Wild Weather Wednesday: Niobrara, the Town That Moved Twice

Welcome to Wild Weather Wednesday. We’ll post a photo from our collections depicting an extreme weather event from Nebraska’s past.


Stereoview: Missouri River flood at Niobrara. RG2118.PH000005-000014

Niobrara in Knox County was established in the spring of 1857 along the Missouri River about a mile southeast of its confluence with the Niobrara River. The location was chosen to provide easy access to steamboat traffic.

However, its location was moved after the great flood at the end of the winter of 1881. The town was moved a second time in 1971 when ground water rose due to the creation of the Fort Randall Dam and later the Gavins Point Dam which created the Lewis and Clark Lake. The relocation of Niobrara in 1881-82 cost an estimated $40,000; the 1970s relocation cost an estimated $14.5 million.



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Timeline Tuesday: 1890s Business Women Challenged Fashion Standards

Several unidentified women sitting at typewriters in Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska, in 1939.

Several unidentified women sitting at typewriters in Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska, in 1939.

The invention of the typewriter changed the way American business and government prepared written materials. Jobs for “typewriters,” as operators of the new machine were first called, were soon created, and women were quick to apply for and fill them. These first female typists found that entering the business world changed their job expectations, home duties, and even their mode of dress.

The Lincoln Daily Call, on June 24, 1891, reported a fashion innovation for businesswomen in an article titled “Women in Trousers.” The Call told its Nebraska readers: “At a recent meeting of the Woman’s National council at Indianapolis it was resolved that the women in business, the typewriters, should have a change in dress and the discussion showed that the bloomer costume was to be outdone if the expressed sentiment of those present counted for anything. The New York Tribune draws this picture of the coming reform:

“We fear that we should not touch on the question of the business dress for women, resolved on at Indianapolis, but as it seems probable that there is to be a radical change, the matter is too important to pass over in silence. The typical business woman is the typewriter, and the executive board of the conclave at Indianapolis, has declared that her dress must be changed, and has appointed a committee to draw up plans and specifications and report at the meeting next year. Indeed, the question was talked over in the council and a pretty accurate guess can doubtless be made as to what the report of the committee will be.

“The skirt is going to be discarded. In the council a mighty current, like an intellectual gulf stream, set from skirts toward trousers. The committee will report next May, and a year from now, if all goes well, the business women of the country will be wearing trousers. . . .

“They may be baggy trousers; there may be trimming and passementerie down the sides and accordion plaiting around the ankles; but they will be trousers nevertheless. Bright colors may be introduced: they may not be made up wholly from one kind of cloth; the two divisions into which all trousers naturally divide themselves may-we know not-be made in different colors; but they will remain trousers notwithstanding. The gentle, bewitching swish of the typewriter’s skirts is falling upon the ears of lower New York for the last times; in a few months there will be only the silent, business-like trousers.

“But need we repine? It does not seem necessary. It matters not how woman, business or homekeeping, is arrayed; she will remain incomparable. As well say that it affects the beauty or the fragrance of a rose to transfer it from a china to a bronze vase. We welcome business woman’s trousers. And we congratulate her; she will at last have a pocket.”

To learn more about the programs and services of the Nebraska State Historical Society, call 1-800-633-6747 or visit our website at www.nebraskahistory.org

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Marker Monday: K-9 Training Area, Ft. Robinson

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 kylie.kinley@nebraska.gov.


U.S. 20, Harrison, Dawes County, Nebraska; view this marker’s location 42.667331, -103.4617

Marker Text:

In September 1942 the Fort Robinson War Dog Training Center was established. Barracks, classrooms, administrative offices, and other support buildings were located west and north of here. To the east and north was a sprawling kennel area housing 1,800 dogs. The dogs were trained as guard, scout, messenger, and sled dogs. Training normally lasted 8 to 12 weeks. Nearly 5,000 dogs, half the number used by the Army in World War II, were trained here. The center was deactivated in June 1946.

Read on:

During World War II, Fort Robinson was home to a K-9 Training Center which prepared dogs for use in the military in the war.

