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Revised 27 December 2010


Nebraska shares a large piece of its history with the early wagon trains and Native American traditions.  The state takes its name from the Oto Indian word nebrathka, meaning "flat water" which was the name of the river that runs across the state, now known as the Platte.  The French fur traders described this river as being "a mile wide and an inch deep."  From what I remember of the river, that description was complimentary.  The early settlers often joked that the river's muddiness was due to the fact that it flowed upside down.

The plains Indians navigated the Platte in shallow boats, but the early explorers found it useless as a navigable waterway.  The Platte was useful to the traveler for its cottonwood trees, which offered shade, a scarce commodity on the open prairies, and a source of water.  By the 1840s, Nebraska had become a trail through the region used by pioneers, prospectors and Pony Express riders as they traveled across the Oregon and Mormon trails to California, Oregon and Utah.  As many as 350,000 people were known to have traversed the Platt River Valley between 1840 and 1866.  In some spots, you can still see the deep ruts carved by the wheels of the thousands of covered wagons that traveled west.

To some, the Great Plains were more commonly considered to be the "Great American Desert."  Tales of hostile Indians, crop-devouring grasshoppers, deadly tornadoes and floods discouraged people from remaining long in the area.  For those of us who have lived in the prairie states, another issue that would have discouraged the early pioneer women is the constantly blowing winds and the monotony of the scenery which continued for days without end.  The loneliness of the farms in this vast openness was said to drive some people crazy.  The bitter cold of the winters and the scorching heat of the summers was another factor.  In 1862, when the Homestead Act was passed, Nebraska's bad reputation was dispelled by the temptation of cheap land and settlers from the Eastern states began to pour in.  They were joined by immigrants from Eastern and Northern Europe.  The life was harsh, but the farmlands well worth the effort.  The settlers received fierce resistance from the Native American tribes of the Pawnee, Sioux, and Cheyenne, but these tribes, too, were defeated and moved off of their lands.

The first settlers were stragglers of the California Gold Rush days, and the Oregon migration.  Those who couldn't complete the trip, or who simply tired of the adventure, dropped anchor in this area and put down roots.  The first settlement was established in 1832 and named Bellevue.  It is situated less than 10 miles south of Omaha on the Missouri river.   The Missouri River became a primary route of travel in the North/South migratory patterns.  Omaha was established on the river north of Belleview and later became the terminus of the Union Pacific and Santa Fe Railroad lines.  Lincoln, now the state capital, was founded in 1867, and at the time of its founding stood at the edge of the Western frontier.  A major landmark to those following the trails stands in Nebraska and is called Chimney Rock.  For those not familiar with Nebraska topography, it is well to remember that Nebraska contains miles of wide open spaces, including its Sand Hills region, a rather unusual section in this otherwise deep green state.  It is the largest area of dunes in North America and were formed when prevailing westerly winds blew the powdery soil of the river bottoms into drifts.  Prairie grass took root in the soil and locked the soil into place.  It is too dry for cultivation and remains a picture of the wild, untamed West to the imagination of those who dream of the past.

Nebraska was part of the Missouri Territory before 1820.  In 1834, it was divided into three sections and placed under the supervision of Arkansas, Michigan and the state of Missouri. In 1812, Nebraska became its own Territory and was given its own name, including sections of Colorado, Montana, North and South Dakota and Wyoming.  A large group of German families migrated into the area in the 1850s out of Russia and settled in Lancaster and surrounding counties.  After the adoption of the Homestead Act of 1862, they were joined by a group of Scandinavians.]

On 1 March 1867, Nebraska was admitted to the Union as our 37th state.  Many Civil War veterans were granted cheap land after the close of the war.  The primary ethnicity of the area by the 1960s, were of German, Czech, Swedish or Russian Descent.  

I have many old photos of early Nebraska, including some people who cannot be identified.  I will be posting these photographs in my mystery photo album.  If anyone can give these people a name, please e-mail me.  Most of them came from the area of Central City, where my grandfather's family lived for many years.  The Lutes family ran a bakery and confectioners shop on the main street of the old town and their store is shown in some of the old post cards of the period.

