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Field Division of Education
The History of Scotts Bluff Nebraska
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The appearance of Scotts Bluff was so striking that it was an object for comment by nearly all who passed within view of it. Unfortunately, most of the early trappers were illiterate, or did not leave journals or accounts for the benefit of history and posterity. Jim Bridger was illiterate; Kit Carson did not learn to write until late in life; Jedediah Smith kept journals, but they were destroyed in a St. Louis fire -- and so the story goes. Due to these factors, our first description of the bluffs is that of Bonneville, as written by Irving (op. cit.).

Many of the accounts were couched in superlative terms. Myra Eels commented on the "grand scenery" of the bluffs in 1838.1 Sage (1841) expressed himself: "At Scott's Bluff these hills crowd themselves abruptly towards the Platte, where they present a most romantic and picturesque scenery.2 Crawford (1842) wrote of the bluffs as "presenting the most romantic scenery I ever saw."3 Clyman (1844) wrote in his diary, "encamped in the midst of Scotts Bluffs by a cool spring in a romantic and picturesque valley."4 Loomis (1850) wrote that the bluffs presented a "sublime view."5

One of the most enthusiastic visitors was the artist Frederick Piercy, who voyaged, in 1853, to the United States in order to sketch the outstanding scenes along the route of Mormon emigration to Utah. He referred to Scott's Bluffs as "certainly the most remarkable sight I had seen since I left England." His sketch of the Scott's Bluffs, with emigrants hunting the buffalo in the foreground, is the first published sketch of the bluffs, and is also the most popular one for reproduction. Exception as to priority of publication, however, must be made for a crude small sketch by Benjamin Ferris.6

A complete roll-call of all the notable people who journeyed past Scotts Bluff in the early days (1812-1834) is, of course, impossible to construct. However, one may glean from varied journals, reports, biographies, and histories the names of the following men who made history in the mountains (see appended biographies):

(The year given refers to the first known year of passage through Scotts Bluff region.)

1812-1813 Robert Stuart, Ramsay Crooks, Robert McLellan, Joseph Miller, Ben Jones, Francis Leclerc, and Andre Vallar -- the returning Astorians. Irving: Astoria, op. cit.
1824 Thomas Fitzpatrick, who first tried to navigate the North Platte. Fitzpatrick made the North Platte trip again in 1831, and thereafter many times. Hafen and Ghent, op. cit., pp. 47, et seq.
1824 James Clyman. Camp: James Clyman, pp. 35-7, et seq.
1824 James Beckwourth. Bonner: The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, p. 60; Dale: The Ashley-Smith Explorations, p. 92; Hafen and Ghent, op. cit., p. 48.
1824 or 1825 Robert Campbell. Hafen and Ghent, op. cit., p. 57; Dale, op. cit., p. 92.
1826 William Sublette. Hafen and Ghent, op. cit., p. 57.
1826 Jedidiah Smith. Hafen and Ghent, op. cit., p. 63.
1826 William Ashley. Dale, op. cit., p. 165.
1826 Etienne Provost (Provot). Chittenden, op. cit., p. 280.
1827 Joshua Pilcher. Chittenden: American Fur Trade of the Far West, p. 156.
1828 James Bridger. J. C. Alter: James Bridger, p. 104.
1829 Joseph Meek. Frances Victor: River of the West, p. 43.
1830 David Jackson. Dale, op. cit., p. 288.
1831 Zenas Leonard. Narrative of Zenas Leonard, p. 64; Chittenden, op. cit., p. 409.
1832 Captain Benj. Bonneville. Irving, op. cit.
1832 John Ball. Autobiography of John Ball, p. 69.
1832 Nathaniel Wyeth. John Wyeth: Oregon, p. 52.
1833 Louis Vasquez. Chas. Larpenteur: Forty Years a Fur Trader, p. 15.
1833 Captain William Stuart. Chittenden, op. cit., p. 300.
1833 Charles Larpenteur. Larpenteur, op. cit.
1833 Dr. Benj. Harrison. Chittenden, op. cit., p. 300.
1834 Thomas Nuttall. J. K. Townsend: Narrative, p. 178.
1834 Osborne Russell. O. Russell: Journal of a Trapper, p. 7.
1834 John K. Townsend. Townsend, op. cit.
1834 Jason Lee and Daniel Lee. Townsend, op. cit.

