History of Nebraska was originally created to mark the territorial centennial of Nebraska and then revised to coincide with the statehood centennial. This one-volume history quickly became the standard text for the college student and reference for the general reader, unmatched for generations as the only comprehensive history of the state. This fourth edition, revised and updated, preserves the spirit and intelligence of the original. Incorporating the results of years of scholarship and research, this edition gives fuller attention to such topics as the Native American experience in Nebraska and the accomplishments and circumstances of the state’s women and minorities. It also provides a historical analysis of the state’s dramatic changes in the past two decades.
|Publisher:||UNP - Nebraska|
|Edition description:||Fourth Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Ronald C. Naugle is professor emeritus of history at Nebraska Wesleyan University. The author and editor of numerous books, he is coeditor of Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers and the online edition of Encyclopedia Britannica’s Nebraska.
John J. Montag is professor emeritus of library and information technology at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
James C. Olson (1917–2005) was president emeritus of the University of Missouri. He is the author of several books, including Stuart Symington: A Life.
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History of Nebraska
By Ronald C. Naugle, John J. Montag, James C. Olson
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESSCopyright © 2014 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
Land, Water, People
In The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust Deborah Epstein Popper and Frank Popper concluded in 1987 that the population and agricultural development of the plains had been a mistake that required a daring proposal for dealing with an inevitable disaster. Writing from New Jersey, the Poppers set off an ongoing debate about the fate of the middle of America and consequently most of Nebraska. They claimed that depleted water supplies, declining land values, and the resulting widespread exodus of farmers from the plains would lead to the almost total depopulation of the region over the next generation. Responding to their own bleak prognosis with several ideas for federal action, the Poppers concluded that "the most intriguing alternative would be to restore large parts of the Plains to their pre-White condition, to make them again the commons the settlers found in the nineteenth century." That idea was summarized by the phrase "buffalo commons."
Visiting Nebraska in 1990 and again in 1993, the Poppers pointed out that the 1990 census showed that depopulation on the plains continued. Fifty of fifty-two Nebraska counties proposed as part of a buffalo commons had lost population in the previous decade. Challenged from the audience, Frank Popper responded, "We are not telling you how to plan the future of the Great Plains! We are just giving you the statistics and describing what you are doing to yourselves."
Depopulation continued. The 2000 decennial census reported another decline in the state's population, following a trend evident in every census since 1930, as more people left the state than moved into it. Population increased as deaths declined relative to births, but emigration undercut natural increase, leaving only modest net gains.
Many Nebraskans responded angrily and defensively to the Poppers and their proposals. They felt themselves and earlier generations disparaged and insulted for the efforts they had made to adapt the plains to agriculture through the planting of trees, the creation of windbreaks, and the use of other strategies. Others, however, applauded the Poppers for raising national awareness about environmental issues critical to the future of the plains. The proposals also produced responses that were more than emotional. The University of Nebraska's Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, along with its Sustainable Agriculture Mentor Program, as well as the Washington DC–based Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE), came into being because of concerns raised by the Poppers, among others.
In addition to SARE the National Drought Mitigation Center, housed in the University of Nebraska's School of Natural Resources beginning in 1995, began to study drought, develop strategies to lessen its impact on agriculture, and serve as a national clearinghouse for drought information. The same year the National Buffalo Association, chartered in 1966, and the American Bison Association, founded in 1975, joined forces to form the National Bison Association "to promote all facets of production, preservation and marketing of bison." Every seven years since 1993 U.S. and Canadian buffalo and bison groups have organized an International Bison Conference to showcase the benefits of producing and eating bison.
The Poppers continued their research and even became associate fellows at the University of Nebraska's Center for Great Plains Studies. Revisiting Nebraska in 2000, they spoke at the center's international symposium, "Bison: The Past, Present, and Future of the Great Plains." The conference drew a broad cross-section of scholars from agronomy, ecology, history, and economics, along with Native Americans, artists, and bison producers, all concerned with the future of the Great Plains.
Although the Poppers' seminal article and the discussions and actions that followed raised awareness of critical environmental and ecological issues for plains residents, such issues were far from new. They were part of a long-standing debate about whether agriculture could flourish and populations thrive within this vast region known as the Great Plains. To a large extent the settlement by Euro-Americans of the northern Great Plains and the area that would become Nebraska was questioned from the beginning of the United States' acquisition of the area from France in 1803. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson, whose principal concern in 1803 was the acquisition of the area around the mouth of the Mississippi River, saw no great promise in the vast trans-Mississippi region and believed it had been thrown into the bargain by France simply to increase the purchase price.
Factors that were not apparent are equally important to understanding early assessments of the land. Clearly a considerable portion of Nebraska was treeless, and large areas were without running streams. Yet not all of the state lacked these necessities. Nor was the area of the plains that would become Nebraska devoid of human habitation. Many observers failed to grasp that for centuries men and women had made the plains their home, adapting to its conditions in ingenious and resourceful ways.
