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Title: Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska - National Park Service Historical Handbook Series No. 28
Author: Mattes, Merrill J.
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska - National Park Service Historical Handbook Series No. 28" ***

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    [Illustration: U. S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, March 3, 1849]

                     Stewart L. Udall, _Secretary_

                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                      Conrad L. Wirth, _Director_


This publication is one of a series of handbooks describing the
historical and archeological areas in the National Park System
administered by the National Park Service of the United States
Department of the Interior. It is printed by the Government Printing
Office and may be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
Washington 25, D. C. Price 30 cents.

                             _Scotts Bluff_
                           NATIONAL MONUMENT

    [Illustration: Covered wagon]

                          By Merrill J. Mattes

                        Washington, D. C., 1958
                             (Reprint 1961)

_The National Park System, of which Scotts Bluff National Monument is a
unit, is dedicated to conserving the scenic, scientific, and historic
heritage of the United States for the benefit and enjoyment of its



  EARLY EXPLORATION OF THE GREAT PLAINS                                 1
  FIRST WHITE MEN AT SCOTTS BLUFF                                       3
  REDISCOVERY OF THE CENTRAL OVERLAND ROUTE                             4
  THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN FUR TRADE                                          6
  THE TRAGEDY OF SCOTTS BLUFF                                           7
  THE FIRST WAGONS                                                     11
  TRADERS, MISSIONARIES, AND ADVENTURERS                               13
  MIGRATION TO OREGON                                                  16
  YEARS OF DECISION, 1846-48                                           19
  SCOTTS BLUFF AND THE FORTY-NINERS                                    20
  GOLD RUSH TRADING POSTS AT SCOTTS BLUFF                              33
  COMING OF THE BULLWHACKERS                                           38
  SCOTTS BLUFF—THE ARTISTIC RECORD                                     41
  PONY EXPRESS TO IRON HORSE, 1860-69                                  42
  WARFARE ON THE PLAINS                                                46
  HUNTERS, MINERS, COWBOYS, AND HOMESTEADERS                           52
  NATURAL HISTORY OF SCOTTS BLUFF                                      55
  PREHISTORY OF THE SCOTTS BLUFF REGION                                58
  GUIDE TO THE AREA                                                    60
  RELATED AREAS                                                        63
  ADMINISTRATION                                                       63
  SUGGESTED READINGS                                                   64

    [Illustration: _Scotts Bluff Visitor Center._ Courtesy, Christian
    Studio, Gering, Nebr.]

    [Illustration: Ox yoke.]

SCOTTS BLUFF _was a celebrated landmark on the great North Platte Valley
trunkline of “the Oregon Trail,” the traditional route of overland
migration to Oregon, California, and Utah. Today the massive castellated
bluff looks down upon concrete highways, railways, airports, irrigated
farms, and bustling communities of the mid-20th century; but it is the
same awe-inspiring sentinel which 100 years ago watched the passage of
countless trains of ox-drawn covered wagons, and the twinkling of many
campfires. Scotts Bluff National Monument keeps alive the epic story of
our ancestors who dared cross the wilderness of plains and mountains to
plant the western stars in the American flag._

Present Scotts Bluff is but a part of the historic “Scott’s Bluffs”
named for Hiram Scott, an employee of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company,
whose skeleton was found in the vicinity in 1829. The first known
published reference is to be found in _The Adventures of Captain
Bonneville_, by Washington Irving, published in 1837. The first map to
show this landmark is in Robert Greenhow’s _Memoir, Historical and
Political on the Northwest Coast of North America_, published in 1840.
It appeared next in the Fremont map of 1843, which became basic for
later emigrant guides.

                _Early Exploration of the Great Plains_

In 1540 the Spaniard Coronado captained a treasure-hunting expedition
from Mexico across Arizona, New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle. From
there he led a picked detachment of armored horsemen to mythical
_Quivira_, which proved to be only a squalid Indian village in central
Kansas. Contrary to long-held belief, Coronado never reached present
Nebraska. The first Spaniards known to have penetrated this state—an
exploring party of 1720 led by Pedro de Villasur—were massacred by
Pawnees at the forks of the Platte.

    [Illustration: _Returning Astorians at Scotts Bluff Christmas Day,
    1812._ Original sketch in Oregon Trail Museum.]

Following LaSalle’s traverse of the Mississippi and the establishment of
French settlements along that river, several French explorers—notably
Bourgmont and Charlevois—penetrated the fringe of the Great Plains,
bringing back reports of strange shaggy beasts in numbers so vast that
they blackened the landscape. The Platte River was named by Frenchmen
who explored its lower reaches; for this is the French word for “flat,”
a literal translation of the Oto word, “Nebrathka.” The Upper Platte was
not explored by Frenchmen until 1739 when the Mallet brothers lead a
small party from the mouth of the Niobrara across Nebraska, up the South
Platte, and thence to Santa Fe. The high tide of French exploration of
the Plains was marked in 1743 by the long journey, on foot, of the
Verendrye brothers from the Missouri River westward. How far west they
traveled has been a widely debated subject, but most scholars believe
that they reached the vicinity of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-6, dispatched by President
Jefferson to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory, followed
the natural passageway of the upper Missouri and Columbia Rivers to
become the first Americans to cross the continent. While they
triumphantly returned to St. Louis, Lt. Zebulon Pike visited a Pawnee
village on the Upper Republican River, then proceeded southwestward up
the Arkansas. In the wake of these official explorers came the fur
trappers and traders, a strange breed of men who traced out and
rough-mapped the tributary streams of the western plains and mountains
in their search for beaver hides. The early history of Scotts Bluff is
closely linked with the history of the western American fur trade.

                   _First White Men at Scotts Bluff_

Fur traders were the first white men known to have seen Scotts Bluff.
They were the returning Astorians—a group of seven men under Robert
Stuart, traveling from their trading post at the mouth of the Columbia
River to St. Louis. On Christmas day, 1812, Stuart recorded in his

  21 miles same course brought us to camp in the bare Prairie, but were
  fortunate in finding enough of driftwood for our culinary purpose. The
  Hills on the south have lately approached the river, are remarkably
  rugged and Bluffy and possess a few Cedars. Buffaloe very few in
  numbers and mostly Bulls.

The Astorian Expedition of 1811, so-called because it was an enterprise
of the wealthy fur trader, John Jacob Astor, comprised the second group
of Americans to span the continent. Led by Wilson Price Hunt, the
“Astorians” ascended the Missouri River until they were blocked by the
treacherous Arikara or “Ree” Indians near the mouth of Grand River. Then
they traveled overland, skirting the Black Hills and the Bighorn
Mountains, and reached their Columbia River headwaters via Jackson Hole.
Joining forces with another Astor group who had reached the mouth of the
Columbia by ship, they built Astoria, the first American trading post on
the Pacific slope. In 1812, Robert Stuart and his small band started
back overland to carry messages to Astor. By their successful mission
they performed one of the great feats of western exploration, for in
their perilous journey eastward they blazed the route via the Upper
Snake, Green, and North Platte Rivers which was destined to become the
Oregon Trail! (See map on pages 30, 31.)

Constantly imperiled by exposure, starvation, and Indians, they crossed
the Continental Divide near South Pass and descended the Sweetwater and
North Platte Rivers. After they had passed Scotts Bluff, the hostility
of the wintry Plains impelled them to retrace their steps to a point
near present Torrington, Wyo., where they camped for the winter and
built canoes. Early in the spring of 1813 they resumed their journey.
They were unable to navigate the shallow, braided, upper reaches of the
Platte River, and it was not until they reached Grand Island, that they
successfully launched their canoes.

              _Rediscovery of the Central Overland Route_

Stuart’s journal was not published until many years later, and the
tremendous import of his geographical discovery—a central route across
the continent—was lost amid preoccupation with the War of 1812 and the
seizure of Astoria by the British forces. For the next decade the fur
traders, operating out of St. Louis, concentrated on sending expeditions
up the Missouri River, persisting in their notion that this was the only
logical route westward. Manual Lisa, William Ashley, Andrew Henry, and
Joshua Pilcher were among the leaders of numerous invasions of the Upper
Missouri country. Beaver pelts were plentiful, but the Blackfoot, Ree,
Gros Ventre, and other Indian tribes were unfriendly. A series of
disastrous encounters with these Indians reached a crisis in 1823, when
a large fur brigade under William Ashley was treacherously attacked
above Grand River by the Rees, the same who had blocked the path of the
Astorians 11 years before. An appeal for military aid resulted in an
expedition from Fort Atkinson (above present Omaha) under Col. Henry
Leavenworth. The Indian villages were besieged but the results were
indecisive. Thereupon Ashley and his men abandoned their efforts on the
Upper Missouri, and struck out overland to the mountains. This decision
led to the discovery of the rich beaver valleys of the central Rockies,
and the rediscovery of South Pass and the Great Platte route. It ushered
in the historic Rocky Mountain fur trade, and opened a new chapter in
the history of Scotts Bluff.

Among the enterprising young men employed by Ashley, who received their
baptism of fire at the Ree villages, were several destined to achieve
great fame in the annals of the West. Conspicuous among them were Jim
Bridger and Etienne Provost, who soon discovered the Great Salt Lake;
Jedediah Smith, who led a band of trappers across the Black Hills and
the Bighorn Mountains to explore the headwaters of the Green and Snake
Rivers, and to become the first American to challenge the supremacy of
British fur traders in the Oregon country; William Sublette, who became
the founder of Fort William on the Laramie River; Thomas Fitzpatrick,
noted “mountain man,” emigrant guide, and Indian agent; and Hiram Scott,
one of Ashley’s clerks who would soon die tragically near the bluff
which now bears his name.

    [Illustration: _Ree Indian attack on General Ashley’s trappers._
    Original sketch in Oregon Trail Museum.]

If any white men traveled by Scotts Bluff in the decade following the
downstream passage of the returning Astorians, they left no distinct
record. It is surmised that Canadian half-breeds roamed and trapped in
this region during this period since several geographic names of French
origin seem to have survived from the earliest days of the fur trade.
Laramie or “La Ramee” River and Goshen or “Goche’s” Hole, both in nearby
Wyoming, tell of early trappers about whom there survive only the
haziest traditions. We can only say that the second group of white men
in the North Platte Valley who can be positively identified were four of
Ashley’s trappers who, in the spring of 1824, attempted to bring their
beaver pelts down the Platte River. With this event, Scotts Bluff once
more emerges on the pages of history.

Following a successful harvest of beaver, Jedediah Smith delegated
Thomas Fitzpatrick, James Clyman, and two others to transport the pelts
to Fort Atkinson. This led directly to the rediscovery of the strategic
Platte route and the beginning of a half century during which Scotts
Bluff became one of the great landmarks of that historic route.
Fitzpatrick failed in his effort to transport the furs down the
Sweetwater by bullboat (Indian boat made from buffalo hides stretched
over a frame of green willow boughs) and, lacking horses, was compelled
to cache them near Independence Rock. He and his companions were
subsequently scattered by marauding Indians, but they all arrived safely
at Fort Atkinson. Fitzpatrick promptly took horses back to Independence
Rock to retrieve his furs, and so passed Scotts Bluff three times in

    [Illustration: _Annual rendezvous of Rocky Mountain trappers._
    Original sketch in Oregon Trail Museum.]

                     _The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade_

Ashley was impressed by Fitzpatrick’s report on the success of his
employees in locating rich beaver territory. Late in the autumn of 1824,
he hurried westward up the Platte River, sending his brigades out to
trap while he personally led an exploration of the lower canyons of the
Green River. In 1825, reunited with his men at Henry’s Fork of the
Green, he led them to the head of Wind River where they constructed
boats and floated their cargo to St. Louis via the Bighorn, Yellowstone,
and Missouri Rivers.

Ashley is credited with conceiving a new scheme of handling the mountain
fur trade which became known as the rendezvous system. Instead of
building expensive fixed trading posts in the wilderness, dependent upon
the Indian trade, the idea was to send white trappers to camp out all
winter, trapping while the beaver were in prime fur, then all to
foregather at some prearranged mountain valley where they would meet
traders bringing pack trains of equipment and trade goods from St.
Louis. Casks of whisky, standard trade items, insured that the annual
mountain carnival or rendezvous would see not only a rapid exchange of
trade goods for beaver pelts, but also carousing and roistering on a
scale suitable to compensate the trappers for their long lonely winter
vigils. For 15 years Scotts Bluff would witness traders’ caravans, going
mountainward in early summer, and returning in the autumn laden with
their harvest of furs.

In the summer of 1826 the first of the colorful traders’ caravans, led
by Ashley, Sublette, and Smith, and probably including young Hiram
Scott, passed the yet unnamed bluff en route to the first big
rendezvous, on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The swarthy,
colorfully garbed trappers escorted 300 pack-laden mules on this trip.
At Salt Lake there were two notable events. Ashley, who had now become
comfortably rich from skimming the cream of the beaver trade, sold his
interests to a partnership which became known as the Rocky Mountain Fur
Company, and Smith embarked on the first of his notable expeditions
across the Great Basin to California, becoming the first American to
reach that Mexican province by this route.

                     _The Tragedy of Scotts Bluff_

The year 1827 went much as those before, with another rendezvous at Salt
Lake where Smith reported his adventures. He then set off on another
California trip (followed by a side trip up the Pacific Coast to Oregon,
where most of his men were massacred by Indians on the Umpquah). Hiram
Scott was among the traders who returned that year to St. Louis. This we
know from a document dated October 16, 1827, preserved in the files of
the Missouri Historical Society, for Scott is there listed as an
employee of Ashley (who continued to operate the supply train), having
earned $280 in wages for his season’s labor.

