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Scotts Bluff
Scotts Bluff.

This celebrated landmark of the old Oregon Trail is rich in historic interest and scenically worthy of national notice. Each summer thousands of persons make the ascent to its summit for the magnificent views from its elevation of 4,662 feet. Nestled in the North Platte Valley, six towns with many miles of surrounding irrigated acres of green alfalfa, golden grain, and other crops greet the eye. This promontory and the hills adjoining on the west are remnants of the general high plains constituting much of the western part of the State of Nebraska. In the Bad Lands at the north base of Scotts Bluff, and between it and the North Platte River, erosion has bared the fossil remains of mammoth turtles, the three-toed horse, the Miocene camel, and various other mammals of prehistoric age.

The first white men to observe and use this landmark were the returning Astorians under Robert Stuart, who in 1812 established a winter camp near by. It is presumed this camp was about 4 or 5 miles north of the bluff in Cottonwood Grove on what was then the north side of the river but which later became an island. A hand-forged ax, presumed to have been used by the Astorians, was found buried here in the sand near cottonwoods of the third generation, the stumps of the first and second growth trees attesting to the use to which man put them. The Astorians remained in camp here from December 29, 1812, until March 9, 1813.

In 1822 General Ashley, of St. Louis, with a party of a hundred men, started on a hunting and trapping expedition into the Rocky Mountains. Privations and dangers reduced the number of followers to 40 before the foothills were reached, but these 40 included some of the history makers of the West, among whom was Hiram Scott. General Ashley later released his trappers and Scott became a "free trapper," meaning that he gathered hides and fur for Hiram and not for a fur company. In the mountains Scott met Narcisse Le Clerc, a kinsman of Francis Le Clerc, who was with the Astorians, and they organized the second Northwestern Fur Co., the first one having been merged into the Hudson Bay Co.

On their way to St. Louis in 1828 with their fellow pioneers, to formally launch their company and to dispose of their first collection of peltries, Scott was taken ill with mountain fever. Two companions, Roi, "the man of the desert," and Bissonette, "the squaw man," remained with him, the three planning to float down the North Platte River, joining the rest of the party at the bluff about a hundred miles below. Their moose-hide boat was upset about 20 miles west of the point where Fort Laramie now stands, and provisions, powder, and guns were lost. The men, however, reached shore safely.

At this spot Scott was deserted by his companions and left to die. Washington Irving, in his "Adventures of Captain Bonneville," tells that Scott crawled over hills, sagebrush, and gullies for about 70 miles, only to die at the foot of the bluff where he had expected to rejoin his party. Before Scott reached the bluff the party had moved on, having been informed by the men who deserted him that he had died. The following summer part of the same party visited the bluff and found Scott's skeleton. Thus "the wild and picturesque bluffs in the neighborhood of his lonely grave have ever since borne his name." His grave has been entirely obliterated in the lapse of years.

After the naming of the bluff came the pilgrimages of the missionaries, and then the thousands of people on their way to settle the Willamette Valley and Puget Sound region in Oregon and Washington, the vast concourse that trailed overland to the golden coast in California, and the numbers that were driven on by religious zeal to establish the Mormon colonies in Utah. Then came the pony express with its myriad dangers and Indian wars. During the summer months there were so many wagons along this trail that an average of one wagon every five minutes passed through Mitchell Pass in Scotts Bluff Monument. Father De Smet said the Indians wondered if there was a great void in the East, so many white people had gone West over the Great White Medicine Road.

Mitchell Pass was the scene of many Indian battles, one, particularly, with a convoy when General Harney was in charge of the western military forces. About 1847 or 1848 Fort Fontenelle was established at the foot of Scotts Bluff. It was later rebuilt during the Indian wars, and although named Camp Shuman by its builder, Eugene Ware, it is known in the archives of the War Department as Fort Mitchell, a substation of Fort Laramie, in honor of Gen. D. D. Mitchell.

A modern foot trail on a 12 per cent grade has been constructed to the top of Scotts Bluff, so that visitors after a climb of 480 feet may obtain a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding country.

The monument was created December 12, 1919. Its total area is 1,893.83 acres.

Recently a tunnel penetrating part of the monument was completed by the Bureau of Reclamation of the Interior Department. It is 10 feet 3 inches in diameter after being lined with concrete, and is 6,600 feet long. It carries the Fort Laramie Canal of the North Platte project, which waters approximately 107,000 acres of irrigable farm land.

The national monument is reached from the city of Gering on a branch of the Union Pacific System and from the city of Scotts bluff on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Gering is located on the south side of the North Platte and is nearest the monument. Scottsbluff is situated on the north side of the river, which is bridged at this point. Good automobile roads extend through the North Platte Valley connecting the Lincoln Highway on the east and the National Park-to-Park Highway in Wyoming on the west. Motorists may still follow the route of the old Oregon Trail through Mitchell Pass, where a stone marker has been placed by the Nebraska State Historical Society. Much of the historical data regarding the Scotts Bluff Monument has been gathered and made available by Grant L. Shumway in his volume entitled, "History of Western Nebraska." A. N. Mathers, custodian of the monument, resides in Gering.


Last Modified: Thurs, Oct 19 2000 10:00:00 pm PDT

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