The Diamond Jubilee celebrated by Nebraska in early November of 1929 didn’t mark Nebraska’s seventy-fifth year as a state, but its seventy-fifth as a political unit. The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act making it a territory was commemorated in 1929 with three days of festivities in Omaha that included an air derby; Ak-Sar-Ben livestock show; parades, both military and civilian; and a pageant written by Hartley Burr Alexander.
The timing of the celebration wasn’t auspicious. The U.S. stock market crash had occurred shortly before, but most Nebraskans had yet to grasp its full significance. They optimistically sent President Herbert Hoover an airmail invitation measuring three feet by two feet, but the president, perhaps preoccupied by other events, sent regrets and did not attend. Tens of thousands of other citizens from across the country, however, did attend, with the major parade attracting more than 150,000 spectators.
The Parade of All Nations, said the Omaha World-Herald on November 6, 1929, “throughout its two-mile length saw depicted the perils of the pioneers, the struggles and privations of early home makers, and achievement of the second generation as on a colorful canvas.” Included were Nebraska Governor Arthur J. Weaver, pioneers, Native Americans, prairie schooners, oxcarts, a Mormon handcart, and a float bearing a large kettle labeled “The Melting Pot,” with the Ak-Sar-Ben queen costumed as the Goddess of Liberty. Riding in a stagecoach were two old frontier denizens, Richard W. “Deadwood Dick” Clarke and “Poker Alice” Tubbs, both of Deadwood, South Dakota, who represented Black Hills pioneers during the festivities.
The famous pair were interviewed, with the World-Herald reporting on November 5: “Dick still wears his gray hair streaming behind him, the picturesque 10-gallon hat, high boots and heavy shirt, as he did on the trail not so long ago. . . . ‘Poker Alice,’ famous for her unquestioned genius at poker back in ’76, arrived in Omaha dressed in a dark suit, man’s gray shirt, regulation army cavalry hat and a cane.” Deadwood Dick was eighty-three years of age, and Poker Alice was seventy-six.
Time magazine, on November 18, 1929, reported that Hartley Burr Alexander’s historical pageant, entitled The Making of Nebraska, was the highlight of the celebration. Performed by 1,300 participants at Ak-Sar-Ben Field, “[i]t began at the geological beginning. Several men carrying torches represented volcanoes and lava. Groups of maidens took the parts of stars, seas, land, flowers. Girls in white garments were the Glacier. Girls in bulky costumes typified Solid Land. In Act II a band of Sioux chased a band of Pawnees, then performed a Sun Dance. Next came Spanish conquistadors, French Jesuits, Scouts Lewis and Clark, frontiersmen, Stephen A. Douglas. To end the pageant all joined in singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and saluting the flag.”
Hartley Burr Alexander, author of the pageant performed at the 1929 Diamond Jubilee celebration. NSHS RG2411.PH0-65
Richard W. “Deadwood Dick” Clarke, as he appeared on June 16, 1927, several years before he participated in the 1929 celebration at Omaha. NSHS RG2346.PH0-59