Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

Nebraska...Our Towns

Thedford -- Thomas County

Bird's Eye View, Thedford, Nebraska. [Paxton]
Sod Twon Hall at Thedford, used in the early days.
Main street, Thedford. Notice the laundry blowing in the breez on the second story of the general store. [Nebraska State Historical Society]
Livery barn for the Cow Poke Hotel, just to the north. Thomas County courthouse in the background [Janecek]

In the year 1887 the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad made it to the little settlement of Thedford. Many hopeful settlers arrived hoping to claim 160 acres of free land. This quickly proved to be inadequate in the semi-arid regions of the Sandhills, which was not suitable for cultivation. When the Kinkaid Act passed in 1904, 640 acres was allowed. By 1914, when Thedford was incorporated, the population was 138.

"Guarantee of a job" brought many school teachers to the county. Little did they know that the job meant they would go out into the hills where they would stay for the entire school term with a family, eat with them, and sometimes sleep with some of the children. In the end, most married local cowboys and stayed on in the community.

These were glorious days! Church and family gatherings were special. Married couples had dinners, played cards, or would even go to the lake, rent a cabin, and go boating or swimming. There were cots for the women, but the men slept on the floor, and the chickens, living under the cabin, cackled and crowed come morning. Teenagers in Thedford rode the train to Seneca on Sundays, roller skated for 25 cents and, if they had the money, had a snack about midnight, then waited at the depot for the early morning train to take them back home.

Ranchers worked alongside each other with mutual support, understanding, and sharing their common needs -- food, clothing, and feed and water for the cattle. Staying in touch was difficult until there were better roads, telephones, and mail service. Neighbors came to help in time of sickness. A doctor, if available, came by buggy, often with a driver so that the doctor could sleep along the way. In 1942 the Sandhills Health Foundation was formed, bringing a nurse and doctor to the hills, and gallon jars of aspirin -- yellow, green, and pink. "Sulfa," just new, was a miracle drug against many infections. Before this, more serious cases went to Grand Island or Alliance by train.

Many interesting people lived here;

--the Mercer identical twins, Merle and Berle, married identical twins born in the East.

--Larson Hardware claimed "more windmills sold" than any other dealer in the United States, at one point in time.

--Lloyd Hamilton, in his 90s, established one of the best free museums in the country. Fred Mallory and Mr. Gaston lived well into their nineties.

--Chester Paxton, at age 23, was the youngest county judge in Nebraska.

--Mr.C.G. Wiese was still planting trees in the park while in his 80s, and W.J. Lynch mowed and trimmed the cemetery and park. Joe Figgard and his family were long-time business people.

--the Thedford Art Gallery has members of the pioneer area ranchers including Martha Noel Peters and Mary Etinger.

--David Haumann, relative of the "Little Girl Lost in the Sandhills," is chairman of the Thomas County Centennial Committee. The Jamesons of the Dismal River country are also active.

--Mr.G.W. Saunders, at 92, was back for Thomas County's glorious fair and centennial celebration in 1987, full of praise for the progress of Thedford. (There were 1,539 visitors registered from 24 states.)

In addition to a good selection of businesses, there is a sale barn, bank, an airport with a 2,800-foot, hard-surface runway, and a cattle equipment manufacturing plant just outside of town. There are several churches, and two schools. The American Legion Auxiliary, Masons, and Eastern Star are all active. Above all, the Thedford area continues to be one of the finest cattle areas of the world.

Although they no longer carry mail or passengers, 20-30 trains go through town each day, from the coal fields of Wyoming -- 100 to 120 cars, each carrying 100 tons. They go back empty.

Thedford, with a population of 313, is the county seat of Thomas County, which encompasses 716 square miles. Highway 2 goes through town and Highway 83 is just to the east. Located near center of the county on the banks of the gently flowing Middle Loup River, Thedford is blessed with a constant flow of water, which seldom rises or falls and rarely freezes.

Thedford is a good place to live!

By lda M.Paxton, Thedford, NE, 69166

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: "Soapweeds, Sandburrs, and Sod," The Memory Book of Thomas County. 1976, Bicentennial Committee; Pictorial History of the Sandhills, Dorothea Rogers, editor.