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Over the past few summers I have tackled the National Road, the Oregon Trail, and I've motorcycled to the Arctic Circle (Yukon) and Alaska. In the summer of 2013 I tackled Illinois Route 1. Starting on the south side of Chicago, Illinois 1 is the longest state highway, meandering south until it ends in Cave In Rock, Illinois, on the banks of the Ohio River. Once again, I operated with the assistance of Verizon Wireless, using an Apple iPhone and Nokia Lumia 928 to make all photographs.

The end of the Oregon Trail

Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 2 Comments »

A pair of gloves, bought new the day I left, bleached white on the top.  I faced the western sun for a little over two weeks.  I did not have to face it for three-four months like the western Pioneers. I have made it home, to the land of Lincoln.

In Independence, Missouri where my trip officially began, I met Travis Boley, the Oregon-California Trail Association Manager. Boley described the Oregon Trail as the rope that tied the East and West of the United States together. The rope is an apt metaphor. At one frayed end are the many destinations of the emigrants: Oregon City and the greater Willamette Valley, Walla Walla, California, and of course, in graves, marked and unmarked, along the trail. The starting points are equally frayed: Places like Independence and West Fort Joseph Mo, Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Springfield, Illinois. But no matter where folks started, they all ended up connected by the same tether of the Trail.

So as I rode back into Illinois today I thought about the “Peoria Party,” 19 emigrants in the earliest waves of immigration who headed out to the “Oregon Country.” Their motto, as displayed on a large flag they carried, was “Oregon Or The Grave.”  Setting out on May 1, 1839 they were beset by bad luck, bad planning and bad leadership. Some turned back. They almost starved; a heated argument saw one suffer a near-fatal gunshot.   Nonetheless, nine of the 19 who set out made it west.

Coles County, and Charleston, Illinois are full of remembrances of the nation’s 16th president.

As I neared home I passed one of the original farms worked by Abe Lincoln’s parents. In terms of the miles I had covered, the farm is a mere stone’s throw from the courthouse where Abe practiced law, a hop skip and a jump from the site of his fifth senatorial debate with Stephen Douglas, and in the backyard of the final resting place of his father Thomas and step-mother Sarah. Like Independence, Mo, where they are crazy about Harry Truman, we are a little obsessed with Abe (although we have no photos of Lincoln bowling, unlike the braggarts over there in Independence).  Even the Library of Eastern Illinois University remembers Lincoln’s Assassin John Wilkes Booth. (OK, it’s really named after Mary J. Booth a librarian at the school from 1904-1945, but the irony kills me.)

The Mary J. Booth Library on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill.

The land of Lincoln is also part of the frayed rope known as the Oregon Trail that tied the country together.

James Reed who carved his name in the rocks at Alcove Springs, carried a Muster Roll with Abe Lincoln’s signature on it. The two were Illinois Volunteers during the 1832 Black Hawk War, although neither saw combat. Reed himself was from Springfield, Illinois.

It was President Lincoln who, worried by the possibilities of a Mormon insurrection and Confederate sympathy in the west, put the California Volunteers and other groups in charge of the West’s security. It was the California Volunteers who were responsible in part for the Bear River Massacre, a site I visited near Preston, Idaho. Some historians even suggest the horrid treatment of American Indians during this time came with the tacit consent of Illinois’ most famous president. This is open to debate. What is not however, is the simple fact that if you dig just a little, wherever you live in the United States, you will find a story from that region that is a fiber, intertwined with the rope of the Oregon Trail.

The Oregon Trail was a people’s invention, not the government’s.  It was long after the trail was already established, and emigrants were moving west, that the government caught up with what the people had started.  It was then that they built a few forts, and later they staffed the west with soldiers. The Oregon Trail connected the existing 30 United States with what would the nation would become. It represents all that is wonderful – and inexcusable – in our heritage. Entrepreneurs, dreamers, con men, zealots, criminals, racists, pacifists and schemers; families and loners, farmers, teachers, merchants, magnates, and inventors; they all moved west. Their stories are our story – the good and the bad. We are all bound together. Now that I have made it home, I feel that I have a lot to think about. I hope that, in some way, you too are able to consider this rich aspect of our history; that you are able to find your own connection to the rope that is the Oregon Trail.

