The area along this section of the Loup River (the "Loup" being a French translation for the Indian word for wolf), has a unique history. Some missionaries came in the 1840s to work among the Pawnee Indians, and there were a small number of settlers scattered along the trails.
In 1857 a treaty was signed by the Pawnee ceding all their lands from the Niobrara to the Platte, and from Shell Creek to the Rocky Mountains to the government, with the exception of "the very cream of their possessions," the area that presently comprises Nance County. Known as the "Pawnee Reserve," the agreement gave them an annual cash payment of $22,000, plus numerous educational and vocational training programs.
In the years that followed the number of Pawnee declined due to wars with the Sioux, and illness such as flu and small pox, which brought further change. After the Indians were moved to Oklahoma in 1875, Congress passed a bill that required the Pawnee Reserve to be appraised and offered for sale. A board of appraisers was appointed, and arrangements were made to insure that a fair price was received. Because of these circumstances, nearly all the land in Nance County was purchased by settlers or by investors for resale, instead of the more-traditional homestead provisions common to most of Nebraska.
In July 1876 Randall Fuller of Farribaualt, MN, was enroute to Colorado with a large herd of cattle. He was impressed with the many features of the country along the Loup, so he decided to establish his headquarters here. He built a small wooden shanty in the little nook below and a little east of "Buffalo Leap."
Soon thereafter Hart and Ed Crow and their sister, Mrs. H.H.Knight, also from Minnesota, settled nearby. That fall Andrew Johnson, Hans Anson, W.A. Davis, James Scully, and a Mr.Derrick and a Mr.Knudson, also purchased land.
In 1877 Fuller secured the services of J.C.Knapp to make a survey for a possible town site. The following summer Fuller bought seven quarters of land, which included the area to be platted as a town, which had been given the name "Fullerton." To finance the next step, Fuller sold a half-interest in the proposed new town to B.D.Slaughter. With the money, he built the first structure in Fullerton, the old Pawnee Land Office, which was operated by Slaughter and Lindsay. Jacob Smith built the first house. Also significant to the area at that time was the arrival of the railroad, providing "modern" transportation into and out of the area.
In February 1879 Nance County's boundaries were approved, and the scramble was on to select a county seat. After much controversy, Fullerton, near the center of the county, was named to that position. Fuller, instrumental in the campaign, donated the land on which the courthouse was built in 1881. Wesleyan University is said to have had its beginning in the Fuller home.
Fullerton grew rapidly. By 1888 the town boasted over 40 businesses and professional offices, and graduated its first high school class.
In 1898 Fuller gave the use of the land near his original ranch along the Loup River for holding Chautauquas. Because of its beauty and location, it became one of the most popular and largely-attended events in Nebraska. Excursions on the Loup added to the variety of activities available. In June 1988, 90 years later, Fullerton was once again the site of great excitement with the week-long performance of the Great Plains Chautauqua series in the park.
Fullerton's peak population was recorded in 1940 with just over 1,700 residents. It continues to be a prosperous city today, with many churches, a modern K-12 school, over 70 businesses, and a population of nearly 1,500.
With strong pioneer ethics of hard work, Fullerton has met and overcome conflict, epidemics, and political rivalry with courage and determination. It continues to be a forward-looking community with an optimistic eye, showing every promise of being perpetually maintained.
By Betty J. Mapes, Fullerton, NE 68638. Condensed from an article compiled and written by Rodger Bassett. Centennial Book, Fullerton's First 100 Years, 1879-1979.