Thanks to spear points discovered in Nebraska, archaeologists know that people have lived here for at least 13,500 years. Native American tribes developed many thousands of years after those first inhabitants arrived, including the Cheyenne, Lakota and Dakota Sioux, Omaha, Oto, Pawnee, Sauk, and Ponca. The Omaha, Ponca, Winnebago, Oglala Sioux, and Santee Sioux still exist in Nebraska today.
Some of the first settlers arrived on the Oregon Trail, a rough, 2,170-mile route that people crossed in covered wagons. In 1862, during the Civil War, the Homestead Act offered families 160-acre parcels of land in the west in exchange for building on and farming the land for five years. The Nebraska Territory’s population grew quickly, and the territory became a state in 1867.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
This state’s name comes from Native American words that mean “flat water.” The phrase refers to the Platte River, which runs through the state.
The University of Nebraska gave the state its nickname, since the school’s football team name is the Cornhuskers. Why name it after someone who strips the husk from corn? Because the state grows so much of it! Nebraska is the third-largest corn producer in the United States.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Nebraska is bordered by South Dakota in the north, Iowa and Missouri in the east, Kansas in the south, Colorado in the south and west, and Wyoming in the west. The area can be divided into two major regions: the Dissected Till Plains and the Great Plains.
The Dissected Till Plains cover the eastern quarter of Nebraska. When glaciers melted in this region at the end of the last Ice Age they left behind till, a mixture of sand, gravel, and boulders. Today the area has low hills and deposits of loess, which is windblown sediment.
The Great Plains spread across the rest of the state. This region is flat with a few canyons and valleys, as well as lakes and wetlands. The area also includes the state’s highest peak, Panorama Point. Want sand dunes? Central Nebraska boasts the biggest spread of the mounds in North America. Called the Sand Hills, the dunes stretch for about 20,000 square miles. The far northwest is home to another unusual area: the Badlands, where the wind has cut sandstone into weird, pointy, and even mushroom-like shapes.
Bison were nearly wiped out in the 1800s, but some still roam today at Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge in north-central Nebraska. Other native mammals include pronghorns (the second fastest land mammals after cheetahs!), antelopes, coyotes, jackrabbits, and prairie dogs.
Snapping turtles and bullsnakes are common reptiles in Nebraska, while the shy, slender glass lizard is rarely seen. Rare Blanding’s turtles can be spotted in the Sand Hills. Amphibians such as American bullfrogs, Great Plains toads, and western tiger salamanders hop and slither through the state.
Eastern cottonwood is Nebraska’s state tree, and it’s commonly found near bodies of water. Other widespread trees include black walnut, red oak, slippery elm, ponderosa pine, and boxelder maple. A few of the state’s many wildflowers are star cucumber, chicory, pink primrose, wild blue flax, and leopard lily.
An underground water supply called the High Plains Aquifer means Nebraska’s fertile soil is perfect for growing crops. That’s one reason why the area is called the “breadbasket of America.” Other natural resources include petroleum and gas.
—Former President Gerald Ford, former Vice President Dick Cheney, philanthropist and businessman Warren Buffett, tennis player Andy Roddick, actress Hilary Swank, and dancer Fred Astaire were all born in Nebraska.
—The biggest mammoth skeleton on display is at the University of Nebraska State Museum. It’s nicknamed “Archie”!
—The skinny stone spire of Chimney Rock in Scotts Bluff was a famous landmark for pioneers traveling to the west. Made of volcanic ash and clay, the natural wonder was whittled into shape by erosion.
—About 12 million years ago, a volcanic event killed animals such as saber-toothed deer, raccoon dogs, and giraffe-like camels. Today you can see their fossilized remains at Ashfall Fossil Beds in northeastern Nebraska.
—England has Stonehenge, the famous mystical circle of stones. Alliance has Carhenge, a Stonehenge replica made out of old cars!