76-year-old man takes covered wagon along Oregon Trail to highlight historical significance

Caption: Ezra Meeker and his ox team at Chimney Rock, July 1906. NSHS RG0959.PH5-1


One hundred ten years ago in July 1906 Ezra Meeker stopped at Chimney Rock near Bayard, Nebraska, on his retracement, from west to east, of his 1852 journey along the Oregon Trail. Sixty years ago this month, on August 22, 1956, Chimney Rock was dedicated as a National Historic Site within the National Park Service system. Of all the natural wonders encountered by the thousands of overland emigrants crossing Nebraska to Oregon, California, or the Salt Lake Valley in the mid-nineteenth century, Chimney Rock was the one most often mentioned in their diaries.

The late National Park Service historian Merrill J. Mattes devoted a chapter to the rock in his 1969 study, The Great Platte River Road, which remains in print. The chapter includes many of the emigrants’ comments about the rock as recorded in trail diaries. In 1906 Ezra Meeker, at the age of 76, took a covered wagon and a team of oxen along the Oregon Trail to call attention to its historical significance and promote a project to mark the route. Such a project was consummated in 1912-13 when the Daughters of the American Revolution and the state of Nebraska erected some sixty granite markers documenting the trail across Nebraska. In 1909 Meeker published an account of his trek entitled Ventures and Adventures of Ezra Meeker. In the book he described the death of “Twist,” one of the two oxen (the other was “Dave”) that had pulled his covered wagon from near Seattle, Washington, to Nebraska in 1906.

On August 8, 1906, Meeker was traveling along the Platte River near Brady, Nebraska, when the seven-year-old “Twist” began breathing heavily. Meeker unyoked the ox, “gave him a quart of lard, a gill of vinegar, and a handful of sugar, but all to no purpose . . . and in two hours he was dead.” The ox was buried nearby. This was a serious setback that prevented Meeker from completing his retrace of the trail until 1908. It took time to find another ox, which then had to be trained to pull in a yoke. Meeker finally found a replacement for “Twist” at the Omaha stockyards after looking over a thousand head of cattle. He named the new ox “Dandy.”

Fifty years after Ezra Meeker stopped at Chimney Rock it was dedicated as a National Historic Site. The dignitaries attending included Merrill Mattes, then NPS regional historian; Nebraska State Historical Society (NSHS) Director William D. Aeschbacher; former director James C. Olson, and Nebraska Congressman A. L. Miller, the ranking member of the U.S. House Interior Committee. As reported by the Aug. 23 Bayard and Scottsbluff newspapers, Secretary of the Interior Fred A. Seaton, a Nebraskan appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent a letter to be read for the ceremonies. In it Seaton recalled that signing the national historic site designation for Chimney Rock had been his first act after taking office. In his address at the dedication, Congressman Miller recalled that Chimney Rock had once been characterized as “the finger of God pointing to the heavens,” which had also pointed the way of “a courageous people toward a new land of freedom and opportunity.”

Because the eighty-acres on which Chimney Rock stands had been donated to History Nebraska in the late 1930s, it administers the site. In 1994 the Society opened the Ethel and Christopher J. Abbott Visitor Center there. Although erosion has made the spire somewhat shorter than it was when Ezra Meeker passed by in 1906, Chimney Rock still fascinates twenty-first century travelers.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Cleaning Amelia Earhart’s Sporting License

Cleaning Amelia Earhart’s Sporting License

Marker Monday: Nebraska’s Big Rodeo

Marker Monday: Nebraska’s Big Rodeo

Making Rain

Making Rain

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.