The story of Stratton, in western Hitchcock County, is one of cattlemen, cowboys, and rugged homesteaders who settled in this semi-arid region and survived.
A log cabin, built in 1879 by C.V. Bailey, marked the first establishment at this location. Mail was held for the Texas Trail cowboys, pending their uncertain and varied arrivals. Appropriately called the "Frontier Post Office," general merchandise was also handled as time went on. In 1881 the name was changed to "Stratton," in honor of one of the first settlers, Mary Stratton, who traded her 80 acre "squatter's rights" claim to the CB&Q Railroad .
Many legends are told about cowboys, their idiosyncracies, and wild life-style, such as the story of the great Stratton snake fight. It seems as though one day a cowboy captured a rattlesnake and took it into town to show it off. One of the largest ever seen, it was displayed in the front window of the general store. Another cowboy produced a bullsnake which he boasted "could whip the rattler." Bets were made and the whole town turned out to see the fight.
The six-foot bullsnake was dropped in with the rattler, and the fight was on. At first it looked as if the rattler had the advantage, but the bullsnake finally got a good hold and finished off his deadly opponent. Since the rattler was favored by quite a margin, the cowboy who brought the bullsnake in went home considerably richer.
The railroad reached Stratton on its way to Denver in 1882. As a water stop for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, the primary business centered around the depot, the saloon, and a few stores stocking general merchandise, barbed wire, and staples.
By the late 1880s the cattlemen's paradise came to a rapid end. With the introduction of barbed wire, homesteaders fenced their land and took tree claims. The cowboy faded from the Stratton area and the town took on a new look.
In January 1886 when Stratton was incorporated, the population was 200 and had churches, a hotel, a school, and several new businesses. Waving fields of grain replaced the long horns of cattle.
Things were becoming quite civilized by the time the rains stopped in 1893. The next few years saw hard times for everyone as the drought and grasshoppers put an end to the farming, and dried up the range so that little more than stubble remained. The village's high hopes of prosperity seemed destined to die. With the end of the drought, crops flourished again. Later, with the availability of irrigation, some assurance was provided against a similar problem in the future. The population increased again. Farming still provides a livelihood for many families.
Stratton's location, on a railroad mainline through the wide-open spaced of southwestern Nebraska, made it a center for many services. The peak population of 660 residents came in 1930.
In the 1935 flood of the Republican River, three people from Stratton were killed and many others barely escaped with their lives. Miles of track were washed out as were the bridges and some of Highway 34. When the river receded, a one-man pontoon footbridge was stung across the river so people south of town could get supplies.
The Depression and war years had distressed the community, but in the early 1950s the reorganization of schools in the area resulted in a sizable addition to the K-12 school district that presently has about 200 students.
The first oil well was drilled in 1957, marked the beginning of a new era. By 1985 there were 380 producing wells in a ten mile radius of Stratton out of the 546 in the county.
In the 1970s Stratton's population was about 500, and boast of two small industries making farm implements, a 21-bed hospital, and a solid business district. In 1974 several residents organized a barbecue. The Recreation Club has made it an annual event, held on the last Saturday of September. Stratton's centennial, celebrated in 1986, included among other events, an old-time melodrama. Two more have followed, with anticipation of one each year.
While the population is presently holding strong, the hospital is now Grandview Retirement Senior Center, and the one remaining manufacturing plant has diversified its products to include non-ag related equipment. We have a solid business district that serves the community well. Our churches, civic organizations, recreational activities, parks, pool, and library continue to provide for the needs of the many descendants of early settlers who affectionately call Stratton "our town," and we like to add, "a good place to grow."
Compiled from the McCook Gazette, Bicentennial Edition, July 2, 1976, submitted by Marie Upton, Hitchcock County Historical Society, Trenton, NE 69044. An update by Vivian Pierce. Pictures and corrilation by Janet Felt.