miles feet south missouri eastern north river lands west surface
NEBRASKA, a central State of the American Union, I lies between 40° and 43° N. lat. ; the Missouri flows along its eastern side, the most easterly point being 95° 25' W. long., and the boundary line separating it from Wyoming on the west is 104° W. long. It is bounded on the S. by Colorado and Kansas, on the E. by Missouri and Iowa, on the N. by Dakota, and on the W. by Wyoming and Colorado. The width of the State from north to south is 2082 miles, the length from east to west 413 miles, and the area 76,647 square miles, or 49,054,080 acres.
The greater part of Nebraska is a plateau. The lowest f. point is at the mouth of the Nemaha, in the south-eastern part of the State, where the elevation is 880 feet ; the highest spot is Scott's Bluffs, in the extreme western part of the State (6000 feet). The eastern half of the State has an average elevation of 1400 feet ; and the whole State averages 2312 feet above the sea.
There are no mountains, but in the northern and western parts there are some ridges and a few lofty hills. Generally the slopes are gentle, but occasionally precipitous, and in rare cases there are canons with perpendicular sides. The lands of three-fourths of the State are gently rolling. The surface owes its present form mainly to erosion. Between all the forms of upland surface the transition is gradual. The bottom lands and valleys are the most conspicuous modifying features of the surface. They are huge shallow troughs, varying in breadth from a quarter of a mile on the smaller streams to 23 miles on the Platte and the Missouri. Their numerous terraces, like broad steps, gradually lead to the bordering uplands, which in turn are varied in height and form. Occasionally it is hard to determine where the bottom ends and the bordering bluffs begin, but generally both forms are clearly outlined. The innumerable tributaries that creep quietly into the main bottoms greatly complicate and beautify the forms of landscape. The number of these valleys is very great, the Republican alone having more than four hundred tributaries. Not less than 25 per cent. of the entire surface of the State is composed of well-watered valleys. The few destitute of water are regaining the streamlets of former times through the climatic changes brought on by the settlement of the State. Most of these bottom lands, though composed of the richest vegetable mould and alluvium modified by loess materials, are perfectly dry, and rarely subject to overflow. A clear conception of the topography can only be obtained by crossing the State at right angles to the courses of the valleys. The rolling lands bordering the valleys gradually disappear as the divide is approached which separates one drainage system from the next. Here the land swells out into a gently undulating plain that varies in extent from 1 to 30 miles. Some of these higher uplands have a great number of shallow basin-like depressions where soil and grasses closely resemble those of the bottom lands. They arc the sites of small lakes that recently existed here, and some of them still retain this character, being filled with fresh water from 1 to 15 feet in depth. South of the valley of the Niobrara, and commencing in 100° W. long., are the noted sand-hills. They vary in height from a few yards to several hundred feet. Almost every form of wind sculpturing is found, but the conical predominates. Though formerly naked, these hills have recently become covered with grasses which are fixing the sands, and preserving their curious crater-like forms. They extend to the head of the forks of the Loup river, covering an estimated area of 8000 square miles.
The average mean temperature of the summer months - June, July, and August - iu eastern Nebraska is 73° Fahr. At the North Platte it is slightly higher. Excepting a small section in the north-western part, the whole State is included between the summer isotherms of 72° and 76°. The mean temperature of the autumn months - September, October, and November - is 49°. As excessive rains rarely fall during these months, the comparatively high mean temperature renders the autumn season long and delightfully mild. The isotherm of 20° during the winter months - December, January, and February - embraces all of Nebraska except the north-west corner, where the temperature is slightly lower, and the south-east corner, where it is slightly higher. The spring months--March, April, and May - have a mean of 47° Fahr. The mean of the whole year is in the southern half of the State 55°, in the northern half 52F. Rarely does the temperature in midsummer rise to 100°. In twelve years the thermometer fell below zero on an average thirteen times a year. The lowest point ever reached was 32° below zero. The heat of summer is constantly modified by breezes. Owing to the dryness of the atmosphere the cold is not felt more when the thermometer registers - 20° than in moist regions when it marks only zero. In winter the prevailing winds are from the north-west, changing, as spring advances, to the south-west, from which direction they mainly blow through summer and autumn. During some winters there are occasional wind-storms of great severity, preceded by a fall of snow, and followed by very low temperature. Such storms last from one to three days, and when they cease the temperature reaches the lowest point experienced in this region. The extreme cold continues for a few days only. Fortunately the severe types of such storms are rare even here, and the winters on the whole are remarkably adapted to continuous labour in the open air. The atmosphere is wonderfully clear and pure throughout the -year ; objects can be seen at a great distance, and clouds when formed are outlined with exceptional clearness.
