The Coast of Nebraska

“The Platte River dominates Nebraska geography, and its dominant characteristic is its flatness. ‘Nebraska’ is the approximate Omaha Indian equivalent for ‘flat water,’ and the French word ‘Platte’ is synonymous. The earliest explorers and emigrants sometimes used ‘Nebraska’ to refer to the river and not the territory. Thus, ‘Coast of Nebraska’ and ‘Coast of the Platte’ were interchangeable. It is not known who invented the term, but it was used by the explorers John C. Fremont and Howard Stansbury and appears in occasional emigrant journals and in late-period travelogues. It was not widely used, but it expresses beautifully the impact upon the emigrants of this strange river which made possible a road which would take them to the Continental Divide and California. The term is particularly poetic in its imagery, for the vast shimmering flatness of the Platte valley, at the edge of the sand dunes, did have a remarkable resemblance to the seashore of the Atlantic Ocean. It was prophetic that this first exposure to the Platte produced an eerie, unearthly (or at least unfamiliar) atmosphere that created an aura for the remaining journey.”