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Omaha History

In many ways, it was the people who passed through on their way farther west who helped shape the Omaha of today. The Lewis & Clark Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the transcontinental railroad are all footprints in Omaha history. Officially, the city was founded in 1854, yet the landscape of the region began to change almost immediately after 1804, when Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their Corps of Discovery met with Native Americans in a friendly “council” just across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Easterners soon flooded into the region, encouraged by the Homestead Act of 1861, that literally gave away land to anyone who would live and work there, and Nebraska became a state 1867. That Omaha failed in its bid to become the state capital did not deter the growth of the city as major river port. Wagon trains heading west relied heavily on the goods transported to Omaha via Missouri River steamboats. For many years, it was the last significant northern settlement on the mighty river. When Abraham Lincoln announced the ambitious goal of a transcontinental railroad from Omaha to San Francisco, the fate of the city as a major transportation hub was sealed. Because of the railroads, the cattle came, the stockyards were filled, the steakhouses built, industry followed, and fortunes were made—as a result, a city of great diversity and energy emerged.