This summer, the PLHC was working to wrap up a project for Scotts Bluff National Monument. Researcher and recent graduate, Poppie Gullett, has shared a bit about the project and her experience completing archival research during a summer road trip to Scotts Bluff National Monument, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, and Legacy of the Plains Museum.
Looming over the arid grasslands of the Nebraska panhandle, 800-foot high Scott’s Bluff is immediately noticeable as a unique natural and cultural landmark. Once a crucial way marker for the Mormon and Oregon Trails as well as the Pony Express, the site received its status as a National Monument for its association with nineteenth-century westward migration. As you approach the dusty pink promontory and feel the sun beating down on you, you can almost imagine the wagon trains and riders that navigated the pass between the bluffs on their way west. The staff at Scott’s Bluff National Monument understand the intimate relationship between their site’s natural beauty and its fascinating human history. When it came time to remodel the exhibits in their visitor center in 2013, the monument reached out to the Public Lands History Center at CSU to help decide what stories those new exhibits would tell.
The PLHC team worked for four years putting together an information-rich ten chapter report on the Monument’s past and its significance to western US history. My goal in travelling to Scott’s Bluff was to use their photos, paintings, and documents in concert with the report develop a StoryMap and a visitor-friendly booklet for the monument to help communicate the history of the site in small chunks. As a latecomer to the project, my job out at Scott’s Bluff was to explore the archives of three museums—Legacy of the Plains Museum just down the road from the Monument, Scott’s Bluff National Monument, and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. At each site I found totally different but fascinating primary sources. At Agate, I got to see some of pioneer artist and photographer William Henry Jackson’s paintings in person and see photos of him exploring the Nile River in Egypt. At Scott’s Bluff, I spoke with the staff to understand their goals and was able to look through photos salvaged from the flooded basement archives. And at Legacy of the Plains, I spent the morning learning about Nebraska farm “soddies” (sod houses) with their very helpful volunteers. In such a whirlwind trip, I was struck by both the uniqueness of the landscape and the region’s history. There are dozens of tales yet to be told about the Scott’s Bluff area, and I am excited to be involved in that telling. – Poppie Gullett
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