The rainfall in eastern Nebraska is abundant. At the Missouri it averages 40 inches a year ; 100 miles farther west 32 inches ; 200 miles west of the eastern boundary 30 inches. Beyond this point it more rapidly lessens until the North Platte is reached in western Nebraska, where the average is only 20 inches. In the end of May, or in early June, when the " big rise " of the Missouri and the Platte occurs, a rainy season invariably commences which lasts from three tp eight weeks. As this is the time when crops most need rain, destructive droughts are rare in eastern Nebraska. After the wet season rains still occur, but at longer intervals. During winter rain rarely falls. Snow ranges in depth from 1 to 10 inches. There are many facts that show a constantly increasing rainfall in the State. One reason for this is believed to be the great depth of the soil, and the great increase of absorption produced by cultivation. The loess soils, of which the surface of Nebraska is largely composed, only need the native sod to be broken up to be transmuted into a huge sponge absorbing all the moisture that falls on it.
Nebraska is exceptionally healthy, especially for persons of consumptive tendency. This is owing to its elevation above the sea, the dryness of the atmosphere, and the great amount of ozone in it, the prevalence of winds, and the fine natural drainage of the State. The diseases incident to the climate are rheumatism, neuralgia, and in isolated spots malaria. With the progress of settlement, and a lessening exposure, these ailments are gradually disappearing.
In striking contrast to past geological times, there are I now no large lakes in Nebraska. There are, however, a great number of small lakelets. Many of these have been formed by " cut offs " on the Missouri, Platte, Elkhorn, Blue, and other rivers. At the head of the Elkhorn river is a region containing over thirty small lakes, many of which are of great beauty, with pebbly bottoms, and water clear as crystal. A still more extensive region of small lakes is at and between the heads of the Loup rivers. At the head of Pine Creek, a tributary of the Niobrara, there are many saline lakelets and ponds. A large saline bog, fed by a vast number of saline springs, covers about 500 acres, 2 miles west of Lincoln. Many smaller ones exist in the same vicinity. Salt has been manufactured here in considerable quantity by solar evaporation. Springs are E abundant along most of the river bluffs and on the rolling lands of eastern Nebraska. On the long reaches of nearly level land springs occur at longer intervals, and on the watersheds still more rarely. Even here water can readily be obtained by wells, from 15 to 50 feet deep, excepting in a few counties like Clay, Fillmore, Adams, and Phelps, where, owing to the great thickness of the superficial deposits in some localities, shafting must be much deeper. Artesian wells have been successful, the depth at which flowing water has been obtained varying from 500 to 1000 feet.' The name Nebraska signifies land of broad rivers.] Chief of all is the Missouri, which flows in a tortuous course for 500 miles along its eastern boundary, and is navigable for 2000 miles above Omaha. Next in importance is the Platte, which flows through the whole length of the State from west to east. Rising in lakelets in the Rocky Mountains, fed by snows, its entire length approximates 1200 miles. When it enters the State it is already a broad and rapid, though shallow, river, flowing over a sandy bed. At North Platte it forks, one branch being known as the South and the other as the North Platte. The Loup is the first large tributary. It rises among the sand-hills south of the Niobrara, in a group of small lakes. It has three main branches, known as the South, Middle, and North Loups, each of which in turn has many tributaries. The Middle Loup, whose main direction is southeast, is 250 miles long. The Elkhorn, which empties into the Platte a short distance above the latter's junction with the Missouri, is one of the most beautiful streams of the State. It too has its source in a region of small lakes near 99° 30' W. long. Here it has a remarkably broad bottom, with low bordering uplands. It flows over a rocky bottom in a south-easterly direction about 250 miles. Its principal tributaries are the North Fork and the Logan, the latter having an extraordinary number of tributaries. Near the south line of the State the Republican river and its numerous affluents drain a large area. It rises in the Colorado plains, but flows 216 miles through the State. Near the northern boundary is the Niobrara river, which rises in Wyoming, and flows 263 miles through the State before uniting with the Missouri. It is the most rapid and turbulent stream in the State. In 102° 30' W. long., where it is 80 yards wide, it enters a deep canon with high and often perpendicular walls, which extend for 180 miles. After emerging from the canon it remains a broad, rapid, and sandy river to its mouth. The most important of its numerous tributaries are the Keya Paha and the Verdigris. Many other rivers in Nebraska are remarkable for the beauty and fertility of the sections which they drain, the most important being the Bows, the Big and Little Blue, the Great and Little Nemaha, and Salt Creek. The water-power of the State is enormous. Though the streams meander through broad bottoms, places can be found every few miles where the fall is from 3 to 10 feet to the mile.
