Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

May 1997


Published in Great Plains Research 7:1 (Spring 1997). Copyright © 1997 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


This is a remarkable volume. The ninety-first of 107 figures is a good example of what makes this book so remarkable. Figure 91 has a baker's dozen (13) small hand-drawn sketches that show how different landowners went back to the land office and claimed an additional 480 acres (Kincaid additions) to expand their 160-acre homesteads into units that might be more viable in the semi-arid climate of central Nebraska. These 13 examples come from ten different counties, which sprawl over an area larger than three of the original 13 colonies (as illustrated in Figure 1, which goes the extra step of superimposing New England state borders on a standard Nebraska location map to give a subtle but welcomed increase in perspective). The other 105 maps are equivalently meticulous illustrations of topography, vegetation, projectile-point discoveries, journal entries, military expeditions, treaty cessions, cattle drives, land claims (under a bewildering variety of Federal and state laws), lake water chemistry, land frauds, ethnic clusters, and claim abandonments. The prose that ties these extraordinary maps together is replete with trenchant vignettes about surveyor's errors that are "evident" in some apparently mistaken land claims, settlers' perceptions of topographic sites, the architectural advantages of baled-hay houses, and the many ways in which frontier entrepreneurs were able to bend laws to accomplish goals that few in Washington or Lincoln seem to have conceived as either feasible or desirable. Woven through the maps and prose is a third parallel strand, a series of small bibliographic inserts that describe stages in the lives of a few key players who walked various parts of this huge stage while history swirled through the region.