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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Prairie Settlement

[Detail] The David Hilton family near Weissert, Nebraska. 1887.

Prairie Settlement: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters comprises two individual collections housed at the Nebraska Historical Society. The Solomon D. Butcher Photograph Collection has some 3,500 photographs taken between 1886 and 1912. Butcher’s intent was to document the experience of homesteaders on the Great Plains. The second collection, the Uriah W. Oblinger Collection, contains nearly 3,000 pages of a variety of personal papers, but most importantly 318 letters written by Oblinger, his friends, and family between 1862 and 1911. Together, these collections provide important and interesting glimpses into the lives of homesteaders on the North American Great Plains—their homes, their farms, their family life, and their successes and failures. History topics include:


Before venturing into the collections themselves, reading the materials in such features as About The Collection and the special presentation The Oblinger Family and Their Letters is advisable. The latter is especially interesting and important for making sense of the letters sent back and forth among Oblinger family members and friends. A timeline of the major events chronicled in the part of the special presentation entitled About the Letters from the Uriah W. Oblinger Collection, along with a copy of the Oblinger family tree, could be very helpful to students as they work with the letters.

Note that materials in Prairie Settlement can be found in several ways. The letters can be browsed by correspondent and by date. Both the photographs and letters can be found through browsing by subject and keyword searching. Using the collection's two keyword search capabilities will produce different results:

  • "Search descriptive information" will retrieve photographs as well as letters.
  • "Search full text" will retrieve letters and other transcribed text sources.

Prairie Settlement spans two historical eras of American history—Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877, and Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915. The vast majority of the collection, however, focuses on the 1876-1915 period. Themes or topics related to this period that can be explored using the collection include the homestead act and homesteading; the Great Plains environment; Great Plains shelters; courtship and male-female relationships in the late 19th century; women's lives on the Great Plains; farming the Great Plains; and the 1890s.