1 of 7
Kenneth Mays
Chimney Rock, Morrill County, Nebraska.

In the mid-1800s, hundreds of thousands of pioneers followed the Oregon, Mormon, California and Pony Express trails. As they crossed what is now Morrill County in western Nebraska, they observed a natural geological feature that became arguably the most recognizable landmark on the trail: Chimney Rock.

Kenneth Mays
Panel interpreting Chimney Rock, Morrill County, Nebraska.

The U.S. National Park Service notes on its website at nps.gov that an examination of hundreds of pioneer journals reveals that no natural geological features were mentioned more than Chimney Rock.

Travelers belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were among those who mentioned Chimney Rock as they passed by. William Clayton, traveling with President Brigham Young and the pioneer camp, wrote that the feature “reminded him of factory chimneys in England” (see "The Mormon Trek West," by Joseph E. Brown, page 108).

Latter-day Saint Horace K. Whitney articulated the following with reference to Chimney Rock and other massive rock formations in the area: “The scene to us was truly one of magnificence and grandeur and almost baffles description” (cited in Richard E. Bennett's "We’ll Find the Place," pages 148-149).

Comment on this story

Chimney Rock was visible to pioneers on the Oregon and Mormon Pioneer Trails for three to four days before they reached it. A number of Latter-day Saints made sketches of Chimney Rock in their journals. (See, for example, the sketch of Appleton Harmon in "The Mormon Vanguard Brigade of 1847: Norton Jacob’s Record," edited by Ronald O. Barney, page 148.)

Brigham Young and his company camped near Chimney Rock on May 25, 1847, and actually passed it the next day. They considered it to be the landmark identifying the point where they were “half way to Zion.”