Coal in Nebraska

Many of the early searches for coal in Nebraska were prompted by settlers’ need for fuel, but they also realized that a supply of coal could be a big economic boost for the state. By the early 1870s coal had been found at several sites in southeastern Nebraska, including Cass County. The Nebraska Herald of Plattsmouth on June 4, 1874, reported an excursion to a prospective mine near Plattsmouth by a “cavalcade of gentlemen,” including area newspapermen and Samuel Aughey, professor of natural science at the University of Nebraska.

“What means all this hubbub? asks a quiet citizen. It means coal. It means mines. It means fire, light, railroads, and various other things that follow in the wake of coal fields. That morning [of the excursion] it meant mostly having a good time. Each wagon was loaded with a jolly party, and all the town that was awake gave them a jolly send off.

“Twelve or fourteen miles down the river, somewhere in below Hagood’s lies the coal district, and in due season our adventurers and scientists arrived on the spot. The Herald man not being one of the party can only tell what they done from hearsay, and said report vouches that the Professor [Aughey] gave some of the party a good tramp up and down the hills. When they reached the shaft which is about forty feet down, [journalist J. M.] Van Arman (who of course was along) thought he would go down. [F. M.] MacDonagh, of the [NebraskaWatchman, threw a lot of matches and sulphur in the mouth of the pit, and Van thinking that his time had come, or that he was too close to home scrambled up the ladder in double quick time. A number of the party then went down the opening, and prospected in every direction, breaking off chunks and bringing up specimens.

“The Prof. reports a good vein of 16 inch coal at this place, and the prospects of its getting thicker as it is worked further in. They have already figured out several millions of bushels to the mile and that the prospect is that coal will be found at other points near this. Cass County seems to have settled the fuel question, for this end of the State anyway. The benefit to the whole country, should these coal fields turn out as well as they indicate, can hardly be computed.”

Unfortunately, these optimistic reports were not supported by later findings.

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