Unit Study Supplement: Nebraska, U.S. 37th State
How did Nebraska get its name? Nebraska got its name from the Oto Native American word “Nebrathka” meaning “flat water” (referring to the Platte River). How did Nebraska get its nickname? Nebraska got its nickname “the Cornhusker State” from the University of Nebraska’s football team, but it also reflects the fact that Nebraska is the third highest producer of corn in the US!
Did you know the abbreviation for Nebraska was originally NB, but it was changed to NE to avoid confusion with the Canadian province of New Brunswick?
Keep reading to learn more interesting facts about Nebraska, including historical facts about Nebraska, a Nebraska history timeline, geography facts and more. Time4Learning members can download our list of PreK-12 interactive activities that align with your study of Nebraska. Here are a few Nebraska facts for kids:
Nebraska Fast Facts
Became a State:
March 1, 1867
Order it Joined the Union:
Historical Facts About Nebraska
Now let’s explore historical facts about Nebraska. Archaeologists have discovered evidence that people lived in Nebraska as long as 13,500 years ago. The Native American people of the Cheyenne, Dakota and Lakota Sioux, Omaha, Oto, Pawnee, Ponca, and Sauk were found when the Europeans arrived beginning in the 1500s.
Although the French and the Spanish claimed what is now Nebraska by the end of the 1600s, Spain won its claim to Nebraska in 1763. The region was then transferred to France in 1800. Much of the area remained untouched until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when the US acquired the land from France.
Settlers arrived via the Oregon Trail, and many took advantage of the Homestead Act, giving settlers 160 acres each in exchange for building and farming on the land for five years. The Nebraska Territory became the 37th state in 1867.
Nebraska’s constitution has been amended frequently since as early as 1875 and has created a unique legislature. It is not based on party affiliation (i.e., Democrat and Republican), and it is the only unicameral legislature in the US. This means that unlike every other state and the federal government, which are bicameral (i.e., having two chambers like the Senate and House of Representatives), the state of Nebraska has only one chamber, the Nebraska Unicameral.
As you will see in the following section on geography, Nebraska’s waterways are very important to the state. This has resulted in efforts to preserve water as a natural resource and has also led to conflict throughout Nebraska’s history. Use and preservation of groundwater for irrigation had to become a priority, and the impact of neighboring state actions had to be addressed.
Nebraska sued Wyoming to prevent the building of a dam on the North Platte River, and it sued South Dakota to stop the diversion of water from the Missouri River for use in a coal pipeline. Nebraska was sued itself in order to uphold a pact from 1943 to allow Kansas’ use of Republican River water. Nebraska’s continued (though lesser) focus on agriculture makes monitoring its water resources important even today.
What historical events happened in Nebraska? Read the Nebraska history timeline below to learn important historical facts about Nebraska and the dates in which they occurred:
1714Etienne Veniard de Bourgmont is the first European to step foot in Nebraska
1763Spain won its claim to the Nebraska area through the Treaty of Paris
1800Ownership was transferred back to France as a result of international politics through the Treaty of San Ildefonso
1803Nebraska was acquired by the US from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase
1804First systematic exploration of the Nebraska side of the Missouri River
1854Kansas-Nebraska Act created the Nebraska Territory
1857US economic panic caused Nebraskans to turn to agriculture
1867Nebraska became the 37th state in the US, under President Andrew Johnson, moving the capital from Omaha to Lancaster (later renamed Lincoln after the recently assassinated 16th president, Abraham Lincoln)
1869Completion of Union Pacific Railroad helped to develop the state
1872Nebraska became the first state to celebrate Arbor Day
1898Omaha was the site of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, meant to revive the US economy
1946Nebraska became the first state with complete public ownership of electricity generation and distribution
1948Offutt Air Force Base became the headquarters of the US Strategic Command (to prepare air forces for combat and control most US nuclear weapons)
Bring history and geography to life with Time4Learning’s interactive online social studies curriculum for grades 2-12.
Nebraska Geography Facts
Now that you’ve learned some interesting facts about Nebraska’s history, let’s explore the state’s geography. The Nebraska area is sometimes referred to as the “Breadbasket of America” due to its underground water supply—the High Plains Aquifer—and its resulting fertile soil. Such soil gives rise to plentiful vegetation including the Eastern cottonwood (state tree), found mostly near water, as well as red oak, ponderosa pine, boxelder maple, slippery elm, and black walnut trees. Wildflowers include the pink primrose, leopard lily, star cucumber, wild blue flax, and chicory.
Although bison no longer roam freely in Nebraska, you can find pronghorns, antelopes, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, white-tailed deer (state mammal) and coyotes, as well as bald eagle, western meadowlarks (state bird), violet-green swallows, and sandhill cranes. Common reptiles are snapping turtles and bullsnakes, but the rare glass lizard and Blanding’s turtle can be found. Great Plains toads, American bullfrogs, and western tiger salamanders are frequently sighted in Nebraska.
Take a look at this map of Nebraska first. Then read through the following Nebraska geography facts. Print out the map of Nebraska provided below and add these items to the map.
- Nebraska is bordered by South Dakota in the north, Colorado and Kansas in the south, Wyoming and Colorado in the west, and Iowa and Missouri in the east.
- The capital, Lincoln, lies in the southeastern corner of the state, east of the Big Blue River.
- The Missouri River forms the eastern border with Nebraska.
- The Platte River flows across the southern half of the state, with the N. Platte River and the S. Platte River joining at the city of North Platte.
