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Ash Hollow

Ash Hollow is a picturesque wooded canyon in Garden County, Nebraska, three miles southeast of Lewellyn. A branch of the Overland Trail ran northwest from the Lower California Crossing of the South Platte River a few miles west of Brule, and descended at Ash Hollow into the North Platte Valley. The hollow, named for a growth of ash trees, was centered by Windlass Hill to the south. Wagons had to be eased down its steep slope by ropes. Deep, trough-like remains of the trail are found approaching the crest of Windlass Hill and down its face.

Ash Hollow is four miles in total length, from about 1,000 feet wide between its gateway cliffs near the North Platte up to 2,000 feet rim to rim, and with an average depth of some 250 feet. It is the widest and deepest of draws or canyons converging on the Platte or any of its branches. Most emigrants who passed through Ash Hollow stopped for rest and refitting. According to Merrill Mattes's Great Platte River Road, "In a country otherwise devoid of noteworthy features, Ash Hollow, with its high white cliffs, flower beds, oasis-like patches of trees and shrubbery, and beneficent clear springs, is an outright marvel.

"Historically, Ash Hollow was a notable milestone of the California Road. Here at long last was an abundant supply of firewood, and the most copious supply of pure water this side of the Missouri River. Here were often found peaceful encampments of Sioux Indians . . . . Here also was a wealth of sinister campfire legend, inspired by many actual incidents of ambush and violence within the canyon walls; and, after 1855, the place became famous for the nearby clash between Gen. [William S.] Harney and Chief Little Thunder, called the Battle of Ash Hollow. Here the two principal trails from the South Platte joined, and through here funneled the great majority of Gold Rush emigrants. Finally, this site was the introduction to a section of the California Road that was notable for its scenic attractions -- the famous series of North Platte landmarks from Castle Rock (seven miles west of Ash Hollow) to Court House Rock to Scott's Bluffs. This was indeed the royal road to the North Platte."

There is documentary evidence of burials in the immediate vicinity of Ash Hollow, but only a few marked graves survive. The most noted is that of Rachel Pattison, who died June 19, 1849.

(December 2002)


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