Scotts Bluff National Monument

Dec 8, 2021 | 0 comments

Born and raised in eastern Nebraska, I’ve only explored what the western side of the Cornhusker state has to offer a few times.  A recent camping trip with girlfriends took us to Gering, NE and the site of the Scotts Bluff National Monument which offered a rich and rewarding history lesson about this beacon to pioneers crossing the plains of Nebraska.

This giant sandstone and siltstone formation was a significant landmark in history.  It sits not only on the Oregon Trail, but also the California Trail and the Mormon Trail and very close to the Platte River.  So whether an emigrant was seeking a prosperous new life in the west or religious freedom, they likely passed through Scotts Bluff. 

The Natives called it Me-a-pa-te, “hill that is hard to go around.”  But legend says that an ill Hiram Scott was left at the base of the bluff by his friends.    His companions claim on a return trip a year later, his skeleton was right were they left Scott.  So in his honor, they named the bluffs Scotts Bluffs.  By the 1860’s, emigrants shared the trail with mail and freight carriers, military expeditions, stagecoaches and the Pony Express. 

To make the arduous journey on the various trails through the Bluffs required a certain amount of bravery and a whole lot of money.  Surprisingly to me, it cost the average person/family about $80,000 in today’s currency.  Not only did they need to buy a wagon they also had to have three to five pairs of oxen to pull is.  Why oxen?  Because they were cheaper and could eat the natural prairie grass and Natives were less likely to steal them as opposed to horses.  A typically wagon was canvas covered and could care a ton and a half of possessions.  But they also needed to carry water and food. Food typically included coffee (to make the river water taste better), a brick of tea, salt, sugar, bacon and hardtack.  People also didn’t typically ride in the wagons and instead would walk along side it.  Children were tasked with picking up dried buffalo poop to make campfires with as trees were scares on the prairie.  But eventually the railroad became the main form of travel through the bluffs.

There are several short hiking trails at Scotts Bluff National Monument with one taking you from the base to the top of the bluff.  While you’re in the area, also check out Chimney Rock National Historic Site and Courthouse and Jail Rocks which were also significant landmarks on the Trails. 

 Lesa McDermott |Girl Camper Guide to South Dakota & Wyoming

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