EGP — Sample Entries

COCHRAN, EDDIE (1938-1960)

Eddie Cochran, the pioneering rock'n'roll songwriter, singer, and guitarist with the James Dean good looks, was a product of a Plains background, even though his place of birth remains disputed. Some rock references maintain that he was born in Oklahoma City; others have him coming into the world at Albert Lea, Minnesota. The date, October 3, 1938, is not in dispute. Nor is the fact that his parents moved from Oklahoma City to Albert Lea at some point during the 1930s. Cochran himself claimed Oklahoma City as his hometown, and the country and western music which his parents had absorbed in Oklahoma was a formative influence on the young musician.

By the time the family moved on to California, in 1953, Eddie Cochran was an accomplished guitarist. He started his career as back-up guitarist to hillbilly singer Hank Cochran (not related), but the big break came when he teamed up with songwriter Jerry Capehart and obtained a recording contract with Liberty. The hits started coming in 1957, and he soared into prominence in 1958 with "Summertime Blues," that raucous outburst of teenage frustration and rebelliousness. More hits followed, including "C'mon Everybody" and "Somethin' Else," and Cochran seemed positioned to move up alongside Elvis Presley as a superstar when, in 1960, he embarked on a tour of Britain with his friend Gene Vincent. The tour was a great success; both artists were already superstars in Britain. Cochran played his last concert at the Bristol Hippodrome on April 16. The following day, Easter Sunday, on the way to London Airport, their car crashed into a lamppost, killing Cochran and badly injuring Vincent.

Eddie Cochran, despite this early death, had lasting impact on rock music. Many artists, including the Sex Pistols and, most famously, The Who, have recorded his songs. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

David Wishart
University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Buffalo hunter, scout, soldier, and western showman, William F. Cody is one of the most widely-recognizable figures to emerge from the nineteenth-century Great Plains. More popularly known as "Buffalo Bill," Cody was born on February 26, 1846 in Scott County, Iowa. The Cody family moved to the Great Plains in 1854, settling near Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory. When his father Isaac died in 1857, Cody left school to help support the family. He held a variety of jobs, including ox-team driver, express messenger (for the transportation firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell), and Pony Express rider. During the early years of the Civil War he operated with an irregular Kansas-based militia unit and in 1864 he enlisted as a private in the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, seeing action in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Tennessee. While stationed in St. Louis he met and married Louisa Frederici; the couple had four children.

In the years after the Civil War, Cody ran a hotel, drove a stagecoach, and worked periodically as a scout and guide for the Army. In 1867-68 Cody earned the nickname "Buffalo Bill" by supplying buffalo meat to the Kansas Pacific Railroad; he killed roughly 4280 bison during his eight month contract. From 1868 to 1872, Cody served as a civilian scout for the 5th United States Cavalry. He fought in at least nineteen battles against Plains Indians and was awarded the Medal of Honor (though in 1916 a Congressional act removed his name and all other civilian winners from the rolls). In 1872 General Philip Sheridan assigned Cody to guide a buffalo hunt for the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia. This highly publicized hunt, along with a 1869 serial story in the New York Weekly by dime novelist Ned Buntline (titled "Buffalo Bill, the King of the Border Men"), made Cody a national hero and helped set the stage for his acting career. Cody made his first stage appearance in 1872 when he appeared in Buntline's "Scouts of the Prairie." For the next decade Cody scouted for the army, guided hunting parties, and toured as an actor with various shows.

Cody launched his own wild west show on May 17, 1883 in Omaha, Nebraska. Buffalo Bill's Wild West show operated from 1883 to 1913, touring Europe and appearing at diverse American venues such places as Madison Square Garden in New York City (1886) and at the Chicago World's Fair (1893), where six million people saw the show. In 1899 alone, the show traveled more than 11,000 miles and gave 341 performances in 132 cities. Cody's outdoor extravaganza included romanticized re-enactments of the Pony Express and the Battle of Summit Springs, horse races, roping demonstrations, gunfights, and target shooting. The cast of characters included Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa Lakota leader), Annie Oakley ("Little Sure Shot"), and Buck Taylor ("King of the Cowboys"). Although Cody's show was a profitable business operation, he was a poor businessmen, and by 1913 his show had failed. Heavily in debt, Cody toured as the "main attraction" for other wild west shows until 1916.

Cody was both a real frontier hero who participated in the conquest of the American West and a western showman who promoted and perpetuated the "Winning of the West" as a romantic venture. Buffalo Bill Cody died in Denver, Colorado on January 10, 1917.

Mark R. Ellis
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Rosa, Joseph, and Robin May. Buffalo Bill and His Wild West. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1989.
Russell, Don. The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.


