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Nebraska, meaning in English, "shallow water", occupies geographically a central location among the states of the Union and is part of the Louisian territory, purchased from France in 1803. It is bounded on the north by South Dakota; on the east by the Missouri River, which separates it from Iowa, and the northwest corner of Missouri; on the south by Kansas and Colorado; and on the west by Colorado and Wyoming. It has an area of 76,840 square miles. The surface of the state is mainly an undulating plain with a gradual upgrade from southeast to northwest of about 2300 feet. It is drained by several streams, the principal being the Platte, which is formed by the junction of two forks rising in the Rocky Mountains and flowing east through the centre of the state to the Missouri, and receives many tributaries in its course. The Niobrara flows north to the Missouri, and the Republican in the south empties into the Kansas River. Except at certain seasons, all these rivers are shallow. The population by the census of 1910 is 1,192,214. The climate is exceptionally fine. The mountain breezes sweep over the plains and owing to the splendid drainage, the atmosphere, purged of all malaria, is dry and exhilarating. The annual mean temperature is about 48° Fahrenheit; in winter, 22° and in mid-summer 75°. The winters are comparatively short and the summers free from excessive heat and humidity.


Nebraska may be described as altogether an agricultural state, being practically without minerals. Deposits of coal have been discovered only in very small quantities. Building stone of the limestone varieties is also found, but not extensively. Excepting in the northwest where there is a barren tract, known as the Bad Lands, rich in fossil remains, the soil is a deep, rich loam, exceeding fertile. Professor Aughey in "Nebraska, Its Advantages, Resources," etc., says "One of the most remarkable deposits, and most valuable for agricultural purposes, in the world prevails over three fourths of the surface of Nebraska. It is known as the lacustrine or loess deposit." Beneath this there is a porous subsoil which enables Nebraska to stand a drought much longer than any of the bordering states. The report of the monetary value of Nebraska's farm output for 1909 is extraordinary, when we recollect how recently this territory was part of the desert and so designated on the maps. The accompanying table is taken from the carefully prepared report of H. M. Bushnell's Trade Review, published in London.

The report covering the manufactures of Nebraska for 1908, issued in August, 1909, by the State Bureau of Labour and Statistics, gives the amount of capital invested as $90,593,659, and the year's output at $160,232,792. The total value of all deeded land, in 1909, embracing 34,419471

Corn — 169,179,137 bushels ($93,048,450)
Wheat — 50,313,600 bushels ($43,659,174)
Oats — 59,653,479 bushels ($23,861,000)
Hay — 6,900,269 tons ($59,258,812)
Alfalfa — 1,971,770 tons ($23,661,140)
Horses — $24,513,530
Cattle — $26,375,812
Hogs — $33,179,177
Barley, rye, and cane — 4,047,964 bushels ($3,796,977)
Potatoes — 7,386,497 bushels ($5,096,977)
Poultry products — $18,732,436
Dairy products — $36,745,600
Minor crops, beets, fruit, etc. — $10,650,000
TOTAL — $402,579,085

Education and religion

Educational facilities are exceptionally good. The State University, founded 15 February, 1869, enjoys a high reputation as an institute of learning, especially in all technical branches of science. The professors and teaching staff number 250 persons, with an attendance of 3611 students. The appropriation for actual expenses for the two years ending 31 March, 1911, amounts to $1,238,000. There are 6930 public schools, of which 103 are normal training high schools. The total expenditure for schools for year ending 13 July, 1908, was $6,416,342. Of this amount, $4,032,610, was divided in salaries among 10,355 teachers. Catholic education is well provided for. Besides Creighton University, there are one college for boys, fifteen convent boarding schools for girls, and, including some district schools, practically Catholic there are one hundred and four parochial schools with an attendance of 10,714 pupils. Of these, nine are accredited to the State University, and three are recognized by the state for normal training work. Of non-Catholic educational institutions, the principal are: Wesleyan University (Methodist), and Cotner University (Christian), both near Lincoln; Bellevue College (Presbyterian) near Omaha; Doane College (Congregational) at Crete; Brownell College (Episcopalian) at Omaha. Other institutions under state control include one penitentiary, one reform school, two industrial homes, three insane asylums, one Home for the Friendless, one institute for the feeble-minded, one hospital for crippled and deformed children, one institute for the blind, one for the deaf and dumb, two homes for soldiers and sailors. Catholic institutions include four hospitals (Omaha, Lincoln, Columbus, and Grand Island), managed by the Sisters of St. Francis; two orphan asylums, containing 210 inmates; a reformatory for women, managed by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd; one Industrial and Reform school. The Methodists and Presbyterians have each a hospital at Omaha.

