The Pawnee and the Arikaras migrate northward, establishing villages along the rivers of Nebraska.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Spanish introduce horses to the area. The Pawnee and Omaha quickly adapt wild horses for use on seasonal bison hunts.
French explorer René Robert Cavalier travels down the Mississippi River to its mouth. He claims for France all the land drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries.
Nebraska is claimed by France as part of Louisiana, which is named in honor of Louis XIV.
The Omaha, Ponca, Sioux, Arapaho, Cheyenne and Oto have migrated to the area and set up villages in the eastern part of the state. By 1800, there are as many as 40,000 Native Americans living in Nebraska.
1714–1799 EUROPEAN EXPLORATION
French explorer Etienne Veniard de Bourgmont travels down from the mouth of the Missouri River in Montana to the mouth of the Platte River, becoming the first recorded European in Nebraska.
(June 16) Pedro de Villasur leads a Spanish military expedition from Santa Fe to scout enemy positions of the French on the plains. As his group camps near present-day Columbus, Nebraska, they are attacked by Pawnee Native Americans. De Villasur is killed and only 13 of the original 47 Spaniards return to Santa Fe.
French-Canadian explorers Pierre and Paul Mallet set out from Illinois to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along the way they name the Platte River and travel nearly the entire length of present-day Nebraska.
At the end of the Seven Years’ War, the Treaty of Paris cedes all French land west of the Mississippi River to Spain. However, French fur traders continue to operate in Nebraska.
Fur trader Juan Munier meets the Ponca Native Americans near the mouth of the Niobrara River. The Spanish give him exclusive trading rights with the Poncas, and he founds a trading post where the Niobrara meets the Missouri. Shortly thereafter, a devastating smallpox epidemic decimates the tribal population. Within 15 years, only about a quarter of the region's Ponca population remains.
Jacques d’Eglise travels the Missouri River Valley and begins trading with the Mandan Native Americans. The Spanish give him exclusive trading rights for his exploration efforts.
1800–1849 WESTWARD U.S. EXPANSION
Spain returns the Louisiana Territory to France as part of the secretly struck Treaty of San Ildefenso.
(December 30) The U.S. acquires Nebraska (and 13 other future U.S. states) from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. U.S. President Thomas Jefferson agrees to the purchase price of 78 million francs ($15,000,000) from French head of state Napoleon Bonaparte. The purchase is lauded by supporters and savaged by critics of Jefferson. It more than doubles the size of the United States and is a defining moment in the expansion of U.S. territory.
The Lewis and Clark expedition, led by William Lewis and Meriwether Clark, travels up the Missouri River and enters the eastern edge of Nebraska on its way to the Pacific Coast.
Explorer Zebulon Pike visits south-central Nebraska as part of a U.S. government program to explore the Louisiana Purchase.
Spanish-American fur trader Manuel Lisa builds Fort Lisa on the Missouri River near Omaha. His efforts in befriending local tribes are credited with thwarting British influence in the area.
(June 4) The Louisiana Territory is renamed Missouri Territory to avoid confusion with the newly admitted state of Louisiana.
The U.S. Army builds Nebraska’s first military post, Fort Atkinson, to protect the frontier and the burgeoning fur industry. Home to more than 1,000 people, the fort also becomes the site of Nebraska’s first school, library, and brickyard before it is abandoned in 1827.
Major Stephen Long makes an expedition to the Rocky Mountains and back. His opinion of the plains is not favorable, and a map drawn by Long’s cartographer labels the region a "Great Desert." This opinion may explain settlers’ reluctance to move to the prairies.
(August 10) The southeastern corner of Missouri Territory is admitted to the Union as the state of Missouri. As a result, the rest of Missouri Territory becomes unorganized.
Bellevue becomes the first permanent settlement in Nebraska. It serves as a central trading point with local Omaha, Otoe, Missouri, and Pawnee tribes.
Jean-Pierre Cabanné establishes Cabbané’s Trading Post for the American Fur Company near Fort Lisa. It becomes a well-known post in the region.
(May 26) The Indian Removal Act allows the U.S. government to relocate Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, including those living in Nebraska.
Traders take the first wagons to the Rocky Mountains, passing through Nebraska.
Reverend Moses Merrill and his wife, Eliza Wilcox Merrill, are the first resident missionaries in the region. Their goal is to convert the local Otoe tribe to Christianity.
The Trade and Intercourse Act passes, prohibiting the trespassing of white settlers on Native American Indian lands west of the Mississippi River.
The word "Nebraska" first appears in publications when John Fremont explores the "Nebraska River," the Oto Native American name for the Platte River. The term is taken from the Oto word Nebrathka, meaning "flat water."
(December 17) The first bill to organize the new Nebraska Territory is introduced to Congress but fails to pass.
1850–1899 THE STATE OF NEBRASKA
(May 30) Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing people in the territories to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery. The Act negates the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and officially creates the Kansas and Nebraska territories. The territory consists of the present-day states of Nebraska, as well as parts of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
(August 19) The Grattan Massacre occurs east of Fort Laramie. The Brulé Sioux kill 30 U.S. soldiers and one civilian in retaliation for their chief being shot in the back by a soldier firing into their village.
(September 3) In response to the Grattan Massacre, U.S. soldiers and the Brulé Sioux engage along the Platte River in present-day Garden Cuonty during the Battle of Bluewater Creek. Six hundred U.S. troops defeat 250 Sioux, resulting in 86 Sioux casualties, including women and children.
