It was mentioned that the First Peoples were of numerous tribes from the Sioux in the west to the Omaha in the East. They were here in Nebraska for thousands of years before countries such as Spain, Portugal, England and France came to claim parts of the Americas.
Francisco de Coronado claimed the land, including Nebraska, for Spain during the 1500’s. In 1682 the Frenchman Robert Cavelier claimed the land for France. France “owned” a large area of land west of the Mississippi, including Nebraska. In 1803, the United States (think Washington, DC) now free from England, purchased this French controlled land as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
The United States government made ownership clear when it brought out the Army and established Fort Atkinson just outside current day Fort Calhoun, Nebraska in 1819. This was the first US Army post west of the Mississippi River. That fort has been restored and is available to the public.
By this time the United States was occupied by peoples from all the continents and the First Peoples were being pushed off their native lands, often with deadly force, and onto reservations far from their native settlements.
The Homestead Act of 1865 allowed anyone, except African Americans and Native Americans in many states, to claim and receive title free of charge to land if the land was occupied and improved by the claimants. It was a wild and interesting time.
Even though this federal government act affected everyone in the country, there was very little government and virtually no taxes or service to government authority. People were free and independent to do as they pleased.
For example, a six-month-old child named John McDonald travelled with his Scot parents from the Minnesota territory in a covered wagon to Nebraska in 1860. In 1890 that boy, now a man, and his wife and partner Anna McBride purchased 40 acres of land for $600 where they farmed until 1939. Anna McBride was the inspiration, organization and strength of the farm. They first lived in a dugout until their house was built by 1896 by John McDonald and his three brothers. All this was done without power tools or government programs. Anna and John raised eleven children in that house. The McBride-McDonald children, except their oldest taken by the Spanish Flu of 1918, married and raised many children and helped create the amenities modern Nebraskans enjoy today. Only one of those children achieved a high school diploma. Her name was Myrtle and she challenged the social norms by doing so. The McBride-McDonald farm, with restored house and barn, has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the State and Federal Governments as a reminder to Modern Nebraskans of the hard work and achievement of those 40 acre farmers, the first European Nebraskans.
What did these farmers do when they were not working? Over 80 percent of Nebraska residents were living on farms. They worked without electricity and tractors for many years. Horses were gold. Music and dance and literature became the entertainment. Many towns had a brass band. Everyone learned how to square dance. Box lunch socials brought young people together, sometimes in holy matrimony. Poetry and stories were the icing on the cake. Barns, especially the hay lofts on the second floor, were often used for dances. Fiddlers and guitar pickers were all over the place. Barn dances continue today.
Quilting was an important form of art and community. Women bonded. And it was important to do so. Women were not always treated with respect and peace. Their rights and opportunities were restricted, even though they inspired and built communities. Their lives of raising children and running households were no picnic. Their quilts adorned their houses and today continue tell their story. The International Quilt Museum in Lincoln holds thousands of quilts adjacent to the University of Nebraska “East Ag Campus” which used to host a respected textile program which with other women-oriented programs such as food nutrition have been abandoned or defunded by the state government and university bureaucrats.
Churches became a social focal point for many communities and brought people together. Those gatherings often led to weddings and provided communication among neighbors.
When it came to communication Newspapers provided the medium and the forum. Many of those early newspapers still exist and provide a view into the lives of the first European Nebraskans. The telegraph, then radio, television, satellites and the internet transformed us.