03 June 2013

Archive of the Great American Sandhills

The Archive of the Great American Sandhills ™ is an electronic resource of historic information compiled during a personal effort during at the past two decades, with tinges of the effort prior to early-1990s. The compilation has many different and individually interesting details of history associated with this dune region of north-central Nebraska and extreme south-central South Dakota. Each and every expression by so many authoritative and unique authors, or perhaps by an anonymous correspondent, has been something special to discover, read and consider, and then add to a record of the area's heritage.

There has been no particular focus on any specific subject or area, but rather, is inclusive of any sort of published items from the areas earliest history through modern times including current days. Content has been organized in a standard manner since its inception, and conforms to a rigid structure to ensure that any item is suitably indicated within a defined set of parameters that conform to a standard method of documentation and presentation.

Only a trivial extent of this e-compilation is currently available online.

Content Considerations

Particular details, once discovered, are denoted within one of more than fifty data tables within a relational database, of which two are most essential: a sources table which is basically a bibliography and a sites table indicating more than 3,450 unique locations, each one having a unique name to which all of the source materials are referenced.

The actual content, including basically text and images — since its first origins — has been saved in a web-standard, html format. A paper copy of most of the original the items is also available, with photocopies also stored, and kept hither and yon in too many boxes.

Essential details could not have been suitably kept without the use of a computer-based record keeping method, in particular, database software. The initial database — focused upon personally gathered records of bird occurrence that had been kept separate text files but which was found to not be suitable — was created in 1992 using Paradox for DOS software. Information then available was transferred and expanded into the Access database program (version 2) in 1994. Access 97 — though now completely outdated — is the database software still being used for the multi-table, relational database. This essential file has not been updated due to limitations of computer hardware and software.

This archive was essentially, first established in April, 1995 as the online Heritage of the Nebraska Sandhills website using a format that seemed at the time to be suited to online presentation (i.e., an interactive "help" file format that provided links and allowed context searching). The content presented then and through 1998 was done with the assistance of a few hundred dollars grant from the Sandhills Task Force. Eventually all of the content was removed from online presentation as the presentation of the information could not be accomplished using the software and presentation methods then available.

This content summary was first prepared on September 30, 1999 when information was designated to the title Sandhills University™ E-Library and Database. The Great American Sandhills™ Collection attribution was used on March 11, 2006. In June 2013, the content title was revised to Archive of the Great American Sandhills™.

With an ongoing focus on finding new information of significance, record counts are accurate, but approximate since new material is continually being added, especially from regular searches of web-based content. The core database is about 46.7 megabytes in extent (June 1, 2013), while overall the archive comprises more than 10,200 files, and more than 425 megabytes of computer files.

This recordbase is representative, but not comprehensive as that has not been possible with this personal initiative which has not had any significant monetary support. There is a great variety of pertinent articles in current and historic newspapers which could be a source for many more additional articles with vivid historic details. Undoubtedly, there could be 10,000 items in the bibliographic table, if all sources, especially county newspapers, were carefully considered and properly reviewed.

Related material which is already part of the Archives and Special Collections at UNL include text and photographs in the Frank H. Shoemaker collection and the Great American Sand Hills collection of photographs captured from 1979 to 2006, which are the original picture negatives and slides donated by James E. Ducey in August, 2005 and which comprise the Great American Sandhills Collection. Many of these photographs have been used to illustrate numerous stories written about people and places in the sandhills. His contributions to the history of Nebraska include a contribution of more than 1025 articles which established the content for the distinctive Birds of Nebraska archive presented by the Electronic Text Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


This recordset is a primary table within the database. It denotes details for more than 7140 citations representing a vast number of articles, primarily from newspapers, as well as magazine stories, university reports, government documents, web columns or any other available items. Specifics include: 5000 items tally on February 10, 2002 with additions from the Omaha Bee News; then, 6001 on April 27, 2006; 6300 on June 8, 2007; 7000 on June 16, 2012 upon adding two U.S. patent documents associated with Dr. A.J. Plumer and the Dumbell Ranch, etc. Each citation includes specific details of the source publication, including when issued, etc. to an extent that the source is obvious.

Each reference is designated to a specific topic, with 108 categories, and to a specified location. The precision varies, as a specific site is given if possible, but when a generalistic presentation or specific locality details are not indicated, an alternative, broader locality is used.

The first articles included in the archive are from the mid-1850s, with a continuous record of items for every year, starting in 1855. More than 6,100 of the bibliographic items are attributed to a specific date of publication (starting in 1856). More than 4100 are transcribed in their entirety (or an abstract) and saved in *.htm or *.pdf format files. Particular attention has been given to presenting articles from 1855-1879 in their entirety, with more than 470 distinctive articles accurately transcribed.