K-9 kennels at Fort Robinson. (Nebraska State Historical Society). RG1517-PH000052-000036_SFN5297

K-9 kennels at Fort Robinson. (Nebraska State Historical Society). RG1517-PH000052-000036_SFN5297

Dogs For Defense For centuries, dogs have been used by militaries for various purposes. Germany, Japan and England all had dog units during World War II. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, a group of prominent American civilians created Dogs For Defense, Inc. to convince the military to create its own dog program. The secretary of war created such a program in February of 1942. Almost all of the dogs used in the program, which was coordinated by Dogs For Defense, were donated. By the end of the war, 18,000 dogs were used.

dog and trainer chasing soldier over obstacle course, Fort Robinson, 1943. RG1517-PH000052-000001_SFN18079

Dog and trainer chasing soldier over obstacle course, Fort Robinson, 1943. RG1517-PH000052-000001_SFN18079

At Fort Robinson Fort Robinson was one of two army bases used to train K-9 units. (The other was Front Royal, Virginia.) Its remote location and connection to the railroad made it an ideal place to train dogs. On October 3, 1942, the K-9 division of Fort Robinson accepted its first shipment of dogs. Several days later, the first trainees arrived. Both civilian and military trainers were used to train military personnel how to use the dogs. Each trainee had to feed and groom his own set of dogs. After two weeks of basic training, the trainees and dogs were sorted into different groups for specialized training, which took four to six weeks. The primary use for the dogs was as sentries or attack dogs. These dogs had to be trained to get used to gunfire and violence. Other dogs served as scouts, messengers or sled dogs. The biggest risk of working with dogs was dog bites. Corporal George Henne was bitten several times while at the Fort. “[Corporal Henne] found that it does not pay to hold your hand in front of one of the trained dogs too long,” a newspaper reported. Many of the dogs were sent to guard bases and Prisoner of War camps, while others were sent overseas. At the height of operations in 1944, Fort Robinson had 1,353 dogs on hand and had deployed 3,565. The people who donated the dogs often wrote to see how their dogs were doing. The staff usually responded to the letters. One eleven year-old asked “if I can put a star in my window because I gave you my dog.” The program was ended after war came to a close.


Soldier agitating dog before a training run, Fort Robinson, 1943. RG1517-PH000052-000009_SFN18075

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Flashback Friday: Dog Soup Party


Dog Soup Party, Pine Ridge Sioux. RG0802.120-82

If you search our photo collection for the word “party,” you expect to find birthday parties, hunting parties, and even anniversary parties. Even the “mule party” (group of people traveling on mules) doesn’t really surprise you.

But dog soup party?

That merits investigation.

The caption was written by the photographer, so we don’t know if the people in the photograph would consider the gathering a “party.” It could be an everyday meal where dog was the only food available, a special occasion for a guest, or another kind of event. The tone of the caption implies the photographer is jesting about the situation. Cultures around the world have different tastes in what animals are fit to eat. Beef and pork are taboo in some places and eaten with relish in others. Dog meat is no different.

Dog Soup

Americans are expected to spend $62.75 billion on their pets in 2016 (American Pet Products Association). But dogs were often treated as meat animals throughout history and are treated as such in many cultures today. While the annual June dog meat festival in China is one of the more famous instances, dog is eaten as a common, ceremonial, and medicinal dish in Asia, African, the Americas, and even parts of Europe. The Swiss often eat dog meat at Christmas, and dog lard is used for rheumatism (Phillips).

It is illegal for U.S. slaughterhouses to slaughter cats and dogs, and the sale of cat and dog meat is illegal (because it is unregulated). However, few U.S. states have specific laws that prohibit the use of pets for food. Some states charge people who are caught eating dogs or cats with animal cruelty. New York prohibits “any person to slaughter or butcher domesticated dog (canis familiaris) or domesticated cat (felis catus or domesticus) to create food, meat or meat products for human or animal consumption” (Palmer). California even bars possession of the carcass, so you can’t say you’re holding onto dog chops for a friend. Many states forbid the unnecessary killing of an animal except for farming activities, and dogs and cats are not covered under “farming activities.”

Dog soup specifically is a popular dish in South Korea. Called “Boshintang,” the soup is a “supposed ‘health’ soup.” Animal rights activists have campaigned against this practice for years. Last week, fresh opposition came from British animal rights groups, who claimed that up to three million dogs a year are slaughtered in South Korea. The country is hosting the 2018 winter Olympics, and animal rights advocates and celebrities are calling for their home countries to pressure South Korea to ban the practice before the Olympics start. (Wheeler) South Korea banned dog meat during the 1988 Olympics, but the ban did not discourage their citizens’ appetite for the dish.

