The valley plain on the north side of the South Platte River widens west of Ogallala and continues, a half mile or so in width, to the region in which the Trail reached it. West of the crossing, in the Big Springs area, the bluffs come almost to the stream bank. From the area where the valley begins to narrow the Trail struck north, and a little west, to the North Platte Valley.
In Keith County the higher portion of the area between the North Platte and the South Platte is occupied by the remnants of an old loessal plain. Westward extensions of this plain occur as long low ridges across the Cheyenne Table, extending from Garden County, southeast across the northeast corner of Deuel County, and into the western part of Keith County. The more important of these are 50 to 60 feet above the level of the surrounding land. -1-1. Soil Survey of Garden County, Nebraska , 1924. (Go back to where you were.)
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The Oregon Trail in Keith-Garden Counties
tion 23, the southwest quarter of section 14, and into the eastern half of section 15, a distance of about a mile, it climbed 180 feet. The route followed along a drainage way, at the head of which, in section 15, it came onto the tableland.
Once on the upland, the Trail continued north from section 15, across sections 10, and 3, R. 41 W., T. 13 N., approximating the course of the 3600 ft. contour line, on into section 34, R. 41 W., T. 14 N. As the Trail crossed sections 28, 29, the southwest quarter of section 20, sections 19, and 18, R. 41 W., T. 14 N., and in R. 42 W., T. 14 N., sections 13 and 12, it made a gradual climb of about 100 feet in the course of 4 or 5 miles, over an area of gently undulating relief. -2- The Trail continued on the tableland across section 1, R. 42 W., T. 14 N., and sections 35 and 26, R. 42 W., T. 15 N. This brought the traveler to the precipitous descent into Ash Hollow.2. Soil Survey of Keith County, Nebraska , 1926. Also, Soil Survey of Deuel County , Nebraska, 1921. (Go back to where you were.)
In the northeast quarter of section 26, R. 42 W., T. 15 N., the Trail dropped 100 feet in less than one-eighth of a mile. Such a descent required very steady nerves on the part of the traveler as well as on the part of the oxen or mules. A drop of another 100 feet in the next one-eighth of a mile brought them to the 3600 ft. contour line which the route followed for about half a mile in section 23. In the northwest quarter of section 23, the Trail made another drop of 100 feet in a quarter of a mile, bringing it to the 3500 ft. contour. Swinging into section 15, the next drop of 100 feet covered a distance of about three fourths of a mile and the travelers found themselves at the head of Ash Hollow, along which they continued across sections 10 and 3, to the North Platte Valley.
What a pleasant relief Ash Hollow must have been to the harassed, care-worn emigrants who had safely made the descent of 400 feet, in the course of two miles, over canyon walls, sometimes so steep as to require that the wagons be let down by ropes. Here was green grass for the livestock, except in seasons of heavy emigration; water to quench the thirst and
The Oregon Trail in Garden County, Map A
refresh the dusty traveler. Here, too was wood for fuel. Small wonder that nearly all the travelers made mention of Ash Hollow in their writings.
Fig. 10. Rough broken land near beginning of descent into Ash Hollow
Fig. 11. Bluffs facing Ash Hollow
Fig. 12. At the top of Windlass Hill. Depression at the right marks route of old Trail.
Fig. 13. Windlass Hill. Monument in background marks site of post around which ropes were wound to assist wagons in making the descent. Tracks of the old Trail shown at the right.
Stansbury, in his account of this part of the country, speaks of the necessity to lower the wagons by means of ropes. His description of Ash Hollow is interesting: -3-
"The bottom of Ash Creek is tolerably well wooded, principally with ash and some dwarf cedars. The bed of the stream was entirely dry, but toward the mouth several springs of delightfully cold and refreshing water were found.... We encamped at the mouth of the valley, here called Ash Hollow. The traces of the great tide of emigration that had preceded us were plainly visible in remains of camp-fires, in blazed trees covered with innumerable names carved and written on them; but more than all, in the total absence of all herbage. It was only by driving our animals to a ravine some distance from the camp, that a sufficiency for their subsistence could be obtained."
