Omaha's First Century

On the occasion of Omaha's centennial celebration in 1954, the Omaha World-Herald published a series of eight special sections to mark the occasion. Included in these sections were articles describing many aspects of Omaha and Nebraska history. The articles linked below, written by Walter H. Rowley, were included in these special sections to describe the events of Omaha's first one hundred years. As Omaha's 150th birthday is celebrated in 2004, these works offer a perspective on Omaha history that is both educational and fascinating for their appreciation of the past and innocence of the events that were to shape Omaha history during the last half of the twentieth century.



The history of the Nebraska Territory is a story in itself. But had there not been adventurers who explored America's savage wilderness beyond the Missouri, civilization might have been content to remain east of the Mississippi for a longer span of years - and Omaha probably would not be the city it is today.

This modern Midwest metropolis could credit its real origin to explorers like Coronado, whose expedition in 1540 penetrated the valley of the Platte in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola and the ancient kingdom of Quivera; to Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, whose trail-blazing journeys beginning in 1804 were to take them to the place where Omaha now stands; to John Jacob Astor's fur traders who first settled a Missouri River site which one day was to become Bellevue; to the Mormons, who braved the untamed West after religious persecution in the East and in 1846 set up Winter Quarters on another small river plain that eventually became the town of Florence.

These pioneers and thousands of others gave birth to the march of empire which spanned a rugged continent and welded a nation by steam and plow in that spirited era of American expansion, the Nineteenth Century. Frontier towns sprang up by the hundreds in those years - some to wither and die, others to grow and prosper.

In the young days of Bellevue and Florence, a virgin plateau lay between the hills that separated them. And it conceivably could have remained much as nature made it were it not for people of courage and vision who saw this vast, green plain, far across the yellow Missouri from the river bluffs of Iowa, as the natural gateway to the New West.

But any theatrical attempt to immortalize those men of renown for whom the Omaha of today holds reverence would be merely to deny them the real tribute due them, for no treatment of limited scope could possibly give all of them the full honor they deserve. There are too many of them.

Like their predecessors, they were the forward-looking adventurers who, individually, would be complete stories in themselves but who, collectively, wre the founders and builders of a city - the cavalcade of greats who together make a story of that city. And as they took their places on the plateau they grew in stature - just as the little frontier village they founded and called Omaha City developed and grew with them...


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