On the Trail 8-3-09 | TheFencePost.com

On the Trail 8-3-09

Oregon is celebrating its statehood sesquicentennial this year and one event on tap for the Oregon 150 statewide celebration is the Oregon Statehood Wagon Train, which is organized by my good friend Ben Kern.

The wagon train will be making a seven county, two-month trek from the Oregon/Idaho border to The Dalles, following the historic Dalles Military Road. It begins August 10, in Huntington, Ore., and concludes on September 17, at The Dalles.

The road the train will follow connected Fort Dalles to Fort Boise, and provided a passable wagon road for freight, supplies, mail and travelers. It was used heavily by soldiers on military patrols, and opened the Canyon City gold fields to a flood of gold miners.

The wagon train start coincides with Huntington’s Pioneer Days celebration August 8. The wagons will cross through Baker, Malheur, Grant, Wheeler, Gilliam, Sherman and Wasco counties with stops in Prairie City, John Day, Mitchell, Dayville, Fossil, Condon, Dufur, Antelope, Shaniko, Grass Valley, Moro and ending in The Dalles. Each community will organize its own celebration with county fairs, museum tours, music and family fun. People who want some first-hand experience of pioneer life can register to ride the wagon train as either a day rider or an outrider with their own horse or wagon. More information is available online at http://www.HistoricTheDalles.org.

The wagon train will arrive in The Dalles on September 17, in time for the annual Historic The Dalles Days September 18-20, 2009. The wagon train will camp for five days at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles.

Historic The Dalles Days events include a concert with the Cascade Singers at St. Peter’s Landmark, the “Wheels 150” Vintage Vehicle Parade, an 8K Run/Walk across the top of The Dalles Dam, Family Fun Day at Fort Dalles Museum with music, wagon rides, and demonstrations of 1850s pioneer and military life, a Pioneer Home Show and Craft Fair, an Eco-fest, Geocache treasure hunts, a mock trial at the Wasco County Original Courthouse, which celebrates its 150th birthday this year, a Veterans POW/MIA memorial service at Sorosis Park, and open houses at historic locations, including the Congregational Church, also celebrating its 150th birthday. Historic The Dalles Days is an official Oregon 150 partner event. Events are posted online at http://www.HistoricTheDalles.org.

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Ben now lives in Wyoming, but ranched in the John Day area for 30 years and is familiar with the route he will be traveling on this year’s wagon train. He organized his first wagon train in the early 1960s when he led wagons from Prairie City to the Pendleton Roundup. Since then he has retraced thousands of miles of historic trail, and I’ve been able to join him on many of those trips.

For this year’s wagon train, he encourages participants (either on the wagon train itself, or when visiting camp) to dress in pioneer clothing to better catch the spirit of the journey.

“The Oregon Statehood Wagon Train is close to my heart,” Kern said. “We’re retracing an important trail. We want to breathe history and wake people up to the fact that we are still living that history. Lots of people didn’t realize there was a military road. We want to help people understand where was it, and what’s the reason for it. We’ll recreate the history to make people aware of what we have to do to protect the trail’s historical value.”

Ben and I wrote “Wagon Wheels: A Contemporary Journey on the Oregon Trail” (High Plains Press 1996), after the 1993 Oregon Trail Sesquicentennial. He has been filmed in two documentaries done for the History Channel, “Gold” and “Meadow Mountains Massacre.”

In an invitation to Ben Kern, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski wrote: “Wagon trains played a crucial role in the development of the entire West, as they helped in the transport and movement of thousands of Americans from the east. Perseverance, courage and a striking independence marked the movement of this mass migration and nothing could better symbolize the endurance of the American pioneer than another assemblage of a wagon train journeying from the east … All of Oregon would be proud to welcome you to our state and have you participate in local celebrations along your chosen route.”

Jude Carino, National Landscape Conservation System coordinator with the Bureau of Land Management Wyoming state office, states: “I have known Ben for over 17 years and have worked with him on several large wagon trains during that time. Ben is a consummate professional and a modern day hero. He has led organized wagon trains on over 7,000 miles of historic trails. He is the only living human being to travel, by wagon, the entire Oregon (1993), Mormon Pioneer (1996/1997), and California (1999) National Historic Trails. His love of history and compassion for preserving the stories of our nation’s heritage is to be admired. Beyond the trails listed above he has also traveled, by wagon, the entire Overland, Cherokee, Bozeman, and Cheyenne to Deadwood Historic Trails.”

Susan Buce, a board member for Wasco County Historical Society and the Fort Dalles museum commission, has been one of many Oregon contacts helping Kern orchestrate this historic trek.

“There are 10,000 years of Native American cultural tradition in this area. The Oregon Trail, Lewis and Clark, the Indian wars, the ice age Missoula floods, all were pivotal historic events that make our Central and Eastern Oregon area unique,” Buce said. “This event is a way for Eastern and Central Oregon to join in the statewide Oregon 150 celebration while spotlighting the treasure trove of history here.”

“Two thirds of the state is on the dry side of the Cascade Mountains. This is the high desert, and we are caretakers of some of the most scenic and historic areas in the state. The Oregon Statehood Wagon Train will be taking a route from the Snake River to the Columbia, passing through national forests, the Blue Mountains, the Painted Hills, the John Day Fossil bed, to the Columbia River Gorge. It’s very much a rural area, with small communities and a deep, heart-felt connection with the land and each other.”

Buce has her own reasons for getting involved. “Now that I’m a grandmother, I am acutely aware that one day those of us who are the history keepers will someday have to pass the torch to the next generation. We want to make a memory for today’s children because one day they’ll grow up to be our local business owners, board members, serve in our city, county and state government. They will become our next generation of history keepers, in charge of preserving our landmarks and museums.”

“I want this event to ignite a love for history in the hearts of our kids. We have a responsibility to teach them to understand and value Oregon’s rich cultural heritage, because one day it will be their task to pass this legacy on to future generations,” she said.

“The Oregon Statehood Wagon Train will give everyone a hands-on opportunity to experience living history, to pet the horses, talk with the wagon master, climb on the wagons, to smell the dust and horse-sweat and have an experience they’ll never forget. I want every Oregon child to be able to say in 50 years, ‘I remember the day the wagon train came to town.'”

My own schedule this summer is a whirlwind, so I will not be able to travel the entire route with Ben, but hope to be out to Oregon for some of the journey and of course wish him and all the people traveling with him great success, lots of fun and no runaways!

For more information about the Oregon Statehood Wagon Train, please visit http://www.HistoricTheDalles.org. For visitor information, contact The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce: 1-800-255-3385, tdacc@thedalleschamber.com, or the John Day Chamber of Commerce (541) 575-0547.