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Origins of Nebraska


Francisco Vásquez de Coronado
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado

The first humans in what is now Nebraska appeared at least 10,000 years ago. These first people were apparently related to those of the Folsom culture first identified near Folsom, New Mexico, but very little is known about them. Sometime between ad 400 and 600 a people who hunted and did simple farming lived in Nebraska, and were replaced between 1200 and 1500 by a more sedentary people who practiced intensive agriculture in addition to hunting and fishing. It is not known what happened to these people. When Europeans first arrived, the Pawnee lived in central Nebraska and occupied the valleys of the Republican, Platte, and Loup rivers. Mainly farmers, the Pawnee lived in semipermanent earth lodges and grew corn, pumpkins, beans, and squash. They were also hunters, however, and twice a year they left their villages to hunt buffalo and other large game. The Pawnee owned many horses, as did most of the other Plains people.

European Discovery and Exploration


The Spanish explorer and conqueror Francisco Vásquez de Coronado entered present-day Kansas in 1541 and claimed the entire territory for Spain, including Nebraska, although the Spaniards built no settlements. In 1682 the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, finished a journey down the Mississippi River by claiming all the land drained by the river for France, which included the Nebraska area.

The French then built an extensive fur-trading network along the Mississippi and its tributaries, and as part of that effort sent traders and explorers into the lower Missouri River Valley to win the friendship of the people there. The first recorded European exploration of part of Nebraska itself took place in 1714 by the French adventurer Étienne Veniard de Bourgmont.

He explored the Missouri River Valley as far north as the Platte River and built a trading post among the Native Americans there. In 1720 the Spaniards, now concerned about French activity in land claimed by Spain, dispatched a small force under Pedro de Villasur from Santa Fe in Spanish New Mexico to drive out the French. After the Pawnee attacked and killed Villasur’s men near the Platte River, the French took undisputed possession of the Missouri Valley region, and continued to explore and to trade with the native inhabitants. In 1739 Pierre Mallet and Paul Mallet crossed Nebraska while exploring the country between the Missouri River and Santa Fe. In 1763 France lost nearly all its North American possessions, following its defeat by Great Britain in the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the last in a series of wars between the two countries for domination in North America. But in 1762 France had secretly ceded all its lands west of the Mississippi (called the Louisiana Territory) to Spain, France’s ally in the war. France then regained the land in 1800 under an agreement with Spain, and in 1803 the United States bought the area of Nebraska from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

During the period of Spanish control, French and Spanish traders, operating under the authority of Spanish officials in St. Louis, traded merchandise among the peoples of the Missouri River Valley as far north as what is now North Dakota. "Nebraska" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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