Do Nebraskans eat dog meat? The Nebraska Humane Society’s website says “it is unlawful for anyone to willfully or maliciously kill, maim, disfigure, torture, beat with a stick, chain or club or other object, mutilate, burn or scald with any substance or cruelly set upon any animal.” Slaughter for meat consumption is not on the list.

When Dog Was on the Menu

While it wasn’t always served as a soup, dog was often reserved for important feasts in traditional Sioux culture. It was also eaten out of necessity when other meat sources were unavailable. Some of the earliest records of Native American tribes eating dogs come from Lewis and Clark. Members of their expedition – including Lewis – frequently ate dogs. National Geographic writes, “In the dry areas of what is now eastern Washington, in fact, where there was little if any game and the only other choice was dried salmon, usually impregnated with sand, the men came to prefer dog.” However, Lewis’s Newfoundland dog Seaman was spared and completed the entire journey with the Corps of Discovery.

Dogs were also used as pack animals both before and after the introduction of horses to the Plains tribes. Dog history scholar and dog law lawyer John Ensminger has a blog called “The Dogs of the Great Plains Nations” where he describes the origins of the types of dogs used as well as their purpose in tribal culture.

Prince Maximilian of Wied, a German explorer who began his travels among North American Indians in 1832, is quoted describing the Sioux dogs:

“Smaller articles were conveyed by the dogs…. The dogs, whose flesh is eaten by the Sioux, are equally valuable to the Indians. In shape they differ very little from the wolf, and are equally large and strong. Some are of the real wolf colour; others black, white, or spotted with black and white, and differing only by the tail being rather more turned up. Their voice is not a proper barking, but a howl, like that of the wolf, and they partly descend from wolves, which approach the Indian huts, even in the daytime, and mix with the dogs…. [they] showed their teeth when any one approached them” (Ensminger).

Several early explorers and traders recorded that taking care of the dogs was the responsibility of the Native American women. One explorer wrote “the dogs drag on poles the camp furniture, the provisions, the little children, and all the valuables of the family. It is a very amusing sight to witness several hundred dogs solemnly engaged in moving a large camp. They look wistfully at passers-by, and take advantage of the least want of attention on the part of their mistresses to lie down, or snarl and snap at their companions in the work. They nevertheless obey the word of command with alacrity and willingness if not fatigued” (Ensminger).

From Our Special Correspondent: Dispatches from the 1875 Black Hills Council at Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, edited by James E. Potter

From Our Special Correspondent: Dispatches from the 1875 Black Hills Council at Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, edited by James E. Potter

Nebraska-specific dog feast stories can be found in the late Jim Potter’s last book, From Our Special Correspondent. Dog feasts were given with gifts of ponies to honor guests (Potter 157). Sharing dog meat was also a gesture of friendliness. A man named “Old Ribs” “extended a cordial invitation to his auditors to go to camp with him, where he says some of the remnants of the feast were left over, and that he will give them all the cold dog they can eat. This invitation was declined, however, courteously but firmly” (196).

One reporter named Albert Swalm writes of a dog feast in great detail, from the selection of the doomed canine, to the way it was clubbed to death, and then how it was cooked. Then, the dish was served.

Swalm wrote, “To Col. Beauvais, who is of St. Louis, was given the whole head, which set in his dish, grinning at him like—well, there is nothing so much on the grin as a dog’s head boiled. Possibly your readers cannot obtain an adequate idea of such a sight save only in one way—boil a dog’s head, set it in a pan and gaze at it by the light of a pine knot.

“I positively decline to state what your correspondent received in his dish, but Capt. Ashby, who is from Nebraska, had his pan garnished with an elegant hind leg, and a few joints of tail. Bade to come to a feast, it must have been a grave breach of Indian hospitality not to partake, but Col. Beauvais, who is an old Indian trader, informed the whites that if they did not wish to eat that dog, a release could be purchased. None of the visitors were hungry, and it took twenty dollars to convince the Indians that they were not so. The dog was entirely eaten up, the bones being picked as clean as though flesh had never covered them.”

This Dog Soup Party photo does not have the detail or the feast-like atmosphere discussed in Special Correspondent.

Instead, this photo shows a group of six people in front of a tipi and wagon with the caption “Dog Soup Party, Pine Ridge Sioux.” In a direct contradiction of the “stoic Indian” stereotype, the photo subjects are relaxed and seemingly happy.

