The town site of Wood River in south central Nebraska was named for a tree-lined stream west of Grand Island, Nebraska. A few miles west of Wood River was Wood River Center, now Shelton, Nebraska. Shelton is located about 25 miles west of Grand Island on U.S. Route 30, four miles north of Interstate 80.
A number of commercial enterprises there catered to the needs of overland trail pioneers and Fort Kearny, which was 15 miles farther west. Included in these enterprises were the services offered by Joseph Ellis Johnson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Johnson's most notable venture was a printing shop and newspaper known as the Huntsman's Echo. An interpretive panel at Shelton's Railroad Park notes that the newspaper's motto was: "Independent in Everything. Neutral in Nothing."
Johnson's newspaper was part of a business complex called Johnson's Ranche. It served travelers on the Mormon Pioneer Trail and others with a general store, post office, blacksmith shop, a mill and farm products there at Wood River Center. Johnson and his family eventually moved west to Utah in 1861.
According to William Hartley and Gary Anderson, Wood River Center was a "general stopping and resting place for Mormon emigrants heading West" (see "Sacred Places, Vol. 5: Iowa and Nebraska," edited by William E. Berrett). This included handcart pioneers as well as wagon companies.
Presently, several nearby sites from the original trail have been identified and marked. One of these is the Murdock-Mormon trail ruts at Alda, Nebraska.