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Oregon Trail Through the Platte River Valley - Page 2

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Mud Springs Pony Express Station Site

Mud Springs Station, a Pony Express site from 1860 to 1861, was located near present day Dalton in Cheyenne County, Nebraska. Archeological evidence found at Mud Springs and the surrounding area suggests that Native Americans have occupied the region for centuries. It derived its name from the springs that come to the surface at the mouth of a long canyon between the Lodgepole Creek and North Platte River Valleys. When the pioneers arrived at these springs after a long drive over the high, dusty plateau they often found the springs muddy from the trampling feet of buffalo.


First surveyed in 1856, the town served overland travelers on the Julesburg cutoff by connecting Lodgepole Creek to the Oregon Trail.  The springs represented the first significant opportunity for obtaining water in a 24-mile stretch of barren overland trail.



The First Ride - Pony Express Painting

The First Ride by Charles Hargens, hangs in the

Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri




Buildings at Mud Springs were erected of sod in 1859, the roofs constructed of poles, brush, and earth with a layer of coarse gravel sprinkled over all to keep the wind from blowing the earth and brush away. In 1860, the Pony Express established a line along the Jules cutoff and created a station at Mud Springs. The place also had a stage station for coaches carrying passengers, freight, and mail. A stage passenger in the 1860s referred to the place as a "dirty hovel, serving tough antelope steaks, fried on a filthy stove, with wooden boxes serving as chairs at a bench like table." In 1861, shortly before the Pony Express operations ended, a transcontinental telegraph station was positioned at Mud Springs, along with a daily stage coach service.

In 1865, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians attacked the Mud Springs station. Having recently laid siege to the small town of Julesburg, Colorado to the south in retaliation for a massacre of Cheyenne at Sand Creek, Colorado, the Indians intended to deliver the same fate to Mud Springs. A quick-thinking telegrapher, however, sent a distress signal to Fort Mitchell, Nebraska and Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Within a day, U.S. troops were in place at Mud Springs to stave off any further attacks.

The Mud Springs Telegraph Station continued operations until the 1876 rerouting of telegraph lines that made the Mud Springs Station unnecessary. The area has had a vibrant history intimately tied to the Old West—as a station of the Pony Express, as a road ranch for weary westward travelers, and, finally, as a telegraph station.

No buildings or structures are still standing at the site, which a private owner donated to the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1939. A stone marker and sign post have been erected at the site to commemorate the station. The native-stone monument at the site has a bronze Pony Express symbol and plaque.


Chimney Rock


Designated the Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Chimney Rock is one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks for pioneer travelers on the Oregon California, and Mormon Trails, a symbol of the great western migration. Located approximately four miles south of present-day Bayard in Millard County, at the south edge of the North Platte River Valley, Chimney Rock is a natural geologic formation, a remnant of the erosion of the bluffs at the edge of the North Platte Valley. A slender spire rises 325 feet from a conical base. The imposing formation, composed of layers of volcanic ash and brule clay dating back to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago), towers 480 feet above the North Platte River Valley.


Chimney Rock in Nebraska

Chimney Rock in Nebraska, Kathy Weiser, September, 2009.

This image available for photographic prints & editorial downloads HERE!


Though the origins of the name of the rock are obscure, the title “Chimney Rock” probably originated with the first fur traders in the region. In the early 19th century, however, travelers referred to it by a variety of other names, including Chimley Rock, Chimney Tower, and Elk Peak, but Chimney Rock had become the most commonly used name by the 1840s.

After examining over 300 journal accounts of settlers moving west along the Platte River Road, historian Merrill Mattes concluded that Chimney Rock was by far the most mentioned landmark. Mattes notes that although no special events took place at the rock, it held center-stage in the minds of the overland trail travelers. For many, the geological marker was an optical illusion. Some claimed that Chimney Rock could be seen upwards of 30 miles away, and though one traveled toward the rock-spire, Chimney Rock always appeared to be off in the distance—unapproachable.


Because of this optical effect, early travel accounts varied in their description of the rock. Some travelers believed that the rock spire may have been upwards of 30 feet higher than its current height, suggesting that wind, erosion, or a lightning strike had caused the top part of the spire to break off. Throughout the ages, the rock spire has continued to capture the imaginations and the romantic fascinations of travelers heading west.


Chimney Rock and its surrounding environs today look much as they did when the first settlers passed through in the mid 1800s. Erected on the southeast edge of the base in 1940, a small stone monument commemorates a gift from the Frank Durnal family to the Nebraska State Historical Society of approximately 80 acres of land, including Chimney Rock. The plot of land that the State owns provides a buffer zone to protect the historic landmark from modern encroachment. The only modern developments are Chimney Rock Cemetery, located approximately one-quarter mile southeast, and the visitor center nearby. Chimney Rock was designated a National Historic Site in 1956. The visitor center provides information on the history of the Overland Trails and Chimney Rock.

The Chimney Rock Visitor Center is located 1.5 miles south of Highway 92 on Chimney Rock Road near the town of Bayard.

The center houses museum exhibits, media presentations, and other educational materials concerning life on the overland trails, and a museum shop. It is open daily with a small admission charge.



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