Thursday, July 6, 2017

Westward, Ho!

Pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail began their 2,000-mile-plus journey at Nauvoo, IL or St. Joseph or Independence, MO.  I think Stafford, KS should be added to that list.  At least, that's where Tim and I began our journey to Oregon.

Traveling 230 miles due north of my family's farm near Stafford, KS to Kearney, NE, we joined the ghosts of the 300,000 pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail, beginning in 1836 and diminishing in 1869 with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.

Old Fort Kearney, Nebraska Territory by William Henry Jackson

"We passed Fort Kearny this day; it is the first western fort I have seen.  It consists of about twenty houses made of sod, some roofed with the same material, walls two feet thick.  They must be very warm.  There is neither blockhouse nor palisade.  A few soldiers and two or three cannon are all the evidence one has that it is not some outlandish village." John Banks, 1849

Established on the banks of the Platte River in 1848, Fort Kearney was the first fort built to protect travelers on the Oregon Trail.  It also served as a home station for the Pony Express riders and the Pawnee Scouts, those Indian warriors who joined the U.S. Army as scouts and cavalrymen.  The fort began a regular once-a-month mail service when a stagecoach route ran from Salt Lake City to Independence, Missouri.  Later, it sheltered crews building the Union Pacific railroad.

“We arrived at Fort Kearny after noon.  Here we had an opportunity of sending letters to our friends.  The officers are going to send a mail to the States in the morning and kindly offered to transmit any letters we wished to send.”  Joshua D. Breyfogle, 1849

Today at the Fort Kearney State Historical Park there is a wooden fortification, a blacksmith shop and  wooden posts that show where soldiers' and officiers' quarters once stood.  The small museum in the Visitors Center is definitely worth a stop.

The Kearney Hike and Bike Trail

We stayed two nights at the scenic Fort Kearney State Recreation Area beside the Platte River and very near the fort.  Anxious to get back in the routine of walking after a month's hiatus, we were delighted to find that the Kearney Hike and Bike Trail begins at the park and extends for 1.8 miles.

Settlers heading west on the Oregon Trail described the Platte River as a mile wide and an inch deep.  Due to farming practices and irrigation, today's Platte is not nearly as wide as it once was, but it's hard to dismiss its significance to the pioneers headed west along its 1,050 mile length.

The Great Platte River Road Archway

That importance was driven home to us when we visited The Great Platte River Road Archway just three miles east of Kearney.  

The Great Platte River Road Archway

Stretching across busy Interstate 80, this tourist attraction is hard to miss.  

For a nominal fee and equipped with an audio headset, we rode the escalator to the top of the arch and stepped off underneath an expansive sky painted on the ceiling.  

As we walked the length of the archway and back again, we listened to the stories of the Oregon Trail, the Pony Express stations, the joining of the Union & Pacific railroad and finally the Lincoln Highway.  Each followed the Platte River Valley; all served to impress upon us the history and importance of this valley.

As we retrace the route along the river that the pioneers bound for Oregon took, we'll be stopping at famous landmarks along the way.  I think we're off to a good start.

“Eastward I go only by force but westward I go free…that way the nation is moving, and I may say that mankind progresses from east to west.”  Henry David Thoreau


  1. Looks like you two are having a blast!
    ❤️Yasmin and Ralph

  2. Looking forward to learning lots with your travels along the Oregon Trail! Great post!

  3. Thanks, Randy! I caught up on your post yesterday and enjoyed reading about your visit to Kentucky's State Capitol. What number does that make for you & Pam? Have you enlisted more team members for HFH in Sioux Falls? Hope so!