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Picturing history: Independence Rock, Natrona County, Wyoming

Situated about 50 miles southwest of Casper, Wyoming, is a large island of rock known as Independence Rock. It is a Wyoming state historic site. This geologic feature is roughly 130 feet high and nearly 200 feet long.

View of the Sweetwater River as it flows northeast toward Independence Rock.
View of the Sweetwater River as it flows northeast toward Independence Rock.
Kenneth Mays

Various theories propose how Independence Rock got its name. Some suggest that passersby named it as early as 1812. Perhaps the most accepted is the explanation that fur trapper William Sublette and a group of others celebrated the Fourth of July there as they passed by in 1830. Another thought is that travelers heading to Oregon who made it to Independence Rock by the Fourth of July would likely make it to journey’s end that season (see "Sacred Places Vol. 6," edited by LaMar C. Berrett and A. Gary Anderson, page 57). Independence Rock was also referred to as the Great Registry of the Desert because of the thousands of names that were written on or engraved in the rock.

Pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the pioneer company led by President Brigham Young stopped for lunch there on June 21, 1847. Company member Norton Jacob described Independence Rock as a: “Pile of Granite standing in an Isolated position o a level grassy Plain & is 45 yards high & 600 by 300 yards in extent & with a round cap like summit on which there is Pools of water fro five to ten feet in width, several feet deep.” (Norton Jacob, "The Mormon Vanguard Brigade of 1847," edited by Ronald O. Barney, page 179.) Horace Whitney described it as "a lengthy high mass of rock, somewhat oval in form … and has quite an isolated appearance" (Horace K. Whitney in "The Journey West," edited by Richard E. Bennett, page 276).