History, Department of


Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment o f Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: History, Under the Supervision of Professor John Wunder and Professor Benjamin Rader. Lincoln, Nebraska: November, 1998

Copyright (c) 1998 Gail Lorna DiDonato


A modern cattle industry in Cherry County, Nebraska, developed as challenges of land use and pressures of economic change demanded new and flexible adaptation to the unique environment. Located in the Sandhills, a region only opened to legal white settlement after Indian removal in 1878, the area passed through phases of occupation. Open-range cattlemen drawn by lucrative local markets gave way to struggles over land use between farmers and ranchers. Early twentieth century legislation, the 1904 Kinkaid Act, designed to promote farm settlement, in the end, benefited ranchers the most. As the wedge to gain legal access to land ownership, it opened the county to development of a modern cattle economy.

Throughout the first three decades of the twentieth century, changing land policy, market fluctuation, and agricultural depression brought about modem developments. Consolidation o f small land parcels into larger and more efficient privately owned ranches gave structure to a growing cattle industry. Larger spreads opened the way to the application of scientific land management and conservation practices. At the same time, improved breeding of livestock and specialized animal production allowed ranchers to meet the demands of a changing market economy.

Adjustments spurred by government policy and economic challenge continued to advance modem development throughout the 1930s. New Deal programs, such as soil conservation, introduced both better resource management and another example of government regulation. However, programs that instigated production controls did little assuage the drain on ranchers’ returns. Local efforts to gain a foothold into the marketing phase o f their production finally succeeded by the end of the decade when a regional organization provided an effective tool.