History, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in A Harmony of the Arts: The Nebraska State Capitol, ed. Frederick C. Luebke (University of Nebraska Press, 1990)


Copyright (c) 1990 University of Nebraska.


When Europeans visit the Great Plains region of the United States, they are impressed by the newness of the place. Coming from communities that often are filled with physical evidence of great age, they are reminded that here virtually none of the visible marks of Euroamerican culture are more than a mere century old. Before 1854, the year in which Nebraska was legislated into existence, permanent residence in this place was technically illegal. Except for the never-numerous Indians, a few fur trappers and traders, and some soldiers and their camp followers clustered around Fort Kearny, Nebraska had no population. It had no government, no capital city, and hence no capitol building. Yet a mere eighty years passed from that time to the dedication of Nebraska's present magnificent statehouse, the preeminent symbol of the state and the progressive spirit that in past times seemed to characterize its people.

There had been no clamor in Nebraska for the creation of a territorial government. That came instead from politicians in the national capital who wished to build a transcontinental railroad across the vast and empty spaces of the Great Plains. Recognizing the need for some sort of government in the area where Frederick C. Luebke the projected transportation link between East and West was to be constructed, Congress enacted the bill establishing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska in May 1854, and by the end of June treaties with Indians had opened lands along the Missouri River for private ownership. Immediately thereafter hundreds of settlers poured into the territory. Within weeks several new "towns" sprang up on the west bank of the Missouri River, including Omaha, Nebraska City, and Brownville. But only Bellevue, a few miles north of the mouth of the Platte River, bore any resemblance to a settled community before that fateful summer, when it was home to not more than fifty persons.