This almost imperceptible
crest in the Rocky Mountain chain is the most significant site on the
westward emigrant trails. Here, the emigrants crossed the Continental Divide,
moving from the drainage basin of the Atlantic Ocean to that of the Pacific
Ocean. As they moved over South Pass, they could legitimately say that they
had entered the Oregon Territory.
South Pass was certainly known to the native inhabitants of this region for centuries. Nonetheless, its "discovery" is almost always attributed to the Astorians of 1812 who, under the leadership of Robert Stuart, crossed here as they headed east with dispatches for John Jacob Astor. Twelve years later, it was rediscovered by a party of fur trappers including Jedediah Smith and Thomas Fitzpatrick. Captain Benjamin Bonneville took the first wagons over the summit in 1832. Ten years later, Lt. John Charles Frèmont set the stage for the next year’s great migration by announcing that the pass could be crossed without any "toilsome ascents." In the years that followed, nearly every diarist of the great trek recorded the exhilaration of crossing South Pass.
Two markers are on the summit. The one, a granite boulder, was erected in June 1906 by Ezra Meeker, an 1852 emigrant who traveled the route from west to east in 1906, to mark the "Old Oregon Trail." The other marker is dedicated to Narcissa Prentiss Whitman and Eliza Hart Spalding, the first white women to cross South Pass which they did on July 4, 1836. This marker was inscribed and erected by Captain H. G. Nickerson, president of the Oregon Trail Commission of Wyoming, in 1916. Nickerson recorded that it took him two days to inscribe the 80 letters.
Nearby is the old gold mining town of South Pass City. A state historic park, South Pass City is unrelated to the emigration.
National Park Service
Comprehensive Management Plan