"History and Stories of Nebraska"
by Addison Erwin Sheldon

Produced by Connie Snyder



Spanish, French and English Flags.
(Drawing by Miss Martha Turner.)

The First White Men. The Spanish. -- Columbus sailed from Spain across the ocean and found a new world. After him came the men and ships of many nations to claim part of the new world. First, the Spaniards came to Florida in 1513, and then to Mexico in 1520. All the vast country north they called Florida, so that Nebraska was a part of Florida upon their maps. In 1541, the Spaniards, under Coronado, crossed the plains from New Mexico to the Kansas-Nebraska country. In the same year Spaniards under De Soto crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas and marched northwest nearly to Kansas. These Spaniards did not remain, but afterwards Spain claimed all the country because Spaniards were the first white men to find it.

The French.-- The French came to this region more than a hundred years after the Spaniards. From Quebec, where they first settled in 1605, their missionaries and fur traders pushed west and southwest to Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. Here they first heard of a great river to the west. Father Marquette, one of these missionary explorers, wrote a letter from his Mission on Lake Superior in 1670, in which he says: "Six or seven days below the Illinois Indians is another river on which are some great nations who use wooden canoes. Of these we cannot speak until next year, if God bestows the grace upon us to lead us there."

Father Marquette and Louis Joliet, his companion, paddled in a birch bark canoe from Lake Michigan up the Fox River, carried their canoe two miles across the land to the Wisconsin River, floated down the Wisconsin and on June 17,1673, first saw the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin. They paddled their canoe down the Mississippi for many days. The country was all new and strange. In one place they saw a great monster painted upon the rocks. The next day they came to the mouth of the Missouri river and this is what they say:

The Pekitanoui or Missouri River.-- "As we were gently sailing down the still clear water, we heard a noise of a rapid into which we were about to fall. I have seen nothing more frightful. A mass of large trees entire with branches, a real floating island came from Pekitanoui, so impetuous that we could not, without great danger, expose ourselves to pass across. The agitation was so great that the water was all muddy, and could not get clear. The Pekitanoui is a considerable river coming from the northwest, which empties into the Mississippi. Many towns are located on this river and I hope by it to make the discovery of the Vermillion or California Sea."

The river they called the Pekitanoui we now call the Missouri.

The First Maps.-- From the Indians who lived at the mouth of the Missouri they first heard of the Indians who lived in Nebraska and learned their names. Thus the first maps of the Mississippi River made by the French have upon them the names of the Indian tribes living up the Missouri or Pekitanoui River -- the Panis (Pawnees), Octotatoes (Otoes) and Mahas (Omahas).

In 1699 French sea ships under commanders named Bienville and d'Iberville found the mouth of the Mississippi River, and began a settlement where afterward was built the city of New Orleans. Under these discoveries and those made by LaSalle in 1682 France claimed all the land whose waters ran into the Mississippi River. This claim was based on a law of nations which gave all the country, drained by any river, to the nation first settling upon it. French fur traders came up the Missouri and talked and traded with the Indian tribes. On their return to the mouth of the Mississippi some of them told such stories as these about the Nebraska country:

Country Finest in the World.-- "Among the Canadians who have arrived, are two who went for two years on the Missouri from village to village. They report that they were near the mines of the Spaniards. They stopped at a village of savages to whom the Spaniards only come to trade for buffalo hides, of which they make harnesses for their mules. They report that the Spaniards are at war with three or four large nations, which obliges them to go with breastplates and helmets as a protection against arrows. This they do in order that the savages may take them for spirits. These men said that this country is the finest in the world and that on the Missouri live nations who have horses."

Horses and Wild Cattle.-- "In ascending the Missouri River, there is found an abundance of oxen and cows beyond imagination. These beasts have hair and wool according to the season. This river is fine and grand. It is believed that great discoveries can be made there. Those who have ascended the Missouri say that it is the real source of the Mississippi. The country they have seen along this stream surpasses in beauty and riches that of the rest of the colony. It is situated in a pleasant climate which produces everything in the greatest abundance without cultivation. The air is salubrious, the seasons are regular and well tempered. The land is covered with all kinds of wood. The immense prairies are abounding in wild cattle, and all other kinds of wild animals. Salt is in abundance although far from the sea."

