Where Did the Name of Nebraska Come From?

While Nebraska did not become part of the US for quite some time after the original colonization of the East Coast, the area does have a lengthy history marked by conflict between European superpowers. At one point, the land that would become Nebraska was actually claimed by three different countries – France, Spain and England.

The Spanish arrived first, with the explorations of Coronado (this is also how horses found their way into the territory). However, the Spanish left the region after Coronado failed to locate gold and silver riches and unlike the Southwest, they did not create a lasting presence in the area. Next came the French – French explorers, trappers and traders navigated down the rivers in eastern Nebraska (the Missouri and the Platte, most notably). Unlike the Spanish, the French created a lasting presence in the territory, building trading posts and outposts along the river routes.

The English had a more tenuous claim the area, though with somewhat more “legal” grounds. Many original land grants to settlers from the English crown noted that the claims ran from the Atlantic Ocean to the “south seas” or what would eventually become the Pacific Ocean. While the English hadn’t explored the area, these grants did give them ownership of the land.

The area that would eventually become Nebraska was eventually secured by France, then sold to the Spanish, then repurchased when Napoleon took power. It was then sold again, this time to the US in what became known as the Great Purchase (the Louisiana Territory). However, the name Nebraska was still not in use, and would not be until 1842. A US Army lieutenant was sent west to explore. After spending time with the Otoe Indians, he decided that their name for the Platte River (Nebraska) was ideal for the new territory (the name meant “flat water”) and the Secretary of War approved “Nebraska” as the official name of the new territory.