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NSHS Volunteer News

July / August 2004

 Volunteer Spotlight on Polly Mohatt

Polly Mohatt photograph
It is interesting how some things come full circle.
While Polly Mohatt was considering a career, she wanted to be an archeologist. Her parents, however, weren't so sure about archeology as a career choice. She ultimately became a certified dental assistant and office manager and continues that career today. But things have a way of working themselves out, and years later Polly has found herself volunteering with the Society' archeology staff who, I understand, "fight" over her sometimes because of her great talents.

Polly explained that her children were growing up and she had some time on her hands. While considering her options, she saw a notice in the newspaper that the NSHS was seeking volunteers to assist in the archeology division. The circle was about to become complete. She contacted NSHS and, since September 2002, Polly has assisted the archeology staff on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. She began her volunteer work organizing and cataloging topographical maps. The maps assist staff with site locations, and are extremely useful because of the detail they provide. She has also helped organize the archeology library. More recently she has been involved in a Frontier County archeology project, and the day we were originally scheduled to meet for the interview, Polly called to tell me that she had an opportunity to go with staff to the Engineer Cantonment archeological site ­ so of course we rescheduled.

Polly indicated that she has had a long-time interest in archeology and history, with a number of family members serving as major influences in her life. When she was between the ages of eight and twelve she would join her uncle, who was an archeologist in Alabama, on digs. Her grandmother was a genealogist, and was involved in the Daughters of the American Revolution, Daughters of Union Veterans, and Colonial Dames. Her grandfather was a friend of Loren Eiseley and John G. Neihardt. She understands the influence her family had, and knows the importance of cataloging, storing, and preserving family records.

Among the things Polly cited as enjoying most about volunteering is the camaraderie. She has been made to feel like part of the team. She also appreciates how willing the staff has been to teach her about archeology, and the importance of the work. Polly went on to say that she feels proud to have a role in preserving the historical record for future generations of Nebraskans.
Polly's hobbies include reading and gardening. She has a certified backyard wildlife habitat sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation. The certification identifies Polly's backyard as having areas for nesting sites, birdbaths and water, bird feeders, and specialized plants. She also has a butterfly garden.

According to the archeology staff, "Polly fits in like she has been an archeologist all of her life." We are pleased that we have Polly's talents to assist the NSHS in preserving Nebraska's past, and that we could help her realize her interest.

-- Deb McWilliams

Discovery of 1819-20 Engineer Cantonment Site to be History Conference Theme

Mark your calendar for October 8 - 9, 2004, the dates of the annual NSHS history conference and members' meeting. The conference will center on the recent discovery and archeological excavation of Engineer Cantonment, the 1819-20 winter camp of Maj. Stephen Long's party of scientists and army engineers. From the cantonment, located on the Missouri River north of present-day Omaha, the explorers traveled along the Platte River in the spring of 1820 to explore the Great Plains. Until NSHS archeologists confirmed its location in the spring of 2003, Engineer Cantonment remained one of Nebraska's most significant undiscovered historic sites.

As part of the conference, nationally recognized scholars will discuss early American exploration of the lands of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Gary Moulton will present "Lewis and Clark's Top Ten," and Roger Nichols will address "Scientific Exploration and Nebraska, 1819-1820." The conference will also include a bus tour to the Engineer Cantonment site, and to Fort Atkinson, established in 1820 five miles north of the cantonment. NSHS members and volunteers will receive registration materials in the mail at a future date.

Fall Tour to Retrace Lewis and Clark's Journey Along the Middle Missouri

Lewis and Clark statue Keep open the dates of September 16-17 and plan to join us for an exciting tour of Nebraska and Iowa sites and museums connected with Lewis and Clark's epic ascent of the Missouri River in the summer of 1804. Two hundred years later, we will be traveling in a luxury motor coach, not a keelboat and pirogues, and no rowing will be required. Nor will we hunt for food, which will be amply supplied as part of the tour package. The tour is open to NSHS volunteers, NSHS members, and non-members alike and departs from Lincoln.