(March 2) The Dakota Territory is created out of the northern area of Nebraska Territory. Nebraska Territory now consists of all of present-day Nebraska and southeastern Wyoming.
The Homestead Act officially opens the Nebraska Territory to settlement. Public land is awarded on the condition that the settlers improve the land and live there for at least five years.
(March 1) Congress overrides President Andrew Johnson’s veto of the 1866 Nebraska statehood bill. With the provision that suffrage is granted to non-white voters, Nebraska is admitted to the Union as the 37th state.
With its terminus at Omaha, the Union Pacific Railroad is completed, bringing in a greater influx of settlers to Nebraska.
The Nebraska Relief and Aid Society is founded to help farmers whose crops are destroyed by grasshoppers swarming the American West. One of the grasshopper swarms is estimated to be 1,800 miles long and 110 miles wide. Between 1874 and 1877, swarms severely damage farmers’ oat, barley, corn, and wheat crops. Many settlers are discouraged and return east, only to be replaced by another wave of settlers in the 1880s.
(May 6) The Oglala Sioux leader Crazy Horse surrenders to U.S. troops in Nebraska. He spent much of his adult life fighting against the U.S. government to preserve the traditions and values of the Sioux. In September, he is fatally bayoneted by a solider at Fort Robinson, Nebraska.
Buffalo Bill Cody’s first circus-like Wild West Show premiers in Omaha.
In Omaha, the Populist or People’s Party holds its first national convention. The party is organized in St. Louis to represent "common folk, " especially farmers, against the interests of railroads, bankers, corporations, and politicians.
1900–1949 EARLY TO MID 20TH CENTURY
(March 23) A strong tornado sweeps through Omaha on Easter Sunday, leaving over 100 dead and causing millions of dollars in damages.
Demand for Nebraska’s farm products during World War II brings new economic prosperity to the state.
(August 2) Nebraska becomes the 14th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote.
(September 28) The result of growing tensions between white and African-American workers in the city's meatpacking industry, the Omaha Race Riot results in the lynching of an African-American worker and two white men, as well as the attempted hanging of the mayor as a mob of whites set fire to the downtown Omaha courthouse.
Edwin E. Perkins invents the powdered drink known as Kool-Aid in his mother’s kitchen in Hastings. The powder is originally named Kool-Ade but is renamed due to a change in U.S. government regulations regarding the need for fruit juice in products using the suffix "ade."
An amendment to the state constitution combines the House and Senate into one chamber, making Nebraska the only U.S. state legislature that is unicameral.
(March 2) The Union Pacific tests a lightweight, high-speed passenger train in Omaha. Upgrades like air conditioning begin to bring customers back to rail travel.
Nebraska's manufacturing plants produce more than $1.2 billion worth of war supplies during World War II. At the time, Nebraska is home to several prisoner of war camps. Scottsbluff, Robinson, and Camp Atlanta are the main facilities, but altogether there are 23 large and small camps scattered across the state.
Strategic Air Command establishes its headquarters near Omaha. SAC is in charge of American’s land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic missile from 1946 to 1992.
1950–PRESENT MODERN NEBRASKA
Nebraska-based Swanson and Sons introduces the "TV dinner" after a company salesman devises a use for the oversupply of turkey from the 1953 Thanksgiving holiday season. The turkey, sweet potatoes, and peas package is priced at 98 cents and can be cooked in 25 minutes.
Cliff Hillegass begins publishing Cliffs Notes, condensed studies of literary works, in Lincoln.
Black youth activists successfully end a whites-only policy at Peony Park, Omaha's main amusement park, after weeks of protests against the park.
The shooting of a 14-year old African-American teenager by a white Omaha police officer sparks a number of incidents between the African-American community in North Omaha and the Omaha Police Department. Race riots eventually require intervention by the military and National Guard.
Nebraska's gubernatorial election features two female candidates, the first time in U.S. history such an event has occurred. Governor Kay Orr defeats Democrat Helen Boosalis, becoming the nation’s first elected female Republican governor.
The Nebraska State Legislature adopts two measures that authorize tax breaks for businesses as an incentive to create new jobs in Nebraska.
Nebraska gives all its ex-prisoners the right to vote.
Cuba agrees to buy another $30 million in food from Nebraska, which already sells corn, wheat, and soybeans to the island. The U.S. trade embargo with Cuba has allowed exemptions for agricultural products and medical supplies since 2000.
(July 18) Nebraska’s new safe-haven law goes into effect, allowing parents to abandon unwanted children at state-licensed hospitals with no questions asked. The law is later amended after parents and guardians drop off children as old as 17. The amended law protects only parents of newborn infants, up to 30 days old, from prosecution.
Click to enlarge an image
1500: Illustration of Arrikara warrior
1700: Illustration of Otoe Native Americans
1720: Pawnee Native Americans attack Pedro de Villasur's party.
1793: A Mandan man in a buffalo robe overlooking the Missouri River
1804: Map made by Lewis and Clark
1819: West ramparts of Fort Atkinson
1854: Map showing aspects of the Kansas-Nebraska act
1854: Grattan Massacre marker
1862: Certificate of homestead given under the Homestead Act in Nebraska
1867: Andrew Johnson, 17th president of the United States
1869: Union Pacific Railroad, present day route map