Independence Rock is a well-known landmark on the north side of the Sweetwater River that became a popular camping site for caravans on the way to the rendezvous and later immigrants on the Oregon Trail. It was seen as the beginning of South Pass, the incline that led to the lowest pass between the northern and southern Rocky Mountains, and tradition suggested that if the travelers had not reached it by July 4, they would not reach their destination before colder weather set in. The rock only stands about 136 feet above the surrounding terrain, but it is visible for miles. The early pioneers said that as they approached it looked like a loaf of bread, a bowl turned upside-down, and a huge whale. Miller described it as a “huge tortoise sprawling on the prairie.” Windblown sand and silt buffeted the granite surface over thousands of years to create an ideal surface for pioneers to carve their names, and “the temptation was too strong” for Miller and the other members of his party “not to add our own” to what Father Peter J. DeSmet called “The Register of the Desert” in 1841. The best evidence suggests that fur trader and mountain man William L. Sublette named the rock in 1830 after camping there and “having kept the 4th of July in due style.” (Bagley, 2002)
Miller recalled that buffaloes and antelopes were “feeding under its shadow” when they approached, and he has shown the “swift-footed Antelope bounding along so fleetly and so phantom like that we almost imagined them to embody the spirit of departed Indians, again visiting their beautiful hunting grounds and scenes of former exploits.” (Ross, 1968, text accompanying plate 69) This may well be Miller’s field sketch of the scene.
UR: Rock of Independence/near the Nebraska River/Groups of Antelope &/Buffalo
The artist; The Porter Collection; Mae Reed Porter, Kansas City, MO; [M. Knoedler and Company, New York, NY]; InterNorth Art Foundation, Omaha, NE; present owner