Prairie Guest Books

In the recently released Old West Christmas Brides collection, Chimney Rock plays an important part of my story.

Located in Nebraska, this rock formation was one of the many prairie “registers” along the pioneer trails leading west, and could be seen from as far as thirty miles away.  Some considered it the eighth wonder of the world.

Thousands of travelers carved or painted signatures onto these “registers.”  Sometimes they left messages to those traveling behind.     

Those in a hurry would simply hire one of the businessmen who had set up shop at the base of the rocks to carve or paint signatures for a fee.  Travelers would often add hometowns and date of passage. 

Chimney Rock was taller in the 1800s.

The best known “Register of the desert” was Independence Rock.  Travelers beginning their westbound trip in the spring tried to reach this rock by July 4th.  Reaching it any later could be disastrous. For that would mean, travelers might not reach their destinations before running out of grain or the winter storms hit. 

The most recognized landmark on the Oregon trail, Independence Rock is located in Wyoming.  The granite outcropping is 1,900 feet long, 700 feet wide, and 128 feet high and has been described as looking like a turtle or large whale.  It’s a mile around its base. 


True West Magazine

It’s hard to imagine in this day of instant communication, the importance of these rocks.  In those early days, mail was none-existent and anyone heading west had no way of communicating with family back home.

Travelers climbed the rock to engrave their names, but also to look for the names of friends or relatives who had passed before them. One of the earliest signatures to be found is that of M.K. Hugh, 1824.

Cries of Joy!

Lydia Allen Rudd reached the rock on July 5th, 1852.  Though she wrote in her diary “that there are a million of names wrote on this rock,” she was somehow able to locate her husband’s name.  He had passed by the rock three years earlier.    

Unfortunately, erosion and time have erased many of the names, but the echoes of the past linger on. 

If you were a traveler in the 1800s, what message would you leave for those traveling behind? 



“This tale charms.” -Publishers Weekly




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31 thoughts on “Prairie Guest Books”

  1. Hi Margaret,

    This post really got to me. I take instant communication for granted in this day and age — talking with my folks even though they are 2,000 miles away, and my siblings who are scattered. I would leave my name and the date and if I had time, the words “Press on…”

  2. The quote I was going to use was from the 20th century, so it won’t work. I must come up with something else.

    Have faith, believe, and follow your heart.

  3. How interesting, Margaret! I knew a few had inscribed their names on different rocks, I didn’t know so many had. I’d love to read all the names and dates. I wonder who M.K. Hugh was. A mountain man? A scout? Interesting. I’d leave a message telling where to meet up at. That is if I knew my people were behind me. Loved this.

    • Linda, I had no idea how important these “message boards” were until I wrote a story based on one. Don’t know who M.K. Hugh was, but I bet he never imagined his name would live on.

      A message telling people where to meet sounds like a good idea. 🙂

  4. One of my favorite memories is the trip we took by car following the Oregon Trail as closely as we could, and these landmarks especially Independence Rock just took my breath away. We read as many names and messages as we could all around the rock. That site, Chimney Rock, Courthouse Rock, Fort Laramie, wagon ruts and all of the others will always be with me as visual reminders of what I had read so much about. Traveling across Wyoming was the most memorable part I must say. Oh, and the Wind River Reservation with Sacajawea’s grave and of course the Grand Tetons are not to be missed.

  5. good morning, my message would be, Dr’s are your friend.and thank god for modern medicine. I say this because my son and I read books about the old west, and think how did they survive. my son is 20 and has chronic kidney stones, he is having a procedure done today to get a stone out, if we were born in that time, I don’t think either of us would make it.

  6. Always a mystery to me how they survived crossing Nebraska. It’s open country mostly flat and you can see for miles and miles.

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