2 miles past turn-off to Oregon Trail Ruts south of Guernsey
|Register Cliffs State Historic Site.
The wayfarers penchant for inscribing names and dates on prominent landmarks excites the interest of his descendants. Regrettably, marks of historic value are often effaced by later opportunists.
Along the Oregon Trail, famed transcontinental route of the 19th century, pertinent dates are from the 1820s through the 1860s. Three outstanding recording areas exist within Wyoming: Register Cliff here; Independence Rock 180 miles west; and Names Hill a further 175 miles along the Trail’s wandering course. Register Cliff and Names Hill are self-evident titles; Independence Rock derives from a July 4th, 1825 observance which, according to some authorities, was staged by Mountain Men of Fur Trade fame.
Register Cliff invited emigrants because broad river bottoms offered pleasing campsites and excellent pasture. Hardship and illness were inevitable to Trail travel; of 55,000 emigrants during a peak year some 5,000 died enroute. Cliffside graves attest to the high mortality. This being their lot, travelers eagerly sought and singularly valued recuperative lay overs. Here, rest offered the opportunity to register.
But not all who registered were worn and grieving emigrants. Early inscriptions were by Mountain Men inured to wilderness lifemany descendants of two centuries of French Fur Trade. One reads; “1829 This July 14”. Does it denote an observance? If the American Independence Day was celebrated in 1825 at Independence Rock could the French trappers have noted Bastille Day at Register Cliff in 1829?
Settlement and Homesteaders
When Wyoming was admitted as a state in 1890, the first application for purchase of state school land adjoining the present town site of Guernsey was made by C.A. Guernsey. Under the Warren Act, several thousand acres of land lying south of the North Platte in the Warm Springs area were also granted to Guernsey upon statehood. This land is still held with the present ranching operation.
Guernsey established his ranch at the base of Register Cliff and continued to operate it until 1926, when the Henry Frederick family acquired the land and began a ranching operation that still continues today. The cave that you see in the cliff face was initially blasted out for the storage of potatoes raised on the ranch, as the stone walls would insulate the produce and keep it from freezing in the winter. Later, the cave was used for machinery storage. It is not currently in use.
Henry Fredrick gifted a portion of the Register Cliff historic site to the State of Wyoming in 1932, and the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. It is through the generosity of the Frederick Family that the site is open to the public, as most of the land is still under their ownership. Chet Frederick, the son of Henry and a fourth generation Wyomingite, lived on this ranch during most of his life until his death in 1995. He always shared his knowledge and admiration for this area with family and friends alike, including much of the information above. Today, Register Cliff continues to be a stopping point for thousands of visitors each year, as it was during the western migration in the 1800s.
What Lies Ahead…”
For emigrants who reached this portion of the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express trails between 1841-1868, the landscape was changing and new challenges lay ahead. Rested and resupplied with provisions from Fort Laramie, emigrants bound for destinations in Utah, California and Oregon now encountered increasingly difficult travel conditions as they made their journey westward. It would be 368 miles to the next major supply point, Fort Bridger, or further if other trail cut-offs were taken.
Within a day’s travel of Ft. Laramie, Register Cliff or “Sand Point” was one of the overnight camp locations in this area, with others approximately 3 miles further west. As a record of their passing, guests occasionally “registered” at this site by engraving their names and sometimes the date of their visit into the soft sandstone wall. Young Alvah H. Unthank, age 19 and bound for the California gold fields, left his mark here in 1850. His name, along with those of two of his relatives, O.N. Unthank who served as telegraph operator at Ft. Laramie from 1869 to 1874, and O.N.’s son, can be found low on the cliff near the east end of the walking path (can you find it?).
Unfortunately, Alvah Unthank never made it to California. His fortunes were lost about 75 miles down the trail when, like hundreds of other emigrants, he succumbed to cholera. Several graves of unknown emigrants are found here at the site, enclosed by the fence to the south.
In the mid-1850s, Misters Ward and Guerrier operated a small trading post just west of the cliff, offering goods to the emigrants. Later, a pony express station was based here, known as Sand Point or Star Ranch Station.
The importance of the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express trails dwindled for the emigrants with completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. However, the trail was still utilized by a few travelers as well as the military, especially after Ft. Laramie became a hub for military operations during the Indian Wars period in the West.
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