Day one will begin with a visit to the new Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Interpretive Trail and Visitor's Center at Nebraska City. Next, we will stop at the site of Engineer Cantonment north of Omaha, the 1819-20 winter camp of the Maj. Stephen Long exploring party, where the Society is conducting an archeological excavation. Society Archeologist Rob Bozell will show us the site and review the significance of what is the oldest Euroamerican site yet discovered in Nebraska.

Just up the road we will tour Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, located at the approximate site where Lewis and Clark counseled with the Oto and Missouri Indians on August 3, 1804. At Lewis and Clark State Park near Onawa, Iowa, we will experience how the Corps of Discovery traveled upriver by taking a ride in a full-sized replica of their keelboat. The day will conclude in Sioux City, with visits to the new Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, the Sgt. Floyd Welcome Center and Riverboat Museum, and the Sgt. Floyd monument and gravesite. We will spend the night at the Marina Inn in South Sioux City, Nebraska, which overlooks the Missouri River.

Ponca State Park and its new Missouri National Scenic River Interpretive Center is our first destination on Friday. The park also provides a dramatic overlook at the unchannelized portion of the Missouri, which resembles the river as Lewis and Clark saw it. Then it's off to the Corps of Engineers Visitor Center at Gavin's Point, perched above the dam and Lewis and Clark Lake. We'll have lunch just down the road at the historic Argo Hotel in Crofton. We plan to be back in Lincoln by late afternoon.

Society volunteers will receive information about the tour by mail. Others may request the tour registration material by calling 402-471-3272. The tour is limited to forty-four persons, first come, first served. For further information call 402-471-3272.

Nebraska Territory's Officials Often Had "No Other Property Except a Carpetbag."

When a Nebraska historian wrote the above comment about "carpetbag" officials, he was exaggerating only slightly. In a new territory, where everyone was from somewhere else and all the major government officers were appointees, it is hardly surprising that some of these men never put down roots in Nebraska. The main qualification for appointment to a territorial office was loyalty to the party in power in Washington and a few good contacts in the administration. The territorial governors of Nebraska were men from South Carolina, Arkansas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. Some of them served too briefly to make much impact. The territorial secretaries, who sometimes filled the role of acting governor, were from Iowa, Michigan, and New York. A similar litany of states provided the judges of the territorial Supreme Court.

In defense of some of these carpetbag officials, we will never know whether they intended to become permanent Nebraska residents. The first governor, Francis Burt of South Carolina, died at Bellevue only two days after taking the oath of office in 1854. Iowan Thomas B. Cuming, the territorial secretary who succeeded Burt as acting governor, died in 1858 while holding the secretaryship. Samuel Black, a Pennsylvanian, resigned the governor's office when the Lincoln administration appointed Republican Alvin Saunders of Iowa as governor. Black returned to Pennsylvania and was killed leading a Union regiment during the Civil War.

Of the eight men who held the post of governor or secretary of Nebraska Territory, only three remained to live in Nebraska beyond the territorial period. Secretary and Acting Governor J. Sterling Morton, whose home at Nebraska City is now a state park, went on to a long career in Nebraska politics and agriculture before his death in 1902. Alvin Saunders, the last territorial governor, left office upon statehood in 1867, but he was elected as a U.S. Senator from Nebraska ten years later. He died in Omaha in 1899. Algernon Sidney Paddock, the last territorial secretary, served two, non-consecutive terms as Nebraska U.S. Senator, 1875-81 and 1887-93. He died in Beatrice in 1897.

