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Scotts Bluff National Monument

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Scotts Bluff National Monument is located west of the City of Gering in western Nebraska, United States. This National Park Service site protects over 3,000 acres of historic overland trail remnants, mixed-grass prairie, rugged badlands, towering bluffs and riparian area along the North Platte River. The park boasts over 100,000 annual visitors.

The monument’s north bluff is named after Hiram Scott, who was a clerk for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and died near the bluff in 1828. The bluff served as an important landmark on the Oregon Trail, California Trail and Pony Express Trail, and was visible at a distance from the Mormon Trail. Over 250,000 westward emigrants passed by Scotts Bluff between 1843 and 1869. It was the second-most referred to landmark on the Emigrant Trails in pioneer journals and diaries.

Scotts Bluff County and the city of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, were named after the landmark.

Although called “Scotts Bluff National Monument,” the site includes two separate bluffs, “South Bluff” and the northern bluff called “Scotts Bluff.” There are five major outcroppings on the bluffs, known as Dome Rock, Crown Rock, Sentinel Rock, Eagle Rock, and Saddle Rock. The area between Scotts Bluff and the North Platte River is known as the “Badlands.”The collection of bluffs was first charted by non-native people in 1812 by the Astorian Expedition of fur traders traveling along the river. The expedition party noted the bluffs as the first large rock formations along the North Platte River where the Great Plains started giving way to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Their findings were not widely communicated because of the War of 1812. Explorers rediscovered the route to the Rocky Mountains in 1823, and fur traders in the region relied on the bluffs as a landmark. European Americans named the north, and most prominent bluff, after Hiram Scott, a fur trader who died in 1828 near the bluffs. The local Native Americans had called it Me-a-pa-te, “the hill that is hard to go around.”

Fur traders, missionaries, and military expeditions began regular trips past Scotts Bluff during the 1830s. Beginning in 1841, multitudes of settlers passed by Scotts Bluff on their way west along the Great Platte River Road to Oregon, and later California and Utah. All these groups used the bluff as a major landmark for navigation.

Although a natural gap existed between South Bluff and Scotts Bluff, the area was not easily traversed. So initially the Oregon Trail passed to the south of the Scotts Bluff area at Robidoux Pass and the Mormon Trail passed to the north of the bluff, on the other side of the North Platte River. In the early 1850s, a road was constructed in the gap, which later became known as Mitchell Pass. Beginning in 1851, this new passage became the preferred route of the Oregon and California Trails; although the Mormon Trail continued to pass the bluff only at a distance. Who built the road through Mitchell Pass about 1850 is unknown, although one possibility includes soldiers from Fort Laramie. Many emigrants preferred this route rather than trying to traverse the badlands on the north side of the bluffs or detouring south to the older trail at Robidoux Pass. Use of the Emigrant Trail tapered off in 1869 after the trail was superseded by the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

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An image of Scotts Bluff National Monument

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