The Unitarian Church of Lincoln

The Unitarian Church in Lincoln has a long and interesting history. The first meeting of the First Universalist Society of Lincoln was held on September 1, 1870. Charter members of the Society included W. W. Holmes, S. J. Tuttle, J. H. Parker, Mrs. Sarah Parker, Mrs. Julia Brown, Mrs. Laura B. Pound and Mrs. Mary Monell.

First Universalist Society incorporation, 1870, p. 1

First Universalist Society incorporation, 1870, p. 1 [NSHS RG1054.AM, B1, F1]

First Universalist Society incorporation, 1870, p. 2

First Universalist Society incorporation, 1870, p. 2 [NSHS RG1054.AM, B1, F1]

Three lots at the northwest corner of 12th and H Streets were granted to the Society by the State Legislature. Over the next two years they raised funds to build a chapel. The corner stone was laid in October of 1871, and the chapel was dedicated on June 23, 1872. Before the completion of the chapel building, services were occasionally held in the senate chamber of the State Capitol.

First Universalist Church (Lincoln, Neb.)

First Universalist Church (Lincoln, Neb.) ca. 1872. [NSHS RG2158.PH000016-000016]

The next twenty years showed a steady increase in membership, and a new, larger church was needed. A new brick church was built in 1892 on the same lot as the original chapel. This church was dedicated on September 24, 1893. It was this church building that would later become known as All Souls Unitarian Church. Continue reading

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The Nebraska Highway Archeology Program—Rescuing Important Historical Information in the Path of Road Building Since 1959

Nebraska Archaeology Month (September) may be almost over, but archaeology knows no season! 


In the 1960s, highway archeologists worked hard to recover important information from archeological sites shortly before it is lost permanently. Today’s staff has traded in the pith helmets and ‘safari shorts’ for orange hard hats and safety vests.

What does archaeology have to do with highways? Are we digging up ruins of hold highways? Why would anyone do that?

Highway archaeology is about identifying important archaeological sites, bridges, and historic buildings prior to road construction. It’s a cooperative relationship between two sets for professionals that you might think would be at odds. We need roads, and it’s the job of the Nebraska Department of Roads to build and maintain them. But doing so can impact sites that reveal the secrets of Nebraska’s past. Important information can be lost forever.

In 1989, Society highway archeologists were assisted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archeological Fieldschool in excavating and mapping a 700 year old Native American lodge in Butler County. The high spot where the lodge was buried was taken for highway construction fill dirt only moments after the UNL team finished final mapping.

In 1989, Society highway archeologists were assisted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archeological Fieldschool in excavating and mapping a 700 year old Native American lodge in Butler County. The high spot where the lodge was buried was taken for highway construction fill dirt only moments after the UNL team finished final mapping.

This became a big deal in the 1950s during the planning stages of Interstate 80. People had concerns over impacts to Native American burials and Oregon Trail remnants. In response, the Nebraska Department of Roads and the Nebraska State Historical Society created the Nebraska Highway Archaeology Program (NHAP) in 1959.

Over nearly six decades, NSHS archaeologists and historic architects have identified hundreds of sites. Dozens of these have become the focus of major field investigations and research projects. The program also provides public outreach programs and volunteer opportunities in the field and the laboratory. It has allowed many University of Nebraska-Lincoln archaeology students to gain practical experience.

Later the same summer, the same UN-L crew excavated another Native American lodge discovered before construction of the Mahoney State Park I80 Interchange between Lincoln and Omaha. The three students mapping are all still archeologists today working for various government agencies.

Later the same summer, the same UN-L crew excavated another Native American lodge discovered before construction of the Mahoney State Park I-80 Interchange between Lincoln and Omaha. The three students mapping are all still archeologists today working for various government agencies.

Highway archaeology has made significant contributions to understanding all aspects of Nebraska’s past, from early Native American hunter-gatherers and farmers, to post-contact tribes, to EuroAmerican explorers and settlers.*


— Rob Bozell, Associate Director and Archaeologist, Nebraska State Historical Society

*This blog post is the first in a series, so come back for more information about these subjects!

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Midwest Archives Conference Presidents’ Award

Has an individual or organization in your community done extraordinary work or given support for your archives? If so, consider nominating him or her for a Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) Presidents’ Award. The award has been established to recognize significant contributions to the archival profession by individuals, institutions, and organizations not directly involved in archival work but knowledgeable about its purpose and value. Each MAC state has a representative for the Presidents’ Award Committee. Nominations are initiated by contacting the state chair directly or through solicitations of nominations by the state chairs or members of the committee. The award will be presented at the members’ meeting at the annual MAC meeting.

Only one nomination per year may be put forward by each state committee, but as many as three awards can be presented each year. The deadline to submit nominations to a state chair is January 15, 2016.


A. The nominee shall be any individual, institution, or organization not directly involved in archival work who has contributed significantly to a repository, archival organization, and/or the archival profession. The Award shall recognize significant contributions in such areas as legislation, publicity, advocacy, and/or long-term fiscal support.

B. The Award shall be a recognition of support that has improved the preservation of or accessibility to historically-valuable documents or records (in any format), or has contributed to a better public appreciation of archival work and activity.

