Judy Spooner Viewpoint: On the Oregon Trail, Nebraska’s not a boring placeThe land is bleak and the wind never stops blowing, but there is a strange beauty to it as well.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
While on the road to our niece’s wedding in Denver, Nebraska can’t be avoided if you’re from the upper Midwest. The only interstate goes through land that many people consider boring. But husband Gary and I decided to make the best of it.
While spending the night in Omaha, I looked at the map and noticed that Interstate 80 follows the Platte River. In an American history class, I remembered learning about emigrants going west from 1820-1865 on the Oregon Trail. They followed the river for water for themselves and for their livestock. We decided to follow the trail along the Platte and along the North Platte River as it leaves the interstate at Ogallala, Neb. We also made a reservation at Scottsbluff at the other end of Nebraska at a bed and breakfast.
In a rest area, a woman gave us Oregon Trail information and several maps. There is a very large lake at Ogallala and she advised us to take a road around the east side because it’s “more scenic.”
The drive around the treeless shore was anything but scenic, but might be if you live in Nebraska. “I can’t imagine how desolate the other side is,” Gary said.
But we were on the Oregon Trail following the river. It was the same trail a half-million people traveled on to get to where they were told was the “promised land.”
Nebraska wasn’t boring anymore.
We stopped at Ash Hollow, where emigrants stayed for several days on their trek. After weeks on the prairie, they stopped west of what is now Llewellyn to get fresh water, rest and graze their animals. The women washed clothes and laid them on the prairie grass to dry.
The land is bleak and the wind never stops blowing, but there is a strange beauty to it as well. Imagine how it looked to people from Missouri who gave up a way of life, packed up everything and started west never to return.
The road to Scottsbluff goes up a broad gap between foothills before entering Wyoming. The North Platte was miles wide after the glaciers melted and rocks of all shapes were created by erosion. In journals, pioneers wrote that they were created by an extinct people.
There were actual guidebooks published in the 1840s telling settlers what to bring with them, such as 20 pounds of sugar, bacon, flour and coffee.
We had a balcony by our room at the Anew Barn bed and breakfast, which was a very pleasant experience. We could see the Mitchell pass where emigrants’ wagons came rolling through the gap in the rocks.
When someone died on the trail, families buried them in handmade quilts. As I looked out at the gap, I wondered how many quilts were out there along the 2,000-mile trail.
Armed with books about the Oregon Trail I bought at Scottsbluff National Monument, I read to Gary all the way to Denver and as we drove beside the Platte rivers, called “ribbons of life,” on the way home.
As we left the Platte River about 20 miles from where it enters the Missouri River at Omaha, I thought I heard the sounds of creaking wagon wheels.