|Natrona County's long, colorful history is very important
in the settlement of the Old West. The North Platte River runs through
Carbon, Converse, Goshen, Platte, and Natrona Counties. It starts
in northern Colorado and flows north til it makes an eastward bend around
Casper, and onward to Nebraska. Indians called it Mini Nebrathka,
or spreading outer. The French Malley brothers named it in 1739,
"La Platte" each means broad and shallow.
Because pioneers needed a source of water in their travels, several trails ran through the county, and it is difficult to separate the trails from the events that occurred along these trails - as evidenced by the trail landmarks mentioned above. The Mormon Trail, the California Trail, the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express made their east-to-west run through the county. For the most part, these four trails followed the same route through Natrona County. These trails were the reason for many of the forts and small sites for river crossings. Bridger Trail left Fort Caspar, went to northwest to Lysite in Fremont County, up Bridger Creek, through the Big Horn Basin, west of the Big Horn Mountains and joined the Bozeman Trail east of the town of Bozeman , Montana. Jim Bridger used this route to avoid trespassing on Indian hunting grounds.
Of all the western trails used by fur traders, gold seekers, missionaries, and emigrants, the Oregon Trail was most important. Beginning in 1841 and lasting over 20 years, it was the route over which many thousands of emigrants traveled the 2,000 miles from western Missouri to Oregon's Willamette River Valley and to other locations in the Pacific Northwest. This tide of emigration and settlement caused England to relinquish her hold on the Old Oregon Territory in 1846, when it became part of the United States, comprising the present States of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, as well as those parts of Wyoming and Montana west of the Continental Divide. The National Park Service has identified the official 2,170 mile Oregon Trail route, which begins at Independence, Missouri, and extends through the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and into Oregon, where it ends at Oregon City. It is a single route except for two relatively short branches; one alternate route begins at Three Mile Crossing and the other at The Dalles, Oregon. The California Trail split from the Oregon Trail in western Wyoming; significant travelers went this way before 1849, but a flood followed the 1849 discovery of gold in California.
A unique story in the westward movement is that of the Mormon Trail. The Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter Day Saints, journeyed west not for gold, but for the chance to build a Zion free from religious persecution. They called their migration to the Great Basin "the gathering". Approximately 70,000 church members, tens of thousands from the British Isles and Scandinavia, followed the trail to Utah between the years 1847 and 1869. Detailed planning, organization, and supervision by the Church Leaders characterize the Mormon migration. Another unique aspect of the gathering was the use of handcarts instead of wagons to carry the belongings of nearly 3,000 poorer "saints" to Utah in the 1850's.
On the Mormon Trail, the Mormon Ferry was built in 1847 at the direction of Brigham Young, to cross the Platte River near present day Casper. It was made of two large cottonwood canoes, fastened together with coarse pieces of rope and covered with slabs. It was large enough that oxen teams did not need to be unhitched from the wagons. Nine Mormons stayed to operate the ferry. It was used until Louis Guinard built a bridge in 1858.
After founding Salt Lake City, the Mormons settled over 300 communities in the West. Most settlements were in Utah, but others ranged from Canada to Mexico. These agricultural settlements were important to the economic development of the west. They provided supplies to western towns specializing in mining and other industries.
The Mormon Pioneer Trail is a component of the National Trails System. The official 1,300 mile route begins at Nauvoo, Illinois, and extends through the states of Iowa, Nebraska, and into Utah, where it ends at Salt Lake City. while nearly two-thirds of the trail is now in private ownership, many of the places and events associated with the trail can be seen or visited. Where wagons once rolled and teams traveled, highways, railroads, and bridges allow for modern-day travel.
This is a brief look at the early days of Natrona County (and some of what it is today).