Pumpkin Creek History

Pumpkin Creek and Banner County:
A brief historical, geographical and geological tour


Aerial view of Pumpkin Creek, historical
An aerial photo from the 1980s showing Pumpkin Creek flowing through a field with a center pivot

Banner County, "the brightest star in the constellation of Nebraska counties", was organized in January 1889 and is located in the southwestern part of the Nebraska panhandle. Banner County is approximately 743 square miles in size. About 30 percent of the land is devoted to farming, 68 percent to grass / rangeland and 2 percent to forest.

Harrisburg, formerly "Centropolis," is the county seat and the only population center in the county. It was named after the hometown in Pennsylvania of Charles A. Schooley, who laid out the town, donated the land, and built a courthouse as a gift to the county.

Pumpkin Creek / Pumpkinseed Creek, formerly "Gonneville Creek" and possibly "Dry Fork", drains all but approximately 48 square miles in the southwest corner of the county, which drains into Lodgepole Creek and approximately 35 square miles in the northeast corner of the county, which drains into the North Platte River.

Pumpkin Creek received its name change from the vegetative vine, wild pumpkin or buffalo gourd, that once flourished there. The headwaters of Pumpkin Creek are in southwest Scotts Bluff County, near the Banner County line, at an elevation of approximately 4,600 feet. The creek flows eastward approximately 50 miles and drains into the North Platte River approximately 2 miles southeast of Bridgeport, NE, at an altitude of approximately 3,500 feet; with an average gradient of 20-21 feet per mile.

The Wildcat ridge forms the northern boundary of the drainage and the Cheyenne Tableland forms the southern boundary. Pumpkin Creek is an underfit stream; that is, it is too small to have eroded the broad valley in which it lays. The Pumpkin Creek drainage was probably cut originally by Horse Creek, which is in southeastern Wyoming; which in itself drains approximately 1,570 square miles into the North Platte River and enters the river west of Morrill, NE. Pumpkin Creek is also an effluent or gaining steam, that is, most of the surface flow is developed from ground water.

Pumpkin Creek: The near past and present

The Pumpkin Creek watershed comprises approximately 450,700 acres, of which about 39,347 acres are irrigated. Most, if not all of the irrigated acres are through center pivot systems. Water users are currently limited by the
North Platte Natural Resources District to an annual allocation of 14 inches. In normal years, the watershed receives about 16 inches of precipitation. It was estimated in the early 1950's that approximately 21,000 acre-feet of water
(left as stream flow into the North Platte River) was available to be developed. Today only a fraction of that amount enters the North Platte River. Over-development of irrigation and continuous drought across the Great Plains and throughout the inter-mountain west has severely limited irrigation water supplies in the Pumpkin Creek watershed. Although this is a significant problem for the Pumpkin Creek area residents, limited water supply problems are not unique to this area alone; similar conditions have developed across the Great Plains.

 Historical record of Pumpkin Creek flows













Historical photo, swimming in Pumpkin Creek

Newspaper photo of children swimming in Pumpkin Creek (courtesy of Banner County Historical Society)


Wild pumpkins in Pumpkin Creek basin







 Pumpkin Creek gets its name from wild pumpkin vines, like the one pictured here, that are native to the valley. A closeup of the gourds is shown in the inset.