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Historical Newsletter

July / August 2006

Please enjoy the current issue of the Society's bimonthly newsletter. Members of the Society receive the newsletter every other month by mail as part of their membership. For information about historical events, see the Society's bimonthly upcoming events calendar. Back issues of the newsletter are also available.

Nominations Invited for Nebraska Hall of Fame

The Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission is seeking nominations to the Nebraska Hall of Fame. As determined by state statute, in order to be considered for selection, individuals must have been born in Nebraska, lived a significant portion of their lives in Nebraska, or made a contribution to society that was affected by their residence in the state. Nominees must have been deceased for thirty-five years. Primary consideration is given to persons whose achievements were in public affairs, the arts, sciences, and professions. Secondary consideration is given to those whose accomplishments were in the entertainment, athletic, or kindred fields. Activities that have added to the welfare of society and the reputation of the state will be weighed more heavily than those activities primarily benefiting the individual.

Some of the twenty-three previously inducted, whose busts are on display on the rotunda level of the State Capitol, include Ponca Chief Standing Bear, writers Mari Sandoz and Willa Cather, Nebraska's Poet Laureate John G. Neihardt, U.S. Senator George W. Norris, and scout/showman William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

One inductee is selected every five years by the governor-appointed commission. Nominations will be accepted through December 31, 2006. The commission will review nominations and may select finalists that will then be considered at public hearings held in each congressional district during the next two years. After the hearings the commission may select one finalist for induction in 2009.

Michael J. Smith, director/chief executive officer of the Nebraska State Historical Society, serves as secretary of the commission. To request a nomination form, contact the Nebraska State Historical Society at P.O. Box 82554, Lincoln, NE 68501 or email to Visit the NSHS website,, for more information.

This bust of Standing Bear, the famous Ponca leader, stands proudly in the Hall of Fame at the Nebraska State Capitol. He was inducted in 1977-78. (Photograph by Gwen Langrehr)

Out and About in Nebraska

Serving as director of the Nebraska State Historical Society affords me the opportunity to travel throughout the state speaking with Nebraskans about their history and current issues. This is indeed a privilege. Permit me to share with you some thoughts after my first several months on the road.

I've been at it, this traveling Nebraska, only a short time, but I have met people from Omaha to Chadron, from Ponca to McCook. You wear your enthusiasm for your state on your sleeves, to use an old phrase. Yes, that enthusiasm includes college athletic programs, but as we all recognize, it goes much, much deeper than that. You are enthusiastic about this state and your own communities, whatever their size. You are enthusiastic about the common, everyday aspects of this place, including the landscape, the weather, the plants and animals, and the people who are your families, friends, and neighbors. While I was visiting Sioux and Dawes counties in April, you tried to convince me that sixty-mile-per-hour winds were routine and to be expected. The next day, after the wind hit seventy-three miles per hour, you let on that this level of sustained wind wasn't routine at all!

In McCook we discussed the achievement of Senator George W. Norris and the Nebraska governors who came out of that community. In Lexington, we celebrated the forthcoming expansion of the Dawson County Historical Museum and recognized the donors who are making that possible. In North Platte we spoke of the cooperation of trustees, volunteers, and staff in advancing the work of that historical society through its building and historical village recreation. While eating barbecued burgers at the Wisner Heritage Museum, we visited about the annual Memorial Day homecoming event that involves so many people. The Jewish Historical Society in Omaha showed me the work that they have been doing to preserve a special story of devotion, dedication, and hard work. I have also become acquainted with three of Nebraska's greatest writers in Willa Cather (Red Cloud), John G. Neihardt (Bancroft), and Mari Sandoz (Chadron and the Sandhills). Their words give understanding to what it means to be a Nebraskan, a dweller on the prairie and the plains.

