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Ford Bella and Susan (Watson) Barber arrived from Maine to homestead in Cuming County in 1874. Their cabin, the first built on Bancroft Township, later became the site of the Village of Bancroft. Six years later, the Barber's deeded 80 acres of their land to the Sioux City & Nebraska Railway in return for an agreement that, in addition to the railroad right-of-way, the company would plot a town. In 1880 a map of the town was recorded in West Point, the county seat.

To the 25 people, predominately of German, Irish and Scandinavian extraction, who lived there, it was known as "Barberville." However, Barber, being a modest man, did not want the town named for him. The Indians called it "Unashta Zinga," meaning "little stopping place." The name "Bancroft" was finally selected in honor of George Bancroft, civil engineer for the railroad. Bancroft was incorporated April 14, 1884.

The town's population peaked at nearly 1,000 in 1909. There were 7 churches, an opera house, schools, banks, hotels, and a complete array of businesses. The town had a planing mill, flour mill, wagon makers and a gas manufacturing plant. The world's longest-living poet laureate, John G. Neihardt, lived in Bancroft from 1900 - 1920, and studied Indian life. He was editor of the weekly newspaper. "The Blade," and wrote many of his famous literary works. The Neihardt Center, dedicated in 1976, hosts many exhibits throughout the year. A special program is held annually on Neihardt Day, the first Sunday in August.

Others, who contributed to Bancroft's history include: Joseph "Iron eye" LaFlesche, last chief of the Omahas; One of his daughters, Susan LaFlesche Picotte, was the first woman doctor in the area; Susette "Bright Eyes" LaFlesche (another daughter) and her husband T.H. Tibbles, both newspaper reporters worked to better the life of the Indians; Rosalie LaFlesche Farley, (also a daughter) was interpreter, adviser, banker, bookkeeper and liaison between Indians and whites; The French Indian, Fletcher Farley, a U.S. Marine killed in France, for whom American Legion Post 191 is named; George Bancroft, Jr. born in the old Empire Hotel, became a great National League player; John Ammon Stahl, a school principal, married Stella Barber (descendent of first homesteader), their grandson is Warren Buffet of Omaha, Nebraska's billionaire.