- The Niobrara River flows across northern Nebraska.
- The N. Loup, Middle Loup, and S. Loup rivers are all found in the central sand hills region of the state.
- The Elkhorn River flows diagonally across the northeastern corner of the state.
- Lake McConaughy is found on the N. Platte River west of where the N. Platte meets the S. Platte.
- The Calamus Reservoir is located just northeast of the center of the state.
- Nebraska’s highest point is Panorama Point, at 5,424 feet above sea level, in western Nebraska, near where the state meets both Wyoming and Colorado.
- The lowest point is at the Missouri River in the southeast part of Nebraska, at 840 feet above sea level.
Nebraska State Map
Download our FREE Nebraska state map printable. Use it as a coloring page or use it to plot the state’s geographical features.
Activities for Children in Nebraska
Want to learn more fun facts about Nebraska? Visit the state if you can! Homeschoolers in Nebraska can make a quick local stop while out-of-towners have more planning to do. Here are a few ideas to help you learn some fun and interesting facts about Nebraska:
- Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park (Royal): See the fossilized remains of animals like saber-toothed deer, giraffe-like camels, and raccoon dogs. These creatures were killed in a volcano eruption about 12 million years ago. Stop by the Visitor Center to see interpretative displays and the fossil preparation laboratory, and then visit the Hubbard Rhino Barn to witness new discoveries. Walk the nature trails of the 360-acre park to enjoy the geology, plants, and animals, but don’t take home a “souvenir” because the fossil beds need to be preserved!
- Durham Museum (Omaha): Honor the state’s pioneering history in this museum located in a converted railroad depot. Visit a rawhide tepee, a replica of an earth lodge, a 1915 grocery store, and a “workers cottage.” See a 1922 flatbed truck and a 1940s streetcar and learn about the experiences of actual immigrants. Discover exhibits showing coins, medals, documents, model trains, and other memorabilia. Learn about the history of Omaha and its workforce, naval vessels, and transportation. Experience the architecture and artwork of the restored Union Station’s main waiting room. Whether you can visit or not, check out the free digital learning opportunities.
- Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium (Omaha): Visit this well-known zoo and the largest aquarium within a zoo. See the land habitats of the Asian Highlands, African Grasslands, Desert, and Rainforest, as well as marine habitats like the polar regions, Amazon, temperate regions, and coral reefs. Glacier Bay Landing offers amenities in an Alaskan coast town setting. Check for camps and other programming or see the website for free educational resources.
- Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (Grand Island): Explore the many sites to see art and historical exhibits about the prairie pioneer, a “kids’ corner” with interactive games and toys, collections of Native American and Old West artifacts, sculptures, an antique automobile and farm machinery exhibit, and a railroad display. Enjoy the peace of the park area. Visit a Pawnee earth lodge and see buffalos grazing or explore the eight structures of a Pioneer Settlement from the 1860s. Walk along a pioneer trail and see original wagon swales and stop by to see an original store from the 10,000-acre Taylor Ranch.
- University of Nebraska State Museum at Morrill Hall (Lincoln): Visit the largest mammoth skeleton, named Archie, as well as many other exhibits about space, evolution, Native American cultures, weapons, paleontology, and Nebraskan wildlife. Enjoy Mueller Planetarium and the hands-on activities of the Marx Discovery Center, including a replica of the dig site at Ashfall Fossil Beds. Check the calendar for events and opportunities for virtual field trips and more.
Looking for more things to do with your kids in Nebraska? Check out this post full of field trip ideas in Nebraska!
Nebraska Freebies and Deals for Homeschoolers
Are there ways to learn Nebraska facts and information without spending much money? Below are just a few ideas:
- Chimney Rock (Bayard): Come and see Chimney Rock, a famous landmark for pioneers made out of volcanic ash and clay and shaped by erosion. Visit the museum where you will be able to watch a video about the great migration, explore exhibits, and “pack your wagon.” Find educational games, crafts, and books at the gift shop. Admission is free for children and only $3 for adults.
- Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha): Explore the permanent collections of ancient, European, American, American Indian, Old West, Latin American, Asian, and Modern and Contemporary art. Walk the sculpture garden and enjoy the interactive outdoor discovery garden. Admission is free. If you cannot make it to the museum in person, check out the distance learning opportunities for your homeschool.
- Nebraska State Capitol (Lincoln): Visit the many historic rooms of the state’s capitol building and take a tour offered each hour. Enjoy the view from the 14th floor observation deck or explore the capitol grounds. See the artwork, courtyards, and Lincoln Monument. Admission and tours are free. Regardless of whether you can visit, take advantage of the Virtual Capitol resources on the website.
- Scotts Bluff National Monument (Gering): Explore the 3,000 acres of the park under the landmark of Scotts Bluff, an 800-foot tower that was a landmark for Native Americans as well as travelers on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. Visit the Oregon Trail Museum and Visitor Center and watch the Oregon Trail video. The park participates in the Junior Ranger Program, and there are no entrance fees. Even if you cannot visit, check out the WebRangers website for ways to learn more about all of our national parks!
- Sunken Gardens (Lincoln): Come and appreciate the Depression-era project built on a 1.5-acre dumpsite in 1931. With renovations completed in 2005, there is even more rock garden and sculpture to enjoy. Admission is free.
Nebraska Learning Games for Children
How many interesting things about Nebraska do you know now? Test your knowledge of Nebraska facts for students with these free games and activities: