Prairie Settlement

About the Collection

For nearly forty years the photographs of Solomon D. Butcher and the letters of Uriah W. Oblinger and his family have been used to tell the story of settlement on the Great Plains in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Butcher's images visually document the settlers, their homesteads, and worldly goods in the harsh environment of the Nebraska Sand Hills. The Oblinger collection gives a voice to Butcher's photographs, in letters that not only express the hopes and fears of many homesteaders, but also offer candid descriptions of daily life on the prairie. The intellectual content of each collection is substantial and together they provide a compelling look at a pivotal time in the history of the American West.

The Solomon D. Butcher Photograph Collection

The Solomon D. Butcher Collection comprises nearly 3,500 glass plate negatives crafted between 1886 and 1912. It was the photographer's intention to record the process of homesteading, which he shrewdly

More about Butcher and the collection
recognized as a transient, yet important, epoch in the story of the American West. Butcher's photographs are not confined strictly to the homesteading experience. They document the construction of a new way of life; a new way of living never before attempted.

The Butcher photographs are presented here in three forms. Researchers may choose to save time and view only the thumbnail or the medium size file. For those with considerable patience, a larger file, 3,000 pixels wide, is available for download. This file will offer the most detail and open the doors for an intimate view of the image. A word of caution, however; these files each average 2MB as a jpeg, so it will take time to download them for viewing.

Letters from the Uriah W. Oblinger Collection

The Uriah W. Oblinger Collection contains a variety of papers relating to the Oblinger family. The most important items are 318 letters written by family members, relatives, friends, and associates between 1862 and 1911. The letters are significant because the story of the Oblinger family is so typical of the Plains homesteading experience. Uriah was from Indiana, which, along with Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin, are known as the "Baby States," referring to the fact that most homesteaders first settled in those states and had children before moving to the Plains. Like many homesteaders, Oblinger was a Civil War veteran. Like many, he came west with other family members and they settled together in a rural neighborhood. Like many, he lost a wife and children. Like many, he lost his homestead and spent the remainder of his life trying to regain land to call his own.

image of a quill
More about the Oblinger family and the letters

Both transcripts and high quality scans of the original letters have been made available through this project. The transcripts are intended as a tool to aid researchers in using and understanding the original letters, not as a definitive, fully annotated electronic edition. They may be viewed as both HTML and SGML documents. Some technological issues affect how the transcripts appear on screen; for details see the Editorial Procedures document in the "Building the Digital Collection" section of this site. In addition, they are meant to reproduce only the content of the letters, not their appearance. Readers should not fail to view the scanned images of the original letters, because the transcripts cannot reproduce the nuances of personality that the original letters convey through handwriting, decoration, and a host of other details.

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