Nebraska Landmarks along the Emigrant Trails

Three from the Road #19 – 2010 trip1

"Ancient Bluff Ruins" on the emigrant trails, near Broadwater, Nebraska, July 9, 2010

“Ancient Bluff Ruins” on the emigrant trails, near Broadwater, Nebraska, July 9, 2010

This frequently mentioned landmark is the most dramatic and extensive bluff formation along the north side of the North Platte River. These three erosional remnant buttes were named by English Mormon converts who thought they resembled ancient towers, castles and ruins seen in their homeland.2

Courthouse and Jail Rocks are two rock formations located near Bridgeport in the Nebraska Panhandle.

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

The Oregon-California Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Pony Express Trail and the Sidney-Deadwood Trail all ran near the rocks. The pair of rock formations served as a landmark along the trails for many pioneers traveling west in the 19th century. Many travelers would stray as much as five miles (8 km) from the Oregon Trail just to get a glimpse of the rocks.

Hundreds of westward-bound emigrants mentioned Courthouse Rock (originally also McFarlan’s Castle) in their travel logs and journals. The name “Courthouse” was first used in 1837. In 1845, one traveler described the rock as “resembling the ruins of an old castle [which] rises abruptly from the plain….It is difficult to look upon it and not believe that art had something to do with its construction.3

Chimney Rock, Nebraska , July 9, 2010

Chimney Rock National Historic Site

Designated the Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Chimney Rock is one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks for pioneer travelers on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, a symbol of the great western migration. Located approximately four miles south of present-day Bayard, at the south edge of the North Platte River Valley, Chimney Rock is a natural geologic formation, a remnant of the erosion of the bluffs at the edge of the North Platte Valley. A slender spire rises 325 feet from a conical base. The imposing formation, composed of layers of volcanic ash and brule clay dating back to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago), towers 480 feet above the North Platte River Valley.4


  1. Three from the Road is a series sharing images from places we’ve visited.  Initially, each post included thee images, related by a randomly selected location or topic. Posts now may be random choices or pre-planned sequences.  This post is in a series sequentially sharing images from our 2010 trip west.
  2. Ancient Bluff Ruins – Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, National Park Service
  3. Courthouse and Jail Rocks – Wikipedia
  4. Chimney Rock – National Park Service


3 from the road, american history, history, landscape, nebraska, parks, photography, plains, Travel Photos

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hilary Nov 7, 2016

    Hi Mike – they stand out and look wonderful in the landscape – and true to the names given by the early settlers … cheers Hilary

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