The people I have met are very proud of the collections that are housed in their historical societies and museums. They are also very conscious of the stories those objects tell. In Mullen I learned about a man who had come there as a runaway boy and found in its school the education that would earn him a place in the world. I went to Beatrice and met with members of the Nebraska State Genealogical Society, who shared stories of ancestors now gone. At Scottsbluff I learned the history of the Midwest Theater and the labor of love that has gone into its preservation and continued service to the community.

Nebraska's stories are out there, each deserving a hearing and to the extent possible, preservation. These are the stories that make up our history, the stories of examples and the challenges to be passed on to succeeding generations so they may know how this place has come to be what it is.

I have come home from these trips filled with awe for those Nebraskans who are working to preserve and share this story. I respect your hard work, your willingness to give time and money, and your faith in the future. You provide the energy that reenergizes all of us at the Nebraska State Historical Society. I am thankful for all that you do and look forward to meeting many more of you. It's the neatest part of my job.

Best regards,

Michael J. Smith

Organization of American Historians' Meeting, July 6 - 8 in Lincoln, Marks NSHS Roots

When the Organization of American Historians holds its regional meeting July 6-8, it will be coming back to its hometown. In 1907 Clarence Paine, the newly selected secretary of the Nebraska State Historical Society, invited six other historical societies in the Midwest to send representatives to Lincoln to organize a new historical association to facilitate collaboration, improve professional standards, and highlight our regional history. On October 17-18, 1907, representatives of the seven historical societies met in Lincoln, adopted a constitution, and created the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, the antecedent of today's Organization of American Historians. They also chose Clarence Paine as their secretary-treasurer, and he held that important position until his untimely death at age forty-nine in 1916, whereupon his widow, Clara Paine, librarian at the Nebraska State Historical Society, succeeded him until her retirement in 1952. In 1914 the MVHA launched The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, the precursor of The Journal of American History, the current name adopted in 1964.

The Organization of American Historians is the largest professional association of American historians in the nation, numbering eleven thousand college and university professors, high school teachers, archivists, public historians, students, and institutional sponsors. The theme of the conference, "Historic Heartland: Celebrating a Century of the OAH," highlights the origins, history, and future of this important scholarly organization, as well as considering the Midwest as a significant subject of historical inquiry, debate, and celebration as a distinctive American region. 

The Thursday evening plenary session at the Marriott Cornhusker Hotel will feature UN-L history professor John Wunder presenting "The Making of History, a Historian, and a History Organization: Clarence and Clara Paine, John D. Hicks, Mari Sandoz, the Nebraska State Historical Society, and the OAH." On Friday evening, July 7, the NSHS will host a reception for conference participants at the Museum of Nebraska History.

Four hundred academic and public historians, archivists, students, members of the general public, and officers of the OAH will attend forty to fifty sessions that explore the history of our region and celebrate our role in creating and sustaining this vital professional organization. NSHS members are welcome to participate. More information about the meeting is available at the OAH's website at

Missouri River History Conference Celebrates Lewis and Clark's Return

During August 30 - September 1, 2006, the first Missouri River History Conference will be held at Ponca State Park, located on the Missouri River outside the community of Ponca, Nebraska. Envisioned as the first biennial gathering of people interested in the historical and environmental aspects of midwestern rivers, the conference will open on Wednesday evening, August 30, with a presentation by University of Nebraska-Lincoln historian and noted Lewis and Clark scholar Dr. Gary Moulton. The conference will be held in the magnificent interpretive center, just one of the many features of Ponca State Park.

Thursday will see a series of presentations by experts from a number of disciplines, highlighted by a lunchtime talk by historian/writer Shirley Christian of Overland Park, Kansas. Ms. Christian is the author of Before Lewis and Clark: The Story of the Chouteaus, the French Dynasty that Ruled America's Frontier, published in 2004. She tells the fascinating story of the generations of the St. Louis-based Chouteau family, merchants and fur traders who did business in the Missouri River Valley for decades.

