Nebraska described by Major Stephen H.Long as "almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course uninhabitable by a people depending on agriculture for their subsistence." His chronicler, Dr. Edwin James, said that he had "no fear of giving too unfavourable [sic] an account" of the region. These views were echoed by Lewis and Clark, Zebulon M. Pike, and President Jefferson. Even some decades later such cumulative condemnation of the Plains was made by such as Josiah Gegg, Francis Parkman, Maurice O'Connor Morris, Samuel Bowles, John H. Beadle, Ferdinand V. Hayden, and none less than, Horace Greeley.

There were at least two who did not agree with this prevailing pattern of thinking. One of them was John Bradbury, the English naturalist, who chided the American about their thinking that because there was a lacking of trees there could be no cultivation. Here was a brand new idea. European Americans knew nothing less than a profusion of timber which had to be cleared before it could be cultivated. As late as 1866, another gentleman named Bayard Taylor, disagreed with the common view. He traveled to Colorado, via the Smoky-hill route and wrote that he was "fast inclining toward the notion that there is no American Desert on this side of the mountains."

Though Ferdinand V Hayden reported in 1872 that the occupation of the area would be indefinitely postponed due to insufficient rainfall, lack of building material, scarcity of fuel and an insufficient number of streams. Others, such as Major John Wesley Powell was much more optimistic, stating that it could be farm by irrigation.

The Great Plain did present a problem to the pioneer. It was a great contrast to the region east of the Missouri River to central Texas. This would necessitate great changes in the ways of pioneering and living. From the beginnings European Americans had been working out the harmony with humid regions east of the Mississippi. When they moved "west" across the Mississippi and began to work in a totally new environment they experienced a total breakdown of the ways of pioneering that were familiar to them.

Almost every technique and institution brought from east of the Mississippi had to be changed, altered, or remade when the pioneer crossed that nigh to invisible line from humid to semi-arid region. The ways of travel. Weaponry Methods of tilling, which changed plows and other agricultural implements. Even laws had to be altered.

Once they crossed into the new region of timberless, semi-arid level topography, they didn't at first perceive the full consequences of the change to their way of living - their very characters. East of the Mississippi there were the three elements they were familiar with - land, water, and timber. West of the Mississippi they lost two of those elements --water and timber.

I leave much to your knowledge and imagination at this point. It is any wonder that Nebraskans are such wonderfully independent folk??

Have a tremendous week, good lifers!!


© 2000, by Bill Oliver
Back to Main Page