Ford Bell and Deborah (Watson) Barber arrived from Main to homestead in Cuming County in 1874. Their cabin, the first built in Bancroft Township, later became the site of the Village of Bancroft.
Six years later, the Barbers deeded 80 acres of their land to the Sioux City and Nebraska Railway in return for an agreement that, in addition to the railroad right-of-way, the company would plat a town. In 1880 a map of the town was recorded in West Point, the county seat.
To the 25 people, predominately German, Irish, and Scandinavian extraction, who lived there, it was known as “Barberville.” However, Barber, being a modest man, did not want the town named for him. The Indians called it “Unaskta Zinga”, meaning “little stopping place.” The name “Bancroft” was finally selected in honor of George Bancroft, civil engineer for the railroad.
In 1884 a portion of the Omaha Indian Reservation, some 50,000 acres, was sold to “actual residents,” while the eastern portion was to be occupied by the Indians, “a peaceable and enterprising tribe.” Bancroft is located on the southern edge of the reservation, 19 miles northwest of West Point, and was served by the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad. In 1897, 400 cars of grain, 500 cars of livestock, and 125 cars of hay were shipped out. It was customary for cattle feeders to “tip” the conductor $1, enabling them to ride in the caboose without a ticket.
The town’s population peaked at nearly 1,000 in 1909. There were seven churches, an opera house, schools, banks, hotels, and a complete array of businesses.
The town also had a planning mill, flour mill, wagon makers, and a gasoline-gas plant. Land was valued at $65 to $100 per acre.
The world’s longest-living poet laureate, John Gneisenau Neihardt, lived in Bancroft from 1900 – 1920, and studied Indian life. He was an editor of the weekly newspaper, “The Blade,” and wrote many of his famous literary works. The Neihardt Center, dedicated in 1976, hosts many interesting exhibits throughout the year. A special program is held annually on Neihardt Day, the first Sunday in August. Others who contributed to Bancroft’s history include:
- Joseph “Iron Eye” LaFlesche, last chief of the Omahas. One of his daughters, Susan LaFlasche Picotte, was the first women doctor in the area.
- Susette “Bright Eyes” LaFlesche (another daughter) and her husband T.H. Tibbles, both newspaper reporters, worked to better the life of Indians.
- Rosalie LaFlesche Farley, (also a daughter) was interpreter, advisor, banker, bookkeeper, and liaison between Indians and whites.
- The French Indian, Fletcher Farley, a U.S. Marine killed in France, for whom American Legion Post 191 is named.
- George Bancroft, Jr. was born in the old Empire Hotel north of the depot, became a great National League player.
- John Ammon Stahl, a school principal, married Stella Barber (descendant of first homesteader). Their grandson is Warren Buffet of Omaha, Nebraska’s billionaire.
The railroad station in Bancroft closed in 1963, but the population has remained at a constant 500, with land selling from $800 to $1000 an acre.
Bancroft celebrated its centennial in 1984 at which time there were three active churches, and in addition to the normal county and city services, a library, two banks, two elevators, a mini-mart and other retail and service businesses.
Bancroft-Rosalie schools merged in 1982, and “The Blade” is now published in Wisner.