The precise date of settlement of the area known as Nebraska is undetermined but archeological evidence indicates that the first pioneers were prehistoric Indians who hunted big game over 10,000 years ago. Those early hunters were followed by tribes of Indians who raised crops of corn, other vegetables, and sun-flowers. At the dawn of recorded Plains history, 1750-1800, the tribes living in the area included the farming tribes of eastern Nebraska- Otoe, Omaha, Ponca, and Pawnee. These groups lived in permanent earth-lodge villages where they cultivated crops. It was still necessary, however, for these tribes to engage in buffalo hunts for a large portion of their food supply. Western Nebraska was under the control of the horse-riding, buffalo-hunting, semi-nomadic groups of the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Potawatome. These groups lived in skin teepees which could be dismantled and carried with them as they pursued the buffalo. About 40,000 Indians lived in Nebraska when the first white man came.
Fur trading played an important role in Nebraska's preterritorial history. French traders and trappers, including the Mallett brothers who named the Platte River, were the first known white visitors. They traveled through Nebraska from 1700 to 1760, In 1804m the Lewis and Clark expedition mapped the eastern boundary of Nebraska. In 1806, Lt. Zebulon M. Pike visited the south central Nebraska as part of a government program to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. Other early explorers included the Hunt party in 1811 and Major Long's expedition in 1819. Among the early trading groups was the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company. Manual Lisa established a post for this company in 1812 near the site where Lewis and Clark held council with Indian tribes in present Washington County. In 1820 a nearby camp became a permanent army post called Fort Atkinson. The post was established to discourage British encroachment and to protect America's western frontier. Bellevue, founded in 1823, was the first permanent settlement.
As the United States expanded to the west, the Platte Valley trails of Nebraska became the major highways. Gold seekers, Mormons and migrants on their way to California and Oregon were among the thousands of pioneers using the overland trails between 1840 and 1860. Fort Kearny was established along the route to protect these travelers. Nebraska City and other towns on the Missouri River became shipping centers and supplied both the military outposts and the new settlers. From April 3, 1860 to October 24, 1861, Pony Express riders carried their mail across the area.
In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress, organizing the Nebraska Territory. This act opened lands west of the Missouri, previously reserved for the Indians, to settlement. The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed settlers to claim 160 acres of land free in eastern Nebraska and statehood was granted on March 1, 1867, in a proclamation signed by President Andrew Johnson.
The railroads contributed greatly to the early development of the site. The Union Pacific was completed across Nebraska in 1867, and the lines of the Burlington system crisscrossed most of the state by the mid- 1880s. Many early railroads received land grants from the state and federal governments to offset the cost of construction. These lands were sold to settlers through extensive advertising campaigns, with some companies sending representatives to Europe to encourage immigrants to come to Nebraska.
Nebraska showed continued growth until the farm depressions of the 1890s. By 1900 most of the prime land in the state was settled, and larger claims were needed for profitable farming and ranching. In 1904 an act introduced by Congressman Moses Kinkaid of Nebraska was passed. The Kincaid Act increased the size of the homesteads from 160 to 640 acres. A new population swell occurred in the Sandhills area of the state. The farm depressions of the 1920s and 1930s again arrested the economic growth of the state. Since World War II, however, Nebraska's development has been generally upward.
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