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Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Indianola -- Red Willow County

Indianola, ca.1955, "courtesy of the Bank of Indianola." [Nebraska State Historical Society]
The Carr sod house, some distance east of Indianola. [Martin, Bartley]
The Main Street of Indianola, n.d. [Sughroue]
The Republican River Flood, 1935, covered the entire valley floor and took everything in its path. [Cowan, Oxford]
Indianola ca.1880s, soon after the railroad arrived. Methodist and Congregational churches on the right.
Old Settler's Picnic, August, 1947, and a view of the east side of Main Street. [Sughroue]

In the fall of 1871, the Republican Valley Land Company was formed in Nebraska City for the purpose of establishing a town site in southwest Nebraska. A surveying party platted the new town, called "Redwillow" for the creek it was on, then prepared it for settlement in the spring of 1872.

When spring came, six men from Iowa also decided to travel west. Their names were E.S. Hill, G.A. Hunter, William and Day Weygent, L.B. Korn, and Henry Madison. They planned to go to the Red Willow area, but six miles east, one of their wagons got stuck when crossing Coon Creek. After looking around they decided to claim land right there. This is where the story of Indianola begins.

D.N. Smith, a locator for the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, was in the area looking for a town site. He found the people in Redwillow quarreling over where to locate the town. Dismayed by their bickering, he left. Upon arriving at Coon Creek, he was happy to find an old friend, Mr. Hill. After telling him of his quest to locate a town site on which the Red Willow county seat was to be placed, Hill offered his homestead for that purpose.

Smith returned in the spring of 1873 and surveyed and registered a plat for the new town on Coon Creek that he had named "Indianola" after his hometown in Iowa.

Indianola was named the county seat of Red Willow County in May of 1873, but its population remained comparatively small. Only after the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad had completed its line into town in 1880 did the population begin to increase. By 1896 the number of people in Indianola rose to over 1,200. The numbers were not enough, however, when a vote was called to move the county seat to McCook. Indianola lost. When the people associated with county government moved out, the population dropped to under 900.

One of the early major businesses was the Indianola Ochre Mills, which mined ochre (a soft, yellow, chalky stone). When refined, it was made into paint and used in the manufacture of bricks. The mill operated from 1890 to around 1910 but closed when higher quality ochre could be shipped from Europe at a cheaper price.

There have been two train wrecks in Indianola. The first was in 1898 when a stock train derailed, killing three men and a large number of sheep. A second train wreck occurred on May 29, 1911. Two passenger trains collided head on, killing twenty-three people and injuring a great many others.

Indianola has had its share of high water. If the city wasn't ravaged from the Coon Creek overflowing, then it could watch from a distance as the Republican River over-ran its banks.

The Dirty 30's were hard on the people of Indianola. The city lost its bank in 1933, people lost farms, and others moved away hoping to find work. Just when the pain of the Depression and dust bowl seemed to be over and the long-awaited rains began to fall, more troubles came. The rain did not stop falling. At one point on the upper Republican, 24 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. This was much more water than the river could hold. Known as the "1935 Republican River Flood," it will long be remembered by people up and down the river. Indianola didn't lose anyone in the flood, but it was lucky.

In 1940-41 Indianola's bank reopened and things started looking up for the town again. In 1942, during the war, Indianola was chosen for the site of a prisoner of war camp. When completed it housed nearly 2,000 German prisoners.

At the end of the war when the POW camp was closed, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation used the site from 1946 until the end of 1954. Since then the land was sold and the buildings torn down. All that remains are two brick chimneys, a water tower converted into a silo, and the building foundations.

The Republican Valley Elementary and High Schools of Indianola head our educational interests, with a staff and faculty well qualified to teach our young people.

Indianola's citizens presently number 886, and support a good business district and a well-equipped fire department. The citizens of Indianola are some of the best people to be found in the State of Nebraska.

By James J. Sughroue, Box 426, Indianola, NE 69034