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Oliver P. Mason, Nebraska's First Chief Justice

      The first movement to organize the territory of Nebraska was a "war measure"--a means of fighting England for the possession of Oregon. The first time the name "Nebraska" occurs in our annals applied to any tract of land is in the annual report of Secretary of War William Wilkins, November 30, 1844. The secretary discusses the dispute between England and the United States over Oregon, which had been going on for thirty years, and refers to the results of Fremont's first explorations in the Rocky Mountains, just published, as foreshadowing a great movement of population to the Pacific. He then asks congress for two things: First, the organization of a new territory in order to throw the authority of the federal government around the Oregon emigrants. Upon this point I quote in full as it is the earliest suggestion of the name I have found. He says:

      "The Platte or Nebraska being the central stream leading into or from the South Pass would very properly furnish a name to the territory which I propose suggesting to be erected into a territorial government, with, and preliminary to, the extension in that direction of our military posts. I would confine the Nebraska territory to our undisputed possessions on this side of the Rocky Mountains. Its boundary line would commence at the mouth of the Kansas and run up the Missouri river to the mouth of the Running Water and pursue that river to the head of its northern branch, thence due west to the Wind river chain. From this point turning southward the line would continue alongside the Wind river range and the main chain of the Rocky Mountains to the head of the Arkansas, and following that stream to the mouth of the Pawnee fork, would pass by the heads of the Neosho and Osage again to the mouth of the Kansas."

     The second item asked from congress is an appropriation of $100,000 to erect a chain of forts from the Missouri river to the summit of the Rocky Mountains. These forts and the pioneer settlers who will come into the new territory when it is organized are to be a preparation for war with England. Very significantly the secretary concludes, "troops and supplies from the projected Nebraska territory



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An Early Method of Transportation

would be able to contend for the possession of Oregon with any force coming from the sea."

     The word "Nebraska" itself is from the Omaha or Otoe language in both of which Nebrath-ke or Ne-prath-ke means broad or shallow water. It had been applied very naturally and appropriately by these Indians to the stream which they had so long known.

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Stephen A. Douglas

     The first bill to create the territory of Nebraska was introduced in the house of representatives December 17, 1844, by Stephen A. Douglas. The boundaries and the name were those Secretary Wilkins had suggested. There was no mention of slavery, but the bill provided that the laws of Iowa should be extended over Nebraska until a territorial legislature met, and that only free white males should vote until the legislature should provide otherwise. This bill was favorably reported from the committee on territories on January 7, 184, went on the general file and never reached further consideration. There was a reason for this and before going farther in the events which follow we shall do wisely to review underlying causes of the conflict which culminated in the struggle over the organization of the territory.

     When the first Nebraska bill was put to sleep in congressional pigeonholes in the winter of 1845 a sectional conflict was fast hurrying to its climax. It had been pending for two hundred years. Two streams of migration,--one from Jamestown, the other from Plymouth Rock, had set out to subdue the American continent. Each carried with it its own economic system and type of civilization. They

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