History of Valentine, Nebraska
As one travels through the lush grasses and myriad lakes of the Sandhills of Nebraska, you may want to slow down a little bit after you pass the junction of Highways 20 and 83. Because, as you top the hill leading down to the bridge, you won't want to miss the panoramic view spread out before you of the Niobrara River and, in the distance, the town of Valentine, "Heart City" of Nebraska, with its scenic backdrop of cliffs and pine trees along the Minnechaduza.
Take a moment and when you see the sign "Historical Bridge" make the turn and you will see another picturesque view of the Niobrara River as it wends its way under the historic cantilevered Bryan Bridge. Look to your right and you will see one of the highest railroad bridges in the nation.
Continue on and you will see a town that is a far cry from the one room log house sitting on the tableland between the Niobrara and the Minnechaduza in the late 1880's. Beginning as an "end of track" town on the Sioux City and Pacific railroad line in 1883, it was incorporated as a village in 1884. The town is named for E. K. Valentine, who as a Congressman from Nebraska, was chairman of the house committee on Agriculture during his six years in office-1879-1885. He was instrumental in getting the settlers grievances redressed by the Government.
Due to the erroneous reports of Stephen Long and Zebulon Pike, among others, who described the area as uninhabitable due to the lack of trees and vegetation, the area known as the Sandhills was very sparse in population until the coming of the railroad.
Intrepid ranchers such as Newman, McCann and Creighton, who supplied beef for the Government issue to the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations, lived in the area during the 1870's. Outlaws also roamed the countryside. Doc Middleton, being the most well-known, had a hide-out called the Rustler's Roost southwest of present day Valentine.
Native Americans from the Sioux and Pawnee tribes knew the value of the Sandhills and often left the Reservation to hunt antelope, deer, and the few remaining buffalo. They also summered their horse herds on the lush grasses of the valleys. This resulted in clashes with the ranchers and cowboys. On May 5, 1879, one James Williamson was shot and killed while rounding up horses on the McCann ranch.
One of the ranchers traveled to Fort Hartsuff on the North Loup River and petitioned the commander of the Fort for protection from the Indian raids.
Eventually, Washington, after seeing the necessity of protecting the Indians from white settlers encroaching on their reservation and trying to get to the Black Hills to mine for gold, and to protect the white man from the Indians, decided a Fort was needed on the Niobrara River.
A spot was chosen about four miles east of present day Valentine, across the river on a high plateau. The site selected by General George Crook met the approval of General William Sherman and funds were approved in the amount of $50,000 for the construction of the new post.