Saturday, March 21, 2009

Nebraska Beginnings

Of the 50 states, Nebraska is the 16th largest with a total area of 77,359 square miles.  Known as the Cornhusker State, Nebraska's roots are deep in the history and geography of the United States.  In a much earlier time, rivers carved and coursed their way across the area that is now known as Nebraska.  Ancient sand dunes that are now covered with soil and grass, rose up in the north central portion of the land.  Drainage through the sand created an aquifer stretching for hundreds of miles north and south.  These formations of land would be instrumental in the settlement and creation of a territory and state that would be called NEBRASKA.  

This land was purchased by the United States government 1803 through the Louisiana Purchase.  Within a few years exploration began.  From those early contacts with the area, Nebraska exemplifies civilization in westward motion as millions of people eventually traveled the natural course of the Platte River Valley.  The human rivers of migration had a geographical indentation on the land and an historical impact for future generations. 

Rivers that were carved across the land provided a system of ladders that would be instrumental in migration, settlement and survival in the new land.  They all wind their way into the Missouri River, which eventually finds its way to the Mississippi River.  Nebraska's rivers would receive names such as the Platte River, Republican River, Loup Rivers, Niobrara River and Elkhorn River.  Even the smallest of streams and creeks provided the early explorers and settlers with life sustenance.  

The first settlement of any type was in 1810 at Bellevue along the Missouri River.  The first white settlement there was in 1823 with the formation of the actual village.  The first military post was Fort Atkinson, established by the U.S. Army in 1819.  We will discuss Nebraska's military posts in another blog.  When Major Stephen H. Long followed the Platte and South Platte Rivers in 1819 he declared that the region was unfit for agriculture.  It was detailed on his maps as being the "Great Desert."  It was generally felt that if trees did not grow in soil, nothing else would grow ... and the area was significantly treeless!

In 1842 John Charles Fremont explored the area and stated, "Indians and buffalo made the poetry and life of the prairie, and our camp was full of their exhilaration."  The word Nebraska first began to appear in publication in 1842.  He referred to the Nebraska River which was a name the Otoe Indians gave the Platte River, meaning "flat water."  

The area became known as Nebraska Territory in 1854 and encompassed land now known as Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota and Idaho.  Until then, the government refused to allow white settlers into the area.  When people did begin to enter Nebraska to stay, they did not venture far from the the Missouri River in the eastern portion of the territory. 

And so ... now you know some of the early origins of Nebraska.  

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