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.
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.
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?
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