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September / October 2004

"Engineer Cantonment and Great Plains Exploration in the Early Nineteenth Century" is Conference Theme

watercolor of Pawnee Council
Council with the Pawnees of the Grand, Loup, and Republican Bands at Engineer Cantonment, October 10, 1819. From an original watercolor by Samuel Seymour, artist with Major Stephen H. Long's scientific expedition. Courtesy of Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT

The Nebraska State Historical Society will present its 126th History Conference and Annual Meeting, October 8-9, 2004, in Omaha, at the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center. 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 Nebraska State Historical Society archeologists confirmed its location in the spring of 2003, Engineer Cantonment remained one of Nebraska's most significant undiscovered historic sites.

Gary Moulton of UNL, editor of the Lewis and Clark journals, will provide the luncheon address entitled, "Lewis and Clark's Top Ten." Other speakers and topics include Roger Nichols, University of Arizona, "Scientific Exploration and Nebraska, 1819-1820;" Hugh Genoways, UNL, "Nebraska's First Biodiversity Assessment;" and Rob Bozell and Gayle Carlson, NSHS archeologists, "Archeological Investigations at Engineer Cantonment: The 1819-1820 Winter Quarters of the Long Expedition."

An afternoon bus tour will take participants to see the site of Engineer Cantonment, and learn about what has been found and future plans for the site. At Fort Atkinson participants will tour the reconstructed post, originally established by the army in 1820 at Lewis and Clark's "Council Bluff," where the explorers met with the Otoe and Missouria Indians on August 3, 1804. Registration materials will be mailed to NSHS volunteers.

Behlen Family Presents Gift to NSHS

  Walter and Ruby Behlen State Historic Site, Columbus
Behlen House photograph
The Nebraska State Historical Society has received a significant and substantial gift that will expand the interpretation of historic sites into the mid-twentieth century. On July 7 Ruby Behlen of Columbus and her family announced the donation to the Society of their 1958 family home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In acceptance of the Walter and Ruby Behlen State Historic Site, Director Lawrence Sommer said, "The Nebraska State Historical Society is honored to be entrusted with this remarkable example of twentieth century architecture that so visibly reflects the ingenuity and innovation of one of Nebraska's great modern-day pioneers."

Walter Behlen established Behlen Manufacturing Company in 1936, by purchasing the defunct Koziol Husking Hook Company, whose chief asset had been an old drilling press. Walt Behlen quickly put the press to use fabricating steel toe caps for work shoes and CLAMP-PONN egg case fasteners. Behlen Manufacturing created many innovative products over the years, including corrugated farm gates and steel mesh corn cribs with motorized dryers, but the most notable and ubiquitous innovation was the frameless corrugated metal building. Now found all across the Midwestern landscape, Behlen buildings took the place of smaller frame buildings on many farms.

The Behlens built their 1958 home of Behlen corrugated panels. Walt Behlen had long advertised that his metal building materials were so adaptable, anything could be built with them. Constructing a luxurious home of Behlen panels, and using rich materials such as rare Burmese teakwood and Mount Shukson granite, as well as designer treatments, illustrated the product's versatility. A world-renowned architectural firm, Leo A. Daly of Omaha, was hired to design the luxurious showpiece.

Acquisition and development of the Behlen House is a unique three-way partnership with Ruby Behlen, widow of the late Walter Behlen and her family, a task force of Columbus community leaders, facilitated by the Chamber of Commerce, and the Nebraska State Historical Society joining forces to make the house a resource for the people of Nebraska. A special open house for the Columbus community was held August 14 and 15. Plans for use of the house are under development.

Rare Documents Recall Lewis and Clark's "First Council."

The 2004 Nebraska "Signature Event" for the Lewis and Clark Expedition Bicentennial commemorated the explorers' first council with Indian tribes living west of the Missouri River in the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. The council with the Otoe and Missouria Indians occurred August 3, 1804, at a place Lewis and Clark named the "Council Bluff," and which they thought would be a good site for a future fort or trading post. Their prediction came true in 1819-20, when the army built Fort Atkinson at the Council Bluff.

In the fall of 1860, fifty-seven years after the 1803 meeting between the captains and the Indians at the Council Bluff, some Otoes passed through Nebraska City. At the time, the tribe was living on a Nebraska reservation in present Gage County. Alfred Matthias and Joseph La Master, editors of the Nebraska City People's Press, thought it remarkable that the Otoes had carefully preserved various documents, including several received from Lewis and Clark, and described the items in the paper's November 21, 1860, issue.

One of the documents was a certificate from President Thomas Jefferson to the Otoe warrior Big Ax, signed by Lewis and Clark with affixed wax seals and silk ribbons. Another was a January 4, 1806, letter, in French and signed by Jefferson, "to the chiefs of the Osages, Missourias, Kansas, Ottoes, Panis, Ayoways and Sioux." Upon seeing those and other documents, the editors remarked, "their preservation for so long a time shows that they are regarded by the Indians as of great importance, and have been guarded with the most scrupulous care."

Had the long-ago Nebraska City newspapermen been able to return for the bicentennial event in 2004, they would have been thunderstruck to see the Big Ax certificate and the Jefferson letter on display at the Fort Atkinson Visitor Center, along with several other documents from the period of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Otoe tribal members had carefully preserved them for two hundred years, spanning their stay in Nebraska, the tribe's removal to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in 1881, and into the twenty-first century.

