Founding Frontier Omaha

This 1857 view is the earliest known photo of “Omaha City,” as it was then known. History Nebraska RG2341-3a

How do you start a new frontier town? Alfred Jones knew. In 1853 he staked out the first claims in a place soon to be known as Omaha City. In May 1896 he told his story to The Pioneer Record, published by the Nebraska Territorial Pioneer Association. 

Jones lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1853. It turns out that the hardest part about staking claims in Nebraska was getting safely across the Missouri River and back. He recalled:

The laying out of a town on the western bank of the Missouri river was first suggested by myself to a ferryman named William D. Brown whom I assisted to run a ferry between what is now Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa. He took a claim on the east bank of the river and put on the stream a flat ferry boat to be propelled by oars. There was in the river a long island covered with a growth of willow and cottonwood trees which greatly obstructed his passage, consequently, he crossed but a few times. 

A company was then organized to run a steam ferry across the river and at my suggestion, included the laying out of a town on the west bank where Omaha now stands. The newly organized company crossed the river and walked around the proposed townsite. The location seemed a favorable one as they determined to lay out a town there, although no survey was at that time made. Not long after I made a claim, the first regularly defined boundaries in this part of the country if not in the territory. My claim included a portion of the proposed town claim which was the second regularly defined claim in this vicinity.

About the middle of November 1853, Thomas and William Allen with myself crossed the river in an old leaky scow; one of us rowed, another steered, while the third bailed the water out to keep the boat from sinking. With much difficulty, we finally made a landing on the western shore. We waded through the water and crawled over the fallen trees that filled the bottom between our landing place and the plateau where we camped . . . . 

In the morning we marked out our claims, then started for our boats. We found the river full of floating ice which made re-crossing the stream an exceedingly difficult and even dangerous task. But we had nothing to eat and must return or starve. After some consultation, we hauled our small craft opposite the head of the Island and struck out through the floating ice. We pulled our craft to the east side of the head of the island, and by hard work finally reached the Iowa side.”

Speculators and settlers began building the town itself the following summer.  


Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.