The National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, Idaho is a museum not to be missed. The interactive experience transports you back in time to an age when weekly wages were a mere $3 and a wagon train adventure to Oregon for a new life would take you five and a half months to complete and cost your life savings. At the end of the adventure, if you survived, you would be given 160 acres of land and it was the only place in the US where a woman could own that land herself. Promises of fertile land and abundant crop growth were the tales being told in Independence, Missouri where our adventure began.
Our Trailmaster was insistent on us making an informed decision as to whether we were going on the trip or staying behind. The year was 1852 and were called upon to use our imaginations and decide if we were able to make the journey. Times were hard and Oregon seemed to be a promise of a better life for you and your family. To get there, however, one had to commit all their resources to the trip – from purchasing a wagon, to purchasing oxen, to buying guns and coffee, finding bright colored fabric for trading, and paring down the family heirlooms so that the food and supplies still fit in the wagon.
Life on the trail was hard and while 500,000 made the journey over time, about 1 in 6 people didn’t make it. So your family of six was likely to become a family of five on the journey. Deaths were frequent and grieving minimal as the wagon train moved on to beat winter. One hour was allowed to bury the dead. Ten miles had to be achieved everyday – counted by the clicks on the blacksmiths wagon wheel tool.
The women were the caretakers and cooks, the men the hunters and providers. The oxen and horses had to be tended to each day. A down day meant that they were out of meat so the men had to hunt…and the women took time to laundry and cook what they could. Everyone looked forward to the end and rallied each morning to keep their spirits up in the face of adversity.
The journey through the museum which is build directly on the dirt where the wagons traveled, is a simulation of the camps and the hardships that were faced. Travelers experience an interactive environment where you can touch and feel everything in the museum. You are invited to sit and hear the stories told by the characters of the times on the trail. They are full of facts and stories that make you appreciate what the travelers have to go through in order to get this free land. It helps one to understand the thoughts and decisions that they faced before even embarking on the journey…as well as the risks they took for their family to have a better life. The wagon master was a great story teller. He frequently asked questions that we were required to answer to embark upon the journey. He asked questions that made us think and learn in the end. It was a fascinating experience and one that should not be missed if you love history. It would be fascinating for the kids too as for once they can actually touch the things they are curious about.
We learned a great deal and were treated to a private tour during the off season since that’s when we were there. We loved it. I haven’t had that much fun in a museum for years. Go out of your way if you are in the southern Idaho/northern Utah area and experience this 1852 adventure back into time. Hear some great stories from some folks that are dedicated to the preservation of the history of the trail.