Covington, Nebraska’s Sinful City

Most Nebraskans don’t realize the town of Covington ever existed, much less that in the late 1800s it was considered one of the “three wickedest places in the world.”

Covington in 1896. Three types of river crossing are visible: ferry, rail, and pontoon bridge.

Few Nebraskans are aware that the town of Covington ever existed. Yet this Missouri River settlement across from Sioux City, Iowa, officially began in 1857 and retained its identity until it merged with South Sioux City, Nebraska, 36 years later. Near the close of this period, Covington had the undesirable distinction of being one of the “three wickedest places in the world,” the others being the Hong Kong waterfront and the San Francisco Barbary Coast.

Covington was rated with such towns as Dodge City, Deadwood, Tombstone, and Virginia City. Characters such as Beefsteak Bod Thompson, Winnebago Jane, Dutch Mary, Doc· Middleton, and Black Diamond Nell enlivened and gave color to the town. Saloons, brothels, burlesque palaces, and gambling dens were centers of iniquity that crusaders for morality failed to crush.  The White House, the Cabinet, the Senate, the Tontine, the Oak, the Little Allen, and the Grove were names applied to drinking places. When the heat was on in Sioux City, the town’s riff-raff migrated to Covington. Floaters of bad reputation from other areas included the town in their itinerary. As the North Nebraska Eagle of October 31, 1889, observed: “Covington is the veritable hell. No man or woman of decency is safe upon the street day or night. The city is entirely given over to drunkenness, debauchery and prostitution.”

Yet, throughout the early part of its existence, Covington differed little from any other frontier village, except that its frontage on the Missouri River and its close proximity to Sioux City, Iowa, brought experiences which most other Nebraska settlements escaped.

Read more about Covington in this Nebraska History article from 1968.

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