Thus it came that France and Spain each claimed Nebraska. Spain claimed it because Spaniards first discovered Florida and they considered Nebraska a part of Florida. Besides this Coronado had visited the Nebraska region one hundred and fifty years before any other white man. France claimed it because she had first settled at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the waters of the Nebraska region flowed into the Mississippi. Further than this French fur traders were trading and living with the Nebraska Indians, while the Spaniards had visited the country once and left it.

France, Spain and Nebraska Indians.-- France and Spain each tried to get the good will of the Nebraska Indians. The nearest Spanish settlements were in the Rio Grande valley in what is now New Mexico, while the nearest French settlements were along the Mississippi in Illinois and Missouri. It was far easier for the French to come up the river in boats to Nebraska than it was for the Spanish to reach it by the long journey across the plains. There were wars between the Indians in the Nebraska and Kansas country, with the French helping one side and the Spanish the other. To aid in one of these wars, Spain sent an expedition which is called the Spanish Caravan.

The English Claim to Nebraska.-- England also claimed the Nebraska country. The King of England gave grants of land to the first English settlers along the Atlantic coast. Each grant was a number of miles wide to the north and to the south and stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the "South Sea," as the Pacific Ocean was then called. The Nebraska region was thus thrown within the boundaries of the grants given to Massachusetts and Connecticut. But the settlers in these early English colonies were kept so busy making homes and fighting Indians on the Atlantic coast that they did not cross the Allegheny Mountains and never saw the Mississippi and Missouri rivers nor the beautiful prairies of Nebraska which the King of England had given to them. But, although they never saw them, they and their King still claimed them.

Map Showing Grants by the English King and their Relation to Nebraska.
(Drawing by Miss Martha Turner.)

Thus in those far away early years each of three great nations, Spain, France and England, strove to bring Nebraska under its flag. The Indian people who lived in Nebraska hunted the buffalo, planted corn and knew very little about all this. They had never seen the English. They did not care for the Spaniards. They knew and liked the French. Then came the great war between the French and English colonies in America. It is known as the French and Indian war, and control of the Mississippi river together with land whose waters flowed into it, was fought for in it. In this war Washington, then a young man, fought with the English against the French. The struggle lasted seven years. France was defeated and in 1763 gave up all the land she had claimed; that east of the Mississippi to England; that west of the Mississippi, including the Nebraska region, to Spain.

Nebraska a Spanish Province.-- Nebraska thus became Spanish. There was a Spanish governor at New Orleans and another at St. Louis. The Spanish flag now floated over this whole region. But the people who came up the Missouri River to Nebraska were still French, although they had a Spanish governor. They spoke the French language, they gave French names to towns and rivers, they married Indian women and their children, half French and half Indian, grew up to become leaders in the Nebraska tribes.

Napoleon Sells Nebraska to the United States.-- While Spain was ruling over the Nebraska country, the people of France rose against their king and nobles in the great revolution of 1789. Napoleon Bonaparte soon became the leader of that revolution and later became emperor of France. He planned to regain the new world colonies which France had lost, and bought back from Spain all the land, including the Nebraska country, that France once had held west of the Mississippi River. Napoleon began to make a great French province here, in which thousands of emigrants from France were to find homes. But war was coming on between France and England. England had the strongest navy in the world. Napoleon knew that the English ships would sail to the mouth of the Mississippi and that the French colonists could not resist them. In order to save Louisiana from surrender to England, he resolved to sell it at once to the United States. This was done in 1803 and is known in our history as "The Louisiana Purchase."

American Flag

Our Flag.-- Three flags of three great nations, Spain, France and England, sought to wave over the beautiful prairies of Nebraska. None of them prevailed. In their stead the Stars and Stripes became our emblem. Under its folds Nebraska has become one of the United States of America. Instead of dark-haired Spaniards from Mexico, or quick-eyed emigrants from sunny France, Americans settled Nebraska. To her prairies have since come settlers from all parts of Europe, speaking many tongues when they came, but all in good time becoming Americans and Nebraskans with one common language and one common hope, the hope of making their state "the best and most beautiful land in all the world," as the early French and early Spaniards reported it to be.


  1. Which country had the better right to Nebraska, Spain or France? Why?
  2. Was what the early French fur traders said of this region true?
  3. What right had the King of England to Nebraska?
  4. Did the Indians need an European flag over this country? Why?
  5. What French or Spanish names do you find on the map of Nebraska?
  6. Why is our flag the Stars and Stripes?