Along the Oregon Trail: Windlass Hill and Ash Hollow

(Edit: I made a mistake with the photo host, so when I first posted this, not all the photos showed up correctly. That should be fixed now.)

All right, time to try to catch up on my trip blogging/photos a little!

The third full day on the Oregon Trail saw some of the most well-known landmarks and stops along the trail. Unfortunately, this day (Friday? … yes, Friday) I was very sleep-deprived, and a lot of these things were viewed in a kind of brain-haze.

After setting off from Ogallala, NE, the first major stop was at Windlass Hill and then Ash Hollow. Those of you who played the Oregon Trail game, particularly version 2.0, which is what I played the most, will remember Windlass Hill as somewhat dangerous, and Ash Hollow as a very pretty stopping point.

Windlass Hill was a spot that I wanted to see, but I didn’t know if I could actually find it. When I was planning this trip, I didn’t realize how many historical markers there would be along the way–not just in Nebraska, but the whole Trail.

Click the photo to make it big enough to read the sign

What I also didn’t know was why there were boots placed over the fenceposts. It creeped me out, but Google has offered a few explanations.

The other cool thing about Windlass Hill (well, “cool” to a historian but not so much for the environment) is that it is still scarred by the effects of so much wagon traffic. There are a lot of places along the trail that claim to have “wagon ruts,” but they vary in appearance. Some are still obviously wagon ruts because they were cut into rock and have lasted longer. Others, due to time and erosion, are now nothing more than gentle swells and dips on the hillside. At Windlass Hill, the wagons carved ruts into the soil, which further eroded and created ravines.

Ash Hollow was the one Nebraska state park that I deigned to pay for a valid permit, but the guy working there was friendly, and the movie he played at the visitor’s center for me and an older couple from Missouri (on their way to Yellowstone) was dated but informative.

For emigrants on the Oregon Trail, Ash Hollow provided good water and firewood, which must have been welcome after navigating their wagons and animals along some tricky hillsides. Like all sites on the Trail, however, it also saw its share of death. Many pioneers are buried around Ash Hollow, but the locations of very few graves are still known today. Ash Hollow was also the site of the Battle of Ash Hollow, part of the First Sioux War in 1855. According to Wikipedia, the battle was revenge for the “Grattan Massacre” in 1854, which started … because of a lost cow.

I didn’t see any rattlesnakes here, or anywhere else, and I was kind of disappointed.

If anyone can tell me what plant this is, I would be most appreciative!

As a gin drinker, I’m a big fan of juniper

I honestly did not know there were cacti in Nebraska, so this was a delightful surprise.

Ash Hollow spring, where the emigrants would have rested and rehydrated

I don’t know what kind they were, but there were some *huge* fish glub-glubbing around in this water.

A schoolhouse in Ash Hollow, built in 1903 to replace a sod building

Unfortunately, it is getting late, and I have to get up very early for work tomorrow (I’m in the Pacific time zone now–yes, I made it to Oregon!–but the office’s deadlines are in Eastern). I don’t have time to post about the entirety of day three, but hopefully this will suffice for now.

2 thoughts on “Along the Oregon Trail: Windlass Hill and Ash Hollow

  1. If anyone can tell me what plant this is, I would be most appreciative!
    Kind of hard from the picture, but I will venture a guess that it is in the bean family and may be (I say may be) a loco weed or a milk vetch.

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