Masonry in the First Nebraska Regiment, 1863-66

Col. Robert R. Livingston of Plattsmouth, who commanded the First Nebraska Regiment in 1863-64, also participated in the regiment’s “traveling” Masonic Lodge. NSHS RG3323-1-2

Col. Robert R. Livingston of Plattsmouth, who commanded the First Nebraska Regiment in 1863-64, also participated in the regiment’s “traveling” Masonic Lodge. NSHS RG3323-1-2

An unusual sidelight to the story of the First Nebraska Regiment during the Civil War is how a number of Nebraska Masons managed to maintain their participation in the brotherhood while serving with the regiment in the field and also assisted other Nebraska soldiers in joining the order. Fortunately, in 1917 Grand Secretary Francis E. White of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska discovered the original record book of the First Nebraska’s Monitor Lodge and decided to compile the lodge’s history. A copy of White’s pamphlet is preserved in the Nebraska State Historical Society library in Lincoln.

On July 13, 1863, Capt. Lee Gillette and Surg. George W. Wilkinson sent a letter and petition from Pilot Knob, Missouri, where the First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry was then stationed, to Nebraska Grand Master Daniel Wheeler asking for a dispensation to form a “traveling lodge.” The men noted that the Grand Lodge of Missouri required all visitors to its local lodges to take an “extra oath” that did not relate to masonry. It is unknown what that oath was, but it probably had some connection to wartime issues. Missouri citizens were bitterly divided between those who supported the Confederacy and those who supported the Union, so the Nebraska Masons probably did not want to risk visiting a local lodge whose members may not have looked kindly on Masons who were Union soldiers.

The petition to form a traveling lodge was signed by Gillette and Wilkinson, regimental commander Col. Robert R. Livingston, Capt. S.M. Curran, Lt. Francis L. Cramer, Lt. John P. Murphy, Sgt. William L. Jaycox, and Robert C. Jordan—all members of Nebraska or Iowa lodges before the war. On July 29, 1863, Wilkinson wrote Grand Master Wheeler that the dispensation had been received noting, “I think we will do a good work in the army by promoting morality and good feeling among officers.” The first lodge meeting was held the same day.

The lodge met four times while the regiment was at Pilot Knob. After the First Nebraska was transferred to St. Louis in August 1863, at least two meetings were held there. A note in the minutes said there were no meetings in October and November, probably because that’s when the First Nebraska was busy re-enlisting veterans and changing from infantry into a cavalry regiment. The next meeting was on Dec. 9, 1863, at Rolla, Missouri, just before the regiment’s departure for Batesville, Arkansas. The regiment had been assigned to secure that part of northeastern Arkansas for the Union and drive out, kill, or capture remnant Confederate forces and guerrillas.

Beginning on Jan. 20, 1864, the lodge held at least eighteen meetings in Batesville, the last on April 13. Colonel Livingston recalled that the lodge met in the town’s Masonic Hall “and found everything in perfect condition as to necessary conveniences, paraphernalia, etc.” A large number of visiting brethren were present, which gave the author White the impression that some of them “were not fighting on the side of the Union.” His assumption seems to be confirmed by Capt. Smith P. Tuttle’s recollection that “While the lodge was holding meetings at Batesville, some Confederates attended and were given safe conduct to and from them.” Tuttle also said the lodge always used Masonic rooms or halls in the towns where the regiment was stationed and officers wore their uniforms. One additional meeting was held on May 21 in Jacksonport, Arkansas, where the regiment was camped after leaving Batesville. There is no record of meetings being held when the regiment was at DeVall’s Bluff just prior to the veterans being sent back to Nebraska on furlough in mid– June 1864.

  1. C. Bone, secretary of Mt. Zion Lodge N. 10 of Batesville, reported that records of his lodge revealed that members of Monitor Lodge were present on two occasions. Monitor Lodge members were also present at the funeral of a member of Mt. Zion lodge. Bone recalled that his uncle, while traveling through the Arkansas countryside, was stopped and threatened by Livingston’s troops who suspected him of being a “bushwhacker” or guerrilla. After the uncle gave a Masonic sign he was sent on his way unharmed. Clearly some of the officers who commanded this detachment of Nebraska soldiers must have been Masons.