Several hundred images are included among the material, either being derived from a source such as a digital camera, or having been scanned and saved in a suitable, digital format. Efforts have been taken to ensure a quality result, which has meant many hours of digital editing to remove defects or other unwanted details which are "artifacts" which are false features.

Some modern-era stories are included in the archival content for personal use. A copyright applies, so they cannot be distributed in the public domain, unless through the fair use provision, or through written permission from the publisher.

Land History

Transcription of notes for the original land office surveys of the entire region, including South Dakota townships. Similar information provided for any later resurveys. Some graphic images are included that denote specific highlights. A database indicates survey dates and historic features. Township maps are available online at the Nebraska state surveyor's website.


Sand Hill sites: locality information for 3460 distinct sites, including local place-names not designated on standard topographic maps. Any specified site is a unique name. These places are used to indicate each and every locality for a data item designation if it can be accurately determined (i.e., bird locales, community columns, historic events, flora notes, news articles ...). Information includes known alternate name(s), legal description and quadrangle, etc. Geocoding is needed for the locales, which could then allow each item in the archive to be readily mapped using standard geospatial software ... each location and its associated history could then be readily depicted on a dynamic, interactive map using readily available online mapping methods.
Landmark history: 5,225 records for the many different geographic places among the dunes (i.e., canyon, creek, hill, lake, table, valley, peak, spring, swamp). Where possible, unique names associated with a place which are not given on an official map, are included.
Town history: distinct details indicated for 4,011 records associated with towns, villages and post-offices; some town plat and related images are included.

Natural History

• List of amphibians and reptiles; records for bees and beetles, and sphinx moths; more than 100 bug images.
Bird records: more than 146,900 records (with over 130,000 on April 27, 2006) for 1,595 distinct sites since early in 1887. Records prior to this time are denoted in an alternative database. The tally is 52,996 J.E. Ducey observations (50,015 records on June 24, 2006; record 50k was for chimney swifts at Bassett), for 986 locations gathered during surveys initiated in May, 1982, with records available in each subsequent year through 2011. Included are additional records from some checklists for federal government properties which do not include date details, especially for federal wildlife refuges. These specifics for the region's avifauna are not available elsewhere and comprise the only known comprehensive source that indicates the actual occurrence of a myriad of birds on a particular date at a specific place.
Bird species: scientific name and species features for 407 distinct species as well as other sorts of birds noted in a more general manner, such as duck. The most recent addition was the Black-bellied Whistling Duck in the spring of 2012.
Fish: list of species and 2,943 records of occurrence, including those gathered during Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality surveys.
Plants: list of more than 1,000 species with more than 5,500 records; further editing of common names is needed.
Wolf records: 611 records of the wolf: either Gray Wolf (288 particular records) or prairie wolf (coyote).

Social History

Auctions, stock sales and public sales: more than 1485 records, with a representative 65 conveyed in a digital format.
Biography: 6,139 records, with about 1080 in digital format, with more than 100 images; numerous details from Blaine, Brown, Cherry, Loup, Grant and Rock county histories were added mid-February to mid-March 2006.
Farmer list: 6,012 entries from the 1890 Nebraska State Gazetteer for central sandhill's counties (data entry 08/2006). This is a composite list rather than items for a particular county.
Business Gazetteer: 4,190 records, with a sample of ads which have been scanned and saved as digital graphics.
Correspondents: 43,209 records of community news columns with more than 38,425 designated to a particular locality. These columns note the events of the local neighborhood, and notably have vivid details about residents and activities. More than 800 are in a digital format, including the first and oldest for the region.
Historic buildings: summary of building information from Nebraska Historic Buildings surveys; includes 368 images and 244 diagrams.
Livestock brands: 1,269 record entries from about 1875 to 1925, with multiple entries for some brand owners for different years; a few hundred have been indicated on a cow graphic to replicate newspaper advertisements by the ranchers of the era.
Tribal language: 542 terms from the 1860s, when Native Americans still occurred in the region, although there is overall, few details of the Indian presence within the region.

With regular and ongoing updates of content, this resource, if online — would be a vibrant community for people interested in educational uses, historical endeavors, genealogists and others. This single-source compilation has a broad range of information not available elsewhere; for example, genealogy sites typically focus on a single county and are not regularly updated. The vast majority of this content is not available online, since it would be essential that it be organized with a spacial geography perspective as the primary manner for its presentation.

This is post number 1000 at Wildbirds Broadcasting.