Romance of Omaha, Chapter XIII
Long and winding Indian trails and great immigrant routes, the first roads to cross the western plains, were packed with romance.
The trails running east and west were followed by explorers and the pioneers.
When Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, chief engineer of the Union Pacific railroad, was laying out the route for that great system he followed the natural trails of the redman.
He found that the Indians had selected regular and well defined trails more than 1,000 miles in length and that they always chose the best fords and the most practical routes.
There were no high-priced expert engineers to pick the roads for the immigrants, and so when they started across the plains for the Pacific coast they, too, followed the markings of the old trails.
Thus it was that the Indian himself blazed the way for those who drove him from his own - his trails became the mighty highways to the west.
Old Oregon Trail
The greatest and best known of all these roads was the Oregon trail that wound from the southeast to the northwest across Nebraska, starting in Missouri and ending at the mouth of the Columbia river in Oregon.
Western travel first set in 1844, but not until gold was discovered in California did the rush really begin.
After a few years the Oregon trail was beaten down to a great highway 100 feet wide bare of grass and marked with furrows made by countless wagons, horses, oxen, men and women who had passed that way.
A branch of the Oregon trail passed through Omaha and joined the main route in western Nebraska.
But the greatest pioneer road that started in Omaha was the "Mormon trail" that followed the north bank of the Platte river.
Mormons Make Road
The Mormons traversed the old Indian trail through the state and in its turn the Union Pacific railroad followed the Mormons.
The Lincoln highway now follows the course the Mormon elders took when they left Florence for Salt Lake City.
The early settlers recognized the need for better roads and efforts began many decades ago to have the federal government build them.
Government post routes were established in 1854 in Nebraska. They ran west from Omaha and other river points to Kearney, Laramie and Salt Lake and later to Denver. There was also a north and south post route that followed the Missouri river.
The first well defined effort at road building in Nebraska was made by federal engineers in 1858, when work was begun on a highway that followed the winding Missouri from Omaha to Niobrara. It was 208 miles long. Creeks and rivers along the way were bridged and some grading was done, but at best the road was still only a trail.
Better Roads Arrive
The coming of the settlers to Nebraska after the civil war caused the first concerted demand for better roads.
Highways were laid out much as they are now. They were graded and bridged as the years passed, but for many years no effort was made by Nebraska to actually get "out of the mud."
It was not until the automobile had succeeded the covered wagon and the carriage that the demand for good roads throughout the western country became general.
Nebraska was rather slow in adopting a good roads program. Not until 1919 did the legislature approve a highway plan. A state highway system of 6,200 miles was laid out. Before that the legislature of 1917 had appropriated $640,000 for building better roads and 180 miles of highway was improved.
From that small beginning the Nebraska highway system has been developed into approximately 4,000 miles of paved and graveled highways. Nebraska is now spending about $10,000,000 on its state highways each year.
Once started, the development of the western highways has been rapid.
Iowa has just voted $100,000,000 in bonds for roads. Missouri has voted $175,000,000 in all for highways. Illinois and Minnesota have spent vast sums on their roads. Nebraska, adopting the "pay as we go" system of road building, has not voted any bonds.
Adoption of the 2-cent state gasoline tax put new impetus in Nebraska road building. More than $12,000,000 for road making has been raised by the gasoline tax since it was first instituted in April, 1925.
Aid to Omaha
The construction of highways east and west, north and south has meant great things for Omaha. They have meant more than did the old immigrant trails of the early days to the hamlet of that time.
Omaha is now on 10 main highways. The greatest of these, the Lincoln highway, crosses the continent from east to west.
As the roads were improved the buying of automobiles increased and passenger busses came into use.
One direct result of the improved highways in Nebraska and Iowa has been that more than 3,000 persons come into Omaha every day by private automobile. Great busses operating over a dozen lines carry 50,000 passengers a month in and out of Omaha.
The bus has become so important a factor in the modern transportation world that one of the finest bus depots in the country is now being erected at the corner of Sixteenth and Jackson streets in Omaha.
Investment in bus lines in the state of Nebraska is estimated at more than $5,000,000 and more than 100 busses are serving the public in the state.
Roads Bring Shoppers
Omaha business firms send their traveling representatives over the trade territory in automobiles instead of on railroads. Shoppers come into Omaha from more than 100 miles by auto and bus.
Total investments of Nebraskans in automobiles is estimated at well past the $300,000,000 mark.
There is an automobile for approximately every four persons in the state. In other words all the people in Nebraska could go motoring at the same time, if the cars were properly distributed.
It is a long, long trail that has led from the winding route of the Indian and the early immigrant to the modern highway, but every step of the way has been marked with a romance of its own.
Pioneer Paved Way
Were it not for the plodding immigrants who toiled over the prairies in their covered wagons, blazing the way to the setting sun, there would have been neither paved nor graveled highway today.
Great improved highways now stretch out in every direction from Omaha.
On them every day hundreds of motor vehicles come and go. As Omaha grows this travel will increase. The two - the city and motor traffic - will go forward together.
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