‘Atlas of Nebraska’ takes a deep dive into state history with 343 maps

LINCOLN — Thank you, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. You were welcoming neighbors from the start.

That’s more than can be said about distant Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

Nebraskans this month have wrapped up a year of activities celebrating the sesquicentennial of the turbulent time in 1867 when the territory achieved statehood.

Believe it or not, the idea of Nebraska statehood did not enjoy universal approval 150 years ago in the U.S. Congress. Cries of “Nay!” peppered the House and Senate during the critical votes.

The naysayers lost, obviously, and Nebraska became the 37th star on the nation’s flag. And now there’s an easy way to glance at the congressional box score for which Senate seats and House districts voted for or against a new state in the center of the continent.

Maps in the newly released “Atlas of Nebraska,” published by the University of Nebraska Press, do that and much more.

Want to know where earthquakes have rattled Nebraska since statehood? There’s a map for that.

How about the paths of tornadoes across the state? The origins of foreign-born Nebraskans? Areas state-designated as short of physicians, dentists and pharmacists? Or how horses have migrated from rural to urban areas? There are maps for all that.

In fact, the atlas — the first of Nebraska published in more than three decades — chronicles the history of the state with more than 300 original, detailed and full-color maps accompanied by explanatory text. The coffee-table volume pokes into myriad subjects, including the state’s geologic and prehistoric roots, American Indians and the fitful transition from territory to state.

Then there’s everything from climate and ecology to voting records and crime rates.

The atlas is the work of six geographers, cartographers and professors from Nebraska and Oklahoma.

J. Clark Archer, a geography professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-author of “Atlas of the Great Plains” in 2011, was the lead writer. He said Nebraska has a rich and varied culture, from the eastern metropolitan cities of Omaha and Lincoln to the ranches of the Sand Hills and the high plains of the Panhandle.“The sesquicentennial was an appropriate time to help people obtain an updated and better view of this state,’’ Archer said.

Richard Edwards, director of the Center for Great Plains Studies and an economics professor, said people are inherently fascinated by maps because they present a lot of information at a glance. He said he didn’t fully realize that until watching Archer’s use of technological advances to store and analyze data used to produce maps in the atlas.

“A map is a big database that winds up as a picture on a page,’’ Edwards said. “If you took information and put it into a table or a graph, you’d have the same information but you’d have to work a lot harder to get to the point of what the map presents quicker and in a more intuitive way in a visual image.’’

Edwards said the atlas, a project of the Center for Great Plains Studies, depicts a state with significant topographic and physiographic variation and remarkable ecological and biological diversity. Agriculture may dominate the visual landscape, but the atlas’ maps stake out major employment and income roles for manufacturing, finance, transportation, health services and tourism.

Nebraskans in the 19th century dealt — and sometimes struggled — with diversity, just as some of their 21st century descendants do, Edwards said.

Maps in the atlas make clear that ethnic and racial diversity are nothing new to the state. Nebraska’s resident population of American Indians saw waves of immigrants from Europe, Africa, Asia and Mexico.

Nebraska was “quite diverse” in the late 1800s, but in a way that later dissolved into America’s melting pot, Edwards said.

“Bohemians, Swedes, Germans and Irish were seen as different groups because they had different languages, religions, customs, food and clothing,” he said.

Then these ethnic categories collapsed into what Nebraskans today think of as “white,” he said.

“Descendants of those immigrants may retain some of their ethnic culture but they all now read and speak English and enjoy the same fast food,’’ Edwards said. “A lot of those cultural differences that existed have been brought into the broader American culture — and we now have different sets of newcomers.”

Nebraska’s population is now being enriched by streams of migrants from other places in Latin America outside Mexico, he said.

“The impact of these new migrants is evident in both the growing diversity of the current population and in the rising percentage of foreign-born Nebraskans,’’ Edwards said.

As Nebraska moves on to its bicentennial in less than a half-century, it is not only growing increasingly diverse racially and ethnically, but is powered by a relatively robust economy across a varied landscape, he said. Edward said this reality is at odds with the caricature of Nebraska as physiographically flat and culturally homogeneous.

One of Edwards’ favorite maps in the atlas is a graphic 1837 drawing of the upper Mississippi and Missouri River region attributed to Ioway chief Non-Chi-Ning-Ga. The map provides a schematic rather than a geographically precise view that includes the Platte, Niobrara and Republican Rivers in present-day Nebraska.

“It’s accurate in the way a New York City subway map is accurate,’’ Edwards said.

Now back to the Nebraska statehood votes in Congress one-and-a-half centuries ago.

The statehood issue was part of a bitter post-Civil War battle between President Andrew Johnson and Republicans and Democrats in Congress over the conditions by which former Confederate states would be restored to full participation in the Union. Nebraska’s admission was tied up over whether the right to vote would be denied on account of race or color. The state’s proposed constitution — drafted shortly after the end of the Civil War — deliberately disenfranchised black citizens.

After much debate, Congress voted in January 1867 to admit Nebraska, provided that suffrage was not denied to non-white voters. Johnson vetoed the bill, saying the stipulation was an unconstitutional federal intrusion into local election regulations.

A supermajority in the House and Senate overrode the president’s rejection. Two U.S. maps in the atlas illustrate the state and district results of the roll-call votes.

Both senators from 10 states in New England and the Midwest — Iowa, Kansas and Missouri among them — voted to override the veto. Senators from five states — Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Tennessee (the only former Confederate state that had rejoined the Union) and Wisconsin — cast opposing “yea/nay’’ votes.

Four states — Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky and Pennsylvania — had one “nay’’ voting and one not-voting senator.

Archer said the House vote was more geographically nuanced, but as in the Senate, no Democrat voted to override the veto.

“Part of the opposition was the expectation that Nebraska’s representatives in Congress would be Republicans,’’ he said. “There were a lot of partisan issues involved.’’

After the override, the Nebraska Territorial Legislature convened and eliminated the offending “white” voting clause.

On March 1, 1867, Johnson signed a statehood proclamation — making Nebraska the first state admitted to the Union after the Civil War and the only one added by means of a veto override.

Edwards said the atlas project left him with a new appreciation that Nebraska, despite its unique and shared issues, problems and challenges, is a state that’s well-adapted to dealing with change, “if we have the will to do so.’’

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