Marker Monday: The Soldiers’ Monument

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers. If you’d like to see a specific marker featured, send an email to

In honor of Memorial Day, this week’s post is “The Soldiers’ Monument.”



400-498 N Saunders Ave, Sutton, Clay County, Nebraska; 40.610008, -97.85935

Marker Text

On March 27, 1879, George G. Meade Post 19, Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Nebraska, was founded in Sutton by twenty former Union soldiers. The G.A.R. was a national fraternal organization created to provide for the welfare of Union veterans of the Civil War, their widows and orphans, and to keep alive memories of wartime sacrifices. The G.A.R. held annual encampments and reunions, organized Memorial Day ceremonies, and was active in politics.

By 1890, 448 Union veterans lived in Clay County. In 1894 the Union Soldiers’ Monument and Memorial Association of Sutton was formed to erect a monument to veterans. The association petitioned the government for surplus cannon and received two 24-pounder flank howitzers cast by Cyrus Alger and Company of Boston in 1863. The howitzers arrived from Fort Montgomery, N.Y., in 1900. In 1909, a granite base was laid that included the names of area Civil War veterans, but the monument was never finished. In 2001 a bronze statue of a Civil War soldier, commissioned and paid for by community members, completed the monument.

Bibliography / Read On:

Search results for “Civil War” on

Search results for “G.A.R.” on

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Flashback Friday: Fremont Man Visits All of Nebraska’s 500-plus Historical Markers

Butch_Massacre Marker 2

Butch Springgate stands with his motorcycle in front of the Massacre Canyon Historical Marker near Trenton in Hitchcock County, Nebraska. This is one of over 500 Nebraska Historical Markers that Springgate has visited. Photo courtesy of Springgate.

Butch Springgate is the grand champion of Nebraska’s biggest scavenger hunt.

If you’ve driven on a Nebraska highway, you’ve even played it.

But while you might have passed one or two of Nebraska’s historic markers or even stopped by a couple dozen, Springgate has you beat.

He’s been to more than 500.

On a motorcycle.

“We like to say that the motorcycle is closer to the horse and buggy days because you aren’t in an air conditioned car, and you get to travel the back roads,” Springgate said. “So we make a point of doing that.”

Springgate, who lives in Fremont, has spent the last eight years visiting historical markers on his Yamaha motorcycle. Sometimes he brings along friends, but many he’s visited alone.

The only markers he hasn’t seen are the handful that local organizers and the NSHS have put up since last summer. He’ll visit those this summer and fall.

Springgate’s first marker was the Massacre Canyon marker near Trenton in Hitchcock County, which he visited in late 2008. Springgate is a Quality Control Technician for 3M in Fremont, so using long weekends and – at the longest – nine day trips, his quest has been continuous except for a year he took off because of shoulder surgery. He has logged 20,000 miles of riding, and his longest historical marker ride was 1,500 miles.

Springgate’s dedication to record-keeping and staying organized has made his summer-centered hobby last all year long.

“My winter activity is putting everything into books and getting things updated,” he said.

Springgate meticulously documents all of his rides. He has a growing collection of binders with photos of every single marker, along with where and when they were taken. He also has a map with block dots for the locations of every marker and silver dots for every marker he’s visited.

But the photos in the binders don’t show the adventures that lead to a successful marker find.

One of the worst roads Springgate has ever traveled was on the way to see the Grand Duke Alexis marker in Hayes County.

“It’s two and half miles of no maintenance roads. I’m going one mile per hour, holding my feet out and bouncing,” Springgate said. “So we’re riding through baking flour-type dirt eight inches deep. It moves like water waves and covers us. Then, covered up by this dirt are rocks a little smaller than a volleyball. We made it to the marker, and when we got back, I said, ‘I’ve never done this before, but I am kissing the pavement.’ And we did. We actually kissed the pavement.”

But Springgate assures that the ride to a historical marker is worth it – no matter what.

“I was glad we got to it, though,” he said. “Nice rolling hills and farmland. No traffic, very quiet.”

Other adventures include a snapped clutch cable, seeking shelter from a tornado under the tables of a Crawford Pizza Hut, and a muddy wipe out on a lonely road in Webster County.

During the latter, Springgate was on a solo journey and searching for a historical marker at a cemetery.

“The road was dry and arid,” Springgate said. “I was looking up trying to see if the cemetery was on the next hill, and I wasn’t looking at the road, and then suddenly I hit wet clay.”

The bike went sideways, and both Springgate and his motorcycle lay in the mud.