William Kelly, who made a trip to California in the spring of 1849, was greatly impressed with the Ash Hollow region and in his account, Excursion to California , he became almost poetic in expressing his appreciation. After graphically describing the descent into Ash Hollow and the attendant dangers he pictures Ash Hollow:3. Stansbury, Howard, Exploration and Survey of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah , Philadelphia, 1852. (Go back to where you were.)
"Two more moderate descents brought us into a lovely wooded dell, so watered and sheltered that vegetation of every description appeared as if stimulated by a hot-house compared with that on the open prairie. The modest wild rose, forgetting its coyness in the leafy arbours, opened out its velvet bosom, adding its fragrant bouquet to that of the various scented flowers and shrubs which form the underbrush of the majestic ash, that confer a name upon the spot, producing a perfectly aromatic atmosphere. Cool streams, filtered through the adjoining hills, prattled about, until they merged their murmurs in a translucent pond, reposing in the center of a verdant meadow, a perfect parterre, whose bespangled carpet looked the congenial area for the toys and gambols of the light-tripping beings of fairy-land." -4-
Such was Ash Hollow, "a bit of Paradise" through which the route connected with the North Platte Valley.
For the remaining part of its journey across Nebraska the Oregon Trail followed the south side of the North Platte River, crossing Garden, Morrill, and Scottsbluff counties. The North Platte Valley presents variations. In some places the north-facing escarpment comes very close to the stream bank, leaving only a very narrow valley bottom along which the4. Kelly, William, Excursion to California. (Go back to where you were.)
Trail ran. Farther west the escarpment swings away from the stream and rather long gradual slopes lead from the valley bottoms to the uplands. The soil takes on a sandy character. Still farther to the west, spurs of the escarpment project northward, coming, in the Scotts Bluff area, so close to the stream that the Trail was forced back from the river. Benches or terraces and valley bottoms occur practically the entire length of the valley and it was along these for the most part that the Trail took its course.
The Trail emerged from Ash Hollow, in the southwest corner of section 34, T. 16 N., R. 42 W., and swung northwest up the North Platte Valley. For a distance of about 4 miles the steep bluffs come very close to the stream bank, and the Trail was forced to follow a very narrow terrace development across sections 33, 32, 31, T. 16 N., R. 42 W., and into section 24, T. 16 N., R. 43 W. For the next 3 miles the river makes a big bend to the north, leaving a lowlying area with a tendency toward overflow and swampy conditions. The Trail followed the outer and higher zone of this area, crossing sections 23, 22, and 21,
The Oregon Trail in Garden COunty, Map B
T. 16 N., R. 43 W. Across the southern half of sections 17 and 18 a wide curve of the river to the south pinches out the lowland belt and the Trail followed the terrace. Farther west, in R. 44 W., another northward bend in the river leaves a swampy area in the curve. The Trail stayed well up on the terrace away from this area, crossing sections 13, 14, southeast quarter of section 11, section 10.
For the next 3 miles the stream again strings south to the bench lands, and the Trail followed close to the river across section 9, northeast quarter of section 8, section 5, R. 44 W. In section 6 the valley bottom begins to widen, and the Trail followed first bottom land for some distance, crossing the northeast quarter of section 6, T. 16 N., R. 44 W., sections 32, and 31, T. 17 N., R. 44 W. In sections 25 and 23, T. 17 N., R. 45 W., the Trail crossed a low poorly-drained area, due probably to the presence of a sandy area with hilly relief, on the terrace. The Trail continued on the first bottoms across sections 22, 16, and into 17, T. 17 N., R. 45 W.
The Oregon Trail in Garden-Morrill Counties
From here to the county line the upper terraces become much more sandy in character. The valley bottom is extremely narrow and the Trail followed along the rather gradual slopes to the stream, crossing the northeast quarter of section 18, section 7, T. 17 N., R. 45 W., section 12, northeast quarter of section 11, section 2, 3, and 4. T. 17 N., R. 46 W. It reached the present county line in the southeast quarter of section 33, T. 18, N., R. 46 W.
