Platte River

From Academic Kids

This article is about the Platte River in Nebraska. For other meanings see Platte River (disambiguation)
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The Platte River, showing the North Platte and South Platte

The Platte River is a tributary of the Missouri River, approximately 310 mi. (499 km) long in the western United States. One of the most significant river systems in the watershed of the Missouri, it drains a large portion of the central Great Plains in Nebraska and the eastern Rocky Mountains in Colorado and Wyoming. Although it is not navigable, the river was highly significant in the westerward expansion of the United States, providing the route for several major westward trails, including the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail. In the 18th century, it was also known among French fur trappers who explored it as the Nebraska River.


It is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte by the confluence of its two affluents, the South Platte and the North Platte rivers, both of which rise in the eastern Rockies near the continental divide. It flows in a large arc, southeast then northeast, across Nebraska south of the Sand Hills region, passing Gothenburg, Cozad, Kearney, and Grand Island. It is joined by the Loup River 5 mi (8 km) southeast of Columbus and flows east to Fremont, then south, passing south of Omaha and joining the Missouri 5 mi. (8 km) north of Plattsmouth. Combined with the length of the North Platte, the Platte stretches over 900 miles, with a drainage basin of 90,000 square miles.

The Platte drains one of the most arid areas of the Great Plains and thus its flow is considerably lower than rivers of comparable length in North America. For much of its length, it is a classic wide and shallow braided stream. During pioneer days, the common humorous description was that the Platte was "a mile wide and inch deep". In western Nebraska, the banks and riverbed of the Platte provide a green oasis amid an otherwise semi-arid region of North America. The central Platte River valley is an important stopover for migratory water birds, such as the Whooping Crane and Sandhill Crane, in their yearly traversal of the Central Flyway.


The first European to discover the Platte was the French explorer tienne de Veniard, sieur de Bourgmont in 1714, who named it the Nebraskier, an Oto word meaning "flat water". The French word for flat, Platte, was later applied. The river provided valuable transportation for the French trade in furs with the Pawnee and Oto native peoples.

The Platte lay in a gray area between Spanish and French claims in the Great Plains. Joseph Naranjo, a black explorer, had also encountered the Platte, and later guided the Villasur expedition there to stop French expansion. Theirs was the deepest penetration of Spanish exploration into the central plains.

Ceded to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase, the Platte was explored and mapped by Major Stephen H. Long in 1820. The Platte was used by American trappers, and played an important role in westward expansion during the 19th century. It provided fresh water, game, and a clear path westward for the pioneers. Both the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail followed the Platte (and the North Platte). In the 1860s, the Platte and North Platte furnished the route of Pony Express and later for the Union Pacific portion of the first transcontinental railroad. In the 20th century, its valley was used for the route of the Lincoln Highway and later for Interstate 80, which parallels the Platte (and the North Platte) through most of Nebraska.

See also



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