“I couldn’t lift the motorcycle, so I was stuck,” he said. He had no cell phone reception, so he walked two miles to the nearest farm. No one was home.

So he walked two more miles. No one was home there either. But just as he turned away from the door, a pickup pulled in the drive way – where it immediately stopped.

“I was in all-black leather with a do-rag and just covered in mud,” Springgate said. “I took off my jacket and helmet and put them in a little pile and walked out to the pickup, which had just stopped in the drive way. I explained what had happened and said ‘So I kind of have a problem.’ The farmer looked me from head to toe and said, ‘Yes, you do, son.’”

The farmer and his teenage sons got Springgate’s bike unstuck with the four-wheeler, and then even accompanied him to see the marker. The farmer said he hadn’t even known it was there.

He was also impressed with Springgate’s navigational skills.

“‘This county has been in a drought for two years and somehow, son, you found the only mud puddle in the county,’ he said to me,” Springgate relates. “After feeling mad, embarrassed, and covered in mud, his humor made getting back on the rode a lot less stressful.”

He still has a mud spot on his gear that he couldn’t wash out.

“That clay is real permanent,” Springgate said.

But the Webster County farmer isn’t the only one who doesn’t know about the history in his back yard. Springgate hopes to use his hobby to encourage others to get out and explore Nebraska’s history.

“To anyone who might hear my story, I would impress to them if at all possible to visit the markers and not just read about them on their phones,” Springgate said. “The Nebraska history comes to life when you are reading the marker story as you are standing on the actual location of the historical event.”

His best example is the Republican River Flood of 1935 marker in Furnas County.

“Reading the marker narrative and looking behind the marker at the horizon, then turning around seeing the opposite horizon distance, really gives you scale of how vast and deep the flood was where you are standing. Awesome experience,” Springgate said.

Rebbeca Winter Wheel

This wagon wheel monument marks the grave of Rebecca Winters. Winters died on August 15, 1852 when she and her family were on their way to Utah in their covered wagon. Her grave is also marked with a Nebraska Historical Marker. Find the full text by clicking on the photo.

Springgate said one of the markers that touched him the most is the Rebecca Winters marker in Scottsbluff County. Winters died from cholera en route to Utah in 1852. Lacking wood or stone, a family friend took the rim of a wagon wheel and etched her name on it. Visitors can still see the wagon rim tombstone today.

“I can’t imagine leaving your loved one like that,” Springgate said. “These people were in the middle of nothing.”

Springgate doesn’t just take a photo and leave. He carries a knife to clear away weeds and debris if a marker needs it.

“Then we read the marker, thank the servicemen if that’s applicable, and if it’s a cemetery, we say a little prayer. We try to be as respectful as possible,” Springgate says.

Springgate’s motorcycle is not just connected to his love of his history. It’s also connected to a deep sense of patriotism.

“I had a full Uncle Sam suit – I even cut my beard like Uncle Sam’s – that I wore with American flags on my bike,” Springgate said. “People in the parks would stop what they were doing to put their hands over their hearts. They were even saluting me. I was so humbled at that. I just get chills even talking about it now.”

He is also a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.

“You wear a patch on your upper left of your jacket, and one time a mother comes up to me and thanks me, and I’m like ‘No, thank you for what your son does and what you and your family do.’” Springgate said. “As part of the junior high and high school crowd, I was one of the worst ones for saying, ‘The war is terrible and the military is terrible.’ As I got older, I thought I needed to make up for it so I joined the Patriot Guard. I was never a protestor, but my mind was cruel. I see these young people now and I’m inspired by them.”

Springgate’s interest in meeting people and hearing their stories has led to a strict no-GPS policy. He and his friends rely on maps and local guides.

“If I can’t find one, I check in at the local gas station. They seem to know everything,” Springgate said. “When I bring in the maps, a whole group tries to help. People ask me, ‘Why don’t you just use GPS?’ and I tell them, ‘I wouldn’t have met you if I used GPS.’ We want to do it low-tech and meet people.”

Springgate said he often seeks out police officers, fire fighters, postal workers, and sanitation workers to help him find a marker if it’s missing. Springgate has also been responsible for finding a marker that was later restored to public view.

The O.K. Store marker in Hall County was moved because of State Fair Park construction. When Springgate tried to find it and failed, employees spent three weeks trying to locate it. When they did, they called him and he came back out to take a photo. They’ve since re-installed the marker.

“They said they were embarrassed it had gotten shuffled to storage,” Springgate said. “They said they would put it up because of me, and later they called and said they had. I just thought, ‘Wow, I made a difference.’”

