California/Oregon Trail

Pioneer Camping Grounds and Stops

Days 4 – 6: After a refreshing couple days spent celebrating my father-in-law’s birthday, catching up on laundry, and grabbing some groceries, we are back on the road! I know it might seem odd to go back to Independence when we technically had moved past it, but I simply had to try a tour from Pioneer Trails Adventures.

Specifically, we went on the City Limits tour, which was amazing. Seriously, so much fun! Our guide, Dave, drove us around to different parts of town, pointing out random historical buildings and regaling us with too many stories to even try to recount. Both of us were surprised to learn that Independence was President Truman’s stomping grounds! While he concentrated a lot of civil war history, he did delve into the emigrants as well, which was, of course, what I was waiting for. I heard a lot that I already knew, but did learn two new facts:

  1. The Presbyterians and Methodists would hold prayer meetings/vigils for all the wagon trains that left.
  2. While the wagon drivers did drive oxen by walking alongside them, if they chose to use mules, that is when they needed to use the buckboard, because the mules require actual reins.

Possibly the coolest part was when we drove down a back road that used to be a big wagon rut!

We moved on to the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm, which served as a both a wagon and stagecoach stop in the late 1850s and beyond. This stop was actually even more fun that I originally expected, and we spent a lot more time here than we planned. The museum was interesting, but far more fun was the fact that you could explore the entire grounds almost uninhibited. It is actually a working farm, and they have guides dressed in period costume at every turn to answer your questions. We toured the house, which was built in 1865, and looked into the blacksmith’s, where they were actually working on forging…well, something…and looked at all the random animal sheds, pumped some water, and got to go on a stagecoach ride! The Mahaffie house was actually established in 1858, one year before my book takes place, and was a regular stopping place for wagon trains as well as stage coaches, so I think I might try to work it into my book.

Rufus Sage, Fall, 1841 -“About sundown we reached a small creek known as Elm Grove, and encamped. Timber proved quite scarce in this vicinity, and it was with great difficulty we procured sufficient for cooking.”

http://www.oregonpioneers.com/Milepost1.htm

Lone Elm Park was another camping ground for emigrants. It was a little surreal to look out on that perfectly manicured playground and the cement area talking about the emigrants and envision hundreds of white covered wagons all over the grounds instead.

James A. Pritchard, May 4, 1849 – “… came to where the Santa Fe road leaves the old Oregon trail.”

http://www.oregonpioneers.com/Milepost1.htm

The first Parting of the Trails spot was at Gardner Junction where the Santa Fe trail split from the Oregon Trail, though Traveling the Oregon Trail notes that the actual split was likely a little ways away. It was a fun, quick stop though.

I love reading the quotes of emigrants who pass through these spots, because it makes them seem more real.

The Blue Mound/Mount Bleu was a trial indeed to find. Traveling the Oregon Trail noted it as the first significant landmark on the trail. Despite all the google search terms I could think of, I could find scarcely a line about it at all, let alone a location, so I finally assigned the task to my husband, who managed to use Google maps images to track it down and mark it on the map we created for our trip. With all the trees around us, I had begun to expect very little – if anything – it must have been only prairie when the emigrants passed through to make an actual impact. But when I finally did see it…and was able to pull over to admire it…I understood better. It is actually an incredible sight, and whether or not there were other trees around, it would have been worth noting.

We finally arrived at Lake Shawnee Campground about an hour and a half later than planned, but it was totally worth the longer stops earlier. And so far it is the prettiest campground I’ve seen! And the restrooms are actually CLEAN. Well, compared to the last campground. It feels a little like a resort, comparatively. I mean, look at this lake!

It actually went quite well, setting up, getting the fire going, eating dinner (we had baked beans and hot dogs—the hot dogs were cooked over the open fire!), and then I attempted to follow the recipe for johnny cakes in my Oregon Trail recipe book! I was quite skeptical, particularly because there were no specific measurements. No, really. It was like, three handfuls of cornmeal, one handful of flour, salt, mix with boiling water until smooth, and cook in a hot iron pan. But I gave it a try! When we finally pulled them off the fire, it took some courage to actually take a bite. And I’m pretty sure I should have cooked it longer. But it actually wasn’t…terrible. And then Daniel put butter on it, and it was actually kind of…good. Like, I might make them again sometime! I have videos on Instagram and Facebook. 😊

A pile of dishes later and some exercises later, I finally settled down to write this post as Daniel and I discussed how pleasantly this day and evening had actually gone. The best yet!

I may have neglected to mention the bug problem. So far, I’ve seen only one spider, which is, like, the best thing ever…but to replace them are mayflies and mosquitos and June bugs galore. Like, refusing to leave us alone, galore. Even with bug spray on! It was quite annoying. So, I get out my computer, go to sit in front of the fire, lift up my computer screen and begin to set the stand, since it is a Surface Pro, and BAM! A huge June bug slams into me. Naturally, I jump. Unfortunately, the screen stand wasn’t set yet, and so…crash. Down goes my computer screen.

Yup. A June bug broke my computer screen. I seriously hate camping.

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