During Territorial days of the late 1850's and early 1860's to years beyond the Civil War, settlers of Nebraska were discouraged by a multitude oftroubles and deprivations.  The frontier's remoteness, the sicknesses, bad weather, pestilence, crop failure, and lack of provisions drove thoseunwilling to contend away back to their beginnings in the East.  Only the very hardy stayed, along with folks who had become too poor to go elsewhere.

     Their new home was in a prairie region where buffalo still roamed and the deer and antelope yet played in the meadows and in the woods.  And there were large numbers of elk in the area stretching westward from the Missouri River.  Herds of bison left large dusty depressions in open ground, "buffalo wallows," where the burly animals sought to cool their massive bodies from summertime heat.  William Tecumseh Sherman later estimated over nine and a half million Buffalo still existed between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains at this time.

     Long ago leveled by ancient glaciers, Nebraska terra firma was found to be very fertile for crop-raising, even though the productive soil in some localities included a measure of clay commonly referred to as "gumbo."  An excess of stones occasionally obstructed the plow in places; however, various locations bountifully provided quarries of limestone and sandstone to satisfy building needs.

     While nurturing their crops through the warm season, the pioneers saw a new growth of sunflowers, cockleburrs, burdock, pig weed, milkweed, buttonweeds, wild roses, thistles, beggar's lice, poison oak, poison ivy, nettles, and dozens of varieties of other weeds re-emerging annually throughout the whole area.

      Around Nebraska, prairie chickens, bob-white quail, red-tail hawks, owls, crows, seagulls, pigeons, thrushes, turtledoves, meadowlarks, blackbirds, bluejays, cardinals, cowbirds, woodpeckers, orioles, finches, swallows, robins, sparrows, chickadees, wrens, and hummingbirds regularly took to the wing with their normal routines of bird life.  Migrating cranes, ducks, and geese followed the flow of the main rivers and their tributary branches, steadily flapping along as their predecessors had done for a millennium.  The clear sandy streams provided a water supply and a natural home for beavers,turtles, frogs, snails, crawfish, water striders, dragon flies, and varieties offreshwater fish such as carp, sun perch, catfish, and suckers.

      On Nebraska turf, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, badgers, bobcats, jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, opossums, skunks, squirrels, groundhogs, gophers, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, chipmunks, field mice, toads, salamanders, and a broad assortment of snakes competed with each other for existence amongst the prairie grasses, buckbrush, and woodlands.  Settlers contended with pesky mosquitoes, gluttonous grasshoppers, stinging wasps, bumblebees, and hornets, singing cicadas, annoying junebugs, crickets, horseflies, and fruit flies.  The honeybee seemed to represent a singular beneficial purpose amongst insects.

     The water table near the streams encouraged the denser concentrationof trees, such as willow, cottonwood, oak, elm, maple, cedar, hickory,walnut, mulberry, hackberry, chokecherry, and plum, along with sumac and cattails.  Settlers planted orchards of fruit trees and grapevines, and years later they lined out barriers of hedge trees as boundary markers and windbreaks.  Growing wild were gooseberry bushes, strawberry plants, and the vines of blackberries, raspberries, and grapes.

      Nebraska's variable climate could suddenly produce any selection ofunforeseen natural disasters, such as an insect plague, blizzard, flood, damaging hailstorm, tornado, lightning strike, high winds, drought, or prairie fire.  Every year, however, settlers knowingly came to expect being baked in the stifling summertime heat of July and August, and frozen withthe icy bite of deep winter's frigid chill.

© Oldtime Nebraska -- Early Settlement, submitted by Dick Taylor - May, 1998