The International Peace Garden was created to commemorate over 150 years of peace between the United States and Canada. Straddling the world's longest unguarded international boundary, it is situated in the scenic Turtle Mountains between North Dakota and Manitoba, and half way between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Just inside the main entrance, beneath the flags of both nations, a marker is inscribed, "To God in his glory, we two nations dedicate this garden and pledge ourselves that as long as man shall live, we will not take up arms against one another."

Inspiration for the Garden began with Dr. Henry Moore of Islington, Ontario. On July 14, 1932 his idea became a reality as over 50,000 people gathered to dedicate this monument to peace. Spreading over 2,339 acres, the Garden displays a spectacular mosaic of flowers, trees, fountains, and paths. Visitors can stroll through the formal gardens, camp under aspen and oaks, or even get married in the Peace Chapel. The most prominent structure, the Peace Tower, with its four pillars, stands over 100 feet tall right on the international boundary. More than a horticulturalist's dream, the Garden hosts concerts, arts festivals, and renowned youth summer camps in music and athletics. In total, over 250,000 people visit the Garden each summer and help renew this pledge of friendship between Canada and the United States.

Sonja Rossum
University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Green, Sheldon. "A Garden for Peace. North Dakota Horizons. Vol.21 No.3 summer 1991.


Unlike many Plains Indians who moved into the area relatively recently, the Pawnee are longtime residents of the Great Plains. Linguistic and archaeologic evidence indicates that the Pawnee, specifically the Skiri band, have roots in central Nebraska extending back at least as far as the sixteenth century, and perhaps even further to the Upper Republican peoples who occupied villages along the Republican and Loup rivers from 1100 AD to 1400 AD. This stock was subsequently reinforced by recurrent migrations of other Caddoan-speaking bands from the Southern Great Plains during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Pawnees' own traditions speak of an origin in the southwestern United States, then a slow migration north leaving their relatives, the Wichita, on the southern Plains. Linguistic analysis suggests that this split occurred in the first few centuries A.D.

By 1800 the Pawnee were a loose confederation of four bands--the Skiri (Loup), Chawi (Grand), Kitkahahki (Republican), and Pitahawirata (Tappage). Their combined population, according to Lewis and Clark, was 6850. The Skiri lived in a large village (20 to 40 acres in extent) on a terrace of the Loup River near present-day Palmer, Nebraska; the Chawi occupied two villages on the south side of the Platte River near Bellwood and Linwood; and the Kitkahahki lived to the south on the Republican River between Red Cloud and Guide Rock. By 1811, under pressure from the Kansa, the Kitkahahki moved north to the Loup. The location of the Pitahawirata village, if indeed it was separate from the Chawi sites, is unknown.

Each band was largely independent of the others, with its own chiefs, priests, and ceremonies. The Skiri, especially, maintained an independent stance from the other three bands. The identity of each band was encapsulated in their village bundles, the bison hide packs which contained sacred icons and which represented the peoples' original charter with the gods. Every step in the year's cycle of activities was sanctified by the bundles.

The traditional annual cycle of the Pawnee began in April when the first thunder from the south announced that it was time to clear the fields for cultivation. Corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers were planted by the women along the river floodplains. In late June, when the crops were well established, the Pawnee left for their summer bison hunt. They returned to the villages in late August and harvested and stored their crops. In early November they again abandoned their villages for the bison range, where they remained until March, hunting and camping on the upper reaches of the Republican, Smokey Hill, Solomon, and Platte rivers. The bison hunts not only provided meat and most of the Indians' raw materials, but also allowed the Pawnee and their horses (of which there were 6000 in 1806) to spread their subsistence base over an extensive area. This annual cycle was a successful adaptation to the transitional environment of the Great Plains, and in most years the Pawnee produced a food surplus and flourished as the dominant power on the Central Plains.

In the nineteenth century the traditional lifestyle of the Pawnee was seriously disrupted by war and disease. Their population in 1800 was already only a fraction of the 15,000 or 20,000 people the villages had sustained in previous years. Smallpox struck in 1798, then again in 1831, taking at least half their population in one winter. After each epidemic, the Pawnee partly recovered, but after 1831 diseases struck with increased frequency and the population went on a downward spiral that was reversed only after 1906.

Also after 1831, the Pawnee found themselves caught in a vise, pressed by the Dakota from the north and by the expanding American frontier to the east. From that time until their departure from Nebraska in 1876, the Pawnee lived under the shadow of attack. Hunts and harvests were disrupted, food supplies became more precarious, and death rates soared. In the 1840s, mounting traffic along the Oregon Trail led to the depletion of timber and grass, and the bison were driven west beyond the forks of the Platte. By 1854, when Nebraska Territory was opened to settlers, the Pawnee were a beleaguered people.

