History of Scotts Bluff National Monument
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Geographical Setting

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 Monument itself contains some 3,450 acres of land of which about 2,200 acres are federally owned. The three nearest towns are: Gering, 3 miles east of the headquarters area; the city of Scottsbluff, 5 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 High way 29 in Gering; and again at an intersection some 3 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). It was along this famous river route to the western mountains that the endless caravans of fur trappers, emigrants, and pioneers made their way west seeking homes and riches. 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 stands apart from these bluffs to form one of the dominant features of this valley. Soil in the valley is rich and, with the aid of irrigation from the river, produces excellent crops of corn, potatoes, beans, sugar beets, and other staples. Where irrigation water cannot reach, the raising of cattle and sheep is important.

The climate of the area is semi-arid, with cold winters, relatively hot summers, and the windy conditions of the Great Plains.

Prehistory of the Area

The geology of the main bluff shows features of both the Miocene and Oligocene epochs. The upper third of the bluff consists of a formation of sandstone known as the Arickaree formation. Concretions located in this softer sandstone have resisted erosion and have left the bluff standing while the elements reduced the land around it.

The lower two-thirds of the bluff are of the Oligocene Epoch. The principal formation in this section is Brule clay. This material is very soft and sand-like, submitting rapidly to erosion. When this clay is unprotected by more durable formations, erosion has produced a pattern of irregular gullies known as "badlands". Thin layers of volcanic ash and very soft sandstone are interspersed within the walls of the bluff. "One of the most interesting physiographic features of the Northern Great Plains is the badland topography so extensively developed in the Big Badlands of South Dakota and Northwestern Nebraska as well as in numerous smaller areas such as that developed at the base of Scotts Bluff." [1]

Paleontology is very rich in Scotts Bluff National Monument, as it is in this general area of the Great Plains region. Fossil remains found in the Brule clay formations are of great interest. Fur traders and pioneers of over 100 years ago noticed these remains. The first scientific interest was aroused in 1847 when a fur trader showed the jawbone of a Titanothere to Dr. Hiram Prout of St. Louis. Common fossils found in the Scotts Bluff area are giant turtles, Oreodonts (pig-like animals), ancient rhinoceroses, saber-toothed tigers, dogs, deer, camels, and rodents. [2]

Prehistoric Man

Little is known about the activities of prehistoric man around Scotts Bluff even though several important sites have been found. Archeologists have found evidence of primitive Indian life of the early lithic period of 5,000 years ago. Several occupation sites have been uncovered at nearby locations such as Signal Butte, Scotts Bluff Bison Quarry, Spanish Diggings, Ash Hollow Cave, and the Scotts Bluff Potato Cellar. Signal Butte is, perhaps, the most famous of these sites being investigated by scientists of the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Nebraska. Three levels of materials were found here revealing early mankind in western Nebraska, The oldest of these dates back 5,000 years. The second, or middle, level reveals life of the Pre-Woodland period, 1,500 years ago. The last, or uppermost, level has produced artifacts of the "Ceramic Period" of 250 years ago.

The Scotts Bluff Bison Quarry, located near Signal Butte, has revealed signs of ancient hunters who lived some 10,000 years ago. Other caves and excavations nearby have produced materials of burial sites of early Indian dwellers. [3]


History of Scotts Bluff National Monument
©1962, Oregon Trail Museum Association
history/chap1.htm — 26-Jan-2003