While dozens of photos of life at Pine Ridge Indian Agency and at nearby Fort Robinson show dogs hanging out with their humans, the animals are conspicuously absent from this photo.

Well, almost absent.

One of the men has a full fork halfway to his mouth.



Works Cited

Brandt, Anthony. “Sex, Dog Meat, and the Lash: Odd Facts About Lewis and Clark.” National Geographic News. Dec. 8 2003. Web. Date accessed 14 September 2016. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/12/1204_031204_lewisclark.html

Ensminger, John J. “The Dogs of the Great Plains Nations.” Doglawreporter. Jan. 22 2012. Web. Date accessed 14 Sep. 2016. http://doglawreporter.blogspot.com/2012/01/dogs-of-great-plains-nations.html

Nebraska Humane Society. “Reporting an Animal Issue.” Nebraska Human Society.2015. Web. Date accessed 14 Sep. 2016.  http://www.nehumanesociety.org/community-services/animal-control/reporting-an-animal-issue.html

Palmer, Brian. “Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty. Is it legal to eat your cat?” Slate.com. Aug. 12, 2010. Web. Last accessed 13 September 2016. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2010/08/here_kitty_kitty_kitty.html

Phillips, Catherine. “Not Just For Christmas: Swiss Urged to Stop Eating Cats and Dogs.” Newsweek.com. Nov. 26 2014. Web. Date accessed 14 Sept. 2016. http://www.newsweek.com/not-just-christmas-swiss-urged-stop-eating-cats-and-dogs-287378

“Pet Industry Market Size and Ownership Statistics.” American Pet Products Association. Web. Last accessed 13 Sept. 2016. http://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp

Potter, Jim, ed. From Our Special Correspondent: Dispatches from the 1875 Black Hills Council at Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska. Lincoln: Nebraska State Historical Society Press, 2016. Print.

Wheeler, Richard. “Dame Judi Dench urges Boris Johnson to ‘vigorously encourage’ South Korea to end dog meat trade.” The Mirror. 12 Sept. 2016. Web. Date accessed 14 September 2016. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/dame-judi-dench-urges-boris-8815189


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Wild Weather Wednesday: Yutan Tornado – March 23, 1913

Welcome to Wild Weather Wednesday. We’ll post a photo from our collections depicting an extreme weather event from Nebraska’s past.


A damaged church in Yutan (Saunders County) after the March 23, 1913 tornado. RG1121.PH000015-000003-b


A damaged building in Yutan (Saunders County) after the March 23, 1913 tornado. RG1121.PH000015-000003-d


A damaged church in Yutan (Saunders County) after the March 23, 1913 tornado. RG1121.PH000015-000003-c


A piano rests in ruins after the Yutan (Saunders County) March 23, 1913 tornado. RG1121.PH000015-000003-e

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Timeline Tuesday: Lurking in every Coca Cola glass is an ‘evil principle’

Caption: Interior of Fred Trute’s liquor store, Seward, Nebraska. NSHS RG2536-5-10

Caption: Interior of Fred Trute’s liquor store, Seward, Nebraska. NSHS RG2536-5-10

Readers of The Nebraska Issue (Lincoln), official organ of the Anti-Saloon League in this state, were once counseled on avoiding alcohol and other drugs in their daily lives. The November 1907 number of the Issue included Dr. J. J. Ridge’s brief article on “Substitutes for Brandy.” Dr. Ridge listed nonintoxicating stimulants that he believed could replace brandy for use in emergencies such as “faintness, palpitation or relief of pain, such as colic.”

“First.-Water as hot as can be conveniently swallowed either alone or slightly sweetened to be sipped. Even cold water sipped stimulates the heart.

“Second.-Ginger tea, one teaspoonful to a teacupful of boiling water; sweeten. Sip hot.

“Third.-Herb tea, a teaspoonful of powdered sage, mint or similar herb to a teacup of boiling water; sweeten: sip hot. Camomile tea taken warm is especially suitable for the colic of infants.

“Fourth-Meat extract, a teaspoonful in a wineglass of hot water with herb flavoring if preferred.

“Fifth.-Other measures, flapping the face and chest with a cold, wet towel, putting the hands in hot water, ammonia, or smelling salts to the nostrils, tickling the nostrils with a feather, etc.”