On Friday, conference goers will have the opportunity to take a number of tours in the area including the opportunity to explore a section of the fifty-nine-mile Missouri National Recreational River District that stretches upstream from Ponca State Park to Lewis and Clark Lake. This is the Missouri as Lewis and Clark traveled it. The conference precedes the Nebraska celebrations of the bicentennial of the downriver return travel by the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery in early September 1806.

The Missouri River History Conference is organized and sponsored by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in conjunction with the Nebraska State Historical Society and the Nebraska Lewis and Clark Commission. For conference details, information on the celebration of the return of Lewis and Clark, and park lodging, call Ponca State Park at 402-755-2284.

In commenting on the event, Michael Smith, director/chief executive officer of the NSHS, noted, "We welcome the opportunity to carry to the eastern frontier of Nebraska, the collaborative tradition of the Fort Robinson History Conference, which is presented by the Nebraska State Historical Society and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. We invite history enthusiasts of all backgrounds to join us this September at Ponca State Park and in April of 2007 at Fort Robinson."

"A Nazi Professor in Nebraska" Nets Research Grant

Dr. Frank H. W. Edler, an instructor at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, has been named the winner of the Nebraska State Historical Society's 2006 research grant. Up to three $1,000 research grants are awarded yearly to support scholars conducting research into the history of Nebraska and the Great Plains.

Dr. Edler's research proposal is titled "A Nazi Professor in Nebraska: The Professor Exchange between the University of Nebraska and the University of Berlin in 1936-37." His research will explore the struggle with his German-American identity experienced by Dr. William H. Werkmeister, a German emigrant to the United States, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nebraska, and a harsh critic of the Nazi regime, who taught for a year at the University of Berlin in an exchange with Dr. Friedrich Schoenemann, who filled Werkmeister's position in Nebraska. Schoenemann, ironically, was a Nazi propagandist whose presence on campus sparked sharp criticism.

Dr. Edler, who received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1992, has taught a wide variety of philosophy and humanities courses, presented papers at many academic conferences, and authored numerous articles, essays, and reviews.

Terms of the grant require the recipient to produce an article appropriate for publication in Nebraska History, the quarterly journal of the Nebraska State Historical Society, within a year. Funds for the grants are provided by the Gladys Marie Lux Nebraska History Education Endowment Fund and the Tom and Marilyn Allan Fund, both administered by the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation.

Heirloom Health Clinic held at the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center

 The cameras were once again rolling for the second Heirloom Health Clinic, this one held at the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center in Omaha. A Nebraska Educational Telecommunications production crew filmed three Society conservators, Julie Reilly (seated at the front table), Debbie Long (middle table), and Sheila Fairbrass Siegler (seated at the far table, but obscured by a visitor), discussing the preservation needs of family heirlooms brought in by concerned Nebraskans. Photographer Tom Sain (standing to the left, holding a camera) is documenting the project, and his photographs appeared in the May/June Historical Newsletter. The footage shot at this event may find its way into "Saving Our Treasures," a major television documentary.

NSHS Tour to Feature Western Nebraska Sites

This year's motorcoach tour for Society volunteers, members, and friends will hit the road from Lincoln and proceed to the Nebraska Panhandle. Tour dates are September 10-13. Among the sites we plan to visit are Mud Springs (a Pony Express station site), Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Scotts Bluff National Monument, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Fort Robinson, Wounded Knee, and the Museum of the Fur Trade.

For registration information, call Lana at 1-800-833-6747 or 402-471-3272.

In Memoriam: Dr. James W. Wengert

Dr. James W. Wengert, a member of the Nebraska State Historical Society Board of Trustees from 1992 to 1998, died in Omaha on May 22. He was a retired psychiatrist who served with the U.S. Navy and the Veterans' Administration. He had a lifelong interest in the history of the American West and in military medicine.