That Scott ranked high in the esteem of the fur trading fraternity is
attested not only by this document but also by the official records of
the Leavenworth Expedition of 1823, wherein Scott shares with Jedediah
Smith the distinction of being a “captain of volunteers” under General
Ashley. In another document, a letter of April 11, 1827, written by
Ashley at Lexington, Mo., Scott is described as “alive to our interest”
and “properly efficient.” One other source implies that he was a trader
of high rank. These meager facts are all we know about Hiram Scott, who
was doomed to die mysteriously a year later, while returning with the
homeward-bound caravan of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.

The facts concerning Hiram Scott’s death are even scarcer than those
about his career. There is a wealth of tradition and legend, but these
cannot be accepted as established facts. Of the innumerable versions,
almost no two are identical.

The classic account of Scott’s death, and the one first published (in
1837), is that given in Washington Irving’s story of the adventures of
Capt. Benjamin Bonneville, on leave from the United States Army. Irving
relates that on June 21, 1832, the Bonneville party

  ... encamped amid high and beetling cliffs of indurated clay and
  sandstone, bearing the semblance of towers, castles, churches and
  fortified cities. At a distance it was scarcely possible to persuade
  one’s self that the works of art were not mingled with these fantastic
  freaks of nature. They have received the name of Scott’s Bluffs from a
  melancholy circumstance. A number of years since, a party were
  descending the upper part of the river in canoes, when their frail
  barks were overturned and all their powder spoiled. Their rifles being
  thus rendered useless, they were unable to procure food by hunting and
  had to depend upon roots and wild fruits for subsistence. After
  suffering extremely from hunger, they arrived at Laramie’s Fork, a
  small tributary of the north branch of the Nebraska, about sixty miles
  above the cliffs just mentioned. Here one of the party, by the name of
  Scott, was taken ill; and his companions came to a halt, until he
  should recover health and strength sufficient to proceed. While they
  were searching round in quest of edible roots they discovered a fresh
  trail of white men, who had evidently but recently preceded them. What
  was to be done? By a forced march they might overtake this party, and
  thus be able to reach the settlements in safety. Should they linger
  they might all perish of famine and exhaustion. Scott, however, was
  incapable of moving; they were too feeble to aid him forward, and
  dreaded that such a clog would prevent their coming up with the
  advance party. They determined, therefore, to abandon him to his fate.
  Accordingly, under pretence of seeking food, and such simples as might
  be efficacious in his malady, they deserted him and hastened forward
  upon the trail. They succeeded in overtaking the party of which they
  were in quest, but concealed their faithless desertion of Scott;
  alleging that he had died of disease.

  On the ensuing summer, these very individuals visiting these parts in
  company with others, came suddenly upon the bleached bones and
  grinning skull of a human skeleton, which by certain signs they
  recognized for the remains of Scott. This was sixty long miles from
  the place where they had abandoned him; and it appeared that the
  wretched man had crawled that immense distance before death put an end
  to his miseries. The wild and picturesque bluffs in the neighborhood
  of his lonely grave have ever since borne his name.

    [Illustration: _Trappers skinning beaver._ Original sketch in Oregon
    Trail Museum.]

A very touching and pathetic story, but it is quite different from the
version offered by Warren Ferris of the American Fur Company. In 1830,
he passed Scotts Bluff on the north side of the river 2 years ahead of
Captain Bonneville, and just 2 years after the event:

  We encamped opposite to “Scott’s Bluffs,” so called in respect to the
  memory of a young man who was left here alone to die a few years
  previous. He was a clerk in a company returning from the mountains,
  the leader of which found it necessary to leave him behind at a place
  some distance above this point, in consequence of a severe illness
  which rendered him unable to ride. He was consequently placed in a
  bullhide boat, in charge of two men, who had orders to convey him by
  water down to these bluffs, where the leader of the party promised to
  await their coming. After a weary and hazardous voyage, they reached
  the appointed rendezvous, and found to their surprise and bitter
  disappointment, that the company had continued on down the river
  without stopping for them to overtake and join it.

  Left thus in the heart of a wide wilderness, hundreds of miles from
  any point where assistance or succour could be obtained, and
  surrounded by predatory bands of savages thirsting for blood and
  plunder, could any condition be deemed more hopeless or deplorable?
  They had, moreover, in descending the river, met with some accident,
  either the loss of the means of procuring subsistence or defending
  their lives in case of discovery and attack. This unhappy
  circumstance, added to the fact that the river was filled with
  innumerable shoals and sand-bars, by which its navigation was rendered
  almost impracticable, determined them to forsake their charge and boat
  together, and push on night and day until they should overtake the
  company, which they did on the second or third day afterward.

  The reason given by the leader of the company for not fulfilling his
  promise, was that his men were starving, no game could be found, and
  he was compelled to proceed in quest of buffalo.

  Poor Scott! We will not attempt to picture what his thoughts must have
  been after his cruel abandonment, nor harrow up the feelings of the
  reader, by a recital of what agonies he must have suffered before
  death put an end to his misery.

  The bones of a human being were found the spring following, on the
  opposite side of the river, which were supposed to be the remains of
  Scott. It was conjectured that in the energy of despair, he had found
  strength to carry him across the stream, and then had staggered about
  the prairie, till God in pity took him to Himself.

  Such are the sad chances to which the life of the Rocky Mountain
  adventurer is exposed.

The Hiram Scott legend is mentioned by almost all early travelers who
have left record of a journey up the North Platte Valley, but it would
be fruitless to recite the many other varied, conflicting, and often
quaint versions of how he died. There are differences of opinion as to
the distance the poor fellow crawled, if any; whether the party traveled
on foot or by horseback, muleback, bullboat, raft, or canoe; whether he
was a victim of Indians, exposure, drowning, freezing, disease, or
starvation; the location of his skeleton; the identity and number of his
companions; whether their desertion was premeditated; whether it was
justified; how their treachery was exposed; and, finally, whether the
whole thing might not have been a grisly hoax!

    [Illustration: _Dome Rock from summit of North Bluff._]

It was not a hoax. Though the legend has become hopelessly confused,
research has proved that there was a Hiram Scott prominent in the Rocky
Mountain fur trade from 1823 until 1827; and that he disappeared in 1828
and was never heard from thereafter, except through the faint echoes of
the legend. His companions remain unidentified, but research strongly
suggests that William Sublette was the leader of the 1828 caravan, who
issued instructions to these men to remain with him; and it was William
Sublette who led the springtime caravan of 1829 that discovered Scott’s
skeleton, miles away from the spot where they reported he had died.

Rufus B. Sage, who passed the bluff in 1841, was particularly impressed
with the melancholy circumstances of Scott’s death, and was moved to
impassioned poetry:

  No willing grave received the corpse
    of this poor lonely one;—
  His bones, alas, were left to bleach
    and moulder ’neath the sun!

  The night-wolf howl’d his requiem,—
    the rude winds danced his dirge;
  And e’er anon, in mournful chime
    sigh’s forth the mellow surge!

  The spring shall teach the rising grass
    to twine for him a tomb;
  And, o’er the spot where he doth lie,
    shall bid the wild flowers bloom.

  But, far from friends, and far from home,
    ah, dismal thought, to die!
  Ah, let me ’mid my friends expire,
    and with my fathers lie.

The mountain men have engraved their names on the topography of the West
with such place names as Scotts Bluff, Jackson Hole, Colter Bay, Bridger
Pass, Sublette County, Provo, Ogden, and Carson City which forever
remind us of these colorful figures with seven-league boots who
spearheaded the invasion of the West.

                           _The First Wagons_

In 1827 Ashley had sent a wheeled cannon up the Platte route to impress
the Indians at Great Salt Lake. However, the first bona fide wagons on
the Oregon Trail were those of the Smith-Jackson-Sublette caravan of
1830, headed for the rendezvous scheduled in the Wind River Valley, near
present Lander. In a famous letter to Secretary of War Eaton, the
partners reported

  a caravan of ten wagons, drawn by five mules each, and two dearborns,
  drawn by one mule each ... eighty-one men in company, all mounted on

  For our support, at leaving the Missouri settlements, until we should
  get into the buffalo country, we drove twelve head of cattle, beside a
  milk cow.... We began to fall in with the buffaloes on the Platte,
  about three hundred and fifty miles from the white settlements; and
  from that time lived on buffaloes, the quantity being infinitely
  beyond what we needed.... The country being almost all open, level,
  and prairie, the chief obstructions were ravines and creeks, the banks
  of which required cutting down, and for this purpose a few pioneers
  were generally kept ahead of the caravan. This is the first time that
  wagons ever went to the Rocky mountains; and the ease and safety with
  which it was done prove the facility of communicating over land with
  the Pacific ocean.

At Wind River the parties sold their interest to another group of
seasoned trappers—Fitzpatrick, Bridger, Fraeb, Gervais, and Milton
Sublette. Thus far the Rocky Mountain Fur Company had a monopoly of the
choice beaver country, except for occasional brushes with the Hudson’s
Bay Company in the Snake River country. Now an ominous rival presented
itself, Astor’s powerful American Fur Company, which sought to regain
the trading empire lost during the War of 1812. In a brief time Astor’s
company would outmaneuver the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, absorb its
leaders, and take over the monopoly. But first there would be fierce
competition. In the vanguard of this invasion came a pack train headed
by Joseph Robidoux and William Vanderburgh. They passed Scotts Bluff on
May 27, on the north side of the river, just a few days behind their
rivals. Robidoux and Vanderburgh’s adventures have been chronicled by
Warren Ferris.

Hiram Scott was not the only casualty in this dangerous fur trading.
Jedediah Smith was slain by Comanches in 1831 on the Cimarron River, en
route to Santa Fe. Vanderburgh was soon killed by Blackfeet Indians near
the Three Forks of the Missouri. Kit Carson later killed a fellow
trapper in a duel over an Arapahoe maiden on the Upper Hoback River, and
Thomas Fitzpatrick suffered serious injuries from a near-fatal encounter
with the Gros Ventres. The mortality rate among the mountain men was
high, but the survivors continued their annual rendezvous. The decade of
the 1830’s was the golden age of the fur trade.

Captain Bonneville, who launched the Hiram Scott legend, made history in
1832 by taking his loaded wagons across the Continental Divide at South
Pass, foreshadowing the mighty covered wagon migration that would begin
within a decade. While Bonneville built a fort on the Upper Green, the
rendezvous of 1832 was held in Pierre’s Hole, on the west slope of the
Tetons, and here the assembled trappers had a famous pitched battle with
the Gros Ventres, which resulted in several fatalities.

    [Illustration: _Smith-Jackson-Sublette Expedition of 1830._ William
    H. Jackson sketch in Oregon Trail Museum.]

Among those in Sublette’s train in 1833 was Sir William Drummond Stewart
of Scotland, a wealthy adventurer, the first of a series of notable
Britishers to travel through the West, recording their impressions. We
are indebted to him, as well as to Warren Ferris, Osborne Russell, and
Joe Meek for vivid pictures of the wild and colorful rendezvous scenes.
From 1833 until 1840, these rendezvous were held on the Upper Green,
near present Daniel, Wyo.

                _Traders, Missionaries, and Adventurers_

The year 1834 was a lively one along the trappers’ trail up the North
Platte. This was the year that Robert Campbell and William Sublette
halted their caravan at the mouth of Laramie’s Fork, some 60 miles above
Scotts Bluff, to establish log-palisaded Fort William, the first of a
succession of trading posts, and later a military post, which became the
great way-station on the Oregon Trail, called Fort Laramie. A few days
behind Sublette, Nathaniel Wyeth led a caravan upriver to establish
rival Fort Hall in Idaho. With Wyeth were Thomas Nuttall and John
Townsend, the first men of scientific attainments to follow the trail,
and Jason and Daniel Lee, first Methodist missionaries to Oregon.

    [Illustration: _The earliest known sketch of Scotts Bluff, drawn by
    Alfred J. Miller in 1837._ Original in Walters Art Gallery,

In 1835, when the American Fur Company emerged as the dominant trading
concern, it took over Fort William on the Laramie and placed Lucien
Fontenelle in charge there. That year Presbyterian missionaries Samuel
Parker and Marcus Whitman accompanied Fontenelle and the traders’
caravan to the rendezvous on the Green River, then went on to scout the
Oregon country.

Impressed by what he saw, Marcus Whitman quickly returned to the States
to organize more missionaries. In 1836 he brought his wife, Narcissa,
and the Rev. Henry Spalding and his wife, Elizabeth, westward to Oregon.
These two white women, the first ever to see Scotts Bluff and the first
to reach Oregon, were well guarded on their journey by the veteran
Thomas Fitzpatrick and his swarthy crew.

At Scotts Bluff the Whitman party met company employees from Fort
Laramie, descending the Platte River in fur-laden bullboats. This was to
become a common method of transporting furs to St. Louis, although the
shallow Platte was poorly suited to navigation, and the boats often came
to grief on sandbars. The trips could only be made during the June rise
of the Platte. Since travelers from the States usually arrived at Scotts
Bluff by mid-June, the trappers’ boats were often reported in this

It was in 1837 that Scotts Bluff, the martial sentinel of the North
Platte Valley, stood for its first portrait. The magnificent sketch, now
preserved in the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, was the work of
Alfred J. Miller, a talented artist who accompanied Sir William Drummond
Stewart and William Sublette to the Green River rendezvous. Miller’s
notes on Scotts Bluff reflect the same awe and imagination that inspired
countless later emigrants. He writes, “At a distance as we approached it
the appearance was that of an immense fortification with bastions,
towers, battlements, embrazures, scarps and counterscarps.” He records
also that this neighborhood abounded in delicious “Rocky Mountain
pheasant,” and in jack rabbits, antelope, and bighorn.

The supply train of 1838, led by Andrew Drips, was accompanied by
another missionary party, including the journalist Myra F. Eells, who
commented on the “grand scenery” of the bluffs, and the Swiss fortune
hunter, August Johann Sutter, on whose California ranch the discovery of
gold 10 years later would precipitate the most famous migration in
American history.

In 1839, Dr. Frederick Wislizenus from St. Louis, traveling to Fort
Laramie with the caravan led by Moses Harris, described the bluff:

  ... We traveled somewhat away from the river, toward the left, and
  enjoyed a picturesque landscape. All about were rocks piled up by
  Nature in merry mood, giving full scope to fancy in the variety of
  their shapes. Some were perfect cones; others flat round tops; others,
  owing to their crenulated projections, resembled fortresses; others
  old castles, porticos, etc. Most of them were sparsely covered with
  pine and cedar. The scenery has obvious resemblance to several places
  in Saxon Switzerland.

The last of the traditional rendezvous was held in 1840 on the Green
River. This year’s expedition was led by Andrew Drips, and it was made
notable by two parties who accompanied it. One was the Joel Walker
family, the first avowed Oregon emigrants; the others were Jesuit
priests headed by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, who would become one of
the West’s most prodigious travelers and reporters. Like many others, De
Smet, impressed by the scenery of the North Platte, wrote:

  ... In the neighborhood of this wonder [Chimney Rock], all the hills
  present a singular aspect; some have the appearance of towers, castles
  and fortified cities. From a little distance, one can hardly persuade
  himself that art is not mingled in them with the fantasies of nature.
  Bands of the _ashata_, an animal called also _grosse-corne_, or
  bighorn, have their abode in the midst of these bad lands.... [Scotts
  Bluff], with its castles and fantastic cities, forms the termination
  of a high ridge, which runs from south to north. We found a narrow
  passage through between two perpendicular cliffs 300 feet in height
  [Mitchell Pass].

                         _Migration to Oregon_

The era of the transcontinental covered wagon migrations began in 1841,
for in that year came the initial band of 80 Oregon homeseekers, guided
by Thomas Fitzpatrick and accompanied by Father De Smet on his second
western journey. John Bidwell was the historian of this expedition.
Another traveler was Joseph Williams, an elderly but energetic Methodist
preacher, who described the building of Fort John (the second Fort
Laramie). Although the beaver trade had declined, a brisk trade with the
Indians for buffalo robes continued, and the American Fur Company would
occupy Laramie’s Fork for eight more years.

Dr. Elijah White, the new agent for the Oregon Indians, lead a party of
112 westward in 1842. Among them was Medorem Crawford, who described
Scotts Bluff as “the most romantic scenery I ever saw.” Lansford W.
Hastings, who was to write one of the first emigrant guidebooks, was
also of this party. Lt. John C. Fremont’s first expedition to the Rocky
Mountains traveled up the Platte in 1842; his official report would
likewise become a standard reference. He described Scotts Bluff as “an
escarpment on the river of about 900 yards in length” which “forces the
road to make a considerable circuit over the uplands.” He found the
plain between the bluffs and Chimney Rock almost entirely covered with
driftwood, testifying to a recent flood.

    [Illustration: _Rut of the Oregon Trail at Scotts Bluff._]

In 1843 Scotts Bluff witnessed the first mass migration to Oregon; it
was promoted by Marcus Whitman. In May more than 1,000 persons,
including 130 women and 610 children, left Independence, Mo., for the
long trek overland. This well-organized expedition, with military rules
to ensure protection, an elected captain, and division into companies,
set the pattern for the hundreds of emigrant trains to follow. The
elected captain was Peter Burnett who was to become the first Governor
of California in 1850. The “Cow Column,” the last and slowest of the
1843 companies, has achieved fame through the writings of Jesse
Applegate. Overton Johnson relates that the train reached camp “by a
fine Spring, at the foot of Scott’s Bluffs” on July 9.

Close behind the emigrant families came an elaborate hunting party, led
by Sir William Stewart and William Sublette, making their farewell visit
to the mountains. Baptiste Charbonneau, the infant son who had been
carried by Sacajawea on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was hired as a
driver. William Clark Kennerly’s reminiscences of this journey tells of
a frightening incident that occurred near Scotts Bluff:

  Far out on the Platte one morning, while making preparations for our
  daily hunt, we descried coming toward us a herd, which I can state
  without any exageration must have numbered a million. The pounding of
  their hooves on the hard prairie sounded like the roaring of a mighty
  ocean, surging over the land and sweeping everything before it. Here
  was more game than we bargained for, and the predicament in which we
  now found ourselves gave us much cause for alarm. On they came, and as
  we were directly in their path and on the bank of the river, there was
  great danger of our being swept over. This danger was averted only by
  our exerting every effort to turn them off in another direction; and
  as it took the herd two entire days to pass, even at quite a rapid
  gait, we were kept busy placing guards of shouting, gesticulating men
  in the daytime and building huge bonfires at night.

In the summer of 1844 four emigrant trains passed Scotts Bluff bound for
Oregon. One of these was piloted by James Clyman, who had first seen the
bluff 20 years before on his long hike from Independence Rock to Fort
Atkinson. In his diary Clyman wrote:

  ... encamped in the midtst of Scotts blufs By a cool spring in a
  romantic & picturisque vally surounded except to the E. by high &
  allmost impassably steep clay cliffs of all immagenary shapes & forms
  supped on a most dlecious piece of venison from the loin of a fat
  Black taild Buck and I must not omit to mention that I took my rifle
  and (and) walked out in the deep ravin to guard a Beautifull covey of
  young Ladies & misses while they gathered wild currants & choke
  chirries which grow in great perfusion in this region and of the
  finerst kind.

The trek to Oregon in 1845 dwarfed all that had gone before. An informal
count at Fort Laramie revealed that 5,000 people and 500 ox-drawn wagons
were on the march. The charms of Scotts Bluff, and the tragic tale of
its namesake, were not lost on the many diarists, among them Joel
Palmer, who credits “Scott’s Bluffs” with a good spring and an abundance
of wood and grass. Below the bluffs, says Palmer,

  We met a company of mountaineers from Fort Laramie, who had started
  for the settlements early in the season, with flat-boats loaded with
  buffalo robes, and other articles of Indian traffic. The river became
  so low, that they were obliged to lay by; part of the company had
  returned to the fort for teams; others were at the boat landing, while
  fifteen of the party were footing their way to the States. They were a
  jolly set of fellows....

In this same big year the United States Government sent its first
military expedition up the Platte. Guided by Fitzpatrick, Col. S. W.
Kearny led five companies of the First Dragoons to South Pass. A few
days ahead of the Oregon Trek, on June 11 they encamped “below Scotts
Bluffs, and directly opposite a large village of Dacotah [Sioux]

  ... that immense and celebrated pile, called “Scott’s Bluffs,”
  advances across the plain nearly to the water’s edge. If one could
  increase the size of the Alhambra of Grenada, or the Castle of
  Heidelberg, which Professor Longfellow has so poetically and so
  graphically described,—twenty fold in every way but in height,—he
  could form some idea of the magnitude and splendor of this chef
  d’oeuvre of Nature at Palace-Building.

    [Illustration: _Emigrants fording the Platte._ Original sketch in
    Oregon Trail Museum.]

                      _Years of Decision, 1846-48_

In 1846, the Oregon Territory, long in dispute with Great Britain, was
finally acquired by peaceful compromise. The emigrant families who had
passed Scotts Bluff had ensured this outcome by tipping the scales of
population! Meanwhile, in May 1846, the United States had declared war
on Mexico and, in the name of “manifest destiny,” set about adding
California and the Southwest to its territory.

The emigration of 1846 was lighter than that of the preceding year. One
company, the Donner party, met appalling disaster in the early autumn
snows of the Sierra Nevadas. Edward Bryant, a future Governor of
California, and J. Quinn Thornton both wrote the most extravagant and
fanciful descriptions of Scotts Bluff and nearby hills. They imagined
“the ruins of some ancient vast city,” complete with domes, towers,
temples, minarets, amphitheaters, frowning parapets, and even “a royal
bath,” a fittingly picturesque backdrop for the lingering death of “the
unhappy trapper” who crawled here after being abandoned by “inhuman

In 1846 young historian Francis Parkman, whose journal, _The Oregon
Trail_, would become one of the classics of our literature, made his
famous trip to Fort Laramie. After camping “by the well-known spring on
Scott’s Bluff” he rode out in the morning and “descending the western
side of the bluff,” came upon “old Smoke’s lodges.” Here he launches
into his first exciting description of a Sioux encampment, with its
handsome lazy warriors, dusky maidens, and the “old withered crones” who
did all the work!

Also in 1846, after mob violence against their city of Nauvoo, Ill., the
Mormons began their great western trek. They encamped for the winter on
the Missouri at Kanesville (Council Bluffs) and Winter Quarters (Omaha),
where hundreds died of disease and exposure. In the spring of 1847 the
Mormon pioneers, 144 strong under Brigham Young, traveled to their
promised land, Great Salt Lake Valley in Utah. Avoiding the “gentiles”
who followed the Oregon Trail up the south bank of the Platte, the
Mormons remained on the north bank until they reached Fort Laramie,
using the old trappers’ trail to Fort Atkinson. Probably no expedition
in history has been better chronicled. Among the many meticulous Mormon
journalists was William Clayton, who later wrote one of the better trail
guides. On May 27 he reported that the company “passed the meridian of
the northernmost peaks of Scott’s Bluffs.” The view toward these bluffs,
“resembling ancient ruins,” was “majestic and sublime.”

The Mormon emigration almost monopolized the trail in 1848. Some 4,000
of the faithful journeyed to Utah up the north bank, opposite the bluff,
while a comparative handful of emigrants followed the usual route to
Oregon. But this was the quiet before the storm. In 1848 James Marshall
discovered gold on Captain Sutter’s ranch. The news traveled by fast
clipper ship around Cape Horn to New York City. The California gold rush
would soon burst in a torrent up the North Platte migration corridor.

                  _Scotts Bluff and The Forty-niners_

Early in the spring the Forty-niners converged by steamboat upon the
Missouri River towns of Independence, Westport, and St. Joseph;
assembled wagons, animals, and provisions; and organized into companies.
Eager to reach the new Eldorado, they were undismayed by the prospective
2,000-mile trek across hostile plains and mountains. On May 1, as soon
as the prairie grass was green, the great gold rush began. The Oregon
Trail became the California Road.

The trail from Independence, up the Kansas and Blue Rivers, joined the
trail from St. Joseph near present Marysville, Kans., then followed up
the Little Blue to its source to reach the “Coast of Nebraska,” historic
Platte River. Just beyond was Fort Kearny, established in 1847, now
commanded by the same Captain Bonneville who first took wagons across
the Continental Divide 17 years before.

Onward from Fort Kearny the white-hooded prairie schooners crawled like
an army of gigantic ants along the south bank of the Platte. The
Forty-niners were awed by the vast emptiness of the treeless plains, the
endless horizon, the shimmering haze, and the sudden, drenching
thunderstorms. Pushing beyond the forks of the Platte, they followed the
margin of the South Platte to near the present town of Ogallala, Nebr.
Here, at what was called Lower California Crossing, they ferried or swam
the river amid scenes of shouting confusion, then headed for the North

Hundreds of extant emigrant journals vividly describe the classic trunk
route of the Oregon-California Trail up the North Platte. From the
plateau the trail descended rather abruptly via steep Windlass Hill down
Ash Hollow (near Lewellyn) to the river. Hugging the south bank, the
trail passed many curious hills and formations which afforded welcome
relief from the monotonous scenery. Courthouse and Jail Rocks near
present Bridgeport, Chimney Rock near Bayard, and Scotts Bluff were
among the most notable of these landmarks, which so frequently aroused
poetic fancies and rapturous descriptions in emigrant journals.

At Scotts Bluff in 1849 the trail made a wide detour, south of the
present monument, up Gering Valley, and over Robidoux Pass, then
northwest to regain the Platte near the mouth of Horse Creek.

Sixty miles beyond the bluff the Forty-niners came to historic
adobe-walled Fort Laramie (Fort John of the American Fur Company), which
was in the very process of being purchased by the United States Army.
The Stars and Stripes were hauled up at the fort on June 26, and the
army immediately began the construction of new buildings. Pausing here
only briefly to rest and obtain provisions, the emigrants continued west
and north via the North Platte and the Sweetwater toward the Continental
Divide, guided by such landmarks as Laramie Peak, Red Butte,
Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate, and Split Rock. Just beyond broad,
barren South Pass, flanked by the snow-covered Wind River Mountains, the
Forty-niners reached the edge of the Pacific drainage. They still had a
grueling journey over mountain and desert before they would reach the
end of their rainbow.

    [Illustration: _Cavalcade of the Forty-niners._ Original sketch in
    Oregon Trail Museum.]

The California gold rush of 1849 and ensuing years, in addition to being
on a much larger scale, was entirely different in character from the
earlier Oregon migration. Oregon travelers were families, seeking farms;
most of the California emigrants were young men, unmarried or
unaccompanied by wives, who were seeking a quick fortune. Young women
who did make the hazardous journey were besieged with suitors. There
were weddings and honeymoons on the trail. There are also records of
gold rush babies born in wagon beds.

