Candy Moulton: Renowned traveler to be honored in Wyoming
April 22, 2016
Ben Kern sat on the seat of a covered wagon, holding the lines to a team of horses in early June 1993 in Ogallala, Neb. It was our first meeting. Since that time, he and I became fast friends and traveled thousands of miles along the Western emigrant trails, many of them in his yellow-wheeled wagon.
Ben will be honored April 23 with special events at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, Wyo., that will involve dedication of his old wagon, which he has donated to the trail center. Ben led his first wagon train in Oregon in the early 1960s traveling from John Day to the Pendleton Roundup. He would go on to lead other wagon trains in Oregon. Then in 1993, he joined with Morris Carter and his historic trails wagon train to travel from Independence, Mo., to Independence, Ore., in recognition of the sesquicentennial of the Oregon Trail. It was during that trip that he and I met.
My first crossing of South Pass in a wagon was by Ben's side in 1993. Ultimately, we would cross the Divide again on the Mormon Trail in 1997 and on the California Trail in 1999. We traveled together by wagon train on the Cherokee Trail and along the Bozeman Trail. We drove his pickup or my car in planning for those trips, camped day after day along the trails and met with folks who love and care for our historic trails.
Ben has been involved in several film projects including the five-screen feature film, "Footsteps to the West" that shows in the immersive theater at the Trails Center in Casper. His wagon train was filmed on the Cherokee Trail for a production of the BBC in England. He worked on productions for the Discovery Channel and History Channel in addition to the Oregon-California Trails Association for their award-winning film "In Pursuit of a Dream."
For the events on April 23 a large number of the people, like me, who traveled with Ben on his wagon trains are planning to gather and share some stories of their days on the trail. Ben will have some of his other wagons in camp at the trail center. There will be a chuckwagon meal served by Ray Stokes starting at 10 a.m. April 23.
The wagon dedication will be at 12:30 p.m. with stories of modern wagon trails to follow and then a reception honoring Ben.
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Ben has traveled some 20,000 miles by wagon, much of that distance on the original trails. In addition to the trails he did in Oregon in the 1960s, he followed the Oregon Trail in 1993; The Goodale Cutoff in Idaho in 1995; the Mormon Trail from Nauvoo, Ill., to Florence, Neb., in 1996; and the Mormon Trail from Florence to Salt Lake City in 1997.
We were at the Days of '47 Rodeo in the Salt Lake City Delta Center in July 1997, having just finished the Mormon Trail Sesquicentennial (1,100 miles, 91 days), when he leaned over to me and said, "You want to go to California?" I knew he was talking about the 1999 sesquicentennial of the California Trail and sure enough, two years later we started that journey by camping under eight lanes of interstate highway in St. Joseph, Mo., and ended it by camping beside the American Fork River in Coloma, Calif., When following that trail, I launched this column in The Fence Post. Initially I wrote it weekly, but after we reached California, dropped back to biweekly and now do it a little more intermittently.
We traveled the Bozeman Trail from Fort Laramie to Virginia City, Mont., in 2001 and followed that with three years of traveling the 1849-1850 Cherokee Trail route from Fort Bridger to Greeley. Next up were three years of traveling the Overland Trail from Virginia Dale to Fort Bridger. Ben also did the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage Route, though I did not participate in any of that journey.
There were common situations on every trail. Ben and I almost always shared a tent,we being too lazy to put up two of them each day. He taught me about wagons and mules, harnessing, hitching and driving. He told great stories and we shared a little whiskey in camp. We made friends of a great trail family. We even wrote a book together based on our very first trail crossing together called "Wagon Wheels: A Contemporary Journey on the Oregon Trail."
If you want to meet a true Westerner, a man of the trails, and hear some camp stories, please join us in Casper. We'll be camped at the Trail Center Friday and Saturday.❖