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NSHS Volunteer News

March / April 2004

 Volunteer Spotlight on Deb McWilliams

Deb McWilliams

The Volunteer Spotlight is taking on a different twist for this newsletter - it features NSHS Volunteer Coordinator Deb McWilliams.

In fairness to the NSHS volunteers who have participated in past Spotlights, I thought I should turn the tables. Don't worry, I will turn the Spotlight back on the volunteers again in future articles. For this newsletter, however, I'll tell you a little bit more about me and my role at the NSHS.

My career at NSHS has been long and varied. The greatest part is, and has been, that each day I have the good fortune to work with NSHS staff and volunteers who are sincerely dedicated to the NSHS. My work is conducted from the Society's administration division. Some of my responsibilities include: volunteer activities, of course; working with the NSHS Board of Trustees; museum store oversight; planning a variety of meetings, conferences, and special events; membership; and generally promoting the NSHS. Each day is different, and that's what I love about my work.

One of the things I enjoy most about serving as the volunteer coordinator is the opportunity to meet new people. I appreciate that everyone is busy, and those who step forward to volunteer are extra special. The devotion and commitment of NSHS volunteers is always appreciated. Another enjoyment is matching volunteers with staff. I must give credit to the staff for their willingness to work with me, and the appreciation they show for the work the volunteers do. We couldn't possibly provide tours, assist researchers, perform archeology digs, catalog collections, and accomplish everything else that needs to be done every day without the cooperation and hard work of both staff and volunteers.

Over the past several years my personal commitment to volunteering has included being involved in a number of civic, church, and school activities/organizations. Most recently I have served on the board of Volunteer Partners and on the Talking Book and Braille Commission in Lincoln. Currently I am serving on the Syracuse City Council, which by the way is where I live, and I commute to the NSHS daily on Highway 2.

My other interests include my family, my husband Charley, our two daughters and our new son-in-law. Our older daughter, Holly, and husband, Mike, live and work in Omaha, and our younger daughter, Meredith, is an elementary education major at UN-K. Meredith knows exactly who to call if she needs history resources for class. I spend my spare time reading, exercising, and helping friends. I'm also trying to teach myself to knit.

As this "twisted" spotlight comes to an end, I would like to thank each NSHS volunteer for your commitment and service to an organization that really tells your history - Nebraska's history. Thank you!

-- Deb McWilliams

Putting Nebraska On the Map Exhibit Opens March 9 

Putting Nebraska on the Map, 1540-1920: Highlights from the Don Forke Collection will open to the public on Tuesday, March 9, at the Nebraska State Historical Society's Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln. The exhibit will feature more than two dozen maps chronicling the ways in which the place we now call Nebraska was depicted over four centuries. From the Typus Orbi Universalis, created by Swiss scholar Sebastian Münster in 1540, to a 1916 Nebraska highway map, these intriguing documents show how perceptions changed and understanding grew over time. Many of the maps reflect larger national and international events, as indigenous peoples are depicted under European controls and the United States eventually extends from sea to shining sea.

The maps are from a larger collection compiled by the late Don Forke, a Lincoln auctioneer and collector, and generously donated to the NSHS by his wife Marilyn.

Visitors will be able to compare the historic maps to the latest digital mapping technology as they walk across a giant floor map of the state. The twenty-five by twelve-foot topographical map was developed from geographic information system (GIS) data compiled by the NSHS archeology division.

Related special events at the Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P Streets, Lincoln, include:

Support for the exhibit and programming is provided in part by Marilyn Forke. For more information, contact the museum at 402-471-4754 or visit our website,

Conroy Quilt Display at Norris Home

A post-World War II quilt display at the George W. Norris State Historic Site, 706 Norris Avenue, McCook, will run from March 1-31. The display is in memory of Bertilla Conroy, who passed away this past year. Bert, as she was known, "was a faithful volunteer at the Norris Home and was the premier quilter of the entire area," according to Linda Hein, curator of the Norris site. Her quilts will be shown exclusively during the month of March. For further information about the quilt display and hours call 308-345-8484.

Register for the Fort Robinson History Conference

Registration forms are available for the April 22-24 Fort Robinson History Conference, "A New Army for a New Century: Military Culture in Transition, 1890-1917." Eight scholars will present papers, and Dr. Edward M. Coffman will give the banquet address based on his latest book, The Regulars: The American Army, 1898-1941, just out from Harvard University Press.

