Thursday, October 1, 2009
Along the Oregon Trail
It turns out that all the way back from Kearney Nebraska we've been following pretty closely the Oregon Trail. This is the route taken by about 500,000 people between 1842 and 1862 to get from Missouri to Oregon City (just south of today's Portland). Along the way we've had glimpses and sensations about this trek but today it all coalesced. This morning we stopped at a little state park in Oregon called Farewell Bend. This is the spot where the travelers, who had been following the Snake River for over 300 miles through Idaho, left the river and traveled overland for 70 miles to reach the Columbia. At this park there were some original covered wagons and I was blown away by how small they were.
They are not the big Connestoga wagons from the movies. These are tiny, measuring perhaps six feet in width and ten feet in length. Most of the travelers walked behind the wagons, which were pulled by mules or oxen. The wagons held all their worldly goods and the people trudged behind and slept in tents. The hardships faced by these people were incredible, and included cholera, starvation, sickness from bad water, as well as the usual accidents like drowning, falling, and injuries. About one in ten didn't make it.
Apparently the trail was littered with graves of those who succumbed, as well as dead oxen and the discards of items like stoves, dishes, furniture and food supplies that made the wagons too heavy. When they came to a river they would have to caulk the wagons with tar and float them over or build a raft and many people lost their lives at the river crossings. (This is the Snake River at Farewell Bend.)
We learned all this and more at excellent Oregon Trail Interpretive Centre up on a hill outside of Baker City, Oregon. This hill was the first place the travelers set eyes on a great flat basin with the Blue Mountains behind it and it marked the end of the desert and the beginning of Oregon Country (or the promised land.)
We could look down on the actual ruts left by the wagons. The journey had taken them the better part of six months, walking across the desolate plains and the high plateaus, through canyons and rivers. It's an amazing testament to the tenacity and hopefulness of these people. I have loved learning more about this piece of history.
This afternoon we drove into Washington and through some beautiful agricultural country.
Tonight we're in Yakima and tomorrow we'll head for Seattle and home.