Traditionally, the territory occupied and claimed by the Pawnee reached from the Niobrara to the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers. The southern part of this territory was sold to the United States in 1833, and subsequent sessions left the Pawnee with only a small reservation, later Nance County, Nebraska, on the Loup River. There between 1857 and 1876 their population dropped to fewer than 2000 people, and settlers increasingly hemmed in their lives. In the early 1870s, a series of disasters, including a massacre by the Dakota in southwest Nebraska in 1873 and the destruction of the crops by drought and grasshoppers, persuaded the Pawnee to relinquish their reservation and take up residency near the Wichita in Indian Territory.

The migration south and subsequent problems of adjusting to the new homeland resulted in further population decline, the nadir being reached in 1906 when only 650 Pawnee remained. In 1892, the Pawnee accepted individual allotments, and the remainder of their reservation was sold to settlers. The Pawnee were given $30,000 a year for this land. Many of their traditions were forgotten, and ceremonies lapsed. Their culture was resilient, however, and their rich traditions were preserved in the early twentieth century by James Murie, a member of the Skiri band. In 1936 the Pawnee gained tribal government recognition under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. Their identity was further reinforced by lengthy and successful claims case litigation before the Indian Claims Commission from 1946 to 1962. The Pawnee were eventually awarded $7,316,096 for lands in Nebraska and Oklahoma that had been taken from them for an ``unconscionably'' low payment in the nineteenth century.

Today the Pawnee population numbers nearly 2,400, most of whom live around the headquarters of the tribal council in Pawnee, Oklahoma. The tribe owns 726 acres, and another 19,399 acres are allotted to individuals. Unemployment stands at 25 per cent. The Pawnee are governed by a council consisting of a president, vice-president, and five council members.

David Wishart
University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Blaine, Martha Royce. Pawnee Passage: 1870-1875. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.
Weltfish, Gene. The Lost Universe: Pawnee Life and Culture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
Wishart, David J. An Unspeakable Sadness: The Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.


For most nineteenth-century European Americans the Great Plains represented primarily a transportation challenge, a vast expanse that had to be crossed to get access to greater riches beyond its boundaries. The Santa Fe Trail, the principal trade route connecting the eastern United States and the Southwest, was one of the most successful solutions to that challenge. The trail was opened in 1821, when newly independent Mexico abolished restrictive Spanish laws and allowed foreign traders to enter its New Mexican outposts. The first to capitalize on the new markets was William Becknell, a struggling Missouri merchant who arrived in Santa Fe in the fall of 1821 and sold his goods at a huge profit. The following year, Becknell ventured again from Franklin, Missouri to Santa Fe, pioneering the Cimarron Cutoff across the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Becknell had tapped a vast commercial potential. The isolated New Mexicans had surpluses of mules, silver, and furs, but they lacked manufactured goods, and therefore were eager to have an access to United States markets. Stimulated by mutual benefits, the trade flourished. During the following six decades, first dozens, then hundreds, and finally thousands of wagons moved each year along the Santa Fe Trail, carrying calico, leather goods, hardware, clothing, beaver pelts, and silver coins across the Plains. By the 1850s, the annual value of merchandise shipped over the trail exceeded $5 million. The trail served as a commercial artery until 1880, when the completion of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad made it obsolete.

By the 1830s, a generally accepted routine had developed along the trail. The traders usually left Independence, Missouri (Franklin, the first terminus, was destroyed by a flood in 1828) in mid-May, when the Plains grasses were tall enough to provide sufficient forage for draft animals. Most traders used Murphy wagons, three feet wide and sixteen feet long canvas- topped vehicles with four-inch-thick iron tires to protect the wooden wheels during the arduous, 775-mile trek. After ten days of travel, the traders paused at Council Grove, where they gathered into larger caravans, which were led by an elected captain and division lieutenants, and typically consisted of twenty-five freight wagons and 300 oxen and mules. After the break, the caravans headed toward the Big Bend of the Arkansas, travelling ten to fifteen miles a day. The wagon trains followed the northern flank of the Arkansas valley to the Middle Crossing, where the trail divided into two branches. The longer Mountain Branch followed the Arkansas River to Bent's Fort, then proceeded southwest through the Raton Pass to its destination. The more heavily trafficked Cimarron Cutoff first crossed the Cimarron Desert and then followed a direct route to Santa Fe.

Whichever route they chose, the caravans could not escape the harsh Plains elements dry spells, torrential rains, wolves, fires, and stampeding bison herds. River crossings were particularly troublesome. Although shallow, Plains rivers were filled with sinkholes, quicksand, and other hazards, which required careful maneuvering. The traders also needed flexible Indian policies. The caravans moved in parallel columns that could be quickly formed into a protective corral to rebuff raiders, but they had to be equally ready to welcome trading parties with gifts of coffee, bacon, and tobacco. As the Native economies began to crumble the raids intensified, making the Santa Fe trade a dangerous business. Besides physical landmarks, such as the double-peaked Rabbit Ears on the Cimarron Cutoff, the trail was in later years marked by an unbroken string of destroyed wagons and animal remains.

The Santa Fe Trail played a crucial role in shaping North American history. It was critical in absorbing New Mexico in the American commercial orbit, and after the United States-Mexican War, in incorporating the province into the national economy. During the California Gold Rush, the trail also took thousands of forty-niners across the Plains. As for the Plains itself, the trail increased geographic knowledge of rivers, springs, and topography and made Bent's Fort one of the most lucrative commercial centers in the West. But the Santa Fe Trail also launched the European American assault on the Plains ecosystem. The iron-rimmed wheels and the hundreds of thousands of animals and people destroyed native vegetation, accelerated erosion, polluted springs, brought new diseases, and disturbed bison herds. By the 1850s, the Arkansas valley, once the haven for the Indians and bison, had become a mile-wide dust highway.

Pekka Hamalainen
University of Helsinki

Brown, William E. The Santa Fe Trail: The National Park Service 1963 Historic Sites Survey. The Patrice Press, St. Louis, 1988.
Walker, Henry Pickering. The Wagonmasters: High Plains Freighting from the Earliest Days of the Santa Fe Trail to 1880. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966.
West, Elliott. The Way to the West: Essays on the Central Plains. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.


The Texas Rangers are the oldest state law enforcement agency in the United States. Throughout their storied history they have gone through several transformations and have performed an array of duties. A symbol of the American West and immortalized in film and print, the Texas Rangers have a world-wide reputation and are mentioned in the same breath with such elite law enforcement agencies as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Scotland Yard.

The origins of the Texas Rangers date back to 1823 when Stephan F. Austin appointed ten frontiersmen to defend the nascent Texas settlements from Indian attacks. These early ranger companies operated as loosely organized and irregular units until 1835 when a more permanent body was created. When the Texas Revolution broke out in 1836, the rangers served in a limited capacity as scouts, couriers, and escorts. Several Rangers died defending the Alamo.

The Texas Rangers played an important role in defending the frontier under the Lone Star flag of the Republic of Texas. Under the leadership of Captain John "Jack" Coffee Hays, the rangers became an experienced and feared fighting unit. Their effective use of the Colt revolver helped popularize the weapon. During the Mexican American War (1846-48), Hays' rangers served as scouts, spies, and cavalrymen under Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. Mounted and heavily armed, the Texas Rangers earned a reputation as fiercely independent fighters. Because of their ruthless pursuit of Mexican guerrillas and their rough treatment of citizens, their Mexican counterparts labeled them "Los Diablos Tejanos" (Texas Devils).

From the end of the Mexican-American War to 1874, the rangers saw little action. The United States Army guarded the Texas frontier, leaving the rangers with few responsibilities. The Texas Rangers reappeared in 1874 when the state legislature created several ranger companies to deal with Indian attacks in west Texas, Mexican bandits along the Rio Grande River, and with the growing number of outlaws and desperadoes that infested Texas. In a military role, they assisted the United States Army in crushing Comanche and Kiowa resistance during the 1870s. As lawmen, the Texas Rangers traveled thousands of miles while tracking criminals. They gained fame by restoring peace in such civil conflicts as the Sutton-Taylor Feud and by capturing Great Plains outlaws such as gunfighter John Wesley Hardin and train robber Sam Bass.

With the end of the Indian wars and the general establishment of law and order, the duties and responsibilities of the rangers changed. In the 1910s and 1920s, rangers guarded the Mexico-Texas border from Mexican revolutionaries, enforced prohibition laws, and policed oil boom towns. In 1935, the Texas Rangers became a professional law enforcement unit when they were incorporated along with the state highway patrol into the newly created Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Since then, they have been the investigative body of the DPS. The modern day ranger travels by car, plane, boat, helicopter, and only occasionally by horse. They still do not wear a uniform; the ranger badge is the only common accouterment worn by all rangers. Although their numbers remain small only 106 rangers were on duty in 1997 the Texas Rangers continue to be the elite of Texas law enforcement.

Mark R. Ellis
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Gillett, James B. Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875-1881. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1925. Samora, Julian, Bernal, Joe, and Pena, Albert. Gunpowder Justice: A Reassessment of the Texas Rangers. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979. Webb, Walter Prescott. The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965.