The conference will also feature tours and interpretive programs. Members of Loomis's Battery, Michigan Light Artillery, will demonstrate artillery from the period of the conference theme, including 1.65-inch Hotchkiss guns, a 3.2-inch breech loading rifle, and a Gatling gun.

To request a registration form, contact Lana Hatcher at 402-471-3272 or e-mail:

Stephen A. Douglas and Nebraska Territory

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois is considered the father of the May 30, 1854, act that organized the territories of Nebraska and Kansas. Although Senator Augustus Dodge of Iowa introduced a bill on December 14, 1853, to organize Nebraska Territory, Douglas was chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, which presented a substitute for the Dodge bill. The committee or "Douglas" bill provided for two territories instead of one and included the "popular sovereignty" provision, which would let the people living in the territories decide whether slavery would be permitted there. The bill repealed the ban on slavery that the 1820 Missouri Compromise had imposed on future territories and states carved from the Louisiana Purchase. Popular Sovereignty was not a new idea, having been applied when Utah and New Mexico territories were organized in 1850. Those territories, however, were created from lands acquired from Mexico, and were not subject to the Missouri Compromise.

The repeal of the slavery ban sparked charges that Douglas had sold out to the "slave power" to further his presidential ambitions. While it is true Douglas had his eye on the presidency and in 1860 was the nominee of the northern wing of a hopelessly divided Democratic Party, scholars have attributed his desire to organize Nebraska as stemming from broader goals to which he had been committed since the 1840s. A review of Douglas's thinking is provided in James C. Malin's "The Nebraska Question: A Ten-Year Record, 1844-1854," Nebraska History 35 (March 1954).

Based in part on reports by Zebulon Pike in 1806 and Stephen H. Long in 1820 that had characterized them as a desert, the Great Plains had been considered worthless for white settlement. In the 1830s the government proclaimed the area as a permanent "Indian Country." By the mid-1840s, however, perceptions of the region had begun to change, in part because thousands of emigrants recognized its agricultural potential as they followed the Platte Valley route to Oregon. By 1844 when then Representative Douglas introduced his first Nebraska bill in the House, and particularly after the acquisitions resulting from the 1846-48 war with Mexico, he had come to believe the United States must occupy and exploit the vast region west of the Mississippi River if it were to become, in Malin's words, a "continental land-mass" nation. Americans were already occupying the West Coast and Douglas believed the highest national interest required Congress to "authorize and encourage a continuous line of settlements to the Pacific Ocean," which the new technology of railroads and the telegraph now made possible. As a corollary, the Indian "barrier" would have to be removed before railroads could be built or settlement could proceed. It is true that Douglas's home state of Illinois and its metropolis, Chicago, would also benefit from a transcontinental railroad that crossed the central Great Plains and from the settlement to follow.

According to Malin, Douglas viewed American development from a global perspective, and his desire to see the United States become "an ocean-bound republic," not slavery or personal ambition, explains his role in the ten-year history of "the Nebraska Question."

--Jim Potter

Patchwork Lives Opens on April 2

Patchwork Lives, a joint exhibition of quilts from the Nebraska State Historical Society collections and the International Quilt Study Center will open Friday, April 2, at the Nebraska State Historical Society's Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P Streets, Lincoln. NSHS members, volunteers and their families are invited to the opening reception from 5:00-7:00 p.m. on April 2 at the museum. The reception is being sponsored by the International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

You can view the first in a series of four rotating exhibits that will be displayed over the next two years. Fifteen quilts will be exhibited for six months, and then replaced with others from both institutions' collections. Nineteenth-century quilts predominate, but quilts dating to 1920 are included. The exhibit will run through April 2006.

Carolyn Ducey, curator, International Quilt Study Center, will present a brown bag lecture about the quilts on Thursday, April 15. For more information, contact the museum at 402-471-4754.

Solomon Butcher Documentary Premieres March 21

"Solomon Butcher: Frontier Photographer," a documentary exploring the life and remarkable sod house images of one of America's most fascinating photographers, will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. (CT), (6:30 p.m. MT), Sunday, March 21, statewide on the Nebraska Educational Telecommunications network. A co-production of NET and the Nebraska State Historical Society, the program features dozens of Butcher's evocative views of Plains settlement, insightful expert commentary, and interviews with descendents of homesteaders still living in Custer County today. The Society's digital imaging lab and what new technology is revealing in these old photographs will also be highlighted. NSHS staffers John Carter and David Murphy, as well as former photo curator Jill Koelling add on-screen commentary to this compelling visual history. One hundred and fifty years after Butcher's birth, these photographs continue to be one of the most frequently used and highly regarded depictions of life on the American frontier. Tune in to find out why.