Tragedy Strikes!

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 4 Comments »

My trusty steed sits in the parking lot of the End of the Trail Interpretive Center unaware of the tragedy about to happen.

Today I followed (as near as I could) the Barlow Road  built in 1846 by Sam Barlow and Philip Foster, unaware of the tragedy that awaited me.

The Barlow road was, for many, the final leg of Oregon Trail. The route allowed travelers the ability to cross the Cascade Range, go around Mt. Hood  and reach the Willamette Valley without having to raft the dangerous Colombia River. However the Barlow Road,  a toll road, was by far the most trying 100 miles of the Oregon Trail. But at least travelers had the satisfaction of knowing they (probably) wouldn’t drown. (Of course, there was the pesky point where they had to empty their wagons, tie them to trees and lower them down a near-vertical drop to the riverbank, but I digress.) As tough as it was to drive over, the Barlow road worked, and was in continual service, charging a toll, until 1908.

A 95 year old sign along Barlow Road section of the Oregon trail commemorates what,  at the plaque’s installation, was a 66 year old event.

Harrowing indeed.  I was unable to follow all of the exact route because not all the snow from this past winter and spring had melted off the original trail.  I managed to take a road within a few miles of the route.  This road was undergoing substantial resurfacing, and as the elevations climbed I got chilled.  When I did get past Mount Hood, my GPS had lost all knowledge of  the greater Portland area. (Maybe my GPS is a Trail Blazer’s Fan in denial.) When I finally got to the End of the Trail Interpretive Center , I found it has closed do to budgets cutbacks.  Like the Griswold family in National Lampoon’s Vacation, who arrive at Walley World only to find it closed, I was decimated.  Tears welled in my eyes.

Are you catching my sarcastic drift? My thesis?

How hard could it be to build a road around this? How hard could it be to cut down a few trees?

The Oregon Trail was the “easiest” route western pioneers could come up with.  Yet one in ten would die on the journey. As is explained in the  Oregon California Trail Association website, “Over a 25 year span, up to 65,000 deaths occurred along the western overland emigrant trails. If evenly spaced along the length of the Oregon Trail, there would be a grave every 50 yards from Missouri to Oregon City.” Most of those deaths were because of disease, accidents (e.g. accidental gunshot wounds, drowning, getting run over by a wagon).

As I drove the last few miles of the trail, over Barlow Road, I kept thinking, ‘this was the easy way?’  I  thought back on the miles past. These were the easy rivers, the easy fords, the easy passes, the easy ascents and descents. They has no GPS, no real maps.  At best they had poorly-written inaccurate guidebooks.  Just ask the Donner-Reed Party how good the Hastings Guidebook turned out to be.

They didn’t have much, except a wonder lust, the desire to take the west away from the British, a desire to own their own land, to find gold, the need to escape the law, or spread their religion, or escape those who would kill them for exercising their faith.  Whatever the reason, they were as tough as hell.


A graveyard sits in the shadow of Mt. Hood north of Dufur, Oregon.

Maybe it is in our nature to trivialize and forget the sacrifices of others, that we stand on the shoulders of all the came before us.

Tomorrow when the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association exercise their pick in the NBA draft,  they had better pick wisely.  When you pick a name like the Trail Blazers, you need to be aware  of the historical luggage you pick up as well. You have a lot to live up to. Pick wisely boys.

A sign on the entrance of the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center Museum, Oregon City, Oregon.

One of the best things about spending eight-plus hours on a motorcycle every day, is that it gives you a lot of time to think, and the opportunity to put a lot of things in perspective. I’m not sure I would have what it takes to cross the Oregon Trail route in the 1840s, but I sure learned a lot crossing it in 2011.