In Morrill County, the uplands lie at a greater distance from the North Platte River. The terraces and flood plains are more or less continuous along the stream, and a rolling lowland belt, somewhat higher than the terraces, extends from the outer edge of the latter to the base of the escarpments marking the rise to the High Plains. -5- The Trail followed the lower terraces for the greater part of the way, except where they are displaced by the low bottoms.5. Soil Survey of Morrill County, Nebraska, 1917. (Go back to where you were.)
The Oregon Trail in Morrill County, Map A
The Trail entered Morrill County, section 32, T. 18 N. R. 46 W. and extended northwest across sections 31, and 30, T. 10 N., R. 46 W., keeping on the lowland quite close to the river. In sections 25, 26, and 23, T. 18, N., R. 47 W., the route extended across some colluvial slopes, a billowy to slightly rolling area, and came, in the northern half of section 22, onto a lowland area along which it extended across sections 15, 16, 17, 8, and 7, T. 18 N., R. 47 W. At the beginning of R. 48 W., the slopes come close to the stream and the Trail was forced to follow along a very narrow lowland belt across sections 12, 11, and 3, T. 18 N., R. 48 W. For the next 2 miles, across section 4, T. 18 N., R. 48 W., and section 32, and the northeast quarter of section 31, T. 19 N., R. 48 W., the Trail followed a stretch of higher land, approximating the course of a contour line.
The Trail continued for almost the entire remaining distance in Morrill County on the low terraces. Its course followed across section 30, T. 19 N., R. 48 W., sections 25, 26, and the southwest
The Oregon Trail in Morrill County, Map B
quarter of section 23, T. 19 N., R. 49 W. For the next 2 miles, across sections 22, 21, and the northeast quarter of section 20, T. 19 N., R. 49 W., the Trail stayed on the terrace just at the foot of some colluvial slopes. Keeping on the low terrace it continued across sections 17, 18, the southwest quarter of section 7, T. 19 N., R. 49 W.; sections 12, 11, 3, T. 19 N., R. 50 W. A long shallow northward bend of the river has left a rather wide low area nest the stream and the Trail turned more directly westward to keep on the ground a bit higher. It crossed section 33, 32, along the south edge of the present town of Bridgeport, section 31, T. 20 N., R. 50 W.; sections 25, and 26, T. 20 N., R. 51 W.
For the next 4 miles the route of the Trail was not marked on the government surveys. This is the Camp Clarke area, at one time used as a fort. It is quite probable that the Trail followed along the outer edge of the low terrace, which continues from the east, keeping fairly close to the foot of colluvial slopes which are a characteristic feature of much of Morrill County south of the river. Such a course would have
The Oregon Trail in Morrill County, Map C
taken the Trail across sections 27, 28, the southwest quarter of section 21, sections 20 and 19, T. 20 N., R. 51 W.
Across R. 52 W. the Trail paralleled the river, crossing sections 24, 13, 14, the northeast quarter of section 15, sections 10, 9, 8, 7, and the southwest quarter section 6, T. 20 N. The region traversed is first bottom land, an almost level surface with here and there shallow depressions. -6-
In Scotts Bluff County the south side of the North Platte Valley is a broad, smooth, nearly flat plain. The uplands lie at some distance from the stream and the surface "consists of long, grade slopes sweeping downward from the foot of the steep part of the escarpment in long concave curves, becoming flatter as the distance from the escarpment increases." -7- Practically no terraces exist south of the river, except for a very narrow belt immediately adjoining the6. Soil Survey of Morrill County, Nebraska , 1917. (Go back to where you were.) 7. Soil Survey of Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska , 1913. (Go back to where you were.)
