James McKay, a Scotsman, led a horse caravan of Spaniards in exploring the area in 1796 and may have been the first white man to view the country. He made a map of the area which was published in Paris in 1802.
G. K. Warren, topographical engineer for the U.S. Army, made a military expedition searching for a trail from Ft. Laramie, Wyoming, to Fort Randall, South Dakota. He crossed the Niobrara River near the mouth of Pine Creek in 1855.
In 1865 James A. Sawyers, Army Engineer at the head of a large party traveling with wagons pulled by oxen, followed the Niobrara River from Niobrara, Nebraska, into Cherry County nearly to Gordon, then north to the White River.
The Calamus Trail led from western forts across the Brown County Sandhills to Moon Lake. It was named for the Calamus River. The name is a translation of the Dakota Indian name Sink-ta-wote, meaning food of the muskrat.
The Gordon Trail was made by John Gordon and a large party of gold seekers on their way to the Black Hills in 1875. Starting from Sioux City, Iowa, they traveled through this area about where Highway 20 now runs.
One of the earliest ranchers was J.W. Bassett who drove one of the first herds of cattle into the country in 1871 and established a ranch some distance southeast of the present location of Bassett. The headquarters and ranch buildings were south of Bassett Hill. Bassett, Nebraska, was named for this pioneer rancher and the high hill became known as Bassett Hill. After the heavy loss of cattle, estimated at about 500, during the hard winter of 1880-81, Mr. Bassett sold out to the four Brayton Brothers and Louis Kelley and left the country.
Another early ranch was that of Ed Cook and Dr. G.W. Tower on Bone Creek. Their log building headquarters also served as the Bone Creek Post Office, with Ed Cook as Postmaster. This was built across the creek north and west from the present site of Ainsworth in 1873. Mrs. Nannie Osborne and her daughter, also named Nannie, rode their ponies from Fort Hartsuff at Ord to this ranch in 1879. Mrs. Osborne cooked for the ranch hands and served as Deputy Postmaster. During the winter of 1880-81 the Cook ranch lost most of its herd of 3,000 cattle. Nannie Osborne then filed on a claim which included what is now the west part of Ainsworth. Her log house, built by John Brill with logs cut on Plum Creek, still stands in the west part of town, but has been enlarged and stuccoed.
In 1878 John Morris built a bridge across the Niobrara River north of Bassett at a crossing which later became known as Carns. Lemuel Rickord was operating a ferry boat on the river at that time. With the opening of the Black Hills Trail, the establishment of Fort Niobrara and the coming of the settlers, Morris and Rickord did a thriving business, charging one dollar per crossing.
The Thomas Peacock family came to Rock County in 1879 living in a tent the first summer until a building which served as their home and a hotel and eating house were built. In 1882, a post office was established there named Mariavilie for Hattie Maria, the infant daughter of the Peacocks, and the first white baby born on the prairie.
In 1879 a post office was established in Long Pine, which together with the creek that flows through the area, was named for the tall pine trees lining the creek bank. Ed Cook was the first postmaster. Beginning in 1880, the Berry Brothers, John and George, operated a stage line from Neligh, Nebraska to Fort Niobrara, and had a stage station in the home of John Danks in Long Pine. The first train on the Chicago and Northwestern, then named Sioux City and Pacific Railroad, reached Long Pine in 1881.
Captain James E. Ainsworth, a civil engineer for the Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Railroad, was in charge of construction when the railroad was constructed west from Long Pine. He platted the town which was named in his honor and into which the first train came on June 11, 1882. The townsite was plotted on the homesteads of Mrs. Nannie Osborne, LeRoy Hall, and Henry Woodward. Mrs. Osborne donated the land known as the courthouse square to the county to be used for the courthouse and jail. She also gave building sites to the Congregational and Methodist churches. Her grave is located in the northwest part of Park Cemetery east of Ainsworth.
Johnstown was named for John Berry, one of the Berry Brothers, who, when the railroad came, served as a scout of right of ways and who donated the land where the town was located.
Meadville, located on the Niobrara River, 15 miles north of Ainsworth, was named for Merrit Mead who located there in 1882 and was the first postmaster. The post office was established in 1883.
Up until 1882, a portion of the present KBR area, 103,314 acres, was unorganized and was under the jurisdiction of Holt County for some time. In 1882, a petition was circulated for county organization. On February 19, 1883, Governor Dawes approved the bill and the new county was named Brown as there were then five members of the legislature named "Brown."
In 1884, the county was divided and the land north of the Niobrara River became known as Keya Paha County, named for the river which forms its northern boundary. It is a Dakota Indian term meaning "Turtle Hill." Springview, the county seat, was named for a spring west of town on land then owned by J. F. Carr.
In 1883, Newport, Nebraska, was platted by the railroad. It was named Newport for the bridge spanning the Niobrara River north of that community.
Bassett, Nebraska, named for pioneer rancher A. N. Bassett, was platted on land homesteaded by Louis Canenberg who, with his two daughters, were the only settlers until the arrival of the railroad when the section foreman settled there. The post office was established in 1882. In 1888 Rock County was formed from an area of 37,352 acres taken from the east portion of Brown County. It received its name from the rock quarry found along the course of the little creek northwest of Newport known as Rock Creek.
|For more information on Brown County,
|North Central Development Center
Ainsworth, Nebraska 69210
Phone: (402) 387-2740
Toll Free: (866) 387-2740