Nebraska: A Unit Study

Nebraska: A Unit Study
Nebraska: A Unit Study

On May 30, 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska act was signed into law, thus establishing the territory of Nebraska. It was divided from its sister territory of Kansas by the 40th parallel north. Its northern border was defined by the 49th parallel north which also served as the border separating Canada from the United States. Its western border was the Continental Divide, and its eastern was the White Earth and Missouri Rivers.

Subsequent territorial acts by the United States Congress reduced the territory of Nebraska until it eventually reached the size it had when the state of Nebraska was formed. The land that formed the Nebraska territory was part of the lands acquired from France in 1802 by the signing of the Louisiana Purchase.

The state of Nebraska ranks 16th in the U.S. in area and 37th in population. The state’s name is derived from the Indian name for the Platte river meaning broad water or flat river.

Nebraska History

The primary groups of Native Americans living in Nebraska in the 1800s were the Otoe, Omaha, Ponca, Pawnee, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux. Between 1833 and 1876 the Indians ceded all claims to the land in Nebraska, but some fighting still occurred in the western parts of the state until around 1890.

Preliminary European exploration of Nebraska began possibly as early as 1541 by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. In 1720 Spanish explorers who had traveled in an Indian train from Santa Fe into Nebraska were defeated by the Pawnee along the Platte River. French explorers crossed through Nebraska in 1739. Over the period from 1739 to 1803, the territory that included Nebraska was claimed by the French, then the Spanish, then again the French, until finally in 1803 control passed to the United States of America under the Louisiana Purchase.

In 1804, Lewis and Clark traveled up the Missouri River exploring portions of eastern Nebraska. In 1819 Fort Atkinson was established to protect fur trading interests in the area as well as to counteract the influence of the British government. The first permanent white settlement was established in 1823 in Bellevue which is located southeast of the current-day city of Omaha. In 1833 the U.S. government purchased all of the land south of the Platte River from the Pawnee Indians. Also occurring roughly over this same period of time, thousands of settlers crossed the state heading for Oregon, Utah, and California.

On May 30, 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska act was signed into law establishing the territory of Nebraska. Over the next decade settlers flooded the land. With the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, and the beginning of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1865, which started in Omaha, a state was taking form. On March 1, 1867, the state of Nebraska was admitted into the Union.  Shortly after that the capital was moved from Omaha to Lancaster, which was renamed Lincoln.

Growth in the state continued with more settlement in the western portions of Nebraska. This settlement by farmers led to conflicts with open range ranchers and Indians. Most of the armed conflict with the Indians ended by the 1880s, but was replaced with armed conflict between farmers fencing the land and ranchers who wanted the range left open to graze cattle. In 1904 the U.S. Congress passed the Kincaid Act which allowed farmers to homestead the open range land in Nebraska as 640 acre parcels. This ended the conflict by eliminating the open range land. During the next two decades farming boomed as demand for product and prices soared. As with all cycles the good times ended just before the beginning of the Great Depression. Low demand and low prices lead to a period of great hardship for Nebraska farmers. Price stability and farm mortgage relief programs under the New Deal are credited with relieving the plight of Nebraska farmers; but, it took the decade of the 30’s and then World War II before the state’s economy began to improve.

During this period Nebraska also became the only U.S. state to become a unicameral state. The state constitutional amendment that enacted this change, whereby a single house legislature was put into place, also introduced non-partisan elections. A single primary election is held with the top two candidates going to the general election for final voting without any indication on the ballot as to party affiliation.

Nebraska Geography

The state of Nebraska ranks 16th in the U.S. in area. It can be divided into five major topographical regions — the loess region in the east, the central sand hills region, the high plains region to the west, the Pierre Hills region along the northern border, and the alluvial lowland regions lying along the Missouri and Platte Rivers.

Nebraska is divided into two climatic regions, the eastern half of the state being a humid, continental climate and the western half a semi-arid climate. The highest temperature recorded was 118°F in Minden on July 24, 1936. The lowest was -47°F at Camp Clarke on February 12, 1899.

Nebraska’s primary vegetation consists of grass. Vast expanses of prairie cover the countryside with the greatest extent of forestation reaching a maximum of 3% (mostly limited to areas along streams and rivers). The grasses vary from east to west with the eastern portion of the state having tall prairie grasses (big bluestem) and the shorter perennial grasses (grama and buffalo) predominating in the west. Originally animals like the buffalo and beaver dominated the land. Now dominant species include deer, badgers, coyotes, and prairie dogs. Prairie rattlesnakes can be found in the western parts of the state.

