HISTORY & FACTS
Several key individuals, peoples and events helped to advance Nebraska toward statehood.
For centuries before white explorers arrived, Native American tribes lived in Nebraska. Although the Pawnees fought with other Indian tribes, they were friendly with white settlers. Western Nebraska was the home of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Comanche Indians, who lived in tepees and hunted buffalo.
Spanish and French Explorers
In 1662, French explorer Rene Robert Cavalier claimed large tracts of land surrounding the Mississippi River for France. During the 1690s and early 1700s, French traders and trappers moved to the region.
Spain objected to France's presence in the region, which Spain also claimed. In 1763, at the close of the Seven Years' War in Europe, France gave up all claims east of the Mississippi River to England and west of the Mississippi to Spain. But French fur traders continued to operate in Nebraska. In 1800, French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte forced Spain to return the Louisiana Territory to France. He then sold the entire territory, which included Nebraska, to the United States in 1803.
Americans and the “Great Migration”
The first American expedition to visit Nebraska was led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1804. They traveled up the Missouri River and explored the state's eastern edge.
In the early 1830s, Nebraska's Platte River valley began to play an important role in the westward movement of thousands of white settlers. These people followed several trails crossing Nebraska, including:
These trails were traveled extensively until railroad construction reached the Pacific Coast.
The word “Nebraska” first appeared in publications in 1842, when Lt. John C. Fremont explored the plains and mountains of the western U.S. His report mentions the “Nebraska River,” the Oto Indian name for the Platte River. This term was taken from the Oto word “Nebrathka,” meaning “flat water.”
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 officially created the Kansas and Nebraska territories, opening the area to settlement west of the Missouri River. By 1863, Congress created several new territories from this region, bringing the Nebraska Territory to about the state's present size.
In early 1867, Congress passed an act admitting Nebraska to the Union. Nebraska became the 37th state on March 1, 1867.
Here are some facts about Nebraska:
Arbor Day -- observed by millions of people -- was founded by Nebraska's J. Sterling Morton, former U.S. secretary of agriculture. The National Arbor Day Foundation's headquarters are located near his home in Nebraska City.
Boys Town, a community for disadvantaged youth, is located near Omaha.
America's first rodeo was held by Buffalo Bill in Nebraska in 1882.
Nebraska was the home or birthplace of entertainers such as Henry Fonda, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, Marlon Brando and Fred Astaire.
The University of Nebraska's football team has finished in the national AP or UPI top 20 ratings every year since 1970.