After the regiment returned to Nebraska on furlough, Indian raids broke out along the Platte Valley in August 1864 and the regiment remained in Nebraska Territory for the duration of its service. Guarding the stagecoaches and telegraph lines from Indian attacks required small detachments to be stationed at numerous outposts throughout the valley. This dispersal of the First Nebraska prevented any further Monitor Lodge meetings. The lodge’s last meeting took place in its camp near Omaha on June 21, 1866, shortly before the regiment was mustered out. Afterwards, most of its members were reinstated or accepted into existing lodges in the towns where they lived after leaving the army. At its inception, there were nine Master Masons in the regiment’s traveling lodge and about twenty-three when it issued its final report in 1866.

As Francis White noted in his history, “What I have tried to show is . . . . that at all times the strong bonds of our fraternity held men together as Brothers, and served to aid them in time of peril and danger; that men could do their full duty as soldiers, regardless of the cause for which they were fighting, and not forget the principles of brotherhood.”

— James E. Potter, Senior Research Historian

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Nebraska Nicknames

Cartoon depicting Lincoln sportswriter “Cy” Sherman reflecting on Nebraska nicknames. The cartoon was drawn by George Hartman and appeared in the 1939 Almanac for Nebraskans published by the Federal Writers Project of the WPA. NSHS Museum Collections 7294-7017

Cartoon depicting Lincoln sportswriter “Cy” Sherman reflecting on Nebraska nicknames. The cartoon was drawn by George Hartman and appeared in the 1939 Almanac for Nebraskans published by the Federal Writers Project of the WPA. NSHS Museum Collections 7294-7017

The selection in 2005 of a final design for the Nebraska quarter, winnowed from thousands of suggestions Nebraskans submitted, reminded us of just how seriously we take the symbols and slogans that represent our state to outsiders. Do we want to be remembered for some unique physical landmark, such as Chimney Rock (which ended up being chosen for the quarter), or for some historical milestone, such as the first homestead in the United States or as the home of Arbor Day? Perhaps we’d like to call attention to our political innovations, such as the unicameral legislature or our publicly owned power system. Is being recognized primarily as a college football powerhouse a plus or minus? Should we present ourselves as looking back into the past, or forward into the future? Similar issues come up each time our license plates are redesigned.

In Nebraska’s early years, it had to overcome the label assigned by the early explorers: “The Great American Desert.” It soon became apparent that this perception was faulty but even now, we who live here know that not every part of Nebraska is suited by climate or landscape for agriculture, particularly without irrigation. And a New Yorker driving through the Sandhills might think the desert label still applies, though we know the region as the world’s best cattle country. We also realize that Nebraska is not entirely flat, but tell that to travelers who never leave I-80.

Nicknames have often revealed how Nebraskans perceived themselves, or were perceived by others. We have been blessed (or cursed) with various nicknames including “Bug Eaters,” “Tree Planters,” and “Cornhuskers.” Nebraska has had two official state names: “The Tree Planter State” (1895-1945), and “The Cornhusker State” (1945-present). From 1956 through 1965, the license plate carried the motto, “The Beef State,” but it was never an official state name by act of the legislature.

Apparently “Squatters” was the earliest nickname applied to Nebraskans, according to a July 21, 1860, article in the Omaha Weekly Nebraskian. This term undoubtedly surfaced because many early Nebraska settlers moved onto their claims before the land had been surveyed. Although being called squatters was not very flattering or inspiring, other state nicknames of that era arguably were worse. How about the South Carolina Weasels, the Illinois Suckers, the Alabama Lizards, the Georgia Buzzards, the Missouri Pukes, or the Mississippi Tadpoles? Several state nicknames in 1860 were the same as today, for example, the Wisconsin Badgers, Michigan Wolverines, and Iowa Hawkeyes.

By the later years of the nineteenth century, “Bug Eaters” had replaced “Squatters” as the unofficial Nebraska nickname. According to John A. MacMurphy, secretary of the Nebraska Territorial Pioneers Association writing in November 1894, the bug eater appellation may have originated during the grasshopper invasions of the 1870s. An easterner came to Nebraska to visit relatives and, on his return home, was asked about conditions here. According to MacMurphy’s account, the man responded, “Oh, everything is gone up there. The grasshoppers have eaten the grain up, the potato bugs ate the ‘taters all up, and now the inhabitants are eating the bugs to keep alive.” Some newspaperman heard the comment and published it as a joke. Other sources attribute the nickname to the Nighthawk, a bird with a voracious appetite for bugs.