Failures that changed the west

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 2 Comments »

Note: Long post, but an important story. There are photos beneath.

I am about to type something it never occurred to me I would ever type … or say … or think.

“Today I took a little side trip to Walla Walla. (Washington)” Seriously.


Just a few miles from Walla Walla is the site of the Whitman Mission. Theirs is a story of success and complete and tragic failure.

In 1835, 33 year-old Marcus Whitman, a physician by training, was recruited by American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Whitman and Rev. Samuel Parker went west, traveling with fur traders along their primitive and difficult routes, to scout potential mission sites in the unexplored west.

In 1836 Dr. Whitman, his new bride Narcissa, along with fellow missionaries Rev. Henry Spalding and his wife Eliza were headed back west in a covered wagon. Narcissa and Eliza thus became the first white women to cross the Rockies. Buoyed in part from (mostly invented) stories of Indians coming west to seek the “Good Book” in St. Louis, the Whitmans decided that the Cayuse tribe at Waiilatpu in the Walla Walla Valley were most in need of their message of Christianity. The Spaldings continued westward to establish a mission near the Nez Perce tribe.

Although their wagons were reduced to little more than handcarts by the time they reached Fort Boise, the Whitmans and Spaldings had proved that wagons could traverse the west. Narcissa’s letters home were widely circulated in the press, and become a form of reality entertainment for the 1830-40’s. Although her tone in describing the Cayuse was at times scornful, the descriptions of life in the Oregon Territory fueled the imaginations of many, and proved a deciding factor for many emigrants to begin their own journey.

The Whitmans worked hard to establish the mission. They constructed buildings, including a church and a mission school. Whitman held church services, practiced medicine and Narcissa taught school.  Over the next 12 years, the Whitmans experienced a series of setbacks, such as the loss of their 2-year old daughter to drowning just a few yards from their home, and Narcissa’s gradual and almost total loss of sight. In addition, the Whitmans refused to take time to learn about the customs and culture of the Cayuse. Narcissa’s sunny disposition also began to turn bitter, and her letters home were peppered with her growing contempt for the Cayuse, most probably as a result of their almost total failure to have any impact on the tribe. By 1842, the American Missionary Board decided to close the mission, citing the minimal conversion of the local Cayuse to Christianity. The Whitmans were to be relocated.  Only a trip back east by Marcus Whitman won a reprieve for the mission.

Upon his return to the Walla Walla Valley in 1843, Whitman helped lead the first wave of the “Great Migration.” Nearly 1,000 people were in that first group of pioneers. The Mission soon became a destination for immigrants, and the Cayuse watched with dismay as the whites kept coming into their valley. Along with the immigrants came noise, destruction of resources, and of course, disease.  By 1847, the Cayuse could not abide any more.

Despite Whitman’s medical treatment of whites and Cayuse alike, a serious outbreak of measles devastated the Cayuse tribe. With no immunity to the disease, nearly half of the Cayuse, including almost all of their children, died from the measles. Convinced that Whitman and the whites were out to destroy them, under the leadership of chief Tiloukaikt, the Cayuse attacked the mission, killing the Whitmans and 12 others, and burning down the mission buildings. Fifty women and children were taken captive. Three children died of measles while captive.

The killings ended Protestant missionary work in the Oregon Country, and led to an all out war against the Cayuse by a variety of volunteer militias. In 1848, Joseph Meeks, whose daughter had died of measles while a captive of the Cayuse, traveled to Washington to report news of the massacre. Congress acted, and in August it made Oregon a Territory thus paving the way for military action.

This Whitmans had come to the Oregon Country to save the Cayuse, but ended up participating in a series of events that hurt the tribe as nothing else ever could. The Cayuse eventually lost the war started at the mission and were forced to share a reservation with the Umatilla. Meanwhile, whites moved in and took over their lands. The tribe would never be the same.