C. Greater weight shall be given to archival support that has had a broad, long-term effect, but such emphasis shall not preclude the recognition of outstanding support of a single institution, organization, repository, or archival project.

D. Only support affecting archival work or activity within the MAC region shall be recognized.

E. Professional or volunteer archivists or curators shall not be eligible. Archival organizations and repositories, or corporations with archives, shall generally not be eligible unless the support recognized has reached and benefited the wider archival community in a significant way.

Nomination forms are available at: MAC Presidents’ Award nomination form

To nominate a person or organization in Nebraska, send your completed nomination form to:

Tom Mooney, Curator of Manuscripts
Nebraska State Historical Society
PO Box 82554
Lincoln, NE 68501-2554

For the complete list of MAC states and state representatives, go to: MAC Presidents’ Award

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Did Nebraska’s James Iler Discover Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)? and Other Tales of Life and Death in Territorial Nebraska

During the 1860s, Nebraska City was a major depot for freighting across the plains by both individuals and large companies. NSHS RG2294-37

During the 1860s, Nebraska City was a major depot for freighting across the plains by both individuals and large companies. NSHS RG2294-37

In 1860 James Iler of Otoe County decided to take two wagonloads of goods to Denver. Freighting to the gold mining camps in present Colorado was then a mainstay of Nebraska Territory’s economy. Iler’s wife, Sarah, and his four small children accompanied him as his wagons proceeded along the recently opened Nebraska City to Fort Kearny cutoff, a direct route from the Missouri River to the main Platte Valley trail.

Near the present city of York in York County, one of his daughters fell from the wagon and was run over by the right front wheel. Iler snatched her from the ground before the rear wheel could strike her, but after some twitching, the child appeared to be dead. Iler, however, “laid her upon the ground and began pressing her breast and breathing into her nostrils, with the remark to my wife, ‘I can’t give her up,’ and after about five minutes earnest effort, she caught her breath and continued to breathe.” The family remained in camp for about two weeks while the little girl recovered.

This bright outcome was soon replaced by tragedy affecting the entire family. As the Ilers were returning home, on August 9 they and four other men with wagons encountered a group of Cheyenne Indians about 150 miles east of Denver. Two of the Cheyenne offered to sell Iler a mule, which he paid for and then turned to take it away. As he reported in a September 11 letter to the Nebraska City People’s Press, one Indian slapped the mule causing it to run away. To avoid trouble, Iler said he would return the mule provided he got his money back. At that point, said Iler, several Cheyenne grew threatening and one struck at him with a club, which Iler parried. After Iler felled the Indian with a blow, others fired arrows at him.

Iler then returned to his wagon after deciding to let the Indians keep both the money and the mule. “But that did not appease their thirst for blood. They came on us by the hundred, and as many as thirty or forty came close behind my wagon all shooting at once. The arrows riddled my wagon cover. By this time I had one double-barreled shot-gun loaded and turned it upon them,

which caused them to leave quickly—even so quick I could not catch sight to shoot from the jolting wagon. They did not return quite so close afterwards, but from the distance would drive their arrows and rifle balls at my wagons. They shot my dog, wounded my ox, wounded me in the middle finger of my left hand, tipped me across the eyes, and set my cap a little to one side of my head with arrows, and upwards of thirty more passed not to exceed ten inches from me.”

In the melee Sarah Iler was struck by an arrow that passed through her right lung, diaphragm, and liver. After Iler pointed his shotgun at them again, the Indians finally left. Finding that his wife was alive, “I availed myself of the best judgment and all the magnetic energies I was in possession of. I nursed her for upwards of twelve hours in such position as to allow the blood a chance to escape. When I thought the internal hemorrhage had ceased, I gently suspended her upon her back and constantly applied wet bandages and cold water injections.”

In concluding his September 11 letter, Iler sounded an optimistic note: “I will leave the reader to his own imaginings as to our situation. Four hundred miles from the border settlements—in the midst of the Indian country—with a train of four wagons, which were our only shelter from the inclemencies of the camp life—my wife wounded almost unto death—myself only able to use but one hand and all attention to be rendered within the small space of a narrow wagon box; four little children to see to & c. &c. Well, we have passed through it all, and I feel now as though I will have strength enough to vote at the ensuing election just as usual. James Iler.”

The sad final outcome was reported in the November 1, 1860, edition of the People’s Press: “You will please announce the death of Mrs. Sarah Iler, who was recently wounded by the Indians. Though her wound healed, and confident hope was entertained of her entire recovery, yet in vomiting during the fever already spoken of in your paper, her lung was ruptured at the wound, causing her death. She departed this life on the morning of the 22d inst. [October 22] at 5 o’clock, in full hope of a blissful immortality. As a wife and mother she was of excellent and rare qualities, and as a neighbor well beloved and highly esteemed. Aged 34 years, 10 months, and 10 days.”

— James E. Potter, Senior Research Historian

Sources: “Early Days in Nebraska,” by James Iler, NSHS Publications 4 (1892): 155-56; Nebraska City People’s Press, Oct. 11 and Nov. 1, 1860.


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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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