James E. McCray of Sargent, Custer County, Nebraska. NSHS RG2608-768 (at left).
The at left photograph of James E. McCray, seated in front of a newspaper office in Sargent, was taken by Solomon D. Butcher in 1886, just three years after the Custer County village was established by Ezra P. Savage, later governor of Nebraska, and Joseph W. Thomas. The Times, owned by Frank M. Currie and edited by McCray, succeeded an earlier paper, the Loup Valley Eagle.
McCray arrived in Sargent in the spring of 1886, joining an influx of other settlers who expected the imminent arrival of “the iron horse in all her majestic splendor” and the town’s designation as a county seat. The Omaha Daily Bee on May 27, 1886, noted growing indications that Custer County “will be divided soon into four equal parts, thus making Sargent the county seat for this portion of the county. Seeing that this will undoubtedly be done, many are coming in looking for locations, while the price of real estate is low.”
McCray, among the new settlers, came from Papillion and was said by the Bee to be “a shrewd businessman, as well as a practical miller, . . . and he at once let the contract for the erection of a steam flour roller mill, with a capacity of thirty-five barrels per day.” Evidently the editorship of The Times was another of McCray’s efforts to boost the community in which he had invested.
Unfortunately, all did not go as planned. The expected rail service did not immediately materialize, and the 1886 Custer County division plan (that would have designated Sargent as the county seat of a new county) fizzled. The Times was discontinued in 1894, probably a victim of the hard economic realities of the 1890s. However, McCray remained in the Sargent area until his death in 1899.
– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications