Once known as the “Magic City,” the town of South Omaha exploded in population between the years of its founding in 1868 and its zenith as the site of the largest stockyards in the world. Since 1868, South Omaha grew exponentially; residents immigrated here from a host of countries in Europe and South America. The story of South Omaha is one of risk, dedication, perseverance, and above all, the grueling labor of immigrants. Growing out of the muddy gully of a wild west town, South Omaha became the center for the meat industry in the Midwest. While wealthy investors and exchange commissioners provided the framework for the economy of the stockyards to flourish here, it was the work of the labor forces that maintained this industry which provided the impetus for thousands of immigrants to settle here in hopes of creating a life that would provide for their children and offer them a better future.
Not only did the stockmen, slaughterers and meat packers contribute to the economy of South Omaha; they also fabricated the rich and diverse culture of our neighborhoods. Each neighborhood had its specialty shops, restaurants and bars, cultural centers, and places of worship that catered to the taste of home for our immigrant ancestors. But this cultural connectedness was not without conflict. Certainly territorial disputes, racism, and discrimination left a print on such a colorful city. While we may recall some dark days in our history, we also must acknowledge the common values of all the residents. It was because of the respect for hard work held by the men and women of the Stockyards and packing houses, that there was some measure of unity among the various ethnic groups who made South Omaha home. Reliance upon one another to contribute to the work made concern over race of little importance. Today we see the same values persevere among the residents today. Still largely an immigrant population, South Omaha is as diverse as it ever was. In the neighborhoods and business areas of the town, honor in labor, education, perseverance and concern for one’s neighbor are presented in the small businesses and family atmosphere of South Omaha.
Click below on the thumbnails to read more about the imagery on the mural.
Originally arriving by train, the animals brought to the stockyards were sold to packing houses. These figures represent the businessmen, John A. Creighton, Herman Kountz, and William Paxton who formed the union stockyards. Also included is Doris wellman, the first woman commissioner who sold the animals at the market.
On the left is Everett Buckingham, a well-respected, philanthropic president of the Union Stockyards when the iconic building was erected in 1926. Rowena Moore was a strong activist for women, especially black women gaining access to jobs in the packing houses. On the right is Sam Greenberg, the founder of Philip's Department store. Goodman was dubbed "Mr. South Omaha" because of his concern and charity for the people of South Omaha. At lower left, a tavern is depicted. Because of the proximity to work, many taverns near the stockyards were places where all races and ethnicities came together to relax and fraternize after a long day's work. This was in contrast to the very segregated neighborhoods, where people of common ethnic backgrounds lived and socialized together.
February 21, 1909, The "Greektown Riot" was a violent reaction to the shooting and killing of an Irish police officer by a young Greek Immigrant, who was arrested along with his English tutor, a young woman. Greek immigrants were the recipients of much animosity by previous immigrant groups because they were viewed as "strike-breakers."
This section honors local military heroes, Ed "Babe" Gomez, who threw himself on a grenade during the Korean war to save his fellow soldiers. The outlined image is Manuel Puentez who has been MIA in Viet Nam since 1971. Below is the image of a soldier Miguel Hernandez Keith depicted in bronze, representing his memorial sculpture at Freedom Park. The marine earned the Medal of Honor for his bravery and death at age 18 during the Viet Nam war in 1970.
Jose Ramirez is honored on the left. He was a respected activist for Mexican-Americans. He advocated for ESL in the public schools and supported the hiring of Mexican-Americans on the Omaha police force. At right is Delores Wright, who worked in the packing houses during the day before going to the restaurant she opened in 1958 on 24th St., Howard's Charro Cafe.
Several scenes at the end of the mural demonstrate the lively, colorful hispanic culture that is active along 24th street in South Omaha. At the end, Omahans of a variety of cultures including an Irish dancer, a Native American fancy dancer, and a polish accordion player grace the streets of South Omaha.