Though modern transcontinental travellers tend to see NEBRASKA in much the same way westward settlers did during the pioneer era – as a dreary expanse of prairie to slog through – this sparsely populated state in fact holds a few places of interest. Still, it doesn’t help that three hundred miles of underwhelming, livestock-rearing flatlands separate its principal cities – commercial Omaha and its livelier counterpart, state government and university centre Lincoln – from the dramatic landscapes of its western region. This little-known area contains giant sand hills and valleys broken by towering rocky columns, all hemmed in by sheer-faced buttes, and is well worth the diversion from I-80’s seemingly endless tedium.
Western Nebraska was still embroiled in bloody battles between the American military and Native Americans long after its eastern lands had been settled; from the first serious uprising in 1854, it was thirty-six years before the US Army could make American control unchallengeable. In the far northwest of the state, Fort Robinson, an old Army post where Crazy Horse was murdered, remains one of the West’s most crucial historic sites.
Without navigable rivers, Nebraska had to rely on the railroads to help populate the land. During the 1870s and 1880s, rail companies, encouraged by grants that allowed them to accumulate one-sixth of the state’s land, laid down such a comprehensive network of tracks that virtually every farmer was within a day’s cattle drive of the nearest halt. Thus the buffalo-hunting country of the Sioux and Pawnee was turned into high-yield farmland, which today has few rivals in terms of beef production.Read More
A particularly scenic section of Hwy-2 meanders and dips for well over three hundred miles from Grand Island toward South Dakota’s Black Hills. It passes through the Sandhills, an otherworldly landscape carpeted with short-grass prairie and softened by delicate wildflowers and shiny ponds. Apart from a few farmsteads, grain silos and tiny churches, all you’re likely to see along this open road are lazing cattle, a few sluggish rivers and mile-long coal trains weaving their way through the hills. It’s a long, desolate, yet strangely beautiful drive through an anachronistic region.
The life and death of Crazy Horse
The life and death of Crazy Horse
The life of Oglala Sioux leader Crazy Horse is shrouded in confusion, misinterpretation and controversy. So thoroughly did the most enigmatic figure in Plains Indian history avoid contact with whites (outside battle, at least) that no photograph or even sketch of him exists; unlike other Indian chiefs, he refused to visit Washinfgton DC or speak with reporters.
Crazy Horse earned his title as a youth after he single-handedly charged the rival Arapahoe and took two scalps. His finest moment came in June 1876, when he led a thousand warriors in inflicting a stinging defeat on the superior forces of General George Crook at the Battle of the Rosebud River. Just eight days later, Crazy Horse headed the attack at the Battle of Little Bighorn in today’s Montana, where Custer and his entire company were killed.
After Little Bighorn, US Army efforts to round up the Native Americans were redoubled. In May 1877, Crazy Horse surprised friend and foe alike by leading nine hundred of his people into Fort Robinson. They gave up their weapons, and Crazy Horse, keen to stay in his native land (unlike Sitting Bull, who had retreated to Canada), demanded that the buffalo grounds along the Powder River remain in Sioux hands. Tensions at the army camp rose after a rumour went around the barracks that the Sioux chief had come to murder General Crook and Crazy Horse was arrested on September 5, 1877; during a tussle outside the fort jail, he was bayoneted three times and died the next morning.
Quite why this undefeated warrior should have surrendered without a fight, and whether he fell victim to a deliberate assassination, remains unclear. What is certain is that his death signalled the closing chapter of the Indian Wars. The Oglala Sioux were forcibly moved to the poor hunting country of Missouri as white settlers immediately swept into western Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.
Crazy Horse, so one story goes, was buried by his family in an unmarked grave in an out-of-the-way creek called Wounded Knee – the very place where, thirteen years later, three hundred Sioux men, women and children were slaughtered in the bloody finale to over half a century of barbarism (see The Black Hills).