Sunday Stories: Exploration and Trails

Excerpted from the 1891-1991 Sutherland Centennial

 In 1842, Colonel John C. Fremont traveled the approximate route of the Oregon Trail. On July 2, 1842, he reported that his party had passed near an old encampment of Oregon emigrants on Brady Island; so the travelers to Oregon were numerous enough at this time to leave evidence of their passing. That evening Fremont and his party crossed over to the north side of the South Platte River and camped. On July 3rd, they traveled up the South Platte for a distance of twenty-five miles. This would put them near the vicinity of where Sutherland now stands. The 4th of July was celebrated with a little “red fire-water”, and it was noted that while they were having their breakfast, a buffalo calf was chased through the encampment by a couple of wolves. Perhaps this was a portent of Sutherland’s future 4th of July celebrations.

A few miles west they reported a herd of about eleven thousand buffalo. He split his party here, indicating their encampment that day was not far distant from the road that crosses to the North Ford and that the trails on both rivers were in use.

Fremont Slough which ran and still runs south and to the east of Sutherland was named for Col. Fremont. It served as a watering hole for both people and livestock in the early days. Originally it was named Fremont Creek, and was at the site of the Lower Crossing of the South Platte where there also was a Pony Express and Stage Station. It was known as the Fremont Springs Pony Express and Stage Station or Buffalo Ranch.

There were three crossings of the California Road across the South Platte River. The lower, middle, and upper fords were used to join the north trail. The lower ford, Old Ford Road was southeast of Sutherland, the middle ford was east of Ogallala and the upper ford was west of Brule. This crossed over to Ash Hollow.

Old Ford Road was the crossing preferred by travelers of the early days, located near the sites of the I-80 rest areas southeast of Sutherland. Wagon trains planned at least one day to make this crossing as they traveled westward because of the heavy wagons sinking in the mud. The land was more level between the two channels and was a choice route, especially after the Indians had moved to reservations in the 1870’s. This crossing was used later, before there were any bridges over the South Platte River by local settlers. The tracks that were made by the wheels of the wagons crossing the country are still visible today from the eastbound I80 rest areas.
Oregon Trail Ruts at the I-80 eastbound rest area at Sutherland
“More excitement, more fun, more bad whiskey drank at the place (lower ford) than any other point from St. Joe to the Pacific. When safely across, the captain passed around the ‘big jug’…” Signed John Clark.


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