State in central USA, bordered to the west by Wyoming, to the north by South Dakota, to the east by Iowa and Missouri, to the south by Kansas, and to the southwest by Colorado; area 199,098 sq km/76,872 sq mi; population (2006) 1,768,300; capital Lincoln. Part of the Midwest, Nebraska's landscape rises gradually from the east to the High Plains of the west. The state is a leading crop producer, including corn and wheat, and has an important cattle and hog industry. Food processing is also significant economically. Major cities include Omaha, Bellevue, Grand Island, Kearney, Fremont, North Platte, Hastings, Norfolk, and Columbus. Originally home to Plains Indians, including the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Omaha, Sioux, Oto, and Pawnee people, Nebraska was acquired by the USA as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Nebraska was organized as a territory in 1854 and was admitted to the Union in 1867 as the 37th US state.
Physical Nebraska rises gradually in a series of rolling plateaux, from the lowest in the southeast (256 m/840 ft) to the highest at Panorama Point (1,653 m/5,424 ft) in the High Plains of the west. There are two major land areas in the state: the Dissected Till Plains and the Great Plains.
The Dissected Till Plains are an area that was once covered in glaciers, which left a thick layer of rich dust called till (sediment), subsequently overlaid by a layer of yellowish-grey windblown silt called loess. This area covers the eastern fifth of the country, extending into South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas.
The Great Plains stretch from the Dissected Till Plains into Wyoming and Colorado. The Sand Hills section in west-central Nevada is an extensive ranching area dominated by the largest area of dunes in the world, with flowing streams, wells, and grasses. Farmers are careful to avoid overgrazing, which can kill the grass cover and, with the help of the wind, create great holes, called blowouts, in the hillsides. In the centre of the Great Plains is the Loess Plain, a super-fertile and intensively farmed area. North of the Sand Hills are the High Plains rising to a 1.6 km/1.0 mi above sea level. In these dry areas farmers either use irrigation or dry farming methods, in which they maintain a fine tilth or mulch on top of the soil to preserve the limited rainfall.
The Missouri River forms a boundary between Nebraska and Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri. The North and South Platte enter from Wyoming and Colorado, coming together at the town of North Platte, from where the Platte River meanders eastwards. It reaches a width of 1.6 km/1 mi in places, finally reaching the Missouri south of Omaha. The Platte is too shallow for navigation in parts and is used for recreation, irrigation, and hydroelectric power. Other rivers include the Niobrara, flowing into the northwest from Wyoming, and the Republican River, part of the Kansas River which flows through Nebraska for around 320 km/200 mi. This is joined by two other branches of the Kansas River. Nebraska has over 2,000 small lakes, and several artificial lakes for hydroelectric power and reservoirs.
Nebraska's climate ranges from extremely hot in summer to extremely cold in winter. Humid breezes from the Gulf of Mexico can make summer nights uncomfortable in the east. Rainfall is erratic – in some years there are droughts and in others floods.
Bison and deer are native to the state, as are prairie dogs, coyotes, skunks, squirrels, pheasants, and migratory birds.
Features Nebraska includes a 206-km/128-mi stretch of the Oregon Trail, the westward migration route used by pioneer settlers in the 19th century, which is followed by thousands of tourists every year. Sites on the route include Scotts Bluff National Monument, a landmark 245 m/800 ft above the North Platte River, and the Chimney Rock National Historic Site, a spire that rises 153 m/500 ft above the North Platte.
The University of Nebraska State Museum at Lincoln is home to the largest mammoth fossil ever discovered. The Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in the northwest of the state contains deposits of animal fossils. The Badlands near Crawford in northwestern Nebraska feature unusual formations made by the weathering of the sandstone and clay rocks and include Toadstool Park, a major tourist attraction, with rock formations shaped like toadstools.
Arbor Lodge in Nebraska City, which has 250 species of trees and shrubs in its garden, was the home of Julius Morton, a local journalist and the founder of Arbor Day, an annual day for planting trees. The Nebraska Forest is the largest planted forest in the USA. Outdoor pursuits can be followed at Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area and Lake Ogallala Recreation Area.
Scout's Rest, Buffalo Bill's ranch where his Wild West shows were rehearsed, is now a State Historical Park. The Willa Cather Historical Center and Memorial Prairie at Red Cloud commemorate the life of the writer of novels set in early 20th-century Nebraska.
Bellevue was Nebraska's first permanent white settlement, established in the 1820s as a fur-trading centre. The Homestead National Monument, near Beatrice, commemorates one of the first pieces of land claimed under the Homestead Act in 1862. Father Flanagan's Boys Town, near Omaha, was founded in 1917 for homeless boys. There is a Strategic Air Command Museum near Ashland and the Offutt Air Force Base, to the south of Omaha, was noted in the Cold War as the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command.
The Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, the state's only museum with an extensive permanent collection, houses American Indian arts and crafts and art from the Western frontier days. Lincoln has the National Roller-Skating Museum. Other sites of interest include the collection of vintage railway carriages at the Fremont and Elkhorn Valley Railroad; John Brown's Cave at Nebraska City; and the Omaha Indian Reservation.
Culture Nebraska was originally part of the "Great American Desert" but, thanks to the determined work of Nebraskan pioneers, it is now one of the USA's leading farming states, with around 95% of the land under agriculture. Its calendar of festivals and events reflects its agricultural success, historical struggles, and the cultural diversity of its original inhabitants and its immigrants.
In 1900, Germans were the main immigrant group in Nebraska, accounting for 15% of the population. In 2000, the largest population groups included people of German, Irish, English, Czech, and Mexican descent. In the first Nebraska territorial census in 1854, only four slaves were listed, and in 1869 there were still less than 30 black Americans. A movement of black American settlers, called the Exodusters, began in 1879, however, and many former slaves settled in Lincoln, Nebraska City, and Omaha. Several also became homesteaders, especially in western Nebraska, where land was available to them through the Homestead Act. By the 1890 census, numbers had grown to 8,900.
The Omaha Indians migrated west with other Plains Indians, arriving in the Nebraska area but, giving way in the 1850s to the demand for land from white settlers, they sold off their land rights to the US government, leaving them with the 808 sq km/312 sq mi Omaha Indian Reservation in the northeastern corner of the state. Music and the oral tradition are important to the preservation of their culture.
The year's most important agricultural event is the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln, held from late August to early September, in which crops, farm machinery, and livestock are exhibited. Nebraskaland Days are celebrated in North Platte in June, including Wild West shows and rodeos. The state's biggest rodeo is in Burwell in August. Most counties have a summer fair and several hold autumn festivals.
American Indian festivals include the Winnebago Powwow in July and the Omaha Powwow in Macy in August. Celebrations of diverse immigrant nationalities include a St Patrick's Day celebration in O'Neill in March, a Danish Day in Danneborg in June, a Swedish Festival in Stromsburg in June, and a Czech Festival in Wilber in August.
Annual literary festivals include the Willa Cather Spring Conference in Red Cloud and the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Valentine.
GovernmentNebraska's state constitution Nebraska was organized as a territory on 30 May 1854, when Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing white settlement. Nebraska's first constitution was adopted in 1866, and it entered the Union on 1 March 1867. The present constitution was adopted in 1875 and extensively amended between 1919 and 1920.
Structure of state government Since the 1930s, Nebraska has been the only US state with a unicameral (single chamber) legislature, known as the Legislature and consisting of 49 senators, one from each district elected by the voters. They meet once a year. Special sessions may be called by the governor. Candidates are elected to the Legislature as nonpartisans, with no-party affiliation against their names. The Legislature can override a governor's veto with a three-fifths majority vote, unlike the two-thirds majority required in other US states.
The state elects two senators and three representatives to the US Congress, and the state has five electoral votes in presidential elections. Traditionally, the state has favoured Republican Party candidates in presidential elections.
Voters elect the governor, the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, and auditor to four-year terms. The governor and treasurer can serve no more than two terms in succession. There are no term limits on the other four officials.
Nebraska has 93 counties, two-thirds of which have the commissioner-precinct form of government; the rest have the supervisor-township form. The first type are governed by a board of commissioners of three or five members, and the second by a board of supervisors of seven members, all of whom serve four-year terms.
There are 500 cities and villages in Nebraska; cities have the mayor-council form of government and the villages are governed by a five-member board of trustees. The constitution gives home rule to cities with over 5,000 inhabitants.
Economy Nebraska is a leading producer of crops such as sorghum, soybeans, corn, and wheat. It is also famous for its large variety of forage grasses and its cattle and hog industry. Food processing is a major industry. Omaha is the state centre for the processing of grain products, particularly breakfast cereals and livestock feed. Dakota City and Lexington are among the foremost meatpacking centres in the nation. Other food commodities are dairy produce and soft drinks. Kool-Aid, a fruit-flavoured soft drink, was invented in Hastings.
Nebraska does not rely only on agriculture. Its service industries, notably insurance and finance, play a major role in the economy. Several large corporations, including Warren Buffet's giant conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, and Union Pacific Railroad, the largest railway network in the USA, are based in Omaha.
HistoryPrehistoric times Analysis of the tips of stone tools and spears found in Nebraska has led scientists to believe that prehistoric people lived in the area between 10,000 and 25,000 years ago.
American Indians When the first European explorers arrived in the Nebraska area in the 18th century they found several American Indian tribes living peacefully there. The Omaha, Oto, and Ponca tribes fished, hunted, and farmed along the banks of the rivers, while the Pawnee farmed and hunted buffalo. They fought with the Sioux who came from the north and the Comanche from the South. The Pawnee worked as scouts in the US Army in their wars against the resistance of the Sioux, the Arapaho, and the Comanche, who were defending their hunting grounds in the west from white incursions. American Indian tribes such as the Winnebago were driven from the east to Nebraska by the white men. The Omaha, Winnebago, and Santee Sioux still live on reservations in Nebraska, but the Pawnee, Oto, and Missouri tribes were driven out to Oklahoma in the late 19th century.
