Cities, Towns, Villages
Benkelman; Haigler; Max; Parks
Wild, untamed country. That is how the area that would become Dundy County was labeled in the early 1800s. Untouched land with a wealth of thick buffalo grass and other varieties of tall grasses was ripe for cattle grazing. The birth of Dundy County was near.
At the close of the Civil War, Texas had no adequate market for its excess cattle. Speculators bought huge herds and moved them north for fattening before shipping them to market. This Southwest Nebraska area provided cattlemen vast open range lands free for the taking.
With the coming of the railroad, a settlement named Collinsville became a primary shipping point for cattle. Collinsville would be renamed Benkelman, in honor of a family that owned large cattle ranches in Kansas and Colorado. It was not too long before Benkelman would gain a reputation as being "the wickedest city between McCook and Denver."
The days of longhorns, cowboys and saloons would give way to homesteaders, who sought the free land for homes and a better way of life. What would follow were bitter range disputes between the cattlemen and the homesteaders. But the Homestead Act and a Nebraska embargo placed on Texas cattle forced cattlemen off the range and gave homesteaders an opportunity to plant crops.
Dundy County was organized in 1884 and named for U.S. Circuit Court Judge Elmer Dundy, a former Nebraskan. Its boundaries were actually approved 11 years earlier. The period between 1855 and 1888 brought a tremendous influx of settlers. The number rose at such a rapid pace that Benkelman could not contain them and nine additional small settlements sprang up. Only three of those -- Max, Parks and Haigler -- remain today.
In 1888, the settlements of Hiawatha, Ough and Allston waged stiff competition with Benkelman to become the county seat. Benkelman chose not to enter the controversy and quietly built a courthouse. County commissioners then designated Benkelman as the county seat. A second courthouse replaced the original on the same site 30 years later.