Just off Highway 26 east of Scottsbluff sits a shaded grave, surrounded by protective green trees. You might wonder the story of that gravesite. Who is in it? Why is it so significant? An educational historical marker will tell you that the grave belongs to Rebecca Winters, one of the few people to be buried in a marked grave along the Mormon Trail.
Winters is considered a symbol of the westward movement, one of hundreds of thousands who set out to make a new life for themselves, one of so many who succumbed to illness along the way.
The 50-year-old woman and her husband, Hiram, were traveling in 1852 with a Utah-bound wagon train when she took ill with cholera somewhere near Fort Kearney. She died near what is now Scottsbluff on August 15, leaving behind five children between seven and 27 years old. It is said that a close family friend stayed up that mournful night to make a grave marker out of an old wagon tire, engraving the words, “Rebecca Winters, Aged 50 Years” into the iron.
For over 140 years, the simple marker stood unbothered, but because railroad tracks were laid only six feet from where the tire was embedded, officials began to fear for visitors’ safety as well as the integrity of the grave. So, in 1995, with more than 100 of Winters’ descendants on hand, the body was exhumed and the grave moved 900 feet east to protect it and its visitors from potential harm involving the trains.
You can now pull off the highway and pay respect to the symbolic grave and the hardship and endurance it represents. You’ll see the original marker and its thoughtful engraving. And you’ll gain an understanding of what life was like for pioneers traveling the Mormon trail so long ago. Rebecca Winters grave is located approximately 2 miles east of Scottsbluff on Highway 26.