A blue and white metal sign titled Mallalieu University

The University, named for Bishop Mallalieu, was opened in September, 1886, with an enrollment of sixty students.

windmill in sandy pasture

windmill in sandy pasture

Ignore the photo above and look at the map below. Is “Great Desert” the dumbest description of Nebraska ever to appear in print? Sure, we’ve all heard “flyover country” and “middle of nowhere”—but desert? We might imagine a mapmaker who hadn’t been within 500 miles of Nebraska.

Take a look at this Map of Arkansa and other Territories of the United States (1822):

Photo of Charles Henry Morrill from The Morrills and Reminiscences

Nebraska in the early 1890s suffered from protracted drought, and farm prices fell to new lows. Conditions were so unfavorable that immigration, which had more than doubled the state's population in the 1880s, almost ceased. Nebraska's population only increased by seven thousand persons between 1890 and 1900. Some became so discouraged that they sold or gave up their property and left the state.

In an earlier post we we recalled the effects of the 1890s drought in Nebraska. Unfortunately, it would not be the last.

In 1936, Nebraska farmers were facing similar hardship. The ongoing drought (or “drouth” as it was often spelled) was unrelenting, and continued to produce record-breaking temperatures. The Grand Island Independent (perhaps exaggerating a bit) called it the “worst drouth in climatological history.”

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