Off the Map

Off the Map: Nebraska Native Americans

When I began working on this post, I had a different focus.  I was looking through my Perkey’s Nebraska Place Names book for locations that were named for Native Americans.  Particularly for towns that no longer exist.  Suddenly I realized that rather than focusing on lost towns, I should be focusing on lost people as many, many Native Americans were literally wiped off the Nebraska map.

Now I realized that this could be a bit controversial.  Anytime Indian reservations, manifest destiny, treaties and broken promises get thrown into one conversation, there could be trouble. But as we have been studying about Native Americans in our homeschool recently, I have determined one indisputable fact.  Accurate maps do not lie.

You can find the above map at the site.  9 tribes are shown as having lived in the state of Nebraska.    According to the Nebraska Native Americans book by Carole Marsh, the Santee Sioux, Winnebago and the Sac & Fox tribes also used to dwell here.  That would make the total be at least one dozen Indian tribes that called part of Nebraska home.  Today that number has shrunk down to only 4 federally recognized Native American tribes.

1 Omaha Tribe of Nebraska:

2 Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska:

3 Ponca Tribe of Nebraska:

4 Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska:

That means that only 1/3 of Nebraska indigenous people groups are officially around.    To me that is rather sad.  I am sure that back in the day there were definitely safety concerns – shooting first to avoid being killed by the other.  Or even hostile take-over concerns – enough to drive the people apart.  But today I think it is rather ironic that our trepidation has turned into fascination – imitating (through costume and action) the very people we tried to eradicate .  Tragic!

My knowledge of the Nebraska native Americans. has definitely increased   I am glad that we will be studying these tribes awhile longer.  May we find out some of what really happened during the days of pioneering.



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Off the Map: How did those Germans end up in Russia and then in Nebraska?

This is a bit of an unusual “Off the Map.”  Really the post could be titled “On the Move.”  Or forwarding address.  About the transition of strong German families from their homeland to Russia and eventually to here.  Many of them can be found in Nebraska, but of course there are “American Historical Society of Germans from Russia” chapters throughout the United States.

Last week this blog “visited” the official “American Historical Society Germans from Russia” museum.    I know the first time that we went to the museum several years ago my perceptions of who this place represented were a bit confused.  This group of people would consider themselves Germans despite the fact that they lived in Russia for a long while.

So, if they wanted to be German, why did they move to Russia?  The one word answer: destitution.  There was not enough land and a whole lot of war recovery going on.  (Fighting for one hundred years will do that!)  One unexpected person changed the plights of a weary people.  Former German princess and current Russian Empress, Catherine the Great.

AHSGR Catherine and peasant

Catherine the Great’s portrait close by a statue of woman whose life she changed by her giving of land.

With their large families, many Germans had outgrown their farms.  Catherine had an abundance of unplowed  land, and she needed occupants to fortify her country’s boundaries.     In 1863, she issued a life-changing manifesto on July 22nd.  I will give you a place to settle.  In return, you can make your own settlements, speak your own language and even have your own churches.  Plus you can leave at any time and do not have to even fight in Russian conflicts.    And this was for life, continuing on to even future generations.  This worked out well for all at first – she had people, they had land.  The German culture flourished for many years in the Volga River lands.

Until a few generations removed from Catherine.  Her grandsons were not so sure about this free land idea.  Or people in their country speaking different languages.  Russification was the order then – a blending of the conglomeration of people into a massive people group.  And not having people living in the country fight for Russia? Unheard of as is evidenced in the document below.    And since Russia fought Germany in both wars, this was a definite conflict of interest for these resettled Germans.

AHSGR Russia 1941 decree

While there was more of an influx of these “Germans from Russia” at certain times, really the immigration was often gradual.  Coming to America was not always easy.  For those who came earlier on, the promise of “free” land was helpful.  Yet being separated by 160 acres as was required for homesteaders did not make for a village.  The United States did provide opportunities for this group of downtrodden people but did still require a change of lifestyle and even language.

Enough people here in the United States have wanted to stay connected with these genealogical records that the “Germans from Russia” remain a strong group.  If you are interested in learning even more, definitely check out the museum in person or read the document at the link below.

This Friday provides even another interactive opportunity.  You can attend the Broda Dinner at the WSI Hall (1430 N. 10th St. in Lincoln) this Friday night, November 1st. Dinner will be served from 5-7 PM.  “Broda” meals are those that you put in the oven before going to Sunday service then enjoy after church.  (Yes – I had to ask.  But I recall eating many of these growing up!  Thank goodness for oven timers this day and age!)  Roast beef, potatoes, vegetables, rye bread, dessert and beverage will be served.  The cost for adults is $10 and children (12 & under) are only $5.  You can call for tickets in advance (402-489-2583 or 402-420-9580).  Or just show up at the door.