Nebraska is the meeting-place of two rather distinct floras - that of dry regions from the west, and their relatives from the moister east. Even many native Rocky Mountain plants have crept down to the plains of Nebraska. Of plants indigenous to the State 2000 species have been collected; among these, 1671 species are flowering plants. The Conepositce are represented by the largest number of species, there being 244 within the State. The sedges are represented by 151 species, though there are comparatively few individuals. The grasses are the leading vegetable forms in the number of individuals, though as yet only 147 species have been detected. Originally the short buffalo grass (Buchloc dactyloides) was everywhere abundant, but it has almost entirely disappeared from the eastern half of the State and from large sections in its western portions, the taller blue-joint (Andropogon furcatus, &c.) grasses taking its place. Nothing can surpass the beauty of the prairies during the summer season when covered with rank grasses and myriad flowers. Of forest trees 71 species are native. The leading variety in the number of individuals and forests is the cotton-wood (Poplins monilifera), which grows luxuriantly on river bottoms and many uplands. The ash-leaved maple, soft maple, elms, various species of ash, lindens, and willows are in various parts of the State about equal in abundance. The most valuable tree is the noble black walnut, which is extremely hardy and grows luxuriantly. The red cedar is abundant in some sections, and grows well everywhere. Two species of spruce and two of pine are found on tributaries of the Niobrara and Loup, and in the extreme western part of the State. Shrubs are represented by 91 species. Wild fruits abound, among which plums and grapes are most conspicuous, the former represented by three species and an endless number of varieties. The grapes are limited to timber belts, where they sometimes grow so luxuriantly as to make an almost impenetrable thicket of vines. The smaller wild fruits are widely distributed over the State.
Before the advent of the white man Nebraska was a paradise for wild animals, - the buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, beaver, wolves, lynx, foxes, &c. The buffalo has been banished, but the rest are still found in the sparsely settled sections of the State. The bird fauna is well developed, being rich in genera (156) ; the species number at least 261. Many species of fish, molluscs, and a few reptiles are present in the streams. During a few years, and notably in 1874, 1876, and 1877, the migrating locust (Caloptenus spretus), whose native habitat is beyond Nebraska, did considerable damage. It does not appear on the average more than once in a decade, and owing to the continually increasing area brought under cultivation the damage from its visitations is continually growing less. Comparatively little damage has yet been experienced from other insect pests.
No Arehman rocks are found in situ in the State. The Paleozoic system is represented only by rocks of Carboniferous age, which are found in south-eastern Nebraska, and cover an area of about 2500 square miles. These represent only the Upper Carboniferous, and are mainly yellowish micaceous sandstone, drab, greenish, lead-coloured, ash-coloured, and brownish clays, and indurated, hard, greyish and yellowish limestones. No thick beds of coal have yet been discovered. The lower coal horizon is about 800 feet below the surface along the Missouri as far south as Richardson county, where the upper strata indicate a possible lower level geologically than is exposed elsewhere in the State. Thin beds of coal, from 6 to 18 inches thick, are found near the surface in Cass, Otoe, Nemaha, Johnson, Pawnee, and Richardson counties; in the last occurs the best coal yet found in the State.
