Nebraska history can be said to properly begin during the seventeenth century,
when Rene-Robert Cavelier first laid claim to Nebraska’s grassy dry land in
the name of the French monarchy. The following hundred years or so saw the land
swap hands between French explorers and Spanish conquistadors, before it finally
became American in 1803 when the Treaty of Paris saw it purchased from the French
for a whopping $15,000,000. On close inspection, the history of Nebraska heralds
a barrage of such interesting facts about Nebraska. An example is the name itself,
which comes from the Otoe for "land of flat waters." The history in Nebraska
is rich, and, as the visitor soon finds out, surprisingly varied.
While Nebraska history may be said to commence during the 1600s, it was not until much later – towards the end of the eighteenth century – that lasting settlements began to crop up. Perhaps predictably given the land’s fractious early years, many of these settlements were forts, such as Fort Charles, Fort Lisa, and Fort Atkinson (the last of which remains one of the top things to do for people looking to trace the history of Nebraska). Most resources listing facts about Nebraska do not consider these worthy of town status; instead, the title of first town goes to Bellevue, which was established in 1824 as a trading post designed to cash in on the area’s burgeoning fur trade.
Thereafter, the short-term history of Nebraska is defined by its participation in the slave trade dialogue that became so important to the America of the mid-nineteenth century. Most facts about Nebraska posit it as being historically tolerant towards African Americans, and it is said that slavery was unofficially abolished as of the 1820s. Many African Americans fleeing the southern states such as Alabama made their way to Nebraska, and as such present day attractions like the Mayhew Cabin Museum (originally a hideout for escaped slaves traveling north) pay testament to the state’s comparatively liberal attitude. That being said, Nebraska was only allowed entrance to the Union (and therefore recognition as an official State) in 1867 when it finally agreed to extend suffrage to all – and not just white – inhabitants.
For visitors looking to learn about Nebraska history, there are many excellent museums accross the state that provide an in-depth run through of various aspects from Nebraska’s past. Fort Robinson, for example, offers a glance into the workings of the Fort, from its role in the Sioux War to the POW camp that was held within its walls during WW2. The Fort – now a recognized state park – also includes the Trailside Museum of Natural History.
Another important aspect of history in Nebraska is its indigenous population. While Native Americans only comprise one percent of Nebraska’s population now, numerous tribes have inhabited the land over the years, from the Otoe, to the Pawnee and the Omaha. Many of these tribes sold their land (through choice, coercion, or a combination of the two) years back, although six reservations still remain, including that of the Omaha. If you’re in town to follow the path of history in Nebraska, calling at one of these reservations is likely to be high on your agenda.