South Pass

South Pass History Monuments and the Opening of the West 

by

Ned Eddins

Western Expansion:

Oregon-California Trail        Oregon Country       Mormon Trail

Lander Cutoff         Handcart Companies              South Pass   

Hole-in-the-Rock Trail              Sarah Crossley Sessions

A detailed description of the discovery of South Pass, and what would become the Oregon Trail, including a map, is covered in the Robert Stuart article. The importance of South Pass to the geographical outline of the United States is discussed in the Oregon Country article.

Two of the most important items along the Oregon and Mormon trails are seldom mentioned. These were ox shoes and buffalo chips. Oxen were shod several time on the overland journey. It took four pairs of shoes to do the front and back feet.

Ox Shoe
Worn Ox Shoe
Ox Shoes
Pair of Ox Shoes
Buffalo Cjip
Buffalo Chip 

Buffalo chips were as important as any landmark on the Oregon and Mormon pioneer trails. Dried buffalo manure was the only “firewood” for cooking and heat to be found on the prairie. One of the first tasks when the Oregon and Mormon Trail wagon trains stopped at night was to gather armfuls, or aprons full, of dried buffalo chips. Called “meadow muffins”, it took two or three bushels of chips to cook a meal. Makes you wonder if B.S. comes from the “tall tales” told around campfires of buffalo chips.

Praire Schooner
Praire Schooner 

The Prairie schooner was widely used on the overland trails. Conestoga wagons were big, heavy, and too hard to pull for the two thousand mile journey to the Oregon Country.

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock rises four hundred and seventy feet above the North Platte River in western Nebraska. The tip of the formation is three hundred and twenty-five feet above the base. To fur traders, mountain men, and the Oregon and Mormon Trail immigrants, Chimney rock marked the end of plains travel and the beginning of the mountains on the overland trails.

Beyond Chimney Rock, the next Oregon-Mormon Trail landmark was Scotts Bluff. The first traders to see it was Robert Stuart and the Astorians in 1812.  The bluff was named for Hiram Scott whose body was found near the bluff in 1830. The Oregon Trail picture was taken from the summit of Scotts Bluff.

Scott's Bluff Nebraska
Scotts Bluff
Oregon Trail Nebraska
Oregon Trail

Headed west, the next major stop on the Oregon and Mormon Trail was Fort Laramie (Fort William  Fort John).

Fort Laramie Wyoming
Fort Laramie
Fort Laaramie Wyoming
Fort Laramie Sutler’s Store

The above pictures are of the restored Fort Laramie. Near the mouth of Laramie Creek and the North Plate River, the original fort was built by William Sublette in 1834. On June 26, 1849, Lieutenant Daniel P. Woodbury purchased the trading post from the American Fur Company for four thousand dollars, and named it Fort Laramie. The fort served as a repair and supply point for the Oregon and Mormon Trail, as well as, a major army post during the Plains Indian wars. Merrill Mattes of the National Park Service has written an excellent account of Fort Laramie( Mattes).

Independence Rock Wyoming
Independence Rock

Independence Rock is a large granite rock, approximately 130 feet high, 1,900 feet long and 850 feet wide.

Independence Rock
P. G. Sessions

My great-great grandfather Perrigrine G. Sessions, the first settler of Bountiful, Utah, carved his name on the southeast corner of Independence rock in August of 1847.Father De Smet referred to Independence Rock as the “The Great Register of the Desert.” On the Sweetwater River, emigrants of the Oregon, Mormon, California trails stopped at Independence Rock before going over South Pass. William Sublette and his supply train party for the 1830 Rendezvous celebrated Independence Day on July 4th, 1830 there. Independence Rock supposedly received its name at this time. Oregon Pioneers considered Independence Rock halfway to Oregon. If the Oregon pioneers reached Independence Rock by July 4th, the chances were good the emigrants reached the Oregon Country before snowfall.

Devil's Gate
Devil’s Gate
 Lower End
Martin’s Cove

Devil’s Gate is a narrow cut made by the Sweetwater River through a rock formation. Devil’s Gate is three hundred seventy feet high and more than a quarter mile long. length. Martin’s Cove is about four miles northwest of Devil’s Gate.