The Oregon Trail in Scotts Bluff-Morrill Counties
channel of the stream. -8- The Trail followed for the most part, along the base of these slopes and at a sufficient distance from the main stream to secure a well drained road bed.
The course of the Trail lay across sections 1 and 2, T. 20 N., R. 53 W.; sections 36, 35, 34, 27, 28, 29, 20, and 19, T. 21 N., R. 53 W.; the northeast quarter of section 24, sections 13, 14, 15, 10, 9, 8, and 7, T. 21 N., R. 54 W. Sections 10, 9, 8, and 7, just mentioned, present a sandy surface, with a gently rolling relief. The westward trend taken by the route across these sections, was continued with only a slight trend northward, across R. 55 W., T. 21 N., as the Trail crossed sections 12, 11, 2, 3, and 4.
This brought the emigrant wagons to Mitchell Pass at the southeast quarter of section 32, T. 22 N., R. 55 W., almost two miles south of the river. Scotts Bluff, the northward extension of the rough broken land of the escarpment south of the river, in this region comes to within a half mile of the river. A8. Ibid. (Go back to where you were.)
small bad land area occupies the region between the river and the Bluffs, thus blocking further travel. Had Nature not been kind in carving out Mitchell Pass emigrant wagons would have met here an almost insurmountable obstacle.
Fig. 14. Mitchell Pass
For a quarter of a mile or so, a present-day well-graded highway parallels the ruts carved into Mitchell Pass by the wheels of emigrant wagons which passed this way many years ago. The spot had then its perils in danger from Indian attacks.
Fig. 15. Tracks of the Oregon Trail still visible in Mitchell Pass
Through the pass, the Trail came again onto a wide gently rolling valley and swung northward across sections 32, 29, and 20, T. 22 N., R. 55 W., to the base of the colluvial slopes previously mentioned. Here was the site of Fort Mitchell, established in 1846 by the American Fur Company, and known at that time as Fort Fontenelle. Though the fort seemed never to have much military strength, it served as a stage station enroute and was a welcome sight to emigrant trains. Some of the first settlers in the community were cattle men under contract to furnish meat to
The Oregon Trail in Scotts Bluff County, Map A
the government troops. -9-
From Fort Mitchell the Trail turned west and for the next 5 miles apparently followed a wet-weather course and a dry-weather course. A strip of poorly drained, fine, sandy loam from one fourth to a mile wide borders the stream and in dry weather would present no serious difficulty to travelers. The wet-weather course stayed farther back on the slopes, crossing section 18, T. 22 N., R. 55 W., sections 13, 11, 3, and 4, T. 22 N., R. 56 W. The dry-weather course ran parallel a fourth to half a mile north, and they came together again in section 33, T. 23 N., R. 56 W.
For about the next 7 miles an area of rolling, sandy topography lies back of a marshy meadow land which borders the river. Neither area seems particularly desirable as a highway and once again the route varied with the season. The wet-weather route seemed to follow along the outer and upper slope of the meadow land, but not so far back that it touched9. Welch, Leslie J., "The Oregon Trail in Nebraska, Part III," in the Sugar Press , June 1928, Vol. 12, No. 6. (Go back to where you were.)
The Oregon Trail in Scotts Bluff County, Map B
the area of dune sand. Such a course took the Trail across the northern part of sections 36, 35, 34, 33, 32, and 31, R. 57 W., T. 23 N., and northwest across section 25, R. 58 W., T. 23 N. The other course, probably used during drier seasons, followed approximately a half mile north of the route just described.
West of Horse Creek patches of poorly drained silt loam and marshy meadow land extend back from the river for a mile or a mile and a half. The Trail seemed to follow the outer edge of these areas as it crossed sections 25, 26, the southwest quarter of section 23, and section 22, R. 58 W., T. 23 N. In section 16 the Trail crossed the state boundary and entered Wyoming. Its course continued in the North Platte Valley, on the south side of the river, until it reached Fort Laramie--the next haven of refuge after Fort Kearney.
The Oregon Trail in Scotts Bluff County, Map C