At Aspinwall and on the State boundary it is 24 inches thick in places. In the south-western part of the county a bed occurs from 20 to 28 inches thick, from which at least half a million bushels have been taken within two years to supply local demands. This bed has been traced from east to west about 20 miles, and from north to south 4 miles. The coal is of good quality. On the west side of the Carboniferous formation, and commencing at the mouth of Salt Creek, is a narrow strip of Permian rocks which on the Kansas line is about 15 miles broad. The rocks are mainly variously-coloured magnesian limestone, full of geode cavities, the entire thickness ranging from 20 to 100 feet. The Jura Trias is entirely wanting in eastern Nebraska. Resting conformably on the Permian are the various strata of the basal members of the Cretaceous system. Variegated clays are overlaid by reddish brown conglomerates and sandstones which form the Dakota group, whose thickness ranges from 20-to 300 feet. Above this group occur blackish and ash-coloured shales ; then a yellowish limestone; then a layer of whitish limestone full of shells called the Inoceramus bed ; and then on top towards north-eastern Nebraska a great thickness of impure chalk rock varying in hue from greyish white to a blueish pink and yellow. These beds constitute the Colorado group, or the Fort Benton and Niobrara groups of Meek and Hayden, and vary in thickness from 100 to 500 feet. Next above occur the shales containing selenite that constitute the Fort Pierre Cretaceous, which are only found in Nebraska in Holt county and on the upper Republican river. At the close of the Fort Pierre epoch Nebraska was again a dry land surface, and remained so through the Fox Hills (Upper Cretaceous) epoch.. In extreme south-western Nebraska a small area is covered in isolated spots by the shales and sandstones of the Laramie, or transition group between the Cretaceous and Tertiary. No Eocene beds exist in Nebraska. Miocene beds exist in the north-western part of the State, but during this period the remainder of Nebraska continued to be a land surface which supported a gigantic forest vegetation and an abundant mammalian animal life. The deposits in the Miocene section are mainly indurated grits, silicates of lime, sandstones, conglomerates, and tabular limestones. Towards the close of the Miocene a further subsidence of the region of the plains inaugurated the Pliocene epoch. The great lake now extended as far east as Columbus, covering at least three-fifths of the State and an immense tract outside of its present boundaries. The Pliocene beds are made up of sandstones, conglomerates, marls, and variously-coloured clays. Between the Niobrara and the Loup rivers there are in many places immense quantities of loosely compacted sands, which some geologists, from the abundance of the fossils, have called the Equus beds. On the Republican river curious beds of flour-like geyserite occur. During Pliocene times this was a great geyser region whose activity commenced in the Cretaceous and continued through the Tertiary into the Quaternary. This fiour-like material equals for polishing purposes the best tripoli. The thickness of the Pliocene beds in Nebraska ranges from 10 to 700 feet. There is evidence of increasing cold in the upper deposits of the epoch: warm-temperate were gradually displaced by cold-temperate vegetable forms. The lake itself was drained before the end of the Pliocene.
The memorials of the Glacial epoch are here undoubted. Along the lower Platte, and on the Missouri wherever hard limestone constitutes the surface rocks, they are worn smooth and crossed by glacial scratches in a direction averaging 17° east of south. On the surface rock occur - (1) blue clay from 1 to 30 feet thick ; (2) modified drift, gravel, and clay from 1 to 9 feet thick ; (3) gravel and boulders 1 to 6 feet thick ; (4) occasionally black soil containing large quantities of silicified wood ; (5) gravel, sand, and drift boulders ; (6) calcareous sand ; (7) loess from 2 to 200 feet thick ; (8) black surface soil from 1 to 30 feet thick. On the return of mild conditions at the close of "the Great Ice Age" a freshwater lake covered much of Nebraska and the adjoining region on the east and south-cast. The sediments brought down by the Missouri in the course of ages filled it up. Thus originated the loess deposits which are the source of the great agricultural wealth of the State. The rising of the land or the removal of barriers effected the drainage of the loess lake. Through the old lake bed the present rivers commenced to cut channels which at first filled the whole of their present valleys. That the loess was a subaqueous deposit is evident from the vast number of freshwater shells entombed in it. It is composed of 81 per cent. of extremely tine siliceous matter, over 3 per cent. of ferric oxide, 10 per cent. of the carbonates and phosphates of lime, and a small amount of carbonates of magnesia, soda, and potash, clay, and organic matter. It forms one of the best soils in the world, and can never be exhausted until the hills and valleys of which it is composed are worn away. The loess and alluvium of the river valleys have a larger amount of organic matter combined with them, especially at the top, where the black soil is frequently from 5 to 30 feet thick, than is found on the uplands, where it ranges from 2 to 5 feet. The source of this black soil is the swampy condition that prevailed here towards the close of the loess age. The rivers often stood long at the same level before the upward movement was resumed, and thus the many terraces were formed that characterize the valleys.