After a rugged day on the trail, the evening campfire was often the
occasion for yarn-swapping and sentimental songs, like _Oh, Susanna!_ It
can be imagined that these campfire scenes were commonplace at Scotts
Bluff, and the tale of Hiram Scott’s tragic death was doubtless repeated
with endless variations. The prevailing mood was not always gay. The
haunting mystery of Scotts Bluff struck a fittingly somber note for the
Forty-miners. Before the epic drama of the gold-rush was played out a
few years later, 20,000 of these adventurous emigrants had died and
lined the California Road with their graves.

Asiatic cholera was the greatest killer. Ships docking at New Orleans
brought infected people who carried the dread disease by steamboat up
the Mississippi to St. Louis. There, the disease spread by contagion to
people in the Missouri River outfitting towns. As the tired Argonauts
struggled across the unfamiliar Nebraska landscape, the disease raced
like wildfire among them, decimating their number. Children were
orphaned. The husband who buried his wife might himself be dead the next
day. Numerous diaries record inscriptions on the crude headboards of the
hastily dug shallow graves. Hundreds of burials took place in the North
Platte Valley between Ash Hollow and Fort Laramie. Several have been
identified at Scotts Bluff.

Many of those who escaped the cholera plague were confronted with other
killers—the rugged terrain, inexperience, carelessness, exhaustion. Some
dropped by the wayside from sheer fatigue. Others died of pneumonia, or
were drowned at the river crossings, or shot themselves with unfamiliar
firearms, got run over by the big lumbering wagon wheels, or were gored
by unruly oxen. Another menace was the buffalo, which was hunted as a
fine source of food. Unless approached gingerly, big herds of these
creatures would sometimes stampede, making the earth tremble, trampling
to death the unwary hunter. In the desert of the Great Basin, more of
the travelers were killed by the intense heat, alkali dust, and parching
thirst. The trek of the Forty-niners was not for long a gay escapade; it
became a grim survival of the fittest.

Contrary to popular impression, the number of emigrants who died at the
hands of marauding Indians was negligible. The Diggers along the
Humboldt River in Nevada accounted for some stragglers; the Plains
Indians were a bit thievish but peaceful—for a time, at least. True, at
nights the wagons were arranged in a circular compound and guards were
posted; but an Indian attack on the emigrants Hollywood style, was a

Although visions of an Indian raid served as a healthy influence on
emigrant vigilance, daily preoccupation with the necessities of life was
a more pressing concern. There were three primary needs—food, grazing,
and good campsites. Although some of the better organized companies had
ample provisions, many others miscalculated and suffered accordingly.
True, buffalo, antelope, and other game were hunted; but the wildlife
was frightened by the endless, noisy, dusty column, and the hunters who
galloped forth with romantic notions of a dashing buffalo hunt often
came back empty-handed.

The ideal campsite would boast a good spring and a generous supply of
timber for campfires and the repair of wagon gear. There were a few such
campsites—Scotts Bluff with its springs and its ponderosa pine and
cedars was one of the best—but these soon suffered from the pressure of
converging crowds. Clear springs were muddied, the sparse groves of
timber were chopped away, and the grass vanished from overgrazing or
withered in the summer sun.

    [Illustration: _In camp at Chimney Rock._ Original sketch in Oregon
    Trail Museum.]

The emigrant guidebooks—Hastings, Fremont, Joseph Ware, and others—were
usually adequate as a rough index to the whereabouts of obvious
landmarks and choice campsites, but they were deficient in sound advice
to the tenderfoot. It wasn’t always possible to reach a good campsite,
and then one had to camp out on the prairie, conserving the precious
water supply and eating a cold supper. Smart emigrants learned the old
trappers’ practice of gathering _bois du vache_ (dried buffalo dung) to
make an acrid but usable campfire.

A typical wagon train with all its encumbrances, plus quicksand, mud,
creek crossings, and other difficulties of terrain, could make but 15 to
20 miles per day over the level plains. In rough mountain country,
progress was even slower; and there had to be frequent halts to rest
worn-out, emaciated stock and to mend faulty gear. Thus it took perhaps
4 months for a train to reach a California gold camp. (Starting on May
15, the crest of the migration wave would pass Scotts Bluff about mid
June.) Some were later still, and had to be rescued from early snows of
the Sierras. A disconsolate few would spend the winter at Fort Laramie
or Salt Lake City.

Wherever and whenever they arrived, the Forty-niners were in scarecrow
condition with few worldly possessions. Stoves, anvils, plows,
furniture, and hardware of every description were thrown overboard from
prairie schooners to ease the strain on the animals. Often this
sacrifice was in vain; dead horses and oxen, littered the road to
California gold.

How many Forty-niners? The population of California increased some
40,000 in 1849; it is estimated that 15,000 sailed around Cape Horn or
made sailing connections at Panama; of 30,000 who went overland, perhaps
5,000 died en route. In seven succeeding years, 1850-56, the California
gold rush was resumed each spring. No official census was possible, but
a register kept at Fort Laramie helps to estimate that during the period
150,000 people journeyed overland westward. The peak year was 1852, when
an estimated 50,000 emigrants poured through Scotts Bluff Pass.

          _Oregon-California Trail Geography at Scotts Bluff_

Today the hills of the North Platte Valley are not accounted among the
scenic wonders of the United States; in Oregon Trail days, to emigrants
who had been bored with the flatness and drabness of the Platte scenery,
and who would be too exhausted later to appreciate the grandeur of the
Rocky Mountains, the landmarks along the Platte had a captivating charm.
Courthouse Rock and Chimney Rock were the appetizers; Scotts Bluff was
the grand climax.

A typical journal entry of 1849 is that of Alonzo Delano:

  June 9: The wind blew cold and unpleasant as we left our pretty
  encampment this morning for Scott’s Bluff, a few miles beyond. The
  bare hills and water-worn rocks on our left began to assume many
  fantastic shapes, and after raising a gentle elevation, a most
  extraordinary sight presented itself to our view. A basin-shaped
  valley, bounded by high rocky hills, lay before us, perhaps twelve
  miles in length, by six or eight broad. The perpendicular sides of the
  mountains presented the appearance of castles, forts, towers,
  verandas, and chimneys, with a blending of Asiatic and European
  architecture, and it required an effort to believe that we were not in
  the vicinity of some ancient and deserted town. It seemed as if the
  wand of a magician had passed over a city, and like that in the
  Arabian Nights, had converted all living things to stone.

Recent research has cleared up long-standing confusion about the
geography of the Oregon-California Trail in the vicinity of Scotts
Bluff. Today Scotts Bluff is understood to mean the large bluff within
the national monument, between the river badlands and Mitchell Pass,
which separates it from a ridge extending westward at a right angle;
about 10 miles south of the river, parallel to this ridge, lies the
Wildcat Hills, which extend for over 25 miles, from Chimney Rock to
Robidoux Pass (see map). Because of this modern nomenclature, some
historians have misunderstood the emigrant diaries, failing to realize
that in Oregon Trail days Scotts Bluff, frequently spelled “Scott’s
Bluffs,” commonly referred to all these hills, including the Wildcat
Hills. William Kelly, above-mentioned, showed remarkable acumen in
likening the outline of Scotts Bluff to a shepherd’s crook, with the
present Wildcat Hills as the straight staff and present Scotts Bluff as
the flair at the end of the crook.

Similarly, the identity of the pass at Scotts Bluff has frequently been
misunderstood. In historic times there were actually two different
passes here. The first, which would be at the bow of the shepherd’s
crook, is now called Robidoux Pass, and this was predominantly used
during the period up to and including 1849. In October 1850, Government
explorer Capt. Howard Stansbury, returning from Salt Lake, reported the
first evidence of wagon wheels through the gap now called Mitchell Pass.

Explanation for the splitting of the Oregon-California Trail at Scotts
Bluff lies in its peculiar topography. The main bluff lays like a giant
whale across the valley floor, blocking the way, with impenetrable
badlands between it and the river. Although the existence of Mitchell
Pass was, of course, known prior to 1850, it was little used because of
its rugged badlands character. Travel via Robidoux Pass involved a wide
swing away from the river, beginning at a point west of present Melbeta
and proceeding down present Gering Valley, south of Dome Rock. In T. H.
Jefferson’s _Map of the Emigrant Road_, it is called Karante Valley.

Emigrant John Brown in 1849 noted that “14 miles from Chimney Rock the
road [to Robidoux Pass] leaves the river.... [It] lies through one of
the finest valleys I ever saw and is decidedly the best twenty miles of
road we have travelled.” Maj. Osborne Cross, leading a company of
mounted riflemen to Fort Laramie, described the ascent to Robidoux Pass
as “_the first high hill_ since leaving Fort Leavenworth. This is partly
covered with cedar, which was the first we had met on the march.”

    [Illustration: “_Camp at Scott’s Bluffs._” From The Old Journey.
    Contemporary sketch by Alfred Lambourne.]

    [Illustration: _Mitchell Pass looking west._ Courtesy, Downey’s
    Midwest Studio. Scottsbluff, Nebr.]

It is suspected that the U. S. Army Quartermaster from Fort Laramie was
the first to take wagons through Mitchell Pass, possibly doing a little
engineering to widen the passage and ease the grade. Later emigrants,
finding wagon tracks now going toward Mitchell Pass, readily switched to
the new route. The two branches came together once more east of Horse

During the summer migration of 1850, equal in volume to that of 1849,
the Robidoux Pass route up Gering Valley was still favored. Bennett
Clark refers to his “encampment within a semicircle of high bluffs,
which rise abruptly from the river’s edge and sweep around rain-bow
like.” To Franklin Street this camp at Scotts Bluff was “one of the most
delightful places that nature ever formed.” To Thomas Woodward, “Every
place seems like a fairy vision. It is no use trying to describe [Scotts
Bluff] for language cannot do it.” To Mormon emigrant Leander V. Loomis
the view of the bluffs from the north side of the river was “highly
beautiful, almost approaching the sublime.” His journal contains this
delectable entry of May 30:

  This morning there arose a heavy clowd between us and Scotts Bluff,
  which hid it entirely from view, and as it rolled away Showing first
  its lofty peak, which ascended Some 300 feet in the air, and which was
  covered with Small Pine or cedar trees, the scene was highly Novel,
  and no less beautiful we could see as it were, standing upon a clowd,
  a huge rock, covered with small trees, and as the clowd would rise and
  fall, it presented mutch the appearance of a Theater, the trees
  presented the appearance of the actors, the Rock, of the Stage—the
  clowd of the curtain, and nature itself was the tragedy they were
  Acting, each one playing there parts to perfection.

In 1851 use between the two passes was perhaps equally divided. William
C. Lobenstine writes:

  ... We approached the Scotch Bluffs [sic], which we saw the evening
  before golden in the light of the setting sun, and our whole attention
  was attracted by the grandeur of the former, still more beautiful
  country. The appearance of these sand hills, although from far off
  like solid rock, has a very accurate resemblance to a fortification or
  stronghold of the feudal barons of the middle age, of which many a
  reminder is yet to be met with along the bank of the Rhine. The rock
  itself is separated nearly at its middle, having a pass here about
  fifty to sixty feet wide, ascending at both sides perpendicular to a
  height of three to four hundred feet. The passage through here was
  only made possible in 1851 and is now preferred by nearly all the
  emigrants, cutting off a piece of eight miles from the old road. We
  passed through without any difficulty and after having passed another
  blacksmith shop and trading post, which are very numerous, protection
  being secured to them by the military down at Fort Laramie, we
  encamped for the night.

    [Illustration: “_Scott’s Bluffs._” From Richard Burton’s City of the
    Saints, 1860.]

With the migration of 1852, the historical spotlight permanently shifted
to Mitchell Pass. During the early fifties the California migration
reached its peak; the charms of Scotts Bluff and the peculiarities of
the new pass were not lost on the new crop of journalists.

It was in 1852, apparently, that the little-used name “Capitol Hills”
was first applied to Scotts Bluff by Hosea Horn and other guidebook
writers. The origin of this name is suggested in the Sexton diary of
June 10:

  Made our noon halt opposite Scott’s Bluff, altogether the most
  symmetrical in form and the most stupendous in size of any we have
  seen. One of them is close in its resemblance to the dome of the
  Capitol in Washington.

  There is a pass through that is guarded on one side by Sugar Loaf
  Rock, on the other by one that resembles a square house with an
  observatory. It is certainly the most magnificent thing I ever saw.

In the _National Wagon Road_, a guidebook by W. Wadsworth based on a
trip of 1852, Scotts Bluff is one of the three major landmarks described
on the whole California Road: “Here is some of the most beautiful and
picturesque scenery upon the whole route.” Wadsworth labels the Scotts
Bluff of today as “Convent Rock.” In 1853 Frederick Piercy made a
remarkable sketch of the bluffs, with buffalo-hunters in the foreground.
He referred to these bluffs as “certainly the most remarkable sight I
have seen since I left England.”

    [Illustration: THE OREGON TRAIL]

    (to LOS ANGELES)
    (to LOS ANGELES)
  Note: For modern names not shown see your automobile maps.
  APRIL 1958 NB 7007


    GERING 3902
    Fort Mitchell
      Fort John American Fur Trading Post 1850-53
      Robidoux Second Trading Post 1850-51
    Robidoux First Trading Post 1849-50
    American Fur Co. First Post
    BALD PEAK 4420
  Horse Creek Crossing
  APRIL 1958 NM-SB-7009

The Celinda Himes diary of 1853, describing abandoned log structures,
indicates the occasional use of Robidoux Pass in later years. The Helen
Carpenter journal of 1856, freely quoted in Paden _Wake Of the Prairie
Schooner_, clearly describes the fork in the road east of Scotts Bluff,
but indicates that most people now took “the river road” through
Mitchell Pass. She vividly describes also the sheer walls of Mitchell
Pass, the excellent view to be had from the “summit” of the pass, the
many inscriptions in the clay (long since vanished), and a soldier’s
grave on the side of the bluff.

