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  • Piper Foster Wilder

Nebraska Territorial Centennial Stamp

In 1854, Nebraska was huge.

The Nebraska Territory included parts of Colorado, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and even into Montana. This sweeping expanse, originally part of the Louisiana Purchase, also was a battleground for ideas about slavery: The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 enabled settlers to expand into the region (the Homestead Act would come 6 years later), but importantly, enabled settlers of the new territories the sovereign right to choose if they would have slaves. With the civil war brewing (it would begin 7 years later in 1861), Southerners advocated slaves for the new land. However, the 2,732 people who lived in the Nebraska Territory at that time opposed slavery. Within 13 years, Territory was broken into the forenamed states we now inhabit and identify.

My great, great, grandfather, Melchior Steinman, was an early Nebraskan settler, in the plaintive and awesome Sand Hills. In a land largely barren of trees, sod was the “Nebraska marble.” Sodbusters, or those pioneers who built sod homes, peopled the beautiful expanse. Great grandfather Steinman immigrated to the US from Switzerland in the summer of 1863. Just two months later, he enlisted in the Civil War (!) where he served (and survived!) for 18months until the war ended in 1865. Then, Grandfather Steinman became a Pony Express rider. A line from his obituary states, “He made friends with Indians, by running foot and horse races with them, and he retained that friendship throughout the stirring pioneer days in Nebraska.” Grandfather Steinman would ultimately settle and homestead in Custer County, NE.

This stamp celebrates the hundred-year anniversary of the Nebraska Territory by featuring “The Sower.” The brawny idol is a statue that stands atop the dome of the Nebraska Capitol. Scotts Bluff and Mitchell Pass are in the background.

My uncle, Whit Smith, is one of the last of our lineage to live in Nebraska with his kids and grandkids. He kindly offered his voice on the state today.

I guess I do love Nebraska. After all, I’m the only Smith from my generation who chose to stay here! Part of the reason is I feel I had a relatively idyllic childhood, and I like being around the geography that I associate with that. It was also great to be my grandparents and great grandparents while they were still here, and I really treasure the time I spent with them when I was in my twenties, which was considerable. I think I would have missed a lot of that if I hadn’t stayed in Omaha.  I have wonderful memories of framing our first home with Grandpa Henry, working on stained glass projects for model homes with Aunt Marilyn, and fascinating lunch discussions with Grandpa Oscar and Grandma Viola about their life experiences. It sounds like a cliché to say people are friendly in Nebraska, but it is true and translates to benefits I didn’t anticipate when I chose to return here after college. For example, even though I built close to 400 custom homes, which meant dealing with each customer for 1-2 years, I never once had to hassle with a lawsuit. I’m not sure that would be the case if I had stayed in California, or moved to the east coast. Nebraska feels connected to the heritage of our country, and the American Dream, because the people here are still overwhelmingly conservative, religious, and hard-working. That is important to me, and so I fit in. Capitalism doesn’t have negative connotations in Nebraska, and much of the political craziness you hear in the news is absent from Nebraska. It's also true that Nebraska is very connected to our Native American history, and I like that connection with the land and the cultures that existed long before modern civilization showed up. You can’t drive across town with passing a landmark from the time this was a frontier. Half the names of Nebraska towns and points of interest are Native American and even the lay of the land in much of the state is unchanged from those pioneering days.

Reflecting on the prominence of The Sower in this stamp, I respect what grandfather Steinman sowed in the late 1800s on his acreage: it was a row of trees to shield his home and family from the wind. Several years ago, we searched and found the vestige of his 160 acres, still with that proud windbreak of trees. Settled near Ansley, NE, he sowed not only trees but also roots.

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