That, as explained above, the soils of the State are among the best in the world, chemical analysis and experience alike confirm. Experience has not yet settled the question whether the alluvium of the valleys or the loess of the uplands is the more valuable. Grasses and corn (maize) are the principal products. Corn, especially, is a rarely failing crop. The root crops that grow in temperate latitudes thrive amazingly. Eastern Nebraska is eminently adapted to the growth of apples, which here attain a size, colour, and flavour rarely equalled elsewhere. Grapes, plums, and cherries do equally well. Peaches, though not so sure as the former, are successfully grown south of the Platte. The strawberry nowhere reaches a better size or more luscious flavour than here. Other small fruits do almost equally well. The spontaneous growth of nutritious grasses, the ease with which cultivated varieties are grown, and the enormous yield of corn render the State peculiarly adapted for the raising of cattle, horses, sheep, and hogs. The stock industry is growing rapidly, and is at present doing most to enrich the people. No industry promises better results, however, than the planting of new forests, to which many people are devoting themselves with the most gratifying success.
The assessed valuation of the State in 1882 (being only one-third of the real value) was $98,537,475. The cereals produced in 1882 were - wheat, 16,405,500 bushels ; maize, 82,995,146 ; oats, 13,437,950 ; barley, 1,919,880. The following amount of stock was reported (a few counties not being returned): - cattle, 815,933; sheep, 376,257; hogs, 821,049; horses, 232,942; mules, 31,314. Tree culture is reported thus : - fruit trees, 2,038,111; grape vines, 305,389; forest trees, 40,502,584. Many of the lesser products of the State are not included in this statement.
By the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1869 a highway was made to the Pacific across Nebraska. The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, begun in the same year, was completed to its junction with the Union Pacific at Kearney in 1872. It extended its main line during 1882 through the Republican valley to Denver, Colorado. In connexion with both these main lines there are important branches; and in 1883 2000 miles of railway had been constructed in the State. Before the Union Pacific was made, freighting across the plains was a large and profitable business. Omaha was conspicuous for its energy in securing this traffic, and grew to be the first city in Nebraska, and has ever since led the State in commerce and in manufacturing enterprises.
A basis for a free school system was laid by Congress in the Act constituting Nebraska a Territory, by which two sections of land. (1280 acres) in each township were set aside for this purpose. The State constitution of 1875 provided that all fines, penalties, and licence moneys arising under the general laws of the State should be transferred to the school fund, and that the legislature should provide for the free instruction in the common schools of the State of all persons between the ages of five and twenty-one years. The census of 1880 shows that only 2.5 per cent. of the population of Nebraska over ten years of age are unable to read - a smaller proportion of illiteracy than that of any State in the Union, with one exception (Iowa, 2.4 per cent.).
A State normal school was established at Peru in 1867, and a State school for the deaf and dumb in Omaha in the same year. The State institution for the blind was established in Nebraska City in 1875 ; a regular course of study, extending from eight to ten years, is provided. A State university and agricultural college was established in 1869 at Lincoln, a building being erected at a cost of $150,000, and opened in September 1871, when the population of the State was only 133,000. It provides classical, scientific, and literary courses of instruction. Provision has just been made to open a medical department with a three years' course in October 1883. The higher State institutions of learning, as well as the common schools, are open to both sexes, and free. The Insane Hospital was opened at Lincoln in December 1870 ; the present building, exclusive of the wings approaching completion, cost $165,000. The State penitentiary, established at Lincoln in 1870, was erected at a cost of $312,000.
