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Jim McKee: How Cuming County came to be

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Beemer, one of the four incorporated towns in Cuming County, Nebraska, is shown here on a postcard from about 1910. The main street shows the few businesses at the turn of the century and the water stand pipe on the horizon seemingly within the street itself.

In 1922 Cuming County was assigned the license plate prefix of 24, indicating it was number 24 in the number of registered motor vehicles in the state. The territorial census of 1860 showed the entire county’s population stood at 67 and, not one of the territory’s original eight counties in 1854, it struggled through a succession of border changes and failed county seat sites.

Cuming County, named for Nebraska’s first territorial secretary and twice acting governor, Thomas B. Cuming, it was first defined and named a county by the Legislature in March of 1855, with the county seat set at Catherine, sometimes called Dead Timber, which had been in Dodge County before the county’s borders evolved.

Settlement in Cuming County began in 1856. That summer Benjamin B. Moore arrived from Hillsdale, Michigan, and settled at Dead Timber. The first settler in what would later become the final boundaries of the county, probably came in the winter of 1856-57 at DeWitt on Plum Creek, five miles northeast of West Point.

In February of 1857 Cuming County had been redefined and organized with the county seat set at Manhattan. A history of Nebraska published in 1857 notes that after a full year of existence, Dead Timber/Catherine and DeWitt/Manhattan were considered “paper towns — fictitious towns, unsurveyed and unplatted.”

Later in 1857 the Nebraska Settlement Association sent an exploratory expedition to the county, which agreed to locate a community at New Philadelphia. In March of the following year, after the name New Philadelphia had been declined by the U. S. Postmaster, the then-renamed West Point post office opened.

In October of 1858 an election was held in which the county seat was more officially set at West Point. The election was highly contested between DeWitt, whose post office opened in February and West Point, but West Point prevailed when it received 12 votes to DeWitt’s 7.

The first U. S. federal census of 1860 showed Cuming County’s population was 67 while at that year’s county election only 5 votes were recorded. County borders were again redefined in 1862 when the county had grown to a population of 3,000, and voters approved a $100,000 bond issue to encourage railroad construction in the county. Final definition of county borders occurred in 1873, and by 1900 the county’s population reached 14,584.

West Point’s history has been covered in detail in a previous column but as a brief recap: J.C. Crawford’s cabin preceded John Neligh’s Nebraska Settlement Association’s 1858 decision to establish a community, which was granted the county seat at what was briefly called New Philadelphia and renamed West Point. The railroad arrived in 1870 and a decade later West Point boasted three newspapers, hotels, a brewery, carriage manufacturer and many businesses.

In 1868 Lakeview post office was opened and in July of 1871, the community, then renamed Wisner, named for Judge Samuel P. Wisner, was platted by the Elkhorn Land & Town Co. which was owned by the F. E. & M. V. Railroad.

The city was incorporated in 1873 and an iron bridge over the Elkhorn River completed. Ultimately, the post office was named Wisner to match the city’s name, in 1876. Three years later the railroad built on to the west, connecting Wisner with the county seat of Stanton County, and stagecoach service ended. In 1909 Wisner was reincorporated as a City of Second Class.

Allen D. Beemer arrived in Cuming County from Pennsylvania in 1869 and a decade later a settlement nine miles northwest of West Point, named Rock Creek, formed around a mill, and Beemer post office opened.

In September of 1884 the Rock Creek community was renamed Beemer to agree with the post office name. Within a year A.D. Beemer and two other men established a newspaper, hotel and bank in order to encourage the F. E. & M. V. Railroad to build.

By 1886 the Potter Cannery, Barber’s Brickyard and Moeller Plow Manufacturing Co. opened and, in 1890, the census showed a population of 350. In 1980 Beemer reached its peak population of 853.

Ford B. Barber purchased land at what was first named Toe Unash ta Binga by area Native Americans in Cuming County in 1876, and in November of 1879 the Portland post office opened. Portland was renamed Bancroft in September or October of 1880 after Ford Barber declined to the name Barbersville.

Historians disagree as to whether the name Bancroft refers to the American historian or more probably the railroad civil engineer. The railroad had several names including the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha, the Omaha Nebraska & Northern and Sioux City & Nebraska. Bancroft reached its peak population of less than 1,000 in 1910. The John G. Neihardt Center opened in 1976, commemorating the community’s most famous citizen with a museum and tourist attraction.

Bancroft’s railroad closed in 1963 and now has an estimated population of 460. Wisner’s population is estimated at 1,170 while Beemer, which reached its peak of 853 in 1980, is now about 655 while West Point, which lost its rail service in the 1980s, now numbers about 3,280 while the county as a whole was listed at 8,798 in 2020.

Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at


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