The appearance of most of the early visitors to Scotts Bluff must have been quite picturesque, to judge by the descriptions that have come down to us of the mountain men. Bonneville (op. cit., pp. 63-4) describes them in the following words:

"You cannot pay a free trapper a greater compliment than to persuade him you have mistaken him for an Indian brave; and in truth the counterfeit is complete. His hair, suffered to attain to a great length, is carefully combed but, and either left to fall carelessly over his shoulder, or plaited neatly and tied up in otter skins of parti-colored ribbons. A hunting-shirt of ruffled calico of bright dyes, or of ornamented leather, falls to his knee; below which, curiously fashioned leggins, ornamented with strings, fringes, and a profusion of hawks' bells, reach to a costly pair of moccasins of the finest Indian fabric, richly embroidered with beads. A blanket of scarlet, or some other bright color, hangs from his shoulders, and is girt around his waist with a red sash, in which he bestows his pistols, knife, and the stem of his Indian pipe; preparations either for peace or war. His gun is lavishly decorated with brass tacks and vermillion, and provided with a fringed cover, occasionally of buckskin, ornamented here and there with a feather. His horse, the noble minister to the pride, pleasure, and profit of the mountaineer, is selected for his speed and spirit and prancing gait, and holds a place in his estimation second only to himself. He shares largely of his bounty, and of his pride and pomp of trapping. He is caparisoned in the most dashing and fantastic style; the bridles and crupper are weightily embossed with heads and cockades; and head, mane and tail are interwoven with abundance of eagles' plumes which flutter in the wind. To complete this grotesque equipment, the proud animal is bestreaked and bespotted with vermillion, or with white clay, whichever presents the most glaring contrast to his real color."

Sage (op. cit., p. 18) expands the picture somewhat in the following description:

His dress and appearance are equally singular. His skin, from constant exposure, assumes a hue almost as dark as that of the Aborigine, and his features and physical structure attain a rough and hardy cast. His hair, through inattention, becomes long, coarse, and bushy, and loosely dangles upon his shoulders. His head is surmounted by a low crowned wool-hat, or a rude substitute of his own manufacture. His clothes are of buckskin, gaily fringed at the seams with strings of the same material, cut and made in a fashion peculiar to himself and associates.

The deer and buffalo furnish his the required covering for his feet, which he fabricates at the impulse of want. His waist is encircled with a belt of leather, holding encased his butcher-knife and pistols--while from his neck is suspended a bullet-pouch securely fastened to the belt in front, and beneath the right arm hangs a powder-horn transversely from his shoulder, behind which, upon the strap attached to it, are affixed his bullet-mould, ball-screw, wiper, awl, etc. With a gun-stick made of some hard wood, and a good rifle placed in his hands, carrying from 30 to 35 balls to the pound, the reader will have before him a correct likeness of a genuine mountaineer, when fully equipped."

1Journal of Myron Eells, p. 72, in Oregon Pioneer Assn., Trans. 1839.

2Sage, op. cit., p. 61.

3Journal of Medorem Crawford, p. 10, in Sources of the History of Oregon, Vol. 1.

4C. L. Camp: James Clyman, p. 82.

5Leander V. Loomis: A Journal of the Birmingham Emigrating Co., p. 27.

6James Linforth and Frederick Piercy: Route from Liverpool to Great Salt Lake Valley (1855), pp. 91-92. Benjamin G. Ferris: Utah and the Mormons (1854), p. 21.

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