General History

Phelps County celebrated its 100th birthday on April 23, 1973. The county was originally named for a Mississippi River steamboat captain, Captain William Phelps. Thousands crossed the North end of the county on the "Oregon Trail." The Plum Creek Massacre of August 7, 1874 is marked with graves in the NW part of the county. This was the initial incident of the Indian War of 1864.

Lured by government homestead land and cheap railroad land, the first settlers were mainly Swedes. These early homesteaders found water just 30 feet below the ground, although they expected to have to dig 110 feet. Nebraska sits on one of the largest underground reservoirs. The first county seat was Williamsburg in 1873, then the county seat was moved to Phelps Center in 1879 and finally to Holdrege in 1883.

Plum Creek Massacre

An August attack upon a wagon train in Northwest Phelps County, known as the Plum Creek Massacre, was the initial incident of the Indian War of 1864.

The Plum Creek Cemetery, located nine miles north and one mile east of Bertrand, rests on the open prairie as a quiet reminder of the struggles of early pioneers endured to settle this country.

The Plum Creek Massacre as told by Mrs. Thomas F. Morton In July, 1864, my husband and I decided to freight to Denver from Sidney, Iowa. After about five days travel, we arrived at Plum Creek Station. We were rejoined by nine wagons which made our wagon train consist of twelve wagons. When we were camped at Plum Creek that night, my brother and Mr. marble stood guard the forepart of the night and my husband the latter. About six o'clock in the morning we again started on our western course. My husband, being quite fatigued, requested that I should drive and I gladly consented. While I was driving, my husband was fast asleep and all my time was spent in viewing the beautiful landscape, which I supposed we would soon reach. But alas! That was only a momentary thought for far in the distance I could see objects which seemed to be approaching us but on account of the great distance, they were undistinguishable. But it was not long -- only a few minutes -- until I soon observed they were Indians and I again called to my husband and said he knew they were Indians. Soon we observed they were warriors and were pained and equipped for battle. Soon they uttered a wild cry and fired a volley from their guns which made us realize our helpless condition. This terrible and unsuspected apparition came upon us with such a startling swiftness that we had no time to make preparation for defense. With wild screams and ells, they circled round and round which frightened our teams so they became uncontrollable. Thinking there might be some faint hope of escape, I sprang from the wagon. My husband called me, 'Oh, my dear, where are you going?' And those were the last words I heard him say.

Historic Sites

C.B.&Q. Holdrege Depot [PP04-002]

The C.B.&Q. (also referred to as Burlington) Railroad laid out a route that bypassed the community of Phelps Center. The company then decided to create the town of Holdrege to facilitate its train operations. The mutually beneficial arrangement between Holdrege and the Burlington Railroad initially resulted in a cordial relationship. Eventually, however, this harmonious situation began to deteriorate as the townspeople clamored for a new depot and the railroad resisted. Under orders from the State Railway Commission, Burlington finally relented and built a new depot in 1911.

Phelps County Courthouse [PP04-013]

Settlers organized Phelps County in 1873 and selected Williamsburg as the county seat the same year. The county seat was moved to the more centrally located Phelps Center in 1879. In 1884 county residents voted to move the county seat to Holdrege, which had been established just one year earlier. The first courthouse (a flimsy and modest structure) was completed even before the election made Holdrege the county seat. A new courthouse soon replaced the first structure. By the early twentieth century, county residents were ready to build yet another courthouse. Construction on this building began in 1910 and by 1911the Beaux Arts-style structure was completed.

Kinner House [PP04-293]

Located in Holdrege the Kinner House was built c.1903. The house is significant for its Neoclassical Revival design, rare in Phelps County. The Kinner House retains a high degree of historic integrity.