California Gold Rush in 1849 summoned easterners across the Mississippi River and to travel over the most rugged terrain in the mid 19th century.
Imagine traveling west in the mid-nineteenth century on the Oregon Trail in a Conestoga wagon through the arid country of Nebraska when you come upon a fortress known as Scotts Bluff. It took determination to go around the Bluff and through it. From 1849 to 1850, wagon trains went south of the Bluff for an easier pass, but after 1850, travelers of the Oregon Trail felt that going around the Bluff took longer and eventually chose to travel through the Bluff at Mitchell Pass.
Scott’s Bluff is located in the southwestern area of Nebraska, also known as the Nebraska Panhandle. The Bluff got its name from Hiram Scott who was born in 1805 in St. Charles County, Missouri and employed by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. According to the Scott’s Bluff National Park Service, the majority of Scott’s life is a mystery as is his death.
What is known is that Scott traveled west in 1829 to gather beaver pelts to bring back to St. Louis, Missouri to sell. On his way back east he became ill. This is where two versions of his death are told, one by Warren A. Ferris and the other by Washington Irving in his book, Adventures of Captain Bonneville. Ferris’ version states Scott was abandoned by two companions after putting him in a boat and sending him down the Platte River. The Irving’s story states Scott was abandoned by a large party of men fearing starvation. No matter which story speaks the truth they do agree that Scott’s bones were found the following spring.
Winds cut through the pass
Robidoux Pass, known as Scott’s Bluff, was the route taken in 1849 and 1850 and considered the longer route. The route that went through the Bluff had several different names. Pvt. Cornelius Conway called it Devil’s Gap due to the howling winds that passed through it. Ben Arnold referred to it as Marshall Pass for one of his captains. It later became Mitchell Pass after the town of Mitchell, which was named for the Indian fighter, Brig. Gen. Robert Mitchell. The apostrophe was dropped in 1919 after Scott’s Bluff became a national monument. Today Conestoga wagons sits at the entrance of the monument. In the fall, tumbleweeds can be seen rolling across the paved road, reminding visitors of days gone by. The area is popular place for runners and bicyclists. Near dusk, whitetail deer graze on the grassy slopes.
- Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road. University of Nebraska Press, Licoln, 1987.