Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. William C. Pratt


The history of a people, be they Native Americans or pioneer settlers, can be uncovered in their landscape. The Euro-American settlers who moved onto the prairies of Nebraska and the Great Plains faced an environment unlike the wooded regions of the East. Native American traditions and land use patterns were replaced by those of the settlers. Nebraska’s Native landscape was altered under the hand of this new dominant culture. Physical alterations included the breaking of the prairie sod for farming and the construction of towns and railroads. Johnson County, Nebraska, which sits among the southeastern counties of the state, was established soon after the organization of the Nebraska Territory. Tecumseh, Johnson County’s seat o f government, was founded before railroads were built into the area. Its downtown commercial district has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places and the Victorian style brick buildings which surround the courthouse square create the timeless image o f a tum-of-the century community. Tecumseh had three phases of construction by 1900. Log shanties dominated the area’s first building period. These humble structures were superseded by false-front and planed wood buildings, which were in turn replaced by brick and stone construction. Each of these time periods witnessed the building of a courthouse in the community. The first structure was a rough, unplastered building used for storage of county documents. A second courthouse was built in 1868 and a third in 1888-89. Still presiding over Tecumseh’s public square, this third building provides an example of the boosterism and pride Johnson County citizens expressed during the late 1880s. Understanding the alteration of the area, however, requires more then a study of architectural changes. Newspapers, pioneer memoirs and letters help give this history life and provide information on the land. Trees, fences, electric poles, evolving agriculture and modem highways obscure our view of what this land once looked like. Seeing beyond these barriers may help us to understand how we have changed the land and perhaps how those transformations still affect the lives of Johnson County citizens.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of History and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1999, Rebecca L. Howard.

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