The history of the U.S. state of Nebraska dates back to its formation as a territory by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed by the United States Congress on May 30, 1854. The Nebraska Territory was settled extensively under the Homestead Act during the 1860s, and in 1867 was admitted to the Union as the 37th U.S. state.


A Dinohippus fossil horse from the late Pliocene found at Ashfall State Historical Park near Royal.


During the Late Cretaceous, between 65 million to 99 million years ago, three-quarters of Nebraska was covered by the Western Interior Seaway, a large body of water that covered one-third of the United States.[1] The sea was occupied by mosasaurs, ichthyosaur, and plesiosaurs. Additionally, sharks such as Squalicorax, and fish such as Pachyrhizodus, Enchodus, and the Xiphactinus, a fish larger than any modern bony fish, occupied the sea. Other sea life included invertebrates such as mollusks, ammonites, squid-like belemnites, and plankton. Fossil skeletons of there animals and period plants were embedded in mud that hardened into rock and became the limestone that appears today on the sides of ravines and along the streams of Nebraska.



As the sea bottom slowly rose, marshes and forests appeared. After thousand of years the land became drier, and trees of all kinds grew, including oak, maple, beech and willow. Fossil leaves from ancient trees are found today in the state's red sandstone rocks.[2]Animals occupying the state during this period included camels, tapirs, monkeys, tigers and rhinos. The state also had a variety of horses native to its lands.[3]


The Oglala National Grassland near Chadron.

The last ice age ended the great seas that once covered Nebraska. The last glacial period, called the Nebraskan glaciation, began about 600,000 years ago and an alternated between cold and warm phases rather than a continuous ice age. Clay beds and large boulders were left on the hillsides during this period, and ice fields covered eastern Nebraska two or three times, with the climate becoming cold enough to completely eradicate existing plants and animals.

Holocene (present-day)[]

As the climate became drier grassy plains appeared, rivers began to cut their present valleys, and present Nebraska topography was formed. Animals appearing during this period remain in the state to this day.[4]


Territorial period[]

Main article: Nebraska Territory

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 established the 40th parallel north as the dividing line between the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. As such, the original territorial boundaries of Nebraska were much larger than today; the territory was bounded on the west by the Continental Divide between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans; on the north by the 49th parallel north (the boundary between the United States and Canada, and on the east by the White Earth and Missouri rivers. However, the creation of new territories by acts of Congress progressively reduced the size of Nebraska.

Land changes[]

On February 28, 1861, Colorado Territory took portions of the territory south of 41° N and west of 102°03' W (25° W of Washington, DC).[5] On March 2, 1861, Dakota Territory took all of the portions of Nebraska Territory north of 43° N (the present-day Nebraska-South Dakota border), along with the portion of present-day Nebraska between the 43rd parallel north and the Keya Paha and Niobrara rivers (this land would be returned to Nebraska in 1882). The act creating the Dakota Territory also included provisions granting Nebraska small portions of Utah Territory and Washington Territory — present-day southwestern Wyoming, bounded by the 41st parallel north, the 43rd parallel north, and the Continental Divide. On March 3, 1863, Idaho Territory took everything west of 104°03' W (27° W of Washington, DC).

Capital changes[]

The capital of the Nebraska Territory was at Omaha. During the 1850s there were numerous unsuccessful attempts to move the capital to other locations, including Florence and Plattsmouth.[6] In the Scriptown corruption scheme, ruled illegal by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Baker v. Morton, local businessmen tried to secure land in the Omaha area to give away to legislators. The capital remained at Omaha until 1867 when Nebraska gained statehood, at which time the capital was moved to Lincoln, which was called Lancaster at that point.

1867 - 1950[]


A constitution for Nebraska was drawn up in 1866. There was some controversy over Nebraska's admission as a state, with some controversy over a provision in the 1866 constitution that restricted suffrage to white voters; eventually, on February 8, 1867, the United States Congress voted to admit Nebraska as a state provided that suffrage was not denied to non-white voters. The bill admitting Nebraska as a state was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, but the veto was overridden by a supermajority in both Houses of Congress.[7]

Political change[]

Under the original constitution, the Nebraska Legislature was bicameral. However, following a 1931 visit to Australia, Nebraska legislator George Norris campaigned for the abolition of the bicameral system, following the example of the Australian state of Queensland which had adopted a unicameral system ten years previously; he also argued that the bicameral system was based on the "inherently undemocratic" British House of Lords. In 1934, a state constitutional amendment was passed introducing a single-house legislature, and also introducing non-partisan elections (where members do not stand as members of political parties).[8]

World War II[]

During the Second World War Nebraska was home to several prisoner of war camps. Scottsbluff, Fort Robinson, and Camp Atlanta (outside Holdrege) were the main camps. There were many smaller satellite camps at Alma, Bayard, Bertrand, Bridgeport, Elwood, Fort Crook, Franklin, Grand Island, Hastings, Hebron, Indianola, Kearney, Lexington, Lyman, Mitchell, Morrill, Ogallala, Palisade, Sidney, and Weeping Water. Fort Omaha housed Italian POWs. Altogether there were 23 large and small camps scattered across the state.[9]

See also[]


  1. ^ Laukaitis, A. (2005) "'Tower Of Time' pays tribute to animals, people of Missouri River" Lincoln Journal Star. 11/8/05. Retrieved 8/30/07.
  2. ^ "History of Nebraska", Twin Cities Development Corporation. Retrieved 8/30/07.
  3. ^ (1962) "Nebraska's Prehistoric Horses" University of Nebraska State Museum.
  4. ^ "History of Nebraska", Twin Cities Development Corporation. Retrieved 8/30/07.
  5. ^ {{cite web | year = February 28 1861 | url = | title = An Act to provide a temporary Government for the Territory of Colorado | format = PDF
  6. ^ (nd) History of Douglas County, Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska. Retrieved 7/13/07.
  7. ^ Part 8, Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
  8. ^ History of the Nebraska Legislature at the Nebraska Legislature official site.
  9. ^ (nd) "POWs Far from the Battleground". Retrieved 7/6/07.

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