Early history examines the archaeological record that tells the story of the first inhabitants of Nebraska. Learn about the prehistory and culture of the first early inhabitants, and what lessons it might teach us about the early history of Nebraska.
The names of the Nebraska tribes included the Cheyenne, Comanche, Chippewa, Delaware, Fox, Omaha, Kansas, Kiowa (see above picture), Missouri, Iowa, Otoe, Sauk and the Pawnee.
Nebraska's fossil beds and glacial deposits show that it once was an inland sea bed that later was elevated above water. The area once had a tropical
climate, but during a later period, glaciers covered the land. Archaeologists estimate that prehistoric people inhabited the area between 10,000 and
25,000 years ago, based on discoveries of stone tools and weapons. The earliest inhabitants were nomadic hunters, but centuries later, others came
to the grasslands to hunt, fish and farm. Archaeologists have found stone tools and weapons that these people used. Throughout history, the climate
in Nebraska varied between long periods of drought and times of plentiful moisture. We know that at one time, the area was covered by an inland sea
and had a tropical climate. Later, glaciers covered the land. This constant change meant that people came and went from the area. This created a diverse
mixture of Indian languages and cultures.
The Pawnee and their northern neighbors, the Arikaras lived in the area the longest. These people migrated northward about 500 years ago and established villages along the rivers in Nebraska. The Pawnees hunted buffalo and grew beans, corn and squash. By the eighteenth century, other tribal groups, including the Omaha, Ponca and Oto people, migrated to the area and set up villages in the eastern part of the state along the Missouri River. Other groups, including the Lakota (Sioux), Arapaho and Cheyenne, came from forested areas north and east of the Missouri River. By 1800, there may have been 40,000 native people living in Nebraska.
Spanish explorers brought horses to the Plains, and horses changed Native American culture forever. The Pawnees and Omahas began to use horses on their bison hunts and nomadic cultures like the Lakota began to center around horses and became completely dependent on bison for food, clothing, tools another items.
A second influence that changed Indian culture was the beginning of the fur trade in the eighteenth century. The Indians traded extensively with Europeans and began to use European guns, drink alcohol, and wear European clothing. Along with these trade items, the Europeans also brought diseases like measles and smallpox, and epidemics devastated the Indian population.
Despite these changes, traditional Indian culture continued in Nebraska until the 1830s. As white settlers moved into the area at that time, the US government began to negotiate with tribes for land grants. In the 1850s, Nebraska became a territory and the land was made available to settlers for ownership, despite the fact that the land had not actually been legally acquired from the Indians.
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