Monday, August 19, 2013

The Oregon Trail

Wednesday, Aug 14, 2013-  After a nice night at Clyde Holliday campground we headed east towards Baker City, Oregon and the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. The views along the way were beautiful and you could begin to sense the difficulty of the journey the emigrants had to make.  This giant wagon along the route begged for a picture.  What a contrast in traveling styles!
We did not have far to go today so we were able to stop along the way and take in some of the history of the area.  This railroad ran from Baker City to Prairie City for about 80 miles from 1880 to 1947.  This railroad depended on the logging industry for its livelihood so when the trees ran out the rail shut down.
We walked the 1/2 mile trail out to the remains of an old section of the railroad line laying hidden in the woods.
The landscape changed as we approached Baker City and became much more arid and desert like.  This part of the Oregon Trail hasn’t changed much in appearance since the 1840’s.
The Interpretive Center had a great re-enactment and history of the people and their challenges along the way.  The Trail began in Independence, Mo. and ended in Oregon City, Or. after approximately 1930 miles.  It took about 6 months to cover the distance.  Over 300,000 people traveled the trail, the largest migration of people in the history of the United States.
They were leaving behind hard economic times, and epidemics of cholera. They were drawn to the promise of a land wild and free for the taking.  By far, the largest demographic of people heading west were young men. The men outnumbered the women six to one.
But, women, and children came, too. They left behind family and friends, to join their husbands in the hopes of finding a better life.
Theirs was a journey that began with the excitement of new adventure, and often ended in heartache. One out of ten people who started in Independence never made it to Oregon City.  There is one section of trail where there are graves about every 80 yards. 
Incredibly the trail is still visible in a few places and the Interpretive Center is right next to a nice section of it. 
The trail has been worn in a swale, or trench, from the wagon wheels and the footsteps of the oxen that pulled the wagon. Though weather and erosion have reclaimed much of the original trail, and other sections have been taken over by road, we found it incredible that such a mark on the landscape could remain.
We were able to walk along the trail for a while and, as we walked, you could almost feel the footsteps of the many people who so long ago walked this same trail.
The trail was hard and those that did make it suffered through many hardships. They endured heat, cold, wind, dust, storms, and the never ending tedium of the trail.
A wagon train moved at the rate of about 2 miles an hour. Though many started out riding in the wagon, most preferred to walk, rather than face the bumping and jostling of the wagon. They covered 16 – 20 miles a day, walking 8 – 10 hours……day in and day out.
For some, the Oregon Trail, or the California spur, did indeed lead to a better life in a land that held endless opportunity for those who were willing to work and sacrifice.
Visiting the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, and actually walking in the footsteps of those who had passed this way, gave us a whole different perspective on what it must have been like to make this journey.  We traveled on down the road with a true admiration for the hardy souls who had settled this land.
We stopped for the night at a Eagles Hot Lake RV Park, a private campground just outside of La Grande, a little town which had been a way stop for the travelers along the Oregon Trail.

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