MacMurphy argued that the Territorial Pioneers and other groups should promote “Tree Planters” as the official state nickname “and say goodbye to the Bug-eaters forever.” Their efforts succeeded when the legislature, on April 4, 1895, passed a resolution declaring Nebraska “The Tree Planter State” in honor of its role as the originator of Arbor Day. Nevertheless, the University of Nebraska football team used the “bug eater” nickname until about 1900 when Lincoln sportswriter Charles H. “Cy” Sherman started referring to the team as “the Cornhuskers,” a name that quickly caught on. At that time harvesting corn by hand, “corn husking,” was a central feature of Nebraska life; today it is a quaint and dimly- remembered remnant of our agricultural past.

— James E. Potter, Senior Research Historian


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Nebraska’s American Legion

The NSHS Library/Archives is being assisted this summer by graduate intern, Nina Herzog. Nina comes to us from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. She is working with staff to organize various manuscript and photo collections and make them more accessible to the public. One of the collections that Nina has worked on includes the records of the American Legion, Department of Nebraska.

The American Legion was officially established in 1919. The organization was a means for men returning from Europe after World War I to band together and continue to serve their country through patriotic community service. The first Nebraska State Convention was held in Omaha in September of 1919. At the time of the first state convention there were 110 American Legion posts across Nebraska. Today’s Department of Nebraska boasts over 360 posts across the state and a membership of more than 37,000 Legionnaires. In the 1960s Lincoln had the second largest American Legion Post in the nation, second only to Denver, Colorado.

In the 1960s Lincoln had the second largest American Legion Post in the nation, second only to Denver, Colorado.  This post card shows the Legionnaire Club at 5730 O St. in Lincoln.

This post card shows the Legionnaire Club at 5730 O St. in Lincoln. [RG2158.PH000022-000003]

The Four Pillars of the American Legion are (1) mentoring youth and sponsorship of wholesome programs in the community, (2) advocating patriotism and honor, (3) promoting strong national security, and (4) continued devotion to our fellow service members and veterans. One of the best known programs that they sponsor is American Legion Baseball.

1960 American Legion World Series program. [RG2959.AM, B5, F19]

1960 American Legion World Series program. [RG2959.AM, B5, F19]

This program from the 1960 American Legion Little World Series is part of our American Legion, Department of Nebraska Collection [RG2959]. The 1960 Little World Series was held in Hastings, Nebraska. The program includes photos and rosters of each team participating. The back cover shows the Nebraska state champs sponsored by Hastings Post #11.

1960 Nebraska American Legion Baseball state champions.

1960 Nebraska American Legion Baseball state champions.

The American Legion also promotes a strong national defense as well as community service. Many American Legion posts over the years have been involved in civil defense efforts and community assistance in times of natural disasters as evidenced by this advertisement for a light duty rescue vehicle from an American Legion supply catalog.

Light Utility Rescue Vehicle advertisement from a 1959 American Legion supply catalog [RG2959.AM, B6, F9].

Light Utility Rescue Vehicle advertisement from a 1959 American Legion supply catalog [RG2959.AM, B6, F9].

For more information about our collection of American Legion records, check out the completed finding aid on our website.

-Tom Mooney
Curator of Manuscripts

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A.E. Sheldon and the Nebraska State Historical Society

NSHS Superintendent Addison E. Sheldon and an Omaha tribal leader, probably in the 1930s. NSHS RG1289.PH16-7

NSHS Superintendent Addison E. Sheldon and an Omaha tribal leader, probably in the 1930s. NSHS RG1289.PH16-7

Addison E. Sheldon, who led the Nebraska State Historical Society from 1917 to 1943, was a pivotal figure in the organization’s history. When he became superintendent (as Society directors were called then), the Society had no easily accessible museum, published no magazine, and did little public outreach. By the time Sheldon died in 1943 at age eighty-two, a publicly-oriented Society museum had been open in the state capitol for a decade, a bill to raise funds for the Society’s own building had been passed by the legislature, and Nebraska History magazine was completing its twenty-fifth year under his editorship. In many ways Sheldon was the bridge from the small, somewhat elitist and antiquarian State Historical Society of the late nineteenth century to the “modern” Society that emerged with the directorship of James C. Olson (1946-56) and the opening of the R street building in 1953.

