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Nebraska...Our Towns

About Nebraska...Our Towns

Early Nebraska...

Extent of the Nebraska Territory and the United States after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

On early maps the "Nebraska Territory" stretches, east to west, from the Missouri River to the continental divide, and north into what is now Canada. Its dominant feature was, and still is, the wide, meandering Platte River, from which the word "Nebraska" (meaning flat water) came.

While the Platte River flows wide and shallow from border to border, most other rivers and creeks in the state are far from flat, having steep, muddy banks and more rapidly flowing water. Fords or bridges were needed for anything, not on foot or horseback, to cross. Wagon train masters followed established trails, some of them miles out the way, to avoid the dangers of a river crossing. A bridge that shortened the route across Nebraska was often a good place for a town to start.

Flowing water means power, a vital ingredient for a progressive settlement on the prairie. With a dam on a bend of the river, there was power to saw lumber, grind grain, and later to produce electricity. Many towns started near dam sites.

At first, military forts were established along the primary route - the Platte River valley, then settlements and towns sprang up at intervals along the trails. Later, a transcontinental railroad was located on that relatively level corridor. Soon the wide-open spaces of Nebraska were transposed from a desolate no-mans-land into a rather nice place to live.

Nebraska's Profile...

The State of Nebraska sits firmly on the 40th parallel, with the Missouri River forming its eastern boundary, and the Dakotas to the north. The western border, however, looks as if Nebraska was given the space left over when Colorado and Wyoming finished squaring off their space. This uniquely irregular profile is recognized instantly as NEBRASKA.

Located right in the middle of the United States, Nebraska goes from rugged buttes in the Panhandle, to fragile Sandhills, then mile upon mile of flat, fertile croplands. The rolling hills in the east, carved by the Great Glacier, are edged by wooded valleys along spring-fed creeks and rivers. No single picture can begin to characterize the many variations found in Nebraska's terrain.

Nebraskans, as a people, are as unique and individual as the land on which they live. The stories of our towns often mirrors the values and strengths of the people who founded them, with their traditions proudly recalled by the important events noted in their history.

This Place We Now Call Home...

Buffalo swimming the Platte River to escape from a prairie fire. They will return to eat the tender green shoots as the prairie renews its carpet of grass in the spring. [Memoirs of My Life, J. C. Fremont]

Explorers and trappers who ventured into this area found Nebraska to be unique, diverse, and rather inhospitable. Between drought, floods, hostile Indians, hot summers, and sub-zero winters, it was - at best - unpredictable. Pioneers who dared to settle on the land had to be strong, resourceful, and more than a little lucky.

When gold was discovered out West, Nebraska was what people had to cross to get there. They did not see Nebraska's vast sea-of-grass, beautiful sunsets, or spectacular landmarks as particularly interesting or endearing. The long trails were filled with danger: fierce storms, snakes, fleas, sickness, prairie fires, and a seemingly never-ending space. This was where the West really began, and was said to be "...great for men and dogs, but horrible for horses and women."

Not many people called Nebraska "their home" until after the Civil War when wave-upon-wave of homesteaders came to stake their claim and build on the land. The period of settlement from 1865-1890 is unparalleled. Expansion continued at a slower pace until the 1930s, with less dramatic periods of growth and/or decline since then. More recent trends indicate a continuing shift in population from the rural areas to our towns along the interstate highway, located in - where else - the Platte River Valley.

TODAY, the state's motto, "NEBRASKA, THE GOOD LIFE," is a far cry from when Nebraskans' considered it a good year if they had simply survived! By whatever name it is known, Nebraska is "home" to 1,578,385 residents (according to the final 1990 census count). To former residents presently living in other parts of the country, Nebraska is affectionately known as "back home."