The Oregon Trail, then and now

Folks in my family came to Oregon in, on and around covered wagons, part of the great migration that brought about 400,000 people across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to occupy the land that they thought was available up and down the West Coast. (There were people living here already, it turned out.) My indirect ancestor on my mom's side (something like great-great-uncle, I believe) was Ezra Meeker.

photo of Ezra Meeker

Meeker came out via covered wagon, and then after a very busy life of business, planting hops, founding a town and going to the Klondike in gold rush days, noticed that now, in the early 20th century, people were forgetting about the Oregon Trail. He opted to do something about that. Ezra mounted an expedition - at age 71 - to travel the trail backwards, by ox-drawn wagon, to raise awareness for the trail's preservation. He succeeded, and kept going, eventually reaching New York and Washington DC, meeting with President Teddy Roosevelt. He eventually crossed the country by wagon, train, automobile and airplane and managed to place (or have placed) hundreds of Oregon Trail markers. You can read more about him and his trips in his journals, available in physical form or online.

 A New American Adventure book jacket
So? 
 
So, the Oregon Trail is well-known. And, people are still doing this kind of pilgrimage. Well, at least a couple of guys.
 
Meet Rinker Buck (and his brother Nick). In 2011, they traveled the Trail by wagon, the first people to do that in more than a century. They stuck to the original ruts as much as modern highways and civilization would allow and crossed from Missouri to Oregon with three donkeys and a Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl. Nick was a practical sort, with horse-driving skills, carpentry experience and a fix-it mentality. Rinker brought a shoe-shine kit and a pasta steamer. The book he wrote about their adventure, The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, tells why they dropped everything and traveled the trail for four months. It tells about the Odd Couple-like relationship of the brothers, and the wagon vacation with their father that inspired their own trip. And it is a look at middle America from the slow lane, small-town hospitality, river crossings, and lots of places with no cell phone reception.  Ezra Meeker would be proud.

 

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