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largest events in their story have been puzzled out. For centuries to come scholars will be deciphering the details of those long ages which speak to us only through their tombs. For the Nebraskan of today,--school child or grown up--there is no more inspiring, instructive lesson than a day among the limestone ledges, noting the differences in different strata, finding the curious forms there entombed, and trying to frame some conception of how distant the time, and how vast the changes since they were the living inhabitants of Nebraska.

     The carboniferous limestone book is the oldest document in Nebraska history. Next oldest of Nebraska documents is a curious one in four volumes called the "Cretaceous Period." These four volumes have striking differences of color, of texture, of arrangement, of fossil remains, but all four relate chapters in the story of a second great sea, covering what is now the great plains, and stretching from Texas to

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Part of Ancient Oyster Bed

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Nebraska Red Sandstone Leaf

British America. The lowest of the four volumes is the Dakota red sandstone formation, named from Dakota City in this state, where it was first studied. It is from 200 to 300 feet thick and appears on the surface in numerous places in the eastern part of the state. The most interesting story it has to tell is the story of the woods of long ago which grew around the borders of the vast inland sea. The leaves of the maple, the willow, the oak, the magnolia and of many others are as perfectly preserved in the hard rock as though it were yesterday instead of millions of years ago that they fell. Next above the red sandstone lies the Benton book, named from Fort Benton in Dakota, where it appears in its full thickness about two hundred feet. The most prominent feature in the history it has to relate is that of ancient oyster beds. Little oysters and big oysters, sheet upon sheet, and layer above lay-



er, packed so closely that one cannot drive a shingle nail without piercing a dead oyster. What a feast for some of the present day inhabitants of Nebraska if they might have raked the bottom of the shallow oyster bed bays of this period. Next above these Benton oyster rocks lies about three hundred feet of Niobrara chalk rocks, named from the Niobrara river where they are exposed in perpendicular cliffs. In these the oyster beds disappear and are succeeded by the skeletons of very small sea animals. The last volume in this series is called the Pierre shale, from Pierre, South Dakota. This is the bulkiest book of all, varying from three hundred feet along the Blue river to three thousand or four thousand in the high plains of western Nebraska. Its leaves tell of the time when vast quantities of mineral mud were washed into the inland sea, packing its bottom with soda which reappears today in the alkali lakes of the sand hills. During this time monstrous coiled sea shells called ammonites
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A Nebraska Titanotherium from the Bad Lands of Northwest Nebraska

lived and died and another variety of sea shell whose long glistening skeletons found today, are called "petrified snakes."

      The record of the next chapter in Nebraska's history is found only in the Bad Lands of the northwestern corner of the state. There the soft mud, five hundred to a thousand feet thick, which formed the bottom of an interior lake, has been cut into gullies and canyons by the winds and waters. Here today is found the most remarkable menagerie in the world--dead.

      The skulls and teeth of sabre-toothed tigers, the huge hip bones and tusks of rhinoceroses, the leg bones of three toed horses are all found in this ancient cemetery. Hither come scientific expeditions from all parts of the world, to bear away to their museums the bones of the early inhabitants of northwestern Nebraska.

     Higher up, above the Bad Lands muds are the sands and butte clays which form the top and the picturesque scenery of western Nebraska. In some places this formation takes



the shape of lofty pinnacles and spires crowned with pine forests; in other places, the wash from these sands has created the great sand hills. Layers of volcanic dust fused by intense heat into glassy fragments and now resting between other layers of sand or clay tell unmistakably of a time long ages ago when volcanoes were near enough neighbors to Nebraska to leave their mark upon her landscape.

     After all the ages, whose history is written in rock and sand and shale, came the more recent one, whose record is found in the black alluvial soil which covers the surface of the greater part of Nebraska and makes it one of the richest gardens that ever the hand of man was set to cultivate. In these upper sheets are found from time to time the bones and teeth of the mastodon and the mammoth which once roamed the prairie. Across the eastern third of the state are scattered the records of the great ice age in the shape of huge boulders, dropped by melting icebergs on the tops of

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Scene in Sioux County

hills, long grooves cut in the exposed surface of limestone ledges and banks of rounded pebbles and gravel.

     This hasty glance at the long and mighty prelude to human history in Nebraska would perhaps find no place in so brief a sketch as I purpose writing. But more and more, true history becomes not the mere stringing of events like beads upon a thread, but a philosophy as well; a suggestion of underlying causes and sequences, which shall stimulate the intellect to a wider study, a more passionate search for the roots of things which shall enable one to act better his own part in the space allotted him. It has seemed to me that in the whole course of Nebraska history, nothing is more suggestive or inspiring-nothing more quickly kindles the imagination with its unsolved problems than a glance at the record of these ages preparatory to human existence in this state.

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@ 2002 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, Ted & Carole Miller