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Nebraska Ledgends and Lore


These are some Nebraska place names that reveal interesting stories concerning their origin. In some instances, the story of a locale's naming, as in the case of Weeping Water, derives from a folk legend. This, however, makes the story all the more interesting; since it is the tale, not the fact, that is important. Consequently, all the hundreds of Nebraska places that have been named in honor of early settlers, railroad officials, or towns in other states are not included.

BLOODY CREEK (Sherman County)

One day, when a group of surveyors, headed by Mr. Robert Harvey, was working along the stream, a party of Indians in war dress was observed in the distance. The surveyors had no weapons with which to defend themselves in case of attack, so each man shouldered a surveying stake in military formation. The warriors left the vicinity without making a closer investigation of the bluff. Mr. Harvey, in a spirit of fun, printed the name Bloody Creek upon his field map.


So many people were killed in Sidney "with their boots on" during its pioneer days that the cemetery in which they were buried was named Boothill. In the 1880's, when most of the gold prospectors of the South Dakota Blackhills purchased their supplies in Sidney, it was not unusual for two or three murders to take place in one night. At this time, twenty-three saloons were opened in one block, each one doing a flourishing business. Public dance halls were often operated in conjunction with the saloons. A man was shot in one of these halls one night, but instead of the incident stopping the dance, it served to heighten the fun. The corpse was propped up in a corner where he became a stony spectator of the amusement. It was not until a third victim had been set up against the wall that the dancers decided the party was becoming a bit too rough even for them. The next morning, three more corpses were buried in Boothill.

Lynching were another common way of swelling the Boothill's population. It is said that at one time the possibility of a stranger becoming a member of Boothill was so great that the Union Pacific Railroad refused to allow its passengers to get off the train at Sidney.

BROKEN BOW (Custer County)

The postmaster proposed three names to the Post Office Department. After a third name had been rejected, a settler named Wilson Hewitt found a broken bow on an old Indian hunting ground which suggested the unusual name, Broken Bow. The bow was almost destroyed when Hewitt's hired girl used it as kindling wood for starting a fire in the stove. A fragment is now in the care of the editor of the Custer County Chief.

CHEESE CREEK (Lancaster County)

A woman, who lived by this stream, made cottage cheese for sale to the travelers who passed by. The stream was quickly given the name of her product.

DEAD HORSE CREEK (Sherman County)

During the blizzard of 1873, a troop of cavalrymen were forced to abandon their horses near a small stream. The animals froze to death during the snowstorm. In early spring, when the snow melted, their carcasses floated down the creek; causing the stream to become known as Dead Horse Creek.

DEAD MEN'S GULCH (Loup County)

One day, in the fall of 1879, three men were hunting deer in Loup County. The hunters tracked some deer to a gulch, where, upon catching sight of the animals, the hunters immediately threw themselves on the ground with one of the men, named Moore, stalking some twenty feet ahead of the others. At the moment Moore raised his head above the dank weeds to aim at the deer, one of his companions pulled the trigger of his rifle. The top of Moore's head, at this close range, was blown off. The locality has ever since been known as Dead Men's Gulch, or Dead Man's Gulch.

DEAD MEN'S ISLAND (Colfax County)

In the Platte River, east of where the town of Rogers is located in Colfax County, used to be an island known as Dead Men's Island. It was, in reality, little more than a sandbar, with fingers of grass at its edges and a few willows for its vegetation. The whole island has long since been washed away by the Platte's swirling waters, and its only interest now is how it came to get its name.

In the early 1860's, a band of six horse thieves came into the Platte Valley from the southwest, raiding the corrals of the settlers in the section now embraced by western Dodge and eastern Colfax Counties. The settlers quickly formed a posse in pursuit of the gang with its stolen


In escaping, the thieves forced their horses into the Platte and made them swim to the island near the opposite shore. Here the men hoped to find refuge for the night, planning to escape to the south bank early the next morning before the posse could cross farther down the river and head them off.

But the island was a bed of quicksand which began engulfing the men and horses as soon as they had set foot on it. Before the thieves realized their danger, they were in the clutches of the sands.

Their despairing shrieks rang out over the dark waters like the wails of damned souls. By morning, the island was empty of all life; the sands had swallowed up both the thieves and their horses.

For years afterward the settlers declared that on dark and rainy nights, shrieks and groans could be heard from the island. The sandbar was appropriately named Dead Men's Island and was pointed out to those who traveled by seeking locations farther west.


The firm of Foley and Senter carried on a flourishing wagon trail business in the Nebraska sandhill region. On one of their trips, dried up water holes caused their oxen to become unusually thirsty. So when they came near a lake, the animals stampeded into the water, drawing the wagons after them. The lake was known by the name of this freighting firm from that time on.

