The city of North Platte, Nebraska, is the site where the North Platte and South Platte rivers merge and become the Platte River. It then flows east for just over 300 miles to its confluence with the Missouri River near Plattsmouth, Nebraska.
Beginning near the town of Fremont, Nebraska, Brigham Young and the pioneer company of 1847 began following the Platte River heading west. The members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints used its life-sustaining water as they followed it back to the city of North Platte. Continuing west from there, they chose to follow the North Platte River as far as Casper, Wyoming.
Traditions have characterized the Platte River as being “a mile wide and a foot deep.” That is easy to envision as one views the river today. Countless channels, large and small, divert the water of the Platte over and around sand bars, vegetation, quicksand and farmland in complex, changing shimmering ribbons. Some of the channels are far enough apart that one would think they are separate rivers.
Much about the Platte River has changed since the days when the Latter-day Saints and hundreds of thousands more on the Oregon Trail utilized it on their journey to the West. Interpretive signage at the river’s edge near Fort Kearney, Nebraska, explains that “more than 70 percent of the flow which once scoured the banks and sandbars clean has been stored in upstream reservoirs and diverted to meet the needs of irrigation.” Moreover, the valley of the Platte “has been invaded by trees, reducing the channel width in some places by 70 to 90 percent.”