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Nebraska County Countdown: 49 Howard County

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Named after Union General Oliver Otis Howard, Howard County was organized in 1871. It was originally settled by the Paul brothers, who were Scouts for the US Army. They remarked on the beauty of the area, and determined to start a settlement there. The land there was originally all railroad land and part of Hall County. St. Paul is the county seat. There are also several villages; Boelus, Cotesfield, Cushing, Dannebrog, Elba and Farwell.

One of the best reasons to visit Howard County was the Tractor Pull in Boelus. I got to see one of Lyle Nelson’s last runs there in 2006. He ran a pulling tractor until he was 84, his last machine a quad-turbo monster named “Born Loser”. Unfortunately, in 2015 a puller ran out the back of the track, had a malfunction, and ran over some people. The next year, the organizers decided not continue hosting the event.

Notable Natives of Howard County

Roger Welsch, acclaimed author, lives in Dannebrog.

Lyle Nelson of Boelus, lifelong tractor puller.

Grover Cleveland Alexander, Elba, one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Tim Rother, DT, Oakland Raiders 89-90. Rother was a walk-on who started out on offense, and moved to defense. He was 1st team all-Big 8 his senior year.

Randy Rasmussen, LG, New York Jets, 1967-81. The only player ever drafted from UNK!

Notable 49’s:

Jon Strong, LB, 1970-71 Nat’l Champs

John Martin, OLB, 1994 Nat’l Champs

Josh Cobb, FB, 1995 Nat’l Champs

Quint Hogrefe, LB, 1995 & 97 Nat’l Champs

Kevin Siebel, K, 1982. His leg was so strong, he kicked a touchback into the stands from the 25 yard line, after being penalized for doing so twice before! #kickerU


The following is a user-contributed story:

Howard County is named after Union General Oliver O. Howard, a great man, a hero of great character. However, when I was 10 years old I learned the truth, the real truth, the hidden truth of how Howard County really got its name. One summer my dad took me to the small town of St. Paul to the small barbershop where I had always gone for a haircut as far back as I can remember. In this barber shop you had the barber, an older gentleman with a soft spoken voice and a handful of retired gents who made the barbershop a daily destination for great conversation. I don’t remember the name of the barbershop but I clearly remember the stories that echoed through the halls of that old historic building.

On this day we walked into the shop and I heard the words “Your turn, professor?” As I climbed into the chair he reached for the water spray bottle but stopped to pause and add to a previous conversation he must have been having with the men before my dad and I walked in the door.

He said “You know Howard County wasn’t really named after Oliver Howard.

Jesse James used to ride through here. He loved Nebraska. Some say he had several girlfriends around the state and even fathered some children here. He probably loved to ride to the top of Bunker Hill and look down at the the valley below. The Loup River lined with cottonwood trees and grass greener than Ireland must have been a breathtaking sight.

So he decided to purchase all the land around here. All the people around knew there was this rich man called Mr. Howard, a supposed cattle buyer from Missouri, who was planning on buying everything up so they started to call it Howard’s County. Which of course was shortened to Howard County. They later realized that he was actually Jesse James, Mr. Howard being the alias of Jesse James.”

You won’t find this in the history books. If you Google it nothing will turn up. But those old men in that barbershop knew the truth. To this day, I have to say....I think I still believe them.

Jared Bader


Have your own Howard County story? Tell it in the comments!