GOODSTREAK (Morrill County)

Dr. Worth, a pioneer physician and homesteader, discovered a locality where there was a plentiful supply of wood for fuel. He told all his friends and patients about "finding a good streak." The name clung to the locality, so when a village was established, it was given this name.

HELL CREEK (Washington County)

The extremely soft mud along the banks of the stream wrecked so many of the pioneer wagons that one of the settlers, who had occasion to make frequent trips to Omaha, named it Hell Creek.

LOUSE CREEK (Holt County)

When a group of surveyors were working in Holt County, their clothes became infested with lice.

A serious attempt was made to get rid of their "guests" in a small stream, which, ever since, has borne the name Louse Creek.

OKAY (Platte County)

After having many suggested names rejected by the Washington postal authorities, one of the settlers sent in the word Okay, hoping it would be O.K. It was.

ORD (Valley County)

This city has the amusing speculation of wondering if it is named for a man who descended from the British Royal family and who might himself have become the King of England. The city was named for General E.C. Ord, who was commander of the army in this territory during the Indian days. General Ord's father, James Ord, was supposed to have been a son of the Prince of Wales who later became George IV of England. In 1905, a box, said to have been sealed by Lady Fitzhugh a century before, was opened according to the directions of the lady. It contained the couple's marriage license. The story, as told, is that a son had been born who was placed in charge of a servant named Ord. When the servant emigrated to the United States, he took the boy along. James Ord asserted he was that son, and therefore the rightful heir to the British throne. But the fact that he had fought against the British in 1812 and his affiliation with the Catholic Church barred him from the succession. The other obstacle was Queen Victoria, who, according to Ord, was too selfish to give her crown to its rightful owner.

Even so, Ord expected to be eventually called to the throne. His room was plastered with newspaper prints of the English nobility so that when he became king he wouldn't be embarrassed by not recognizing his lords at sight.

RAWHIDE CREEK (Dodge County)

One morning when Nebraska was still a territory, a group of travelers enroute to the California gold fields were camped on a little stream a few miles northeast of where North Bend now stands. In the party was a young New Yorker who had declared, when he joined them in Council Bluffs, that he would kill the first Indian he saw in Nebraska. At the time, no attention was paid to his ridiculous boast, and it was forgotten. But on this morning, a Pawnee girl came to trade with the white travelers from a friendly Indian camp located farther up the stream. As she approached the travelers, the boastful New Yorker reached for his rifle and shot her. One of the Indians who was spying on the camp from some adjoining bluffs saw the useless murder and immediately reported to his tribe what had occurred. All the wrathful warriors surrounded the camp and threatened to scalp all the white men if the culprit was not turned over to them for punishment. Reluctantly, they gave consent to the proposition, and so, despite the violent protests of the young man, he was bound and delivered to the people of his victim.

The Indians, after undressing their screaming prisoner, tied his legs and arms to stakes in the ground, after which two brawny warriors drew their knives and set deftly to work, skinning the man alive. The two braves did their work so skillfully that he lived for several hours after his hide had been stretched on a frame to dry in the sun. The creek was thereafter known as Rawhide Creek.

SCOTTSBLUFF (Scotts Bluff County)

In the early eighties, a party of trappers came down the North Platte in canoes. When they came above where the Laramie River joins the Platte, all of their food and hunting supplies were lost. One member of the group, Hiram Scott, became very sick after the accident and could not travel by foot. The other trappers, when reconnoitering the territory, discovered the fresh trail of a group of hunters. They left Scott at the mouth of the Laramie River with the promise to come back as soon as they had secured supplies from this party. Instead of returning to Scott, as was promised, they reported him dead and proceeded on their expedition.

A year later, another group of trappers found Scott's skeleton near the high bluff which now bears his name. Sick, starving, and abandoned by his companions, he had crawled forty miles along the river before death overtook him. A tiny spring, beside which the body was found, is known as Hiram Scott Spring.

SOAK CREEK (Gage County)

An early settler fell into the water when crossing this stream. His amused companions immediately named the stream Soak Creek.

SURPRISE (Butler County)

The early settlers found the land so much better than they expected in this vicinity that they named their town Surprise.

WYNOT (Cedar County)

An old German emigrant who did not understand many words of English used to live in this settlement. Whenever he was spoken to by one of the non-German speaking citizens, he would always attempt to cover up his embarrassment by profoundly asking, "Why not?"

The children in the village were quick to imitate him, and later, after the older citizens had caught the habit, it became a form of local slang. "W'y not?" became the accepted answer to many questions.

When the naming of the town came up for consideration, a local wag asked, "Why not name it 'Wynot'?"

His suggestion was accepted.