A post office was established in 1891, with John Culberton as postmaster, in a store which he called "Winnetoon." The town, using that name, was founded the following year by Seth Jones, and incorporated in 1900. It was a typical frontier town.
In 1902 a branch line railroad that ran from Creighton to Verdigre established a station in Winnetoon. By 1904 more than a dozen businesses lined Main Street, and Winnetoon looked like a typical railroad town.
About this time the city jail was built. After all, any real town had to have a jail. It still stands as Winnetoon's landmark. No one remembers it ever housing any prisoners, but with a one-time population of over 300, it might have gotten some use.
Having rail connections not only brought more businesses to the budding community, but as older homesteaders retired, many chose to move into town where things were more convenient. They built new comfortable homes. In 1905 a telephone exchange was organized.
An important event in Winnetoon's history was noted in 1908. That is the year it was "going modern" with city water works. The standpipe was built at a cost of $1,800. This system continued to serve the city until 1985, when NRD rural water lines were installed.
A newspaper, "The Winnetoon Pioneer," was founded in 1910 by J.F.Papik to keep citizens informed of the latest local, national, and world news.
Winnetoon reached its peak in 1914 when the Danish Lutheran Church and the high school were built. Businesses included two banks, two lumberyards, three groceries, two blacksmith shops, two elevators, two hog buyers, a drug store, an implement and plumbing shop, photo gallery, two contractors, a mason, and a depot with several trains every day. Winnetoon prospered for many years.
Then came the Depression and the drought. The rural community, unable to raise any crops, or even enough food for its families and livestock, had to leave everything behind and move on. Many businesses closed and either moved or tore their buildings down. Many homes were also moved to other locations.
In 1941 the population had declined to the point where the high school was discontinued. The next year the saloon, a store, and the hardware burned to the ground. The depot was torn down in 1965, and the grade school closed in 1967. The Lutheran Church merged with Creighton in 1970. An era had passed.
Winnetoon has held its own since then. Today there are 73 residents in 31 well-kept homes. The 18 businesses include a fertilizer/feed store, upholstery business, gravel hauling company, septic tank service, garage, carpentry shop, salvage company, tavern and cafe, fuel service, bank, and a church camp. The latest addition to the community is the Winnetoon Mini-Mall, which houses five businesses offering natural foods, antiques, furniture restoration, hand crafts, and massage. In October, 1989, the post office officially goes from a village office to community facility, and also will be housed in the Mini-Mall.
During America's bicentennial, Winnetoon residents bonded together to celebrate the history of their city. Over 200 pictures were collected, mounted, and displayed in the old school building. It is a pictorial record of Winnetoon from the time it was founded through its growth as a "booming town." Hundreds of former residents and high school graduates came to view the display and renew old friendships during that celebration.
In 1986 Dietmar Grieser of Austria visited Winnetoon and discovered that there could indeed be a connection between our town and Chief Winnetou of German folklore. He took many pictures, delved into the history, and was reportedly adding a chapter in his book about the subject.
Winnetoon is an Indian word, meaning either "big water" or "dividing of the waters." Both translations apply. Big water would describe the large slough that was once north of town. Dividing of the waters would relate to the fact water flows to the Northwest on the west side of town, and to the Southeast on the east side.
Each translation has its supporters. Yet, all Winnetoonites agree -- it is the only Winnetoon in the USA.
By Gayle Neuhaus, Winnetoon, NE 68789
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Winnetoon In America's Bicentennial Year by E.C.Clare, former mayor, and Gayle Neuhaus, town board member; The Frontier Revue 1969, by Gayle Neuhaus.