To summarize, Robidoux Pass, 8 miles west of monument headquarters, was
used by the Forty-niners and most of those who preceded them, including
the fur traders, the emigrants to Oregon, Francis Parkman, Kearny’s
Dragoons, and the regiment of mounted riflemen under Maj. Winslow F.
Sanderson who in 1849 rode to take over Fort Laramie. Robidoux Pass has
historical primacy as “the first Scott’s Bluffs Pass.” On the other
hand, “the second Scott’s Bluffs Pass,” now known as Mitchell Pass, was
used by 150,000 or more emigrants, soldiers, and freighters of the
1850’s and 1860’s. And it was also the scene of the overland stage, the
Pony Express, and the first transcontinental telegraph. Honors are about
equally divided.

               _Gold Rush Trading Posts at Scotts Bluff_

The big climax years for Robidoux Pass were 1849-51. A surprisingly
large number of emigrant journals for these years have survived and most
of them devote a lot of attention to (1) the magnificent scenery of
Scotts Bluff, (2) the unusually fine springs and ample firewood here,
(3) the view from the crest of the pass toward Laramie Peak (then
sometimes called “the Black Hills,” and frequently mistaken for the
Rocky Mountains), and (4) Robidoux’s log cabin blacksmith shop and
trading post, and its colorful inhabitants.

Again, recent research, involving journals, Government records, and
interviews with Indian descendants, has uncovered facts concerning the
Robidoux establishment which have long been wrapped in obscurity. In
1849 emigrant J. Goldsborough Bruff noted “a cool clear spring and
brook” in the deep gulch around which the wagons had to detour. “Close
by is a group of Indian lodges and tents, surrounding a log cabin, where
you can buy whisky for $5 per gallon; and look at the _beautiful_
squaws, of the traders.”

Another illuminating description is that given by Captain Stansbury on
his westward trip of 1849:

    [Illustration: SCOTTS BLUFF
                                                   APRIL 1958 NM-SB-7008]

    [Illustration: _Robidoux’s second trading post at “Scott’s Bluffs.”_
    Sketch by Möllhausen, 1851.]

  ... Three miles from the Chimney Rock, the road gradually leaves the
  river for the purpose of passing behind Scott’s Bluff, a point where a
  spur from the main ridge comes so close to the river as to leave no
  room for the passage of teams. There was no water between these two
  points, a distance of more than twenty miles, and we were consequently
  obliged to go on until nine o’clock, when we encamped at the bluff, on
  a small run near a delicious spring, after having been in the saddle
  sixteen hours without food, and travelled thirty-one and a-half miles.
  The march was a severe one upon the animals, as they were in harness,
  after the noon halt, for seven successive hours, without water. The
  afternoon was oppressively hot, and the gnats and musquitoes almost
  insufferable. There is a temporary blacksmith’s shop here, established
  for the benefit of the emigrants, but especially for that of the
  owner, who lives in an Indian lodge, and had erected a log shanty by
  the roadside, in one end of which was the blacksmith’s forge, and in
  the other a grog-shop and sort of grocery. The stock of this
  establishment consisted principally of such articles as the owner had
  purchased from the emigrants at a great sacrifice and sold to others
  at as great a profit. Among other things, an excellent double wagon
  was pointed out to me, which he had purchased for seventy-five cents.
  The blacksmith’s shop was an equally profitable concern; as, when the
  smith was indisposed to work himself, he rented the use of shop and
  tools for the modest price of seventy-five cents an hour, and it was
  not until after waiting for several hours that I could get the
  privilege of shoeing two of the horses, even at that price, the forge
  having been in constant use by the emigrants. Scott’s Bluff, according
  to our measurement, is five hundred and ninety-six miles from Fort
  Leavenworth, two hundred and eighty-five from Fort Kearny, and
  fifty-one from Fort Laramie.

    [Illustration: _Historical objects from site of Robidoux’s trading
    post._ Collection in Oregon Trail Museum.]

Others wryly note the shrewdness of this makeshift proprietor, Robidoux.
Various journalists refer to two or more “Frenchmen” and their squaws,
and an indefinite number of children. In 1850 James Bennett found here
“an encampment of near a 100 Sioux Indians” (relatives, no doubt!). In
1851 Father De Smet, returning from the Horse Creek Treaty Council,
baptized Robidoux’s half-breed children.

In 1851, Robidoux, feeling somewhat overrun by the emigrant hordes,
retired to a secluded canyon about a mile southeast of the original
location. The appearance of this second trading post has been
providentially preserved in a sketch by the German traveler, Frederick
Möllhausen. The site of this post has been identified in present Carter

Who was Robidoux? Although all the facts are not fully established, it
appears that he was Joseph E. Robidoux, oldest son of the Joseph
Robidoux who founded St. Joseph, Mo.; and that the other “Frenchman”
seen there was his uncle, Antoine Robidoux, who earlier achieved
pioneering fame in Utah and California. The younger Joseph is an elusive
figure. He may well have been the Robidoux who led the first American
Fur Company contingent by Scotts Bluff, in 1830, and who was seen at
Fort Laramie in 1846 by Parkman.

What became of Robidoux? Although reported to have died accidentally at
Scotts Bluff, no grave has been identified. There is evidence that he
returned to the Great Nemaha Indian Agency, in northeastern Kansas, in
the late fifties, and died there in obscurity. There are many half-breed
“Robidouxes” on Indian reservations in South Dakota who have identified
the Scotts Bluff Robidoux as their ancestor.

Modern research has revealed another fact long lost sight of. Robidoux’s
trading post was not the only one in this neighborhood during the gold
rush. It has now been definitely established that, in the summer of
1849, after they sold adobe-walled Fort John (Fort Laramie) to the U. S.
Government, officials of the American Fur Company removed to Scotts
Bluff. Contrary to a long-held erroneous impression, their new post was
not located near Mitchell Pass (there never was a trading post near
there); it was first located tentatively in Robidoux Pass, within a few
hundred yards of Robidoux’s blacksmith shop. Then, for reasons which can
only be surmised, it was moved to a point 6 miles below Robidoux’s and 8
miles south of Mitchell Pass, in present Helvas Canyon. In
correspondence of the fur company it was identified as “Fort John,
Scott’s Bluffs.”

This post, being off the main trail, did not rate much notice by
travelers, compared with the attention given to Robidoux, but there are
occasional references. In 1850 James Bennett states that about 7 miles
below Robidoux’s there was a trading post “3 miles to our left, where we
could see a herd of cattle grazing.” Sgt. Percival G. Lowe of the
Dragoons, in 1850, reports that “we turned south and camped near a
trading post belonging to Major Dripps.”

Andrew Drips, the “mountain man” who had guided De Smet up this way in
1840, was later replaced by Joseph Papin of St. Louis, who died and was
buried here. His grave and the outlines of the second “Fort John” have
been identified. It is not known just when this place was abandoned.
However, when the main artery of traffic definitely moved from Robidoux
to Mitchell Pass, in 1852, “Fort John” and Robidoux’s post both
doubtless “withered on the vine,” in the manner of a modern-day filling
station which is by-passed by a new highway.

Collections of historical objects found on the surface of the sites of
Robidoux’s two posts and “Fort John, Scott’s Bluffs” are preserved in
the Oregon Trail Museum. Beads, pendants, danglers, belts, buttons,
medallions, coins, traps, bar lead, bullet molds, and other objects
testify to the variety of activities conducted at these stations.
Although long consigned to oblivion, these primitive commercial
establishments were the true beginnings of private enterprise in the
Scotts Bluff area.

                      _Coming of the Bullwhackers_

The Grattan massacre of 1854 and retaliation by Harney’s forces in 1855
were prologues to the inevitable showdown with the Plains Indians
discussed later. New posts were built, garrisons were strengthened, and
expeditions were launched. In 1857 troops had to be sent to Utah to
quell the rebellious Mormons; at the same time the Cheyennes staged an
outbreak. It became necessary for the Government to move huge quantities
of equipment and provisions westward up the Platte Valley, and the
freighting contractors came into the picture. Notable among these was
the firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell of Kansas City (old Westport).

The army freight moved in huge Conestoga wagons drawn by 6 to 8 teams of
oxen. A new profession arose known as “bullwhacker” and we can well
imagine the bedlam that accompanied the passage of a “bulltrain” or the
process of yoking up the bellowing animals in the morning after the
nightly encampment in the wagon compound. The experience of taking a
bulltrain through Mitchell Pass is vividly described by T. S. Kenderdine
in 1858:

  Passing over a dreary country, which barely furnished enough of grass
  for our famished animals, we arrived at Scott’s Bluffs on the
  afternoon of the 25th. This is a bold escarpment of sand and clay,
  about a half a mile in length and near a thousand feet in height,
  extending southward from the river and rising like a gigantic barrier
  to obstruct our way. It was for a long time visible, and at a distance
  seemed impossible to be surmounted. The road forks before we reach the
  bluffs, one trail passing around its southern end and re-joining the
  main road at some distance beyond it, the other passing directly over
  its summit. The latter is the worse road of the two, but it being the
  shorter, we chose it. We were detained some time at the foot of the
  bluff by the breaking of one of our wagons, but we at last got under
  way, and commenced our toilsome journey over it. The ascent was easy
  and gradual, until we came to a deep gorge, which intersected our road
  at the foot of the main bluff. Crossing this at the imminent risk of
  being run over by the teams as they plunged headlong to the bottom, we
  came to a series of steep hills and narrow, deep and sandy defiles,
  through which there was barely room for a wagon to pass. So squarely
  hewn were some of these passes, that one could hardly believe that art
  had not a hand in their formation. After a vast deal of exertion we at
  last reached the summit, when we commenced the still more dangerous
  descent. Tumbling pell-mell down narrow passages, slowly crawling over
  abrupt ascents, we at length reached the bottom, and in two miles
  struck the river and encamped, but not till long after dark.

In 1857, the year of the Utah War, there was quite a crop of Scotts
Bluff enthusiasts. Cornelius Conway, a freighter with the Utah
Expedition, went into raptures over the scenery. He refers to Mitchell
Pass as “Devil’s Gap,” because of its tortuous passage. Capt. Jesse A.
Gove tells of passing through “the celebrated Scott’s Bluff, a cut of
some 7 miles from the old road.” Being rear guard, he had time to
“sketch the notch.” In 1857, according to Capt. Randolph Marcy’s
guidebook, _The Prairie Traveller_, from the pass “the road descends the
mountain, at the foot of which is the Platte and a mail station.”

    [Illustration: _Freighters at Independence Rock._ Original sketch in
    Oregon Trail Museum.]

William A. Carter, civilian trader bound for Fort Bridger with a U. S.
Army contingent, noted the “gigantic mass” of Scotts Bluff, which split
the trail. The old road to the left was taken by the troops, but Carter
himself was advised

  ... to take the straight forward road leading through the chain of
  Bluffs and descending by a nearer rout to the Platt again. This, we
  afterwards regretted as we got through the pass with great
  difficulty—we found a large freight [wagon] stopped in the pass, the
  mud being very deep. The axle of one wagon was broken and a dying ox
  lying crippled in the road—The bellowing of the Ox which reverberated
  along the bluff—and the croaking of the thousands of Ravens that were
  hovering over, had a gloomy and ominous sound. This pass is truly a
  wonder. The bluffs here form a semi circle and on each side rise up
  into huge towers which make the head dizzy to look up at. The passage
  through is level, but has been cut into deep ravines by the torrents
  which run down the sides of the Bluffs.

The mystic spell that Scotts Bluff seemed to weave about early travelers
continued unbroken during the following decade. Perhaps the high point
in romantic imagination was reached in 1860 by the English adventurer,
Richard Burton:

  ... In the dull uniformity of the prairies, it is a striking and
  attractive object, far excelling the castled crag of Drachenfels or
  any of the beauties of romantic Rhine.... As you approach within four
  or five miles, a massive medieval city gradually defines itself,
  clustering, with a wonderful fullness of detail, round a colossal
  fortress, and crowned with a royal castle.... At a nearer aspect
  again, the quaint illusion vanishes. The lines of masonry become
  yellow layers of boulder and pebble imbedded in a mass of stiff,
  tamped, bald, marly clay; the curtains and angles change to the
  gashings of the rain of ages, and the warriors are metamorphosed into
  dwarf cedars and dense shrubs, scattered singly over the surface....

    [Illustration: _William H. Jackson painting of bull train in
    Mitchell Pass based on original sketch of 1866._]

The Sioux uprising of the 1860’s kept pleasure travel to a minimum, but
even U. S. soldiers, intent on hammering the redskins, gave pause to
express wonder at “the Gibraltar of the Plains.” For the first time we
have evidence of travelers clambering up the sloping side to the summit
of the bluff, to survey the countryside. In 1862 Burlingame described
the view as “a scene seldom vouchsafed to mortals.” The following year
A. B. Ostrander, a drummer boy with the volunteer infantry, laboriously
scaled the cliffs, then scrambled hastily down again to catch up with
his regiment when he thought he saw Indians.

