As many as half a million people crossed what’s now Wyoming in the mid-19th century before the transcontinental railroad was built. Their trails followed the North Platte and Sweetwater rivers west to South Pass, after which they divided into various routes bound for Oregon, Utah or California. They were making the journey of a lifetime, on routes blazed by Indians and trappers, and then worn deep and wide by thousands of wagons and perhaps millions of draft animals. These trails remain largely unchanged in Wyoming. Their white-topped wagons still hold an important place in the national imagination.
Ruts carved two to six feet deep in a sandstone ridge on the south side of the North Platte River about a half mile south of Guernsey, Wyo., provide striking physical evidence of the route followed by hundreds of thousands of westbound emigrants the Oregon Trail during the years 1841-1869.
Register Cliff, near present Guernsey, Wyo., is one of three large “registers of the desert” in Wyoming where Oregon-, California- and Utah-bound emigrants carved their names on rock. Many of the inscriptions are from the peak years of Oregon Trail travel in the 1840s and 1850s. The area close to Register Cliff was the first night’s camp west of Fort Laramie. Today, this site is a National Historic Site.
Point of Rocks Stage Station, 25 miles east of present Rock Springs, Wyo., was built in 1862 by the Overland Stage Company. The station was attacked and burned at least once by Indians, and stagecoach passengers were supposedly robbed and murdered nearby by the notorious outlaw and onetime stage-line superintendent Jack Slade. Point of Rocks Stage Station has been a school, freight station, store, ranch headquarters and a home. It is one of the only stage stations remaining intact on the Overland Trail. This site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Piedmont Charcoal Kilns southwest of Evanston, Wyo. were built in 1869 to supply charcoal primarily to Utah mining and smelting operations. The town of Piedmont’s location—on the Union Pacific Railroad but near a ready timber supply in the Uinta Mountains—made it a logical spot for the industry. Most of the charcoal was shipped to the Salt Lake valley, and some to Fort Bridger for use in blacksmith forges and heating stoves. Piedmont was a railroad station on the Union Pacific line. Three of the original five kilns remain standing. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1869, Fort Fred Steele was built by the U.S. Army to protect workers on the advancing transcontinental railroad at the spot where the rails crossed the North Platte River. The fort was closed in 1886, and the site, containing foundations of the original buildings, was much later acquired by the state.