Dr. Wengert was an expert on nineteenth-century army ambulances and authored articles and other publications on that subject. He compiled A Frontier Army Christmas in collaboration with Lori Cox-Paul, which was published by the NSHS in 1999. He belonged to numerous history organizations, including the Company of Military Historians and the Omaha Corral of Westerners, serving as "sheriff" (president) of the latter. In 1997 Dr. Wengert presented a paper on frontier army medicine at the Second Fort Robinson History Conference. His wife, Helen, a son, and a daughter, survive him.

True Temper 2 Shovel Needed for Archeological Work

"It's only when you can't find the shovel that feels good that you start to pay attention," said Rene Botts, archeological collections manager and curator of anthropology for the Nebraska State Historical Society. The shovel she speaks of is the True Temper 2 shovel. Botts said this shovel is perfect for archeologists for many reasons.

The blade is all one piece of heat-tempered steel without large grooves. The blade is at a ninety-degree angle to its metal handle and then connects to the wooden handle without any large welds. When the blade is parallel to the ground, the wooden handle is at a forty-five-degree angle to the ground, perfect for an archeologist to push along the ground while shovel skimming.

Shovel skimming is a fundamental technique archeologists use when excavating. "It clears the surface to get a clear view of the features of the area," Botts said. The technique entails scraping, or skimming, the top layer of soil in order to observe the layer underneath, undisturbed by sediments and other debris. It's often used after a bulldozer has gone through an area. Shovel skimming sometimes reveals the remains of fire pits.

Unfortunately, this essential tool has become an endangered species. The company that made it, Ames True Temper, has undergone a series of mergers and, in the process, stopped production of the True Temper 2 shovel. Instead, they offer an alternative with different angles and a fiberglass instead of a wooden handle. The wooden handle is tapered and fits one's hands; the fiberglass handle is cylindrical and awkward to hold. The wooden handle is light; the fiberglass handle is heavy. Botts said the wooden handle transmits information with more sensitivity. The fiberglass handle reacts differently and could potentially cause archeologists to miss or damage valuable information in the earth.

Botts has worked as an archeologist all over the Midwest, from North Dakota to Illinois, and everywhere archeologists have used the True Temper 2. "I think it's fairly universal," Botts said. Despite its widespread use, Botts and the Archeology Division have been unable to find the shovel's equivalent anywhere. She has tried contacting Ames True Temper, but with no success. She has contacted local lumberyards and hardware stores; she has looked at auctions and yard sales. Botts has also searched online, enlisting a lumberyard to search wholesalers' Internet sites. She has also recruited the Nebraska State Historical Society staff to help, but their search has been unsuccessful.heat treated, true temper, 2, light weight
When they do find someone who already owns a shovel, Botts said, "People are unwilling to give them up." Anyone willing to part with a True Temper 2 shovel should contact Rene. The archeologists will pay for used or new shovels and be very grateful.

Archeologist demonstrating shovel skimming technique.

Nebraska Historic Buildings Survey Explores Seward County

The State Historic Preservation Office is beginning the 2006-07 Nebraska Historic Buildings Survey. The SHPO has hired Heritage Research Limited to survey Seward County, representing a survey area of 575 square miles of land, and 1,195 miles of roadway that will be driven by the consultants as they perform the survey. The survey area includes nine properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including the Seward County Courthouse Square Historic District.

Several special work projects are included in the survey plan, including two National Register historic district nominations for the central business districts of Alliance in Box Butte County and Chadron in Dawes County. The nominations are scheduled for completion in August so that they can be presented to the State Review Board at their September meeting. The remainder of the survey project will be completed in August 2007.

Learn More About Historical Records Online

The Nebraska State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB) pages on the NSHS website have been updated. SHRAB is a state board, appointed by the governor, under the authority of federal statutes and regulations governing the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) program of the National Archives and Records Administration. The director of the Nebraska State Historical Society and the state archivist are permanent board members. The governor appoints at least eleven other members for three-year, renewable terms.

