The Railroad was pivotal to Butterfield’s founding. The Federal Government, in efforts to open up the west, granted huge tracts of land to the railroads to spark development. The railroads, in turn, platted town sites at various intervals to entice homesteaders and merchants to settle them. The railroads were the lifeline of commerce, and what was good for the railroad was good for the prairie.
The first homesteaders settled around 1870. Butterfield had a population of 17 (10 men and 7 women). The railroad was laid in 1871 and the population grew. Butterfield Township was organized on July 2, 1872. The first store was built in 1872 but tore down due to lack of business; however the town continued to grow and main street became populated with new stores that prospered. In 1875 a flat-house for buying grain, which benefited the farmers was built followed by a lumber yard, general store and grocery store. By 1895 Butterfield had a thriving community of stores, elevators and tradesmen and the township population was over 400. It also had a school and several churches.
Butterfield was incorporated April 5, 1885. Bern Remple was the first elected mayor, who was also responsible for the first store built.
Despite commerce, Butterfield held its own but didn’t grow over its 100 years. From those beginning 17 people, the township grew to 245 in 1885, 366 in 1890 and 489 by 1900. The maximum population number found for Butterfield was in 1980 with 634.
So where did the name Butterfield come from? The story is based mainly on rumor. The story goes that James Butterfield, an engineer on the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad was its namesake. But the rumor is that he ran off with the wife of a local resident in 1876. Township residents were so incensed that they renamed the township Nichols Landing. Why the new name and if this romance even happened are lost to history. The rumor continued that James Butterfield restored his good name when he became a prominent railroad machinist credited with inventing the locomotive ash pan. After two years, the name of Butterfield was restored to what was then a township. If nothing else, the affair spices up the story of very early Butterfield.
Source: Butterfield Advocate Centennial Edition