
In 1876 the people of Culbertson established a school. They erected a frame building and hired lawyer Criswell of Red Willow County as mentor.
The arrival of the railroad stimulated rapid growth. Culbertson was the division point between Hastings and Akron, Colorado. A roundhouse was constructed and two east and two west-bound trains ran daily. Soon the railroad wanted to buy the land where the roundhouse stood. Taylor, who owned the property, asked for what the railroad considered "a ridiculously high price." They refused to pay it, and moved the roundhouse to McCook, dropping Culbertson's population from over 150 to under 100.
Culbertson was incorporated as a village in 1885, and an attempt was made to change its name to "Bangor." Nine days later a petition was filed, asking to have the original name restored.
About 1891 an agitation began to relocate the county seat to Trenton to be nearer the center of the county. Three elections were held with Trenton finally winning, but before the deciding vote was made in October 1893, some Trenton people stole all the records and stored them in a vault in the Armitage Building. (This incident is the cause of continued resentment between these two communities.)
1893 was also the start of one of the worst droughts in the history of Southwest Nebraska. Accompanied by clouds of grasshoppers, it drove many settlers from their land.
An irrigation project started by Buffalo Jones proved to be a life-saver for the town. Contracted by the Hartford Insurance Company, the project brought many Russian-German immigrants to the area. Many remained in the fertile valley to live.
Culbertson experienced two booms since then. The first was during the 1920's when many new homes and a sizable school were built. The second came in 1943 when the Army base was located in McCook. When the base closed, Culbertson's population decreased from over 1,000 to 770. The population has remained near that mark, and in 1988 it operates as one of Nebraska's 400 villages, with a current valuation of just over $9,300,000.
From the McCook Gazette, Bicentennial Edition, July 2, 1976, submitted by Marie Upton, Trenton, NE 69044
Culbertson Centennial Book, 1873-1973
Hitchcock County & Massacre Canyon Centennial Book, 1973