Visiting capital cities offers a unique perspective on a state’s history. A trip to Lincoln, Nebraska let us learn more about our neighboring state, as well as chalk up our 14th capital city visit. While it would be nearly impossible for one building to contain all of a region’s history, we find that state museums are a great resource for concise overviews. Each museum offers us a chance to see and learn something new to us. Without a visit to the Nebraska History Museum, we would never have imagined that early postal delivery wagons included a stove to keep the driver warm in the winter.
While Nebraska territory’s history began in 1854, the lands were populated long before European explorers arrived. In prehistoric times, tribes like the Arikara and Pawnee called these lands home. The Arapahoe resided in western Nebraska for over 1000 years. The Cheyenne and Commanche lived more of a nomadic lifestyle and moved throughout the eastern side of the territory. During the 17th Century, the Omaha tribe migrated from the east, as more European settlers landed in the eastern portion of North America. Over a dozen indigenous tribes have called Nebraska territory home throughout history.
Through our journeys, we have heard many stories about the relocation and elimination of indigenous people. Nebraska territory has its own stories to tell and one that captured our attention was that of Red Cloud. In the late 1800s, the Oglala Lakota leader would stand firm against the U.S. Army in a series of conflicts. One of these involved an 81-man detachment that was sent out to squash a war party. Using a decoy with an injured horse, (It was Crazy Horse who acted as a decoy.) he led the Army into an ambush by more than 2000 Native American forces. The results would be total antihalation of the Army troops. While the battle included multiple indigenous tribes, it would be labeled Red Cloud’s War by the U.S. Army. An investigation by the government showed that the hostilities had been brought on by the encroachment of settlers into Native American lands.
The Nebraska History Museum contains many other interesting stories, such as that of Red Cloud. While each one has its own merits, I was especially interested in the temporary exhibit on Women’s Suffrage in Nebraska. The third floor of the museum is a dedicated space for rotating exhibits. We like these types of installations, as they create an atmosphere of constantly changing displays. That means that the next time we visit, we will have something new to see, as well as permanent exhibits.
Fighting for Rights
History tells us that the 19th Amendment became law in 1920, but did you know that the Suffrage movement actually began around 1848? That means that for over 70 years, the fight for women’s right to vote was battled out across the growing nation. In that same period of time, 18 new states were added to our flag. In Nebraska, the fight for the right to vote began before the territory achieved statehood. After winning the ability to vote in local school board elections, in 1869, women set their sights on even bigger wins. A Nebraska referendum, in 1882, failed to pass by male voters.
Winning the Vote
This setback created a momentary silence in the Nebraska suffrage movement. During this same time period, many were fighting for Prohibition, which tended to take focus away from the voting rights issue. Instead of giving up, they decided to go after another smaller victory. The Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association fought for the right to vote for city officials. They would find this battle would force them to clash with religious leaders, as well as liquor interests. Once again, male voters squashed their attempt. Finally, in 1919, Nebraska legislators voted unanimously to ratify the 19th Amendment, which ensures women the right to vote.
White Man’s World
While that was a huge victory, it still left people prohibited from the voting booth. In 1868, the 14th Amendment secured voting rights for all males, “regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. This sounded promising, but the reality was that many states found devious ways to prevent black males from voting. When the right for women to vote was finally a law, the restrictions that black males found were also levied against black women. Indigenous people also faced restrictions when it came to voting rights. The rights for all to vote would not be complete until the mid-1960s.
Visiting Nebraska History Museum
The stories that we discover during our travels are the fuel that makes us desire to see more of the world around us. Each state, city, and town is filled with unique tales from the past and present. Our visits to capital cities are like the icing on the cake when it comes to learning a state’s history. Lincoln is no exception and the Nebraska History Museum is a good resource for getting an overview of how they got to where they are today. By including interactive displays within their exhibits, they make learning fun. How well do you know your state’s history?