Nebraska Economy

Nebraska’s economy is dominated by agriculture and agricultural products. Crops consist mainly of corn, oats, wheat, alfalfa, and grain sorghum. The livestock industry is large as well, with over half of the gross cash income coming from this industry. Mining production is limited to more local demand with sand, gravel, and limestone production making up the majority of product. Some petroleum and natural gas is produced along the southern border.

By virtue of its central location, Nebraska has always been along the pathway emigrants have traveled from east to west. Many emigrants traveled across the state by wagon, later replaced by the railways, and then finally by the interstate highway system. Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard located in North Platte is the world’s largest train yard.

Interesting Nebraska Facts
  • Boys Town was founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan.
  • Arbor Day originated in Nebraska City with the first event being held on April 10, 1872.
  • Omaha-born Gerald Ford became the 38th president on August 9, 1974 (the only person to have served as President and Vice President of the U.S. without being elected by the Electoral College).
  • Kool-Aid was invented in, and is the official soft drink of, the state of Nebraska.

  • Record high temperatures occurred during the time of the Great Depression in the 1930s. What implications did that have on the state’s economy?
  • Study the history behind the Kansas-Nebraska act. Who were the chief advocates for it and why? Who was the opposition and why?
  • Find out what the Kincaid Act was and why was it passed. What were the ramifications of this act and how did it relate to the Homestead Act of 1862?
  • Label the following on a map of Nebraska (see Notebooking Pages below):
    • Lincoln (state capital)
    • Omaha
    • Missouri River
    • North Platte River
    • Bordering states

Further Investigation

Quick Facts

Nebraska’s State Symbols
9-page download with facts and information.

The History of Kool-Aid
From the Hastings Museum in Hastings, Nebraska (press the Show More button on the right for the full story).

Elected Officials
Nebraska elected officials.


Our American Holidays: Arbor Day {Free eBook}
Arbor Day was first celebrated in Nebraska!

Nebraska Map and Quiz Printout

Interactive Writing Tool {Free}
Create a state brochure using this interactive printing press.

Interactive Map Maker
Make and label your own map of Nebraska.

The U.S.: 50 States Map Quiz
Locate each state at


Dandelions by Eve Bunting
Beautifully told and illustrated story about one family’s move from their home in Illinois to the empty prairie of Nebraska where they build a soddie and life blooms. Favorite author!

My State Notebook

My State Notebook
From A Beka. “A basic guide to help students collect and learn the facts that are unique to their state as well as beginning research skills.”

Civics Activity Book

Civics Activity Book
Also from A Beka, but written for a higher level than the above title, this activity book guides state research “in a study of national, state, and local government with a brief overview of the Constitution and a variety of interesting activity sheets. In addition to government, students also study the history, geography, and other characteristics of their state and local areas.” We have enjoyed many of the activities in this book, which include writing letters to state officials, researching the state history and other activities.

State Birds and Flowers Coloring Book

State Birds and Flowers Coloring Book
Inexpensive option from Dover Publishing. Also check out their United States Coloring Book that has a state outline, symbols, and facts on one page.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Nebraska State Symbols
10-page activity book with background information, coloring pages, and more covering the state symbols.

Nebraska’s State Quarter
7-page download with background information, coloring pages, and other activities.

Celebrate Arbor Day Guidebook
24-page download from the Arbor Day Foundation that includes the history of Arbor Day (along with ideas for celebrating the day and activities).

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854
Lesson plan from the National Endowment for the Humanities that analyzes primary source documents and the Lincoln-Douglass debates.

The Pony Express: A Unit Study

The Pony Express: A Unit Study
The pony express route ran through southern Nebraska.

My State {Free Unit Study}
A recommended state study unit that covers civics, history, geography, language arts, applied math, science, and art, culminating in a personalized state notebook. We have also included additional go-along resources.

State History Outline & Projects
A wealth of original ideas and projects for making any state study a work of art!

Studying the 50 United States
Suggestions for a unit on any state from

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Nebraska State Maps for Notebook

Nebraska State Facts Coloring Pages for Notebook

U.S. States and Capitals Map
Color Nebraska and write in the capital on this printable at

Nebraska Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, recording state facts, or wrapping up.

View all of our state unit studies: