Big Springs celebrates 125 years

A small western Nebraska town is celebrating its founding 125 years ago. Big Springs was known as an oasis on the prairie due to a large natural spring where cowboys on cattle drives and settlers heading west would stop to water their horses and themselves. Big Springs resident Pat Rhoades says the town wasn’t always called Big Springs.

Rhodes says Union Pacific Railroad officials laid out plans for the town in 1864 and called it The Big Spring, but townspeople later made the change as there were several small springs around the big one. Eventually, the word “the” was dropped from the name and the area officially became a town in 1884.

The agricultural town has a colorful past, according to resident Stan Rhoades, including an infamous train robbery. The heist in 1877 was the biggest ever from a U-P railroad train and the robbers hauled away some $60,000 in $20 gold pieces and thousands more in watches from passengers. Rhoades says the person responsible was notorious train robber Sam Bass, who was accompanied by 5 accomplices. He says two of the robbers were never caught while Bass robbed four more trains and was killed by Texas Rangers on his 27th birthday in 1878.

Another horrible heist occurred in Big Springs more recently that shook the whole region, according to resident Ron Hendrickson. In June of 1965, a bank robbery led to three bank employees killed and a fourth bank worker was badly hurt. That survivor, Frank Kjeldgaard, was 25 at the time and returned to the bank where he remained until fairly recently. The man responsible for that robbery was caught a short time later and convicted. Duane Earl Pope, from Kansas, was sentenced to death, though an appeal later overturned the death sentence leaving him in a federal prison where he remains.

Despite the dark hours during its history, the town is still bustling with activity and looking forward to a large celebration May 22nd through the 25th.

Thanks to Josh Mackey, KOGA, Ogallala