Path to Statehood: 1803-1867

Spanning from 1803 to 1867, the area that would become Nebraska changed significantly during this time. The territorial era encompasses the slow progression of exploration and settlement that eventually culminated in the granting of statehood in 1867.

The Forty-Niner Trail

During the nineteenth century the United States underwent a dramatic westward expansion, but perhaps no single event stimulated this mass migration more than the 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in California. Hundreds of thousands of…

Nebraska City - Fort Kearny Cut-Off

Massive freighting of supplies by ox and mule trains was a direct result of the establishment of Fort Kearny and other western military posts. The Mormon War and the discovery of gold in the territories of Colorado and Montana increased this trade,…

Nebraska City - Fort Kearny Cut-Off

Massive freighting of supplies by ox and mule trains was a direct result of the establishment of Fort Kearny and other western military posts. The Mormon War and the discovery of gold in the territories of Colorado and Montana increased this trade,…

Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cutoff

You are near the old freighting trail of the Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cutoff. Prior to railroad construction, thousands of wagons transported supplies to Fort Kearny and other military posts throughout the West. The Mormon War and the discovery of…

Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cutoff

Thousands of oxen-drawn wagons passed here from 1860 to 1867, before completion of the Union Pacific Railroad across Nebraska. Carrying military and mining supplies, and emigrants moving west, they cut deep ruts across the tallgrass prairie and at…

Kearney - Fort Kearny

For the next fifty miles east-bound travelers will be passing from the semi-arid Great Plains into the country of eastern Nebraska. Near here are located the city of Kearney and Fort Kearny, for which it was named. The fort was established in 1847…

Swan City

Near here was located the first town and county seat in Saline County. Situated on Swan Creek from which it took its name, Swan City held prominence for only a few years. The first settlement buildings, including a store and a sawmill, were…

Village of Steinauer

Warnings to avoid "bloody Kansas" prompted the Steinauer brothers, Anton, Nicholas, and Joseph, to settle here in Pawnee County. They arrived in September 1856, only two years after the creation of Nebraska Territory. Famine and depression…

Pawnee City

Pawnee City, the county seat of Pawnee County, was platted and the first lots were sold in the spring of 1857. The county, named for the Pawnee Indians who lived in Nebraska for generations, was defined by the territorial legislature on March 3,…

Nebraska City

Permanent settlement in this area dates from 1846, with the establishment of old Fort Kearny on Table Creek. Nebraska City, founded in 1854, became an important depot for military and commercial freighting. Pioneer businessmen, such as S. F.…

Pawnee

This was Pawnee Country, the last Nebraska home of an Indian Confederacy which once numbered more than 10,000, consisting of four tribes -- Skidi, Grand, Republican and Tapage. Their domain covered a large part of Central Nebraska where they lived in…

Indian Captives

Sixteen-year-old Laura Roper, Mrs. Lucinda Eubanks, and children, Isabelle 3, and William 6 months, were captured by Indians at "The Narrows," Little Blue River, on Aug. 7, 1864. Laura and Isabelle were released to the Army at Hackberry…

1864 Indian Raids

During the Civil War many regular troops were withdrawn from Plains military posts to fight in the east. The Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho, seizing this opportunity, attempted to drive white settlers from their land.Beginning on August 7, 1864, the…

Republican Pawnee Village

Near here was a large permanent village of the Republican band of the Pawnee tribe which may have been occupied as early as 1777. On September 25, 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike visited the village with a small party of soldiers. He was greeted by…

DeSoto Townsite

The town of DeSoto was platted on this site in 1854 and incorporated in 1855. Steamboating on the Missouri was then in its heyday. DeSoto provided a landing for passengers and goods. A number of boats sank nearby, notably the Cora and Bertrand.…

The Great Platte Valley

Here is the great Platte Valley, Highway to the West. On these nearby bluffs prehistoric Indians built their homes. The Pawnee and Oto established large earthlodge villages near here. As you travel west in the valley you will follow the route of the…