Also in 1863 Benjamin M. Connor made note of the wind wailing dismally
through the gap, which he erroneously called “Marshall’s Pass, for a
captain of my company.” Guide Jim Bridger, who had been one of the first
white men to see Scotts Bluff, back in the 1820’s, told Connor that the
bluff “was named for a man who saved his life from pursuing Indians by
taking refuge in the cliffs.” Bridger, who had been an associate of
Hiram Scott, must have known better.

    [Illustration: “_Yoking Up._” From original sketch by William H.

                   _Scotts Bluff—The Artistic Record_

The last noteworthy Oregon Trail journalist was a young “bullwhacker” of
1866 named William H. Jackson, who was destined to become the “living
link” between Scotts Bluff National Monument and its historic past. When
he came to Mitchell Pass he found the going tough. He reports that “we
had one of the steepest and worst gulches to drive through that we have
yet had.” His outfit camped just west of the pass. Finding no spring in
the vicinity, someone had to go 3 miles to the river for water. Young
Jackson, a man of notable artistic talent, stopped to sketch the pass.
Today, nearly a century later, his original sketch of Mitchell Pass,
together with dozens of his other original Oregon Trail sketches and
paintings, hang in the William H. Jackson Room of the Oregon Trail

William H. Jackson achieved fame as the “Pioneer Photographer” of the
Rocky Mountain West, being the first to make a photographic record of
Yellowstone geysers, the Teton Mountains, and many other scenic wonders
now preserved in National Parks. In 1936, at the age of 93, he accepted
an invitation to make the dedication speech for the history wing of the
new museum-administration building. In 1938 on a visit here he staked
out his 1866 campsite, which is now identified by a trailside marker.
After his death in 1943 the American Pioneer Trails Association donated
many of Jackson’s original sketches and later watercolors to the
National Park Service, while Julius F. Stone donated $10,000 as the
nucleus of a fund to build a Jackson Memorial Room. The building fund
was supplemented by public contributions and the completed wing was
dedicated in 1949.

The A. J. Miller sketch of 1837 and the Jackson sketch of 1866, the
earliest and the latest known pictures of Scotts Bluff made during
Oregon Trail days, are the best known today. The Piercy sketch of 1853,
above noted, has been rather widely reprinted. Other authentic
contemporary drawings are found only in obscure or rare out-of-print
guidebooks or journals. Noteworthy among these are those of David Leeper
in 1849, Benjamin Ferris in 1854, Cornelius Conway in 1857, T. S.
Kenderdine in 1858, Richard Burton in 1860, and Alfred Lambourne, date

                 _Pony Express to Iron Horse, 1860-69_

The California gold rush had not yet abated when strikes of precious
metals were made in Nevada and Colorado (1858-59), later in Montana and
Idaho (1864). The result was a ramification of the old Oregon-California
Trail, with major branches up the South Platte to Denver, and from Fort
Laramie northward along the Bighorn Mountains to Virginia City, Mont.
(the Bozeman Trail). The new mining communities added their demands to
those of Utah and California for improved communication with the States.
In the fifties and sixties Scotts Bluff witnessed dramatic changes.

The first mail service up the Platte route was inaugurated by the
Mormons; after the army occupied Fort Laramie, military dispatches were
carried on regular schedules to Eastern command posts. Public mail
service to California began in 1851. By 1860 the Central Overland and
Pike’s Peak Express Company held a monopoly on mail contracts between
the Missouri and the Pacific.

No frontier institution better dramatizes the spirit of American
enterprise than the famed Pony Express, fast biweekly mail service. From
April 1860 to October 1861 youthful riders on fleet mustangs pounded
between St. Joseph, Mo., and Hangtown (Placerville), Calif., braving the
elements and Indian dangers. William Russell of the freighting firm was
the promoter of the Pony Express. Although financially disastrous, it
demonstrated the need for Government mail subsidies.

    [Illustration: _View southeast from summit of Scotts Bluff to Dome
    Rock. Gering Valley (Robidoux Pass Route) in background._]

    [Illustration: _Scotts Bluff from the Mormon Trail._ Courtesy,
    Downey’s Midwest Studio, Scottsbluff, Nebr.]

    [Illustration: _Changing mounts at Pony Express Station._ Original
    sketch in Oregon Trail Museum.]

Pony Express stations were about 15 miles apart and each rider made up
to 100 miles at a time, changing to fresh ponies at each station.
Stations in the Scotts Bluff vicinity were at Chimney Rock, near present
Melbeta (the Scotts Bluff Station at Ficklin Spring, named for a company
official), and at Horse Creek. The Scotts Bluff Station, made of massive
adobe walls, later became the Mark Coad Ranch. The thrill of watching a
Pony Express rider gallop past is vividly described in _Roughing It_ by
Mark Twain, who was a stagecoach passenger bound for Nevada. The
incident took place just east of the pass at Scotts Bluff.

  We had had a consuming desire, from the beginning, to see a
  pony-rider, but somehow or other all that passed us and all that met
  us managed to streak by in the night, and so we heard only a whiz and
  a hail, and the swift phantom of the desert was gone before we could
  get our heads out of the windows. But now we were expecting one along
  every moment, and would see him in broad daylight. Presently the
  driver exclaims:


  Every neck is stretched further, and every eye strained wider. Away
  across the endless dead level of the prairie a black speck appears
  against the sky, and it is plain that it moves. Well, I should think
  so! In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider, rising and
  falling, rising and falling—sweeping toward us nearer and
  nearer—growing more and more distinct, more and more sharply
  defined—nearer and still nearer, and the flutter of the hoofs comes
  faintly to the ear—another instant a whoop and a hurrah from our upper
  deck, a wave of the rider’s hand, but no reply, and man and horse
  burst past our excited faces, and go swinging away like a belated
  fragment of a storm!

The first transcontinental telegraph line, up the Platte route through
Mitchell Pass, ended the meteoric Pony Express. In 1860 Edward Creighton
of the Pacific Telegraph Company had reconnoitered the Oregon Trail via
Mitchell Pass. The active construction of the line took but a few
months, in 1861, and in October telegrams were going to California.
Service in the early days was hampered by Indians, suspicious of the
“singing wires,” who frequently burned down the poles. There was an
early telegraph station at Fort Mitchell, at the foot of Scotts Bluff.

In 1861, Russell, Majors, and Waddell subcontracted with the Butterfield
Overland Mail Company to operate overland stage and mail service over
the Central Route (moved up from the Southwest because of the imminent
Civil War). There was daily coach service to California via Scotts Bluff
until 1862, when Indian troubles required the new operator, Benjamin
Holladay, to transfer the route southward, via Lodgepole Creek and Elk
Mountain. The days of the famed Concord stage in the Scotts Bluff area
were short lived.

    [Illustration: _Pony Express rider and the advancing telegraph._
    Original sketch in Oregon Trail Museum.]

As the telegraph made the Pony Express obsolete, so the railroad spelled
the doom of the stagecoach and the prairie schooner. The easy gradient
over the Continental Divide at South Pass was the geographic reason for
the centrally located Oregon Trail. However, political rather than
geographic reasons dictated the central location of the first
transcontinental railroad. During the 1850’s there were many “Pacific
Railroad Surveys” which did much to fill in the blank pages of Western
topography, but none of these touched the North Platte. At the outbreak
of the Civil War, President Lincoln decided that a central overland
railroad would strengthen the ties of the Union. It was in August 1865,
however, before the seasoned engineer and Indian fighter, Gen. Grenville
M. Dodge, made his reconnaissance for the future Union Pacific Railroad.
Although the route finally selected followed Lodgepole Creek to Cheyenne
Pass, the general did examine the North Platte, pausing to sketch
Mitchell Pass on August 27. The “iron horse” reached Cheyenne in 1867,
and joined the Central Pacific with due ceremony at Promontory Point,
Utah, May 10, 1869. This date can be accepted as marking the end of the
historic Oregon-California Trail.

                        _Warfare on the Plains_

In the early 1860’s the mounted eagle-plumed warriors of the plains,
including the Sioux and Cheyenne, went on the warpath. Scotts Bluff
looked down upon many exciting scenes of conflict.

During the days of the trapper and the emigrant, the Indian had been
generally peaceful, despite occasional pilferings and “greenhorn”
alarms. Indeed, many white traders, such as Robidoux, had freely
intermarried with the Indians. The migration of 1849, giving evidence of
the white man’s strength, coupled with his wanton slaughter of the
life-giving buffalo, caused some uneasiness among the tribes. In October
1850, Col. E. V. Sumner with a company of mounted infantry en route to
Fort Laramie met and counseled with one band of Sioux at Scotts Bluff.
They, like their red brethren throughout the plains, were full of
complaints. To quiet them, old mountain man Thomas Fitzpatrick, Indian
agent for the Upper Platte, engineered the greatest Indian peace council
ever held on the Plains. This was at Horse Creek, a few miles west of
Scotts Bluff.

In September 1851 around 10,000 Indians from the tribes of the Sioux,
Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Snake, Ree, Gros Ventre, and Assiniboin
assembled at Fort Laramie. The U. S. Government was represented by
Fitzpatrick; the famed missionary, Father De Smet; Robert Campbell (one
of the founders of Fort Laramie); and D. D. Mitchell, superintendent of
Indian Affairs at St. Louis. Jim Bridger and other oldtimers showed up
to help keep peace among traditional enemies. Because there was not
grass enough for the horses of this vast assemblage, the council moved
downriver. It was an historic occasion with much colorful pageantry. The
negotiations went smoothly, and by “the First Treaty of Fort Laramie”
the Indians promised to permit peaceful passage of travelers through
their domain in exchange for an annuity of $50,000 in provisions and
trade goods.

This peace treaty, like so many others, was soon broken. In August 1854
a misunderstanding between an Oglala Sioux and a Mormon emigrant,
compounded by the inexperience of Lt. John L. Grattan from Fort Laramie,
led to the massacre of Grattan, 30 soldiers, and his interpreter 8 miles
east of Fort Laramie. This was “avenged” in September 1855 by the
slaughter of innocent Brule Indians by an expeditionary force under Gen.
William S. Harney, near Ash Hollow. En route to Fort Laramie, the
cavalrymen trooped through Mitchell Pass with over 200 fresh Indian
scalps in their baggage.

    [Illustration: _“The Gorge, Scott’s Bluff.” sketched by Dodge in
    1865._ From Perkins’ Trails, Rails and War.]

In 1862 there was a bloody uprising of the Minnesota Sioux. Hostilities
spread to the Plains, with grave danger to lines of communication and
army outposts with garrisons depleted by the Civil War. During this
period, Fort Laramie was a headquarters post, occupied during the
crucial years principally by the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, under Col.
William O. Collins. There was a chain of outposts up and down the North
Platte, from Mud Springs near present Bridgeport to South Pass, Wyo.
These were frequently harassed by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. One of
these beleaguered outposts was adobe-walled Fort Mitchell, about 2 miles
northwest of Mitchell Pass.

Initially called “Camp Shuman” for its builder and first commander,
Capt. J. S. Shuman, it was constructed in 1864, according to official
records, and was last heard of in 1867. The little fort (and later
nearby “Scott’s Bluffs Pass”) was named for Brig. Gen. Robert B Mitchell
(1823-82), commander of the Nebraska Military District, a citizen of
Kansas Territory who earlier fought gallantly in the Civil War and later
became Governor of New Mexico Territory. Fort Mitchell saw its share of
frontier action. Colonel Collins’ report of 1865 to the regimental
adjutant advises:

  Co H has been Stationed at Fort Mitchell 55 Miles East of Laramie on
  the Platte River. The company participated in the celebrated Indian
  fights at Mud Springs and Rush Creek where 150 Men under Command of Lt
  Col Wm O Collins fought from fifteen hundred to two thousand of the
  dusky warriors, since that time this Company has carried the Mail from
  Julesberg to Laramie. This has been heavy and laborious duty, yet they
  have never flinched but have had the Mail through in good time.
  Besides this company has built one Mail Station, near the noted Land
  Mark Chimney Rock, besides repairing the one at Mud Springs.

    [Illustration: _Cavalrymen leaving Fort Mitchell._ Original sketch
    in Oregon Trail Museum.]

    [Illustration: _William H. Jackson sketch of Fort Mitchell at Scotts

The Battle of Mud Springs in February 1865 was an aftermath of the siege
of Julesburg by a horde of Sioux and Cheyenne who were enraged by a
massacre of Cheyennes at Sand Creek, Colo. In zero weather the small
garrison at Fort Mitchell joined Colonel Collins’ forces in an attempt
to intercept the north-bound Indians. After skirmishing and light
casualties, the Indians withdrew across the North Platte.

A second engagement near Scotts Bluff was known as the Battle of Horse
Creek. In June 1865, Capt. William D. Fouts led a company of the 7th
Iowa Cavalry who were escorting 185 lodges of supposedly peaceful Brule
Sioux from Fort Laramie to Fort Kearny. Between Horse Creek and Fort
Mitchell the Indians treacherously attacked, killing Captain Fouts and
three soldiers. The Fort Mitchell garrison rode out to aid the Iowans,
but again the Sioux retreated across the Platte. Colonel Moonlight at
Fort Laramie, advised by telegram from Camp Mitchell, futilely pursued
the Indians with a cavalry force.

Other skirmishes, including besieged wagon corrals, ambushes in Mitchell
Pass, and troops from Fort Mitchell galloping to the rescue, are
reported in the literature, though with scanty evidence.

