Ogallala...hard to spell and unusual to pronounce, but a fantastic place to live and play!
Named for the Oglala band of Dakota Sioux and located on the Union Pacific Railroad, Ogallala was a busy cowtown of the Old West. For more than one hundred years, Ogallala has ranked among the state’s top tourism communities. As far back as the 1870s, Ogallala was a booming, bustling community—as the chief gateway to the northern plains. During that decade Texas drovers delivered their trail herds of longhorn cattle by the thousands. During summer months, business boomed.
Today, nearly one million people visit the area each year—over 800,000 during the summer months! And Ogallala continues to serve as a regional hub for goods and services to a large portion of western Nebraska.
Ogallala is located in the middle of the country—at the junction of Interstate 80 and Highways 26/61, 50 miles west of North Platte and 30 miles east of the Colorado border. Ogallala offers a convenient meeting place for families and groups.
Ogallala and the Keith County area provide a wealth of recreational and quality of life opportunities. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy some of the many area attractions and recreational activities. Families are proud to raise their children in an environment that promotes high scholastic achievement, as well as a healthy lifestyle. Quality health care is also available throughout the county.
Ogallala, the county seat of Keith County, has a population of 4,737 (2010 census). City services include: economic development services, public library, indoor and outdoor public pools, public tennis courts, a nine-hole Frisbee golf course, the Western Diamonds Sports Complex, a two-mile paved walking/biking path and five public parks equipped with playground equipment.
Ogallala is also well prepared to handle emergencies. The city of Ogallala and Keith County have a joint enhanced 911 system. The Ogallala Fire Department consists of 36 volunteer members. The ambulance squad consists of 13 EMTs and two student EMTs. Their normal response time is 3-4 minutes from dispatch to leaving the fire hall, depending on the time of day. The Ogallala Police Department has 10 certified law enforcement officers and one civilian employee. The Keith County Sheriff’s Department is staffed by eight sworn officers and seven support personnel. The Nebraska State Patrol has five patrolmen, two pilots and one investigator stationed in Keith County.
Brule, located nine miles west of Ogallala, is a small rural village whose very beginnings are rich with history. In 1886, Major Isaac Barton and his wife, Elizabeth, purchased a quarter section of land they considered the “garden spot of the county” in the “Great American Desert." A lumberyard was built, followed by a store, and soon a community was thriving. Rather than name this community for themselves, the Bartons chose to name it after the 5,000 Brule Sioux Indians who had camped there in 1872.
Since its creation, the railroad has brought people and business to and from Brule. Even today, the agricultural products depend upon the railroad, but the economy is also enhanced by other businesses—including a bank, restaurant, lumberyard, embroidery and three auto repair shops.
With a population of 326 (2010 Census), Brule is a tightly-knit community. Churches located in Brule are St. John’s Lutheran Church and United Church of Christ Congregational. A consolidated school system, located in Big Springs, serves grades K-12 for the community.
The Village Board consists of a mayor and four board members elected to four-year terms. Services available in the village of Brule include the Brule Volunteer Fire Department, Brule Volunteer Ambulance and the U.S. Post Office.
Brule has an active calendar of events including the Ice Cream Social and the annual Brule Gun Show in February, the Fireman’s Ball in March, the Alumni Celebration and Brule Day in August, Brule Gun Show in September, and the annual Hometown Holiday Open House in December.
Paxton is located 19 miles east of Ogallala on Interstate 80 mile marker 145. Originally called “Alkali” for the alkaline content in the soil, the name was changed to “Paxton” in 1885 for a prominent rancher in the area, W.A. Paxton.
Paxton’s early years were incredible. History records that in 1872 a herd of buffalo, just over the hill to the north of the North Platte Valley, stretched from O’Fallons to Ogallala—a distance of 32 miles! In mid-to-late 1875, hundreds of emigrant wagons and railroad carloads passed by Paxton. In August of 1876, trains were delayed several hours by grasshoppers that darkened the sky and covered the ground, tracks and all.
In the 1930s, Paxton became well-known for a bar operated by an adventurous man named Rosser “Ole” Herstedt. The bar was named Ole’s and featured a walnut bar that had been crafted for the Plains Hotel in Cheyenne, WY, that Ole won in a baseball game. Ole’s big-game hunting hobby began taking over the look of his bar. In 1969, Ole shot a polar bear on Russia’s Chukchi Sea and a full mount of the huge white bear was brought back to the bar and put on display just inside the door. The polar bear became the trademark for Ole’s and is there still today.
Today, Paxton is a town of 538 people and boasts a wide variety of services, including restaurants, grocery store, motel, bank, lumberyard, insurance, realtor and an auction service. Keith County’s first winery opened its doors here in 2008.
The Paxton Village Board consists of five board members elected to four-year terms. A Chairman of the Board of Trustees is appointed to a one-year term. Public services offered in Paxton include a fire hall with 30 volunteer fire and rescue members, post office, library, a park with an outdoor pool and ball field. Church services are available from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Life Lutheran Church, Mennonite Church and the United Methodist Church. Paxton also offers a public school for grades Kindergarten through 12.
Keystone, an unincorporated community of approximately 59 people, is located on the north bank of the North Platte River in the northeast part of Keith County. Keystone was founded in 1906 on a piece of pasture land deeded to the public by pioneer businessman and rancher William Paxton, Sr. The name came from Paxton’s brand, the Keystone. Keystone is surrounded by fertile farmland that produces cattle, wheat, corn and hay.
Keystone is home to the Little Church at Keystone—the only church of its kind in the world. In the pioneering days of the 1880s, both Catholics and Protestants felt the need for a church, but neither group had the finances to build a church of their own. A dispensation by Pope Leo XIII allowed a church to be built to serve both groups’ needs—with a Catholic altar on one end, a Protestant altar on the opposite end, and reversible pews to serve both congregations.
Keystone today is an agriculture-based community and consists of a post office, a library, a bank, restaurants, a church and a telephone company. The rural Keystone-Lemoyne Fire Department serves the Keystone area.
Lemoyne, an unincorporated community of approximately 82 people, was named for Lemoyne Jacobs, a large landowner who donated the land for the community and the railroad. Due to the construction of Kingsley Dam and Lake McConaughy, the original town of Lemoyne was moved out of the Platte River Valley to its present location—on the north shore of Lake McConaughy on Highway 92.
Today, Lemoyne is served by a post office, convenience stores, a restaurant, a church, a telephone company and an active Senior Center. The rural Keystone-Lemoyne Fire Department serves the Lemoyne area.
Because of its close proximity to Lake McConaughy, Lemoyne’s economy is largely based on tourism. The small rural community swells to nearly triple its size in the recreational summer months, and several businesses cater to the tourists and are open seasonally.