Keeping the Pace: Lincoln’s Pioneers Park

A few years after the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana, Mark Woods decided to take the train to Native American Territory and buy cattle. While there was still a feeling of hostility between some of the white settlers and the Native American tribes, trading and buying of cattle still occurred, and Mark Woods was interested in buying cattle.

Before the chiefs of the tribes would parlay, Mark had to wrestle the strongest brave of the tribe for the honor of sitting down to negotiate. The Native Americans did not know that Mark was captain of the wrestling team at the University of Nebraska, so his skills opened up many opportunities to buy cattle.

The cattle were then shipped by rail back to Lincoln where Burlington Northern Railroad had fattening pens in what is now Lincoln’s Pioneers Park.

Several years later Mr. Harris, President of Burlington, after having closed these pens, was hosting Mark Woods and Pace Woods Sr. in his New York City apartment. Mr. Harris was anxious to make a gift of some kind to the City of Lincoln. Mark suggested that he donate a park to the citizens in the land owned by Burlington west of the City.

The Harris family was so pleased with the idea that they also decided to donate several items of animal sculptures for the park. Mark agreed to donate evergreen trees and lilac bushes from his nursery then located south of Sheridan Blvd. and east of South 33rd. They were to line the south side of Van Dorn leading to the Park and south on Coddington to the Park entrance leading to the buffalo.

Buffalo statuary in Pioneers Park
Buffalo statuary in Pioneers Park, courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society

The buffalo with its green patina was to be the first piece of sculpture to arrive and later several other animals indigenous to Nebraska were to follow. The entrance to Pioneers Park was landscaped by Ernst Herminghaus and over the years has become a favorite of Lincoln’s citizens.

A few years after the buffalo was in place and the other sculpture had not arrived, City Hall decided that the buffalo would look better if painted with gilt. That decision so disturbed Mr. Harris that when he saw the result, he cancelled all the other animals which were to follow. While that decision by the City Hall was quickly reversed, the remaining sculpture has never arrived.

Pioneers Park has continued to be a place of beauty and growing activity and would not have occurred without the generosity of the Harris family and the Burlington Railroad.

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