Wagon train tours area

By By Dick Mason The Observer July 13, 2012 01:23 pm


Do not let the handful of cell phones fool you.

These approximately 25 travelers from throughout the United States are dialed into the past. The men, women and children are re-creating the Oregon Trail era while turning heads in Union County. 


Do not let the handful of cell phones fool you.

These approximately 25 travelers from throughout the United States are dialed into the past. The men, women and children are re-creating the Oregon Trail era while turning heads in Union County. 

Dressed in mid-1800s-type clothing including bonnets, long sleeve cotton dresses, rough cotton shirts and cowboy hats, they are members of the Oregon State Wagon Train. The old-time caravan is traveling the final portion of the route pioneers took to Whitman Mission in the mid-1800s. 

Members of the party appear so convincing they almost look as if they are from the cast of “Wagon Train,’’ the old TV series of five decades ago that starred Ward Bond.

 Comprised of about six wagons pulled by mules and horses, the caravan is traveling to Whitman Mission in Walla Walla after starting at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center of Baker City on July 8. The wagon train entered Union County on Wednesday and on Thursday traveled from Cove to an area on Clarks Creek Road southeast of Elgin. 

The party is set to reach Walla Walla by July 21. This means the travelers will experience a week more of bone-jarring rides in wagons, meals that often include venison stew and powder biscuits and evenings filled with music and stories about Oregon Trail pioneers.

Some days are so exciting they bring Disneyland to mind, said Lynn Hansen of Modesto, Calif. Hansen said several days ago she experienced an invigorating ride in a wagon being pulled up a steep hill. Adding to the excitement was the knowledge that the horses had to maintain their momentum. If they stopped moving forward, her wagon might begin sliding backward.

“It was an E ticket ride,’’ Hansen said, referring to an term once given to Disneyland’s top rides.

Wagon train members bond

A heartfelt refrain expressed by Hansen and many other wagon train members is how closely everyone has bonded over the past week. Dave Vixie, one of the leaders of the party, attributes this to how dependent everyone is on each other for help and how willing all members are to assist. He said that in our modern convenience-filled society, too many people have the ability to be self sufficient 

“Self sufficiency can lead to selfishness,’’ Vixie said.

Members of the Oregon State Wagon Train do more than reach out to each other. They are also extending a hand to many people passing by, letting them ride for about a mile in their wagons. Many of the guest riders are children who eagerly jump into the wagons.

The children are welcomed by people like Pat Arends, an educator in Rochester, Minn. Arends said she is learning many things she is looking forward to sharing with her students. An example? Learning how to clean her clothes with a washboard. 

“I was surprised at how clean I got them,” she said.

Many commented on how tiring life on the wagon train is. Some wonder how Oregon Trail pioneers were able to fight through their exhaustion for the five to six months it took them to reach the Northwest.

Marcia Vixie of Milton-Freewater may have the answer. 

“They had high hopes — hoping for more farmland, peace and tranquility. That is what drives us, hoping for that elusive dream,’’ she said.

The Oregon State Wagon Train, a Milton-Freewater-based company, has been providing rides to travelers for about six years, taking different pioneer routes each summer. Its parties do almost all of their traveling on gravel and dirt roads. A significant portion follow the actual Oregon Trail and other pioneer routes. 

Dave Vixie, a leader of the wagon train, said that when people are on the actual trail pioneers took it has a dramatic impact.

“It adds a voice to the narrative,” he said. “The closer you are to the original, the greater the impact it has on your relationship to it.’’