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Map of Child's Route

Until 1850 emigrants who followed the Council Bluffs Road that came up the north bank of the Platte River had to cross the river at Fort Laramie since it was thought that beyond the fort the route was impassable for wagons. The Laramie Crossing of the North Platte was just about where the current bridge across the river is located, immediately adjacent to the 1875 military bridge. This was a busy place in 1849 and in the early part of the 1850 season. William Rothwell arrived there on June 9, 1850." After 9 miles travel we arrived at the Laramie Ferry over North Platte. The river is 130 yds wide and can not be forded at this time of the year. It is deep and extremely swift. The only chance for crossing is an old worn out flatboat pulled by means of a rope stretched from bank to bank. The emigrants have to ferry themselves & wagons without assistance, and then pay 1$ per wagon. The horses, mules, oxen, &c., have to be made to swim. On the whole this is certainly a dangerous concern. . . We had supposed - and I find that almost everybody else coming this route has made the same mistake - that by taking the Council Bluff or Mormon route we should altogether avoid crossing the North Platte, but instead of this, we have this rapid and dangerous mountain stream to cross twice - once here and again at the Upper Ferry, 130 miles above. A great many will not believe but that there is a road leading up the North side of the river. A number of trains have tried it and after winding about among almost insurmountable hills have had to retrace their steps & ferry here."
In 1850 a ferry was being operated at the Upper Crossing by Missouri businessman David Hickman and emigrants traveling the Council Bluffs Road thought that perhaps Hickman had a financial agreement with officers at the fort to discourage the establishment of a wagon road on the north side of the river west of Fort Laramie. The emigrants felt they were being pressured to cross the N. Platte at the Laramie crossing for no good reason other than some people were making enormous profits running ferries. That there was no passable road on the north side west of the fort was accepted wisdom, but several companies wondered if it were really true. Byron McKinstry, while opposite the fort on June 21, wrote:" The officers wear uniforms, and were very anxious to prevent anyone from being so fool hardy as to risk his life up the N. side. They said it was their duty to warn us, that they were disinterested, & c. One said to me that if we undertook it we should not be able to get through this season, that we should have to go 80 m. out of our way round one mountain, and that our cattle would perish among the Black Hills for want of food & drink, for it would be impossible to come at the Platte, for it was shut in among perpendicular hills 300 ft. high. Some of our company have talked with Kit Carson who is here now and they say that he told them that the Devil himself could not get through the N. side. But we have made up our minds to try it. I have been in favor of it from the first. Tuttle and Blackman have been up the river some 5 or 6 m.. and seen Mr. Young, the Wagon Master of the Fort who tells them that there is no difficulty, that Uncle Sams Epauleted Gentry wish the Ferriage, &c., being interested [in] the one here & with David Hickman in the Upper one." Jerome Dutton and company went up the north side on June 15, 1850:"
We had intended to cross the Platte here, but it could not be forded and the ferry boat was sunk the other day by some Californians who were on a spree." This is from a letter he wrote home. Later in his journal he wrote:" We left Fort Laramie this morning and followed up the north side of the river to cross the Black Hills. This road has been traveled but very little until now, but as the ferry boat was gone we either had to go up this side or ferry ourselves on a float, and not timber to build it of. " Two other diarists are found whose companies stayed north of the river prior to McKinstry's arrival: Franklin Langworthy and Henry Bloom. Langworthy's company left the campground opposite Fort Laramie on June 14, as did Foster, Bloom on June 15 with Dutton. Surprisingly, Bloom does not indicate that his company was doing anything unusual by staying on the north side of the river. Of these four, only Langworthy makes the same accusation as McKinstry. After arriving safely opposite the Upper Platte Ferry on June 21 he wrote:" We have solved the problem respecting the new route. It is a better road than the old one that runs on the south side of the river. There is no serious obstacle in the way. We are now of the opinion that those who own the ferries have their agents about the Fort, to keep in circulation those false and alarming tales in reference to the difficulties of the new route. From this time on the route over the north bank trail between Fort Laramie and the Upper Crossings became the standard route for emigrants on the Council Bluffs Road. It is sometimes called Child's Cutoff, after Andrew Child of Waukesha, Wisconsin, a member of McKinstry's Upper Mississippi Ox Company, who wrote a guidebook for the route which was published in Milwaukee in 1852. However, the term Child's Cutoff is wholly modern. During the trail era no one called it that.The emigration all crossed here, that traveled the north side,until 1850 in June, Andrew Child was the first that went this route. "We concluded to take this route as it avoids the rough road over the Black Hills and many sand banks, according to Child's guide, and likewise saves crossing the Platte twice, although it is a little more circuitous. Child took credit for opening the route in his book when he wrote:"The route we followed from this point [opposite Fort Laramie], was still upon the north side [italics in original] of the river, which route then (June 1850) was untraveled and unknown. We, however, encountered no serious obstacle, and gained two days in time upon those who here crossed to the south side, as nearly all of the emigration did."
Avoiding the river crossings was paramount in the minds of the emigrants, and with good reason. They were dangerous and expensive, and once the cutoff was established, it made perfect sense that if you were already north of the river, it was a good idea to stay there.

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