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Robidoux Trading Post

April 13, 2010

Recently, I took some out-of-state guests around to see the local sights. In late morning, we picnicked at Wildcat Hills Recreation Area, and we planned to visit Scotts Bluff in the afternoon. But one of my guests had gotten hold of some regional tourism information and wanted to stop by Robidoux Trading Post (which I understand is pronounced ROO-bih-DOO) on the way to The Bluff. We’d seen a directional sign for it on Highway 71 on our way to Wildcat Hills.

“Sure. Why not? But, should we stop at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center to use the bathrooms before we go?” I asked.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got there.

“Oh no, it’ll be fine,” she said.

Methinks my guest was expecting something a bit different from what we found. Perhaps something with a lovely gift shop. That’s what a trading post is for, yes?

We took the turn westbound off of Highway 71, and passed another sign that said the trading post was ahead 8 or 9 miles (I forget the exact distance). We should have checked the odometer at that point so we knew when we were getting close. The road soon turned from blacktop to dirt, and began to wind through some ranches. When we made some 90-degree turns and crossed a couple of cattle grates, we started to wonder if the trading post had vanished into history.

But no! There, alongside a wide spot in the road, was a sign: Robidoux Trading Post. We saw an L-shaped log shack set in a field behind a barbed wire fence. Some durned punks had spray painted the road-facing side of the building, made of 100-year-old hand-hewn logs. We got out of the car, and that peculiar western Nebraska hill-country silence pressed down on our little group.

“Oh. I don’t think there are bathrooms here.”

The youngest member of our party discovered the entrance in the barbed wire fence and discovered that one of the doors of the trading post was open. I followed right behind her.

Turns out, Robidoux Trading Post is a reproduction of the trading post located in that vicinity in the early 185os, before improvements were made to allow pioneers to take their wagons through Mitchell Pass at Scotts Bluff. After the Mitchell Pass route was improved, the Robidoux Pass route faded into obscurity; it was too far out of the way and too far from the water source of the North Platte River.

The current incarnation of Robidoux Trading Post isn’t much to look at, but it’s enough to spark one’s imagination of things past.

Some very dusty tourism brochures and random household implements sit on the trading counter. Or perhaps it was the bar? According to pioneer diaries, the trading post had a “grog shop” and sold gallons of whiskey for $5 apiece. Perhaps that counter once held one of the guidebooks written for Oregon Trail pioneers that recommended whiskey as a treatment for rattlesnake bite. (I can’t remember the book’s title, but it’s available at the visitors center at Chimney Rock.)

Assorted objects hang on the walls, mouldering from the weather getting in via a broken window and gaps in the walls and ceiling: corn cobs, rabbit pelts, iron skillets, lamps, leg traps.

The trading post had a blacksmith shop on site, the only recourse for pioneers with broken wagon parts or lost horseshoes. Pioneers complained about the highway-robbery prices, but the Robidoux were not criminals. They were smart fur traders who knew they had a captive clientele in the westbound pioneers.

Pioneer diaries also tell of Native Americans encamped around the site, though there is little evidence around the reproduction trading post. They may have been in-laws of proprietor Antoine Robidoux, who married a Native American woman.

I think Robidoux Trading Post is worth a visit, but there is very little historical context on-site (due to funding restrictions, not to lack of desire), so I recommend checking out the North Platte Valley Museum first (post on that museum coming soon), so you can get a sense of how the trading post fits into area history. The museum even has a small diorama of the trading post, though it appears that our man Antoine may have been hitting the grog a little hard on the day I visited the museum. Face-down in the campfire. Ouch.

Oh yeah . . . and make sure to visit the bathroom before you head out to Robidoux Trading Post. The trading post is no longer active, and there are no facilities.

UPDATE: North Platte Valley Museum permanently closed in 2013 to join forces with the former Farm And Ranch Museum to become Legacy of the Plains Museum at 2930 Old Oregon Trail in Gering. See the Legacy of the Plains Museum website for the most recent updates.

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2010 5:56 pm

    I’ll have to clue you in on a real fun thing to do out in that neck of the woods..

  2. April 19, 2010 9:31 am

    Glad someone could find it. Back in 2006, my husband and I were visiting the area and we went off to look for it. We missed it somehow, but we did find this place: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=2152212

    I’m a genealogist and call myself a taphophile so I was excited 🙂

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink*
      April 19, 2010 11:51 am

      I had to look up “taphophile”. Thanks for introducing me to a new word! I’d seen descriptions of pioneer graves in the vicinity of Robidoux Trading Post, but we weren’t looking for them that day. Now I’ve got something else to look for if some of my guests want to go see the Post. 🙂

  3. Lori permalink
    November 11, 2013 7:00 pm

    This is actually on my grandmothers homestead . As kids we would spend time on her ranch. These are the best childhood memories I have. After it rained we would go looking for Indian beads in the red ant piles. I still have a string of them, and a few arrow heads. It’s such a beautiful place. I always felt closer to God there.

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