The Whitmans also stood as a symbol of what Manifest Destiny could mean. With a little gumption and hard work, the west could be secured for the country that was destined to control it– or so the white narrative went. For the American Indian, it was a sign of things to come.

The Whitmans proved the Oregon Country could be tamed, they assisted scores of settlers moving into their area of the Oregon Country, their story inspired hundreds if not thousands of settlers, who flooded the west, and their deaths led to part of the Oregon Country becoming a territory. However, they were, to put it nicely, very ineffective missionaries. In1849, chief Tiloukaikt and several Cayuse involved in the Whitman Massacre surrendered in order to prevent further attacks on the Cayuse. As Tiloukaikt prepared to be hanged, he spoke out loudly for all to hear: “”Did not your missionaries teach us that Christ died to save his people? So we die to save our people.”


Hundreds of wagons rolled through the Blue Mountains and right past the Whitman Mission.  The Whitmans were famous for the assistance they offered to the weary travelers.

The Whitman Mission occupied the ground center and right in this photo.  The  dammed pond provided power for a grist mill.


The original foundation underpinnings of the Whitman Mission. In the room to the far right  Marcus Whitman was killed with a tomahawk blow to the back of his head.




The mass grave and grave stone of those killed in the Whitman Massacre is situated on the edge of the Whitman Mission grounds.

A large stone (foreground) covers the mass grave of those who died during the Whitman Massacre.


I ended the day in The Dalles, Oregon on the banks of the Columbia River.

Having reached The Dalles, emigrants had to decide whether to build their own rafts or pay unreliable rivermen to pilot them down the dangerous Columbia River. Starting in 1845, they could pay Sam Barlow to cross his toll road that went south and then west around Mount Hood.  It was far from an easy route, with several steep ascents and descents. However, the chances of drowning were a lot less.

An abandoned building sits near the Dalles Bridge, on the Colombia River.  It was here at The Dalles, Oregon that some emigrants boarded rafts for the perilous journey down the Columbia river.

I have opted to try the Barlow route and forgo boarding my motorcycle on a raft.

Idaho, always something to look at

Posted: June 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 1 Comment »

Today’s travel took me from Pocatello, Idaho to Ontario, Oregon.  I spent a lot of time, climbing around rocks, being on the look out for snakes, and shooting  a few stills in Massacre Rocks State Park. The emigrants on the Oregon and California Trail often referred to this section of the Trail as “Gate of Death” and “Devil’s Gate” due to their fears of ambush.

This one I took at about 8:30 a.m.  This location along the Snake River was a favorite camping spot for emigrants. Ten emigrants were killed just east of this region on August 9–10, 1862 in skirmishes with Indians. While there were massacres in the area, like the Ward Massacre a few miles down the trail, most historians  find the name “Massacre Rock” misleading. Unfortunately historians don’t get to name state parks.


The narrow volcanic ravines, large boulders and Snake River to one side made pioneers paranoid of ambush attacks as they traveled this section of the Trail.


I discovered a number of wind parks in Western Idaho, such as this set in Burley, Idaho. From my travels I can assure you there is more than enough wind in Idaho to keep these turbines spinning full time.


I also stopped by Shoshone Falls, which is located about 6 miles from Twin Falls, Idaho.

Here a young tourist enjoys the view and the waves of floating mist in the air. Shoshone Falls are actually higher than Niagara Falls (212 feet v 173 feet.)

Pass the Past

Posted: June 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 2 Comments »

Saturday I visited Preston, Idaho the town where the movie Napoleon Dynamite was filmed. But Preston was the site of something much more important, and tragic, than a quirky independent film. Before we get to that, let’s start at the beginning.