Fort Mitchell was occupied at various times by units of the 11th Ohio
Volunteer Cavalry, the 12th Missouri Volunteers, and the 18th U. S.
Infantry. The last identifiable commander was Capt. Robert P. Hughes, of
the latter regiment. He was detached there in 1866 by Col. Henry B.
Carrington who, with 2,000 troops and 226 mule teams, was en route to
construct posts along the Bozeman Trail in the Powder River country.
Among the few brief eyewitness descriptions which survive is this
impression of Colonel Carrington’s wife:

  ... [Scott’s Bluffs are] of mixed clay and sand, plentifully supplied
  with fossils, and throw a spur across the Platte basin so as to compel
  the traveler to leave the river and make a long detour to the south,
  or to pass through the bluffs themselves. This passage is by a
  tortuous gorge where wagons can seldom pass each other; and at times
  the drifting snows or sands almost obscure the high walls and
  battlements that rise several hundred feet on either side....

  Almost immediately after leaving the Bluffs, and at the foot of the
  descent, after the gorge is passed, we find Fort Mitchell. This is a
  sub-post of Laramie of peculiar style and compactness. The walls of
  the quarters are also the outlines of the fort itself, and the four
  sides of the rectangle are respectively the quarters of officers,
  soldiers, and horses, and the warehouse of supplies. Windows open into
  the little court or parade-ground; and bedrooms as well as all other
  apartments, are loopholed for defense.

All trace of Fort Mitchell has disappeared but a ground plan of the
enclosure is preserved in the Collins Collection of the Colorado
Agricultural College. Three authentic contemporary sketches of Fort
Mitchell have been discovered; one of 1865 by an unidentified soldier of
the 11th Ohio reproduced in _The Bozeman Trail_; one by an unidentified
artist with the Hayden Territorial Survey of 1867, published in _U. S.
Geological Survey of Wyoming_, in 1871; and the one by William H.
Jackson, preserved in the Oregon Trail Museum.

Hostilities on the Plains came to a climax when Colonel Carrington built
Fort Reno, Fort Phil Kearny, and Fort C. F. Smith on the Bozeman Trail.
This trail extended from Fort Laramie northwestward to Virginia City,
Mont., scene of a new gold rush. Capt. William J. Fetterman and 80 men
were slain in an ambush in December 1866 at Fort Phil Kearny (near
present Buffalo, Wyo.). In 1867 Red Cloud’s warriors were repulsed at
the Wagon Box and Hayfield Fights; but the Government decreed that this
trail to the Montana mines must be abandoned. By the second treaty of
Fort Laramie, in 1868, the Sioux were granted an extensive hunting
domain between the North Platte and Missouri Rivers.

The treaty of 1868 marked the end of major Indian hostilities in the
North Platte Valley. In 1870 Red Cloud was induced to visit the Great
White Father (President Grant) in Washington; he was also taken to New
York City, where he gave an impressive oration in his native tongue to
the assembled palefaces. Red Cloud wanted an agency and trading post set
up near Fort Laramie, long the traditional camp of the Oglala Sioux. The
Government wanted to set up the agency far north of the Platte, on the
White River. To humor the Indians, still in a resentful mood, the first
Red Cloud Agency was established on the north bank of the Platte, half
way between Fort Laramie and Scotts Bluff, at present Henry, Nebr., on
the Wyoming boundary. This became the temporary home of more than 6,000
Dakota Sioux (mainly Oglala and Brule), 1,500 Cheyenne, and 1,300

    [Illustration: _Chief Red Cloud._ Original sketch in Oregon Trail

Under the prevailing peace policy the Episcopal Church took over the
Sioux Agency. Their first agent was J. W. Wham. Unable to control Red
Cloud and his excitable warriors, Wham was soon replaced by another
churchman, J. W. Daniels. It was not easy for the victors of the Bozeman
Trail war to mend their ways. The Sioux ambushed Pawnee buffalo-hunters
in 1873 at Massacre Canyon on the Republican River; others joined
hostiles on the Powder River in an attack on the Crow Indians and on the
Northern Pacific survey parties on the Lower Yellowstone River. In 1873,
Daniels finally managed to persuade these “peaceful” Indians to move the
agency to White River, where Fort Robinson was established the next

The discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874, the attempt to reduce
further the Sioux reservation, the swift events which culminated in the
disastrous Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, and the subsequent
rounding up of the scattered Sioux to be placed on Dakota reservations,
the killing of Crazy Horse at Fort Robinson—all these events occurred
far to the north of Scotts Bluff. The only “wild Indians” to appear
again in this area were Dull Knife’s Cheyennes, who passed here in 1878
in a spectacular northward flight from their hated reservation in

              _Hunters, Miners, Cowboys, and Homesteaders_

The ruthless hide-hunters were effective allies of the U. S. Army in
ending resistance of the Plains Indian to the white man’s advance. The
American bison, or buffalo, had been the staff of life and the major
source of food, clothing, and shelter for the Indians. Once vast buffalo
herds, blackening the landscape, crossed and recrossed the North Platte
River. The many expeditions and the emigrants on the California Road
killed the huge shaggy beast wholesale. As a result, most of the herds
withdrew to the southern Plains.

Construction of transcontinental railroads and the addition of new
military posts along their route created a huge demand for fresh meat;
in the East there was a good market for buffalo robes. The result was an
intensive campaign of slaughter by professional hunters, armed with
heavy Sharps and Ballard buffalo rifles. The stupid creatures were easy
game for the hunter, who ran after them Indian fashion or calmly mowed
them down from a prone position, as they grazed. In the mid-seventies
the Kansas Pacific Railroad alone hauled out the carcasses of 3 million
buffalo. It is estimated that more than 30 million buffalo were
destroyed during the two decades, 1860-80. Descendants of the few
creatures that survived this slaughter are now to be found only in zoos
and in Government preserves, such as Yellowstone National Park.

The Black Hills Gold Rush of 1876 by-passed Scotts Bluff. Hopeful
prospectors rode the Union Pacific Railroad to Sidney or Cheyenne, then
followed trails northward to the diggings. The Sidney-Black Hills route
crossed the North Platte over a private toll bridge at Camp Clarke, near
modern Bridgeport. The Cheyenne-Deadwood Trail crossed a new Army-built
iron truss bridge over the North Platte at Fort Laramie.

The last chapter in the pre-settlement history of Scotts Bluff could be
entitled “The Cowboy Era.” The open range cattle industry really began
during Oregon Trail days, when sharp traders in the Fort Laramie area
discovered that there was profit in exchanging one head of fat cattle
for two that were worn out. They also discovered that oxen wintered well
in the Laramie River Valley. Demand for cattle increased with the big
Utah overland freighting business of the 1850’s. After the Civil War
herds of half-wild longhorn Texas cattle were rounded up for the long
drive northward to shipping points on the Kansas Pacific and Union
Pacific Railways. In 1868 Texas cattle reached Kearney, North Platte,
and Ogallala.

    [Illustration: _Hunting buffalo at Scotts Bluff._ Original sketch in
    Oregon Trail Museum.]

    [Illustration: _Loading buffalo bones at Scotts Bluff._ Original
    sketch in Oregon Trail Museum.]

    [Illustration: _Cowboys driving longhorn cattle past Scotts Bluff._
    Original sketch in Oregon Trail Museum.]

In the 1870’s ranchers began to appropriate lush grazing lands in the
North Platte Valley and its tributaries. It is said that by 1872 there
were 60,000 head on Horse Creek, near Scotts Bluff. After the mop-up of
hostile Sioux bands in 1876-77, thousands more were driven from Ogallala
past Scotts Bluff toward the vast ranges in the northern Plains. Pratt
and Ferris, Swan Land and Cattle Company, and the Coad Brothers were
among the big outfits who grazed cattle in the Scotts Bluff area. Rapid
inflation of the cattle market, overstocking and overgrazing, coupled
with the disastrous hard winter of 1885-86, hastened the end of this
short-lived but much publicized era.

In 1885 the first homesteaders, or grangers, arrived to stake out their
claims in the Nebraska Panhandle. Gering was platted in 1888. In 1900
the Burlington Railroad was built up the north side of the Platte and
the town of Scottsbluff was born. In 1910 a Union Pacific branch line
was built up the south bank.

Where buffalo once roamed there are now irrigation ditches, sugar beet,
alfalfa, and potato fields, and prime Herefords. The wily Sioux have
become peaceful citizens. The dusty roads of the covered wagons have
been replaced by broad paved highways and fast automobiles. Bullboats
and Conestoga wagons have been replaced by long freight trains and
cometlike aircraft. Scotts Bluff, named for one of General Ashley’s fur
traders, the brooding sentinel of the Oregon Trail, now belongs to

    [Illustration: _Badlands at the foot of Scotts Bluff’s north face._
    Courtesy, Union Pacific Railroad.]

                   _Natural History of Scotts Bluff_

Although Scotts Bluff is primarily significant because of its historical
associations, its geology and biology are also interesting. Indeed,
appreciation of the history of the bluff is enhanced by an understanding
of how this bluff was formed and how it influenced migration routes. An
elementary knowledge of the plant and animal life of the area, which is
today much as it was in the covered wagon era, adds to your
understanding of this story.


The highest point in the monument area is South Bluff, 4,692 feet above
sea level. (The highest point in Nebraska, more than 5,000 feet, is in
Banner County, south of Scotts Bluff.) The “high point” on Scotts Bluff
proper is 4,649 feet, which is 766 feet above the North Platte River or
700 feet above the badlands at its immediate base. The elevation of
monument headquarters is 4,114 feet.


This bluff, like the neighboring Wildcat Hills, Chimney Rock, and
Courthouse Rock, is an erosional remnant of the ancient Great Plains.
These plains were formed by the deposit of gravel, sand, and silt
brought down by rivers from the Rocky Mountains after they were uplifted
about 60 million years ago. At intervals, 30 to 40 million years ago,
volcanoes to the west also added great quantities of ash and dust
deposits. When the process of deposit slowed, erosion gained headway,
cutting new river valleys in the Plains. High tablelands were left on
both sides of the North Platte Valley. Landmarks such as Scotts Bluff
and Chimney Rock have hard rock caps that protect them from erosion.

The lower two-thirds of the bluff consists of Brule clay, an Oligocene
deposit of buff-colored, soft-textured sandy clay. The badlands
formation at the foot of the bluff dramatically demonstrates the rapid
erosion of the Brule clay when unprotected by cap rock. The upper
one-third of the bluff consists of the Arickaree formation, gray sand
beds of the Miocene Epoch. The uppermost Arickaree beds form the top
surface of the bluff. These are laced with hard tubular concretions
which help protect the bluff and add to the resistance of the beds to
weathering. All the formations exposed in the walls of the bluff are
interspersed with thin layers of pinkish volcanic ash.


The Badlands regions of western Nebraska and South Dakota have become
world famous for their extensive deposits of fossils of mammals and
other animals that lived during the Oligocene and Miocene Epochs of the
Cenozoic Era. The Brule clay formation of Scotts Bluff and vicinity is
particularly rich in fossil remains of extinct animals of Oligocene age,
30 to 40 million years ago. These exposed remains gave rise to many
Indian legends and were frequently noted by curious emigrants.
Scientists from many institutions of learning have continued to explore
and examine these fossils since 1847, when Dr. Hiram Prout of St. Louis
described a jawbone brought to him by a fur trader as that of a
_Titanothere_, a giant rhinoceros-like creature.

Among the most common fossils of the Scotts Bluff vicinity, now in the
collections of the Oregon Trail Museum, are giant turtles, pig-like
_Oreodonts_ ancient forms of rhinoceroses, saber-toothed tigers, dogs,
deer, camels, and rodents. The horse family is represented here by
_Mesohippus_, a three-toed creature about 18 inches in height.


The conspicuous trees on the summit and north slopes of Scotts Bluff are
ponderosa pine and a juniper usually called Rocky Mountain red cedar. In
ravines and along the river banks are cottonwood, willow, and boxelder.
The most common shrubs in the area are mountain-mahogany, wild currant,
and wild rose. Wildflowers include sunflower, daisies, wild sweetpea,
golden banner, penstemon, Indian paintbrush, yucca or soapweed, ball
cactus, and prickly pear cactus. The dominant grasses are blue grama,
side-oats grama, buffalo-grass, slender and western wheatgrasses, and
woolly sedge.


During historic times the North Platte Valley was in the heart of
buffalo country, but extermination in the 1870’s brought an end to the
era of the wild buffalo (bison), which had been the staff of life to the
Plains Indians and the main food supply on the white man’s frontier. A
small captive herd of bison is preserved today in nearby Wildcat Hills
State Park. The bighorn and the grizzly, described by early travelers,
disappeared by 1860, leaving an occasional rare skull as their last
testament. The pronghorn (antelope) is still common in the tablelands
north and south of Scotts Bluff, but deer are the only large hoofed
animals which still frequent the monument area. Other survivors include
red fox, coyote, raccoon, porcupine, badger, beaver, muskrat, and fox
squirrel. Prairie dogs, once abundant, have virtually disappeared.

    [Illustration: _Titanothere skull from the fossil collection, Oregon
    Trail Museum._]

There is a wide variety of bird life. Some of the species that have been
seen at Scotts Bluff are—double-crested cormorant, great blue heron,
black-crowned night heron, mallard, green-winged and blue-winged teal,
American merganser, turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, golden eagle,
sparrow hawk, killdeer, spotted sandpiper, Franklin’s gull, mourning
dove, great horned owl, (western) burrowing owl, western kingbird,
horned lark, cliff swallow, American magpie, rock wren, mockingbird,
mountain bluebird, Townsend’s solitaire, loggerhead shrike, western
meadowlark, and spotted towhee junco.