Oto Mission

The mission established by Moses Merrill about three miles west of here was an early attempt to make Christianity a part of the daily lives of the Oto and Missouri Indians. Merrill reached Bellevue in 1833 and visited the Oto village in present…

First Presbyterian Church

Before the organization of Nebraska Territory in 1854, missions were established among the Indian tribes of this area. In 1850, Rev. Edward McKinney founded the first Presbyterian Church of Nebraska with five members. He had arrived in Bellevue in…

Bellevue Log Cabin

This log cabin was built about 1835 in the Missouri River floodplains. Soon after 1835 cholera occurred at lower elevations, and the cabin was moved to the upper plateau. In about 1850 it was moved to this location, where it was used as a residence…

Bellevue

Bellevue, gateway to the upper Missouri and the fur trade empire, is the oldest continuous settlement in Nebraska. This town was born, became important, almost died, and now in the 20th century, has been revitalized.

Map of Horse Creek Treaty Grounds

(Legend under map) Beyond the tree line about 2 3/4 miles in front of this marker, Horse Creek flows into the North Platte River. There the treaty was signed September 17, 1851. Officially known as The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, it is commonly…

The Horse Creek Treaty

The treaty was proposed by former fur trader Thomas Fitzpatrick, Upper Platte Indian agent, supported by David D. Mitchell, superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis. The treaty provided that the government would give the tribes $50,000 a year in…

The Great Smoke

From all directions they came in late summer 1851--Plains Indian tribes, summoned by government officials so their chiefs could smoke the peace pipe and sign a treaty with representatives of "The Great Father." Never before had so many…

Fort Mitchell, 1864-1867

Mitchell Pass and the city of Mitchell, Nebraska, derive their names from a military post built near here during the Indian Wars. No trace of the sod structure remains at the site on the North Platte River bend northwest of Scott’s Bluff. It was…

Missouri River

The Missouri River, created by geological glacial action thousands of years ago, historically has served as a gateway to the west. First used by prehistoric Indians, it served successively fur traders, explorers, and homesteaders. Among the earliest…

Historic Platte Valley

Through this valley passed the Oregon Trail, highway for early explorers, fur traders, California-bound gold seekers, freighters, and brave pioneers seeking new homes in the West. Traffic was especially heavy from 1843 to 1866. At times as many as…

Old Fort Kearny

The increase in overland travel after 1842 resulted in the establishment of a chain of military posts across the West to protect the travelers. Early in 1846 the first of these posts was built by the army in this location near the mouth of Table…

Mayhew Cabin 1855

This cabin, one of Nebraska's oldest structures, was built in the summer of 1855 as the home of Allen B. Mayhew, his wife, Barbara Ann (Kagy) Mayhew, and their sons, Edward and Henry. John Henry Kagi, Barbara Mayhew's brother, lived briefly…

Indian Treaty Monument

Erected 1933 to commemorate the treaty made with the Pawnee Tribe at Rocky Ford on North Table Creek, 1000 feet east of this site, establishing permanent friendly relations with the Pawnee Indians and insuring safety, prosperity and happiness to the…

The Mormon Trail

Brigham Young led the first mass migration over the Mormon Trail to the Great Salt Lake in 1847. The north bank of the Platte was chosen to avoid contact with the travelers on the heavily-used Oregon Trail that follows the south bank of the river…

The Mormon Trail

Religious freedom, an American ideal, has on occasion been denied certain sects because of prejudice. Mormons were once persecuted and forced from their homes. The north bank of the Platte River served as the exodus route for thousands of members of…

Mormon Pioneer Campsite

In the early spring of 1847, several hundred pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) camped near here on their historic trek to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Driven from their homes in Illinois and Missouri, more…

Genoa: 1857-1859

Genoa, named by the Mormon Pioneers, was among several temporary settlements established by the Church of the Latter Day Saints in 1857, along the 1000-mile trail from Florence, Nebraska to Salt Lake City. These settlements were to serve as…