The Oregon and Mormon trail across South Pass is marked with monuments, these monuments are about a mile apart. The monuments have Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, and California Trail on the sides. With so many roads in the South Pass area, it is always nice to find a marker and know you are on the old trail.

Oregon Trail Sign
Oregon Trail
Mormon Trail Marker
Mormon Trail Marker

South Pass is 7546 feet above sea level at its highest point. At the south end of  the Wind River Mountains, the broad open sagebrush-covered pass is about twenty miles wide.

South Pass East
South Pass East
South Pass - West
South Pass – West

The above pictures were taken from the Oregon-Mormon trail about 1 mile from where it crosses the Continental Divide.

Oregon Trail
Oregon Trail Marker
Narcissa Marker
Narcissa Whitman Marker

These markers are located not far from where the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails cross the Continental Divide. In 1836, Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spaulding were the first white women to cross South Pass.

The Oregon and Mormon trails in many places were several miles wide, but when the emigrant wagons used the same part of the trail, the heavy loaded wagons of the Oregon Pioneers, the Mormon emigrants, and the California Gold Miners often left wagon ruts six feet or better deep. The above tracks are about five-feet deep. These tracks and the old hay ranch are a little over two miles from the Continental Divide near Pacific Springs.. Used in the early 1900s, the hay ranch picture shows what a broad area South Pass covers.

Pacific Creek
Pacific Creek 

Pacific Spring was the first dependable water on the Pacific side of the Continental Divide.

Lander Cutoff Sign
Lander Cutoff 

The Lander Trail portion of the Oregon Trail was constructed in 1858. It was the only federally funded part of the Oregon Trail. After leaving the original Oregon trail near the ninth Crossing of the Sweetwater, the Lander Cut-Off passed over the Wyoming Range, Salt River Range, and the Caribou Range in Idaho to rejoined the Oregon California trail near Soda Springs, Idaho.

The Sublette Cutoff left the Oregon-California Trail west of South Pass.The Sublette Cutoff was about 70 miles shorter than the Fort Bridger route of the Oregon-California Trail. After crossing the Big Sandy, there was 45 to 50 miles of desert before reaching the Green River. The 45 miles would be roughly four days travel without water. Some wagon trains passed through this dry stretch by traveling non-stop to the Green River.

Sublette Cutoff
Sublette Cutoff
Elizabeth Paul
Elizabeth Paul Grave

Elizabeth Paul died on the Lander Cut-off July 27th, 1862 during child birth. One estimate has one of every seventeen travelers on the Oregon Trail dying in route to the Oregon Country. This is about one grave for every quarter mile traveled on the trail.

Wm Durham
Wm Durham Grave

The Father De Smet Monument sets on a bluff over looking the Horse Creek rendezvous sites. Near here, Father De Smet held the first Catholic Mass in Wyoming.

DeSmet Monument
Father DeSmet Monument

Not associated with the trails here are a couple of other markers of interest: Located in the Teton Wilderness area, Two Ocean Pass separates the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean drainage. North Two Oceans Creek runs down the Continental Divide a short distance then splits into two branches. Depending on the time of year, each branch is three-  to six-feet wide. Atlantic Creek flows 3,348 miles to the Gulf of Mexico via. the Yellowstone, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers. Pacific Creek flows 1,353 miles to the Pacific Ocean via. the Snake and Columbia Rivers.

Parting of the Waters
Parting of the Waters

People scoffed at Jim Bridger when he said a fish could swim from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Two Ocean Pass was the place.

Located at roughly 10,000 feet in the Bighorn Mountains east of Lovell, Wyoming, the Medicine Wheel is a sacred site to American Indians. The fence around it is covered with spiritual offerings. Made from locally gathered rocks, the central cairn is about 10 feet across and 2 feet high, 28 spokes radiate out to a rim of about 80 feet in diameter and 245 feet in circumference. The Medicine Wheel predates the Indian tribes in the region and is thought to be about 700 years old.

Medicine Wheel
Spoked Medicine Wheel
Medicine Wheel Fence
Medicine Wheel Fence Spiritual Offerings

The Historical Landmark article was written by Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming.

Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.

Citation: Eddins, Ned. (article name) Thefurtrapper.com. Afton, Wyoming. 2002.

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