Most Wyoming residents know the awesome outcropping of granite in Southwestern Natrona County as Independence Rock. Early Oregon Trail travelers wanted to be there by July 4rth, but not just for a party.

The idea was very important - to be on pace to get through the Rockies before winter. And as long as they were there on time (reason enough to celebrate), they'd throw a huge party on the 4th. Those were held every year until 1867. When the railroad was completed, it didn't stop.

It had started in 1830. William Sublette, credited with naming Independence Rock, held a celebration on that July. On the Fourth, in front of 80 pioneers, he christened the rock in honor of our country’s birth date. The parties grew and grew over the years. They often included shooting guns, drinking booze and giving patriotic speeches.

It’s now estimated 550,000 used this route westward. One of the myths of the Oregon Trail was that groups of hostile Indians preyed upon wagon parties. That did happen, but not as often as portrayed. Out of hundreds of thousands who came over the trail, only 350 people were killed. And not all of the savage attacks were made by "Indians."

"Independence Rock: Wyoming's First Pit Stop" has a recent photo gallery including some of the pioneer’s carvings into the rock. For visitors today, carving is highly frowned upon by park management.