The Constitution of Nebraska guarantees complete freedom of worship and equal rights to men of every creed, but recognition is given to the pre-eminence of Christianity. While there is no law specially directed against blasphemy, there is a statute against profanity which imposes a fine of twenty-five cents for each offence on all over fourteen years who profanely swear by the name of God, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Ghost (sec. 242, Proc. Crim. Code Neb.). The observance of Sunday by abstention from all unnecessary labour is enforced by state and local ordinances with reasonable strictness, an exemption being made in favour of those who, by precept of their religion, observe the seventh instead of the first day of the week. Oaths are administered by raising the right hand and calling God to witness; where conscientious convictions interpose, an affirmation can be made instead. Both houses of the legislature are opened with prayer by a chaplain, appointed to hold office during the session. Statutory law exempts the priest from revealing communications made under seal of the confessional without the consent of the informant (sec. 328, Civil Code, Neb.). Christmas Day is the only religious holiday recognized as such by law.

Ecclesiastical property, by diocesan statute, is vested in the bishop as trustee, but there is no civil statute so ordaining. Under secs. 4193-A, "Corporations, 1909, Nebraska Civil Code", each parish can organize and incorporate in the manner provided:

The chief, or presiding or executive officer of the religious bodies, sects, and denominations mentioned in the first section of this act, may, at such place in this state as he may appoint for the purpose, convene a meeting of himself and some other officer subordinate to himself, but having general jurisdiction throughout the state or part of the state aforesaid, and the priest, minister or clergyman of the proposed church, parish or society, and at least two laymen, residents within the limits thereof, of which the said chief, etc. shall be president and one of the other persons present shall be secretary.

These five persons shall then adopt articles of incorporation and shall have power to name the church or parish, decide the manner in which it shall contract and be bound for debts, or convey, encumber or charge the property, regulate succession of members, fill vacancies, name time corporation is to last and decide by what officers its affairs shall be conducted. If the five persons neglect to file articles of incorporation for the parish, the diocesan regulation investing the property in the bishop, as trustee, has no recognition from the civil law, and without a supplementary action in amendment, a transfer of the property by the bishop, as trustee, will be defective in title. If the five persons, at the time of the organization of the parish, adopted the diocesan rule and then files articles of incorporation, the action of the bishop, as trustee, would be legal. Otherwise, the neglect to incorporate obstructs the operation of the diocesan statute. Churches, parochial schools, and charitable institutions are exempt from taxation, and clergymen are also exempt from personal taxes and are not liable to military or jury service. Catholic priests have free access to all state institutions and their courteous treatment has been a rule without exception.

The status of the Bible in the public schools has been the subject of contention, but the decisions of the Supreme Court are not very clear and seem contradictory. In 1899, a teacher in a Gage County school obtained permission from the local school board to have religious exercises during school hours. The reading of the Bible was a feature of the exercises. One Daniel Freeman, a free-thinker, whose children attended the school, objected. The question was referred to the state superintendent who decided against Freeman. In the meantime Freeman began an action at law in the Gage County District Court; the decision was against him. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court and the judgment of the lower court was reversed. Commissioner Ames decided that the reading of the Bible in the public schools was a breach of the Constitution. In this opinion, Commissioners Duffie and Albert coincided. Judge Sedgwick coincided on the ground that the instruction was sectarian. Judge Holcomb also coincided as to the particular case, but held that, excepting its use for sectarian purposes, the reading of the Bible was discretionary with the school authorities (State of Nebraska, ex rel. Daniel Freeman v. John Scheve, et al., Vol. LXV, page 853). A motion for rehearing was filed 21 January, 1903, and Chief-Justice Sullivan, while overruling the motion for a rehearing, gave the opinion, that

The section of the Constitution which provided that no sectarian instruction shall be allowed in any school or institution supported in whole or in part by the public funds set apart for educational purposes cannot, under any canon of construction with which we are acquainted, be held to mean that neither the Bible nor any part of it, from Genesis to Revelation, may be read in the educational institutions fostered by the state. We do not wish to be understood as either countenancing or discountenancing the reading of the Bible in the public schools. Even where it is an irritant element, the question, whether its legitimate use shall be continued or discontinued, is an administrative and not a judicial question; it belongs to the school authorities and not the courts. The motion for a rehearing is overruled and the judgment heretofore rendered is adhered to (ibid., p. 887).