Butch_Chimney Rock

Butch Springgate stands with his motorcycle in front of Chimney Rock. Visiting the historic landmark was part of his journey to visit over 500 Nebraska Historical Markers.

Finding moved or missing markers does happen occasionally. Nebraska’s historical marker program is the result of several programs working together. The first state-sponsored Nebraska historical marker was dedicated at Fort Calhoun on May 21, 1961. Other markers had been installed to commemorate the Oregon Trail or other local history events and places. However, the Nebraska legislature decided in 1957 that recognizing Nebraska’s historic sites uniformly and accurately was important for both historic record and tourism. The Nebraska legislature passed a bill the evolved into the program that exists today. Local initiatives identify, create, and fund the markers, the NSHS edits and works with a foundry to make the markers, and the Nebraska Department of Roads installs the markers.

The markers are made of white or silver text on a dark blue background with the seal of the State of Nebraska and the words “Nebraska Historical Marker.” They range from large signs with two posts to one-post signs to signs that lay nearly flat on a pedestal. Their costs range from $1,750 – $5,100 depending on their size.

“The majority are in really good shape,” Springgate said. “It makes me very disappointed when I see bullet holes. There was gang graffiti on one in Douglas County and that one wasn’t six months old. But some are just gorgeous the way they take care of them. Some have spotlights and flowers and flags or white lattice fences.”

Springgate’s bike is in the shop this spring so that it’s ready for more marker hunting this summer.

“The group of guys I ride with, we always talk about how ‘It’s the journey, not the destination.’” Springgate said. “Me, I like to have a destination. But my destination doesn’t have to be set in stone.”

He’s right.

His destinations are set in aluminum.


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Marker Monday: Ponca Trail of Tears – White Buffalo Girl

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers. If you’d like to see a specific marker featured, send an email to

With Memorial Day approaching, we remember the town of Neligh and its care of White Buffalo Girl’s grave.




County Road 198, Neligh, Antelope County, Nebraska; 42.140371, -98.02575

Marker Text

A marker, 200 feet to the south, recalls the death of White Buffalo Girl of the Ponca tribe. The death of this child, daughter of Black Elk and Moon Hawk, symbolizes the tragic 1877 removal of the Ponca from their homeland on the Niobrara River to Indian Territory in present Oklahoma. Treaties in 1858 and 1865 greatly reduced the size of the original Ponca Reservation, yet the tribe remained peaceful. An 1868 error in the Treaty of Fort Laramie ceded Ponca lands to their enemy the Dakota Sioux, resulting in eight years of repeated raids against the Ponca and ending with the forced removal of the tribe to the new reservation. The journey to Indian Territory was plagued by muddy roads and floods caused by heavy spring rains. Most of the tribe suffered from disease and hardship. Several children like White Buffalo Girl perished and were buried along this route that became known as the Ponca “Trail of Tears.” The people of Neligh provided a Christian funeral for the child and an oak cross was erected at the gravesite. Black Elk’s last request was that the grave of his daughter would be honored and cared for by the people of the town. In 1913 a marble monument was erected and the grave has been maintained and decorated in memory of White Buffalo Girl and the Ponca.

Bibliography / Read On:

Search results for “Ponca” on

Search results for “White Buffalo Girl” on

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Flashback Friday: Barbara and Ralph Fox Photo Exhibit

Today we’re highlighting one of the new exhibits at the newly-renovated Nebraska History Museum.

Barbara and Ralph Fox 1943

Barbara and Ralph Fox, 1943. Ralph C. and Barbara Rehberg Fox Collection (NSHS RG4701-2-116)

“American Dreams in the Cold War: Photos by Barbara and Ralph Fox” is dedicated entirely to the photography work of UNL alumni Barbara and Ralph Fox. This husband-and-wife photography team documented Cold War-era American life with the skill of professional photographers and the soul of philanthropists.

Barbara Rehberg and Ralph C. Fox met on their first day of college at the University of Nebraska in 1940. She came to Lincoln from a remote ranch in Antelope County. He was from Logan, Iowa.

They married on May 8, 1943, just before Ralph left for army boot camp during World War II. While Ralph trained with the army, Barbara finished college, graduating in 1944. Throughout her life, she lived by the principles she learned in journalism classes: “You have to tell the truth, even if it means risking your life.”

