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Nebraska in the 1800s


Lewis and Clark Expedition
Lewis and Clark Expedition

In 1804 U.S. President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to map the vast new territory west of the Mississippi River, catalog its plant and animal life, establish relations with the native inhabitants, and collect information about their cultures. The first part of their journey in 1804 took them up the Missouri River along Nebraska’s eastern border. In 1806 Zebulon Montgomery Pike crossed south central Nebraska while exploring the newly acquired territory. In 1820 Stephen H. Long followed the Platte River through much of Nebraska. Long later reported that the Great Plains consisted of a huge desert and predicted that white settlement would be confined to the area east of the Mississippi River.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition greatly stimulated interest in the fur trade of the Far West. The American trader Manuel Lisa launched his first expedition on the Missouri River in 1807, and in 1812 he established Fort Lisa north of present-day Omaha, Nebraska. The American Fur Company established in 1810 a temporary post in the region at Bellevue. The U.S. Army built Fort Atkinson on what is now the site of Fort Calhoun to protect the fur trade from hostile Native Americans.

In 1823 the first permanent settlement in Nebraska was built at Bellevue, which soon became the center for the fur trade along the Missouri and Platte rivers. It was also a center of missionary activity and later for the administration of affairs with Native Americans. Peter Sarpy, an agent for the American Fur Company, was the dominant figure at Bellevue from the 1830s until the creation of the Nebraska Territory in 1854.

Stephen Long’s pessimistic reports about the possibilities for white settlement of the Great Plains, including Nebraska, solved a problem for the federal government: what to do about Native Americans who blocked white settlement east of the Mississippi River. The U.S. government decided to remove them to what whites came to call Indian Territory, land on the western side of the Mississippi including most of present-day Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma, although few eastern peoples were resettled in what is now Nebraska. In 1830 the Indian Removal Act allowed the federal government to force Native Americans to live west of the Mississippi; in 1834 the Trade and Intercourse Act prohibited whites from trespassing on the land reserved for Native Americans and created a series of federal agents to oversee relations between Native Americans and whites.

But Nebraska rapidly became more important to whites as part of the trade and immigrant routes leading to the Far West, and settlers and traders began staying in the Nebraska area, obtaining permits or remaining illegally. The Oregon Trail system (which included the Mormon Trail) followed the Platte River and in the 1820s and 1830s was used by fur traders. Reports from the exploration of John Charles Frémont in 1842 popularized the route for white settlers heading west. Each year after 1843 thousands of emigrants went through the Platte River Valley and on to present-day Oregon, California, and Utah, and later to Colorado and Montana.

Passing through lands near the semisedentary tribes in eastern Nebraska was not terribly dangerous for whites, but settlers passing through western Nebraska risked attacks by the Cheyenne and Sioux, who strongly resented the intrusion. To protect the travelers, the U.S. government built Fort Kearny on the Missouri River in 1846. In 1848 the fort was moved 300 km (187 mi) west, to the southernmost point of the big bend of the Platte River. Further protection was provided by Fort Laramie (now in Wyoming), built in 1849.

The semisedentary people negotiated treaties with the United States exchanging their land for new land in Kansas or Oklahoma largely without violent resistance, and most of eastern Nebraska had been ceded to the government by 1854. The nomadic peoples in western Nebraska, however, particularly the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and the Brulé and Oglala Sioux, strongly resisted white encroachment on their hunting grounds, and when whites began to kill the bison herds on which the nomadic people depended, these native people became more hostile. In 1851 at Fort Laramie several of these Native American groups signed a treaty with the United States that permitted the U.S. government to build forts and roads along the settler trails, but that, too, failed to end hostilities. "Nebraska" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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