One drink that temperance workers did not view as an acceptable substitute for alcohol was the “popular summer drink so extensively advertised in all the papers and magazines of our country”-Coca Cola. The soft drink was concocted by pharmacist John Pemberton in 1886 and so named because it was flavored using kola nuts, a source of caffeine, and included trace extracts of coca leaf (gradually removed from the formula by about 1905).

However, temperance organs like The Issue believed that Coke contained a drug and complained in July 1907: “Even the advertising columns of many of our best religious periodicals are open to it. These papers would doubtless reject this matter were the true nature of Coca Cola known, for lurking in every glass is an evil principle that is gradually deceiving and enslaving the drinker.”

The Issue concluded, “Here is another field of education and agitation. Doubtless the majority of drinkers [of Coca Cola] believe, when they begin at least, that it is perfectly harmless. It is for us to give the alarm lest when we have conquered the alcoholic drink evil we shall have one more subtle with which to contend-a drug habit.”

To learn more about the programs and services of the Nebraska State Historical Society, call 1-800-633-6747 or visit our website at www.nebraskahistory.org

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Marker Monday: Sam Bass and the Big Springs Robbery

 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 kylie.kinley@nebraska.gov.SamBassLocation

Nebraska 25B, Big Springs, Deuel County, Nebraska; 41.059983, -102.0743

Marker Text

The first and greatest robbery of a Union Pacific train took place near here on the night of September 18, 1877. The legendary Sam Bass and five companions, after capturing John Barnhart, station-master, and destroying the telegraph, forced Union Pacific express train No. 4 to halt. A reported $60,000 in new $20 gold pieces and currency was taken from the express car, while about a thousand dollars and a number of watches were taken from passengers. The accumulated loot from this, the Big Springs Robbery, it is said, was then divided by the outlaws, beneath the Lone Tree then growing on the north side of the river. After making the division, the robbers then split into pairs and fled their pursuers. Joel Collins and Bill Heffridge were killed at Buffalo, Kansas. Jim Berry was killed near Mexico, Missouri, while Tom Nixon and Jim Davis were never located. After forming another band and robbing four trains in Texas, Sam Bass was killed by Texas Rangers at Round Rock, Texas, on July 21, 1878; it was his 27th birthday. His epitaph reads “A Brave Man Reposes in Death Here. Why was he not true?”


Further Reading

Search results for “Sam Bass” on www.nebraskahistory.org

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Flashback Friday: New Photos of 1890s Irrigation and Pioneer Life in the North Platte Valley Reveal New Insights

The right portion of this house shows a remnant of an earlier, lower gable, indicating that the house was originally built with a low roof (like the house in the left background in the previous photo). With its additions, awning, and partial new roof, the tidy sod house is the picture of prosperity.

 A Scottsbluff man was browsing an estate sale in 2014 when he noticed a box full of glass plate photographic negatives. Many were broken, but twenty-six were whole and contained recognizable views of local landmarks. He bought the box, and in so doing rescued some of the work of C. W. Bonham, one of the Panhandle’s most important early photographers.

Dating to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the photos are some of the finest early views of the North Platte Valley in the Scottsbluff-Gering vicinity. What is more, they document a crucial moment in the valley’s history: the beginning of large-scale irrigation projects that would soon transform the region’s economy.

The purchaser of the negatives, Devin Jacobs, had them scanned and corrected by Ken Kurtz of Spectrum Photo in Gering, then sold the negatives to Jack Preston of the Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering. All parties approved the publication of these photos in Nebraska History. All photos in this blog post are by C. W. Bonham; digital images provided by Ken Kurtz, Spectrum Photo, Gering. Many of the images were printed as picture postcards in the early 1900s; reproductions of the postcards have occasionally been republished in books and articles. We believe, however, that this is the first time the photos have been published as a group, and the first time in more than a century that the images come directly from the original glass plates.

Clarence W. Bonham (1867-1934) was a businessman and professional photographer in Gering. His father, Rev. J. W. Bonham, M.D., was both a physician and an Episcopalian minister in New York City; his mother, Anna, was involved in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement and other moral crusades. But the Bonhams separated and in 1885 Anna moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, relocating to western Nebraska in 1886. She claimed a homestead in Carter Canyon in southern Scotts Bluff County. When she was still “holding down her homestead” three years later, the Gering Courier remarked that the sixty-year-old “deserves a lot of credit for an old lady.”[1]

Clarence apparently came west with his mother; he was living in the area at least by January 1888. He claimed a homestead five miles west of Gering, became involved in the community, and married in 1890.[2]