Narcissa Whitman

Narcissa Whitman, trail-blazer and martyred missionary, is one of the great heroines of the frontier West. In 1836 she and Eliza Spalding, following the north side of the Platte on horseback, became the first white women to cross the American…

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

Courthouse and Jail Rocks are two of the most famous landmarks of westward migration. Nearby passed the Oregon-California Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Pony Express Trail and the Sidney-Deadwood Trail. The rocks were vanguards of unforgettable scenic…

Amanda Lamme

On June 23, 1850, twenty-eight-year-old Amanda Lamme, a California-bound emigrant, died of cholera and was buried near here in what is now private pastureland. She was the wife of M.J. Lamme of Boone County, Missouri, and mother of three daughters.…

Lone Tree

Lone Tree, a giant, solitary cottonwood, was a noted Platte River landmark as early as 1833. Standing on the north side of the river some three miles southwest of present Central City, the tree was visible at great distance. Several travelers…

Battle Creek

Near this site, July 12, 1859, Nebraska Territorial Militia and U. S. Army Dragoons, totaling 300 men, under the joint command of General John Milton Thayer and Lieutenant Beverly Holcombe Robertson, prepared to attack a large Pawnee village.…

Sioux Lookout

Sioux Lookout, the highest point in Lincoln County, was a prominent landmark on the overland trials. From its lofty summit the development of the West unfolded before the eyes of the Sioux and other Indians. Trappers and traders came by here in 1813,…

Road Ranches Along the Platte

With the discovery of gold in the Rocky Mountains in the late 1850's, overland freighting and travel intensified. Every few miles westward along the trails, enterprising individuals established road ranches which offered lodgings and provisions…

Fort McPherson

The fort was established on the Oregon Trail on the south side of the Platte River in October 1863, on the eve of intensified Indian raids on the Plains. Built next to the well-known Cottonwood Springs and McDonald ranche, it commanded a strategic…

Fort McPherson

The fort near here was established on the Oregon Trail on the south side of the Platte River in October 1863, on the eve of intensified Indian raids on the Plains. Built next to the well-known Cottonwood Springs and McDonald ranche, it commanded a…

Lincoln's Founding Block

The Territorial Legislature at Omaha drew the boundaries of Lancaster County in 1855. Settlers first arrived in 1856 and a county government was established "on paper" in 1859. Methodist Elder John M. Young arrived at the head of a colony…

Dobytown

Following the 1848 establishment of Fort Kearny three miles east of here and the later expansion of overland commerce and emigration, the small commercial center of Kearney City was established near here in 1859. The town's more common name,…

California Hill

This hill, which became known as "California Hill," was climbed by thousands of emigrants heading west during the covered wagon migration, 1841-60. Many were bound for Oregon. California became the destination of a majority of overland…

The Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express

In the spring of 1859 William H. Russell and John S. Jones established The Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express to carry passengers and freight from the Missouri River to the Colorado gold fields. The route crossed northern Kansas, detouring…

Battle of Blue Water

On September 3, 1855, the U.S. Army's 600-man Sioux Expedition, commanded by Col. William S. Harney, attacked and destroyed a Lakota village located three miles north on Blue Creek. The fight became known as the Battle of Blue Water, sometimes…

Ash Hollow

Ash Hollow was famous on the Oregon Trail. A branch of the trail ran northwestward from the Lower California Crossing of the South Platte River a few miles west of Brule, and descended here into the North Platte Valley. The hollow, named for a growth…

Ash Hollow

Although some wagon trains continued to follow the South Platte, most crossed at one of several fords in this area and took a northwesterly route toward the North Platte River. The trail then followed the North Platte Valley through the remainder of…

The Oto and Missouri Agency

After 1854 the Oto and Missouri Indian village and agency were located near here. For many years the two tribes had been living along the lower portion of the Platte River, but when Nebraska became a territory they relinquished all claims to those…

Homestead Movement

Abraham Lincoln was called the Great Emancipator because his proclamation of 1862 gave freedom to the slaves. In that same year, he signed another extremely important document that gave land to free men. No single act had more effect on the Middle…

