Nebraska - History and Heritage | Travel | Smithsonian

Nebraska - History and Heritage

Nebraska - History and Heritage

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Nebraska’s first inhabitants arrived more than 10,000 years ago. Over the millennia, these early settlers were followed by Native Americans, who raised corn, sunflowers and other crops, and led large buffalo-hunting expeditions. By the 1700s, many tribes called the area home, including the Omaha, Ioway, Oto-Missouria, Sioux, Cheyenne, Pawnee and Arapaho. Contact between native peoples and Europeans was first recorded in the late 1600s and early 1700s when French and Spanish fur trappers and explorers ventured into Nebraska. Among them was Étienne de Veniard, who in 1714 reached the mouth of the river we now know as the Platte and named it the "Nebraskier," the Oto word for flat water.

Among the early white settlers was Detroit native J. Sterling Morton, who edited Nebraska’s first newspaper. A nature lover, Morton and his wife planted trees around their new home and took note of fellow settlers’ need for more trees to curb soil erosion and to use for fuel and building. In 1872, Morton proposed a tree-planting holiday, "Arbor Day," to be celebrated on April 10 of that year. A new holiday was born.

As the United States expanded west, railroads changed the face of Nebraska. By the late 1900s, pioneers had settled most of the land in the state. The persistent droughts of the 1930s, however, turned much of the Great Plains into a "Dust Bowl" that drove away many farmers. With the end of the drought, coupled with several major irrigation projects, the state’s agricultural industry bounced back. Today, Nebraska is a vital part of the nation’s breadbasket, boasting rich fields of sorghum, corn, wheat and more varieties of forage grass than any other state. It’s also a major center of cattle and hog farming. But perhaps Nebraska’s most famous products are some of the talented people who hail from the Cornhusker State such as entertainers Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett, author Willa Cather, and the "Oracle of Omaha," investor Warren Buffett.

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