History of Scotts Bluff National Monument
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Migration to the West

Following the opening or rediscovery of the Platte River route to the west by the fur traders and mountain men of the 1820's and 1830's, it was natural that other parties should use this same route to find their way to the newly opened Oregon country, to the gold fields of California, and to a religious haven in Utah.

In the early 1830's, various parties of missionaries traveled over the old traders' road to the western mountains and on to the Pacific coast. Jason and Daniel Lee were the first to use the trail and were soon followed by other missionaries, Samuel Parker, Marcus Whitman, Henry Spalding, and William Gray. Elizabeth Spalding and Narcissa Whitman, who traveled west with their husbands in 1836, were the first white women to see Scotts Bluff. [9]

John Ball is credited with the first Oregon secular settlement in 1832. Others followed, but not until 1841 did a large covered wagon train make the entire route. The mass migration began in 1843 when over 1,000 people started for the great northwestern country in May. The peak year of travel was evidently 1852 when some 50,000 emigrants passed through Mitchell Pass. Most of these were on their way to California as part of the great Gold Rush. Travel on the Oregon Trail continued until 1869 when the country was linked by the Union Pacific railroad, up the Lodgepole Route, 50 miles to the south of Scotts Bluff.

While the Oregon-California Trail lay on the south side of the North Platte River, the Mormons used the north side. "In the spring of 1847 the Mormon pioneers, 144 strong under Brigham Young, traveled to their promised land, Great Salt Lake Valley in Utah." [10] Another 4,000 Mormons passed over the trail in 1848. Scotts Bluff could easily be seen by these religious emigrants from the north bank and many mentioned the famous landmark in their journals.

Until about 1851, the pioneers used Robidoux Pass, located nine miles southwest of the National Monument. Travel between Scotts Bluff and the river was impossible due to eroded gullies and badlands. This pass was named for a trader who had built a blacksmith shop and trading post there. Facts concerning Robidoux and his activities in the area are vague, but research indicates that he was either the eldest son of Joseph Robidoux, founder of St. Joseph, Missouri, or his uncle, Antoine. His trading post was frequently mentioned by pioneer journalists from 1849 until 1851. He moved his establishment to Carter Canyon, about a mile southeast of the original location in 1851. Here he stayed until about the fall of 1852. [11]

The American Fur Trading Company set up a trading post at Robidoux Pass in 1849 after they had sold their post at Fort Laramie to the United States Government. They later moved from Robidoux Pass to a site eight miles south and east of the Monument at Helvas Canyon. Little is known about this establishment except that it did not last long. It was generally known as Fort John, or "Fort John, Scott's Bluffs." It was off the main trail and became farther removed when a new route to the north through the bluffs via present Mitchell Pass was developed in 1850. [12] The Monument headquarters and the Oregon Trail Museum are situated near Mitchell Pass.

Another establishment of importance to Scotts Bluff was Fort Mitchell. It was built in 1864 to protect travel along this section of the Oregon Trail during a period of Indian unrest. Fort Mitchell was only a small secondary outpost of Fort Laramie, some 55 miles to the west. The post was abandoned about 1867 when immediate threat to emigrants seemed to have decreased. [13]

Besides the pioneer wagon trains passing through Mitchell Pass, a number of other uses were made of the trail. The Pony Express used this section of the trail from April 1860, until its last run in October, 1861. Nearby Pony Express stations included one at Chimney Rock, 23 miles east of Scotts Bluff; Ficklin Springs, about 9 miles east; the Scotts Bluff station, 3 miles west of Mitchell Pass; and Horse Creek, about 18 miles to the west.

One of the causes of failure for the Pony Express was the advent of the transcontinental telegraph line, established and in use by October, 1861. Russell, Majors and Waddell, founders of the Pony Express, then turned their interests to the Overland Mail Company from whom they obtained a sub-contract to operate a mail and passenger service over what was known as the "Central Route." In 1861-1862, there was stage service up the Platte route. This activity did not last long due to Indian troubles in the area and the route was moved to the south, up the Lodgepole route. [14]


History of Scotts Bluff National Monument
©1962, Oregon Trail Museum Association
history/chap3.htm — 26-Jan-2003