“Boot Hill” Cemetery, or the original Sidney Cemetery, has existed since 1868. It was first created to bury soldiers of Fort Sidney, who died in gun battle. Sidney eventually became the wildest old west town on the rugged untamed frontier with many colorful characters. Frontier newspaper editors and publishers called this lawless burgh “Sinful Sidney”, “Wickedest Town in the West”, “Toughest Town on the Tracks” the “Hardest Hole” and even the “Magic City on the Plains.” Thousands of gold seekers, cowboys, soldiers, desperadoes and freighters frequented the town from 1876-1881 when Sidney became the “Boss City” as the closest shipping point on the Union Pacific Railroad to the gold discovered in the Black Hills and Deadwood.
As many as 80 saloons and numerous gaming halls, brothels and even the world’s first 24 hour theater dotted Sidney’s Front Street along the tracks. In that 1876-1881 colorful time frame over 1,000 criminal cases and 56 murders or attempted murders occurred at Sidney. Those were just the ones prosecuted. Several others happened mysteriously and anonymously.
The largest gold robbery in the United States occurred at Sidney in 1880 and the fateful April 1-4, 1881 reign of terror that started with the “Night of Fright, Fight and Flight” saw 16 of the baddest of the bad boys rounded up by the vigilantes to be hung from a tree at the courthouse square. The crookedest County Sheriff the Old West ever knew, reigned in Sidney and Cheyenne County and the Molly Maquires (Irish Mafia) controlled the business dealings. Sidney became the lynching capital of Nebraska.
Some of these infamous characters wound up at Boot Hill as well as their victims. The mysteries behind the stories of Boot Hill were legendary and the real stories can now be told in the fascinating book published in 2006 titled, “Lynchings, Legends and Lawlessness.”
Boot Hill burials were discontinued in 1894 and it eventually the old cemetery became so dilapidated in condition the U.S. Army mandated the removal of soldiers buried there in 1922. What they found was so much more - 211 bodies before they stopped excavation. Little has been revealed about the old original cemetery since then, but now a restoration, recognition and preservation effort is under way.
Just as was the case in 1876 when its condition became deplorable and the local Sidney Telegraph newspaper called upon action. ( The Telegraph still publishes today) - The cemetery’s condition was not at its best, therefore, local citizens were called upon to help make the cemetery a dignified and sacred place for the burial of the dead. Success was limited when it came to soliciting funds, as stated by the Telegraph of October 7, 1876. With the combined efforts of Charles Smith and the Commanding Officer at the Sidney Post, Captain Otis W. Pollock, a two foot thick and four foot high wall made of native stone was eventually constructed by disorderly soldiers, who “volunteered” their labor.
BOOT HILL RESTORATION COMMITTEE:
The Sidney Boot Hill Restoration Committee are volunteer citizens dedicated to the restoration, recognition and preservation of Sidney's original cemetery; and the role Sidney played in the settlement of the Western Frontier since 1867. The committee was formed in 2006.
Contact Kathy “Madam Boots” Wilson, committee chairperson, for more information. Phone 308-254-5395 or email .
In January of 2004, inspired through a genealogy class, Sidney businessman Loren Avey went on a journey back in time, to dig up “true stories” and document the historical happenings. It centers around the mysteries and legends of people buried at Sidney’s “Boot Hill” Cemetery.
The legend lives on….
Sidney Nebraska’s First Cemetery 640 Elm Street Sidney, NE 69162
© 2006 City of Sidney
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