Nebraska — History and Culture
Nebraska may not be an obvious travel destination, but it has a great history based on the first pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail in search of California gold. Those who stayed to homestead the land created the state’s legendary cattle ranching and farming industries. To this day, Nebraska is still predominantly a rural state with little in the way of international chic. But it’s hard not to be impressed by the friendly folks who live here and the quiet natural beauty.
Several Native American tribes such as the Pawnee, Lakota and Omaha lived in Nebraska long before the arrival of the first European settlers. The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 brought the first Americans to explore the region, and visitors today can walk portions of the original route. It wasn’t until 1819 that the US government established its first foothold in the region by building Fort Calhoun, a site that still stands today.
It was the 1848 California Gold Rush that brought the first wave of settlers to Nebraska. Though most pioneers merely passed through on their way west to seek fortune, some chose to stay in Nebraska and set up outposts to supply these travelers. The Nebraska and Kansas Territories were founded in 1854 in a bid to strengthen America’s hold on the new frontier.
The Native American tribes were forced off their land in the 1860s to resettle on reservations. This opened up vast tracts of land that the government made available under the Homestead Act. Omaha was the original capital of the territory, but when Nebraska became a state in 1867 the capital was moved to Lincoln in honor of the current US President, Abraham Lincoln.
The 1870s and 1880s were a boom period for Nebraska as settlers poured into the state encouraged by rich growing soil and new farming machinery that made plowing the prairie easier. Cattle ranching was the other main industry, and both remain the state’s main economic draws today.
When slavery was abolished, large numbers of African Americans moved to Omaha as part of the Great Migration. They helped propel the industrial side of bustling Omaha, and in the next century, the city emerged as a center for civil rights activism. Today, the state is still largely dependent on farming and cattle ranching, enjoying a steady economy based around two essential commodities that rarely falter.
The rural nature of Nebraska is hard to miss. It is one of America’s least-populated states as most of the treeless rolling prairie is taken up by massive farms and cattle ranches. As such, visitors will encounter people whose lives revolve around the land. Nebraskans live simple modest lives for the most part. They lean towards conservative ideology but are generally very tolerant of other races and ethnicities.
What little excitement there is in Nebraska takes place in its largest city, Omaha, which still has a small-town feel. Outside of its amazing zoo, there is little to do, but enjoy the relaxed lifestyle of its residents. Most folks in Nebraska enjoy outdoor recreation and football including the beloved Cornhuskers. During summer the countryside is busy with fishermen, boaters, bikers, and hikers until fall brings the very popular hunting season.