Many small towns sprang up as the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad was built across Nebraska. One of these was a little cowtown called "Merriman," established in 1885 and named for the "rail-boss," James Merriman.
The first buildings were north of the tracks and included a store owned by Frank Ecoffey, Bill White's hotel, Herb Green's drugstore, a butcher shop, the land office, and a millenary shop. The post office was established March 8, 1886, with John Carter as postmaster.
The first school was in the home of Herb Green, built of logs from trees near the Niobrara River. The three-month term was taught by Mrs. Green. In 1894 a one-room building was erected for about 40 pupils. In 1901 this building was sold to the Methodist congregation, moved to its present location in 1904, and still serves as their church.
At one time all the ranchers in the area trailed their cattle to Merriman, making it the largest shipping point for cattle between Belle Fourche, SD and Omaha. It was a common sight to see the stockyards full of cattle and thousands still outside waiting for the train. The three-to-five-year-old long-horned steers were very wild. When the train whistled, the cattle often stampeded, tearing apart the stockyards as they went.
The price of beef was low, about three cents a pound. A good cowboy was paid $25 per month and spent most of it in town after a long drive. So Merriman was often a bit wild.
In 1900 a Captain Fuller, an old sea captain, built a stone building and established the Anchor Bank, later owned by the Metzger brothers and George Shadbolt. Z.T.Davis, a Jewish man from back east, built a general store and trading post south of the tracks. The government began issuing purchase orders for the Indians to buy plows, wagons, harness, cattle, horses, beads, and blankets. The Indians came by the hundreds on issuing day to camp and trade. With all the activity south of the tracks, other businesses quickly moved to the south side, also.
By 1902 there was an assortment of stores, hotels, restaurants, shops, a pool hall, the Gray Eagle saloon, and two resident doctors. The Kinkaid Act in 1904, entitling people to 640 acres of land in semi-arid regions, brought many new families to the Sandhills. Soon most sections had a claim filed on them, with buildings and fences.
By 1905 the little town was booming. Many new businesses were established. A newspaper, "Merriman Maverick," was published by editor V.L.Green. By 1917 another bank was built. People were buying land and cattle, and prices were high because of the World War.
The Merriman Potash Company was also established that year. Potash, used to make fertilizer, had been imported from Germany, but due to the war could no longer be shipped. Many lakes in the Sandhills had potash in them. A huge plant was built to produce 100 tons a day, but at its peak could only turn out 42 tons. The supply was actually quite small, and when the war ended, the price dropped. The company was in financial trouble when the plant closed, then someone set fire to the building. Many of the local ranchers and businessmen who had invested heavily in the enterprise lost all they had.
Around 1920 another adjustment period occurred. Many people were buying cars. Highway 20, following the route of the FEMV Railroad, was built through northern Nebraska linking Merriman with towns east and west. Later Highway 61 was built north to Martin, SD, then south to Hyannis. Merriman was then intersected by two highways, and business was humming again. In 1930, before the out-migration of people caused by the depression and Second World War, the population was 361. The current population is about 200.
There are four churches in Merriman; Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic, and Lutheran. Elementary school for K-6 students is held locally, with junior and senior high school students bussed to Gordon, 30 miles west in Sheridan County.
Merriman still has small business district and currently stores and ships 1,500,000 bushels of grain annually. A manufacturing company makes hay rakes, stackmovers, hay sleds, and other equipment needed by the ranchers and farmers. A large greenhouse also supplies plants for the surrounding area.
Cottonwood Lake, east of town, provides recreational facilities for camping, fishing, boating, and a picnic area. The newest attraction is the "Bowring Ranch" which opened to the public in July 1988 with a free barbecue, music, and tours. Managed by the State Game and Parks Commission, it is a "working ranch," a living memorial to ranching and the Bowrings.
By Vi Cady, Rte 1 Box 182, Gordon, NE 69343
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: A Sandhill Century Book I, The Land; "Merriman Memories Centennial Souvenior Bulletin."