Friday, March 15, 2013


   In the years immediately leading up to the passage of the Homestead Act, there were five separate treaties in which Native American tribes gave up (or “ceded”) land in Nebraska to the U.S. government. In 1854, the Omaha tribe gave up part of their traditional lands in the first of five separate treaties. The Oto and Missouri tribes negotiated the last of four treaties that same year. The Pawnee, Arapaho and Cheyenne all signed treaties in this short span of time. Actually, these treaties were a part of a much larger pattern of land transfers that set the stage for an explosion of European settlement. In all, there were 18 separate treaties between 1825 and 1892 in Nebraska alone.   First, there is the story of how native people met the challenges of living on this plains landscape. And second, there is the story of conflict as more and more people tried to live on the same land.
    By 1850, the tribes had seen increasing traffic moving through along the Platte River. The Homestead Act meant that large numbers of immigrants were now going to STAY.

   When homesteaders arrived on the Great Plains, they found a challenging environment where survival was the goal. The native tribal people had been meeting these same challenges for thousands of years and had evolved complex economic, agricultural and cultural methods of coping. What was life like for the Native Americans in the mid- to late-1800s on the Great Plains?
   By the mid-1800s, the Pawnee, Omaha, Oto-Missouria, Ponca, Lakota (Sioux), and Cheyenne were the main plains tribes living in the Nebraska Territory. Each tribe faced the challenges of the plains in slightly different ways. Some tribes had settled into their own villages with earth lodges for shelter. These tribes were primarily engaged in farming, with seasonal buffalo hunts to supplement their diets. Other tribes were much more nomadic, especially after they got horses. They lived in the 1850s equivalent of mobile homes — tepees. These tribes were hunters.
   The Pawnee were the most populous tribe in Nebraska and lived in the area longer than any other group. The earliest known villages of the Pawnee consisted of circular earth lodges located along the lower Loup River where most of the tribe continued to live even after contact with Euroamericans. There were also villages along the central Platte and Republican rivers.
    The Pawnee were divided into four autonomous bands, Skidi, Republican, Tappage, and Grand. The Skidi always had their own village. The other bands lived separately or joined together for added protection or as a result of shifts in political alliances. It was estimated there were ten to twelve thousand Pawnee in the early 1800s. They spoke a Caddo language, which is very different than the language of other Nebraska tribes.
   Because of their numbers, the Pawnee had little to fear from their enemies, but in the early 1800s their fortunes began to change. Smallpox and other diseases for which they had no immunity reduced their numbers by half. By the 1830s, villages on the Loup River were being raided by the nomadic and better-armed Lakota (Sioux). In the 1850s the Pawnee moved eastward along the Platte River to avoid the attacks, and this put them in contact with the new immigrants.

Monday, November 26, 2012

NEBRASKA circa 1850-1900

Many different groups of people have settled in Nebraska. The very first were Indians who came here more than 10,000 years ago. They were nomadic hunters who were looking for an area where big game animals were plentiful. Over the centuries there have been other Indian immi­grants, such as the Oto tribe which came here about 300 years ago.    

French and Spanish fur traders came to Nebraska in the 1700s. One company built a large fort and trading post in Thurston County in 1795. This fort, called Fort Charles in honor of the king of Spain, was the first European settlement in Nebraska. The company failed and the post was abandoned about 1796. Within a few years other companies succeeded.    

   The largest number of immigrants came to Nebraska between 1870 and 1890. Nearly one million people traveled from eastern states and also from European countries.     

   Today new settlers still come from other states and foreign countries. These modern immigrants, like all of the settlers before them, come to Nebraska to find a better way of life. In the early 1800s fur traders began to establish settlements in Nebraska along the Missouri River. They built trading posts with small farms nearby. The trader, his employees, and their families formed these small communities.    

Another group of early settlers were missionaries
who came to teach the Indians the Christian religion and the white people's way of life. The first missionaries came in the 1830s and opened a station for the Oto Indians in present-day Sarpy County and another for the Pawnee tribe in Nance County. The large mission school shown here was opened for the Omaha Indians in Thurston County in 1857.
   On May 30, 1854, President Franklin Pierce signed a bill which created Nebraska Territory and officially opened it to white settlement. The popula­tion of the new territory grew very slowly at first. A census taken in November counted only 2,732 people. This did not include the thousands of
Indians that lived in Nebraska then.

One of the first duties of the new citizens was to organize a government. There were bitter argu­ments about where the territorial capital would be located. Bellevue seemed to have the best chance because it was then the largest town, but Omaha was chosen when a ferryboat company donated a building to house the government offices.
Early pioneers traveled to Nebraska in covered wagons, but a great many more came on trains. The first railroad was com­pleted across the state in 1867, and by 1880 there were 1,868 miles of track. Railroads were very important to the settlers. Farm products and other goods produced in the state could be shipped to eastern markets and sold there for higher prices. Manufac­tured goods and building materials shipped west to Nebraska improved the settlers’ lives.    

In the 1850s thousands of settlers were crossing Nebraska on their way to Oregon and California. A few stayed in the new territory and operated road ranches which were like truck stops along the trails. These road ranches formed a thin line of tiny settlements across Nebraska. Most of them were abandoned when the railroads were built.   

Many towns were founded after Nebraska became a territory in 1854.    Founders always claimed their town was the most promising, but often these settlements became ghost towns in a few years. 
To increase their business, railroads and other companies advertised the good life in Nebraska.   Railroad companies encouraged settlement in emigrant houses where the new settlers could stay until they were ready to move to their claims.    
Nebraska's pioneers came from many different countries. They provided inexpensive hotels.    Organizations were founded that brought settlers from Europe. One of these was formed by Germans who had been living in Russia for generations, but who wanted to leave to avoid military service. In 1873 twenty-two families arrived at Sutton.    Germans from Russia also settled in Lincoln, Scottsbluff, and Henderson. to name a few communities.    After the Civil War many former slaves left the South. Some black families came to Nebraska and were among the first settlers in the central and western parts of the state. The Shore family settled in Custer County. 

The Homestead Act became law on May 20, 1862. It provided that a citizen could own 160 acres of government land if he or she paid a $10 fee and lived on the land for five years. Many settlers came west to claim this free land.    

The first homesteader was Daniel Freeman who filed the first claim under this act for land west of Beatrice.    

The life of Nebraska pioneers was not always pleasant. Many were poor and could not afford lumber for a house. Some lived in man-made caves called dugouts. The only expense was for a few rough boards to support the roof. Sometimes they added a window. An old blanket might be used for a door.

Although most of Nebraska’s early settlers were farmers, some were pioneers in business and industry. Flour mills, saw mills and brick yards were established in nearly every town. Skilled craftspersons also had opportunities on the frontier. These wagonmakers had a shop near Merna in Custer County.

Prairie fires were common, and if they were not put out they destroyed farm crops and buildings and were even a threat to towns. Blizzards, drought, and grasshoppers were also serious prob­lems. Some pioneers became discouraged and left.