Western Trails in Nebraska

Western trails in Nebraska. The Mormon Trail is in blue; the Oregon and California Trails and the Pony Express route in red; an alternate Oregon/California route in dashed red; lesser-used trails in orange. Fort Kearny is the black dot.

The Great Platte River Road was the convergence point for the Trapper's Trail, the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, the Pony Express route, and the military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Laramie across Nebraska. The Road, which extended from the Second Fort Kearny to Fort Laramie, was utilized primarily from 1841 to 1866. Currently regarded as a sort of superhighway of its times, the road has been referred to as "the grand corridor of America's westward expansion." [1][2]


Great Platte River Road West of Kearney Nebraska

U.S. 26 along the Platte River Valley in Central Nebraska, Follows the historic trans-continental trails.

Robert Stuart, an explorer with the Pacific Fur Company, was one of the first European Americans to explore the potential for the Road in the 1810s. Eventually the Road started in several places along the Missouri River, including (from north to south) Omaha, Council Bluffs, Nebraska City, St. Joseph and Kansas City. Each of these separate routes came together near Fort Kearny in the middle of the Nebraska Territory. For those coming from Omaha and Council Bluffs the Road traversed the north side of the river. Those coming from St. Joseph and Kansas City generally used the south side of the river. At some point along the Platte the travellers would cross to the north side, frequently at great hazard, in order to follow the road north to Fort Laramie. [3] In the years of 1849, 1850 and 1852 traffic was so heavy along the Road that virtually all feed was stripped from both sides of the river. The lack of food and the threat of disease made the journey along the Road a deadly gamble.[4] 250,000 travelers followed the Road along the South Platte River during its peak years of 1841 to 1866.

Colorado War

Following attacks in the spring and summer of 1864 by the Colorado Volunteers on the Cheyenne and other Plains Indians a state of war developed along the South Platte, with numerous raids on stage stations, ranches and freighters along the road. After the Sand Creek massacre Julesburg was successfully attacked in January, 1865, and again in February.[5]

O'Fallon's Bluffs

One of the most treacherous stretches of the Road was O'Fallon's Bluffs near Sutherland. There the North Platte River cut directly against the bluff and made it necessary to travel a narrow roadway over the bluffs. Deep sand that caught wagon wheels and threats of attacks by marauding bands of Native Americans presented challenges. Referred to in many pioneer traveler journals, during the years 1858 to 1860, there was a trading post, stage station and Post Office near O’Fallon’s Bluff. By 1866, troops sent to protect the wagon trains from ambush near O’Fallon’s Bluff had established Fort Heath nearby. In 1867, the O’Fallon’s railroad siding, depot and Post Office were built north of the river opposite the bluff. Located there were a trading post and saloon.[6]

Later the Great Platte River Road was used by the Pony Express, eventually becoming an important freight and military route. When the First Transcontinental Railroad across Nebraska was completed in 1867 travel on the trail declined.[7]

Roadside settlements

The ranches and towns that settled alongside the Road provided outfitters from Missouri River towns places to sell their wares, and gave pioneers resting areas along the route. The following settlements appeared east to west along the Great Platte River Road in the Nebraska Territory.[8]

TransContinental Railroad east of Lexington Nebraska

East of Lexington, Nebraska. Triple Tracks replaced the original single track from the 1860's.

Conjoining routes

Trails, rails and highways that have used the Great Platte River Road include:

See also


  1. Mattes, M. (1987) The Great Platte River Road. University of Nebraska Press. p 6.
  2. "More About the Great Platte River Road", Nebraska State Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-03-28.
  3. Mattes, M. (1987) The Great Platte River Road. University of Nebraska Press. Chapter VII.
  4. The Pioneer Story. Retrieved 2006-05-22.
  5. Pages 149 to 203 The Fighting Cheyenne, George Bird Grinnell, University of Oklahoma Press (1956 original copyright 1915 Charles Scribner's Sons), hardcover, 454 pages
  6. "Great Platte River Road", Nebraska State Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  7. Olson, J.C. and Naugle, R.C. (1997) History of Nebraska. University of Nebraska Press. p64.
  8. Becher, R. (1999) Massacre Along the Medicine Road: A Social History of the Indian War. Caxton Press. p 246.

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