The SHRAB provides leadership in encouraging, promoting, and assisting the advancement of programs to preserve and make accessible historical records in Nebraska. To learn more, visit

Hit the Trail to History

Have high gas prices got you down? Are you thinking about canceling your vacation? STOP! The Nebraska State Historical Society's museums and historic sites are just down the road, and we're inviting you to join us on a trip through Nebraska history this summer. Operating hours from Memorial Day through Labor Day are:

Check out these sites first on our website at

Nebraska Statewide Cemetery Registry
By Cindy S. Drake, Registry Coordinator

Nancy Swetland of Lincoln has been hired as staff assistant for the Nebraska Statewide Cemetery Registry, featured in the May/June Historical Newsletter. She began her duties on May 1, 2006, and will work part-time for the project through June 2007. Questions regarding the registry may be sent to: Cemetery Registry, Nebraska State Historical Society, P.O. Box 82554, Lincoln, NE 68501 or by e-mail Nancy or I will respond to your inquiries. Please note, the registry will not include listings of burials within a cemetery. However, when possible we will indicate the availability of burial information or tombstone transcriptions, whether in printed form or on the World Wide Web. Nancy and I will not provide legal advice regarding cemetery statutes in the state of Nebraska. We will attempt to refer you to the appropriate sources in regard to such questions. 

Young Nebraskans Spend Summer at the Sites

Visit the Fort Robinson Museum or Neligh Mill State Historic Site in July or August and you're likely to be greeted by one of our summer guides. Crawford resident Holly Counts, a junior in the journalism department at Chadron State College, is working at Fort Robinson. She's joined by intern A. J. Burki, who was born in the Netherlands but is now from Ponca. His grandfather, Vince Rotherham, was a longtime superintendent of Fort Robinson State Park. Burki is a social sciences major at Chadron. His internship is funded by the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation. 

Katie Miller is facing the daily grind at Neligh Mill. She lives on a farm between Elgin and Neligh and has worked for the NSHS for three summers. Katie recently graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney with a degree in musical theater and hopes to eventually work in the theater world in Chicago or New York. 

Upcoming Events

July-August 20: Exhibit of works by Winnebago artist Chuck Raymond (1939-89). Free and open to the public. John G. Neihardt State Historic Site, 306 W. Elm Street, Bancroft. For more information call the Neihardt Site at 1-888-777-4667 or

July 20: Brown Bag Lecture, "Weird Nebraska, Too: More Strange Stories and Amazing Facts," by Jim Potter, NSHS senior research historian. 12 noon, Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln. Free and open to the public.

August 6: Forty-first Annual Neihardt Day celebration, focusing on Neihardt's The Song of Hugh Glass, with a performance by Jim "Two Crows" Wallen, award-winning storyteller. Lunch available from 11:30 to 1:30. Program begins at 1:30. Outdoor setting at Neihardt State Historic Site, Bancroft. Free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Neihardt Site as above.

August 6: Neihardt Annual Membership Meeting, 12:30, at the Neihardt State Historic Site, Bancroft. Open to the general membership and the public. For more information, contact the Neihardt Site as above.

August 17: Brown Bag Lecture, "Reel Weird: Nebraska Oddities and Idiosyncrasies in Moving Images." Paul Eisloeffel, NSHS curator of audio and visual collections, highlights some out-of-the-ordinary moving pictures! 12 noon, Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln. Free and open to the public.


From the Museum Store

The Museum Store, located in the Museum of Nebraska History, invites you to stop in or give us a call to receive special savings on Lewis and Clark books and gifts.
(All Lewis and Clark items are reduced 30 percent.)

    • The Way to the Western Sea: Lewis and Clark Across the Continent, by David Lavender
    • Out West: A Journey Through Lewis and Clark's America, by Dayton Duncan
    • Lewis and Clark bingo game
    • Lewis and Clark coloring and activity book


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

Give us a call at 402-471-3447 for additional Lewis and Clark items or visit our website at and click on the Museum Store button for store items.


May / June 2006 Issue

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