Although he was somewhat younger than the Society’s founders, men such as Robert W. Furnas and J. Sterling Morton, Sheldon resembled them in having lived through much of Nebraska’s “pioneer” period. He grew up on a Seward County homestead, filed his own homestead claim in Cherry County in the 1880s, and edited a Chadron newspaper in the 1890s. He covered the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre and was elected to the 1897 legislature on the Populist ticket.

Sheldon was forty-one when he received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska in 1902. Although he worked for the Society between 1901 and 1911, he left in the latter year and did not return until he was appointed superintendent in1917. Two years later he earned a doctorate from Columbia University. His dissertation was published as Land Systems and Land Policies in Nebraska, volume twenty-two in the Society’s Publications series. It remains a significant work on the subject.

Perhaps Sheldon’s greatest legacy was his success in broadening the Society’s reach and promoting the importance of history to the public. He founded Nebraska History magazine in 1918, authored numerous books and articles (many aimed at school children), and gave hundreds of talks. He arranged for a Society exhibit car to tour Nebraska via the Burlington Railroad in 1928, which attracted some 180,000 visitors. He promoted marking historic sites and organizing county historical societies. During his tenure Nebraska history went on the radio, the Society became a leader in Great Plains archeology, and notable collections were acquired, such as the Eli S. Ricker interviews about Indian wars in the West. During the Depression Sheldon oversaw a dramatic expansion of Society functions with workers provided under federal New Deal programs.

Sheldon was not without his idiosyncrasies. He is the only superintendent/director known to have written poetry and then to have the nerve to publish it frequently in the magazine he edited. Concluding this glimpse at one of the Nebraska State Historical Society’s most memorable figures are a few stanzas from his poem about the Lewis and Clark centennial observed in 1904:

A hundred years ago a rude sail tent was set

By the Missouri’s flood – far frontier, wild and rough;

Beneath its shade the white and red men met,

Struck hands, smoked pipe – and named it Council Bluff.

The curious catbird’s querulous question-note

Challenged the invaders of his solitude;

The warning from the wildwood warbler’s throat

Hushed the harsh clamor of her startled brood.

Beneath the bluff the river beat its breast,

Mad that its mystery should so soon be told;

Beyond – the boundless prairie stretching west

Mimicked the August sun with disks of gold.

Those who would like to read the remaining six stanzas can find the poem on p. 192 of Nebraska History 18 (1937).

— James E. Potter, Senior Research Historian



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Our Collections Database Has a New Look!

If you haven’t recently searched our online database for photograph and museum collections, give it a try to see what’s new. The database has a new look and new search features. Our online database continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and more than 17,000 photographs and more than 20,000 objects available for you to search and view.

boat model

Here’s one of our new Museum acquisitions. This model was made by a German prisoner of war at Fort Robinson during World War II

Searches are now quicker and easier to refine. Use the Keyword Search to find materials in both the photograph and museum collections.


A search for doll, for example, will show you records for dolls, doll clothing, doll furniture, and photos of dolls.

To search only the Photograph collections, click on Photos at the top of the screen, and type your keyword(s) in the search box. Click on Objects to search only the Museum’s object collections.

To search for a specific phrase or name, use quotation marks. A keyword search for “White Horse Ranch” in objects, for example, will show you costumes and other objects from the White Horse Ranch. Without the quotation marks, search results will include all records with the terms white or horse or ranch.  If you are not certain of an exact phrase, use and between search terms.

white horse ranch

Costumes from the White Horse Ranch

Use the Advanced Search tab to search specific fields in the database.advancedsearch

Searching 1938 in the Date field and Omaha in the Place field will show you photos taken in Omaha in 1938. Among the results are photos of Armour & Company. Click on the text or photo within your search results to get more detailed description of each photo.


Photograph from the Nathaniel L. Dewell collection showing women making sausage at Armour & Company in Omaha.

You can also click on the image to enlarge the photo.

armour factory

If you find something you would like to share with a friend, click one of the social media buttons for Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. You can also use the Email to a Friend button to send a link to the record via email.

pinit basketball team

1918 Elgin High School basketball team.

Please check back often as we frequently add additional materials. To access the database, visit our website at and click on Search Collections and Photograph and Artifact Collections Search. You can also directly bookmark the database at  Please note there has been a recent update to the URL.