Kevin Fox with bakery case, 1955 Ralph C. and Barbara Rehberg Fox Collection (NSHS RG4107-2-43)

Kevin Fox with bakery case, 1955
Ralph C. and Barbara Rehberg Fox Collection (NSHS RG4107-2-43)

When Ralph Fox came home from the battlefields of Europe, he finished his degree in photojournalism. He worked for the Lincoln Evening Journal and was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 1948 Nebraska presidential primary.

Ralph’s wartime experience contributed to alcoholism. In 1955, he lost his job at the newspaper due to his drinking. Barbara started a business, Fox Foto, to keep their family afloat. In 1957 Ralph embraced recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous with the same enthusiasm he had applied to his military service and his journalism career.

In the 1950s, Barbara defied society’s expectations and raised two children while working outside the home. She often brought her children, Paige and Kevin, along on photo assignments.  She photographed everything from the Nebraska State Fair to the detonation of the atomic bomb nicknamed “Annie” at the Nevada Test Site on March 17, 1953. None of the witnesses were tested for radiation following the blast, and Barbara later developed lung problems that she attributed to radiation exposure from the event. Her photos of the event are part of the exhibit.

1948 Wahoo rodeo

Man Riding a Bucking Horse in a Rodeo in Wahoo, 1948. Ralph C. and Barbara Rehberg Fox Collection (NSHS RG4107-2-75)

By the end of the 1960s, Barbara and Ralph Fox shifted their focus and dedicated themselves to helping people. The Foxes founded the Houses of Hope alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in Lincoln and helped thousands of people conquer addiction.

Barbara’s memory lives on through numerous agencies that she helped start: Houses of Hope, Antler Center, St. Monica’s, Lincoln Action Program, and Lincoln Council on Alcoholism and Drugs. Ralph died in 1998 and Barbara passed away in 2009.

Their photos feature daily life in the 1950s, photos of political figures who visited Lincoln, candid shots from the Nebraska State Fair, and photos from the Starkweather arrest and trial.

Whether you enjoy photography or are interested in the Cold War era in Nebraska, this exhibit is something you shouldn’t miss.

The Nebraska History Museum at 311 Centennial Mall North is open M-F 9:00-4:30 and Saturday and Sunday 1:00-4:30. Admission is free.

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Gov. Ricketts, Nebraskans Urge Nominations for Hall of Fame on Mari Sandoz’s Birthday


LINCOLN – On May 11, the 120th birthday of renowned Nebraska writer Mari Sandoz, the Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission and the Nebraska State Historical Society joined Governor Pete Ricketts to urge Nebraskans to submit nominations for the next member of the Hall of Fame. Located in the Nebraska State Capitol, the Hall of Fame contains busts of famous Nebraskans including author Mari Sandoz, Buffalo Bill Cody, Governor Robert Furnas, Chief Standing Bear, and General John J. Pershing among numerous others.

Watch the press conference here:

“The Nebraska Hall of Fame is a beautiful monument to the men and women who grew Nebraska into the best place in the world to live, work, and raise a family,” said Governor Ricketts. “Nebraskans who visit our State Capitol enjoy the statues in the Hall of Fame and learn about the history of the Nebraskans who built our state. From Buffalo Bill to Bess Streeter Aldrich, these men and women are the iconic Nebraska figures who have shaped our state’s character and defined what it means to be a Nebraskan.”

By state law, the Hall of Fame Commission is tasked with facilitating the nomination and selection process for the art placed in the Hall of Fame at the Nebraska State Capitol. The purpose of the Hall of Fame is to highlight Nebraskans who achieved prominence during their lifetime. Every five years, a new Nebraskan may be selected for the Hall of Fame from nominations submitted to the commission. To be eligible, the nominee must have been deceased for a minimum of 35 years and meet several other criteria.

“This year, Nebraskans have a voice in who will be added to the Hall of Fame, and I encourage all Nebraskans to consider submitting a nomination to the commission for consideration,” said Hall of Fame Commission Chairman Dr. Ron Naugle of Lincoln. “Public input is a pivotal part of our process in selecting the next bust for the Hall of Fame in the State Capitol.  Interested parties have until December to submit a name, and the commission will thoughtfully consider all eligible nominations we receive.”

Born 120 years ago today in Sheridan County, Nebraska, author Mari Sandoz is nationally renowned for her work which examined pioneer life on the Great Plains and Plains Indian culture. Her works include Old Jules, The Beaver Men, The Cattlemen, and The Battle of the Little Bighorn among many others.  She died at the age of 69 in 1966, and is buried in the Sandhills. On May 4, 1980, her bust was dedicated in the Hall of Fame.