Explorers In 1541, Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado claimed the Nebraska and Kansas areas for Spain, although no settlements were made. In 1682, the whole area drained by the Mississippi, including Nebraska, was claimed by French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, and named Louisiana after King Louis XIV. In the early 18th century, the area was exploited by French fur traders, ceded to Spain by France in 1763, given back to France in 1801, then acquired by the USA as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were sent by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Territory in 1804–06. They travelled up the Missouri River and explored the east of Nebraska. Spanish-American fur trader Manuel Lisa set up fur-trading posts along the Missouri, one of which is Fort Lisa, near Omaha. In 1812, fur agent Robert Stuart passed through Nebraska en route from Oregon to New York. He travelled along the North Platte and the Platte rivers, reaching the Missouri in April 1813. For the next 50 years settlers travelling to Oregon would follow this route, which became known as the Oregon Trail.
Settlers In 1823 the first white settlement was established at Bellevue, one of a number of fur-trading posts. Until 1854, however, when it became a territory, the federal government insisted that Nebraska was Indian country, and no white families were allowed to settle there, only Indian agents, traders, and missionaries. This was one of the reasons for the Great Migration west to the fertile farmlands of Oregon in 1843.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed by Congress in 1854, created the two territories and allowed white settlement. Until then Congress had been unable to agree on the issue of the use of slaves. Generally, Northerners had been against slavery in new territories, while Southerners wanted to keep it. The act allowed the people to choose for themselves. Most Nebraskans were opposed to slavery.
The early white settlers in Nebraska Territory became known as "sodbusters". There were few trees in the prairies so they cut the turf (sod) into blocks to build the walls of their houses – roofs were made of turf held up by brushwood and branches.
In 1854, Nebraska had a white population of 2,732, which by 1860 had grown to almost 29,000. From 1874 to 1877, however, great swarms of grasshoppers invaded the farmlands and seriously damaged the crops. Hundreds of settler families fled back eastwards in their wagons. A rush of opportunist new farmers in the 1880s soon found themselves ruined by drought, and in the 1890s irrigation projects were started and dry farming introduced. Homestead projects in the west of the state failed because the land was not suitable for farming, and homesteaders were bought out by cattle ranchers who put land under grass.
Roads and railways The Nebraska region saw thousands of pioneers passing through on their way west along the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails which followed the River Platte. The Union Pacific Railroad started laying track from Omaha westwards in 1865, the route becoming part of the first transcontinental rail system in the USA.
Depression The stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression following it all but ruined Nebraska's already struggling farmers. Drought and dust storms added further to their miseries, and many farms were declared bankrupt or were taken over by banks or insurance companies for non-payment of debts. The federal government was forced to provide aid for farmers.
Move to unicameral legislature In the 1930s the state legislator, George Norris, successfully campaigned to move the state from having a two-chamber legislature to a single-chamber state legislature, based on the example of the Australian state of Queensland. The constitution was amended in 1934 to provide for this and for nonpartisan elections in which candidates would stand as independents.
Recovery and urbanization After its discovery in the southeast in 1939, oil became Nebraska's most important mineral. The outbreak of World War II provided a major opportunity for farmers to supply tons of food to alleviate shortages, and by the end of the war the agricultural sector was booming. The war also brought employment in the military airfields and associated industries. During World War II, Nebraska also served as home to a number of prisoner-of-war camps.
Irrigation projects started in the 1940s on the Missouri River benefited farming immensely and continued into the 21st century. During the 1950s, farms became larger and machines took over from human labour, resulting in a massive movement of people to the towns searching for work. New industries, many of them related to agriculture, followed this population shift, and manufacturing work increased rapidly in the 1960s. By 1970, 60% of the population lived in towns.
Modern-day Nebraska At the start of the 21st century, Nebraska's main focus was still on farming and related industries, and farming methods continue to improve in spite of occasional downturns in the markets. In the interests of family farms, Initiative 300 was adopted in 1990, which banned large corporations from buying farmland. At the same time, increasing opportunities in urban areas are drawing people from rural areas to jobs in industry.
the arts Harold Lloyd (1893–1971), comedian; Howard Hanson (1896–1981), composer; Fred Astaire (1899–1987), dancer and actor; Henry Fonda (1905–1982), actor; Marlon Brando (1924–2004), actor; Dick Cavett (1936– ), television host
society and education Susette La Flesche Tibbles (1854–1903), American Indian reformer; Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865–1915), physician and American Indian leader; Alvin Johnson (1874–1971), social scientist