Many dangers faced the overland travelers of the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. From wagon accidents to stampedes, weather related injuries to disease, there were a multitude of trials that the overland travelers had to face. However, the majority were able to make the journey safely, with only 10% dying en route, which I find to be a smaller percentage than my imagination wants to create. For those whose final breath was sealed along the overland trails, the family and friends left behind were responsible for a hasty burial. Most of these graves were left unmarked, as the best place to bury was actually under the trail itself in the hope that the coming wagon wheels would compact the earth enough over the grave site to allay the efforts of wolves or other grave robbers.
Some graves, however, were marked and have stood the test of time. One such grave is that of Rebecca Winters. Although slightly moved from its original location in 1995 due to its proximity to a railroad crossing (with the family’s permission and 100 of her descendants in attendance), Rebecca’s grave retains the original wagon tire inscribed with her name and age at death that was used to mark her grave along the trail.
Rebecca Winters set out on the Mormon Trail in 1852 with her family. As a Mormon, she was headed to Utah. Within just two months of her departure, Rebecca, like so many others, was the victim of cholera. A small prairie burial service was performed, and she was buried with the aforementioned wagon tire to mark the spot. Rebecca was 50 when she attempted and succumbed to the Mormon Trail.
Today, you can see Rebecca’s grave site just on the edge of Scottsbluff/Gering on the side of Route 26.
To tie Rebecca’s life to other points in American history, it is interesting to note that her father was a drummer boy in Washington’s Army. Fascinating to think that one generation was fighting for independence from England, and the very next generation was leaving the “states” for uncharted territory for religious freedom in her case.