Eight plaques mounted on a single monument are located at Hickory Square. The plaques are presented left to right.Early Day Cheyenne County
The history of Nebraska and Cheyenne County correlate to the push westward of the transcontinental railroad in 1867. During the county earlier evolution, Frontier Trails connecting to the Oregon, Mormon, Overland, Emigrant Road, Pole Creek Crossing and Texas Cattle were pounded into its soul by thousands of wagon wheels. It was home to fierce native-American battles, and open prairie cattle industry, the Pony Express and a few trading posts. Named for the proud native-Americans that inhabited the area, Cheyenne County was 70 miles wide and 108 miles long, covering the south had of the Nebraska Panhandle 7,460 square miles and 4,838,400 acres. The north half of the Panhandle was unorganized territory, but was attached to Cheyenne County for judicial and legal transactions. Sidney was deemed the territorial capitol and county seat for the entire 15,120 square mile area. Later as more settlers came west and populations grew, 11 counties were carved out of the old Cheyenne County beginning in 1885.
Fort Sidney 1867-1874
To protect the Union Pacific builders, a federal order on April 29, 1867 stationed a company of soldiers along the Lodge Pole Creek, 56 miles west of Fort Sedgwick. Nebraska had been legally created March 1, 1867. At the top of the hill (look straight north) the new Army Post was established with a tent camp and a blockhouse (Camp Lookout). Named for Sidney Dillon, a UP division head, who later became UP President, the outpost became known as "Sidney Barracks" and later "Fort Sidney", operating for 27 years until 1894. It was relocated near the creak south of the tracks in 1871, originality with 13 structures eventually expanding to 51. The restored Post Commander Home, Officers Quarters, (county museum) and Powder House are short distance away at 6th and 7th Avenues. Many famous Pow Wows between Native-American Chiefs and famed U.S. Generals occurred at Fort Sidney.
Sidney-Deadwood Trail 1874-1883
The first freighting routes here were established in the early 1800, but Sidney is most famous for its fascinating and colorful role during the 1874-1883 period when it was the famed 267-mile route of the Sidney-Deadwood Trail, also known as the Sidney-Black Hills Trail when gold was discovered in the Dakota Territory. Sidney won over a battle with Cheyenne, North Platte and Kearney as the most direct trade route, especially after 1876 when Sidney businessman H.T. Clarke built a 2,000 foot toll bridge over the raging mile wide North Platte River establishing Camp Clarke near modern day Bridgeport. The famed trail (still visible northwest of here) carried over 100 million pounds of registered freight with return fold shipments coming back to Sidney. The largest gold bullion robbery in U.S. history occurred near this site at the UP Freight House on March 10, 1880. No one was ever convicted. Some gold is still missing. Sidney lawless reign escalated into a 64 businessmen led vigilante crusade on April 1-4, 1881 when 16 outlaws were rounded up to be hung on the courthouse tree. An official NOTICE was posted and published to "Get Out of Sidney" to all other "murderers, thieves, pimps and slick-fingered gentlemen."
"Sinful Sidney", Scourge of the "Old West" 1871-1888
Known by such monikers dubbed by the eastern press as "Sinful Sidney", "The Wickedest Burgh of the West", "Toughest Town on the Tracks", "The Hardest Hole" and even the "Magic City on the Plains" - booming 24-hour Sidney made national headlines frequently. The national press? fascination and frequent front page page headlines about Sidney were fueled by lawlessness, "Old West" legends, corruption, frequent hangings (at this site) and its spirited nasty battle with Cheyenne, Wyoming over the preferred gold route. The actual events surpassed anything Hollywood could generate today. The news accounts, court records and historical documents are captured in Loren Avey book "Lynching, Legends and Lawlessness", (at local book store). Over 80 licensed saloons, gaming halls and brothels were located on historic Front Street. Over 1,000 criminal cases and 56 known murders or attempted murders were prosecuted from 1876-1881. The "Bad Man Cemetery" - Sidney Boot Hill - has been restored and can be seen in northeast Sidney.
Homestead Act 1862 and Kincaid Act 1904
These two important acts passed by the United States Congress opened massive acres of the West to settlers in search of land to establish a new life. The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed for claiming 160 acres with five years residency and the Kincaid Act of 1904 sponsored by Nebraska Congressman Moses Kincaid allowed for claim to 640 acres with five years residency. A major territorial land office just one block from here doled out claims to settlers as Sidney reinvented itself as a major farming and ranching trade center from the 1880 through the 1940. Numerous implement dealerships and regional agriculture distributorships opened in Sidney. The community buried its soiled past, wanting to establish itself as a permanent quiet, God-fearing community along the historic Lincoln Highway (located here) and plush Lodge Pole Creek valley, becoming the largest winter wheat producing county in Nebraska and still claiming that title today.
Sioux Ordnance Depot & Oil Boom 1942-1967
Two monumental events would again change the course of Sidney history as America entered World War II. The Sioux Ordnance Depot was commissioned in 1942 by the U.S. Army and Sidney was pinpointed as a strategic location where an entire township (19,771 acres) was condemned and several hundred workers moved to build the massive munitions depot just northwest of here. The manufacturing and storage depot would employee over 2,000 people between 1942-1967. Today it serves as private industrial parks and is home to many industrial companies and jobs. Oil was discovered north of here in 1949 kicking off an oil and gas exploration and production boom of business and jobs that blossomed through three decades and continues to impact today on a smaller scale. Cheyenne County remains one of the largest oil and gas pro ducting counties in the State. The Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission state headquarters is still located here.
Minuteman Missiles 1960 & I-80
Golden Link 1974
Again because of its strange Midwest location, Cheyenne County became home to 38 Minuteman Missile bases as part of the 200 missile complex of Warren Air Force Base. Constructed in the 1960, the missiles are still active. Just as Promontory Summit, Utah commemorated the golden spike in 1869 that joined east and west on the transcontinental railroad; a century later, Sidney was the site of the golden link for the completion of Interstate-80 on October 19, 1974 stretching from New York to San Francisco as Americas busiest highway. The community was still economically reeling from the jobs and population loss impacted by the Depot closing, end of missile construction, oil depletion, railroad jobs transferred and modernized agriculture practices - so it declined developing the I-80 interchanges. Finally in 1987, the City ran three mile of utilities to Exit 59 opening a new wave of development that continues to add businesses and commercial jobs and capture outside commerce.
Small Town Values, Big Time Opportunities - Sidney Today
A modern day renaissance of the Sidney area has occurred over the pas quarter century. Economic indicators tripled as the community utilized its logistics capabilities of having four major highways, three railroads, modern airport, long term infrastructure improvements and three industrial parks. A formal economic development partnership between the private and public sector, subsequent business development of I-80, and the nurturing of home grown entrepreneurs and recruited industries created an atmosphere embracing community growth. With the "Cabela" presence garnering national attention as it grew from the kitchen table in 1961 to the billion dollar world foremost outfitter - along with many other successful small companies and manufacturers, Sidney significantly built its job base once again. In 2004, Sidney was named one of "America Top 100 Rural Communities" under 50,000 population by national economist Jack Schultz in his book "Boom Town USA." Its theme "Small Town Values, Big Time Opportunities" truly captures Sidney community spirit.