Called Bitter Cottonwood Creek because of the groves of cottonwood trees growing there, this location was a welcome relief for emigrant pioneers as they traveled along the relatively treeless road to the west in the 1840s, 50s, & 60s. Many pioneer journals mention "Bitter Creek" and the very cold water that could be found by digging just a few feet into the sandy creek bottom.
William Clayton, who traveled with the 1847 Mormon Pioneer Company and published an "emigrant guide" for subsequent Mormon trains, write, "Bitter Creek and Cold Spring; This was [a] dry September 13 )the return trip to Winter Quarters). Here there is plenty of timber, and if there is no water, you will find plenty three and a half miles further."
On the Nebraska prairie, emigrants used "buffalo chips," or whatever else would burn, to heat their dinner or noontime meal. Despite the eery loneliness of this site, it is likely all who came this way felt a sense of relief - here was a great campground that provided water, timber, grass for livestock, and shade and shelter for weary travelers. About a mile to the northeast the creek drains into the North Platte River.
Many explorers, emigrants, and pioneers kept diaries and journals of their five month trek across the prairies
and mountains that provide us with insight into their experiences.
Captain Fremont says this of the Bitter Cottonwood Creek area- "We halted at noon on the Fourche Amere [Poplar Fork], so called being timbered principally with poplar... The bed of the creek is sand and gravel, the water dispersed over the broad bed in several shallow stream."
Howard Egan, Saturday, June 5, 1847 "...encamped about half a mile west of the little company of Oregon emigrants, on Cottonwood creek. Day's journey, 17 miles. From the left back of the creek, by the side of the road, issued a clear and cold spring of water. The grass is very good; timber much more plentiful than below Laramie. It consists of ash, cottonwood, willows and box elder in low places..."
Thomas Bullock, Sunday June 6, 1984 "...at 2:35 our camp again pursued their journey, along the banks of "Bitter Creek" going thro' a grove of Cotton Wood & Willow Trees, which is a rarity on this journey. Passed thro' a small quantity of very good grass, then took a sudden bend to the left, round a Ravine, & again crossed over "Bitter Creek" ... Traveled by the most timber this day than any where since we left Grand Island..."