The first French people in this area were trappers and traders along the Missouri River. Permanent French settlers began to arrive during the 1850s. Among the early settlers were Julien Bahuaud and the Laurent Bernard, Jean Bize, and Jean Lavigne families. Eventually about 40 French families settled in this area, along with settlers of other ethnicities.
A post office was established in 1880 at the Thomas Tobin house, about a mile south of what is now downtown Julian.
In 1887 the Nebraska Southern Railway (later the Missouri Pacific) built a line connecting Auburn to Nebraska City. A new town was platted along this route on November 7, 1887, and took the name Julian after its most prominent settler. It was later said that railroad officials named the town “Julian” because they couldn’t pronounce “Bahuaud”. Julien Bahuaud was murdered in 1899; the crime went unsolved until the killer confessed 14 years later.
The post office was relocated and Julian was incorporated on June 15, 1896. It became the largest primarily French immigrant community in southeast Nebraska, reaching a population of 206 in 1900.