Our Historical Markers across Nebraska highlight fascinating moments and places in our state’s past.
Today we’re focusing on the North Platte Valley’s trio of beautiful natural landmarks: Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock, and Scotts Bluff.
701-859 W Roscoe Srv Rd, Ogallala, Keith County, Nebraska;
Traveling northwest from Ash Hollow, the emigrants encountered three natural features of the North Platte Valley which became well-known milestones. First was Court House Rock, rising abruptly from the plains as the vanguard of the bluffs farther on. Observers likened this gigantic formation to some great public building or medieval castle.
However, no single sight along the trail attracted as much attention as Chimney Rock. The tower, which could be seen for miles, served as a beacon for the weary travelers. Many camped nearby, and Chimney Rock is mentioned in more trail accounts than any other landmark. Although the spire is slowly crumbling due to erosion, Chimney Rock remains a unique natural wonder. As the wagon trains approached the end of their journey across Nebraska, they were greeted by a series of citadel-like eminences, dominated by the imposing bulk of Scott’s Bluffs. Named after fur trader Hiram Scott, the Bluffs are now a national monument.
Visible traces of the great migration still survive in some areas, and the landmarks remain for the modern traveler who chooses to follow the route of the Great Platte River Road.
Scotts Bluff, not to be confused with the nearby town Scottsbluff, is a geographical feature in the Nebraska Panhandle. The bluff was one of the most famous landmarks along the Platte River Road. Pioneers sometimes used the term “Scotts Bluffs” to refer to the collection of bluffs in the region, including the Wildcat Hills. Today, “Scotts Bluff” generally refers to the northernmost of these bluffs. (Generally, the apostrophe is left out, but many journals from the pioneer days call the bluff “Scott’s Bluff.”) Scotts Bluff National Monument includes one other bluff that is usually grouped with Scotts Bluff.
The pass between these two bluffs is called Mitchell Pass and was the primary route through the region after 1851. Before 1851, the path was too difficult to cross, but an unknown group of people were able to smooth out the pass so that wagons could be driven through it. The pass was named after Fort Mitchell, located to the west of the bluff.
The bluff is named after Hiram Scott, a fur trader who died and was buried near the bluff. Historical records show that Hiram Scott, an employee of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, disappeared from the company payroll in 1828. It is assumed he died in that year. The circumstances of his death became a popular story among the pioneers, but no one could agree on exactly what happened. Most stories agree that Scott was abandoned by his companions and left to die, but different stories say he was young, old, an employee of a fur trading company, unemployed. Some say he was killed by Native Americans, others that he died of illness while still others that he died of starvation. The exact location where his body was found is also disputed. In any case, the bluffs now bear his name as a memorial to the tragic story.