Giving horsepower to the war effort, central Nebraska once played a vital role on the battlefield and the farm. Now, history buffs are trying to draw attention to a forgotten piece of history – the world’s largest horse sale.
A hog sale in 2002 closed down the Third City Livestock Commission for good. It was a far cry from the sales of a century ago, when its predecessor sold more horses and mules in Grand Island, than anywhere in the world.
Jody Lamp said, “Grand Island was named world’s largest, not state’s largest, not America’s largest. World’s largest horse and mule market existed here in Grand Island and there’s no book, nothing I can get my hands on.”
So Jody Lamp and collaborator Melody Dobson have set out to write that book. They envision a website and more, something they call the American Door Stop Project, where the common thread is how agriculture shaped the nation.
Dobson said, “It’s our opportunity to come and spotlight on communities and say your story is big, your story is significant and the story is important.”
At its peak, Lamp said the Grand Island sale barn sold 16,000 horses a week in 1916. Some of them were war horses.
Lamp said, “The British and French armies came to this area and set up stables.”
But after World War I, cars replaced horses. Now, Grand Island’s world famous barns are nearly forgotten.
Dobson said, “You’d think there’d be some two by fours, but it’s gone and that’s the story we’re trying to recreate, is what happened and how successful it was to this community.”
The legacy lives on, with connections to livestock auctions that continue to this day in Billings, Montana.
Plus Grand Island still produces horsepower for the farm with Case IH and New Holland combines built in the city.
But the original workhorses have faded into history.
Lamp said, “We want people to know all the stepping stones it took to make cities like Grand Island what they are today, and whole state of Nebraska, it is the number one industry in Neb. – agriculture.”
The women have approached the city and county, and historical society. They are trying to raise money for their project, in hopes of sharing it in time for Nebraska’s 150th birthday two years from now.
By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief