My Day at the
National Frontier Trails Museum
This picture shows the trains vs the trails in 1880
First let me say that the Santa Fe Trail information was fascinating.
I went to the museum, in Independence, Missouri, to find out about the Oregon Trail.
But the Santa Fe Trail was so unexpected that I could fill a blog post with that.
I’m setting a book, partially, on a wagon train.
Different setting for me, and I’m a little nervous about making it interesting.
But I’ve got to get these folks from Chicago to the wild west somehow, so a wagon train it is.
As I wrote, I would have said I know tons about the Oregon Trail, the American frontier and wagon trains.
Turns out I didn’t.
So a trip to Independence was born.
I ended up talking to a museum guy for a long time and he really knew everything. Very interesting guy, Travis Boley.
Then after I quizzed him for a long time, I wandered for longer still.
The Oregon Trail was first passed by fur traders on foot or horseback as early as 1811. Less than ten years after Lewis and Clark.
The trail became passable by a wagon, such as the one above, in 1836. From the most heavily traveled years, 1846-1869 it’s estimated that 400,,000 people took that trail west, including those who turned onto the California Trail. The trail declined after the Transcontinental Railway opened in 1869. Train travel was faster, cheaper and safer than wagon train travel. But these wagon trains continued in a much reduced number until 1890.
Ignore my smiling face and look in the back of that wagon, Now imagine your home. All the stuff you own. Those wagons are TINY. And you had to fit everything you owned into them.
As a Nebraskan, I particularly enjoyed information that concerned Nebraska.
This is info about Scottsbluff, a town in Nebraska but an actual bluff, too. Huh, never gave that much thought. But duh.
Chimney Rock is also a Nebraska landmark.
For me, when I get out of a museum, I find I’ve taken more pictures of SIGNS than artifacts. I love to read about the objects and find snapping pictures of signs helps me to remember what I saw.
I LOVED this list of all you have to carry on the wagon train.
Some interesting points: Despite what looks like a high cost, many of the things you have to bring, like oxen or mules, the wagon, the supplies, the clothes, the guns, are things you already have. And also, when you get to your destination, those things you only needed for the trip, like a team of oxen, can be sold for a good price. Yes, you need to scrape the money together to go, but once you sell it all in the high frontier market, the trip becomes mostly free.
I liked the idea of ‘jumping off points.’
Travis said the Missouri River kept getting more and more navigable (that’s a word, right?) by steamboats. As the boats kept getting farther and farther upstream, the pioneers could ride the boat farther. The jumping off points went from St. Louis to Independence, Missouri. To St Joseph, Missouri then Omaha.
Wagon train riders had to haul practical things. It was expected that someone on the train, perhaps many people, would haul their own forge. the tools were practical.
There was no room for fussy fabric or glass dishes. They needed axes and pots and wheels and parts for a broken wagon. Many more frivolous things hauled along, ended up being left behind on the trail.
I highly enjoyed my trip to the National Frontiers Trail Museum and be on the lookout for a story in my future with a wagon train. Hopefully written with a lot of good information in it.