I started the day in Guernsey, Wyoming, heading west along the Trail toward Idaho. Traveling through the famous South Pass through the Continental Divide. Although likely known for centuries to indigenous people, the discovery of this 20-35 mile-wide prairie section through the Rockies by fur trapper Robert Stuart in 1812 eventually allowed for easy crossing of the Divide by emigrants. Without the Pass, emigrants would not have been able to trickle through, and then flood over, the Rockies into Oregon. It was this mass migration that secured the territory for the U.S. rather than Mexico or Great Britain. As “convenient” as the South Pass was, it was still no picnic to roll a wagon, or as the Mormons sometimes did, transport all the worldly goods in pushcarts, through the region. The Pass reaches a respectable elevation of 7,400 feet, and is no stranger to fickle weather patterns. During my ride through the Pass, it was a windy 46 degrees.

Our hero next to his faithful steed in the South Pass, Wyoming (circa 1845).


I also followed parts of the Mormon Trail on Saturday.  The Mormon Trail paralleled much of the Oregon Trail until eventually heading south toward Salt Lake. Because of the hospitality offered by the rest of the country during this time (yes, Missouri and Illinois, I’m calling you out) the Mormons decided to blaze their own trail; A trail more challenging than the Oregon.

Mormon Trail, Southeastern Idaho.

Now, on to the tragedy part of the day.

North of present day Preston, Idaho one of the most shameful moments in the history of America took place; The Bear River Massacre.  Here is a brief rundown of what took place.  For a MUCH better explanation of the massacre and the events surrounding it, I suggest you go here or, for an even more thorough analysis, here.

The Bear River Massacre, as it became known, was the largest massacre of American Indians by the U.S. Army (California Volunteers) in our nation’s history. On January 29, 1863 in bitterly cold conditions (as low as -20F) California Volunteers attacked a village of Shoshone Indians in their winter camp near Preston.

Initially, the Shoshone held their ground. It was during the first assault, a frontal attack, that most of the Army’s 14 deaths and 49 wounded occurred. But eventually the Shoshone ran out of ammunition. (The Army had brought more than 16,000 rounds of ammunition but because of the deep snow, they never did get their two cannons in the battle.)

Now facing an ammo-less enemy, the undisciplined Volunteers continued shooting men, women and children. There were unspeakable acts of brutality against many of the women and children, including rape of the women and beating children to death. The camp was burned to the ground, and any Shoshone found hiding were shot at close range. While some Shoshone were able to escape, the dying and wounded were left to freeze and to the mercy of wolves. Wounded troopers were taken to the nearby town.

The number of Shoshone fatalities has been estimated as low as 200 and as high as 494. Even if the low count of 200 were correct, it would still make the Bear River Massacre the greatest massacre of American Indians by the U.S. Military in this nation’s history. By comparison, the horrific Wounded Knee massacre is estimated at about 150.

Why have so few people heard of this event? Many historians point out that it occurred during the Civil War, and therefore news of the massacre did not reach many citizens. Although located in present-day Idaho, at the time the scene of the massacre was in open territory.

While researching the Oregon Trail I stumbled upon this forgotten moment of American History. I decided that this was one of the places I really wanted to make sure I visited. North of Preston, just off of Idaho Hwy 91 there is a small roadside memorial. It is a very moving place.

A memorial to the Army soldiers that died has been at the site since 1932. In 1953 the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers added a plaque commemorating the local  “peaceful inhabitants of the vicinity” (Franklin, Idaho) who gave aid and comfort to wounded soldiers, and “two Indian women and three children” after the battle.  To the left of the stone memorial is a Shoshone Prayer Tree used to remember the Shoshone that died that day.

Boyd  Redington reads a plaque commemorating the assistance following the Battle by the residents of Franklin, Idaho.

Looking down into the valley where the Bear River Massacre occurred.

A string of beads hangs from the Prayer Tree near the Bear River Massacre site.

A photo hangs from the Prayer Tree near the Bear River Massacre site.

In 1990 the site received National Historic Landmark status, and in 1993 was renamed “The Massacre at Bear River Site.” In 2008 the Shoshone Nation bought the site, and is developing the grassland as a picnic/rest area and memorial.





Wyoming land of rock

Posted: June 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 1 Comment »

This is what happens when geography and topography force thousands of wagons to use the same path. These ruts run five feet deep in parts. They were cut in to the sandstone south of Guernsey, Wyoming.

