Brule: "Hill Indians"
By: Tomas England
The community of Brule, like other towns in Keith County, has its roots deeply ingrained in the railroad. As the first Transcontinental Railroad etched its way along Nebraska, records indicate that it reached the current spot of Ogallala in May of 1867. The crew spent most of the summer of that year building at a rate of nine tenths of a mile per day reaching the area that would one day become Brule by June 1, 1867.
The Union Pacific received all odd number section of land twenty miles in width on each side of the track across the state of Nebraska. Even after the crew built hundreds of miles past the area of Keith County, it was necessitated that a crew would be needed to maintain the sections of rail that had already been laid. Section crews were created to maintain the stretches of track across the railroad. Records indicate that a siding was built in the area that is now Brule sometime during 1882, and it and was used as a flag stop. The siding name of Brule had been chosen because the spot had been a seasonal campground of about 5,000 Sioux Indians under the leadership of Chief Spotted Tail.
During this time, Brule was not yet a community nor had it been platted for such. In 1885 the area around modern Brule caught the attention of a retired army major from New York. Issach Barton and his wife Elizabeth, was intrigued with the area and deemed it a “garden spot of the country.” This interest in the area sparked Elizabeth to approach the Union Pacific and inquire a purchase of 160 acres of land about where the current community of Brule lies today.
In January of 1886, the Bartons purchased the land for six hundred and forty dollars from the Union Pacific. The land was platted by F.C. Flickinger in February of 1886. Unfortunately, the Bartons did not receive the correct title to the land until 1887. Many assumed the new community would be named “Barton” after Issach and Elizabeth. The Bartons desired that the community be named Brule in honor of the Sioux Indians. On August 27, 1886, Jacob E Griffin was given the job of first postmaster in this newly platted community of Brule. According to records, the first store was built for Barton by the firm Patten and Russell. Growth in the new community was slow and population remained at about fifteen people in the last years of the 19th century.
Construction of a bridge over the South Platte River began in 1887 after a bond was approved in 1886. The construction of the bridge made access to Brule much easier for settlers now moving in to farm the land around the community. It is no doubt this helped early business owners as well. A one room school house was built in 1888 to serve the needs of early settlers’ children.
At the turn of the new century, Brule was reported to have a boom of construction. It was reported that shortages of building materials were common. In July of 1907, Union Pacific built the first substantial depot for the community. Construction of the depot took about four months to complete. In 1909 two lots were purchased by Rachel Polly and a two story hotel was built. The hotel offered a restaurant which helped many travelers on the railroad. John Welpton built the community’s first bank, as he saw much promise in the newly established town.
As the community grew, the Bartons saw the need for a church. Land was set aside for the establishment of the community’s first church. The Congregational Church was dedicated on August 12, 1908. Reverend W.S. Hampton became the minister of the new church. In 1928 the second church, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, was built and dedicated. Other denominations had held services in the community but had not established a permanent presence in the community like the latter.
The Trans-Mississippi Grain Company built and operated Brule’s first elevator in 1909. Mr. Parker and George C. Deerring operated the company until shortly before World War I when the Farmer’s Coop purchased the elevator. This elevator burned in 1927 and shortly after, the current elevator was built. In 1928, land set aside by Elizabeth Barton to be used as a park was deeded to the community. This park was located near the center of the town and grew into the current park in Brule today. As the 20th Century progressed, many businesses came and went in Brule. As cars became a new mode of transportation, the first gasoline station was built Mr. Hammer and was purchased in 1924 by Dodge and Kuskie.
As the community of Brule flourished, it operated as many as five gasoline stations, a drugstore, ice cream parlor, two hardware stores, lumber store, three grocery stores, theatre, barbershops, a hotel, creamery, and several cafes. Many of these businesses spanned a range of many years. The first telephone line was run from Big Springs, Nebraska to Brule. The company chose Brule as the location of its offices. Not only was communication improving in the area, but the use of electricity became a luxury for many of Brule’s residents when an electric plant was built in Ogallala.
As the town flourished in the 1920’s, organizations and clubs became popular. Among these for women included Ladies Aid, The Vail Community Club, and the Brule Women’s Club. The IOOF established a lodge in Brule in 1925.
As the United States was hurled into the “Great Depression”, Brule was affected like many towns in the County. President Roosevelt initiated a P.W.A. in the area during the depression. Construction of the road north of Brule provided much needed work to many struggling families. As The United States entered World War II, many local men enlisted to serve their country. After the war, many returned to their home to farm or create a business. Today, the community of Brule has a population of about 326 residents.
Sources: Keith County News 1976 By Anna W. McCarty
Brule Nebraska; The First 100 Years 1886-1986 by The Brule Centennial Book Committee