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1,733 Miles from Where? Kearney, Nebraska’s 1733 Identity

Kearney has long promoted itself as the “Midway City” located halfway between the coasts, exactly 1,733 miles from both Boston and San Francisco. That mileage, however, long appeared to match no known historical route—until now. An article in the Summer 2015 issue of Nebraska History unravels the mystery, and shows how Kearney promoted itself starting the nineteenth century.

The number 1733 has long been a big deal in Kearney. There was the 1733 Ranch with what was said to be the world’s largest barn, signs, maps, even a recent shoe store ad offering 17.33 percent off. Back in the days of the Lincoln Highway (present day U.S. 30), a road sign boasted that Kearney was “1733 miles to Frisco, 1733 miles to Boston.” The Midway City.

1733 Ranch road sign

Photo from the early 1920s showing the Lincoln Highway directional sign near the 1733 Ranch.

University of Nebraska-Kearney history professor John T. Bauer has long been fascinated by the number. It didn’t seem to add up. A quick look at any U.S. map shows that Kearney doesn’t look equidistant between San Francisco and Boston. The great circle distances are 1,263 miles between San Francisco and Kearney, and 1,486 between Kearney and Boston.

As for the Lincoln Highway, a 1915 guidebook measured 1,752 miles from San Francisco and 1,632 miles from New York City, where the highway ended. It didn’t even go to Boston.

Some of us at the NSHS assumed that 1733 was probably just some made-up number or wild guess by Kearney boosters. This is the town, after all, that once campaigned to replace Washington, D.C. as the U.S. capital. What wouldn’t Kearney say to puff itself up?

Turns out they were telling the truth. Bauer was curious as to when this idea originated and how it fit with the city’s self-promotion as the “Midway City.” It turns out that the mileage is real, but is far older than the Lincoln Highway. It matches an old railroad route, and has been promoted by the city since at least 1890.

More details and illustrations appear in Bauer’s article, which provides a fascinating look at town boosterism in the latter nineteenth century and into the dawning automobile age of the twentieth.

David L. Bristow, Associate Director / Publications

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Preservation Success Story: Meridian Highway Bridge

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has released the latest in its series of “Success Stories” on the Meridian Highway Bridge at Yankton, SD.  The series includes prominent examples that illustrate the role of the Advisory Council in preserving historic resources and communities as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act next year.  The Nebraska State Historical Society’s State Historic Preservation Office, federal agencies, and interested parties routinely consult on federal projects that involve historic properties in the state, as this case study shows.

When completed in 1924, the new bridge replaced a seasonal ferry and pontoon bridge.  Here the last ferry passes under the bridge’s vertical lift span.

When completed in 1924, the new bridge replaced a seasonal ferry and pontoon bridge. Here the last ferry passes under the bridge’s vertical lift span.

Here’s the backstory of the bridge, as explained in the report:

“At the beginning of the 20th century, transportation across the Missouri River between Yankton, South Dakota, and Cedar County, Nebraska, relied on ferry service or a seasonally operated pontoon bridge. In 1915, Yankton business interests organized a private bridge company to build a permanent bridge across the Missouri River connecting Yankton with rural Cedar County. Named the Meridian Highway Bridge, it was an important link in the international highway running from Canada to Mexico, traversing the Great Plains in a north-south direction along the Sixth Principal Meridian.

Construction of the bridge languished during World War I, and in 1920 the Meridian Highway Bridge Company retained Kansas City engineers Harrington, Howard and Ash to design a combined railroad and highway bridge, with a span that could rise 27 feet to allow unobstructed river navigation. This unusual moveable span and the six fixed spans were designed alike so the moveable span could replace another span if the river changed course. Completion of the bridge was an undisputed boon for the Yankton region (even though the railroad never arrived), but it proved less profitable for the company’s shareholders, and in 1946, the company sold the bridge to the City of Yankton. Recognized for its engineering and as the only vertical lift span in Nebraska and South Dakota, the Meridian Highway Bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.”

Recent view of the bridge.

Recent view of the bridge.