This is what happens when you take a wrong turn and get lost in the Wind River Mountain Range. It was a twenty mile mistake I wouldn’t mind making again. The Wind River Range is part of the larger Rocky Mountain Chain. I found today that in Wyoming they know something about wind. I got blown all over the road today. Take note, North Dakota.

“There’s a snake in my boot!”

Posted: June 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 1 Comment »

I succeeded at one of my goals for the trip today.  I saw a rattlesnake this morning near Courthouse Rock and I did not tread on him. Mission accomplished.  At my next two stops, Chimney Rock and Ft. Laramie, there were signs warning of rattle snakes.  Too late folks.  Please add some signage around Courthouse Rock.

Courthouse Rock and its smaller sibling Jailhouse are in the Platte River valley near Bridgeport, Nebraska.   A guiding landmark for emigrants, trappers  and others it could be seen from up to 40 miles away. It can be found referenced in almost every emigrant diary and journal.

One of many rattlesnake warnings, this one near  Chimney Rock, NE.

The Fort Laramie (Wyo.) hospital ruins are pictured here. An important fort in the west, Ft. Laramie was a key element in the development of the fur trade. Later it served as one of the few resupply opportunities for emigrants and those going west seeking their fortunes in gold. As the gateway to the Rockie Mountains, it was also an unofficial Pony Express stop and the only place within 300 miles to send and receive mail.  Ft. Laramie also served as an important trading post for American Indians.  In 1851, 10,000 Indians of various tribes gathered to negotiate the Fort Laramie Treaty.

The “unknown solider” graves found around the fort’s hospital speak to the failure of the Ft. Laramie treaty and the “Indian Wars” of the 1860s.

Water, water everywhere

Posted: June 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 2 Comments »

As I attempted to follow the Oregon trail just south of the Platte River, and failing because of flooding, it struck me as ironic that so much irrigation farming was going on in the fields all around.  This does makes sense as the Platte River is flooding not because of excessive Spring rains, but because of record snow melt in the Rockies.  The juxtaposition of the  swollen, flooded river and huge sprinklers spraying thousands of gallons of water a second is just weird. Oh, and should you ever hazard to photograph one up close, believe me you can get wet real fast.

So as the people of North Platte, Nebraska worry about having their airport flooded, I was fighting detours trying to find the trail.

I finally succeeded around Brule, Nebraska where I was able to persuade my motorcycle that climbing a hill of barely-maintained road of sand was a good idea.  Here I had the chance to take in California Hill.

California Hill was where Oregon & California bound emigrants crossed the Platte River on their way west. A few miles beyond the challenging climb, they would navigate steep descents at Ash Hollow; a place of green grass and fresh water for their oxen. Thousands of wagon climbing California Hill over the migration period resulted in the top soil being worn down to the underlying clay.  As such, plants could not take root, and erosion occurred.  That’s why today the ruts and swales left behind can still be found.

Carved in stone

Posted: June 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 4 Comments »

I had a very full day.  I got to interview Fred Brown, Vice President and Service Manager at Brown Chevrolet Buick in Wamego, Kansas.  A big thank you to Fred who gave me the run of the place.

Since it was such a busy day, and I don’t have time to edit and process all the stills and video I took.  I visited Alcove Springs and  Rock Creek State Park in Nebraska and made it to Kearney, Nebraska.  Tomorrow I will Visit Fort Kearny (by the way make up you mind how to spell Kearney/Kearny people!)

I shot a ton of stuff, But I will share with you these two:

In  his diary entry on May 26, 1846,  Edward Bryan tells of carving the words “Alcove Spring” in the rocks of a beautiful spring-fed waterfall. The name stuck.

