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Field Division of Education
The History of Scotts Bluff Nebraska
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When the first white men saw western Nebraska will probably never by exactly determined. Scandinavians in the 14th century may have been the first to set foot in the valley of the Mississippi. Coronado, in 1541, advanced into northern Kansas, or possibly southern Nebraska. The French -- Nicolet in 1639, Radison in 1654-60, Joliet and Marquette in 1673, Hennepin in 1679-80 and Letueur in 1683 -- explored the Mississippi region north of the Ohio. Not, however, until 1720 was there an authenticated exploration by white men on Nebraska soil. In that year a Spanish expedition, under Lt. General Pedro de Villasur, was massacred by Pawnees at the forks of the Platte.1 This was the most northeastern point ever attained by a Spanish expedition in the Great Plains.

Soon after, in June of 1739, the Mallet brothers and six other Frenchmen traversed Nebraska from a camp near the mouth of the Niobrara across to the Platte, and by the South Platte south to Santa Fe.2 On this trip the Platte received its name, which is a translation of the Siouan name, "Nebrathka," meaning "shallow." A few years later, about 1743, the Verendryes advanced through the Dakotas, perhaps to the Rocky Mountains, the white man's farthest west in that latitude.

During the succeeding years of Spanish and French occupation of the Great Louisiana province, undoubtedly a number of European or halfbreed trappers and voyageurs penetrated the western Great Plains, up such rivers as the Arkansas, Kansas, and Platte, but no record has endured. Not until the American purchase did recorded parties, such as those of Lewis and Clark, Pike, and Long, traverse this region. A young American captive among the Indians3 did claim to have wandered with the Indians into the Rocky Mountains prior to 1816, but his story is open to doubt.

1A. B. Thomas: "The Massacre of the Villasur Expedition at the Forks of the Platte River, Aug. 12, 1720," in Nebraska History Magazine, 1925. Some authorities place this at the Loup-Platte junction.

2Journal, published in de Margry: Decouvertes.

3John D. Hunter: Memoirs of a Captivity among the Indians of North America, 1823.

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