To read on about the success of the Meridian Highway bridge’s successful conversion to a pedestrian bridge, visit:

About the Advisory Council:

The mission of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is to promote the preservation, enhancement, and productive use of the nation’s historic resources and advise the President and Congress on national historic preservation policy.  The ACHP, an independent federal agency, also provides a forum for influencing federal activities, programs, and policies that affect historic properties.  It’s work includes mediating and assisting federal agencies and State Historic Preservation Officers in matters of federal projects under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. For more information on the ACHP go to:

Or for information on Nebraska’s role in federal project review, go to the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office website at:

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Two Nebraskans receive Medals of Honor in 1865

Vifquian wearing his Medal of Honor

Vifquian wearing his Medal of Honor

The first two men with Nebraska connections to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor received their medals

150 years ago, near the end of the Civil War. Belgian-born Victor Vifquain, the first recipient, got his Medal of Honor for leading the Ninety-seventh Illinois Volunteer Infantry in an April 9 attack on Confederate Fort Blakely near Mobile, Alabama. Vifquain was cited for capturing a rebel flag from the breastworks. So how does an immigrant soldier leading an Illinois regiment in an Alabama battle qualify as a Nebraskan? After coming to the United States, Vifquain was one of the first settlers in Saline County’s Blue River Valley in 1857. When the Civil War began, he did not wait to enlist in Nebraska but went east to do so. After the war Vifquain returned to his Saline County farm and remained a Nebraska resident until his 1904 death in Lincoln.

In 1891 Gov. James E. Boyd appointed Vifquain adjutant general of Nebraska, a post he held until 1892. During the 1898-99 War with Spain, Vifquain became commander of the Third Nebraska Volunteer Infantry composed of Nebraska national guardsmen, which served in Georgia and in Cuba. A Medal of Honor marker stands near Vifquain’s grave in Lincoln’s Calvary Cemetery and his Civil War Medal of Honor has been donated by his family to the Nebraska State Historical Society.

The other Nebraskan to receive the Medal of Honor in 1865 was Francis H. Lohnes, a lowly private in the First Nebraska Veteran Volunteer Cavalry. Lohnes, from Richardson County, enlisted in the First Nebraska regiment in 1861, re-enlisting in 1864. His medal resulted from his stubborn fight against Indians near Smith’s Ranche in Nebraska’s Platte Valley on May 12, 1865. Lohnes was leading a wood-cutting party when he and his men stumbled into a skirmish between Indians and other Nebraska soldiers. According to the citation, despite receiving an arrow wound and having his horse shot from under him, Lohnes held off the Indians until his men could reach safety. Upon the recommendation of Gen. Patrick Connor, commanding the District of the Plains, the Medal of Honor was presented to Lohnes at Fort Kearny on August 15, 1865. Attending the ceremony were two generals and Alvin Saunders, governor of Nebraska Territory.

Vifquain's Medal of Honor

Vifquain’s Medal of Honor

The postwar story of Francis Lohnes is tragic. He returned to his Richardson County farm and died on September 18, 1889, in a steam tractor accident. While moving the heavy engine over a stream, the wooden bridge collapsed and Lohnes was trapped in the wreckage and scalded to death by steam escaping from the boiler. He left behind his widow and two children. Visitors to the Maple Grove Cemetery near Verdon, Nebraska, will see that Francis Lohnes’s grave has also been marked with a government Medal of Honor monument. He remains the only Nebraskan to receive the Medal while serving in Nebraska and in a military unit named for the state.

Congress created the Medal of Honor in 1862. In the early years it was sometimes awarded for acts that would not meet today’s standard requiring conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty that puts one’s life at risk. In 1969 the Nebraska Legislature authorized induction into the Nebraska Hall of Fame for Medal of Honor recipients who were born in Nebraska, who received the Medal for service in Nebraska, or who lived in Nebraska for a minimum of two years. A plaque at the State Capitol records the names of those who have been so recognized.

Further reading: James E. Potter, “A Congressional Medal of Honor for a Nebraska Soldier: The Case of Pvt. Francis W. Lohnes,” Nebraska History 65 (Summer 1984); Potter, “The Pageant Revisited: Indian Wars Medals of Honor in Nebraska, 1865-1879” in R. Eli Paul, ed., The Nebraska Indian Wars Reader, 1865-1877 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998); and Jeffrey H. Smith, A Frenchman Fights for the Union: Victor Vifquain and the 97th Illinois (Varna, Ill., Patrick Publishing, 1992)

– James E. Potter, Senior Research Historian


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Summer 2015 at NSHS Sites Has Arrived!


It’s Memorial Day weekend and the official start of the summer season at the Nebraska State Historical Society’s numerous state historic sites. So, pack up the car and hit the trail!

There’s so much to gain from a trip to the past. Not only will you experience dramatic stories and the powerful places they took place, you’ll see intriguing historic buildings, vivid period settings, and engaging videos and exhibitions. Duck into a tipi, load a wagon for the trip west, or relax by the old mill stream.