“The life and work of Mari Sandoz has shaped our state’s identity and reputation in many ways,” said State Historical Society Director Michael Smith. “The story of the life of Mari Sandoz is a true Nebraska story. Growing up in the Nebraska Sandhills where horticulture and agriculture was not simply an occupation, but rather it was the core stuff of survival, Mari overcame privations and challenges that can be painful to consider today.  She embodies the grit and determination that is spirit of Nebraska.”

The deadline to submit a nomination for this next cycle is December 31, 2016.  The nomination form along with a list of eligibility criteria can be accessed on the Nebraska State Historical Society’s website here.

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Bridges Sesquicentennial Photo Exhibit Winners Announced

PhotocontestadAnnouncing winners of the Statewide Photography Call “Bridges: Sharing Our Past to Enrich the Future.”  Photos to be featured in a Bridges Sesquicentennial Photo Exhibit that will travel to six regions across Nebraska in 2017.

The statewide call for photographs of historic places titled “Bridges: Sharing our Past to Enrich the Future,” sponsored by Hildegard Center for the Arts (HCFA), in collaboration with the Nebraska State Historical Society and the Nebraska Tourism Commission, garnered over 800 photo submissions from all 93 counties in Nebraska. Amateur and professional photographers alike were invited to capture images of historic sites and treasures across the state of Nebraska. The photos were reviewed by jurors; Joel Sartore, freelance photographer for National Geographic Magazine, George Tuck, Professor Emeritus of University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Bobbi and Steve Olson, longtime Nebraska Life Magazine photographers.

The winning photographers and designated county/s include:

Bobbi Anderson (Washington), Gary Andrews (Douglas, Lancaster), Alan Bartels (Dundy, Madison, Platte), Laura Beahm (Adams), Vicki Beilke (Richardson), Janessa Bergman (Phelps), Curtis Blum (Morrill, Scotts Bluff), Caryl Bohn (Butler), Shane Booth (Franklin, Webster), Anna Bowens (Hamilton), Bob Brammeier (Johnson), Richard Callaway (Garden), Nancy Carlson (Nance), Angela Carroll (Arthur, Clay, Hooker, McPherson, Polk, Seward, Thomas), Bill Coe (Hitchcock), Rena Conner (Harlan), Kendra Cutler (Logan), Darcy Demmel (Perkins), Jodi Gehr (Colfax), Erin Giannangelo (Saline), Kathleen Hansen (Red Willow), Zach Hanson (Fillmore), Michael Hast (Boone), Larry Headley (Lincoln), Paul Hosford (Antelope), William Hosford (Greeley), Ron Jensen (Dawes, Sioux), Rebecca Johnson (Nemaha), Patricia James (Boyd), Richard Jones (Dawson, Valley), Nia Karman (Hall), Nathan Kathol (Cedar), Bernadette Korslund (Gage), Darcia Kovarik (Loup), Mitzi Kuszak (Sherman), Chuck Leypoldt (Burt, Holt), Dan Luedert (Buffalo, Frontier, Thurston), Randy Lukasiewicz (Cuming, Howard), Liz Shea-McCoy and Mike McCoy (Brown, Custer, Dakota, Jefferson, Keya Paha, Knox, Pawnee, Pierce, Rock, Stanton, Thayer, Wayne), Monte McKillip (Hayes), Elizabeth Nelson (Keith), Julie Pflum (Chase), Becky Potmesil (Sheridan), Roger Rea (Garfield), Bob Rooney (Blaine), Kelly Rush (Kearney), Deborah Schaben (Furnas, Gosper), Patricia Schemmer (Cherry), Sonia Schmidt (Nuckolls), Kimberly Sharples (Banner, Cheyenne, Deuel, Kimball), Sibyl Spahn (Wheeler), Jay Spilker (Saunders), Stephen Sullivan (Box Butte), Greg Sutton (York), Herb Thompson (Sarpy), Donna Whitman-Eklund (Cass, Otoe), Brian Weber (Dodge), Jill Weiser (Grant), Jeanne K. Wiemer (Merrick).

The winning photos will be showcased in a Bridges BridgeslogoSesquicentennial Photo Exhibit that travel to six regions across Nebraska as part of the state’s 150th birthday celebration in 2017. The Nebraska 150 Commission has officially endorsed the Bridges Photo Exhibit as a signature event.

