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Oregon Trail Through the Platte River Valley

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Oregon Trail in the Platte River Valley, Nebraska Map

The Oregon Trail in the Platte River Valley, Nebraska  courtesy National Park Service. Click on map to see larger version.






Ash Hollow State Historic Park,

Ash Hollow State Historic Park, courtesy Lincoln Highway Nebraska.



Ash Hollow to Horse Creek on the Oregon Trail (East to West)


Ash Hollow-Windlass Hill

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

Mud Springs Pony Express Station Site

Chimney Rock

Fort Mitchell

Robidoux Pass

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Horse Creek Treaty Grounds

Contintinue to Wyoming



Ash Hollow-Windlass Hill:

After negotiating the climb up California Hill, the emigrants along the
Oregon-California Trail traveled 18 miles across the high tableland between the South and North Platte Rivers before descending Windlass Hill into the North Platte River Valley.

It was a favorite campsite for emigrants because it offered wood, pure water, and grass for the stock. Wagons descended the 25-degree slope of Windlass Hill for about 300 feet; subsequent erosion of the tracks worn by rough-locking the wheels has left at least five scars of trail ruts run down its side. From the top of the hill, trail ruts can be followed south until they disappear into a wheat field at the top of the plateau.


The source of the name is unknown as emigrants were not known to have referred to it as Windlass Hill. One pioneer named Howard Stansbury, who passed through Ash Hollow on July 3, 1852, commented:


"Here we were obliged, from the steepness of the road, to let the wagons down by ropes. . . . The bottom of Ash Creek is tolerably well wooded, principally with ash and some dwarf cedars . . . traces of the great tide of emigration . . . plainly visible in remains of camp fires, in blazed trees covered with innumerable names . . . total absence of all herbage."


The site became a Nebraska state park in 1962. Another historic site, located about 2 ˝ miles from Windlass Hill is also contained within the park. Ash Hollow Cave was created by a spring long ago and became an attractive site for human habitation. At least four distinct cultures used the cave as a base camp for hunting and food collecting for more than 1,500 years. Archaeological explorations have revealed that indigenous people used the cave as early as 1000 B.C. in the Late Archaic Period to about 1675-1725 when it was used by the Apache tribe.


The State Historic Park also includes the grave of Rachel Pattison, an 18 year-old newlywed that lost her life on the trail. A Visitor Center overlooking the canyon, contains interpretive exhibits is operated at Ash Hollow State Historical Park. The 40-acre Ash Hollow site also looks over the site of the Battle of Ash Hollow which took place in August, 1855 between U.S. Soldiers and the Sioux Indians.


Contact Information:

Ash Hollow State Historical Park
P.O. Box A
Lewellen, Nebraska 69147



Courthouse and Jail Rocks:


Located near present-day Bridgeport, Nebraska, Courthouse and Jail Rocks are the erosional remnants of an ancient plateau that bisected the North Platte River. The rocks sit at over 4,050 feet above sea level and rise more than 240 feet above nearby Pumpkin Creek. Like Chimney Rock, these rock structures have long been recognized by pioneers as prominent landmarks on the transcontinental journey west. These sites were the first monumental rock features that emigrants would encounter heading west. The rocks also served as an important crossroads, where two major trunks of the Oregon and California Trails merged.


Like Chimney Rock, Courthouse and Jail Rocks went by a series of names before arriving at their current designations. Because of Courthouse Rock’s grand and imposing appearance, many emigrants described the rock in terms of a large public building, naming it the Castle or the Courthouse. When viewed at distance from the east, the Courthouse and Jail Rocks appear to merge into a large, single unit, and descriptions sometimes referred to them as a single formation -- the Solitary Tower or the Lonely Tower. Once travelers approached Courthouse Rock, however, the second, smaller escarpment, the Jail Rock, became visually distinct. Though travelers applied various titles to both features, by the 1840's, most people used the names Courthouse and Jail Rocks.


Courthouse and Jail Rocks, Nebraska

Courthouse and Jail Rocks at sundown, Kathy Weiser, July, 2009.

This image available for photographic prints and downloads HERE!


Apart from their historic significance as landmarks on overland trails during the 19th century, the northwest side of the rock complex boasts a Dismal River archeological site. Dismal River archeological sites have been found throughout western Nebraska. Artifacts obtained from the sites have helped archeologists document American Indians who are believed to have migrated into western Nebraska in about 1675. The remains of the Courthouse Pony Express Station, the first station west of Mud Springs, lie on the southwest corner.

Courthouse and Jail Rocks are located two miles south of Bridgeport, Nebraska  on Highway 88.



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