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Pioneer Social Life

Life in Nebraska as reported by local newspapers in the first years of settlement was centered chiefly in the towns and farms along the west bank of the Missouri River. Linked to the outside world by river steamboats, the tendency of the people was to try to recreate the social life they had known in their former homes in the East and South. However, they were also influenced by events that went on around them. Freighting and emigrant wagon trains loaded and outfitted at Nebraska City, Brownville, Wyoming, or Omaha. Homes and farms were being established and new towns built. And if life along the river palled, there was the vast territory farther West.



The most universally celebrated holiday was probably July 4, Independence Day. The DeSoto Pilot of July 11, 1857, described a territorial celebration: “The day was ushered in with the firing of guns, pistols, anvils and every means by which powder could be exploded. At twelve o’clock the DeSoto Guards formed into line and, accompanied by our citizens en masse, proceeded through Main Street to Market Square where a commodious bower had been provided for the occasion.



“The Declaration of Independence was read in an appropriate manner by Mr. E. Bacon–followed by an oration from General [Experience] Estabrook of Omaha. . . . local and patriotic toasts were given, which were loudly cheered and responded to . . . . after which, the company sat down to an excellent dinner provided by Dr. A. Phinney. In the evening a splendid ball was given at Dr. Phinney’s, a large company attended, including quite a number of strangers from Fort Calhoun and Cuming City. Everything was conducted in good taste and the dancing was kept up till a late hour.”



There were other more serious forms of diversion: lyceums, reading clubs, sewing circles, church groups, and fraternal lodges. There were also dramatic clubs, which occasionally presented plays, usually of the classic variety. Lecture courses were made up of abstract and philosophical subjects. Some typical lectures given before the Omaha Library Association in 1860 as reported in the Omaha Nebraskianwere: “The Real and the Counterfeit in the Battle of Life,” “Mammon: A Poem,” “Secret of Success,” and “Leaves and Leaf Products.”


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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 RG2955.ph).   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 ...
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