Do you remember me saying in my L post on Lewis and Clark that oftentimes Missouri history and U.S. history overlap. We’re starting a string of posts that prove my point. After the Corp of Discovery explored the new land in the Louisiana Purchase, a whole lot of people decided they needed some more elbow room. Of course, traveling alone in a new country could be dangerous so most folks joined a “wagon train” of like-minded settlers. And the best “meetin’-up place” was in Independence, Missouri. It became known as the “Queen City of the Trails” as the departure point for the California, Oregon and Santa Fe trails (this last one was really used more by traders and the military than settlers).
The California Trail stretches about 1950 miles from the Missouri river to Sacramento, CA. Of all the emigration trails, it had the heaviest traffic. It’s estimated that 250,000 pioneers traveled its path between the 1840’s and the 1860’s, the majority doing so after the discovery of gold in the territory. It took four to six months to complete the journey and as many as 5 percent of the travelers died on the trail from disease, attacks, or freezing temperatures.
The Oregon Trail was the longest route to the Pacific coast, measuring about 2000 miles. Estimates say 80,000 traveled its route to Oregon while another 20,000 went on to what would become the state of Washington. The first organized wagon train left in 1836, but it stopped at Fort Hall (now Idaho). The trail was eventually extended to Oregon in 1843. Traffic on the trail declined when the government decided settlers needed to pay for the land that they had so far been able to claim for free. In 1869, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad became a much faster and safer alternative, but the Oregon Trail was still used by a few until the 1890’s/
The Santa Fe Trail (900 miles) was opened in 1821 as a trade route into what was then Mexican territory (they had just gained independence from Spain). In Santa Fe, one could continue on the Old Spanish Trail or the Camino Real to reach Mexico City. During the Mexican War, the U.S. Army used the trail as an invasion route and later as a mean to transport supplies. There were some pioneers who used the trail, settling in what would become Colorado and northern New Mexico. In 1880, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway constructed their new line over the original trail.
Today, in Independence, MO you can visit the National Frontier Trails Museum ($6/adults, $3/ages 5-17). It is partially built on the remains of an old mill that used to supply grist and flour for the pioneers stocking their wagons. On the property you can visit the spring where pioneers watered their livestock or walk in the swales, or ruts that their wagons left behind. In the museum itself you can find quotes from pioneer diaries and letters as well as some of the artifacts they left behind. The video with an intrepid Jr. Reporter shows one of the interactive displays where you have to make the hard decisions about what to take and what must remain.
An excellent complement to the museum is the Pioneer Trails Adventures wagon tour (you can buy a combo ticket). A pair of Missouri mules pull tourists through the swales and around the town while they hear about the Trails and other local attractions (there were 2 Civil War battles in the town, Jesse James was locked up here and it was the home of President Harry S Truman).
I’m linking up with …