Historical Landmarks Along the Oregon Trail

In 1843, the first large group of pioneers made their way along the Oregon Trail. Through the years, the 2,000 plus mile journey would lead thousands of people from Missouri to Oregon.   Not surprisingly, there were a number of reasons why pioneers chose to make the daunting six-month journey. Some wanted to travel westward to buy farmland, earn a better living, and make a new start for their families. Others moved westward in search of religious freedom, adventure, or gold. Regardless of their motivations, the courageous people who traveled the Oregon Trail were all confronted with hardships. Sickness, lack of supplies, harsh weather, injuries to their animals, and dangerous traveling conditions were just a few of the challenges they dealt with. Though most of the pioneers traveled in wagons pulled by oxen, many of them would walk a portion of the way to get some relief from this jostling mode of transportation. Fortunately, several of these 19th century pioneers recorded their Oregon Trail travel experiences in journals. There are many descriptions of notable landmarks seen along the Oregon Trail. The following article contains a bit of background regarding these landmarks accompanied by further sources of information.  


Courthouse Rock

Courthouse Rock is a landmark located near the Oregon Trail, in North Platte Valley. This natural structure is a mixture of sandstone, clay, and volcanic ash. Courthouse Rock was formed by erosion and its shape has been compared to a castle due to its height of 400 feet. In 1837, this towering landmark took on the name of Courthouse. Situated next to Courthouse Rock is another notable landmark called Jail Rock. Reportedly, many pioneers on the Oregon Trail traveled several extra miles in their journey to see Courthouse Rock.

Chimney Rock

One look and it's easy to see how this natural landmark in North Platte River Valley earned its name. This 470-foot structure in Nebraska points straight toward the sky. It is made of sandstone, volcanic ash, and clay. When pioneers spotted this remarkable structure, many knew that they were approaching the mountainous part of their travels on the Oregon Trail. Interestingly, a lot of pioneers on the Oregon Trail stopped to carve their names into Chimney Rock. Unfortunately, years of erosion and various weather conditions have wiped away many of the names.

Independence Rock

Independence Rock is located in central Wyoming and bears the nickname, "Register of the Desert." It earned this nickname because pioneers on the Oregon Trail would pause to carve their names into the rock. Some travelers would even make a note of the date or their age. In addition, many of the people who stopped would write notes or letters to family members or friends who were traveling westward as well. Amazingly, some of the names can still be seen in the rock's surface. Independence Rock is a natural structure made of granite and measures 136 feet at its highest point. Over many years, Independence Rock formed its smooth sides due to expansion and shedding of granite layers. Wind has also played a part in creating the shape of this massive structure. The official name of Independence Rock came from fur trader William Sublette. On July 4, 1830, Sublette hosted an Independence Day gathering at the rock before leading a train of wagons on the Trail. When pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail saw Independence Rock, they knew that they had made it halfway through their journey.

Soda Springs

Soda Springs is located in Idaho and gets its name from the carbonated water that emerges naturally from the ground. This spring is a result of the activity of a volcano. Pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail would drink from Soda Springs as well as bathe there. Also, a Soda Springs geyser was later discovered in 1937. Carbon dioxide and underground water combined to create this geyser that reaches heights of 100 feet. The bubbling water of Soda Springs must have been a welcome sight to weary travelers making their way down the Oregon Trail.