Native Americans, including ancestors of historic tribes on the plains, understood the critical importance of water. In part water had a spiritual component for many of these early inhabitants. Ancestors of the historic Pawnees, for example, viewed water as the fourth creation, after earth, human life itself, and trees. Yet there was also an economic relationship between water and the community. Archaeologists have discovered that changes in the amount of precipitation determined when and where communities moved their villages in an ongoing adaptation to the plains environment. So too for Euro-Americans, settlement of the plains would require experimentation and adjustment, the success of which would come to depend on the creativity and adaptability of people to ever-emerging realities. When the Spanish moved into the Southwest in 1598, they developed a communal system of irrigation based on what they observed among the Pueblo Indians.
After the Panic of 1857 a few Nebraskans, who in desperation turned to farming, would discover that appearances were not always as they seemed. The treeless prairie, at first dismissed as having little value to agriculture, proved rich in its diversity of soils, most of which would prove extremely well suited for agricultural production. Prairie soils, found in southeastern Nebraska, are ideal for corn and sorghum production. The Chernozem soils of northeastern, central, and south-central Nebraska, given enough rainfall or irrigation, are unsurpassed for producing corn, soybeans, oats, and barley. Chestnut soils in the westernmost part of the state yield excellent winter wheat and oats but are also ideal for the production of dry edible beans and potatoes. A series of planosols in a belt two to four counties wide in southern Nebraska are better suited to soybeans and small grain than to corn, while alluvial soils present in the river bottoms of the Platte, Republican, and Missouri Rivers are the richest of all and support the greatest diversity of crops, particularly in the Platte River valley.
The Sandhills, a distinctive soil type found only in Nebraska and small parts of North and South Dakota, Colorado, and Texas, are primarily composed of wind-blown sands released by disintegration of tertiary sandstones. They occupy eighteen thousand square miles, nearly 25 percent of the state, a larger area than any other single soil type, and support a luxuriant grass cover that is ideal for cattle production.
Early observers' dismissal of Nebraska's agricultural potential because of the apparent lack of adequate water is hardly surprising. Precipitation is uncertain and varies greatly across the state, and the major rivers—the Platte and its larger tributaries, the Elkhorn and the Loup, the Niobrara across the northern part of the state, as well as the Republican and the Big and Little Blue in the south and east—are all subject to great variation in flow, depending on both the season and the year. In addition to its rivers Nebraska's greatest water asset is the Ogallala, or High Plains, Aquifer, which lies under about 174,000 square miles of the high plains. The most extensive area and the thickest part of the aquifer are in Nebraska, where it provides water for irrigation throughout most of the state.
Survival of the earliest peoples known to have inhabited the northern plains in general and the area that would become Nebraska depended on creative adaptation to the land and environment. Archaeological discoveries and the development of new technologies have provided much information about early peoples and the challenges they faced. The development of radiocarbon dating in the 1950s allowed scientists to determine the age of spear points found in the 1920s around Clovis and Folsom, New Mexico. Archaeologists, who had assumed that the points were associated with the first people to inhabit North America, now were able to determine that the points were 12,900 to 13,500 years old. This led to the assumption that these people came to North America from Siberia about 11,500 BCE, toward the end of the Pleistocene Era, or Ice Age, when the development of huge glaciers lowered sea levels by as much as four hundred feet to expose the land mass Beringia.
These early peoples were referred to as Paleo-Indians. Continuing research subdivided them into different cultures on the basis of spear points and the time they arrived. The earliest were the Clovis people (11,500 to 11,000 years ago), followed by the Folsom people (11,000 to 10,500 years ago) and by various groups generally referred to as Late Paleo-Indians (10,500 to 8,000 years ago).
Later discoveries beginning in the late 1970s led a few archaeologists to challenge what had come to be known as the "Clovis consensus." Although there is little question about the presence of Paleo-Indian peoples, archaeologists today are again engaged in debate centering on whether Paleo-Indians were actually the first to inhabit the Western Hemisphere. Evidence from excavations at Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1974, Monte Verde in southern Chile in 1977, and a 1987 discovery at Medicine Creek Reservoir in Frontier County, Nebraska, suggests that the first Americans may have arrived earlier than 12,000 years ago.
The Nebraska site is of particular interest because evidence found there suggests that people hunting on the plains date back 18,000 years, 10,000 years earlier than previously believed. Specifically, in 1987 archaeologists discovered a mammoth in the eroded shoreline of Medicine Creek Reservoir. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the mammoth died about 18,000 years ago. Of most interest, however, is the condition of the bones, which appear to have been scattered in a random manner. Archaeologists working at the site, known as the La Sena Mammoth site, have reported that the bone fractures and bone flakes may indicate the use of flint tools manufactured by humans. Similar evidence was present at the Lovewell site in Kansas, as well as four Clovis-age sites.
