Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall 2009, pp. 287-300
Nebraskans of the early twenty-first century have had few encounters with railroads. Passenger trains are nearly extinct, and freights run over only a few main lines. But without the railroads that began to crisscross Nebraska in the 1860s, it may have taken years for significant settlement to reach throughout the territory that became a state in 1867. As history unfolded, Nebraska became a state more rapidly than expected. Against a backdrop of threats from competing railroads, extreme weather conditions, and remnants of Civil War politics, two key institutions led settlers into the new state: the railroads and the newspapers. The story of these two enterprises and their impact on the state gives readers insight into how much change has occurred in both railroads and newspapers since the pioneer days of the late 1800s.
Businesses today depend on railroads to tran~port freight such as coal, chemicals, and food products, and to a lesser extent, passengers, across the continent. But early railroad history reveals a different focus. Though the rails were originally envisioned as a way to supply troops on the frontier, the early developers scrambled to make it a viable business. The railroads needed to finance their investment by selling the land granted to them by the government and by building a base of customers for their services.