Independence Rock is located 814 miles from Winter Quarters, and 48 miles southwest of Casper, Wyoming. It marks the eastern end of the Sweetwater Valley. The Sweetwater River was named because the water tasted much better than the alkali in the water that had been found on most of the Oregon Trail.
This granite monolith is one of the more famous landmarks along the Oregon Trail and has served as a meeting place since the area was first inhabited.
Independence Rock was an important place for the Indians who first lived here. This giant igneous formation of feldspar and mica found it’s way into many native legends, and later, into the diaries of many westbound pioneers.
The first Europeans to visit the rock were members of Robert Stuart’s expedition in 1812. It is Stuart who is generally credited with discovery of the route, which became known as the Oregon Trail. Stuart’s diary indicated that he visited this site on October 30, 1812.
Stuart, however, did not name this giant rock. That honor is credited to William Sublette, who held an Independence Day celebration here on July 4, 1830, as he led the first wagon train to cross the new overland route. Before an audience of 80 pioneers, he christened the rock in honor of the birth date of our nation.
Independence Rock is most famous for the names inscribed on its face—the names and dates of people who passed by this place in search of a new life in the frontier. Father Petter J. DeSmet to appropriately name this place “The Register of the Desert,” in 1840.
As you walk around the rock, you will see hundreds of names carved or chipped into the surface. Possibly one of the earliest signatures to be found here is that of “M. K. Hugh, 1824.” Other early names include: “Hannah Snow, 1844,” “G. Gingham, 1846,” “J. Bower, 1847,” “Milo Ayer, age 29, 1849,” “W. H. Collins, July 4, 1862,” and V. D. Moody, July 24, 1849.”
Today seven plaques are on the north side of the rock commemorating various people and expeditions who came by the rock.
Most of the names were covered in snow on the day we visited.
These are a sample of names in a small "cave" at one end.
In 1856 some of my ancestors traveled through this area using handcarts.
One died about a mile before Independence rock.
Her story in bold below.
ROBERT REEDER—Willie Handcart Company
Born: May 24, 1837, Linstead, Suffolk, England
Parents: David and Lydia Balls Reeder
Age at time of journey: 19
On the 5th of May we sailed out from Liverpool, England, on the great ocean, which took us a little over six weeks to cross. I was very sick on the way and could not eat such food as they had on “seafare,” which consisted of what they called sea biscuits and salt pork and salt beef, also brown sugar and vinegar and very little other food. I got very feeble living principally on sugar and vinegar for three weeks.
I was glad when we arrived at Castle Garden, New York, where we could get a piece of bread once more. We rested here a few days, then pursued our journey by railroad and steamboats, changing from one to the other until we arrived at the Iowa camping ground, where we had to lay over two or three weeks waiting for our outfits.
While laying over there, we had to herd those cattle night and day. There were lots of us to change off if all would have taken a part, but it was a very rainy country, and some would not take their turn, especially in the nighttime. I can well remember those who had charge used to come to us and say, “Will you go and herd again tonight as we cannot get anyone else to go.” Me and my father and my brother-in-law, James Hurren, have gone three and four nights out of a week in the pouring rain, wet through from head to foot and in the water part of the time up to our knees, anything to help get fitted out and started on the road.
When our handcart company got out about three hundred miles on the road, our cattle stampeded, most all of our best oxen leaving, which left us in a bad state to move any farther. We stayed there for several days, hunting as far as we dared to go to find some of our cattle but could not find any, believing the Indians must have driven them away. Then some of the flour was taken out of the wagons and put on the handcarts according to the strength of the party drawing them. Some had one, others two or three, and, if my memory serves me right, Brother Hurren, being considered the strongest man the company had, had five sack put on his cart besides two small girls that were not able to walk and all his baggage and cooking utensils. His wife helped in pulling the cart and walked the entire trail.
My father, David Reeder, would start out in the morning and pull his cart until he would drop on the road. He did this day after day until he did not arise early on October 7, 1856. He was found dead in his bed, and his fellow bedmate had not heard a thing during the night. Sister Eliza wrapped a cherished sheet around him, as we placed him in a shallow grave, hoping the wolves would not disturb. We must go on our way in silent mourning and in a weakened condition.
Our rations were growing shorter, and we reduced them by common consent from day to day. Nights were getting colder, and some would sit down by the roadside and die. My younger sister, Caroline, seventeen years old, after traveling all day and seeing the camp being made for the night, took off her apron to tie some sagebrush in to bring into the camp. She sat down to rest, leaning on her bundle, exhausted. They found her chilled and dying and carried her to camp. She died without gaining consciousness. She too, was placed in an unmarked grave near Three Crossings, Sweetwater River. She died the evening of October 14, 1856. Her death was another real loss to us, but we must hurry on in threatening weather and colder nights on the Wind River Pass. So it was with others, as many as thirteen being buried in one grave at one time. I think fully one hundred died on this trip.
On October 17, we awoke covered with eight inches of snow and rations about gone. We pulled our carts sixteen miles in a blinding snowstorm and arrived at Rock Creek, where we sheltered against the hill as best we could to avoid the north wind and blowing snow. Weakened to such an extent and without food, thirteen died that night. All the able-bodied men dug one large grave, but not too deep. My brother-in-law, James Hurren, held out his eight -year-old girl Mary to see her little playmate lying among the dead. They were laid away in the clothes they wore, in a circle with feet to center and heads out. We covered them with willows and then earth and slid rocks down the hill to keep the wolves from disturbing them. Two of the men who helped dig the grave died and were buried in another nearby. We could go no further. The weather was severe, and we had not a morsel of food in camp. We had heard assistance was on the road, and we still had hopes.
When the relief party heard of our terrible situation, they doubled up teams and came to us as quickly as possible. They reached us after we had been in camp forty-eight hours. They dared not give us much food for fear of killing us all.
Through snow and wind we mostly walked behind the relief wagons about three hundred miles to Salt Lake City and arrived on Public Square [where the Joseph Smith Memorial Building now stands] November 9, 1856. We stopped for about two hours, and many of the Church authorities came and talked to us. Then we were given over to the bishops of the different wards. Each bishop took a few, whom they saw got some kind of work to pay for their keep during the winter.
Robert Reeder made two trips back to the Missouri River to help emigrants on their way to Utah. While on the first trip he found the grave of his father, David Reeder. Robert married Lydia Wilkinson in 1861, and they were among the earliest settlers in Hyde Park, Cache County, Utah. They became the parents of five children. He was a cattle man, butcher, deputy sheriff, and hay merchant. Robert Reeder died December 22, 1917, and he is buried in the Hyde Park Cemetery.