Treasures from Nebraska Museums

The NSHS works hard to collect and preserve Nebraska history, but we don’t do it alone. Historical organizations and museums dot our ninety-three counties and contain many treasures. To support their work in preserving our collective history we’re showcasing items from the collections of various Nebraska Historical organizations through our Treasures from Nebraska Museums program. The items are featured in Nebraska History News, here on our blog, and on exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln.

Our featured organization from early January through March of 2014 is the Old Freighters Museum in Nebraska City.  Located in a historic building, The Old Freighters Museum uses exhibits, artifacts, photographs and video to interpret the history of freighting and western migration on the trails passing through or near Nebraska City between the years of 1846 to 1870.  Included in the exhibits are listings of freighters who worked in Nebraska City in the 1850s, a scale-model of the original Russell, Majors and Waddell compound and additional artifacts and information regarding the company, a period bedroom, and an art exhibit of William Henry Jackson prints showing life along the western trails.


Exterior of the museum. This three-story wood-frame structure was built by the U.S. Government in 1858 to house Quartermaster Major James G. Martin and then sold to the Russell, Majors and Waddell freighting company.

The museum is located at 407 North 14th Street in Nebraska City. It is open by appointment November through April and for additional limited hours during the rest of the year. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for students.  For an appointment call:  402-873-9360 or 402-873-6188.  For further information go to:

The beginning of the exhibit on freighting along the western trails.

Exhibit room featuring a scale-model of the Russell, Majors & Waddell compound in Nebraska City


“Art of the Trails” exhibitThe images below showcase just a few pieces from the Old Freighters Museum collection:

Not your average sleeping bag, a freighters bedroll may have contained ground cover, blankets, shelter, clothing and other small personal items that would have been rolled together in the morning, thrown in a wagon, and unrolled in the evening.


In 1862 Otoe county commissioners fashioned a plan to improve freighting methods by replacing oxen with a stronger, faster “steam wagon” or “prairie motor.” This is a model of the machine they commissioned. While hopeful it would become a regular part of freighting across Nebraska, those hopes were dampened when the prototype malfunctioned four miles west of town on a demonstration run. It may have been repaired and used in a parade before eventually being stored at J. Sterling Morton’s farm (now Arbor Lodge). It was dismantled in 1891 when all plans for regular “steam wagon” runs were abandoned.

This sketch was completed in 1925 by Robert Kregel a Nebraska City artist and mechanic who was the son of George Kregel of Kregel Windmill fame. The sketch is based on a photograph that can be seen at the Old Freighters Museum and it is suggested that the man leaning on the wagon is J. Sterling Morton.

–Deb Arenz, Associate Director for Collections


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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.
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