Traveling westward on the Oregon Trail in 1852, Susan Hayes had heard the story of how the bluffs were named. So she wrote down a verse, part of which reads …
“Twas here the bluffs of various hues
Stood towering to the skies
And there, alas! Oh dreadful thought!
Poor Scott among them lies.”
The life and untimely death of fur trapper Hiram Scott in 1828 continues to fascinate people. Even the manner of his death includes several different stories. One of them has Scott falling ill or injured and being abandoned by his companions near the base of the bluff.
I’ve even heard a version that’s kind of “out there.” In that one, Scott was killed by a grizzly bear. The animals ranged farther south and were more common in this area before civilization arrived to encroach on their territory.
A few weeks ago I wrote about George E. Mark, founder and publisher of the Mitchell Index in 1901. His interest in the area’s history often showed up in his newspaper. His wife also shared his interest and wrote some historic essays for the Index as well. She continued to contribute essays after George died in 1929.
I had to do some additional digging to find out her name. In the early 1900s, women were usually referred to in print form as “Mrs. George Mark or Mrs. Joe Smith.” For whatever reason, married women didn’t have first names then.
Her name was Maggie Wells. She married George Mark on Sept. 1. 1901 in Bayard, just as Mark was getting his business, the Mitchell Index, up and running.
In her writings, Wells said the earliest mention she was able to find about Scott’s death came from Washington Irving’s book “Captain Bonneville.” It tells of Scott’s illness at Laramie Fork and how he was abandoned by his companions. They later reported he had died of disease. As to where he died, that’s still a big question mark.
According to Irving’s book, Scott’s companions visited the bluffs area the next summer. Unexpectedly, they came upon some bleached human bones and a grinning skull that “by certain signs” identified the remains as Hiram Scott. But the bones were found 60 miles from where the party had abandoned Scott.
“It appeared that the wretched man had crawled that immense distance before death put an end to his miseries,” Irving’s narrative continued. “The wild and picturesque bluffs, in the neighborhood of his lonely grave, have ever since borne his name.”
Wells wrote that many other early fur trappers, probably working for John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, along with other immigrants, had died in those “wild and picturesque bluffs,” but only Scott’s name is remembered.
She said the tragedy of Hiram Scott entered the history books primarily because of his faithless companions, who left him to die.
Over the years, I’ve found that many historic accounts are often an amalgam of both fact and fantasy. The line between the two is often murky.
We all crave a good story — and we remember them. Hiram Scott is one of those characters that helped open the American West for a future still to come.