Raynolds Expedition 1859-60 and Bighorn Canyon Part 2

Bighorn Canyon from Pretty Eagle Point
"One of the most remarkable sights on the continent"

NPS

 

“One of the Most Remarkable Sights on the Continent”
Raynolds downsized column was led by Bridger up the valley of the Bighorn river. The traveling did not get any easier, instead it began to pour rain. All during the night until late the next morning a steady, drenching, cold rain ensued. The ground turned to gumbo. Wagons were useless in such muck, thus Raynolds decided to keep the party in camp. Bridger suggested that when they did resume travel, the party should use the relatively flat route on the west side of the Bighorn.

On September 5th, an easy ford of the river permitted the entire party to cross in 15 minutes. The next day the Bighorn Mountains came into view as “faint blue clouds” in the distance. Around noon, the party arrived at the confluence of the Bighorn and Little Bighorn, near present day Hardin, Montana. As they passed through the broad valley of the Bighorn, the party found what Raynolds called “the three great requisites, wood, water, and grass” to be plentiful. Travel was fast and easy, in one day they logged 17 miles.

On September 9th they finally arrived at the mouth of the canyon. A stunning impression was made upon Raynolds who stated it was “one of the most remarkable sights upon the continent.” The river flowed “out through reddish tinted walls of perpendicular rock over 300 feet in height.’ The party advanced up to an “impassable wall of rock.”

At this point the expedition halted to make sketches and geological observations. The next day they would leave the vicinity of the canyon, heading south and east. They would skirt the Bighorns until eventually going into winter quarters along the Oregon Trail, near present day Casper, Wyoming.

A Lasting Legacy
The Raynolds expedition would head back into the field during 1860. Famously, they would reconnoiter the Yellowstone area. Just west of the present day boundaries of the park, along the continental divide lies Raynolds pass, named after the expedition’s leader. This is one of the most prominent reminders of the historic trip. The Raynolds expedition of 1859-60 added much to the knowledge of previously little explored areas of present day Montana and Wyoming.

While rightly known for the first scientific descriptions given of Yellowstone, the expedition also literally put Bighorn Canyon on the map. The canyon was no longer the subject of legend or mountain man lore, it was now a landmark that would see further explorations in the coming decades. The Raynolds expedition had opened Bighorn Canyon to wider public knowledge.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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