Recently, the documents were donated to the Oklahoma Historical Society, which loaned them for display during the Nebraska Signature Event. Tara Kennedy, paper conservator at the Society's Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center in Omaha, treated them before they were exhibited. Interestingly, the 1860 Nebraska City article provided her with clues about conservation treatment because it reported that the Otoes were storing the documents between flat pieces of wood, revealing one cause of their deterioration over time.

Although the documents were exhibited in Nebraska only briefly, we should thank the Otoes and the Oklahoma Historical Society for preserving and making available these tangible links to a significant episode in Nebraska's past. ­ Jim Potter

Brown Bag Lectures

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. We invite you to bring your lunch and enjoy the lecture! The September and October programs are as follows:

September 16: Brown Bag Lecture, "Amendment One: An Opportunity to Preserve Nebraska's History," presented by NSHS Historic Preservation staff member Bill Callahan. Amendment One is a proposed amendment to Nebraska's constitution. If passed by Nebraska voters in the November general election, Amendment One would enable the Nebraska legislature to enact economic incentives for historic preservation for the first time. Callahan will discuss the potential for Amendment One to positively effect economic and community development, while preserving Nebraska's significant historic buildings.

October 21: Brown Bag Lecture, "Cowboys 'N Indians: Western Mythology on the Nebraska Roadside," by Carol Ahlgren, National Park Service. Ahlgren will look at the postwar popular culture that resulted in, or contributed to, the mythologizing of Western history (think TV shows, especially). You can also see this mythologizing along historic highways.

If you are unable to attend the lectures at the museum, catch the series as it is broadcast each month on Time Warner Cable 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.
Funding for the filming of the Brown Bag Lecture Series is provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation.

The NSHS's Founding and Facts

The Nebraska State Historical Society was founded in 1878. In 1883 the NSHS was designated a state institution and began receiving financial support from the legislature. Legislation in 1994 changed the Society from a state institution to a state agency. The NSHS is governed by a fifteen-member board of trustees, twelve elected by the members of the Society, and three appointed by the governor.

The institutional values of the NSHS include: Preservation, Public Service, Trust, and Excellence. The facts and information provided are compiled in a brief fashion to tell you the story of the NSHS. We invite you to visit us often to learn more about your history ­ Nebraska's history.

What We Do

Archeology ­ The division is the Nebraska clearinghouse for prehistoric and historic sites, including those threatened by highway and other construction. Archeological resources are investigated under provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Conservation ­ The Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center, adjacent to the Ford Birthsite and Gardens, Omaha, provides modern laboratories for the conservation of historical documents, textiles, and museum objects.

Historic Preservation ­ The Society, whose director is state historic preservation officer, implements Nebraska's compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Related responsibilities include the Nebraska Historic Buildings survey, the National Register of Historic Places program, archeological survey, review and compliance for federal undertakings, review of projects seeking preservation tax incentives, and local participation in historic preservation.

Library/Archives ­ This division collects, manages, and preserves a wide spectrum of published and unpublished documentary materials, and provides access to them. Located at 1500 R Street, Lincoln.

Research and Publications ­ The division publishes a quarterly magazine, Nebraska History, and books and documents on Nebraska and Great Plains history.

Museum and Historic Sites ­ Visitors experience Nebraska's past at these facilities:

Don't forget about membership, which is a great way to support the NSHS and its mission. Membership includes Nebraska History, a quarterly magazine, newsletters, discounts on publications and items purchased at museum stores, and free admission to the Nebraska State Historical Society's historic sites. For further information about membership call 402-435-3535.

If you have further questions about NSHS and its facilities call 471-3270, visit our website at, or stop by the museum stores, which offer books on Nebraska and Plains history and Nebraska products.

New Faces

Virginia Bennett, archeology

Anna Gondring, museum

Pam Hendricks, library/archives

Marilee Kyster, museum store

Rebecca Martz, Kennard House

Jacob Schmitz, administration

Pam Thompson, museum store

Jerry Whitney, library/archives

Ethel and Christopher J. Abbott Visitor Center at Chimney Rock National Historic Site Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

Some 150 years after emigrants first started using Chimney Rock as a landmark on their journey west, the Nebraska State Historical Society opened the Ethel and Christopher J. Abbott Visitor Center at Chimney Rock National Historic Site to the public. Ten years have now passed and 370,000 people have filed through the doors of the visitor center.

On Saturday, September 11, and Sunday, September 12, in conjunction with Bayard Pioneer Days, we will celebrate the visitor center's ten-year anniversary by waiving admission, and offering a ten percent discount at the visitor center's store. On Sunday, September 12, from 2:00-4:00 p.m., we invite the public to help us celebrate by enjoying birthday cake and lemonade.

Indian on horseback logo



No Time on My Hands, by Grace Snyder, as told to Nellie Snyder Yost.

A Flowering of Quilts, edited by Patricia Cox Crews.

The Quilt-Block History of Pioneer Days: With Projects Kids Can Make, by Mary Cobb. Ages, 7-9.

Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers, edited by Patricia Cox Crews and Ronald C. Naugle.

Beginning Quilting Kit, includes fabric, batting, stuffing, needle, thread, and instructions. Ages, 9­99.

Quilter's Delight Box Set, stickers, bookmarks, postcards, and more.

Pewter pins with sewing or quilt designs.

Stitcher's charm bracelet with pewter charms.

While You Shop the Museum Store, be sure to visit the current exhibit, Patchwork Lives, located on the third floor of the Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln. A new rotation of quilts begins on October 6, 2004.

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


"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 11 January 2005

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