This hill, which became known as "California Hill," was climbed by thousands of emigrants heading west during the covered wagon migration, 1841-60. Many were bound for Oregon. California became the destination of a majority of overland travelers after gold was discovered there in 1848.
The most important crossing of the South Platte River during this period was south and a little east of here. After fording the river and ascending California Hill, the emigrants traveled northwesterly to reach the North Platte River by way of Ash Hollow. The terrain restricted the route wagons could take up the hill, causing deep ruts that are still visible about two-thirds of a mile north-northwest of this marker.
Before 1867 as many as half a million emigrants passed through what became Keith County. The natural migration corridor from Fort Kearney to Fort Laramie became known as "The Great Platte River Road." California Hill was donated to the Oregon-California Trails Association by Malcolm E. Smith, Jr., in memory of trail historian Irene D. Paden, and by the association to the Nebraska State Historical Society.