Ponca

Ponca, one of northeast Nebraska's earliest communities, was platted in 1856 by Frank West and laid out by Dr. Solomon B. Stough. The town was named for the Ponca Indian tribe that inhabited the area when the first white settlers arrived. The…

Chadron Creek Trading Post

Employees of Lancaster P. Lupton built a trading post on the creek near here in 1841 to trade with the Sioux Indians. From 1842 until at least 1845 this post was managed by Louis B. Chartran, first for Sibille and Adams and later for Pratte &…

Bordeaux Trading Post

From about 1846 until 1872, an Indian "trading house" occupied a site near here. Built by James Bordeaux, the trading station was once attacked and set afire by hostile Crow warriors. Fortunately, some friendly Sioux Indians came to the…

The Great Platte River Road

This is the Platte River Valley, America's great road west. It provided a natural pathway for westward expansion across the continent during the nineteenth century. Here passed the Oregon Trail, following the South Platte River along much the…

The Great Platte River Road

This is the Platte River Valley, America's great road west. It provided a natural pathway for westward expansion across the continent during the nineteenth century. Here passed the Oregon Trail, following the South Platte River along much the…

The Great Platte River Road

The Trail Which followed the south side of the Platte River was the main route to Oregon and California. Fur traders going to the Rocky Mountains took the first wagons over the trail in 1830. Oregon-bound missionaries followed in the mid-1830s, and…

Historic Lodgepole Creek Valley

Here is the valley of Lodgepole Creek through which passed historic trails, telegraph lines, and railroads. The famed Pony Express followed the valley in 1860-61. "Nine Mile" Pony Express station was located just southeast of present…

The 100th Meridian

The 100th Meridian is the 100th longitudinal line west of Greenwich, England which was set by Congress as a major goal in building the first transcontinental railroad. Construction of the Union Pacific reached the Meridian on October 5, 1866. The…

Winter Quarters

Here in 1846 an oppressed people fleeing from a vengeful mob found a haven in the wilderness. Winter Quarters, established under the direction of the Mormon leader Brigham Young, sheltered more than 3,000 people during the winter of 1846-1847. Housed…

Fort Atkinson

A few miles north is Ft. Atkinson (1819-27), the first U.S. military post west of the Missouri River. The fort's location at the "Council Bluff" was recommended by Lewis and Clark in 1804. It was established to assert U.S. influence…

Fort Atkinson

Civilization came to the west bank of the Missouri with the establishment of Fort Atkinson in 1820 about a half mile southeast of here. Named after its founder, General Henry Atkinson, this western-most Fort protected the frontier's developing…

Fort Atkinson

From 1820 to 1827, the nation's largest and most westerly military post occupied this site, the earlier scene of Lewis and Clark's Council Bluff. In late 1819, troops under Colonel Henry Atkinson established Cantonment Missouri along the…

The Florence Mill

The Florence Mill, one of the earliest in Nebraska, was constructed by the Mormons at Winter Quarters during the winter of 1846-1847. Supplying both flour and lumber, the water-powered mill enabled the Mormons to cope more readily with the adverse…

Capitol Hill

This site on Capitol Hill was for a decade the location of Nebraska's second territorial capitol. The building was erected here in 1857 and 1858 and served until the seat of government was removed to Lincoln in 1868. Acting-Governor Cuming…

The Bank of Florence

The Bank of Florence was chartered by the Nebraska Territorial legislature on January 18, 1856. It was located in this substantial building, constructed during the same year. Sheet steel one quarter inch thick, shipped by river steamboat from…

Pawnee Villages

Before the Pawnee Indians were placed on a reservation, they located their last earthlodge villages on these nearby bluffs. Pa-huk' hill, one of the five scared places of the Pawnee, was also here. The villages were occupied from 1850 to 1859 by…

The Ionia "Volcano"

On August 24, 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, traveling up the Missouri River, passed a bluff about 180 to 190 feet high. Clark wrote that it appeared to have been on fire and was still very hot. He also detected signs of coal and what looked…