Of the twelve men appointed as justices of the territorial Supreme Court, only two took up permanent residence in Nebraska, although several died before finishing their terms. The first two men elected as Nebraska Territory's non-voting delegate to Congress were true carpetbaggers. According to the Morton-Watkins History of Nebraska, Napoleon P. Giddings, the first delegate, was a citizen of Missouri who came to Nebraska only two weeks before the election. Bird B. Chapman, the second representative of the territory, was at the time of his election a citizen of Elyria, Ohio, and never resided here at all. Many of the early members of the territorial legislature never moved to Nebraska. Today one has to be a state resident for at least five years to be eligible to serve as governor, and a state senator must have lived in the district he or she represents for not less than a year.

Even though many of Nebraska's early officials and politicians were transients, others arrived with the intention of making Nebraska their home and they provided a solid core of leadership as the territory made the transition into statehood. Men such as Morton, Saunders, Robert W. Furnas, Judge Elmer S. Dundy, and Judge Eleazer Wakeley came here to grow up with the territory and stayed on to become true builders of Nebraska. For more on the territorial governors and Supreme Court judges see Dennis Thavenet, "The Territorial Governorship: Nebraska Territory as Example," Nebraska History 51 (Winter 1970) and Michael W. Homer, "The Territorial Judiciary: An Overview of the Nebraska Experience, 1854-1867," Nebraska History 63 (Fall 1982).

--Jim Potter

New Docent-led Programs at the Museum of Nebraska History

Field Study Guides

If you see a group of really focused, note-taking kids with their hands in the air, you are probably following a docent-led Field Study, the docents' first venture into inquiry-based learning. Before their visit, the students see digital images of museum objects, which represent topics they will cover in their tour of one exhibit at the Museum of Nebraska History. In the classroom, students talk about what they already know about this topic and then write down what they want to know in their Field Study booklets. During their tour at the museum, the docent helps the students answer these questions using objects on display and docent stories. The Field Study has been a big hit with docents and teachers and the students who truly "own" these tours.

Patchwork Lives

Why were quilts made? What were they made of? How were they made? On this docent-led program, groups learn about how quilts are made and the history of quilting traditions in the United States and Great Plains. The quilts illustrating these stories date from the 1850s to the 1920s to one made in 1992, with patterns ranging from signature quilts to postage quilts to crazy and target quilts. These tours also feature an experienced quilter from the International Quilt Study Center to demonstrate hand quilting. For groups who want to extend the learning, a Making History Workshop is available where students make a paper quilt top to take back to their classroom or meeting place.

Hats off to the docents who make these programs possible. To schedule one of these great docent-led programs, please contact Jessica Stoner, 402-471-4757 or

Quesenbury Sketchbook in the Works

Volunteer Melanie Gibson began work with the Research and Publications Division, and will assist with research on the Omaha World-Herald Quesenbury Sketchbook, which will be published. William Minor Quesenbury was an Arkansas journalist, poet, artist, and political cartoonist, who made the overland trip to California in 1850, returning in 1851.  Unusual among most travelers, Quesenbury kept a diary and made twenty-two sketches during his 1850 trek, which followed the Cherokee Trail across the southern Plains and north along the front range of the Rockies, until meeting the Oregon and California Trail near present-day Green River, Wyoming.  The next year he returned along the Oregon and California route under the employ of photographer John Wesley Jones, who intended to produce painted "panopticons" of the scenery of the American West.  The forty-eight sketches Quesenbury made between Devil's Gate and Courthouse Rock were used in conjunction with Jones's own photographs, none of which have survived, to create Jones's popular landscape panoramas.  Quesenbury's work is among the earliest and most complete depictions of the western American landscape, and is being preserved by the Society with the generous assistance of the Omaha World-Herald Foundation.    

Indian on horseback logo


Visit the Museum Store to learn more about Lewis and Clark's journey. The store is located at the Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln, or call 402-471-3447 for additional Lewis and Clark items.

Prologue to Lewis and Clark: The Mackay and Evans Expedition, by W. Raymond Wood.

The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery, edited by Gary E. Moulton.

Lewis and Clark on the Middle Missouri, by Gary E. Moulton.

Lewis and Clark on the Great Plains: A Natural History, by Paul A. Johnsgard.