Marriage and divorce

Subject to procuring a civil licence, marriage can be legally performed by every judge and justice of the peace and every preacher of the Gospel authorized by the usages of the Church to which he belongs. Decrees of divorce are given for the following causes: adultery; imprisonment for three years or more; wilful desertion for two years; habitual drunkenness; extreme cruelty; wanton neglect to support wife. The state was getting an unenviable notoriety for the facility of securing divorces, and many outsiders were taking advantage of it. To stop this, amendatory enactments were passed by the legislation of 1909. At present, no divorce can be granted for any cause unless petitioner has had one year's actual residence in the state immediately before bringing suit and shall then have a bona-fide intention of making his or her permanent home in Nebraska — unless the marriage was solemnized in the state and the parties shall have resided therein from the time of marriage to the filing of petition. No person shall be entitled to a divorce for any cause arising outside of the state unless petitioner or defendant shall have resided within the state at least two years next before bringing suit for divorce, with a bona-fide intention of making his or her permanent home in Nebraska. No divorce shall be granted where collusion seems to have existed between the parties or where both have been guilty of the same misconduct. No person shall be entitled to a divorce unless defendant shall have been personally served with a process, if within the state, or with personal notice duly proved and appearing of record, if outside the state. After three months of reasonable search after filing petition, court may authorize notice by publication. Decree becomes operative and final only at expiration of six months. In 1909 there were 1807 divorces. In the same period there were 10982 marriages.

Liquor laws

Liquor laws are strict and well enforced. The manufacture or sale of intoxicating liquor is forbidden in many of the smaller towns and cities, and notably in Lincoln, the capital. Where the trade is licensed, it is under the system known as high licence and subject to the operation of the Slocomb Law, the most effective law ever passed for a severe regulation of the liquor traffic under the licence system. Under its provisions, treating is a misdemeanour subject to fine; selling to minors is punished by severe penalties, and the saloon-keeper and those on his bond are liable to a maximum of $5,000 damages at the suit of any woman whose husband has been allowed to become a habitual drunkard by frequenting the saloon-keeper's place of business. By statute passed during the legislature of 1909, saloons can sell liquor only between the hours of 7 A.M. and 8 P.M. on week days. Sunday trading is forbidden and the law rigidly enforced.



Up to 1541 the history of Nebraska is a blank. In that year it is claimed that Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led a party of Spaniards in search for the fabled Kingdom of Quivera, supposed to be a land of boundless wealth. It is claimed that he reached 40° N. Lat., which is the south boundary line of Nebraska. This is disputed and critics claim that he did not come further north than a point in Kansas, near Junction City. In 1662 another attempt to reach Quivera is said to have been made under command of Don Diego, Count of Penelosa, and accompanied by Father Nicholas de Freytas who wrote an elaborate and detailed account of the expedition. It is claimed Penelosa reached the Platte, where he found a very populous city belong to Quivera. As it was burned in one night, it could have been but a large Indian village. Penelosa returned to Mexico in June, 1662. Not much credence is given to the story of Penelosa. In 1673 Spain claimed all the trans-Mississippi region, but ten years later La Salle asserted the sovereignty of France. In 1762 the French relinquished all this territory to Spain, but it was receded to France in 1800; finally in 1803 under the name of Louisiana Territory, it passed by purchase into the possession of the United States. In many American works the statement is made, that the first white men to visit and give a description of Nebraska were Lewis and Clark. This is incorrect. The sixth volume of Pierre Margry's Découvertes et Etablissements des Français dans l'Amérique (Paris, 1856), now in the library of the State Historical Society, contains the records of several expeditions to the regions between the Mississippi and the Missouri and further west. Among them is the original report of the journey of Pierre and Paul Mallet and their companions across Nebraska on a mission to Santa Fé to open up trade facilities with the Spaniards of New Mexico. The Mallets were French Canadians and their companions were Phillipe Robitaille, Louis Morin, Michel Beslot, Joseph Bellecourt, also Canadians, and Jean David, a native of France. The report reads:

To understand the route taken by these Canadians to discover New Mexico, it is well to know that it is 100 leagues from the village of the Illinois [Indians] to those of the Missouris on the river of that name; 80 leagues from there to the Canzes [ Kansas]; 100 leagues from the Kansas to the Octoctates [Otloes] and 60 from there to where the river of the Panimahas [Omahas] empties into the Missouri [Omaha Creek in the northeast of Nebraska].

