Yvonne Dalluge
Kathleen Jacobitz
Marcia Borcher
Sandi Corbitt-Sears
Dick Taylor

Early Settlement

During Territorial days of the late 1850's and early 1860's to post-Civil War years, Nebraska's settlers were discouraged by many troubles and deprivations.  Remoteness of the frontier, sickness, bad weather, pestilence, crop failure, and lack of provisions drove away those unwilling to contend, and many went back to their beginnings in the East.  Only the very hardy stayed, along with folks too poor to go elsewhere.

Buffalo still roamed this new prairie region home, and deer and antelope yet played in meadows and woods.  Large numbers of elk grazed in the area stretching westward from the Missouri River.  Bison herds left large dusty depressions in open ground, "buffalo wallows," where in summertime the burly animals cooled their massive bodies.  William Tecumseh Sherman later estimated that over nine and a half million buffalo still existed between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains around this time.

Having been leveled by ancient glaciers long ago, Nebraska terra firma was fertile for crop-growing, but some places included the clay commonly known as "gumbo."  Rocks occasionally obstructed the plow in places, and limestone and sandstone were frequently found for building purposes.

While nurturing their crops through the warm season, pioneers saw a new growth of sunflowers, cockleburrs, burdock, pig weed, milkweed, buttonweed, wild roses, thistles, beggar's lice, poison oak, poison ivy, nettles, and other weed varieties emerging annually throughout the area.

Prairie chickens, bob-white quail, red-tail hawks, owls, crows, seagulls, pigeons, thrushes, turtledoves, meadowlarks, blackbirds, bluejays, cardinals, cowbirds, woodpeckers, orioles, finches, swallows, robins, sparrows, chickadees, wrens, and hummingbirds regularly took to the wing with their normal routines of bird life.  Migrating cranes, herons, ducks, and geese followed the flow of the main rivers and their tributary branches, steadily flapping along as their predecessors had done for a millennium.  The clear sandy streams provided a water supply and natural home for beavers, turtles, frogs, snails, crawfish, water striders, dragon flies, and freshwater fish such as carp, sun perch, catfish, and suckers.

On Nebraska turf, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, badgers, bobcats, jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, opossums, skunks, squirrels, groundhogs, gophers, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, chipmunks, field mice, toads, salamanders, and an assortment of snakes competed with each other for existence amongst the prairie grasses, buckbrush, and woodlands.  Settlers contended with pesky mosquitoes, gluttonous grasshoppers, stinging wasps, bumblebees, hornets, cicadas, junebugs, crickets, ticks, horseflies, and fruit flies.  The honeybee seemed to represent a singular beneficial purpose amongst insects.

The water table near streams encouraged a denser concentration of trees, such as willow, cottonwood, oak, elm, maple, cedar, hickory, walnut, mulberry, hackberry, chokecherry, and plum, along with sumac and cattails.  Settlers planted orchards of fruit trees and grapevines, and years later they lined out barriers of hedge trees for boundary markers and windbreaks.  Growing wild were gooseberry bushes, strawberry plants, and vines of blackberries, raspberries, and grapes.

Nebraska's variable climate could suddenly produce unforeseen natural disasters, such as insect plague, blizzard, flood, hailstorm, tornado, lightning strike, high winds, drought, or prairie fire.  Settlers came to expect being baked in stifling summertime heat of July and August, and frozen with the icy bite of deep winter's frigid chill.

 Copyright © Dick Taylor, 1998 - Early Settlement (pub: May 1998)

Copyright 2008 Pawnee County History

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