They will be having a quilt raffle.  Tickets for this will be available at the dinner.  If you want to see the quilt up close (beyond just the picture below), the beautifully crafted covering is on display at the museum.

AHSGR quilts

The “fan” quilt is on permanent display at the museum. The sunny yellow floral quilt is the one being raffled off.

A big thank you to the “American Historical Society of Germans from Russia” museum for letting me sneak in to take some updated pictures.  And for answering all of my questions right at closing time!

Additional research for this article was found at the NDSU “Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.”  Hopefully I summarized their information in an accurate way!

Categories: Nebraska History, Off the Map, People Behind the Place | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moving Monday: Palymra, Nebraska: The Town That Relocated?

Earlier this summer, we went and took a tour of our friends’ “Big Red Sawmill.”   I will be writing more on the details of all we learned on that adventure in an upcoming blog.  My older boys especially loved that field trip because our friend, Brian, took us all about the farm on his gator.  (Thankfully only the kids had to ride in the back, and I got the front seat.  Was a bit of a crazy ride – good for my “city” boys).

I expected the tour of the sawmill, but I did not anticipate learning some more about the area.  He and lovely wife, Rita, are raising four sons just south of Palmyra.  He owns quite a few acres that he drove us around.  On the eastern edge of his land lies something I never knew existed.

Sawmill Palymra beginnings

The original town of Palmyra.  Supposedly this is where the town used to be.  Before illness came and devastated those settling here.  Not knowing the source of the sickness the whole town decided to move a few miles away and start again.  This could just be the source of folklore, as nothing of the town being relocated is mentioned in the Virtual Nebraska History: Palmyra.  Yet that site only contains the history as presented by just a few local residents.  You can definitely see where an original dwelling used to be located, so this could have been history that was missed.

Based on the number of towns that started and stopped in Nebraska I could see this having happened more than once.   A setting just not being as suitable any more.  Especially if illness literally caused most of the town to die out.  Another factor could have been the arrival of the railroad to the area.  The online history does note that the town really begin to flourish when the railroad arrived in 1871.  Soon after the area’s first mill began along with an elevator.

So, whether this story is the stuff of legend or historical fact, I did find it interesting to ponder a town just up and moving.  Would have been easier feat back then when dwellings were initially more “temporary.”  If only we knew the oral history that is lost due to accurate documentation.

P.S. I enjoyed the two weeks that we just spent in Omaha.  Although we will not camp out there like we just did, we will definitely be visiting that town again in the weeks and months to come.

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Off the Map: Florence, Nebraska

Florence was my paternal grandmother’s name.  A feisty, caring woman, she died last December only months after celebrating her hundredth birthday.  So, naturally when I heard about the Florence Mill being a place to visit in Nebraska, my ears perked up.  After searching on the map for this unfamiliar town, I was surprised to discover that this long-standing community has been an Omaha neighborhood, also for almost a century.

File:Florence Mill NE.JPG

Florence Mill (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

While absorbed today into the large metropolitan area, Florence held its own for a long time, including a short-lived run as the site of the Nebraska Legislature, when they attempted to take over from rowdy Omaha.   This did not bode well as many considered this to be a takeover plot.  Florence was flourishing as the winter quarters site for the Mormons.  A stopover point for those venturing to Utah.  The Nebraskian newspaper noted their concerns about this being premeditated by the Mormons.  Of course both the acting and newly appointed governors refused to recognize this relocation.  So Florence’s dreams of being the site of Nebraska’s government were quickly dashed.

File:Mormons at Florence.jpg

The Mormon Campsite at Florence (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

While you may not be able to find the town of Florence on the map, you can still visit this oldest Nebraska town today.   Many areas are open to the public at various times.

File:Mormon Pioneer Cemetery Monument - June 10, 2006.jpg

Mormon Pioneer Cemetery Monument: Over 300 died the first winter spent in this area of the Nebraska Territory.  (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters

Open daily from 9 to 9, this museum tells the story of the travels of the 30,000 people who stopped here on their west and includes an ox cart, covered wagon and log cabin.

Photo Courtesy of

Florence Mill (Now a museum and art gallery.  Opened to the public during limited hours)

File:Bank of Florence NE.JPG

Florence Bank (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons). This refurbished bank is open on summer week-ends and by appointment.