The population of the State in 1880 was 452,402 (249,241 males, 203,161 females). In 1870 it was 122,993 ; in 1860, 28,846. Of the population in 1880, 95,790 were born in Nebraska, 259,198 in other States of the Union, and 97,414 in other lands - the largest number of immigrants being from Canada, Bohemia, Scandinavia, and Germany. In 1860 the population per square mile was 0.4 ; in 1870, 1 -6 ; in 1880, 5.9. The population has been increasing so rapidly since 1880 that the lowest estimates do not make it less than 675,000 by the end of 1883.
The following are the chief towns and their populations in 1880: - Omaha, 30,518; Lincoln (the State capital), 13,083; Nebraska City, 4183 ; Plattsmouth, 4175 ; Beatrice, 3386 ; Grand Island, 3550 ; and Hastings, 2817. All these towns have greatly increased, and some of them, like Hastings, have doubled their populations since 1880.
History. - Nebraska was probably first visited by Europeans in The first settlement by whites was made in 1847 at Bellevue on the Missouri, 9 miles south of Omaha. Here a trading post of the American Fur Company was conducted by Colonel Peter A. Sarpy, a Frenchman distinguished by his knowledge of the Indians, his courage, and his enterprise. The Mormon emigration, begun in 1847, traversed several paths, one of which lay through Nebraska, which thus first became generally known throughout the country. During the overland traffic to California that commenced in 1849, depots of supply were established at Bellevue, Plattsmouth, Nebraska City, and in the interior at Fort Kearney.
The Act constituting Nebraska a distinct Territory, and opening its lands to settlement, was approved May 30, 1854. Its area then embraced 351,558 square miles, extending from the 40th parallel to British America on the north, its eastern line connecting the Missouti river on the south-east with the Red River on the north, and its western line beinu° the summit of the Rocky Moun- tains. In 1861 Nebraska was shorn of its extended territory by the cutting off of portions of it to form Dakota and Colorado Territories. In 1863 it was still further reduced by the formation of Idaho Territory. These curtailments left Nebraska a purely prairie State. During the first five years after the organization of the Territory the settlements rapidly increased along the Missouri. Great numbers who rushed to Pike's Peak in 1859 when the gold excitement was at its height, ou their return, disappointed and disgusted, stopped and opened farms in the State. This had the effect of starting settlements in the interior. The bottom lands of the Missouri and its tributaries had first been occupied, and it was supposed that the uplands were of inferior fertility. Now, however, these so-called " bluff lands," composed of loess materials, began to be cultivated, cautiously at first, until experiment proved them to be of the choicest character. Pioneers then began to push out from the rivers, at first only a few miles, but finally wherever lands could be obtained, without regard to the presence or absence of bottom lands. In 1863 the Union Pacific Railroad and in 1864 the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad began to sell portions of' their lands in Nebraska, received from the general Government ; and this became a most potent factor in turning a tide of emigration into the State.
At the breaking out of the civil war in 1861 the population of the Territory comprised less than 30,000. Yet Nebraska furnished to the Union army during the war 3307 officers and men, including two companies of scouts, partly composed of Indians.
In 1866 the legislature prepared a constitution for a State government, which a vote of the people confirmed by a small majority, though the opponents of the measure claimed that it was obtained by fraud. The first legislature under the State constitution met July 4th, 1866. The bill to admit Nebraska as a State was passed over the president's veto, and proclaimed on March 1st, 1867.
The first capital of Nebraska was at Bellevue. It was removed to Omaha in 1855, where it remained until Nebraska became a State, when it was taken to Lancaster, a town of half a dozen houses, whose name was then changed to Lincoln, - now (1883) grown to be a city of 16,000 inhabitants. The present State constitution was framed in 1875, and was ratified hi the same year by the people. The first legislature under the new constitution met in January 1877. The house of representatives consists of eighty-four, and the senate of thirty members ; and the legislature meets biennially. (S. A.)