One day’s journey west of Chimney Rock the emigrants came to Scott’s Bluff, a rock formation named for Hiram Scott, a wounded fur trapper left behind to die by his companions in 1828. The fantastical shapes of the rocks were a welcome sight to travelers who had just spent weeks traversing the flatlands of the prairie. John Bidwell wrote:
We gradually receded from the river in order to pass through a gap in a range of high hills called Scott’s Bluffs. As we advanced towards these hills, the scenery of the surrounding country became beautifully grand and picturesque–they were worn in such a manner by the storms of unnumbered seasons that they really counterfeited the lofty spires, towering edifices, spacious domes, and in fine all the beautiful mansions of cities. We encamped among these envious objects having come about 20 miles.
The Platte River runs along the northern base of the bluff. On my visit to Scott’s Bluff National Monument I wondered why the pioneers had to find a way through the rock formations of Scott’s Bluff. They were following the river–why didn’t they cross it (it looks narrow and mild-mannered at this point) and travel along the flatter land on the other side?
I talked to the ranger about it, and he told me that the Platte is now controlled and doled out for irrigation, but back in the day it was wide and treacherous. Pioneers didn’t want to cross it if they could avoid doing so. Moreover, the land on the other side, which today is developed, was actually criss-crossed with ravines that made it difficult to navigate. So travelers stayed on the southern side and negotiated the bluffs and hills instead.
Tomorrow’s question: Where did the Bidwell-Bartleson Party cross Scott’s Bluff?