A new exhibit at Fort Robinson focuses on the earliest movie made in Nebraska, In the Days of ’75 and ’76. Several of the sequences of this silent film – which featured Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane as its central characters – were actually filmed right on site at Fort Robinson. Don’t miss this exciting exhibit about the early days of “moving pictures!”

We’re also excited to announce that the George W. Norris Site in McCook has been selected for participation in the Nebraska Tourism Commission’s Nebraska Passport program. So a visit to the Senator’s  home gets you closer to becoming eligible for a variety of prizes! See for more information.

All NSHS state historic sites are open to the public, but don’t forget that admission is free for NSHS members and their immediate families! If free admission sounds good to you, you can purchase an NSHS membership on-site or online.

Finally, we are, as always, dedicated to serving the service members who serve us, so all NSHS sites continue to participate in the national Blue Star Museum program that offers free admission to all military personnel and their families.

Here’s a list of our sites and hours through Labor Day (also available here):

Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Chimney Rock Road, 1.5 mile South of Highway 92 near Bayard, Daily 9-5

Fort Robinson History Center, Fort Robinson State Park, 3 miles west of Crawford on US Highway 20, Daily 8:30-5.

Neligh Mill State Historic Site, N Street and Wylie Drive, Neligh, Tuesday – Saturday 10-5, Sunday 1-5

Senator George W. Norris State Historic Site, 706 Norris Avenue, McCook, Wednesday – Friday 1:00-4:30, Saturday, 1:00-3:30

Please note: The John G. Neihardt State Historic Site in Bancroft and the Willa Cather State Historic Site in Red Cloud, are administered under contract by the Neihardt and Cather Foundations, respectively. Please contact them at (Neihardt) 888-777-4667 or or (Cather) 866-731-7304 or for updated information on schedules and admissions.


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Preservation: Fun & Informative

Friday, May 1, 2015 brought not only a beautiful spring day, but also the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Preservation: Plain and Simple Conference, held in Lincoln at the Holiday Inn Downtown. After an opening welcome featuring speeches by our Director, Michael J. Smith, and Lt. Governor Mike Foley, the attendees were introduced to the

Lt. Governor Mike Foley addresses the crowd

Lt. Governor Mike Foley addresses the crowd

morning session speakers, Paul Nelson and Dave Ulferts, who delighted us with tales of the trials and triumphs of rehabilitating Travers Row, a set of eleven rowhouses in Omaha. The men emphasized that preservation was an integral part to making the project financially viable, and stressed that projects such as these should be approached with some creativity and flexibility as every project will likely have different obstacles to overcome.

The luncheon Keynote Speaker was Dr. Randall Cantrell, a professor of rural sociology at

Dr. Randy Cantrell delivers the keynote

Dr. Randy Cantrell delivers the keynote

the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He and his colleagues have been studying rural Nebraska for decades, and have gathered a wealth of information about our rural communities. The purpose of the talk was to identify demographic trends shaping our communities, and to identify ways that communities could use the built environment to compete for attention, business and residents. Some of the challenges to preservation in these communities is a relatively small number of leaders to draw upon within these smaller towns, and a sense of powerlessness that they could create a meaningful change.

The breakout sessions lent themselves to two different tracks. On the one hand, experts in the hands-on, nitty gritty work of preservation were available to discuss their various areas of expertise. They included Brooks Gentleman of Re-View Historic Windows to discuss repairing versus replacing historic windows, Matt Henderson of PROSOCO, which creates products to gently clean masonry, and Gary Keshner of Cathedral Stone Products, who shared how to sensitively patch masonry.

Gary Keshner of Cathedral Stone Products leads a session on patching stone masonry

Gary Keshner of Cathedral Stone Products leads a session on patching stone masonry

The other track included a variety of specialized subjects, including two sessions on brick streets; one a history of the paving material by Robin Williams of SCAD, and a local case study of Tecumseh’s brick streets by Shayne Huxoll and Doug Goracke. There was a session about a form based zoning program that is being established in Omaha, given by Jed Moulton and Trina Westman of Omaha City Planning. Angela Shearer, a tax credit reviewer with the National Park Service, shared her knowledge of mid-century architecture, and attorney David Levy spoke about Nebraska’s new Historic Tax Credit Program.

– Jill Dolberg, Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office

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