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Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

Courthouse and Jail Rocks


Courthouse Rock and Jail Rocks
Courthouse Rock (right) and Jail Rock (left)
M. Forsberg, Nebraska DED

Located near present-day Bridgeport, the Courthouse and Jail Rocks are the erosional remnants of an ancient plateau that bisected the North Platte River. The rocks sit at over 4,050 feet above sea level and rise more than 240 feet above nearby Pumpkin Creek. Like Chimney Rock, these rock structures have long been recognized by pioneers as prominent landmarks on the transcontinental journey west.  The Courthouse and Jail Rocks were the first monumental rock features that emigrants would encounter heading west.  The rocks also served as an important crossroads, where two major trunks of the Oregon and California Overland trails merged.

Like Chimney Rock, the Courthouse and Jail Rocks went by a series of names before arriving at their current designations. Because of Courthouse Rock’s grand and imposing appearance, many emigrants described the rock in terms of a large public building, naming it the Castle or the Courthouse. When viewed at distance from the east, the Courthouse and Jail Rocks appear to merge into a large, single unit, and descriptions sometimes referred to them as a single formation, the Solitary Tower or the Lonely Tower. Once travelers approached Courthouse Rock, however, the second, smaller escarpment, the Jail Rock, became visually distinct. Though travelers applied various titles to both features, by the 1840s, most people used the names Courthouse and Jail.

Apart from their historic significance as landmarks on overland trails during the 19th century, the northwest side of the rock complex boasts a Dismal River archeological site. Dismal River archeological sites have been found throughout western Nebraska. Artifacts obtained from the sites have helped archeologists document American Indian people believed to have migrated into western Nebraska c. A.D. 1675. The remains of the Courthouse Pony Express Station, the first station west of Mud Springs, lie on the southwest corner.


Plan your visit

Courthouse and Jail Rocks are located two miles south of Bridgeport, NE, on Highway 88.

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