Independence Rock Interpretive Signs
At Independence Rock Rest Area on State Highway 220
|Indepedence Rock: What is the Significance of Prospect Hill?
Left of Independence Rock on the horizon, sits a small but very important peak, Prospect Hill. This landmark is named because “… from the summit…is a grand prospect of the surrounding country. …”
From atop Prospect Hill, the emigrants would have a good view of Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate and Split Rock for the first time. These natural landmarks of the Sweetwater Valley allowed the travelers to make note of their progress along the trail.
Locating good water, forage for their animals and fuel for fires was the main concern each day for the emigrants crossing the prairie.
Wagons traveled between 16 and 20 miles a day, depending on the weather and terrain. They were built sturdy yet lightweight. Oxen were preferred over mules and horses for hauling the wagons. Though oxen were slower, they adapted better to the strenuous journy and various conditions on the trail.
Provisions had to last for a possible six month journey as supplies were scarce or very costly if purchased at stations along the way. Many emigrants took too many belongings and soon found their animals suffering. Possessions would be left along the trail to lighten the wagon load.
History Named in Stone
Many theories vary about naming the rock but most versions originate with events that happened on the Fourth of July.
William Sublette, and early mountain guide, is credited with christening it in honor of our nation’s birthdate on July 4th, 1830. One version was based on the Rock standing independent from the other rock formations on the plains.
Explorer John Fremont wrote in 1842 upon visiting the Rock, “…the rock is inscribed with…many a name famous in the history of this country…are to be found among those of traders and travelors…some of those have been washed away by the rain, but the greater number are not very “legible.”
Names were sometimes painted with ordinary paint, wagon tar or with a mixture of black powder, buffalo grease and glue. Others were carved into the hard stone with tools carried for wagon repairs. Mormons stationed professional stone cutters at the rock to engrave names for one to five dollars a name.
Few names remain today, as lichen, weather and time are eroding them away.
Vandalism and graffiiti are also contributing to the destruction of this historic national landmark. Please preserve and respect our Wyoming heritage.
The Ox-Team Monument Expedition
Keenly aware of the national significance of the Oregon Trail in the development of the American Pacific Northwest, Meeker wrote several books on the subject. In 1906, greatly concerned that the Oregon Trail would fade from memory, he decided to retrace the old trail eastward with covered wagon and ox-team, for the purpose of permanently marking the trail. He called this journey the Ox-Team Monument Expedition.
The presence of the 75-year-old pioneer with his long white beard, his considerable promotional skills, and the enthusiasm he engendered brought about a generous response from communities along the old trail. As a result, a line of stone monuments now marks the course of the trail from The Dalles, Oregon, across the mountains and plains to Kansas.
Here at Independence Rock he wrote:
Meeker continued his 1906 odyssey through major eastern cities to Washington, D.C., where on November 29 he met with President Roosevelt. In subsequent years Meeker continued his promotion of the Oregon Trail. In 1916 he made the journey in a Pathfinder model automobile, and in 1924 he was flown over the trail by army pilots. The old pioneer died in Seattle, Washington, at the age of 97 on December 3, 1928.
Wyoming Landmarks on the Trail
Within the territory that is now Wyoming were some outstanding trail landmarks; Fort Laramie, Register Cliff, Red Buttes, Prospect Hill, Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate, Split Rock, Three Crossings, Ice Slough, South Pass, Pacific Springs, Parting of the Ways, Church Butte and Fort Bridger.
Fort Laramie…a military post at the eastern foot of the Rockies and an essential supply and service depot.
Independence Rock and Devil’s Gate…Imposing landmarks that were a Fourth of July meeting place for many emigrants and often described as “sublime” and “a natural curiosity.”
Three Crossings… where the Sweetwater River had to be crossed three times within a mile and a half.
Ice Slough…a marshy area where water collected, froze and was kept insulated beneath the tundra-like sod. Ice could be dug a foot or more below the ground surface, providing travelers a luxury in the summer months.
South Pass…a gradual ascent over the continental divide. It marked the long-awaited Oregon country and the separation of waters into the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean.
Pacific Springs…a marshy meadow providing good grass and the first water flowing west.
Parting of the Ways…a fork in the trail allowing emigrants a choice: a shortcut or water and forage.
