October 29, 2022 | Last updated Jun 9, 2023

See? Coronado Made it to Nebraska After All

man in Spanish armor on horseback in city street

Historians long believed that in 1541, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado became the first European explorer to reach the Platte River in Nebraska. By the 1890s, historical and archeological evidence pointed toward central Kansas as Coronado’s farthest north, but the story lived on in popular culture.

Here, “Coronado” takes a smoke break at Nebraska’s Diamond Jubilee in Omaha on November 5, 1929. The celebration marked seventy-five years since the opening of Nebraska Territory to Euroamerican settlement. More than 150,000 people lined the two-mile route of the “Parade of Nations.” According to the next day’s Omaha World-Herald, the turnout was nearly as large as the record crowds for Woodrow Wilson and Charles Lindbergh.

The parade included Indians representing “Nebraska’s first families,” and floats representing various immigrant groups and historical topics. The parade’s larger theme, said the World-Herald, was to depict “the perils of the pioneers, the struggles and privations of the early home makers and achievements of the second generation.”

More perils, struggles, and privations were soon to come. The same newspaper includes a full-page ad from The Saturday Evening Post attempting to calm fears after the recent stock market crash: “Wall Street may sell stocks but Main Street is still buying goods. The ticker may slow down but production is going right ahead.” Despite cheerleading from the Post and President Hoover, the nation’s economy plunged into the Great Depression.

As for the Coronado story, historian Harlan Seyfer of Plattsmouth writes about the “Changing Consensus on the European Discovery of the Platte River” in the Summer 2018 issue of Nebraska History. The article has the tongue-in-cheek subtitle, “Figuring out which white guy got to the Platte first,” because of course people had been living along the Platte for millennia before Europeans “discovered” it. Nonetheless, the entry of Europeans onto the Northern Plains had important consequences for everyone involved.

Who was the first? As far as we know, it was a Frenchman named Etienne Véniard, Sieur de Bourgmont in 1714. Two years earlier Bourgmont had married into the Missouria tribe. He learned from his in-laws that the Missouria and Otoe Indians had split up in the 1670. The Missourias lived in the central part of the present state that bears their name; the Otoes lived near the confluence of the Platte and Missouri Rivers in present-day Nebraska.

It was Bourgmont who first used the word “Nebraskiér” in print. It was the Otoe name for the wide and shallow river he visited. It means “flat water.” Other Frenchmen translated the name into their own language and started calling it La Rivière Platte.

History Nebraska members receive quarterly issues of Nebraska History as part of their membership; single issues are available for $7 from the Nebraska History Museum (402-471-3447).

—David L. Bristow, Editor

(Photo: RG3882-35-11-1)

 

(Since this obviously isn’t the oldest known image of a Nebraska event, what is? Find out here.)

 

 

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Marker Monday: Spade Ranch

Marker Monday: Spade Ranch

Nebraska’s Japanese American History

Nebraska’s Japanese American History

The Blacksmith Shop

The Blacksmith Shop

Marker Monday: Long Pine – A Railroad Town

Marker Monday: Long Pine – A Railroad Town

Fred Astaire’s Omaha Origins

Fred Astaire’s Omaha Origins

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.