DVD and VHS copies of the program will be available after the premiere through the NSHS museum store. Contact the store at 402-471-3447 for more information.

Sowing Seeds for Statehood Exhibit Opens

Nebraska's brief but colorful territorial history is interpreted in Sowing Seeds for Statehood: Nebraska Territory, 1854-1867, now on display in the rotunda of the NSHS headquarters building at 1500 R Street. Commemorate the 150th anniversary of Nebraska's establishment as a territory with a visit, now through December 31. Call 471-3272 for hours.

NSHS Board of Trustees Nominating Committee Seeks Candidates

Jack Preston, chair of the Nebraska State Historical Society nominating committee, is seeking candidates for election to the Nebraska State Historical Society Board of Trustees. Individuals may run for the board of trustees by becoming members of the Historical Society, and obtaining signatures of twenty-five Society members. Meetings of the board of trustees are held quarterly at various locations across the state. The board of trustees consists of twelve individuals elected by the Society membership, and three appointed by the governor of Nebraska. The board of trustees assist in setting policies, provides guidance in strategic planning, and offers overall support to the director, staff, Society members, and volunteers.

Individuals interested in running for the board must contact Jack Preston by June 1, 2004, at 192726 Preston Road, Lyman, Nebraska 69352-1764, or or by phone at 308-247-2888. For further information about membership contact the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation at 1-888-515-3535 or 402-435-3535.

Engineer Cantonment Focus of Volunteer Program

Join us Wednesday, March 10, for a program that focuses on Engineer Cantonment. Rob Bozell, associate director for archeology at the NSHS, will present the program. Until its recent discovery by the NSHS archeology staff, Engineer Cantonment was one of Nebraska's most significant undiscovered historic sites. In the summer of 2003 archeology staff and NSHS volunteers began preliminary excavations at the site. Learn more about the importance of this site and the artifacts that have been discovered.

The program, at 1500 R Street, will begin at 10:30 a.m., followed by a potluck luncheon. All volunteers are invited to attend the program and luncheon. Please contact Deb McWilliams at 471-4955 regarding your attendance.

Upcoming program dates for your calendar include: May 12, July 14, September 8, November 10.

New Faces

Gwendolyn Holley, museum collections

Tracy Hofmann, museum collections

Nina Little, Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center

Laird Watkins, library/archives

Indian on horseback logo
From the

Celebrate Nebraska's territorial birthday.
Consider one of these titles from the museum store:

Ham, Eggs, & Corn Cake, A Nebraska Territory Diary,
by Erastus F. Beadle, introduction by Ronald C. Naugle.

History of Nebraska, third edition, by James C. Olson and Ronald C. Naugle.

Mollie, The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford in Nebraska and Colorado Territories, 1857-1866, with an introduction and notes by Donald F. Danker.

Nebraska, An Illustrated History, by Frederick C. Luebke.

Lincoln, The Prairie Capital, An Illustrated History, by James L. McKee.

Dandelions, by Eve Bunting, for ages five through eight.

Western Emigrant Trails, 1820-1870, Historic Trails, Cutoffs, and Alternates, map, 1999 edition, folded.

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

Calendar of Events
March / April 2004

March 2004

March 7: Film Series

March 1-31: *Conroy Quilt Display

March 9: Putting Nebraska on the Map
exhibit opens

March 10: *Volunteer Program
10:30, (see article)

March 18: Brown Bag Lecture

March 19: Special Brown Bag Lecture

March 20: Putting Yourself on the Map
1:30 - 4:00, family event

March 20: This Old Map: Personal Evaluation Consultations
2:00 - 4:00

April 2004

April 2: *NSHS Board of Trustees Meeting

April 2: Patchwork Lives
exhibit opens, Lincoln

April 15: Brown Bag Lecture

April 22-24: *Fort Robinson History Conference

(*Location other than the Museum of Nebraska History, Lincoln)


"The mission of the Nebraska State Historical Society is to safeguard and interpret Nebraska's past and make it accessible in ways that enrich present and future generations."

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 26 February 2004

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