Emigrant Hill on the Child’s Cutoff of the Oregon Trail—a route that ran north of the North Platte River—challenged travelers with a steep, rocky descent followed by twisting turns and a steep rise up again. Four-year-old Elva Ingram died near here of cholera in 1852, and is buried nearby.
In April 1867, during Red Cloud’s War, 19-year-old Pvt. Ralston Baker of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry died during an Indian attack at La Prele Creek crossing on the Oregon Trail. His grave remains near the spot where he fell, south of present Douglas, Wyo.
William L. Clary, 19, died of cholera in 1850 while traveling with 45 other men driving cattle to California. Four other drovers died en route and the company’s captain died soon afterward—all of cholera. Clary’s grave survives on private land near Torrington, Wyo.
Henry Hill, a War of 1812 veteran, died in 1852 on the Oregon Trail and lies buried on private property in Goshen County, Wyo. More than 30 members of two Hill families related by marriage traveled in the 62-member wagon train. All told, six of them died before reaching California.
On July 8, 1849, Charles Bishop, a member of the lavishly equipped Washington City and California Mining Association, died of cholera en route to the California gold fields. His gravesite, one of just 10 of the trailside forty-niner graves that still exist, lies near Torrington, Wyo.
In 1850, 19-year-old Alvah Unthank left Indiana to head to California with the Newport Mining Company. In late June, he carved his name at Register Cliff, but a few days later, he succumbed to cholera. His grave near present Glenrock, Wyo. is among the best preserved on the historic trails.
Early Oregon Trail travelers were enchanted by clear, cold water at Willow Spring, halfway between the North Platte and Independence Rock. But after traffic boomed with the 1849 gold rush, they were more often disappointed: Pioneers had cut down trees; livestock had eaten all the grass and muddied the water.
Fifteen miles from Prospect Hill, Oregon Trail emigrants as they neared Independence Rock began passing shallow, sometimes dry lakes. If dry, the lake floors were encrusted with snow-white alkali—essentially baking soda—which the pioneers called saleratus. It worked well for raising bread baked over sagebrush campfires.
Poetry, shouts and song—year after year, reactions were similar when Oregon Trail emigrants managed the steep climb up Prospect Hill, also called Ryan Hill, on the road from the North Platte to Independence Rock. The sight of range after range of mountains greeted them—a sweeping view of new country.
About 20 miles west of present Casper, Wyo., the Oregon Trail wound through a gap between two rocky hogbacks. Emigrants called it Rock Avenue. In the 1960s and 1970s, road builders blasted away some of the rocks. Part of the pioneer flavor of the place was lost, but much remains.