The state is crossed by many historic trails, but it was the California Gold Rush that first brought large numbers of non-indigenous settlers to the area. Nebraska became a state in 1867.
There are wide variations between winter and summer temperatures, and violent thunderstorms and tornadoes are common. The state is characterized by treeless prairie, ideal for cattle-grazing, and it is a major producer of beef, as well as pork, corn, and soybeans.
Nebraska is the 9th least-densely populated state of the United States. Ethnically, the largest group of Nebraskans are German-American. The state also has the largest per capita population of Czech-Americans among U.S. states.
Varying cultures of indigenous peoples lived in the region along the rivers for thousands of years before European exploration. Historical Native American tribes living in Nebraska have included the Omaha, Missouria, Ponca, Pawnee, Otoe, and various branches of the Lakota (Sioux).
Long before the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–1806, French-Canadian explorers (including the Mallet brothers in 1739) traversed the territory of Nebraska on their way to trade in Santa Fe, then claimed by Spain.
In 1819, the United States established Fort Atkinson as the first US Army post west of the Missouri River, just east of present-day Fort Calhoun. The army abandoned the fort in 1827 as migration moved further west.
European-American settlement did not begin in any numbers until after 1848 and the California Gold Rush. On May 30, 1854, the US Congress created the Kansas and the Nebraska territories, divided by the Parallel 40° North, under the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Nebraska Territory included parts of the current states of Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. The territorial capital of Nebraska was Omaha.
In the 1860s, after the US government forced many of the Native American tribes to cede their lands and settle on reservations, it opened large tracts of land to agricultural development by Europeans and Americans. Under the Homestead Act, thousands of new settlers migrated into Nebraska to claim free land granted by the federal government. Because so few trees grew on the prairies, many of the first farming settlers built their homes of sod, as had the Native Americans such as the Omaha. The first wave of settlement gave the territory a sufficient population to apply for statehood.
Nebraska became the 37th state on March 1, 1867, and the capital was moved from Omaha to the center at Lancaster, later renamed Lincoln after the recently assassinated President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The battle of Massacre Canyon on August 5, 1873, was the last major battle between the Pawnee and the Sioux.
During the 1870s to the 1880s, Nebraska experienced a large growth in population. Several factors contributed to attracting new residents. The first was that the vast prairie land was perfect for cattle grazing. This helped settlers to learn the unfamiliar geography of the area. The second factor was the invention of several farming technologies. Agricultural inventions such as barbed wire, wind mills, and the steel plow, combined with good weather, enabled settlers to make use of Nebraska as prime farming land. By the 1880s, Nebraska's population had soared to more than 450,000 people.
In the late nineteenth century, many African Americans migrated from the South to Nebraska as part of the Great Migration, primarily to Omaha which offered working class jobs in meatpacking, the railroads and other industries. Omaha has a long history of civil rights activism. Blacks encountered discrimination from other Americans in Omaha and especially from recent European immigrants, ethnic whites who were competing for the same jobs. In 1912 African Americans founded the Omaha chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to work for improved conditions in the city and state. Activism has continued.
Since the 1960s, Native American activism in the state has increased, both through open protest, activities to build alliances with state and local governments, and in the slower, more extensive work of building tribal institutions and infrastructure. Native Americans in federally recognized tribes have pressed for self-determination, sovereignty and recognition. They have created community schools to preserve their cultures, as well as tribal colleges and universities. Tribal politicians have also collaborated with state and county officials on regional issues.
Note: Nebraska was acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and became part of Louisiana (later Missouri) Territory. It was established as a territory in 1854, including extensive areas northwest and west of the present State; it underwent various reductions in area in 1861 and 1863. Nebraska was admitted as a State on March 1, 1867, with nearly its present boundaries. Its last significant boundary change was the transfer of an area from Dakota Territory in 1882. Census coverage of Nebraska began in 1860 in the eastern part of the present State. The 1860 census of Nebraska Territory also included scattered forts and settlements in present-day Wyoming and the Dakotas west of the Missouri River. Other such settlements in the portion of the Territory included in present-day Montana were reported with Dakota Territory, and those in present-day Colorado were reported with Colorado Territory, although these two territories were not established until 1861. By 1890, census coverage included the entire State.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
FamilySearch.org has a marriage collection available for free online:
Outstanding guide to Nebraska family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.