Name Date formed Parent County County Seat
Adams 1870 Clay Hastings
Antelope 1875 Pierce Neligh
Arthur 1888 Unorganized Territory Arthur
Banner 1888 Cheyenne Harrisburg
Blaine 1885 Custer Brewster
Blackbird 1865 Became part of Burt County and later Thurston County  
Boone 1871 Platt Albion
Box Butte 1886 Unorganized Territory Alliance
Boyd 1890 Holt Butte
Brown 1883 Unorganized Territory (Attached to Holt County prior to 1883) Ainsworth
Buffalo 1857 Original County Kearney
Burt 1855 Original County Tekamah
Butler 1857 Unorganized Territory David City
Calhoun created before 1860 Renamed Saunders on 8 January 1862  
Cass 1854 Original County Plattsmouth
Cedar 1855 Original County Hartington
Chase 1873 Unorganized Territory Imperial
Cherry 1883 Unorganized Territory Valentine
Cheyenne 1867 Unorganized Territory Sidney
Clay 1857 Original County Clay Center
Colfax 1865 Dodge Schuyler
Cuming 1858 Burt Westpoint
Custer 1875 Unorganized County Broken Bow
Dakota 1854 Original County Dakota City
Dawes 1885 Sioux Chadron
Dawson 1860 Buffalo Lexington
Deuel 1888 Cheyenne Chappel
Dixon 1853 Original County Ponca
Dodge 1855 Original County Fremont
Douglas 1854 Original County Omaha
Dundy 1873 Unorganized Territory Benkelman
Emmett 18 February 1867 created from L'Eau Qui Court, name later changed to Knox on 21 Feb. 1873  
Fillmore 1856 Unorganized Territory Geneva
Forney 1854 Renamed Nemaha-date uncertain)  
Franklin 1867 Kearney (organized 1871) Franklin
Frontier 1872 Unorganized Territory Stockville
Furnas 1877 Unorganized Territory Beaver City
Gave 1855 Original County Beatrice
Garden 1887 Unorganized Territory Oshkosh
Garfield 1884 Wheeler Burwell
Gosper 1877 Unorganized Territory Elwood
Grant 1887 Unorganized Territory Hyannis
Greeley 1875 Boone Greeley
Greene 1855 Name changed to Seward 3 January 1862  
Hall 1855 Original County Grand Island
Hamilton 1870 York Aurora
Harlan 1871 Unorganized Territory Alma
Hayes 1873 Unorganized Territory Hayes Center
Hitchcock 1873 Unorganized Territory Trenton
Holt 1876 Knox O'Neill
Hooker 1889 Unorganized Territory Mullen
Howard 1871 Hall Saint Paul
Izzard   later renamed Stanton  
Jackson unknown discontinued sometime after 1870  
Jefferson 1865 Gage Fairbury
Johnson 1865 Original County Tecumseh
Jones unknown discontinued sometime after 1860  
Kearney 1860 Original County Minden
Keith 1873 Lincoln Ogallala
Keya Paha 1884 Brown, Rock Springview
Kimball 1888 Cheyenne Kimball
Knox 1854 formerly L'Eau Qui Court Center
Lancaster 1854 Original County Lincoln
L'Eau Qui Court prior to 1860 renamed Emmet on 18 Feb 1867  
Lincoln 1867 Unorganized Territory North Platte
Logan 1885 Custer Stapleton
Loup 1883 Unorganized Territory Taylor
McPherson 1887 Lincoln, Keith Tryon
Madison 1856 Platte Madison
Merrick 1854 Original County Central City
Morrill 1887 Cheyenne Bridgeport
Nance 1879 Merrick Fullerton
Nemaha 1855 Original County Auburn
Nuckolls 1860 Clay Nelson
Otoe 1854 Original County Nebraska City
Pawnee 1854 Original County Pawnee City
Perkins 1887 Keith Grant
Phelps 1873 Unorganized Territory Holdrege
Pierce 1867 Madison Pierce
Platte 1854 Original County Columbus
Polk 1854 Original County Osceola
Red Willow 1873 Frontier McCook
Richardson 1855 Original County Falls City
Rock 1888 Brown Bassett
Saline 1855 Gage, Lancaster Wilber
Sarpy 1854 Original County Papillion
Saunders 1865 Sarpy, Douglas Wahoo
Scotts Bluff 1888 Cheyenne Gering
Seward 1867 Lancaster Seward
Sheridan 1885 Sioux Rushville
Sherman 1873 Buffalo Loup City
Sioux 1877 Unorganized Territory Harrison
Shorter before 1860 Renamed Lincoln on 11 December 1861  
Stanton 1865 Dodge Stanton
Taylor created prior to 1870 discontinued  
Thayer 1872 Jefferson Hebron
Thomas 1887 Blaine Thedford
Thurston 1865 Burt (See Blackbird County) Pender
Valley 1871 Unorganized Territory Ord
Washington 1854 Original County Blair
Wayne 1867 Thurston Wayne
Webster 1871 Unorganized Territory Red Cloud
West County unknown Name changed to Holt 9 January 1862  
Wheeler 1877 Boone Bartlett
Winnebago Indian Reservation unknown discontinued around 1870  
York 1854 Original County York