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Kenneth Mays
The North Platte River is near the present-day replica Fort Caspar at Casper, Wyoming.

Sometime after entering eastern Wyoming, Brigham Young and the 1847 pioneer company traveled west on the south side of the North Platte River which was flowing east. Once they arrived at present-day Casper, Wyoming, they needed to cross that river which, at that point, was coming from the Rockies in a more northerly direction.

Kenneth Mays
A wagon sits on a replica raft at the site of Fort Caspar, Casper, Wyoming.

In the mid-1800s, the North Platte River was not controlled by a series of dams as it is today. That meant that the river could be much deeper and swifter during the runoff season, as much as 100 yards wide and 10-15 feet deep. One place to cross was at the site where Fort Caspar (spelled p-a-r; the city is spelled p-e-r) would later be constructed. It was there that Brigham Young commissioned the construction of a larger ferry boat to get the company safely across. It was completed in three days.

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As they continued westward, President Young directed that nine men stay back to ferry Latter-day Saints who came later as well as offering to assist Oregon and other pioneers on the trail for a fee of $1.50 per wagon. This could be payable in supplies. These men ferried some 400 wagons of various pioneer groups across the North Platte. Presently, an interpretive replica Fort Caspar occupies the site.

There were other competing sites where travelers crossed the river. One was the Reshaw Bridge. The cost to use it, however, was prohibitive for many of the travelers. A third site was about 10 miles upriver at a site known as Red Buttes Crossing or Bessemer Bend. This site has been designated as a National Historic Site of the Oregon/Mormon/California/Pony Express Trail.