The exhibition is set to premiere at the Great Plains Art Museum – University of Nebraska Lincoln beginning January 6, 2017.  Other exhibition locations include the Seward Civic Center, the Prairie Arts Center in North Platte, the Carnegie Arts Center in Alliance, the Norfolk Arts Center and the Durham Museum in Omaha.

The six venue sites and dates for the traveling exhibits are:

  • The Great Plains Art Museum in Lincoln: January 6- March 25, 2017
  • The Seward Civic Center: June 1- July 28, 2017
  • The North Platte Prairie Arts Center: August 1- September 22, 2017
  • The Norfolk Art Center: September 7- October 26, 2017
  • The Alliance Carnegie Arts Center: September 26- November 10, 2017
  • The Durham Museum in Omaha: November 14, 2017 – January 7, 2018

The selected photographs will also be showcased in a digital catalog and may appear in Nebraska Tourism travel guides, posters and calendars to promote this project and the State of Nebraska. ALL submitted photos will join a virtual exhibit on the website at Hildegard Center for the Arts.

Exhibit Sponsors; Statewide and Regional

The Ethel S. Abbott Charitable Foundation, Humanities Nebraska and the Johnson Hardware Company are serving as statewide exhibit sponsors. Regional exhibit sponsors include: Union Bank & Trust, The Cattle National Bank & Trust Co., Nebraskaland National Bank, Great Western Bank and the Alliance Lions Club.

About the Nebraska 150 Commission

On March 1, 2017, the State of Nebraska will celebrate its Sesquicentennial or 150th year of statehood. Planning is underway to commemorate this historic occasion with a yearlong celebration that will engage, educate and inspire the state’s citizenry while leaving a legacy for future generations.

Regan Anson, Executive Director of the Nebraska 150 Celebration, said, We are proud to lend our support to the Hildegard Center for the Arts’ Statewide Photography Call. The ‘Bridges’ project presents a unique opportunity for photographers of every skill to capture and showcase the beauty of every corner of our remarkable state.”

About the Hildegard Center for the Arts

Hildegard Center for the Arts (HCFA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Nebraska150thlogoarts organization established in 2009. Its mission is to unite people of all beliefs, cultures and traditions to inspire humanity through the Arts.  As an art center without walls, HCFA partners with organizations and communities to provide opportunities in the visual and performing arts.  The organization is committed to expanding its outreach to traditional and nontraditional audiences alike and uses the arts and humanities as a vehicle to educate and deliver creative experiences.

The Bridges Sesquicentennial Photo Exhibit is part of a three-year initiative at Hildegard Center for the Arts called “Bridges,” – offering projects that connect communities and cultures through the arts. The office headquarters for Hildegard Center for the Arts is located at Old City Hall, 920 “O” St., Suite 1, Lincoln, NE, 68508.   To learn more, go to

Contact Person – Kim Einspahr | Hildegard Center for the Arts

(402) 416.8650 or

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Marker Monday Encore: Omaha Central Students Restore Historical Markers


Left to right: Omaha Central Social Studies teacher Gary Groff with students Maddie Badura and Micah Martin

In the fall of 2015, several students approached Gary Groff, chair of the social studies department at Omaha Central High School, concerned about the deteriorated condition of the two historical markers on the school’s campus. One marker commemorating “Capitol Hill,” the location of Nebraska’s territorial capitol building, was dedicated in 1964.

The other marker telling the history of Central High School was dedicated in 1979. Time had taken its toll and the paint had faded.

Nebraska State Historical Society staff provided the specifications for repainting the markers. During the winter months, students in the International Baccalaureate Program along with students in the National Honor Society (Beta Chapter) were contacted about their interest in the project. Many responded and were up to the task.

“History plays an important role at our school, and I’m glad I was a part of helping people know more about it,” said Maddie Badura, one of the students who helped with the project. “You can’t know what you can’t read.”

Eight students gathered to begin the painting of the markers:  Maddie Badura, Morgan Bennett, Erin Burbach, Maddie Hayko, Micah Martin, Anna Overbeck, Sihley Pawaskar and Sydney Wurdeman.  The markers were primed, followed by the application of the blue background. Three of the girls, Maddie Badura, Micah and Sihley, returned to finish the job and detailed the letters and state seal. The markers were completed this spring and are now surrounded by a new landscaping of purple flowers to match the school colors.


Capitol Hill marker, before restoration.



Central High School marker (after restoration).


Detail of Central High School marker seal, after restoration.

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Marker Monday: Willa Cather Memorial Prairie

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers. If you’d like to see a specific marker featured, send an email to

Interested in hiking this scenic prairie? The annual Willa Cather Spring Conference will be held June 2-4, 2016 in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Cather scholars, general readers, and those interested in the arts will gather to celebrate Cather’s legacy and Nebraska’s cultural heritage. See their web site here.



