In this location wagons, carts, livestock, and emigrants forded the North Platte River during organized migrations through the Rocky Mountain West. Congressional prodding to occupy the Oregon Territory in the early 1840s, and the lure of fertile, unclaimed lands prompted many families to uproot and journey West. Populating the Pacific Northwest was essential to American possession of the continent.
Discovery of gold in California in 1848 ignited the passion and courage of many fortune seekers, as they raced to the gold fields to stake their claims. Later discoveries of gold and silver in Idaho and Montana added to the westward flow.
Referred to as Red Buttes or Red Hills crossing, this valley offered shade, forage, campsites, and an opportunity to repair equipment for the rocky route that lay ahead. Pioneers and their stock had paralleled the banks of the Platte and North Platte Rivers for nearly five hundred miles, but left the river here to avoid the rugged narrows a few miles upstream, and to follow the shortest path to the Sweetwater Valley.
You are standing on a floodplain that often lay underwater during the spring runoff or following sudden thunderstorms. In some years, dozens of wagons were stalled on the opposite bank until high water receded to sandy river channels. James Cayman, journeying east from California in 1846, witnessed a typical drama here on June 23 from a nearby vantage point:
"when we came in sight of the N. Platte we had the Pleasant sight of beholding the valy to a greate distance dotted with Peopl Horses cattle wagons and Tents their being 30 wagons all buisily engaged in crossing the River which was found not to be fordable and with poor material they had to make rafts of it took two trips to carry over one wagon with its lading." — (Excerpt from James Cayman, frontiersman).