Commemorative reproduction of Thomas Jefferson Peace Medal, often referred to as the "Lewis and Clark Indian Peace Medal." Limited edition and individually numbered, available in silver or copper.

Lewis and Clark note cards with botanical seals and envelopes. Each card shows one species of plant discovered on the expedition from 1804 to 1806. The set contains eight different species/card designs.

Lewis and Clark coloring and activity books, collector  cards, expedition spy glass, and scaled replica of expedition compass.

MUSEUM of NEBRASKA HISTORY, 15th & "P" Streets, 402-471-3447
10:00 - 4:30, Monday - Friday
1:00 - 4:00, Saturday and Sunday
Museum Store Catalog online

Brown Bag Lectures on TV

The Brown Bag Lecture Series (a history forum) is presented on the third Thursday of each month, at noon, in the Blackman auditorium, Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P Streets (131 Centennial Mall North), Lincoln. Bring your lunch and enjoy the lecture! The July and August programs are as follows:

July 15: "Paper Towns, Wildcat Banks, and Carpetbag Governors: Territorial Nebraska in the 1850s," by Jim Potter, NSHS associate editor/senior research historian. As part of the Nebraska State Historical Society's programming marking the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Nebraska Territory on May 30, 1854, Potter will look back at the political turmoil and economic instability of Nebraska's early years

August 19: Nebraska's cinematic history goes back to the turn of the 20th Century.  But since the 1920s, the state has been captured on film by amateurs, thanks to the advent of home movie photography.  The lecture will take a look at the technology that made it all possible, and marvel at examples of Nebraska home movies from the NSHS collections.  Presented by Paul Eisloeffel, NSHS curator of visual and audio collections.

If you are unable to attend the lectures at the museum, catch the series as it is broadcast each month on Lincoln Cablevision Channel 5. Lectures are televised the month following the original presentation. The history forum lecture series is broadcast on Wednesdays at noon and 8:30 PM, Fridays at 5:00 PM and Saturdays at 6:00 PM.

The lectures are also being broadcast in Omaha on public access Channel 23 and Cox's new digital Channel 802. The lectures air on Cox Channel 23 on the first Sunday of the month, followed by five days of broadcast on Digital 802.

The NSHS is also seeking volunteers to work as character generators during the lectures. A character generator works in a van with the director, and uses a keyboard to create titles and credit lines for the tape, which is used when broadcasting the lecture. Training is provided for anyone interested in becoming a character generator. For further information contact Deb McWilliams at 471-4955.

Funding for the filming of the Brown Bag Lecture Series is provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation.

Conservation: Caring for Your Treasures is Focus of Volunteer Program

Please join us on Wednesday, July 14, 2004, for a volunteer program and potluck. The program will begin at 10:30 AM, followed by a potluck luncheon, in the Capitol View Conference Room, 1500 R Street, Lincoln.

Caring for Your Treasures will be presented by Debbie Long, NSHS objects conservator from the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center. Come and learn more about the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center and the field of conservation.

Volunteer Programs allow volunteers the opportunity to learn more, and become further involved in the activities of the NSHS. The programs provide awareness and great educational value for volunteers. Please RSVP to Lana at 402-471-3272 regarding your attendance, or if you have any questions.

New Faces

Andrea Arbuck, museum collections

Susan Cassman, museum collections

Katie David, museum store

Gloria Dittman, museum collections

Melanie Gibson, research and publications

Vicki Hoffmann, museum store

Karen Koka, library/archives

Sue Johansen, museum store


"The Nebraska State Historical Society collects, preserves, and opens to all, the histories we share."

Volunteer News is published bi-monthly for the world-class volunteers at the Nebraska State Historical Society. For information about volunteering with any of our divisions, or at any location across the state, contact:

Deb McWilliams, Volunteer Services
402-471-4955 or 1-800-833-6747

Apply for Volunteer Service today!

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Last updated 14 September 2004

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