American Legion Memorial Hwy, Red Cloud, Webster County, Nebraska; 40.003983, -98.52316

Marker Text:

Willa Cather first came to Webster County from Virginia in 1883 at the age of nine. The vast open prairies of Nebraska made a lasting impression on her. “This country was mostly wild pasture and as naked as the back of your hand. I was little and homesick and lonely and my mother was homesick and nobody paid any attention to us. So the country and I had it out together and by the end of the first autumn, that shaggy grass country had gripped me with a passion I have never been able to shake.” Her life task became portraying how the pioneers tamed the wild land. The 610 acre Willa Cather Memorial Prairie preserves an example of the native grassland that once covered Nebraska. Throughout the summer, numerous wildflowers grow amid tall native grasses in an ever changing display of color. Here, life typical of the prairie flourishes as it did before the first settlers came. The prairie was purchased by the Nature Conservancy with a grant from the Woods Charitable Fund of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Bibliography / Read On:

Check out several Cather artifacts in the “Nebraska Unwrapped” Exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum.

Search results for “Willa Cather” on

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Flashback Friday: How Hall County WWI Doughboys Communicated with the Home Front

01 8480-6-13 F

“If there is one thing the German fears more than anything else it is the bayonet charge,” wrote an employee of the Keystone View Company as part of a little essay on the back of this stereocard. The card’s caption reads, “Learning How to Give the Huns a Taste of American Steel.”

“These are the days that try men’s souls over here,” wrote U.S. Army First Lieutenant Harold Prince from a trench in France during World War I.

“The nights are generally quiet,” Prince explained to his family back in Grand Island, Nebraska. “Then comes a crash of the big guns, but more ominous by far than that out of the quiet night comes the sinister ‘put-put-put-put’ of the machine guns. Then all is quiet again. Up goes a brilliant flame, again the ‘put-put-put-put’ of the machine gun, then quiet again. Such is the night. Then the daylight comes. Airplanes fly far overhead an occasional shell or two [is dropped], so it is day after day, night after night.”

02 Harold Prince p540_2

First Lieutenant Harold Prince of Grand Island. From A.F. Buechler, R.J. Barr, and Dale P. Stough, History of Hall County Nebraska (Lincoln: Western Publishing & Engraving Co., 1920), 540.

Prince explained that this was nature of battle for weeks on end,“no permanent change of important lines, then a push, a slaughter, a battle, a counter charge, until finally equilibrium is again established, quiet and peace again. Such is war on the front.”

Prince, like so many other Grand Island men who served in World War I, recorded his experiences in letters home to friends, sweethearts, and family members. These letters tell the story of Grand Island and other Hall County servicemen’s wartime lives. Much of this correspondence appeared in the Grand Island Daily Independent, which published over two hundred letters from military personnel. Most of the men who authored the letters were from Grand Island, although a few letters were from rural or small-town Hall County men. These men’s friends and family members apparently simply brought the servicemen’s personal letters to the newspaper and the Daily Independent published them in the column “Letters from Our Lads on the Front.” The letters provide a window into the lives of Hall County military personnel in almost real time. Most were written within days or even hours of the events about which they comment so the memories and emotions were still fresh and sometimes raw.

While the letters offer great insights into World War I military life, they also hold pitfalls for scholars. The letters are not without editing. At various points U.S. military personnel read and edited personal correspondence by enlisted men, removing any information that might give the enemy details about troop movements or strategy.

This mask belonged to Elmer l. Bunger of Humboldt, Richardson County, a sergeant in Company E, 314th Supply Train of the 89th Dvisiion. Bunger participated in teh St. Mihiel Offensive, Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and Lcey adn Euvezin Sectors, and was honorably discharged on June 12, 1919.

This mask belonged to Elmer L. Bunger of Humboldt, Richardson County, a sergeant in Company E, 314th Supply Train of the 89th Division. Bunger participated in the St. Mihiel Offensive, Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and Lucey and Euvezin Sectors, and was honorably discharged on June 12, 1919.

This knowledge caused the doughboys to self-edit, fearing some information might not make it past the official censor. Many were also aware that the Daily Independent published military men’s letters and knew that their correspondence might appear in the newspaper. Some welcomed this publicity and appear to have written for public consumption. Others, knowing their letters might appear in the paper, may not have been as honest and forthcoming as they might have been in a truly private letter.

