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The Ox-Bow Trail

The Ox-Bow Trail has been declared one of the most significant and overlooked historic trails in Nebraska. It received the name "Ox-Bow" due to its round about trip from Nebraska City to Fort Kearney. It was shaped like a wooden yoke that oxen used to pull wagons over the busy route (Saunders County Historical Society 1983:6). However, the Ox-Bow Trail also has been known as the California Trail, Old Freighters Trail, Mormon Road, Military Road, Old Fort Kearney Road, and the Old Nebraska City Road.

Nebraska City, Rock Bluff, Brownville, Wyoming, and Plattsmouth, NE were some of the main jumping off points for the trail west. The Ox-Bow Trail went northwest from these towns to the Salt Creek crossing near present day Ashland. The crossing, known as Saline Ford, was a natural phenomenon that allowed travelers to cross over a limestone bridge that lay inches under the water's surface.  The limestone ford continues to be visible today. From Saline Ford, the trail followed the south bank of the Platte River southwest to Fort Kearney. The Ox-Bow Trail joined the Oregon Trail just outside of New Fort Kearney (Saunders County Historical Society 1983:44–45). Currently, the Saunders County Historical Society houses one of the Twin Rocks originally located northeast of Ceresco. These large rocks acted as guideposts to travelers on the Ox-Bow Trail (Allen 1992).

The Ox-Bow Trail received constant use by settlers, miners, freighters, and soldiers from about 1840 to 1867. Oregon-bound settlers started the trail by following Indian paths across the plains. In the late 1840s and 50s, miners inundated the trail to find their fortunes in California and Colorado. During this time, many referred to the route as the California Trail. Some Mormons also used the trail to reach Salt Lake City, UT from 1849–1864. Due to a cholera outbreak at Florence, the principal way station for Utah-bound pioneers; the Latter Day Saint Church established a new starting station at Wyoming, NE. The trail was also referred to as the Mormon Road (Saunders County Historical Society 1983:7).

While many utilized the trail, the overland freighting business dominated the Ox-bow trail from 1852 to 1860. The military freighting business boomed as more troops were stationed in the west to protect settlers from Indian uprisings. Major freighting companies like Russell, Majors, and Waddell first used the Ox-bow trail or Old Fort Kearney Road to carry supplies to western military posts and mining camps. The trail received additional traffic when Russell, Majors, and Waddell received a contract to ship thousands of wagon loads of freight over the trail to Johnston's army in Utah in 1858 and 1859 (Olson 1966:106).

The Nebraska City-Ft. Kearney Cut-off opened in 1861 shortening the original Ox-Bow route by forty miles (Kimball 1988:142). During the 1860s, the Ox-Bow Trail was often called the Old Freighters Road. The overland freighting business reached its pinnacle in 1865 when more than 44 million pounds of goods were shipped west from Nebraska City. The major wagon freighting business came to an end with the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad through Nebraska. Consequently, the Ox-Bow Trail was used primarily by local settlers after 1867 (Nebraska State Historical Society 2005).

Saunders County Historical Society
1983 Saunders County, NE. Saunders County Historical Society, Wahoo.

Allen, Tom
1992 Rock Getting Close to Home. Omaha World-Herald, January 10.

Olson, James
1966 History of Nebraska. University of Lincoln Press, Lincoln.

Kimball, Stanley B.
1988 Historic Sites and Markers Along the Mormon and Other Great Western Trails. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago.

Nebraska State Historical Society
2005 The Old Fort Kearney (Nebraska City) Road. Electronic document, http://www.nebraskahistory.org/publish/markers/texts/old_ft_kearny_road.htm, accessed March 13, 2006.