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Field Division of Education
The History of Scotts Bluff Nebraska
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Little study has as yet been made of the earliest remains of man in western Nebraska. However, occasional finds of human artifacts, associated with the bones of extinct mammals, in the Pleistocene deposits of the Platte country have led trained archaeologists to estimate an antiquity of approaching 10,000 years for man in the Scotts Bluff area.1

Nebraska may be divided into five prehistoric provinces, the Western Plains region being equivalent to the Scotts Bluff area. The oldest non-agricultural finds occur in this region. At Signal Butte,2 in the Wild Cat Mountains, some 22 miles southwest of Scotts Bluff town, an 13-foot vertical cross-section revealed three separate strata of human occupation in a site that may have been an old river channel, just above Brule clay. This is the most important Nebraskan find of the last few years. Arrowpoints (resembling the Folsom type of New Mexico) have been found associated with the extinct Bison Occidentalis six miles south of Grand Island, Hall County, and near Cumso, Custer County, the latter in Peorian loess. Finds of the Folsom-like points have also been made near Champion, Chese County, and in other Nebraskan localities.

At an uncertain date, later than that of the Signal Butte and Folsom cultures, agriculture entered Nebraska from the south along the Missouri. Seemingly here Algonquin peoples obtained an agricultural-pottery complex before the coming of the Caddoan tribes from the south, who introduced a higher culture characterized by semi-subterranean houses and abundant pottery. This southern or Caddoan complex spread as far west as Scotts Bluff and the Colorado border, where a few vestiges of this culture area found. Renaud3 found the South Platte basin of Northeastern Colorado to comprise a major archaeological division, with many campsites (perhaps belonging to historic Indians) characterized by many flaked artifacts (chiefly quartzite and petrified wood scrapers, arrowheads, and hammerstones) and chips, tipi rings and fireplaces, sub-rectangular or oval manos, sandstone metates, and plain or stamped pottery. The pottery apparently represented a peripheral extension of Plains ceramics. In its origin, this may derive from the Caddoan culture, as a few semi-subterranean house sites exist in the Colorado-Wyoming-Nebraska border region. In general, however, the physical limitations of this dry country worked against any effective penetration of an agricultural culture from the more humid region of fertile loess to the east.

The sequence of cultures in Western Nebraska is yet obscure but may be sketchily described as follows:

  1. The most recent is the historic Dakota-Arapaho-Cheyenne culture of normal Plains type.

  2. Somewhat earlier the Caddoan Pawnees had a tenuous hold on this sub-agricultural area.

  3. Prior to the differentiation of the northern Caddoan peoples, much of the middle and western Nebraska was occupied by people (presumably proto-Pawnee) of the so-called Upper Republican culture, which incorporated agriculture, semi-subterranean earthlodges, and abundant pottery.

  4. The oldest well-represented culture is the non-agricultural Signal Butte type, with numerous stone artifacts, but no pottery.

  5. Even more ancient may be the culture represented by the scattered finds of Folsom-type, medium-to-large dart points, often associated with the bones of fossil bison.

1 The summary of Dr. W. D. Strong's address, on p. 162 of the article, "Prehistoric Man in Nebraska," pp. 160-165, Nebraska History Magazine, Vol. 13, 1932; a paper on "Ancient Life in Nebraska and the Physical Environment," pp. 35-37, Nebraska History Magazine, Vol. 14, 1933; W. D. Strong, "The Plains Culture Area in the Light of Archaeology," pp. 271-297, Vol. 35, No. 2, 1933, American Anthropologist; articles in "Smithsonian Explorations," 1931 and 1932; Bertran Schultz, "Association of Artifacts and Extinct Mammals in Nebraska," Bulletin 33, Nov., 1932, Nebraska State Museum; E. B. Renaud, "Archaeological Survey of Eastern Wyoming," 1932, and E. B. Renaud, "Archaeological Survey of Eastern Colorado," 1931, Univ. of Denver, Dept. of Anthropology, comprise the chief published materials on the archaeology of this region. After earlier sporadic archaeologic work, E. E. Blackman was employed in 1901 by the Nebraska State Historical Society to make a preliminary archaeological survey of the state. Since about 1917 Dr. Harold Cook has been making intensive studies in western Nebraska. The organized study of the archaeology of the Great Plains was not initiated until 1930, under Dr. Guthe, general director for the Mississippi Valley field. Since then there have been annual conferences of Plains Archaeologists. Dr. W. D. Strong, now with the Smithsonian Institution, led a number of field parties from the University of Nebraska, 1929-1932.

2 Discussed by W. D. Strong in projected Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, "An introduction to Nebraska archaeology"; in another paper by W. D. Strong and M. E. Kirby, "Signal Butte, a stratified site in Western Nebraska", now in preparation; and in the 1931 and 1932 volumes of Smithsonian Explorations.

3 Op. cit.

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