The small Nebraska town of Ogallala was once one of the wildest of the West. It sat on the cattle trail all the way from Texas. Cowboys would come north to ship cattle east on the Union Pacific Railroad, and they were greeted with saloons, gambling halls, and wild women.
These days, it’s much quieter, but visitors can get a small taste of the past by visiting Front Street. This steakhouse and saloon puts on frequent shows that are fun for all, complete with gunfights and dancing girls. There is also a small museum free of charge, which displays authentic local artifact and antiques from Ogallala’s cowboy past.
For me, the most interesting place in town is Boot Hill. This was Ogallala’s only cemetery from 1874 to 1884. Over 100 people were buried there, including unknowns, drifters, and cowboys who were buried with their boots on, hence the name. Many were killed in gambling disputes, others in railroad accidents or drunken rages. What makes it significant is that there were only about 130 permanent residents at the time. It proves that Ogallala was as rough a place as it gets.
Boot Hill has been excavated and most of the original bodies have been moved to the modern cemetery, but a few fake grave markers remain. An interpretive panel at the bottom of the hill tells some very interesting stories about it. There is also an impressive sculpture of a Texas Trail cowboy on his horse looking out over the horizon towards Texas. It’s called “Trail Boss”.
Near Boot Hill is the beautiful Mansion on the Hill. Built in 1887 during Ogallala’s days as a cow town, it now serves as a local history museum. Admission is US$2 for adults. It operates between Memorial Day until two weeks after Labor Day, and is closed Mondays.
Tourism to Ogallala got a boost when the Kingsley Dam was built and the artificial Lake McConaughy was formed. It’s Nebraska’s largest lake, offering opportunities for boating, swimming, fishing, and more. There is also good duck hunting in the area.
A nice visitor center and water interpretive center is located near the lake, with exhibits on the formation of the dam and how it affects the environment. It’s open daily in the summer and on weekdays in the winter. Visit the official website for more info on what to do at and around the lake.