                _Prehistory of the Scotts Bluff Region_

Although collections of stone projectile points, scrapers, hammerstones,
knives, clay pottery, and other primitive Indian artifacts have been
assembled from scattered sites in the North Platte Valley, the story of
prehistoric man in the Scotts Bluff region is still incomplete. Only a
dim outline of the ancient past is beginning to emerge from the patient
studies of archeologists.

Vague evidence of aboriginal campsites and signal fires has been found
on the summit of Scotts Bluff. However, the story of ancient man in this
section of the Great Plains is better suggested by five other nearby
Indian occupation sites:

_Signal Butte._

At the western terminus of Wildcat Hills, about 12 miles southwest of
Scotts Bluff, archeologists of Nebraska University, in 1932, probed the
top of an isolated bluff which is now famous as a key archeological
site. A 13-foot vertical cross section revealed three separate levels,
each bearing cultural material. The lowest level is believed to
represent a hunting complex (Early Lithic Period), perhaps 5,000 years
old. The second level (Intermediate Lithic Period), described as
Pre-Woodland, is given a tentative age of 1,500 years. The uppermost
level (Ceramic Period) contains artifacts of the Dismal River and Upper
Republican cultures, including pottery. The primitive farmers
representing the Upper Republican culture occupied Signal Butte when
Columbus discovered America, while the Dismal River people are believed
to have been an Apache group of about A. D. 1700.

_Scotts Bluff Bison Quarry._

In 1933 archeologists of the University of Nebraska State Museum, while
excavating in the bank of Kiowa Creek, near Signal Butte, found stone
projectile points in association with an extinct form of giant bison.
This remarkable find, which established Scottsbluff points as a classic
type, was among the earliest of a series of discoveries in the Great
Plains which have furnished unmistakable evidence of mysterious big game
hunters who inhabited the Plains some 10,000 years ago.

_Spanish Diggings._

About 60 miles northwest of Scotts Bluff, in Wyoming, lies an extensive
area of flinty hills and wastes which have large numbers of ancient
quarries. Thousands of artifacts of primitive manufacture suggest the
Intermediate Lithic Period preceding the dawn of the Christian era.

_Scotts Bluff Potato Cellar Site._

Near the east Slope of Scotts Bluff, in 1934, a farmer reported the
occurrence of several skeletons and associated stone and bone artifacts
while excavating for a potato storage bin. This appears to have been a
burial ground of early Nebraska hunters, or foragers, possibly
contemporary with the Intermediate Lithic level at Signal Butte.

    [Illustration: _Yucca in bloom at the summit of Scotts Bluff._]

_Ash Hollow Cave._

About 100 miles downstream from Scotts Bluff, near a famous Oregon Trail
campsite, is a rock shelter, excavated by the Nebraska State Historical
Society in 1939, which contained evidence of 7 occupations over a period
of 2,000 years. These range from the Intermediate Lithic, or second
level at Signal Butte, through the Woodland, Upper Republican, and
Dismal River complexes of the Ceramic Period.

When white men first penetrated Nebraska, about A. D. 1700, the Central
Plains were divided into hunting areas held by tribes living in large
fortified villages. They fed on buffalo meat obtained by seasonal hunts,
and on corn, beans, and squash grown near their villages. The Pawnee
were the dominant Nebraska tribe when the region was first seen by white
men, but the region was soon invaded by Sioux, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and
other tribes. With the introduction of horses and guns by Europeans, the
Plains Indians became the bold, wide ranging buffalo hunters and
fighters famous in annals of the white man’s Wild West.

                          _Guide to the Area_

_Location of the Monument._

Scotts Bluff National Monument adjoins the south bank of the North
Platte River, in Scotts Bluff County, western Nebraska, 3 miles west of
Gering via State Route 86, and 4 miles southwest of Scottsbluff which is
on the north side of the river, on U. S. 26. The highway route on the
north side of the North Platte River from Broadwater to the city of
Scottsbluff in part parallels the course of the Mormon Trail. If you
approach this historic landmark from the east, you can follow the
classic Oregon Trail route to this point by driving up the North Platte
Valley via U. S. 26 from Ogallala through Bridgeport (Courthouse Rock)
to South Bayard (Chimney Rock) and State Route 86 from South Bayard to

_Trans-Monument Road._

The monument area is bisected from east to west by State Route 86, the
principal approach being from the east through Gering. The Mitchell Pass
route of the old Oregon Trail coming in from the east to the north of
Dome Rock intersects this highway just south of the east entrance to
Scotts Bluff National Monument. From this entrance to monument
headquarters, the highway roughly follows the roadbed of the old Oregon
Trail. Near monument headquarters, remains of the trail swing south of
the highway before recrossing it to make the ascent through Mitchell
Pass, which separates South Bluff from Scotts Bluff proper.

_Mitchell Pass Area._

At the crest of Mitchell Pass, State Route 86 continues westward through
Mitchell Valley to the Wyoming State line. From the pass, the trough of
the Oregon Trail makes an abrupt hairpin turn to get around the head of
a ravine, then veers northwestward toward the North Platte River, and
the old crossing at the mouth of Horse Creek, near present Lyman, Nebr.
In Mitchell Pass and a few hundred yards west thereof, the Oregon Trail
trough is exceptionally well-defined despite the passage of nearly 100
years since it was heavily traveled. The unusual depth of the old trail
through this area results from the fact that the countless thousands of
animals and wagons had to go single file through the Mitchell Pass
bottleneck. There is a trail from the Mitchell Pass parking area to the
William H. Jackson campsite marker.

_Visitor Center._

The dominant building at the monument headquarters area, just east of
Mitchell Pass, is the Visitor Center, which houses the Oregon Trail
Museum and monument administrative offices. The principal features of
the museum are: (1) The entrance lobby, adorned with bronze Oregon Trail
and Pony Express plaques; (2) the main History Room, featuring exhibits
relating to Scotts Bluff and the Oregon Trail from earliest explorations
to the open range cattle industry; (3) the William H. Jackson Memorial
Room, containing a collection of Jackson’s Oregon Trail sketches and
watercolor paintings, together with two dioramic scenes of frontier
buffalo hunting; and (4) the Prehistory Room, with displays describing
the geologic formation of Scotts Bluff, its paleontological (fossil)
story, and the prehistoric Indians of the North Platte Valley.

Uniformed personnel are stationed at the Visitor Center throughout the
year. Seasonal public services include orientation talks in the museum
rooms and at the summit of Scotts Bluff; evening illustrated talks in
the museum courtyard; and guided hikes over the Oregon Trail and over
the Summit-Museum Trail. Free informational literature and sales
publications of special historical interest, and signs, markers, and
wayside exhibits are available throughout the year.

_Scotts Bluff Summit Road and Summit Area._

During the 1930’s, a paved road 1.7 miles in length, requiring three
tunnel excavations, was built from the monument headquarters area to the
summit, to enhance visitor appreciation of the bluff’s scenic and
historic values. The road leads to a 50-car parking area on top. At the
Summit Road entrance gate, adjoining the Visitor Center, cars are
welcomed by a uniformed ranger. There is a fee collected here for use of
the Summit Road, which is open daily except when weather conditions make
driving hazardous.

The summit area is several acres in extent. Surfaced trails reach the
principal overlooks. The main trail proceeds north from the area to the
High Point of the bluff (4,649 feet above sea level), then meanders to
the Observation Point above the north face of the bluff. At the foot of
the bluff are the scenic badlands and the North Platte River, while the
historic North Platte Valley stretches to the horizon east and west. An
orientation map and bronze indicators will enable you to trace the route
of the Oregon and Mormon Trails through this valley, and to determine
the direction of the following points of interest: Courthouse Rock,
Chimney Rock, Castle Rock, Rebecca Winters’ Grave; Agate Springs Fossil
Quarries, Fort Mitchell, Fort Laramie, and Laramie Peak.

A trail south from the parking area will enable you to reach a point
overlooking the Visitor Center, Mitchell Pass, and the beginning loop of
the Summit Road. Beyond Dome Rock is Gering Valley, through which was
the Robidoux Pass route of the Oregon Trail.

_Summit-Museum Trail._

A feature of the monument which affords extra scenic and inspirational
benefit is a 1.6-mile-long trail extending from the summit to the
headquarters area via a series of zig-zags and ledges, a foot tunnel,
and “Scott’s Spring.” Not only does this trail afford superb scenic
views of the bluff, it enables you to examine at close hand the
successive rock strata that comprise the bluff, and to walk through
varyingly vegetated slopes and fields. Descent of the bluff on foot by
this trail is a popular activity. There are those who arrange to have
someone in their party drive the car back down to the headquarters area,
while others make the round trip by foot.

    [Illustration: _Visitors on the Oregon Trail west of Mitchell

_Badlands Area._

The section between the steep bluff and the river is characterized by a
tortuous labyrinth of steep-sided gullies known as “badlands.” The
badlands area is of historical interest since it was the impassability
of this ground that forced the earliest emigrants on the trail to detour
away from the river, first through Robidoux Pass, and later through
Mitchell Pass. The badlands are also of exceptional geologic interest as
an example of rapid erosion in soft rock beds of comparatively uniform
composition. There is a natural bridge in one of the ravines. The area
is of special interest paleontologically because of the wealth of
Oligocene fossils to be found there. A graveled road within the monument
boundaries follows the Gering Canal through the badlands area. This can
be reached via the road to Scotts Bluff Country Club, at the east foot
of the bluff.

_South Bluff Wild Area._

The area within the monument south of State Route 86, including Dome
Rock and the South Bluff, is unimproved and no improvements are planned.
This is a relatively unspoiled area of considerable scenic value,
abounding in features of geological and botanical interest. You are free
to ascend South Bluff or roam on foot through this area on either side
of Mitchell Pass; however, no fires or overnight camps are permitted.
Rough clothing and stout footgear are recommended. Climbing of Dome Rock
is extremely perilous, and is discouraged because of the crumbly nature
of the Brule clay formation that makes up its steep walls.

                            _Related Areas_

Nearby Chimney Rock National Historic Site is preserved by cooperative
agreement between the Department of the Interior, the Nebraska State
Historical Society, and the City of Bayard, Nebr. Included in the
National Park System are these other areas commemorating phases of early
western history: Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Mo.; Homestead
National Monument, Nebr.; Fort Laramie National Monument, Wyo.; Grand
Teton National Park, Wyo.; and Whitman National Monument, Wash.


Scotts Bluff National Monument was carved out of the public domain by
Presidential proclamation on December 12, 1919, and contains more than 5
square miles. A superintendent, whose address is Box 136, Gering, Nebr.,
is in immediate charge.

                          _Suggested Readings_

Chittenden, Hiram M., _American Fur Trade of the Far West_. 2 vols.
      Rufus Rockwell Wilson, Inc., New York, 1936.

Driggs, Howard R., _Westward America_ (with reproductions of watercolor
      paintings by William H. Jackson). Somerset Books, Inc., New York,

Federal Writers’ Project, _The Oregon Trail_. Hastings House, New York,

Ghent, W. J., _The Road to Oregon_. Longmans, Green and Co., New York,

Hulbert, Archer B., _Forty-Niners, the Chronicle of the California
      Trail_. Blue Ribbon Books, Inc., New York, 1931.

Jackson, Joseph H., ed., _Gold Rush Album_. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New
      York, 1949.

Mattes, Merrill J., “A History of Old Fort Mitchell.” _Nebraska
      History_, XXIV, 71-82 (Apr.-June 1943).

— — —, “Hiram Scott, Fur Trader.” _Nebraska History_, XXVI, 127-162
      (July-Sept. 1945).

— — —, “Robidoux’s Trading Post at ‘Scott’s Bluffs,’ and the California
      Gold Rush.” _Nebraska History_, XXX, 95-138 (June 1949).

— — —, “Fort Mitchell, Scotts Bluff, Nebraska Territory.” _Nebraska
      History_, XXXIII, 1-34 (Mar. 1952).

— — —, “Chimney Rock on the Oregon Trail.” _Nebraska History_, XXXVI,
      1-26 (Mar. 1955).

Monaghan, Jay, _The Overland Trail_. The Bobbs-Merrill Co.,
      Indianapolis, 1947.

Olson, James C., _History of Nebraska_. University of Nebraska Press,
      Lincoln, 1955.

Paden, Irene D., _The Wake of the Prairie Schooner_. The MacMillan Co.,
      New York, 1943.

Parkman, Francis, _The Oregon Trail_. Langhart and Co., Inc., New York,

Rollins, Phillip A., ed., _Discovery of the Oregon Trail: Robert
      Stuart’s Narratives_. Edward Eberstadt and Sons, New York, 1935.

                         U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1961 OF—584508

                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                       HISTORICAL HANDBOOK SERIES

   (Price lists of National Park Service publications may be obtained
       from the Superintendent of Documents, Washington 25, D.C.)

  Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefields
  Custer Battlefield
  Custis-Lee Mansion, the Robert E. Lee Memorial
  Fort Laramie
  Fort McHenry
  Fort Necessity
  Fort Pulaski
  Fort Raleigh
  Fort Sumter
  George Washington Birthplace
  Guilford Courthouse
  Hopewell Village
  Jamestown, Virginia
  Kings Mountain
  The Lincoln Museum and the House Where Lincoln Died
  Manassas (Bull Run)
  Montezuma Castle
  Morristown, a Military Capital of the Revolution
  Petersburg Battlefields
  Scotts Bluff
  Statue of Liberty
  Vanderbilt Mansion

    [Illustration: Pony Express rider.]

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Silently corrected a few typos.

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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