Along with self-censoring, it is also possible that editing took place in Grand Island. Friends and family members may have removed parts of letters they considered too private to print. In some cases the editors of the Daily Independent omitted information. During the first weeks of the column, the paper published only extended excerpts from letters and in other cases information that the editors considered too sensitive was omitted.

However, while some of the letters may have been altered, they still provide invaluable insights to Hall County doughboys’ wartime experiences. They reveal their bravado and fear, excitement and loneliness, and how they were changed by battle.

To demonstrate their patriotism and loyalty more than 1,200 Hall County men were among the some four million Americans who served in the military during World War I.

Daryl Webb, Assistant Professor of History at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Want to keep reading?

For more excerpts from the Hall County soldiers’ letters as well as analysis of their motivations, successes, and tragedies, read “The Best War I Ever Expect to Have: Hall County Doughboys’ Letters Home” by Daryl Webb in the Spring 2016 edition of Nebraska History.

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Reader Response to Hall County Doughboys article

We had a reader response to “The Best War I Ever Expect to Have: Hall County Doughboys’ Letters Home” by Daryl Webb, which ran in the Spring 2016 edition of Nebraska History.  Read Dr. Frank Edler of Lincoln, NE’s response below:

First, I’d like to say that I appreciated Webb’s article focusing on this issue and discussing the letters of the Nebraska soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces, especially the ones dealing with the reasons for enlisting, the conditions of trench warfare, and the yearnings for returning home.

Some of Hall County's veterans. From History of Hall County Nebraska, 518.

Some of Hall County’s veterans. From History of Hall County Nebraska, 518.

I was concerned, however, with the lack of context in the section dealing with the Nebraska State Council of Defense and its history (along with the county councils of defense) during the war period.

The best work on the Nebraska State Council of Defense is still Robert N. Manley’s master’s thesis at UNL entitled “The Nebraska State Council of Defense: Loyalty Programs and Policies during World War I” (1959) under the supervision of James C. Olson. Manley also wrote a good article for Nebraska History entitled “The Nebraska State Council of Defense and the Non-Partisan League, 1917-1918” (December 1962) as well as another article entitled “Language, Loyalty, and Liberty: The Nebraska State Council of Defense and the Lutheran Churches” which appeared in the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly (April 1964). Frederick Luebke who taught history at UNL has also written on this theme such as his book Bonds of Loyalty. German-Americans and World War I (Northern Illinois University Press, 1974). There is an article too by Luebke in the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly entitled “Superpatriotism in World War I: The Experience of a Lutheran Pastor” (February 1968). The author does not seem to be aware of these works.

What troubles me about this lack of research is that the author believes that the State Council of Defense was “an organization created to ensure loyalty” (p.36).  Actually, the State Council was created to coordinate the war efforts of the state of Nebraska, not to ferret out disloyalty. The state legislature went beyond the Constitution in creating an extra-legal entity which could arbitrarily subpoena witnesses, examine them without any legal representation and enforce fines on them. It was Richard L. Metcalfe and other members of the Nebraska State Council who decided to devote the first report of the Council entirely to the question of so-called disloyalty in the German-American community, the Lutheran Church, and the University of Nebraska (12 professors and one staff member were tried for disloyalty in late May and early June of 1918). What the author does not say is that the Council thought itself above the law and beyond the reach of judicial review, as Manley has shown in his articles. Through the Council’s use of the Espionage Law of 1917 and its amended version known as the Sedition Act of 1918, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press were literally eliminated not only for the duration of the war but also for the period known as the Red Scare after the war (and this occurred across the country as well).

Grand Island Independent, October 3, 1817, 3

Grand Island Independent, October 3, 1817, 3

In addition, the State Council tried to drive out the Non-Partisan League, a strong farmers’ organization from North Dakota that had begun organizing in Nebraska in 1917. The Council sanctioned local councils to forbid League meetings in an attempt to keep the League out. Moreover, the Council and Governor Neville looked the other way when vigilantes broke up League meetings, beat up organizers, or threw them in jail without warrants.

As Addison E. Sheldon said on page 919 in the first volume of his work Nebraska. The Land and the People (1931), “A military despotism, so far as it was useful or usable, was set up in America. Back of it was to be marshaled the public opinion of the people. And that public opinion was to crush and flatten down, like a steam roller on a bumpy road, whoever raised his head or his voice in any way to diminish the war power.”

We always welcome reader responses! If you have a question or comment about anything you read in Nebraska History or on this blog, please email

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