its start as a trading
point on the
Big Blue River
in the 1860s, the settlement was named for a chief of
the Otoe tribe, Arkaketah. Oketo is one of
the' oldest points to claim settlement in Marshall county. During the Mormon
exodus and early rush for the western goldfields, many travelers took a
short cut from a point which afterwards became Robidoux Station, and which
was a mile north of what became
Guittard Station, to this crossing. There were hunters, trappers and
Indians along the Blue River in those days and this crossing was favorably
located for winter quarters, having the advantage of being on a trail
where the hunters could sell game and hides. This spot
was located about a mile south of the present-day Oketo.
In 1857 J. H. White settled on what became section 13, Oketo Township. By
this time other “squatters” had come in and William Bond, Val Poor and
others had taken land and some attempts at permanent settlement were made. In
the early 1860s J. H. Whitehead came to the ford, built a store, barn and
residence. These buildings were on the east side of the Blue River. The
nearest post office on the east was Guittard Station and on the south,
Marysville. In 1862 Ben Holladay decided to construct the Oketo “cut-off”
on the Overland Stage line and employed George Guittard to do the work.
The road being opened. J.H. Whitehead was put in charge of the station and
also managed the ferry which Holladay had built.
At that time, two saloons were in operation -- one on the east side and
one on the west side of the Blue River. Keen business sense was evidenced
in this arrangement as the same parties owned both. On the east side 20¢
was charged for a drink of whiskey and on the west 25¢ was the toll. Going
east, passengers ‘could soon obtain refreshment, but westward the stations
were farther apart and there was a consequent lapse of time between
drinks. The little settlement with its big barn, blacksmith shop and store
was attractive and scores of Indians congregated there to barter, quench
their thirst with “tarantula juice,” and watch for the Overland stage.
In the fall of 1864 Whitehead sold out to Asa Simpson and in the summer of
1865 the barn was burned. The store and dwelling had also been set on
fire, but were saved by the stage boys. There being no barn on the east
side, Holladay moved the station to the west side of the river. With the
passing of the stage, the big barn, the store and the ferry, the original Oketo declined as a business point.
In 1866 Irving Chapman built a dam across the Blue River and put up a
flourmill. Soon after Z.H. Moore established a store and later built a
house. The firm of Moore & Esterbrook opened fine stone quarries and this
industry soon diverted settlement to that point. This industry was a
valuable one to the growing town. The quality of the stone was unsurpassed
and found a ready market in Lincoln, Beatrice, Grand Island and other
towns of Kansas and Nebraska. A large number of men were employed in the
A "new" Oketo was officially established on the line of
the Marysville and Blue Valley Railroad and incorporated as a city in
1870. The post office in Oketo was established in May, 1873. In
1900, the community reached its peak population of 347. By 1910, the Union
Pacific was providing transportation for agricultural products, the town
boasted banking facilities, express and telegraph offices and a population
In 1917, the town boasted a substantial bank, three grain elevators,
flourmill, lumber yard, implement stores. harness shop, blacksmith shop,
barber shop, drug store, hotel, an electric light plant, well-graded
schools, a well-attended Methodist church, a full city government of women
and a newspaper. At that time it was described: "The clean little town
with substantial, even pretentious homes and well kept lawns, situated on
a hill commanding a wide view of the surrounding country, challenges the
admiration of the visitor."
Over the years, the population fell and though it supports just about 64
people today, it still has a post office and is still incorporated. Oketo
is located ten miles north of Marysville.
Today, there are several interesting buildings and sites that represent
Oketo's history that can be seen.