Saturday, April 19, 2014

Courthouse and Jail Rocks - A Proud Palace of Solitude

Courthouse and Jail House Rocks

Located just south of Bridgeport in the panhandle of Nebraska at the eastern terminus of the Wildcat Hills, Courthouse and Jail House Rocks ascend 400 feet above the North Platte River Valley. For me, the rocks are an enduring symbol of the pioneer spirit, hope and home. During the Westward Expansion, they were a famous landmark as the Oregon, California, Mormon, Pony Express and Sidney-Deadwood trails all ran near the geographical marvels.

The formation was first noted by Robert Stuart in 1812. From a far distance, he observed a solitary tower rising out of the open prairie. Only upon closer inspection did he discover there were actually two. Stuart thought the larger feature looked like a courthouse, while the smaller a jail. Locals originally began calling the place McFarlan's Castle while passerbys referred to them as the Lonely Tower, the Castle or the Capitol. By 1837, the name Courthouse and Jail Rocks had stuck.

During the 19th century, settlers on the trail relied on natural landmarks to guide them in the right direction. To emigrants from the European coast who had never seen a mountain or even a bluff, Courthouse and Jail Rocks were described as stunning, geologic features. Fascinated by the strange peaks and because they knew they would never see them again, many people climbed to the summit and carved their names in the soft Brule clay.

Being the first of several impressive monuments in Western Nebraska, Courthouse and Jail are a proud palace of solitude and the vanguard of unforgettable scenic wonders that travelers would encounter further west. They provided comfort that the party was on the right track and inspired hope that everything was going to be okay in the future. When feeling a bit under the weather, a powerful tonic can sometimes be memories of home. Just like the pioneer days of old, it's time to circle the wagons.

The rocks rise 400 feet above the valley floor

Seybolt Park is the eastern terminus of the Wildcat Hills

The peaks are geographic marvels

The natural landmark can be seen from a great distance

A stunning geologic feature

Jail House Rock

Courthouse Rock

A proud palace of solitude

The vanguard of scenic wonders to come

They provided comfort and hope

Just like pioneer days of old, it's time to circle the wagons

4 comments:

  1. I can visualize covered wagons passing by! Gorgeous!

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    1. Oh yeah, the place is full of history. Bridgeport and "The Rocks" were at a crossroads for all the major westward trails during the 19th century. When my family gets together every summer, my brother, my nephew, me and my kids all go and climb around up there. It's tough but the view from the top is pretty awesome.

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  2. Their names are so picturesque - Courthouse and Jail House Rocks! These institutions must have been super important in the lives of the early settlers. They didn't name them Papa Rock and Mama Rock or Mansion Rock and Carriage House Rock, as alternative names.

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    1. They are very picturesque. I think it was important to the early pioneers to put some thought into naming the landmarks. It was something that couldn't be forced, it came naturally by way of the locals usually. Legend has it, the formation resembled the old courthouse in St Louis, Missouri and that's the name that stuck.

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