Not to be outdone, another graffiti artist in the group proved he could also chisel and carve. In the second photo, if you look closely, you can see “JFR” above “26 May 1846”.  This inscription was carved in rock near the waterfall, a popular place to rest and camp during the Oregon and California Gold Rush migrations. The letters were carved by one J.F. Reed (the “eed” of Reed having been worn away by falling water and the freeze/thaw cycle.)  James Frazier Reed was 46 when he carved it. The party of 80-plus he was traveling with built rafts to cross the nearby swollen Big Blue River. While they waited, Reed’s mother-in-law, Sarah Keys, age 70, already suffering from tuberculosis, died.  You might say she was the lucky one, for Reed and his family were part of the infamous Donner-Reed Party who, months later, would get trapped by snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Several members of the party died of starvation and exposure. Some resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. A lock of Sarah’s hair was snipped before her burial at Alcove Spring: A granddaughter, Patty (8), was clutching it the day rescuers arrived in Sierra Nevada Mountains on February 18, 1847.


Of the 87 original members of the Donner Party, only 48 reached California. The Reed family was one of only two families that remained intact.

No one told me about the heat …

Posted: June 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 2 Comments »

Someone forgot to tell me Kansas can be windy… and hot … and dusty.  But as is my standard operating procedure I did coax a few thunderstorms out of the “20% chance of rain” Independence sky before leaving Missouri.  Luckily, most of the rain fell while I spent the morning in the National Frontier Trails Museum interviewing F. Travis Boley, Association Manager of the Oregon-California Trail Association.  He was very helpful and knowledgeable.  So it was a late start, then I got stuck in detour traffic (flooding), then road paving construction. And once the rains stopped, it warmed up to a balmy 98 degrees.


A funny thing started happening. Once I left Independence I kept seeing this same sign.


Eventually I  did get off the beaten path and onto the dusty back roads north east of  of Wamego, Kansas.  Everything I have along with me now has a layer of dust on, or in it. It was along these roads I found Vieux Cemetery as well as the headstone of T.S. Prather. (By found I mean I followed the excellent field research of  Gregory Franzwa)


Louis Vieux was born in 1809 near present-day Milwaukee. Following the death of his first wife, Sha Note (a member of the St. Joseph Band of the Potawatomi Tribe) he moved west with his family.  Vieux bought property adjoining the Vermillion River where he set up a river crossing — $1 a wagon. Vieux was a pivotal figure in the area, particularly in areas of treaty negotiation on behalf of the Potawatomi. He died in 1872 at the age of 62. He is buried near his second wife.  There are several marked  graves as well as some “Unknown” persons.

The area near the river was a popular camping area and rest stop for  the trail. In May of 1849 a large group of “gold rushers” camped nearby.  Many died of Cholera within hours.  In all over 50 emigrants are believed to be buried around the river.  Near the river  three grave stones have been recovered — fragments of stone really.  The only one still legible is that of T.S. Prather (May 27 1849).

Finding my Independence

Posted: June 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 2 Comments »

I spent the day researching the Oregon Trail in and around Independence, Missouri.  Why else would I be at the Lafarge Cement Factory at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning?  I also spent some time at the National Frontier Trails Museum.

In between, I walked extensively around Independence finding that, like the native New Yorkers who have never visited the Statue of Liberty, Indpendians (Independiates…? Whatever the inhabitants here are called) don’t know a lot about what happened in their own back yards.  But, just like those in Illinois they DO  love their home-grown president.  Harry is EVERYWHERE.

In addition I discovered, even by Missouri standards, there are a lot of churches around here. Within an 8-square block area around the downtown there have to be at least 20. You can’t throw a miter without hitting a house of worship.

A few images from my day.

LaFarge Cement Factory, on the banks of the Missouri River. It was at this site, now a cement factory, that early emigrants coming off the Missouri River gathered themselves for the 2000 miles that awaited them on the Oregon Trail.


If only it was that easy.  A sign in a downtown Independence business.


You can’t say they don’t love their Harry in Independence, Mo.


I’m not sure why this sign disturbs me so, but it does.


Rope drapes down from the canvas top of the Pioneer Schooner Wagon  in the National Frontier Trails Museum.