Scotts Bluff
Administrative History
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National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form for Scotts Bluff National Monument

Placed on the National Register on October 15, 1966; documentation and acceptance, October 3,1978.

Name:Scotts Bluff National Monument
Location:Three miles west of Gering on Nebraska 92
Classification:Site, Public, Occupied, Accessible (restricted), Museum & Park
Agency:Midwest Regional Office, National Park Service, Omaha, Nebraska
Condition:Good, Unexposed, Alterned, Original State
Areas of Significance:Exploration/Settlement


Scotts Bluff National Monument is located in Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, about 20 miles east of the Wyoming state line, in what is commonly called the "Panhandle of Nebraska." The three nearest towns are: Gering, three miles east of the headquarters area; the city of Scottsbluff, five miles northeast from the Monument; and Mitchell, Nebraska, some 10 miles to the northwest. State Highway 92 intersects the Monument and connects with U.S. 26, 20 miles to the east; with State Highway 29 in Gering, and again at an intersection some three miles north of headquarters.

The North Platte River flows in a southeasterly direction through western Nebraska to a junction with the South Platte at North Platte, Nebraska, (175 miles east of the Monument). The Monument borders this river on the south bank and encompasses the famous bluff, which bears the name of one of the more unfortunate "mountain men," Hiram Scott.

Along the south bank of the North Platte River for 100 miles in western Nebraska, is a long ridge of bluffs. These bluffs, with some lesser hills to the north, form the North Platte Valley. Scotts Bluff, a massive promontory rising 800 feet above the valley floor, stands apart from these bluffs to form one of the dominant features of this valley. To the north of Scotts Bluff, extending to the North Platte River is a rugged area of badlands. South of Scotts Bluff, at the southern edge of the Monument is South Bluff. Between Scotts Bluff and South Bluff is Mitchell Pass through which the famous Oregon Trail ran, three-and-a-half miles of which can be seen in the form of wagon ruts. Flanking Mitchell Pass to the north is Eagle Rock and to the south is Sentinel Rock. Numerous rock inscriptions remain from the pioneer emigrants. To the south of Sentinel Rock is Coyote Pass. Other prominent geologic features of South Bluff include Crown Rock and Dome Rock to its east. Water resources within the Monument include several intermittent streams, Scotts Spring, and the Mitchell and Gering Canal.

Prehistoric structures, all of which are unexposed, include four campsites of various Indian tribes, located near the bluff-top parking lot, at the base of the north side of Scotts Bluff, on the east side of Scotts Bluff, and on the south side of South Bluff.

Non-historic structures within the Monument including the following:

Scottsbluff Country Club and road (1920's)
Visitor Center and Museum (1935, 1938, 1948)
Residence #1 (1938, 1949)
Residence #2 (1958)
Utility Building (1936, 1958)
Comfort Station (1938)
Pump Vault (1936)
Pump House (1938)
Campfire Circle (1958)
State Highway 92 (1934-1938)
Summit Road, Three Tunnels, and parking area (1934-1939)

Numerous trails, including "Scout Trail" and "Scotts Spring Trail" which features a tunnel cut through Saddle Rock

Union Pacific Railroad tracks to the south of the North Platte River

Power transmission lines across the southeast corner of the Monument

Numerous markers and signs including those commemorating the following:

Hiram Scott
Mitchell Pass
Oregon Trail
Observation Point
Jackson Camp

Statement of Significance

Named for Hiram Scott, a fur trapper who died in the vicinity about 1828, Scotts Bluff is an ancient landmark and was noted by the earliest tribes whose records have been preserved. To the Indians of the Plains, Scotts Bluff was Ma-a-pa-te, or "the-hill-that-is-hard-to-go-around." It became a principal landmark of the great overland migrations of the nineteenth century.

The bluff was once part of the ancient High Plains. Erosion over long periods has cut down the surrounding valleys to their present level, leaving Scotts Bluff and the adjoining hills as remnants of the unbroken plains which now lie farther to the west.

The North Platte Valley, of which Scotts Bluff is the dominant natural feature, has been a human migration corridor for centuries. Some stone artifacts found here indicate that man has been here for more than 10,000 years. When white men first arrived, they found that this area was a favorite hunting ground of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians, for here vast herds of buffalo came to water.

The first white men to see Scotts Bluff were Robert Stuart and his companions, who in 1812-13 passed by carrying dispatches to John Jacob Astor from his new fur post in Oregon. In the years that followed, trappers and traders saw it when they brought their beaver pelts down the Platte River to settlements farther east; and explorers and missionaries passed the bluff on their way from advance posts of civilization into the western wilderness.

In 1843 the vanguard of a great pioneer army passed Scotts Bluff in the first large migration to Oregon. Four years later Brigham Young led the first group of his followers past the bluff on the north side of the Platte, a route later famous as the Mormon Trail. The two years following the discovery of gold in California in 1846 saw more than 150,000 men, women, and children traveling through the area.