This nation is located at the mouth of the river of their name and it was there the discoverers took their starting- point, 29 May, 1739. All who had hitherto attempted to reach New Mexico thought they could find it at the sources of the Missouri, and with that idea had gone up as far as the Ricaras [Indians], more than 150 leagues above the Panis [Pawnees], with whom they confound or include the Omahas or Panimahas. The discoverers, on the advice of some of the aborigines, took an entirely different direction and leaving the Pawnees took a route across the country, retracing their steps almost parallel with the Missouri. On 2 June, they met with a river which they called the Plate [Platte] and, seeing that it did not diverge from the route they had mapped out, they followed up its right bank for about 25 leagues when they found it made a fork with the river of the Padocas which empties itself at this point. Three days after that, on 13 June, they crossed to the left bank of said river. On the fifteenth and sixteenth they continued across the country and on the seventeenth they fell upon another river which they named Des Costes Blanches. During these three days, they crossed a country of plains where they found barely enough wood to make fires and it appears from their Journal that these plains extended all the way to the mountains near Santa Fé. On the sixteenth they camped on the banks of another river which they crossed and named Rivière Aimable. On the nineteenth they crossed another river which they called Rivière des Soucis. On the twentieth they struck the Rivière des Cances. This river was probably not the Kansas but the Arkansas River. In any case, both are south of the Nebraska state line, making it clear that these French Canadian Catholics, Pierre and Paul Mallet, crossed Nebraska in a southwesterly direction in 1739 on their way to Santa Fé and gave an authentic account of the territory sixty five years before Lewis and Clark visited it.

Subsequent to that date, many French Canadians and French creoles of Louisiana made their homes in Nebraska; they were hunters and trappers connected with the fur-trading expeditions, who married Indian women and lived under the protection of the tribes with which they had become related. When allotting land to the Indians, the government set aside a tract in the southeast part of the state called the Half-Breed Tract, the French Canadians who had married squaws settled on this land. Among these were Charles Rouleau, Henry Fontenelle, and Michel Barada, who had towns named after them. Sarpy county is also called after a French creole, named Louis Sarpy. As late as 1846, Nebraska had practically no other population than the Omahas, Otoes, Poncas, Pawnees, and Sioux. In that year occurred the Mormon hegira and a temporary settlement in the desert was made by them at Florence, near Omaha, lasting for about a year, until they moved on to Utah. The first permanent white settlers came in the train on the '49 rush to California, and on 30 May, 1854, Nebraska was organized as a territory with an area of 351,558 square miles, reaching from 40° N. lat. to the British boundary line, and west from the Missouri to the Rocky Mountains. This was finally cut down to the present area of the state. The creation of the Kansas and Nebraska territories was the cause of the bitter quarrel between the slavery and anti- slavery parties and ultimately led to the secession of the southern states. On 1 March, 1867, President Johnson proclaimed Nebraska a state of the Union, adding the thirty-seventh star to the American flag. After the Civil War, many of the discharged soldiers secured grants of Nebraska land under the Homestead Law. They were followed by men who worked in the construction of the Union Pacific and Burlington railroads and who bought up the land donated to the railroad companies. There was a steady inflow of immigrants and land-seekers until the visitation of the grasshopper plague in 1874, when many settlers became discouraged and left the state. But the rush for land was on, the grasshoppers were forgotten, and an increasing stream of immigration poured in. There are not statistics to indicate the nationality of foreign-born immigrants, but the Germans are the most numerous, followed by the Scandinavians, Irish, Bohemians, and British in the order named. In late years Italians have become an immigrating element, but not to any considerable extent. Although the first to enter the state, French Canadian immigrants are not numerous.

Catholic immigration

While many Catholics were among the immigrants subsequent to 1849, there was not attempt at Catholic colonization until 1855, when Father Tracy induced a number of Irish families to settle in Dakota County, where their descendants constitute the wealthiest and most prominent people in that section. In 1874 General O'Neill, with eighteen Irish Catholics from Boston, colonized a tract in Holt County; they were followed by others, and a town was laid out which they named O'Neill. O'Neill is now one of the most progressive cities north of the Platte and the centre of a prosperous Catholic community. In 1877 some of those who went to Holt County with General O'Neill, dissatisfied with the outlook there, took up land in Greeley County. In compliment to Bishop James O'Connor of Omaha, General O'Neill named his first town site, O'Connor. The town was subsequently moved to where the church and convent of O'Connor now stand, while the present county seat, Greeley Center, was built half a mile north of the original site. A colonization company was formed and a tract of land was secured by Bishop O'Connor, John Fitzgerald, William Quan, and William J. Onahan of Chicago, and others, and sold at $2 per acre to Irish colonists from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. This is now a very prosperous Catholic section embracing the thriving towns of Greeley Center, Spalding, and Scotia, and comprising a wealthy farming population. Land purchased by the colonists at $2 per acre is appraised in 1910 at from $60 to $100 per acre. Besides these organized colonies, many Irish Catholic families drifted into Nebraska during the years preceding 1874. During that period there was also a comparatively large immigration of German Catholics, but without any regular effort at colonization. The Germans followed in the wake of the Catholic priest. Platte County is almost entirely populated by German Catholics, the immigration being largely due to the efforts of Father Ambrose, O.F.M., the first Franciscan pastor in that section. In Cedar County, there are eight large parishes of German Catholics, who were induced to settle in that district during the same period by the late Father Daxascher, the first pastor of St. Helena in that county. South of the Platte there are also several well-to-do German settlements, but no distinct colonies. There is an Austrian settlement at Bellwood in Buffalo County. Bohemian Catholics are quite numerous north and south of the Platte. The Catholic immigrants of all nationalities who settled on the land have prospered in a measure beyond their most sanguine expectations. A pleasing feature in regard to Catholic settlement in Nebraska is the frequent intermarriages between the young people of different races, especially between the Irish and German elements.

