Reforming Beef

Introduction

Hereford Ranch

Hereford Ranch
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2608-3330

As Nebraska entered the 20th century, its ranchers had learned from ranching experiments of the 1870s and 1880s and the Depression of 1898. Ranchers did well with their improved herds and high demand. Meatpacking was by far the state’s leading business. Cattle ruled Nebraska’s economy.

"Splitting Beeves" (early French term for bison and later beef); Packing Houses, South Omaha, Nebraska; Postcard, Oct 12, 1909

"Splitting Beeves" (early French term for bison and later beef); Packing Houses, South Omaha, Nebraska; Postcard, Oct 12, 1909
But there were also big problems.

The jobs provided by the expanding stockyards and packing plants attracted a wave of new immigrants to South Omaha. And particularly during World War I, large numbers of African Americans migrated from middle southern states (like Missouri and Arkansas) to Omaha to work in the packing houses. The black population swelled from just under 4,500 in 1910 to over 10,000 in 1920.

Will Brown, from the Omaha Bee, September 26, 1919

Will Brown, from the Omaha Bee, September 26, 1919
Read more about it: Will Brown’s story

When the war ended, returning soldiers found that their jobs were now occupied by African Americans, creating serious racial tension. This tension exploded in the fall of 1919 when a packing house worker, a black man named Will Brown, was accused of assaulting a white woman. Brown was lynched, and then shot; and it took the U. S. Army to come in to restore order. Brown suffered from rheumatism, and later reports determined he was physically incapable of committing the accused crimes.

Racism wasn’t the only problem involving beef in the early 20th century. Omaha’s stockyards and packing industry struggled with labor and health issues. And ranchers and farmers still had serious conflicts over land usage. Big problems needed big reforms.

Read more about it:

The Gate City: A History of Omaha

Find out about the award-winning, Sandhills quilter, Grace Snyder,
who incorporated her ranch life into her quilts.