Wagons Ho! Omaha sculptures tell pioneer story

A look at Nebraska’s pioneer life can be found in downtown Omaha.

Nebraskans are known to have a pioneer spirit. It’s considered the determination and strong work ethic we take pride in. That attitude can be explained by having more than 600,000 people cross the state over a two-decade period in the mid-1800s along the Oregon and Mormon trails. The pioneer story is recognized with a series of sculptures in downtown Omaha.

More than 500,000 of the pioneers traveled the Oregon Trail, which started in St. Louis for some. But, Independence, Missouri, is considered the primary starting point for most travelers. Several communities played roles in the migration.

The Mormon Trail’s story started in Nauvoo, Illinois. Mormons were discriminated against and were led to move west to Utah. Council Bluffs, Iowa, played a major role with the Mormon Trail. Omaha was home to the trail’s winter headquarters.

Nebraska’s pioneer story is recognized through a series of statues at two parks. The sculptures tell the story of a wagon train that is traveling across the area. It begins at 14th and Capitol and ends near the First National building a few blocks away.

Statues depict pioneers along the Oregon and Mormon trails, which crossed through Nebraska.

The wagon train is located at Courage Park. The park highlights the pioneers’ courage and spirit as they head into the unknown with little more than their dreams and aspirations. Families traveling west didn’t bring a lot of personal property with them. There wasn’t room on the migration for such things.

Most people walked along the route, with wagons hauling supplies and equipment. Women walked alongside children. Park visitors are encouraged to interact with the sculptures, including walking among the display. It allows people to imagine what life may have been like during the mid-1800s as families uprooted themselves for an opportunity at a new life in a new place.

A small girl holds hands with another as they keep up with the wagons.

One of my favorite statues features the trail boss. He’s atop a horse on a hill overlooking the wagon train. Waving his hat in the air, he signals others that everything is good to continue moving forward.

A trail boss signals to others along the wagon train.

As people move along, a wagon becomes stuck in the mud. Attempts to clear the issue spook a small herd of bison. It was common for travelers to encounter bison roaming the prairie grass.

A man trying to clear the stuck wheel.

The stuck wagon leads visitors on to the next series of sculptures in the project. Bison sculptures are located along the street, leading to the Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness, a series of sculptures around a pond, across from the First National Building.

A bison and calf scamper away from the pioneers.

The five bison statues are fun to walk along and view. Some have calves near their mothers, while other bison are running on their own.

The pioneer story concludes at the wilderness’ pond, featuring 50 Canadian goose statues. The geese are alerted and start flying away.

The sculpture of the geese taking off from a pond is a fun attraction to visit.

The story of westward migration can be told from several views and angles. First National’s Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness and Courage Park tells the pioneer story and its impact on Nebraska and the early days of Omaha.

The sculptures are impressive to visit. The story provides an interesting look at one aspect of the state’s history. Overall, it’s a fun place to check out. We recommend visiting the parks.

For more information on the attraction, please visit www.firstnationalcampus.com.