Nebraska at 150: Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway

Editor’s Note: Nebraska is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017. As the state observes its sesquicentennial, we are taking a look at some of the state’s attractions we’ve enjoyed visiting. Today, we revisit our drive along the Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway…

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Flag at Fort Atkinson in Fort Calhoun.

Growing up in the eastern edge of the state, most Nebraskans know the story of Lewis and Clark. We learned about the two explorers in school. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the expedition of the new territory of the United States after we bought the land from the French as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition. The duo led their team of explorers from St. Louis up the Missouri River, eventually reaching the Pacific Ocean in Washington via the Columbia River in late November 1805. The expedition took about 30 months, beginning May 1804 and ending September 1806, when the team completed the round trip.

The expedition included stops in Nebraska and Iowa between Nebraska City and Sioux City. The team of 33 people lost one person – Sgt. Charles Floyd. He likely died from appendicitis. He was buried on a bluff overlooking the river. Sioux City honors him with a monument.

Nebraska is proud of its Lewis and Clark connection. Several communities along the river route have monuments and other forms of recognition. Some school districts have schools named after the pair.

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Mural in downtown Fort Calhoun.

Nebraska tourism groups support scenic byways that recognize the state’s history. It’s a marketing tool to help tourism in the region. The Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway actually runs from Omaha to South Sioux City, across the river from Sioux City.

We’ve driven the route several times, since Lisa’s parents used to live in Tekamah, which is on Highway 75 – the main route for the byway. You can start a trip on the byway from Omaha, ending up in Sioux City. Along the way, you will pick up on Nebraska and Midwestern culture and history.

In Omaha, the Missouri Riverfront features the “Lewis and Clark Landing.” The boardwalk and plaza area is home to community celebrations. It’s also a part of a great walking area, near the Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge that connects Nebraska and Iowa.

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Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge in Omaha.

As you drive north on Highway 75, you’ll have a few small cities and towns to visit, with their own history and connection to Lewis and Clark.

Fort Calhoun

Fort Calhoun – about a 15-minute drive north – is home to Fort Atkinson. The fort was the first established west of the Missouri River, following the Louisiana Purchase. It was built in 1819, and abandoned eight years later.

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Fort Atkinson in Fort Calhoun.

The site of a council between Lewis and Clark and local Native Americans took place in this area. The site of the meeting was referred to as Council Bluffs, which eventually became the name of the Iowa city just east of Omaha.

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Monument near Fort Atkinson marking spot where Lewis and Clark met with local Native Americans.

Today, Fort Atkinson State Park is home to reconstructed buildings. Visitors can check out what life was like during the early to mid-1800s. The park has reenactors during the summer months, who provide a living history of life at the fort during its heyday.

Blair

Next on the byway is Blair. Besides being the site of my birth (ha ha), it has a couple of interesting sites to check out. First, a veterans memorial of county residents recognizes each person who joined from Washington County. One of my brothers is listed here. Another needs to be added to the wall.

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Veterans memorial in Blair. One of my brothers’ name is listed as a vet from Washington County.

Blair is home to Black Elk-Neihardt Park. John G. Neihardt, a former state poet laureate, wrote a book entitled “Black Elk Speaks.” I read this book in college while we lived in North Dakota.

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Native American monument at Black Elk Niehardt Park in Blair.

Neihardt lived in Bancroft, which is about 50 miles northwest of Blair. How did a Blair park get named after the duo? A Dana College professor (Bill Thomsen) became acquainted with Neihardt during the 1970s. Neihardt suggested the professor create a mosaic, interpreting the book.

The park includes the Tower of the Four Winds, which includes Thomsen’s pastel interpretation of the book. Color is important in Native American culture. Black Elk explained each color its significance to Neihardt.

Tekamah

Our next stop along the route is Tekamah. Lisa’s parents lived here before they temporarily moved to Indiana.

The community of about 1,800 offers its support of Lewis and Clark with a large mural highlighting the expedition’s trip through the area.

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Lewis and Clark expedition mural in downtown Tekamah.

The Burt County museum offers visitors a look back into Tekamah history, as well as Burt County. The museum is located in a former mansion. It is a fun place to check out.

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The Burt County Museum in Tekamah offers a look at the area’s history.

Oakland

Oakland is about 14 miles west of Tekamah. While it’s not specifically on Highway 75, it’s part of the scenic byway. My family lived here for about 5 years during the early 1970s.

Oakland is home to the Swedish Heritage Center. It documents the Swedish migration to the area and early life in the community. This is a neat place to visit. It is worth making a trip here.

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A display of Swedish outfits at the Swedish Heritage Center in Oakland.

Winnebago

You can take Highway 75 or 77 (from Oakland) north toward Winnebago. The highways merge there. Winnebago is the tribal headquarters for the reservation there. The Winnebago tribe’s annual pow wow is the oldest in the United States (it turns 150 next year). We always make an attempt to attend.

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A visit to the Winnebago tribe’s powwow is an annual trip for us.

The community is more than an annual celebration. Tribal leaders have developed a strong economic base over the years. Businesses are doing well there. As a kid, Winnebago looked completely different from today.

The tribe recognizes its 12 clans with a plaza. Statues of each clan stand in a circle. Plaques explain the history and significance of each clan. It is a beautiful art piece.

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Honoring the Clans memorial sculpture garden in Winnebago.

Also, the boys’ basketball team won its class title at the state tournament in 2015.

Bancroft

A must-see on the byway is the Neihardt Visitors Center in Bancroft. The center recognizes the work Neihardt did. A large part of the center is decorated based on “Black Elk Speaks). Each side of the round room has a color with explanations.

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A look at the colors path at Niehardt memorial in Bancroft.

The center has copies of his books, as well as correspondence and photographs.

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Different versions of “Black Elk Speaks,” by John Niehardt.

The one-room building he used as a study is located on the campus. He wrote his books there.

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The one-room cabin Niehardt used to write “Black Elk Speaks.”

A Sacred Hoop Prayer Garden is located near the study.

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Sacred Hoop garden at Niehardt’s site.

We enjoyed our travels along the Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway. The route allows people a glimpse into the history and culture of our region. It’s a fun way to spend a day. In addition to the communities we have visited, these towns are also located along the byway and should be visited: Lyons, Decatur, Dakota City and South Sioux City.

For more information on the Lewis and Clark byway, please visit www.lewisandclarkscenicbyway.com.

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