Monday, September 24, 2018

Prairie Guest Books

In the recently released Old West Christmas Brides collection, Chimney Rock plays an important part of my story.

Located in Nebraska, this rock formation was one of the many prairie or desert “registers” along the pioneer trails leading west. The tall spiral could be seen from as far as thirty miles away.  Some considered it the eighth wonder of the world.

Thousands of travelers carved or painted signatures onto these “registers.” Sometimes they left messages to those traveling behind.  
Those in a hurry would simply hire one of the businessmen who had set-up shop at the base of the
Chimney Rock is not as tall today.
rocks and were willing to carve or paint signatures for a fee.  Travelers would often add hometowns and date of passage. 

The best known and most recognized landmark on the Oregon trail  was Independence Rock, called the "Register of the Desert."  Located in Wyoming, the granite outcropping is 1,900 feet long, 700 feet wide, and 128 feet high and has been described as looking like a turtle or large whale. It’s a mile around its base.

Travelers beginning their westbound trip in the spring tried to reach this rock by July 4th.  

Reaching it any later could be disastrous. For that would mean, travelers might not reach their destinations before running out of grain or the winter storms hit. 

Camped next to Independence Rock--True West Magazine
It's hard to imagine in this day of instant communication, the importance of these rocks.  In those early days, mail was none-existent and anyone heading west had no way of communicating with family back home.
Travelers climbed the rock to engrave their names, but also to look for the names of friends or relatives who had passed before them. One of the earliest signatures to be found is that of M.K. Hugh, 1824.

Cries of Joy!

Lydia Allen Rudd reached the rock on July 5th, 1852.  Though she wrote in her diary “there are a million of names on this rock,” she was somehow able to locate her husband’s name.  He had passed by the rock three years earlier.    

John Fremont was so impressed by what he saw, he wrote:  "Everywhere within six or eight feet off the ground, where the surface is sufficiently smooth, and in some places sixty or eighty feet above, the rock is inscribed with the names of travelers. Many a name famous in the history of this country, and some well-known to science, are to be found among those of traders and travelers..."

Unfortunately, erosion and time have taken a toll, and many of the names have vanished or faded, but the echoes of the past linger on. 

If you had been a traveler in the 1800s, what message would you have left to encourage those traveling behind? 

"This tale charms." -Publishers Weekly




  1. God is with you every step of the way.

  2. It's hard to imagine the difficulties of traveling in a covered wagon. I think how hard it was on families to kiss a newly-wed daughter goodbye as she and her husband left to travel west. It's quite possible the families would never hear from one another again. And if they did, it would be years away. I'm thankful for the ease we have in communicating these days. What would I write? Probably my name, the date, and the Scripture reference: Jeremiah 29:11

  3. Vickie, I agree. It's hard to imagine what they went through. Losing track of loved ones had to be the hardest.

  4. Fascinating read, thanks Margaret. Loved the pics too. The one with the circled wagons gives a great sense of what it’d be like. I’m glad Chimney rock is still standing, even though it’s lost some height. I think, after signing my name and date, I may have written “Noela was here” haha, and something encouraging people to keep on pressing on.

  5. Margaret, I had an amazing experience when I walked between the Oregon Trail Ruts at the Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site at Guernsey, WY and from there travelled a few miles to Register Cliff. The magnitude of names, dates and places was a moving experience, even to a Canadian like me.

    Thanks for posting about these courageous people who were determined to leave a mark that they had been there.

  6. It's too bad they couldn't erect something over it to protect the signatures. It's hard to say whether I would have written anything other than my name.