Sublette Cutoff…a shortcut through 50 waterless miles. The other fork went southwest to Ft. Bridger, adding 46 extra miles but favoring the livestock.
Church Butte…and eroded sandstone formation named for its shape.
Fort Bridger…an oasis where good water, grass and necessary supplies could be had.
Impressions at the Rock and Devil’s Gate
Rachel Taylor, age 15, 1853
July 22nd Today a party of us go to explore the Gate and found the place as wild and rugged as could be imagined.
Cecella Adams & Parthenia Blank, twin sisters, ages 23, 1852
Amelia Hadley, age 26, 1851
James Akin, Junior…
Time and Understanding
The abundant wildlands and free-ranging wildlife seemed limitless to those early settlers. They believed such vast natural resources would last forever. Along with the settlers, however, came new ideas and technologies, railroads and more settlers. Soon, the natural resources of Wyoming were more readily available to the new settlers and the rest of the world.
The unrestricted use of these natural resources quickly lead to diminishing wildlife and wildlands. Eventually, conservation efforts sprang up to preserve wildlife and the wildlands on which wildlife lived.
As we grow to understand our relationship with the earth, we realize that our future well-bing depends on our willingness and desire to act responsibly when we use the earth’s precious natural resources-her soil, water, air, plants and animals.
Wyoming’s vast natural wildlands are as important to people as they are to over 600 species of wildlife. A measure of our future may very well be reflected in our ability to responsibly conserve wildlife and preserve its habitat, for we all share the same space, food, shelter and water.
It was an important landmark and camp site for the emigrants of the Oregon and Utah Trails crossing this territory from 1840 to 1869.
The first Masonic lodge held in Wyoming was opened on this rock on July 4, 1862.
The rock is of igneous origin consisting of red and white feldspar and mica. Marks on the sides show the action of the glacier, which crossed this part of the country in the Pre-Oligocene period.
Although the Valley of the Sweetwater was once an active scene of westward migration, today it is a vast grazing land used by owners of working ranches. Independence Rock and the ruts of the Oregon Trail remain as evidence that a nation once passed this way.
The Three Crossing Station was located about 18 miles north and west of this site. It was a sturdy stockade, manned by one noncommissioned officer and 6 privates. Sweetwater Station, located about 2 miles northeast of Independence Rock was a telegraph relay station, military supply base, as well as a Pony Express and Overland Stage station. Both sites were abandoned in 1866.
The Great Emigration
Father Pierre DeSmet, a Jesuit missionary, dubbed the rock “The Register of the Desert” for at one time it had an estimated 40,000 names engraved on its surface. Almost all of the names, sometimes applied with a mixture of powder, buffalo grease and glue, are now coverd with lichens, mother nature’s eraser, which is slowly decomposing the rock.
Fur Trade and Naming the Rock
Theories about naming the rock vary, but one likely version states that on July 4, 1830, mountain man William Sublette, leader of the first wagon train to cross the overland route, christened Independence Rock in honor of the nation’s birthdate.
Prehistory and Geology
The geologic formation of Independence Rock is shown in the 3 diagrams at right.
Early Eocene Time, 50 million years ago.
Miocene Time, 15 million years ago.
Independence Rock as you see it today.
The Preservation of Independence Rock
Past attempts to memorilize an event or person by the placement of a plaque on the Rock damaged the surface. Today, nine bronzed legends, bolted to this igneous summit are mute testimony to us about people of the immediate past and tell us what they believed to be important about their history.
A preservation ethic was fostered by public knowledge of the importance of the site. Public gatherings and celebrations held by the Rock over the years, including Independence Day commemorations, Mason Lodge celebrations, and a National Boy Scout Jamboree, helped build public awareness.
As part of the united States bicentennial celebration, the State of Wyoming established Independence Rock State Historic Site with administratie responsibilities given to the Wyoming Recreation Commission. In an effort to retain the undisturbed atmosphere surrounding the rock, development at the site was kept to a minimum. A fence placed around the area of the historical inscriptions reduces contemporary damage.
Hundreds and thousands of people stopped here to rest, to meet, and to picnic and the area continues to serve in the same capacity as Independence Rock State Historic Site, allowing visitors to enjoy the majestic beauty of the landmark while refreshing themselves.
First Lodge of Masons
The Oregon Trail
Devil’s Gate Mail Station