From territory to statehood, agriculture to railroads, the early governors of Nebraska oversaw an explosive period of growth and change. Each of Nebraska’s early governors left their mark on the state’s founding. Over the last two years, the Digital Curation Department has collaborated with the State Archivist to begin a long-term digitization project to digitize the governor’s records held at History Nebraska. As of this writing, the records of the first ten Nebraska governors are available digitally through our Digital Collections Portal.
In 1854, Nebraska Territory’s first governor, Francis Burt, died two days after taking office, and acting Governor Thomas B. Cuming soon after took office. Cuming controversially oversaw the selection of Omaha over Bellevue as the territorial capital. In between Cuming’s two terms as acting governor, Mark Izard was the territorial governor. Izard oversaw the adoption of a new legal code and the creation of new county boundaries. Following Izard in 1858, William A. Richardson governed through controversial legislative sessions that debated sectional and legal code issues. The next territorial governor, Samuel W. Black, served from 1859 until the outbreak of the Civil War, during which he led troops for the Union Army. Black was governor during the Pawnee War of 1859 and controversially vetoed a bill outlawing slavery in Nebraska Territory.
Nebraska, facilitated the relocation of the capitol from Omaha to Lincoln before finding himself embroiled in a financial and political scandal in the early 1870s. William H. James became governor after the impeachment of David Butler. He established Several new counties during his governorship, arbitrating disputed elections and government appointments. Robert W. Furnas was elected as Nebraska’s Governor in 1873. Although Furnas is a notable Nebraskan for his work on the State Board of Agriculture, the Nebraska State Fair, and the Nebraska State Historical Society, his one term as governor was lackluster. Finally, Governor Silas Garber took office in 1875 and helped Nebraska turn to the future. During his tenure, Nebraska adopted the state constitution, and he promoted immigration, agriculture, and increased settlement as keys to continuing to grow Nebraska.
The first ten governors provided the foundations of settlement, agriculture, and statehood that impacted the lives of Nebraskans for years to come. To view the Nebraska Governor’s records that have been digitized, check out our Digital Collections Portal. Keep an eye out for more records to be digitized as this exciting project continues!