Road Ranches along the Oregon Trail

Throwback Thursday
News 2 at Ten
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 8:09 PM CDT
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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - Road ranches lined the Oregon-Mormon and Oregon-California trail from Nebraska City through the entire state of Nebraska. These ranches could be compared to present-day convenient stores. The road ranches provided travelers with essentials they may need or lost along their respective journeys. Many of the road ranches had replacement animals, flour, and wagon parts. Some had blacksmiths to repair travelers’ wagons.

There were notable road ranches in Lincoln County. The Gilman family road ranche was known throughout the Oregon Trail for its clean groundwater. It was not uncommon for travelers to die from cholera, a bacterial disease usually spread through contaminated water.

The McDonald road ranche was located near where Fort McPherson is today. McDonald was an honest man and travelers trusted his supplies and sales. Charles McDonald, eventually, became wealthy in North Platte and died with a good reputation.

Jack Morrow’s road ranche was notoriously known for bad sales and stealing travelers’ animals. He built a hill of dirt along the Platte River so that people couldn’t cross and had to travel to his ranche. He was known for stealing people’s animals, driving them into the hills and blaming it on the Indians. After doing that, he would sell the previous travelers’ animals. There is a marker for where Morrow’s ranche was. It was located up the street from the antique grain bin.

Good or bad, road ranches helped settle the plain states and provide travelers with the tools and resources to get to Oregon.

“These road ranches provided an invaluable service making it possible for people on the Oregon and California trail to make it,” said Jim Griffin, Curator Director of the Lincoln County Historical Museum. “On the Mormon trail, they had food stashed. You couldn’t make it with your family traveling in the plains without these road ranches.”

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