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Chimney Rock and Independence Rock

October 20, 2013
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Geographically, Chimney Rock is a 300' high rock formation in Western Nebraska. It is known as the most famous landmark on the Oregon and Mormon trail. The trails were first used by fur traders, however settlers began moving west in the search for free land and a better life. In 1849 when gold was discovered in California, thousands of Forty-niners rushed across the continent, about 350,000 of them passing by Chimney Rock. Nearly all of the pioneer travel diaries mention Chimney Rock. One traveler wrote, "It was the most remarkable thing I ever saw." While another thought it was, "Well worth a visit across the plains to see."

Chimney Rock was considered both an ending place and a starting place. It marked the end of the easiest part of traveler's journey west, the flat terrain and the prairie. However they knew that once they had passed Chimney Rock, they started upwards towards the most difficult and dangerous part of the journey, crossing the mountains.

Many passersby were compelled to carve their names on Chimney Rock, although the inscriptions didn't last long, the weather obliterating most of them in short order.

Further west, Independence Rock is a large granite rock, approximately 130 feet high, 190 feet long, and 850 feet wide. It is located in the high plateau region of central Wyoming. This was a prominent and well known landmark on the Oregon Trail.

Independence Rock derives its name from the fact that it lies directly on the route of the Emigrant Trail that parties bound for either Oregon or California travelled. They left the Missouri River in early spring and would attempt to reach Independence Rock by July 4, Independence Day, in order to reach their destinations before the first mountain snowfalls. Approaching Independence Rock, many thought it looked like a huge whale from a distance.

The site was a popular camping spot for the emigrants and one noted the surface of the rock was covered with the names of travelers, traders, trappers, and emigrants, engraved on every part. It was also referred to as the Great Register of the Desert. Names were placed on it by painting them with wagon grease or tar, or a combination of buffalo grease and glue. Many of the emigrants carved their names on the rock, but there is also the theory that several stone carvers set up shop on the rock and charged a small fee to carve names into it. This would seemingly explain the fact that some names appear to be from the same hand and are professional looking. Some have flaked off or become obscure, but despite this, thousands of names remain to the delight of those who climb the rock.



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