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Field Division of Education
The History of Scotts Bluff Nebraska
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The Scotts Bluff National Monument memorialized not so much the historic significance of the few square miles of actual monument area, but rather the numberless migrations that have passed, since time immemorial, over the many trails that converge on the North Platte. The history of the Scotts Bluff area is an epitome of the exploration, exploitation, and settlement of the Trans-Mississippi West. Here is one of the truly great corridors of the world. The headwaters of the Platte rise along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Colorado. By means of the South Pass an almost imperceptible transition is made from Atlantic to Pacific drainage. This pass-route commanded the best lines of movement between California, the Oregon country and Utah on the west of the "continental backbone," and the great Missouri-Mississippi system, and the plains, prairies, and forests of the east.

Out of the West have moved the countless bands of the first great emigration to America -- small groups of primitive Asiatic nomads, who probably made a considerable use of this natural corridor into the "promised lands" of the south and east. The various bisons, elk, deer, and other grazing animals of the late Pleistocene had already marked out the many converging and diverging trails. As the generations of the ancestral Amerinds increased, the tribes were forced to fill up all of the land. Hunting grounds began to overlap, and the warpath often replaced the trails of migration and trade. Ere the White Man reached the Nebraska country, the European horse had become the servant of all the Great Plains tribes. Formerly agricultural Indians of the Mississippi-Missouri valleys became mounted nomad hunters of the buffalo, and wandered from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains.

The Great Plains Indian-horse-buffalo cultural complex had scarcely become formulated when French and Spanish traders and trappers invaded the country. By the accident of wars, these nationalities were replaced by Anglo-Saxon Britishers and Americans -- but the fur trader and trapper continued to dominate the western scene until the country had been thoroughly explored and trapped out. Then the fertile lands of the Pacific Coast began to draw a few hardy settlers over the prairie and mountain traces. Persecution pushed the Mormons into temporary exile in Utah. War and diplomacy gave California and Oregon to the American nation, and the emigrations increased. Soon the discovery of gold in California inspired a westward trek of many thousands. Scarcely had the "Forty-niners" become able miners and prospectors when new strikes of precious metals drew thousands into the "diggings" of Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana.

The rapidly growing population and states of the West demanded rapid and more certain communication with the East, and there came in quick succession: Overland Mail, Pony Express, the transcontinental telegraph, Overland Stage, and the transcontinental railroad. Feeding emigrants and laborers along the great overland route forced a sudden decimation of the buffalo, the Indian's "staff of life." In desperation the plains Indians arose in bloody concerted war, adding to the chaos of the Civil War. Gaining certain concessions, the Indians became warily peaceful until the rush of prospectors to the gold strikes in the Black Hills and Montana, together with the westward advance of the Northern Pacific, provoked the final flurry of resistance in 1876. Crushed by the American troops and moved to restricted reservations, the Great Plains Indians lost all power of opposing the White penetration.

In great waves of cattle and men the Platte country was overrun by the Texas cattle industry. For some ten years the stockman ruled the open range. But westward had been advancing the granger, with his recently acquired barbed wire fence. By the close of the '80's, granger fence, overstocked range, and a depression in the meat industry had combined to eliminate the great open ranges. Characteristic of this change, western Nebraska introduced irrigation wherever possible, new railroads came in, and small market towns sprang up all along the lines of communication. The era of colonization and rapid cultural mutations was over before the close of the Nineteenth Century. Such is the historic background of the great movements over the overland route.1

1 The history of the westward expansion is being told more voluminously and accurately with every year. Among the principal general works on this phase of American history are:

 1. Frederick J. Turner, The significance of the frontier in American history, 1894.

 2. Henry Inman and W. F. Cody, The Great Salt Lake Trail, 1898.

 3. Edwin E. Sparks, The expansion of the American people, 1900.

 4. Ellen C. Semple, American History and its geographic condition, 1903.

 5. George P. Garrison, Westward expansion, 1841-1850, 1906.

 6. Frederick J. Turner, Rise of the new West, 1819-1829, 1906.

 7. Randall Parrish, The Great Plains, 1907.

 8. Frederic Paxson, The last American frontier, 1910.

 9. Edwin L. Sabin, Kit Carson days, 1809-1868, 1914.

10. Frederick J. Turner, The frontier in American history, 1920.

11. James C. Bell, Opening a highway to the Pacific, 1838-46, 1921.

12. Katherine Coman, Economic beginnings of the Far West, 1921.

13. Cardinal Goodwin, The Trans-Mississippi West, 1803-1853, 1922.

14. Frederick L. Paxson, History of the American frontier, 1763-1893, 1924.

15. Agnes C. Laut, The overland trail, 1929.

16. W. J. Ghent, The road to Oregon, 1929.

17. Robert E. Riegel, America moves West, 1930.

18. E. Douglas Branch, Westward - The romance of the American frontier, 1930.

19. W. J. Ghent, The early Far West, 1931.

20. Walter P. Webb, The Great Plains, 1931.

21. Rufus R. Wilson, Out of the West, 1933.

22. E. W. Gilbert, The exploration of Western America, 1800-1805, 1933.

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