Catholics hold prominent positions in the political, social, and industrial life of the community, though Nebraska has not yet had a Catholic Governor. Prominent among the benefactors and builders of the state have been Edward and John Creighton, founders of Creighton University and other beneficial institutions in Omaha. John Fitzgerald of Lincoln was also a generous benefactor to Catholic works, religious and educational, in this and other cities. John A. McShane represented the then First Nebraska district in Congress in 1886 and in 1888 was the unsuccessful candidate for governor in opposition to General John M. Thayer. Constantine J. Smythe was attorney-general of the state from 1897 to 1901. The present state treasurer is Lawson G. Brian. Many Catholics have represented congressional districts; the first district, which includes the capital, is now (1910) represented by John A. Maguire. In all cases where Catholics have held public offices, their records have been most creditable.

Ecclesiastical history

Ecclesiastically, Nebraska was first under the jurisdiction of the Franciscan Bernard Boil, Provincial of the Franciscans in Spain, according to the Bull of Alexander VI, dated 25 June, 1493. Theoretically, it became part of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Spain until 1682, when it passed over to the spiritual domain of the Bishop of Quebec. In 1776 it became subject to the Diocese of Havana, Cuba. After the recession of the Louisian territory to France, the French exercised jurisdiction until 1805, when the territories embraced in the Louisiana Purchase passed to the spiritual rule of Bishop Carroll of Baltimore. In 1815 the region was transferred to the Bishop of New Orleans, and in 1827 to the Bishop of St. Louis. In 1850 the territory because part of the "Vicariate Apostolic of the territory east of the Rocky Mountains"; this vicariate embraced all the territory from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains and from the south boundary of Kansas to the British line. Rt. Rev. John B. Miege, S.J., was appointed vicar-Apostolic. In 1857 Kansas was cut off and the Vicariate of Nebraska was erected. This vicariate was further reduced to the territories of Nebraska and Wyoming, and in 1885 the State of Nebraska became the Diocese of Omaha, with the then vicar-Apostolic, Rt. Rev. James O'Connor, as its first bishop. In 1887 all that part of Nebraska, south of the Platte and of the south fork of the Platte, was erected into the diocese of Lincoln, with Rt. Rev. Thomas Bonacum as its first bishop. The Catholic population of Nebraska is estimated at a slight increase over 117,058, the figures given in Wiltzius's Directory for 1910. The coloured and Indian Catholics included are too few to be worthy of special enumeration. For the last week in September, 1909, the following figures were given as the numerical strength of the various non-Catholic denominations in Nebraska: Methodists, 64,352; Lutherans, 59,485; Presbyterians, 23,862; Disciples (Christians), 19,613; Baptists, 17,939; Congregationalists, 16,629; Episcopalians, 6,903 (communicants); United Brethren, 6,086; all other Protestants, 19,657.


CURLEY, Neb. Its Advantages etc. (New York, 1875); BUSHNELL, Lincoln Trade Review (Lincoln, 1910); State Bureau Labor and Industrial Statistics (Lincoln, 1909); Nebraska Educational Directory (Lincoln, 1910); WILTZIUS, Directory (1910); Reports Neb. State Historical Society; MARGRY, Découvertes et Establissements des Français dans l'Amérique (Paris, 1856); SHINE, The Morton History of Nebraska (Lincoln, 1906).

About this page

APA citation. Sutton, J.P. (1911). Nebraska. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Sutton, John Patrick. "Nebraska." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to my father, Thomas F. Barrett.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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