Nebraska is in the middle of the United States. We cover two time zones, with the split made with approximately two thirds in Central Time and one third in Mountain Time.
Calling all Françophobias and Françophiles to unite.
Nebraska is one of the states from the Great Plains area of the Midwest claimed by both France and Spain. After beating Spain at war, France claimed all lands drained by the Mississippi. Nebraska became U.S. property as part of the Louisiana Purchase from the French for $15 million on April 30, 1803. Even though it was now owned by the United States, it was not part of the United States as a state, nor was it known as Nebraska.
Following the purchase from the French, President Jefferson created a Corps of Discovery to explore the lands purchased. more commonly known as the Lewis and Clark expedition. The expedition traveled the Missouri River and explored parts of the eastern edge of the state.
Following the expedition, the lands remained inhabited by the Native Americans for the first half of the 19th century (until near statehood). A few fur traders and trappers penetrated the native lands, some living with the Indians, even adopting their ways. Fur trading posts were set up near the Missouri River. Trading with the natives brought prosperity and therefore peace to both sides.
Nebraska gets its name from the Oto Native American's name for the Platte River. Here is how it came about.
In the year 1842 (several years before Nebraska was a territory), Lieutenant John C. Frémont led an expedition to explore the area between the Kansas River and the Platte River. Upon completion, he decided the simple and short route back would be to navigate down the Platte River. After dragging his boat over sandy bottoms for three or four days, he gave up. In his report to the government, he wrote, "The names given by the Indians are always remarkably appropriate, and certainly none was ever more so than that which they have given to this stream the Nebraska, or Shallow River."
When the Secretary of War received the report, he liked it and suggested the name Nebraska be used for the name of this "new territory" west of the Missouri. This story is from the History of Nebraska, written in 1882.
Even prior to Lewis and Clark's expedition Spanish then French explorers, fur traders and trappers ventured into the land they claimed as their own even though the natives didn't always agree to their opinion. Following the Louisiana Purchase, the United States claimed the lands though it was not open for settlement for another 50 years. During that time, several remaining French fur traders/trappers considered this to be their home amongst the natives. Once the lands were owned by the U.S., new trappers/traders ventured into this new "Indian country." Rather than take a ship around South America, many westward travelers looking to settle in the west didn't stop at the Missouri River and continued on across Nebraska toward the west coast. This practice continued on right up to the lands becoming a territory for settlement.
What could be called the first legal settlers though before becoming a U.S. Territory were the Mormons when they were allowed to camp on native reservations on the west side of the Missouri starting in 1846. By this time, a lot of other non natives were passing through "Indian country" to the lands beyond and to the west coast, where riches were to be found. All of these transgressions were made as if they could leap frog over the natives to unclaimed lands. The process was squeezing the native into the middle. When the natives ceded their lands west of Iowa in 1854 to the U.S. Government, it was clear that an era had passed.
Congress introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. It defined the boundaries of the territories even though the current borders were still in flux until its finalization in 1861.
The act was to make Kansas and Nebraska areas a territory that would allow settlement and eventually statehood. Something else important at the time was the issue of slavery, however, for the most part already been decided on. States south of 36o30' were slave states, states north were not.
To go along with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Stephen Arnold Douglas, a U.S. representative (and later state senator) of Illinois, opened up a can of worms when he proposed legislation that would allow the citizens of territories to decide if they allowed slavery. This caused an issue to resurface that had more or less been decided already. This new act would allow a territory to decide regardless of whether it was north or south of the 39th parallel. This brought such disruption to Washington that the Democrats split, the Whigs split to the point that it ended the party due to a new party, the Republican party being formed. The entire process snowballed into a civil war, that eventually freed all slaves, so Nebraska can say it indirectly played an instrumental part in ending slavery.
The Nebraska territory was admitted as the 37th state in 1867 as a slave-free state. More.
At first, it wasn't clear where the territorial capitol would be located. After what could be considered more than casual discussion, Omaha ended up with the responsibility. When the territory was admitted as a state, the same questions again was raised. This time a place called Lancaster was high on the list. So how did Lincoln get the title? See what changed.
Since those early days, Nebraska has progressed in leaps and bounds. We are still proud of our historic past and make every effort to preserve, mark, and encourage education of these historic events.
Nebraska has several historic trails crossing its interior. The Mormon Trail(s), Oregon Trail, and Oxbow Trail, guided early settlers to their destinations in the west. The Sidney-Deadwood Trail and Ogallala Trails run north and south. Cattle herds were drove to Texas along these trails. The same trails were also used by pioneer settlers. You can follow these trails and read the many markers along the way. You can also travel the path of the Lewis and Clark expedition as it skirts around the eastern and northern borders of the state. The Pony Express also crossed the state in the southwest.
The state is dotted with the historic remains of the early forts built to protect the early settlers. I think all have a visitor's center to allow you to pick up some additional pioneer history.