Chimney Rock has eroded over the years. The shape shown here matches that in photos known to be from the early 1900s

Although some sources identify C. W. Bonham primarily as a photographer, he listed his occupation as “confectioner” in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. He and his wife, Nettie, never had children of their own, but Gering children of the day had fond memories of Mr. Bonham, who “made the world’s best ice cream in a child’s mind,” according to a woman quoted in a local history. Another Gering resident remembered riding with his father in a horse and buggy to deliver milk to Bonham’s creamery on the south side of town. Mr. Bonham “would give me a dip of ice cream with a big soup ladle.”[3]

Bonham was a man of diverse interests. His ice cream parlor and photography studio shared a building on Tenth Street.[4] Bonham was among the shareholders of the first local telephone company, established in 1898 and which ran a line between Gering and Alliance. By 1901 he was vice president of the Gering Building and Loan Association, and in 1902-03 served as master of the local Masonic lodge.[5] He was no longer working by the 1920 census, and he and Nettie were living in Florida when she died in 1927. Bonham latter married Nettie’s sister and spent his last years in Los Angeles, where he died in 1934.[6]

As a businessman Bonham was interested in promoting Gering and the valley. He could do so, and make some money, by selling picture postcards of local landmarks and developments. This was probably the main commercial outlet for these photos. It’s also clear that Bonham took pride in his photography and approached it with an artistic eye, carefully composing his views and applying his considerable technical skills to achieve sharp detail and rich tonal range.

In addition to purely scenic views, irrigation is a recurring theme in this collection. The photos of canals and flumes appear to date from the latter 1890s, during construction of the Gering extension of the Mitchell-Gering Canal.

Small-scale irrigation in the North Platte Valley began near Gering in 1886 with a mile-and-a-half-long furrow plowed from Winters Creek to a parched millet field. The following year a group of local men founded the Farmers’ Canal Company, which finished ten miles of ditch by October 1890 before succumbing to undercapitalization. The Minatare Irrigation Company and other local cooperatives were more successful. By 1889 Scotts Bluff County had seventy irrigators, the most of any Nebraska county, and was third in irrigated acreage. Gering Courier editor Asa B. Wood boasted that the community was becoming “the new El Dorado on the valley of the North Platte.”[7]

Wood and other proponents of irrigation were ahead of their time. Across the Great Plains, most town boosters and state officials still believed that “rain followed the plow” and that irrigation would soon be unnecessary. Moreover, from a boosters’ standpoint it was considered bad publicity to admit that one’s region lacked adequate rainfall for farming.[8]

Prolonged drought during the 1890s forced a change of attitude. Nebraska enacted an irrigation law in 1895, allowing irrigation districts to assess lands for improvements. Congress created the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1902, allowing for projects on a still larger scale.

Threshing, using an “American” brand threshing machine.

Bonham’s images of the Mitchell-Gering Canal shows the growing ambitions of western Nebraska irrigators. In 1890-91 the Mitchell portion of the canal was built mostly through the labor of the farmers who would benefit from it. Several years later the Gering extension faced greater engineering challenges in crossing badlands north of Scotts Bluff. Building it required outside expertise and greater debt.[9]

In the early twentieth century irrigation grew to a still larger scale with the North Platte Project, a federal project involving two major dams  (Pathfinder and Guernsey, both in Wyoming) and more than two thousand miles of canals, laterals, and drains that were dug in Wyoming and Nebraska between 1905 and 1924. The first of these was the Interstate Canal (built 1905-15), which crosses into Nebraska north of the Scottsbluff-Gering area to Lake Alice and Lake Minatare.[10]

We can see the local excitement for irrigation through Bonham’s photos. Residents pose proudly beside the new infrastructure, believing that it will transform their community. Irrigation lived up to the hype, turning sagebrush and rangeland into cropland for dry beans, corn, alfalfa, potatoes—and, especially, sugar beets. Introduced locally as early as 1901, the sugar beet proved well-suited to the valley’s soil and climate. Irrigated acreage expanded greatly after the North Platte Project began delivering water in 1909; the area’s first beet processing facility opened in 1910. Two decades later Great Western Sugar’s six plants across the valley were producing 250 million pounds of sugar per year. Beet tops and pulp left over from processing became feed for the cattle, sheep, and hogs.[11] Meanwhile the valley’s ethnic mix changed with its economy, as Germans from Russia and Hispanics came to work the beet fields and stayed to put down roots of their own.

