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Nebraska: Cornhusker State

CAPITAL: Lincoln
JOINED UNION: March 1, 1867
STATE BIRD: Western Meadowlark
MEANING OF STATE NAME: Name based on an Oto Indian word that means "flat water," referring to the Platte River
1992 POPULATION: 1,605,603
LAND AREA: 76,878 square miles
ECONOMY: Wheat, corn, rye, livestock, cattle, meatpacking, transportation equipment, instruments
HISTORY: Home to Pawnee and other Plains Indians before Spanish and French explorers and fur traders visited the area. Part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, Nebraska's first settlement was at Bellevue in 1823. The 1862 Homestead Act opened the state to pioneers and immigrant settlers. Nebraska hosted the Oregon Trail and the transcontinental railroad began at Omaha in 1865. Today, Nebraska's high school and college football teams are among the best in the nation.

Willa Cather's Plains Life


When "O Pioneers!" was published in 1913, it marked the arrival of a gifted writer, Willa Cather. This book is notable both for its unglamorous depictions of pioneer life on the prairies, and for its portrayal of strong pioneer women. 

Most books about the West deal with the sensational, such as outlaws and posses, or the romantic, like covered wagons and cattle drives. "O Pioneers!" records in beautiful language the struggle of Swedish and Norwegian immigrants to survive in a new land. The book follows the lives of the Bergsons, as they establish themselves on the Nebraska prairie.

The haphazardness of the seasons and its impact on crops, the terrible droughts and blizzards, the endless expanse of sky overhead, and the spread of prairie in every direction the eye could see, are all conveyed in this book.

Today we can drive over this prairie in a day or two, or fly over it in a few hours. But back then, being on the prairie meant being in a world of its own. That environment shaped the people living there and formed the Midwest as we know it today.

As for the women, while East Coast women were wearing gowns and bustles, the book's heroine, Alexandra Bergson, is a single woman, who after her father dies, runs a farm and turns a profit. She is shown as more concerned with crops, than making herself attractive to men. In her day, such behavior by women was still not acceptable and considered suspect. Women weren't thought to have minds capable of doing hard business. Despite this, Alexandra perseveres, and in the end, marries her childhood sweetheart.

In 1923, Willa Cather won a Pulitzer Prize for her book, "One of Ours." Also notable is one of her most-loved novels, "My Antonia."


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