Mercy Montgomery, Luke Owen and the other wagon train pioneers in my historical romance novel, “Mercy’s Way,” stopped at Independence Rock on their way to Oregon Country in 1845.
I did in-depth research about the Trail before I wrote my story, and portrayed Independence Rock, and all the other places along the iconic westward route, as accurately as possible from an historical standpoint.
While studying those places I was happy to learn—and am delighted to report—that most of those landmarks still exist.
Including Independence Rock—which you can still visit today.
Just like Mercy and Luke, you can also climb the large granite outcropping. It is now a state of Wyoming historic site, and a national landmark.
“I was just up on it a few weeks ago,” Patrick Sutton, an assistant superintendent who helps manage the site, told me in a phone interview. And you can “absolutely” still see all the names carved into its surface by real life pioneers who passed by on their way to a new life in the American West, he said. “They are just as clear as the very first day they put them on there.”
In “Mercy’s Way,” Mercy and Luke carve their names in the rock, during what amounts to a romantically suspenseful moment. Since they are fictional characters, you won’t find their names anywhere on the rock in real life, but as some of the earliest Oregon Trail emigrants, their signatures would have been among the first, Sutton says.
What amazes me is that there are estimated to be from 3,000 to 5,000 names on Independence Rock. Pioneers put them there over several decades, through the mid to late 1800s. Today, of course, leaving one’s name, or defacing the monument in any way, is forbidden.
Approximately 1,900 feet long and 700 feet wide, it rises 128 feet into the air. Historically, it was a popular camping site, as it was for the wagon train pioneers led by Luke. According to the website, wyoshpo.state.wy.us, people put their names on the rock by engraving them, or with wagon grease or tar. Some of the names have flaked off, or become obscured by lichens, but most can still be seen. Mercy and Luke carved their names with a rock; Mercy wanted people far into the future to know she had been there.
According to the website, Independence Rock is located in Natrona County, Wyoming, at mile marker 63 on State Highway 220. The Independence Rock State Historic Site includes a large rest area right off the highway, an interpretive kiosk, and a paved footpath leading to the Rock. Well preserved wagon train ruts run along a pathway next to the Rock. It is my dream to visit the site one day. Of course, when I do, I will look in vain for Luke and Mercy’s names. But I will see them in my imagination. And that will be fun.