Bancroft, Nebraska

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Bancroft is a village in Cuming County, Nebraska, United States. The population was 520 at the 2000 census.

John Neihardt, who later became Nebraska's poet laureate, lived in Bancroft for twenty years and wrote many of his works there. His study is preserved at the John G. Neihardt State Historic Site in the village.



The site that became Bancroft was homesteaded in the mid-1870s by Ford Bella Barber and Deborah (Watson) Barber, who came from Maine to settle in Nebraska. In 1880, when the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway began planning a line through the area, the Barbers deeded 80 acres (32 ha) of land to the railway for the platting of a town. At that time, there were about 25 residents, mostly of German, Irish, and Scandinavian extraction.[3][4]

The settlement was originally known as Unashta Zinga, meaning "little stopping place" in a Native American language. When it was platted, it was initially named Barbersville; however, the Barbers requested that it not be named after them. It was accordingly given the name of one George Bancroft.[4] Sources differ on who this was. In her 1925 Nebraska Place-Names, Lilian Linder Fitzpatrick says that it was historian George Bancroft.[5] However, more recent sources say that the Bancroft whose name was used was "a well-liked civil engineer with the railroad".[4]

In 1884, 50,000 acres (20,000 ha) of the Omaha Reservation was sold to "actual residents".[3] This brought an influx of white settlers to that portion of the reservation; and Bancroft, located at the southern edge of the reservation, profited from the increased business. The population grew until 1910, when it reached a peak of 742. The Great Depression drove many of Bancroft's residents away to larger cities; but the onset of World War II brought a revival of prosperity.[4]

John Neihardt

In 1900, the 19-year-old John Neihardt and his family moved to Bancroft, where he worked as assistant to a trader with the Omahas.[6] His work with the Omahas made him an authority on their traditions and customs.[7] Neihardt had already begun writing; he had published his first book, The Divine Enchantment, in 1897.[6] However, his experiences among the Omahas strongly influenced his subsequent work.[8]

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