While much of Historic Florence has been restored, two places can no longer be visited.  Fort Lisa,named for esteemed trader Manuel Lisa, closed in 1823.  Cabanne’s Trading Post was established in 1822, but by the 1840’s had outrun its usefulness.

If you would like to learn more, please visit one of the following sites.

Historic Omaha’s Collection on the Mormon Winter Quarters

Omaha World-Herald’s Historic photographs and information

Mendon Ox Teams Sent to Assist Florence, Nebraska

One of my additional sources for the political background of Florence was found in the book, A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tales of 19th Century Omaha by David L. Bristow.  My appreciation for his historical expertise.

Categories: Metro, Nebraska History, Off the Map | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Off the Map: Augur, Nebraska

Off the Map: Nebraska Places that No Longer Officially Exist

When I conjure up images of ghost towns, dusty wooden streets and tumbleweed come to mind.  Until I started reading Perkey’s Nebraska Place Names, I did not realize how many towns in Nebraska started, then stopped.  The key seems to be the post office – if the mail was delivered there, the place was considered a town.  So a few towns really never got going beyond a few months of delivery.  But several towns lasted a few years, even a decade, before succumbing to disappearing off the map.  Occasionally the town would undergo a name change.  Or many towns were absorbed by other larger towns.  This happened several times in the Lincoln and Omaha area.  This first place I am featuring seems to qualify for many of these categories.

Soon after Nebraska became a state, the Augur post office was established on August 26, 1869.  General Christoper C. Augur had a distinguished background.  He was a veteran of the Civil War and Indian campaigns, as well the commander of the Department of the Platte.  They wanted to honor his service by naming this new area for him.  And they did so.  But for an incredibly short time.  Less than a few months in fact.

At some point during the span of five months, this post office was renamed Sherman Barracks.  After William Tecumseh Sherman, another Civil War hero.  So, were Augur and Sherman friends?  Foes?  Competitors?  Were people arguing over the naming rights, and so the place was known by several things?  Supposedly Sherman was frustrated at the small size of the settlement, so he requested that his name be removed.  On December 20th, 1869, the third name of this area was established.  Omaha Barracks.  This name stayed as a spot on the map for almost 6 1/2 years.  Until on July 26, 1876, Fort Omaha came to be.

File:Fort Omaha, Bourke Gate plaque.jpg

Only a gate was named after this man.  Maybe that is a good thing since the name of the place already changed too many times.

Fort Omaha was a supply fort and lasted two whole decades.  For three of those years, the fort was the headquarters for the Department of the Platte.  On September 5th, 1896, the fort simply ceased to be.  Its time had passed.  Until 1905, when it was needed again.  This time the fort lasted eight years before all activity ceased.  For three years, nothing happened again.  Then the fort found yet another purpose.   The Douglas County Historical Society has a somewhat reasonable explanation for all of the upheaval.

Between 1868 and today, the Fort records a diverse history.  The Fort was abandoned in 1896, when its need was diminished by expansive settlement of the west the and end of the Indian Wars.  It reopened in 1905 as the Signal Corps School, and the first balloon flight was launched in 1909, beginning the Army’s first regular lighter-than-air center.  The Fort was abandoned in 1913 when the Signal Corps School was moved to Fort Leavenworth.

Fort Omaha became the site of America’s first military balloon school when the Fort was reactivated in 1916 as the Balloon Section of the American Expeditionary Force, known as the Fort Omaha Balloon School.  Captain Chandler, pilot of the first 1909 flight, was named the Commanding Officer.

(I think the balloon school might necessitate more research at another time – would be interesting to read more on that part of history.  I am pretty sure you could get a lot of college students today to sign up for that major!)

Fort Omaha has had various purposes over the last century.  But has not been its own town for quite some time.  The city of Omaha absorbed the area that had changed names so many times.  But while you can longer get mail in Augur, you can still see many buildings in what is now a historic district.

The Fort Omaha Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The district includes the 1879 General Crook House Museum, as well as the 1879 Quartermaster’s office, 1878 commissary, 1884 guardhouse, 1883 ordnance magazine and 1887 mule stables.

And it is up to you whether you want to see Augur, Sherman Barracks, Omaha Barracks or Fort Omaha.  The names may have changed, but the location did not.  And just in case that trip is not on your horizon, here is the historical sign which is located now in the heart of Omaha.





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Categories: Metro, Nebraska History, Off the Map | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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