Artifacts and Tales of the Trail
LA GRANDE — Imagine riding in a bumpy wagon over a rough trail — about two miles an hour for 2,000 miles. Along the way, you face daily hazards from weather and illness, fording rivers, repairing equipment, searching every day for water and grass for livestock. Finally, after a four month journey across parched plains, you enter the welcome shade of a forest and glimpse your first view of a river meandering through a lush green valley ringed by tree-covered mountains. Your arduous journey has brought you to the Grande Ronde Valley.
On May 5, the Oregon California Trail Association is bringing the 175th anniversary Oregon Trail Celebration, “Artifacts and Tales of the Trail,” to La Grande. The celebration includes stories from early travelers’ journals, prized artifacts brought over the trail by local families, and major historic characters brought to life by professional actors. Videos of trail hikes and maps showing nearby Oregon Trail locations will complete the day.
As a youth, Ezra Meeker traveled the Oregon Trail from Iowa to Washington (then the Oregon Territory). At age 76, he decided that the Oregon Trail was in danger of disappearing. He traveled the entire trail from Puyallup to Washington, D.C. four times throughout the next 20 years, the first two times in a home-built covered wagon pulled by two 3,000-pound oxen. On his first trip, he made an impression as he drove his wagon through downtown Manhattan, past the New York Stock Exchange and across the Brooklyn Bridge. Theodore Roosevelt was so intrigued by the battered wagon parked outside the White House that he worked with Meeker to create the first Oregon Trail Society.
Ray Egan will bring Meeker’s amazing personal stories to life and Dennis Larsen, OCTA historian, will narrate Meeker’s unflagging efforts to mark and preserve the Oregon Trail. Gail Carbiener, OCTA member, arranged to have this living-history event, usually offered in large cities, brought to La Grande.
“We want to share with the La Grande community the history of the Oregon Trail in this area,” Carbiener said. “We want you to know where the trail is located, the experiences of those who traveled here, and to invite you to join us in the protection of the trail.”
Carbiener said he has a personal attachment to the trail.
“It’s easy for me to get emotional talking about the Oregon Trail, especially in Eastern Oregon,” he said. “I have walked it all, private and public. The late Jack Evans took me to special sites, on private property, that I was able to mark with posts, after obtaining permission.”
Carbiener said he has found that landowners in Malheur, Baker and Union Counties are proud of the Oregon Trail.
“It doesn’t get any better than sitting in the living room of an old timer who is telling you about his great grandparents coming over Ladd Hill into the Valley,” he said. “(One landowner) said they were late in the season and decided to stay for the winter, in their wagons and tents. Come spring, they never left. His family is still here on the same ground.”
In “What We Left Behind,” Rachel Nickens, from the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, will narrate emigrants’ wrenching decisions to leave home and possessions forever. Loren Irving, historian and photographer, will catalog John Fremont’s travels through the Grand Ronde Valley.
The all-day event will be at Huber Auditorium in Badgely Hall on the north side of EOU campus. A deli lunch will be provided with period music by Sharon Porter’s group, Blue Plate Special. Admission is $15 (cash only please) and includes maps.