Roadside History of Nebraska, by Candy Moulton, Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, Mont., 1997, $18 paperback.
A great many emigrants and travelers passed through Nebraska by wagon and train in the second half of the 19th century. But a lot of people stayed, too, once they realized that Nebraska was not part of a “Great American Desert”–the label put on the central Plains by the Stephen Long expedition of 1820. By 1854, when Congress created Nebraska Territory, which also included most of today’s Dakotas and eastern Wyoming, many of the Indians in the area had relinquished most of their lands. A territorial census that year showed 1,818 settlers living south of the Platte River and 914 settlers living to the north. Things picked up after Congress passed the Homestead Act in 1862. “The first homestead claimed in the nation, a property just west of present-day Beatrice settled by Daniel Freeman in 1863, is now part of Homestead National Monument,” writes Candy Moulton in this valuable guide. Moulton, who also wrote the Wyoming entry in the fine “Roadside History” series, offers plenty of reasons (such as Rock Creek Station State Historical Park, Chimney Rock and Willa Cather’s Red Cloud) for Western historians to poke around Nebraska’s back roads instead of racing across the state at 65 mph. She covers Nebraska in five parts: Lewis and Clark Country, River Country, Oregon Trail Country, Sandhills Country and Panhandle Country. The author certainly knows her Western history better than her sports history (she says the Nebraska Huskers became National Football League champions in 1995), but she is quite right when she says, “Even today many dismiss Nebraska as a place with nothing to offer except an outstanding college football team.” Pick up this book and learn otherwise.