In 1860-61 Pony Express riders galloped through Mitchell Pass, which skirts the southern base of the bluff. They were followed shortly by the first transcontinental telegraph. The Overland Mail, Pony Express, Pacific Telegraph, and Overland Stage built stations near Scotts Bluff. In 1864 Fort Mitchell was established, two-and-a-half miles to the northwest to protect stagecoaches and wagon trains on the Oregon Trail. The following year the North Platte Valley was considered as a possible route for the Union Pacific, then building westward to link up with the Central Pacific to form the first transcontinental railroad, but a line through Cheyenne was chosen instead. The completion of the railroad in 1869 marked the decline of the Oregon Trail, although it continued in use locally for many years.

In the late 1870's and early 1880's, Scotts Bluff was the geographical center of the open-range cattle industry, the last great remaining episode of the frontier. With the arrival of the first homesteaders in the North Platte Valley in 1885, the local frontier disappeared and Scotts Bluff became a symbol of the Nation's past.

It was the development of Scotts Bluff as a symbol of the Nation's past that local and state interests devoted themselves following the turn of the century. Following a period of strong activity, Scotts Bluff was proclaimed a National Monument on December 12, 1919. The following decade saw little development, save for foot trails and picnic areas, despite widespread interest. With the advent of the depression the Monument underwent a period of active development under the aegis of such employment programs as the C.W.A., W.P.A., and C.C.C. Constructed during this period were the Summit Road with its three tunnels and parking lot. State Highway 92, the Museum (later called the Visitors Center) in which is housed a notable collection of paintings and memorabilia of the famed Western artist, William Henry Jackson, landscape preservation work, a temporary camp (Civilian Conservation Corps Camp 762) near the Scottsbluff Country Club which was later removed and had housed up to 200 men, picnic grounds west and south of Mitchell Pass, a water supply system, a residence, and a utility building. By 1939 the extreme popularity of the picnic grounds led to a degenerate state and to their permanent closing, despite strong local interest.

During the decade encompassing the World War II and decade following it, some minor changes were made to the Monument, including additions to the Museum and the residence in 1948. Numerous major rock slides occurred along the Summit Road which required lengthy clearance work. In 1949 use of the Gering Golf Course and a rifle range, both within the boundaries, was discontinued.

During the early 1960's a number of construction projects were undertaken as part of the "Mission 66" program of the National Park Service. Besides considerable upgrading of facilities, roads, and trails, a new residence, an addition to the utility building, and an amphitheater were constructed. At this time 47.63 acres were added to the Monument.

Thus, a consistent and thorough program has been undertaken for the preservation of this unique historic and geologic area.

Major Bibliographical References

Brand, Donald D. The History of Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Berkeley, California, 1934.

Green, Thomas L., "Scottsbluff and the North Platte River Valley," 1949.

Harris, Earl R., "History of Scotts Bluff National Monument," Oregon Trail Museum Association, Gering, Nebraska, 1962.

Mattes, Merrill J., "Scotts Bluff National Monument," Washington, D.C., 1958.


Beginning at a point on Nebraska State Highway 92 about 1100 feet southeast of its intersection with a county road in Section 32 of Township 22 of Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, the boundary of Scotts Bluff National Monument meanders northward about 1200 feet to its intersection with the north border of Section 32 where it then proceeds due north about 1300 feet to a point (G) where it turns due east about 1500 feet to a point slightly west of an intermittent stream which it follows northward about 1500 feet to the stream's intersection with the Mitchell and Gering Canal. The boundary then follows the Canal eastward about 2700 feet to a point (A) where it turns due north-northeast about 1700 feet to its intersection with the North Platte River which it follows eastward about 7700 feet to a point (B) where it turns due south about about 1800 feet to a point (C) where it turns westward following the Gering Canal about 1500 feet to a point where it turns southward following an intermittent stream about 5700 feet to the point where the southern of two power transmission lines running west from Gering turns south-southwest. At this point the boundary proceeds due south about 1400 feet where it crosses an intermittent stream and follows along its south side about 1800 feet southwestward to a point where it turns and proceeds due south about 2800 feet to a point where it turns due east about 1300 feet to a point where it turns due south about 1600 feet to its intersection (point D) of Gering lateral stream which it then follows west-northwestward about 2300 feet to a point where the boundary turns due north about 600 feet to a point where it turns due west about 3100 feet to a point where it turns due north about 700 feet to a point where it turns northwest about 1000 feet to a point where it turns due west about 4700 feet to a point (E) where it turns north-northwest about 3400 feet to its intersection of Scotts Bluff Lateral Stream (point F) which it follows about 1800 feet to the intersection of the stream and the south border of Township 22. At this oint the boundary turns due east about 900 feet to a point where it turns due north about 200 feet to a dirt road which it follows north-northwestward about 3300 feet to its intersection with State Highway 92, which it then follows about 1800 feet northwest to the point of beginning.

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Last Updated: 19-Jan-2003