CH 1

Overall Building

The Tower and the Plains

Lesson 1 - Sowing the Seeds

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The SowerA person who plants seeds. was designed by the same artist who designed all the sculpture you see on the walls of this building-- Lee Lawrie. Lawrie was a self-taught sculptor who specialized in architectural decorationElements of a building’s design that add special meaning and beauty—reliefs, engaged sculptures, trim, tiles, and so on..

Of course, the sculptures Lee Lawrie created for the Nebraska Capitol are meant to be more than decoration. All of them are carefully chosen symbolsA symbol is something that stands for or represents something else. that tell Nebraska’s story. The sower—is the biggest thing on the building. He's a farmer who is literally on top of everything. That tells you something about the importance of agriculture here in Nebraska.

Lee Lawrie
Courtesy of the office of the Capitol Commission
closeup of Sower's Basket

The Sower isn't dressed like the farmers you've seen-- he's idealizedPortrayed as perfect, ideal.. He's here planting seeds to remind you of how humans get life from the soil.

closeup of seeds in Sower's bag
Office of the Capitol Commission

At the same time he's reminding you that humans come together in societies in order to live better--to sow the seeds of nobleStriving to be good and worthy. living. That's what he's doing. The seeds are represented in the artwork and inscriptions all over this building, inside and out.

Thunderbird Closeup on Dome of State Capitol

The Sower and Thunderbird are symbols and seeds. And in a way, the people who come here are the soil. They are there to plant some ideas in your head. You don't mind if we treat you like dirt, do you?

Does Nebraska look like a desert to you?

Nebraska Grasslands or Desert?

Nebraska looked like a desert to the explorers who came here from the eastern part of America in the early 1800's. As they floated on the Missouri River in 1803, Lewis and Clark thought the land they saw along the shore had no value.

After a trip along the Republican River in 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike called the soil barrenIn this case, barren means not good for growing crops.. In 1820, Stephen H. Long of the Army Engineers wrote that the area between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains was "unfit for cultivationSpecial care that helps a particular plant or crop to grow, including plowing, fertilizing, and so on.."

He said people who depended on agriculture to live simply couldn't live there.

What is now Nebraska was considered part of the Great American Desert, treeless and practically useless. The public in the east was unaware of the rich soils waiting under the prairie grass.

Nebraska has several important rivers that flow into the Missouri River, including the Platte. It also has a vast underground water supply, part of the Ogallala Aquifer. The aquifer contains enough to cover the surface of the state with water 34 feet deep. But the Americans of the early 1800's knew nothing about it. (Reset image)

Of course, Native Americans had long lived on Nebraska's land, some by farming corn, squash, beans and some by hunting the bison herds. The farming tribes lived from the things they had at hand, if they lived by a river they hunted fish.

Many people lived in villages that were permanent. Their homes were "earth lodges" made of grass, dirt, mud and tall thick wooden poles. Some of the earth lodges looked like big hills of dirt and grass while others had poles and posts to support the walls.

Do you think earth lodges still exist today?

Drama of Native American Women planting corn © 1985 Nebraska Department of Education

Building America's Railroad
Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society

The government of the United States first thought Nebraska would be left to the Native Americans and the bison. But then Nebraska's value changed as plans developed for the transcontinental railroadA railroad that goes all the way across the continental United States, from the east coast to the west coast.. The government opened the land to would-be farmers through the Homestead ActUnder the Homestead Act of 1862, the government sold land in the western territories to new settlers at low cost..

By the time Nebraska achieved statehood in 1867, settlers west of the Missouri River had learned that they could grow crops even in places where trees didn't grow, and homesteaders were starting to take their chances on farming west of the Missouri. They proved Nebraska was no desert.

Early Settlers
Courtesy of Nebraska State Historical Society


The state does have sandy areas – actual hills of sand. But much of the state is more fertile(of soil or land) producing or capable of producing abundant vegetation or crops - which is good for growing many crops. Land is one of Nebraska's richest resources, in part because there's so much of it.

The type of land affected the way people who settled there used the land-- and the way they lived. In the fertile areas, farming made sense. In the areas by water or close to transportation routes, towns and cities grew up. In the less fertile areas, where grasses grow, raising cattle was a way to make a living.

Tall Prairie Grass - 0101_070202

Nebraska has abundant grass. Tall prairie grasses grow in the east

Short Prairie Grass - 0101_070201

Short grasses grow in the west.

Trees were once scarce in Nebraska, but plantings from settlers changed that. Now ash, box elder, cottonwood, locust, oak, walnut, elm, and willow trees are common in the east, while pine and cedar are found in the west.

You find shrubs such as wild plums and chokecherries growing wild all over Nebraska. There are wild flowers, too, like goldenrod, sunflowers, columbine, larkspur, and wild roses. (Reset Link)

With cultivationto prepare or prepare and use for the raising of crops; also : to loosen or break up the soil about (growing plants) and enough moisture, Nebraska's variety of soils can produce a variety of crops. In fact, Nebraska has often led the nation in production of some crops. The state’s crops feed people and animals, and they also feed the economy through sales of products related to agriculture, such as irrigation equipment.

The top crop is corn, used as feed by cattle, hog, and poultry producers. Corn has been growing in Nebraska since the first Native American farmers settled here. Now it's also used in ethanol, a fuel additive.

Early visitors were mistaken about Nebraska’s ability to grow crops.
Why was their “first impression” wrong?
Do you ever rely on first impressions?

Why is that a good or bad idea?


Nebraska Curriculum Standards:

Chapter 1; Lesson 1: Nebraska Standards for Social Studies, Language Arts & Fine Arts

A Harmony of the Arts: The Nebraska State Capitol, edited by Frederick C. Luebke
History of Nebraska, third edition, by James C. Olson and Ronald C. Naugle
1998-99 Nebraska Blue Book
Nebraska: An Illustrated History, by Frederick C. Luebke

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What is in Nebraska?

Did these resources exist in Nebraska before the settlers came? Choose Yes or No.

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