Although it is still uncertain whether human beings made their home on the plains as early as 18,000 years ago, or only 8,000 years ago, clearly the first inhabitants were followed by a succession of peoples whose varied cultures reflect human efforts to meet the challenges presented by the environment. The work of archaeologists provides a necessary and useful perspective on the prehistory and ethnohistory of the plains before the beginning of Euro-American settlement.
No Clovis or Folsom sites have been excavated in Nebraska, but spear points and other weapons associated with these cultures have been found in fields and stream beds, providing considerable evidence that people associated with these cultures were present on the Nebraska plains. Late Paleo-Indian sites have been excavated in western Nebraska, and perhaps a Nebraska site representing earlier cultures eventually will be located, since such sites have been excavated in southern South Dakota, eastern Colorado and Wyoming, and western Kansas.
One of the most important sites was excavated in the mid-1970s, near Crawford in northwest Nebraska. The site had been discovered in 1954, when construction workers building a dam unearthed a huge cache of bones. Archaeologists initially dismissed the find as sheep bones, but two local men, Albert Meng and Bill Hudson, were convinced otherwise, and over the next twenty years they collected artifacts that continued to erode from the dam walls.
Finally in 1972 the two men were able to convince an archaeology professor from Chadron to examine the site. Ultimately the bones were identified as bones from approximately six hundred bison. Spear points and other weapons found during the excavation were identified as belonging to the Alberta culture, dating from 9,800 to 9,000 years ago.
Archaeologists and locals disagree about what the Hudson-Meng site represents. How the animals died is a major question. Those who excavated the site are convinced that it was a kill site where the animals were chased over an embankment, then killed and butchered by Alberta people. Other archaeologists who have visited the site argue against this interpretation and note that a smaller number of spear points has been found compared to other kill sites and that there is no identifiable campsite. A new excavation was begun in 2005 to look for evidence of a nearby campsite that would lend credence to the kill-site theory, but researchers are still analyzing the data.
Of the other late Paleo-Indian sites in Nebraska the three oldest are along Medicine Creek in Frontier County, known as Lime Creek, Allen, and Red Smoke. These were excavated between 1947 and 1952 by archaeologists at the University of Nebraska. The Medicine Creek sites date from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago and indicate that the late Paleo-Indians were shifting from hunting bison to hunting a much greater variety of smaller game. At Lime Creek archaeologists found more small-game bones, such as beaver and pronghorn antelope, and relatively few bison bones. The Allen site shows evidence of an even greater diversity of game, including fish, reptiles, birds, and prairie dogs.
What happened to the Paleo-Indian peoples remains uncertain. Some scientists suggest that they may have overhunted the game, thereby extinguishing their food supply; others suggest that they may have been forced by drought and other difficulties to abandon the plains. Another theory suggests they may have struggled for survival and, with reinforcements from Asia, become the ancestors of later American Indians. There is evidence of periodic, and perhaps in certain areas continuous, occupation of the plains during the long period between about 10,000 BCE and approximately 1000 CE. There is also evidence that conditions on the plains were much less desirable during this period than they had been earlier: lakes, marshes, and streams dried up; vegetation was not as lush; trees were becoming scarcer; and many animal forms disappeared.
Paleontologists have produced abundant evidence of the existence of large animals on the plains. Visitors to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in the Niobrara River valley in northwestern Nebraska, to Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park, also in the Niobrara River valley in northeastern Nebraska, and to Morrill Hall at the University of Nebraska can see for themselves the bones of a large variety of mammoths, mastodons, and giant bison, as well as many smaller predators, likely hunted by Paleo-Indian peoples on the plains.
Excerpted from History of Nebraska by Ronald C. Naugle, John J. Montag, James C. Olson. Copyright © 2014 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
List of Maps
List of Tables
Preface to the Fourth Edition
1. The Environment: Land, Water, People
2. Historic Peoples and European Contact
3. An American Empire
4. Indian Country
5. The Platte River Road
6. Nebraska Territory
7. The Politics of Statehood
8. Building Connections
9. Rails across the State
10. Cultures in Conflict
11. Shifting Power on the Plains
12. Years of Settlement
13. Agrarian Hardships
14. Cattle and Cow Towns
15. The Passing of the Frontier
16. Power to the People: Populism
17. Populism to Progressivism
18. Prosperity and the Great War
19. Postwar Challenges
20. Postwar Progress and Modernity
21. Depression, Relief, and Recovery
22. Nebraska and World War II
23. Progressive Legacies
24. Prosperity and Party Ascendancy
25. Beyond the Centennial: New Realities
26. Holding the Line on Expanding Costs
27. Recession, Banking Crises, and Recession Again
28. Economic Development and Nuclear Waste
29. Change and Continuity: Demands and Costs
30. The New Millennium
Appendix 1. Officials of the Territory of Nebraska, 1854–67
Appendix 2. Governors of the State of Nebraska