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What pioneer’s saw on the Oregon Trail part 1

May 6, 2012
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

There was an old poem that read:

When God made man,

He seemed to think it


To make him in the East

And let him travel West

The great movement west was truly one of the most interesting periods of this nation's history. The period between the 1840's to the 1890's represent one of the greatest movements of humanity we will ever see in this country, and is part of an era we will never see again. The heartiness and stamina of the people involved are evidence of an American spirit that was and is the touchstone of this country.

Between 1842 and 1845, John Fremont was mapping the west and by 1843 the first emigrant wagon train crossed to Oregon. And oh, the sites they would see along the way! Those taking the Oregon Trail would have departed from Independence Missouri, which by the 1840's was the most popular jumping off point for pioneers to stock their wagons with supplies.

One of the first landmarks was Courthouse and Jail house Rock. Located in the Platte River Valley, they would have been the first major landmarks seen by the pioneers. The rocks were often mentioned in diaries, sometimes noted as a, "curious formation of earth" near the Platte River.

Chimney Rock is located a few miles from Jail House and Courthouse Rock. Chimney Rock is one of the most picturesque landscapes along the Oregon Trail. It signaled the end of the prairie, as from here the trail became steeper, heading west to the Rockies. Most pioneers mentioned it in their diaries, as it could be seen from miles away, rising 325 from tip to base, and 120 feet for the spire.

The next landmark would have been Fort Laramie, one of the most important forts in the settlement of the American West. Fort Laramie was located on the Oregon Trail to protect and supply wagon trains. It later became a major link in the Pony Express, Overland Stage, and transcontinental telegraph systems. It also served as a base of operations for the High Plains Indian Wars.

One of the most famous of all Oregon Trail landmarks was Independence Rock. The giant piece of granite measures 1,900 feet long, 700 feet wide and 128 feet high. The rock was a favorite resting place for travelers and is commonly referred to as the Great Register of the Desert, as more than 5,000 names of early emigrants were carved into the boulder. The immigrants who had started on the trail in early spring hoped and needed to reach Independence Rock by July 4.

To be continued..



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