Lewis and Clark Camp Sites: Aug 23-25, 1804

The men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition saw many natural curiosities during their trek to the Pacific Ocean. On August 24 Captain Clark described "a blue Clay Bluff of 180 or 190 feet high. . . . Those Bluffs appear to have been laterly on…

Lewis and Clark Camp Site: July 27, 1804

At the camp established very near here Captain Clark wrote about the "butifull Breeze from the N W. this evening which would have been verry agreeable, had the Misquiters been tolerably Pacifick, but thy were rageing all night." Clark may…

Lewis and Clark Camp Site: Aug 3 - 4, 1804

On August 3 Lewis and Clark held a council with the Oto and Missouria Indians at a site they named "Council Bluff," near present Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. It was the first of many councils they would hold on their journey to the Pacific…

Lewis and Clark Camp Site: July 13, 1804

On this day the explorers passed along this stretch of the Missouri River and camped a few miles north of here on the Nebraska side. The tranquil weather recorded by Clark in his journal for July 13 was in sharp contrast with violent storms the night…

Lewis and Clark Campsite: July 15, 1804

The members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped a short distance south of here on the Nebraska side of the river, on July 15, 1804. They had covered nearly 10 miles that day, most traveling in a 55-foot keelboat, two pirogues, and dugout canoes.…

Lewis and Clark Camp Site: Sept 2, 1804

On its journey to the Pacific Ocean the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped near here on September 2, 1804. At this camp the explorers' imagination and knowledge of military fortifications misled them into concluding that sand ridges and mounds…

Tonwantonga

An important Omaha Indian village called Tonwantonga (Large Village) by the Omaha stood on Omaha Creek in this area. Ruled by the great chief Blackbird, an estimated 1,100 people lived in this earthlodge town about 1795 and it played an important…

The Oregon Trail

The most traveled of the overland routes passed this point on its way to the great Platte Valley, highway to the west. The Oregon Trail started from Independence, followed the Kansas River west, and then the Little Blue north into Nebraska. It…

Logan Fontenelle

Logan Fontenelle, an interpreter and Omaha chief, was born at Bellevue in May, 1825. His father was Lucien Fontenelle, a noted fur trader both on the lower Missouri River and near Fort Laramie, Wyoming. His mother was a daughter of Big Elk, noted…

Lewis and Clark Camp Site: Sept 7, 1804

On this day the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Ocean camped on the bank of the Missouri River at the base of a river landmark near here, now called The Tower. Clark wrote, "Capt Lewis & my Self walked up to the top which forms a…

The Great Plains

West-bound travelers will leave the prairie regions of eastern Nebraska and enter the Great Plains within the next fifty miles. This semi-arid region stretching from Canada to Mexico and westward toward the Rockies was long known as the Great…

Lewis and Clark Campsite: July 21, 1804

On this day the expedition to the Pacific Ocean passed the Platte River. Captain Clark wrote, "This Great river being much more rapid than the Missourie forces its current against the opposit Shore . . . we found great dificuelty in passing…

Lewis and Clark Camp Site: Aug 21, 1804

When the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Ocean went through this area their mood was undoubtedly gloomy. On the previous day they had buried their comrade, Sergeant Charles Floyd, who died of a ruptured appendix. Although he was the…

Nebraska Statehood Memorial

From 1854 to 1867 the seat of territorial and state government was in Omaha. In 1867 the State Legislature appointed a Capital Commission to select a location for the new state capitol. Commission members Governor David Butler, Auditor John Gillespie…
Recommended reading for "Path to Statehood" - Nebraska's Territorial era tour.

Buecker, Thomas R. “The Father of Lincoln, Nebraska: The Life and Times of Thomas P. Kennard.” Nebraska History Summer 2014: 78-93.

Jackson, Donald. “Lewis and Clark among the Oto.” Nebraska History. September 1960: 237-248.

Wishart, David J. An Unspeakable Sadness: The Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 1994.