Six years ago I spent the summer working in south eastern Nebraska, writing about the nature and history of the state for the National Park Service in conjunction with the Student Conservation Association. This was intended to coincide with Ken Burns series on the National Parks and as a whole was a success. We wrote activities for parks and cultural sites spread across the entire state, often using the information they provided to us since we didn’t have a travel budget to visit sites 300 miles away.
Most people think football when they think Nebraska, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it has a great deal of history. The Homestead Act’s first homestead was settled here, just west of Beatrice. The Homestead Act is what made possible settlement of large parts of the Great Plains and the West, effectively giving federal lands to the people in exchange for their settling and improving it. Lewis and Clark followed the Missouri River along what became Nebraska’s eastern border and it was part of the Mormon’s route westwards to Utah, while the Union Pacific crossed it following the Platte towards Utah as well. It was settled by Czechs, Germans, Anglo Americans, African Americans, Scandinavians, and just about every ethnicity and religion from Europe or the eastern states. Many towns have festivals centered around the predominant ethnic group to have settled there. Late summer and early fall can often see a small town’s main street shut down as groups from around the state march in lederhosen behind high school bands while the smells of sausages being cooked waft through the air. Nebraska is also the only State that has a Unicameral legislature, their constitution was amended during the Great Depression to eliminate the waste of having two houses, and they’ve stuck with the system ever since (this is a simplified explanation).
For untold millennia tall grass prairies covered eastern Nebraska, and there are a few that remain, either natural, uninterrupted prairies or restored prairies like that at Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice. It is possible to imagine what life was like out on the prairies in a place like this when the Homesteaders first arrived.
Please feel free to follow the link below to see other images from Nebraska.
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