Five women along a canal east of Scotts Bluff, early 1900s

Historian Robert Autobee explains that “access to water ended the cattleman’s monopoly of the land and raised agriculture to equal status in the region’s economy,” and that the coming of large-scale irrigation “is a signpost denoting the end of one era and the onset of an increasingly domesticated West.”[12]

In Bonham’s photos the new West is still in the future. His farms are homesteads, his Gering and Mitchell little more than pioneer villages, his Scotts Bluff not yet a national monument. His photos are perched at the tipping point between two eras. After more than a century we can once again view that historical moment in the full glory captured by his camera.

By David L. Bristow, editor of Nebraska History.

Like these photos? You can buy prints from Spectrum Photo in Gering – http://www.spectrumphoto.com/index2.php#/home/

This article appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Nebraska History. If you want to see the rest of Bonham’s photos, visit our website www.nebraskahistory.org to learn how to buy this copy or subscribe to the magazine.



The cover of the Summer 2016 Nebraska History.



[1] Nebraska Homestead (Gering, NE), Apr. 8, 1898; Gering Courier, June 21, 1888.

[2] Gering Courier, Jan. 26, 1888, June 20, 1889, Aug. 8, 1889, Jan. 15, 1892; Dec., 7, 1934; Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database online]. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2013; Miriam Stanley Carleton-Squires, “Music of the Pioneer Days in Nebraska,” Nebraska History 24 (1943): 272. Anna Bonham was still living in the area at the time of her death in 1898.

[3] Gering Centennial Committee, History of Gering, Nebraska: The First 100 Years (Dallas, Texas: Curtis Media, 1989), 317, 403.

[4] History of Gering, Nebraska, 418.

[5] A. B. Wood, Pioneer Tales of the North Platte Valley and Nebraska Panhandle (Gering, Neb.: Courier Press, 1938), 104; P. L. Hall, Eighth Annual Report of the Department of Banking; Showing the Condition of the Building and Loan Associations of Nebraska, for the Years 1899-1900 (Lincoln: Hunter-Woodruff Printing Co., 1900), 30; History of Gering, Nebraska, 103.

[6] Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database online]. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2013; Ancestry.com. U.S. Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database online]. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012; Gering Courier, Dec. 7, 1934.

[7] Quoted in Sam S. Kepfield, “El Dorado on the Platte: The Development of Agricultural Irrigation and Water Law in Nebraska, 1860-1895,” Nebraska History 75 (Fall 1994): 235.

[8] Ibid.

[9] B. P. Fleming, “Irrigation Work on the North Platte River,” Wyoming Experiment Station, Bulletin No. 66 (June 1905), University of Wyoming, Agricultural College Department, 4-5; Grant L. Shumway, History of Western Nebraska and Its People, Vol. II (Lincoln: Western Publishing and Engraving Company, 1921), 481-83.

[10] Robert Autobee, North Platte Project, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (1996): 3-8, 21, 23-24, 31. http://www.usbr.gov/projects//ImageServer?imgName=Doc_1305124785545.pdf (accessed Sept. 8, 2015).

[11] Ibid., 31-32; “Cultivation, Irrigation, and Urbanization.”

[12] Autobee, North Platte Project, 2.

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Throwback Thursday: 1933 Millard Hotel Fire


Today’s Throwback Thursday photograph takes us to devastating fire that destroyed the Millard Hotel in Omaha on the night of February 8, 1933. Seven firemen lost their lives in this massive blaze and seventeen more were injured. They battled the fire for hours in temperatures that reached -15 degrees Fahrenheit. The four-story historic structure located on the northeast corner of 13th and Douglas Streets was a complete lost estimated at $250,000. All 45 guests made it to safety.

The brave firemen who lost their lives were Captains Thomas Shande and Edward Smith, Firemen George Brandt, Frank Kane, Louis Morocco, John Cogan and Inspector Clarence Urban. Rest in peace.



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Wild Weather Wednesday: Lincoln Lightning Strike

Welcome to Wild Weather Wednesday. We’ll post a photo from our collections depicting an extreme weather event from Nebraska’s past.

Lincoln has been having its own wild weather with torrential rainfall this past week, so we decided to post a photo of a storm from Lincoln’s past.

Flooded Lincoln street, at night with lightning in the sky.

Flooded Lincoln street, at night with lightning in the sky. No date.

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