Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2020

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Making Nebraska is a history of foreign relations and power politics between the Pawnee confederacy and the United States over the control and governance of the greater Platte Valley between 1803 and 1854. These groups never fought a war, but struggled over the meaning and use of power to control space at a transitional moment of North American history. While nominally part of the United States post-1803, the region remained outside the federal territorial system. Yet, this space was central to larger strategic and policy concerns over Indian Removal, territorial expansion, and the survival of the Pawnee as a nation. The struggles to create Nebraska reveal the hollowness of federal pretensions to continental dominance or hemispheric authority. The United States pushed its frontier, only for the space, and its Pawnee residents to push back. Leaders on both sides scrambled to make sense of their place at this interstitial moment in a space neither could fully control. The bilateral relationship forged new understandings of power politics on the Great Plains. This was not a story of settler colonialism, or of outright military conquest, but of a struggle between two rising powers and the results of extended diplomatic contact. Whether state power and authority were fixed at specific sites like Fort Atkinson at the Council Bluffs or mobile and expansive with far-ranging cavalry forces determined the narratives of control. Pawnee leaders used their military power to counter federal policies regarding Indian Removal and shape the development of the region as an Indian Territory. Pawnee power made the future Oklahoma, not Nebraska, Indian Territory. The crises of Sioux invasions, federal efforts to limit Pawnee mobility, and the social crisis of disease forced the Pawnee to recalibrate their strategic understandings of themselves and the spaces in which they lived. By adapting to the military world of the plains, federal officials limited the Pawnee ability to set the strategic framework of regional diplomacy. By containing Pawnee military power and refusing diplomatic overtures for alliances against the Sioux, the United States curbed independent Pawnee foreign and military policy. By the 1850s, Pawnee leaders looked to fixed notions of defense for national survival, while federal leaders adapted to a mobile military capable of enforcing an expansive, continental vision of control. Nebraska became Nebraska because the United States developed the mechanisms for and visions of the military domination of space.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Peter J. Kastor

Committee Members

Iver Bernstein, Elizabeth Borgwardt, Christine Johnson, Abram van Engen,