Lewis and Clark followed the Missouri along Nebraska’s eastern fringe and met with Native Americans here in 1804. Some 20 years later, trappers latched onto the Platte River. Then in 1841, the first covered wagon passed through on its way to Oregon. The Platte Valley was soon swarming with hopeful settlers (around 400, 000) all looking to start a new life in the mythical West.
Transcontinental railroads such as the Union Pacific made covered wagons irrelevant and the trail ruts succumbed to pasture as more settlers rushed in after the 1862 Homestead Act. The rich soils and abundant grasslands helped Nebraska develop into a productive agricultural state.