David L. Bristow

Regional Interest—Nebraska and Iowa


Wherever you are, there are great stories waiting to be uncovered. I encourage young writers to explore their own corner of the world. Here’s what I’ve found in mine.



A Dirty, Wicked Town:

Tales of 19th Century Omaha


Now in its fourth printing from Caxton Press (distributed by University of Nebraska Press). Read an excerpt at Google Books.


"If you want to find a rogue's rookery, go to Omaha." —Kansas City newspaper, 1873.


Harper's Magazine advised travelers to go around it.


Rudyard Kipling was both fascinated and appalled by it.


A newspaper in Kansas City found it a "fitting subject for the prayers of a nation."


But scores of settlers, bullwhackers, gamblers, politicians, and con men saw the future in it. And somehow, almost in spite of itself, Omaha, Nebraska, grew from a speculative scheme in 1854 to a booming city by the turn of the century. Along the way, it generated scores of great stories, some of which I tell in this book. All the stories in the book are true—they only read like fiction.


"...a wonderful and scandalous new book" —Roger Welsch, bestselling author and former CBS Sunday Morning personality

"Bristow's book... is one that any person with even the most fleeting interest in American history will find very enjoyable... a well-written and thoughtful book of history."Lincoln Journal-Star

Filled with rambunctious characters and stories, David Bristow's history of 19th century Omaha is a fast-paced read and a most entertaining book. Once you pick it up, you won't want to put it down."Grassroots Nebraska






A few Nebraska and Iowa historical articles from various publications:


"We Just Wanted to Swim, Sir." Forty-five years ago, Omaha's NAACP Youth Council challenged a segregated Peony Park—and won. February 5, 2009, cover story at The Reader.


Inkpaduta's Revenge. A century and a half later, the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857 remains Iowa's most notorious crime. (Gold Medal Winner. Named year's best historical feature by the International Regional Magazine Association.)  PDF.


Saving a Great Vision. Poet John G. Neihardt and Lakota holy man Black Elk and the collaboration that led to the classic Black Elk Speaks. PDF.


The Enduring Mari Sandoz. Old Jules' daughter overcame poverty and abuse to become one of the Great Plains' finest writers. PDF.


Lane's Army. Kansas-bound pioneers cross Iowa during the summer of 1856. They plan to settle peacefully—if Col. Jim Lane doesn't start a civil war. PDF.


Swingin' with Preston Love. An interview with the noted Omaha jazz saxophonist and bandleader about music, race, and the thrill of getting his big break with the Count Basie Orchestra. PDF.


And a pioneer diary with an introduction by David Bristow:

To Nebraska in 1857: A Diary of E.F. Beadle. Beadle's diary is one of the liveliest first-person accounts of life in territorial Omaha. Here is the complete text, with a new introduction.




Omaha hired its first “city scavenger” in 1881. His job was to remove dead animals from public property. He was paid $1 for each horse, mule, or cow. Pigs, goats, and calves brought 25˘. Chickens, ducks, dogs, etc., brought a dime apiece.


Before that, dead animals were usually left to rot.

Image of front cover of A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tales of 19th Century Omaha, by David L. Bristow

I’m one of the writers and historians interviewed on Nebraska Educational Television’s “Devil Clouds” documentary about the 1913 Omaha tornado. View the entire program at NET’s website (click link above).