June 17, 1841 — Courthouse Rock

Thursday 17th. Continued to coast along up the river — encamped on its banks nearly opposite to a huge isolated bluff bearing some resemblance to an immense castle in  ruins. Its distance from us no one supposed more than 1 1/2 miles, and yet it was at least 7. This deception was owing to the pure atmosphere through which it was viewed, and the want of objects, by which only, accurate ideas of distance can be acquired without measure.

The “huge isolated bluff” was probably what other pioneers called Courthouse Rock and the smaller Jail Rock. In the otherwise flat terrain of western Nebraska these features can be seen for miles around.


Father De Smet described this scene in a letter to his Superior:

Sometimes the fancy presents a castle of the middle ages, and even conjures up the lord of the manor; but instead of all these magnificent remains of antiquity, we find only barren mounds on all sides, filled with cliffs formed by the falling of the water, and serving as dens to an infinite number of rattle snakes and other venomous rep times.

Nunis, The Bidwell-Bartleson Party, p. 213)

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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