Curtis, Nebraska – September, 2015 Jim has always wanted to visit the area his father was born and raised in but it was so far out of the way that we never could swing it. When we realized our chosen route west would take us right by Frontier County Nebraska, just south of North Platte, it was a done deal.
When I started researching the area I looked up the county website. It said that the largest town was Curtis, population 939, and the county seat was Stockville, population 25. Say what?! Turns out the county only has about 2000 residents, half of which live in Curtis. The county was organized and Stockville was named the county seat in 1872. Some years later land developers started the town of Curtis and persuaded people to move there. The town of Stockville barely survived but retained its county seatedness.
I first planned to stay at one of two state parks that are 30 plus miles from both Stockville and Curtis. But thankfully I called the Curtis City Hall to see if they had any other suggestions and they informed me they had 4 electric sites at Mill Creek Park on the edge of Curtis. They were first come first serve so we decided to stop there first and see if we could get one of the sites before we headed to a state park next. We arrived late on a Thursday morning and lucky for us there were still 2 electric sites left. The best part was they were free for the first 3 nights and only $5 per night thereafter.
Jim didn’t really know a lot of specifics about his father’s upbringing there. Both his grandparents on his father side immigrated to the area as children and then met and married and had his father. He had some names and dates of birth and had found some census data online. He had heard his father speak of Curtis so he thought that he likely lived near there. We hoped if we were lucky we might find some real estate records that would indicate where exactly in the county they lived. His father left to serve in WW2 and didn’t return to Nebraska to stay after he got back. His grandparents also moved away from the area before Jim was born.
I couldn’t wait to see the county seat with only 25 inhabitants. We headed there first thing Friday morning to see what we could learn. It was a bit of a ghost town with a few pretty cool abandoned buildings.
The courthouse wasn’t much to look at but the people inside were incredibly friendly and went out of their way to try to help us. They had typed lists that were supposed to represent land records and we did not find the names of any of Jim’s ancestors on them. They searched their school records and didn’t find his dad’s records but did incredibly find a record that showed where Jim’s great grandfather, Peter, enrolled his grandfather, Harry, and several siblings in school in the year 1900. The district no longer exists but they showed on a map approximately where it once was.
In short, we explored every little town in the county and searched all three of the cemeteries we found without finding any stones with his surname on them and left knowing little more than when we got there. It was fun though to know that we were driving the same roads and seeing many of the same buildings that existed during his father’s childhood in the 1920’s and 30’s.
By luck we were in Curtis during their annual Fall Festival. This included a calf roping contest Friday night and a rodeo Saturday night in the very park where we were camped. I took a walk around the park Friday afternoon and the calves seemed most interested in me when I tried to get their picture.
They were interested in other things later that night when I got this pic of one.
The rodeo was fun but it lasted a lot longer into the night than we did. Thankfully we were too tired to be bothered by the noise. The festival also included a Saturday morning parade, a quilt show, and lots of games and rides for small children in another town park. We really enjoyed our stay here. The people were friendly and the landscape had a raw beauty that grew on us.