Trails to the Past

Many tourists have stopped to read roadside markers commemorating old trails or noticed old road signs on their journeys west of the Mississippi. On a recent six-week road trip west from St. Louis, I was often reminded of the early pioneers who used St. Louis, the “gateway to the West,” and other nearby towns in Missouri as “jumping off points.” Lured by gold, free land and adventure, they were hoping for a better life in the new frontier. Many were encouraged by the stories of trappers and traders that promised easy passage through the mountains, and they thought they could find their future by way of the Oregon, مكتب ترجمة Santa Fe or Overland Trails. Actual traces of the old trails or roads that followed them and towns that developed as a result of the trails can be enjoyed by today’s travelers.

In 1851, John Soule, an editor for the Terre Haute Express, coined the “Go west, young man!” phrase which remains part of America’s vocabulary. Although Lewis & Clark had completed their journey earlier in the 19th century, no transcontinental railroad yet existed. On average, tienda de adultos it took about four to six months for a family to get from Missouri to Oregon or California by wagon train. About seven years after Soule’s article in 1858, the first non-stop stagecoach left St. Louis for Los Angeles. That 2,600-mile journey took twenty days. The transcontinental railroad was not competed until 1869 and quickly made wagon train and stagecoach travel obsolete.

Lewis and Clark had made a successful journey to the Pacific in the early 1800’s although it took them several months longer than they had planned. False reports of an easy passage through mountains which members described “as steep as the roof of a house” as well as deep snow and lack of food caused their delay. Once there, they encountered buckets and buckets of continuous rainfall. In a quintessential American moment they decided to vote on where to spend the winter allowing all the members of the party, including blacks, Indians, and women, to participate in the decision. They elected the south side of the Columbia River but still complained that they had only elk to eat and continual rain, and they didn’t like the salmon. They began the return journey in March, and arrived in St. Louis in September where they were welcomed as heroes. Many Native Americans had helped them and only a few, like the Blackfoot, had hindered them when they found out that they might be trading with their enemies.

Lewis and Clark had begun their journey in May of 1804 and returned in September of 1806. They had travelled a total of 4,162 miles, and had documented 122 new species of animals and 178 plants that had never before been described. More important at the time was their fulfillment of President Thomas Jefferson’s dream of opening up the West for the United States

Interesting evidence of their journey can be seen in Cairo, Illinois where there is a marker entitled, “Preceeding On.” Cairo is located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It is somewhat of a ghost town now although it was once a much grander city as its architecture and wide streets attest. The marker read:

In November, 1803, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and their growing contingent of “Corps of Discovery” men, spent five days here teaching each other celestial navigation and surveying skills. Using a sextant, octant, artificial horizon, and reference tables, they successfully obtained the first longitude and latitude data that they would use during the Expedition. Subsequent maps of the northern and western portions of the United States, prepared using Lewis and Clark’s data, began at the confluence of these great rivers which, in 1803, was located just south of 2nd Street in present-day Cairo.

The Spanish had many trails of their own, and were in competition with the United States to claim the western territories. They had tried to intercept Lewis and Clark on the plains, but were unable to find them. The Old Spanish National Historic Trail is still on the map in Colorado, New Mexico and in Utah and was an historical trade route which connected northern New Mexico settlements near Santa Fe with those of Los Angeles and southern California. Approximately 1,200 miles long, it ran through areas of high mountains, arid deserts, and deep canyons. It is considered one of the most arduous of all trade routes ever established in the United States and was explored, in part, by Spanish explorers as early as the late 1500s. The trail saw extensive use by pack trains from about 1830 until the mid-1850s.

Today’s travelers also can see traces of the old Santa Fe Trail, the eastern end of which was in the central Missouri town of Franklin on the north bank of the Missouri River. The route across Missouri first used by Becknell, a trader, followed portions of the existing Osage Trace and the Medicine Trails. West of Franklin, the trail crossed the Missouri near Arrow Rock, after which it followed roughly the route of present-day U.S. Route 24. It passed north of Marshall, through Lexington to Fort Osage, then to Independence, also one of the historic “jumping off points” for the Oregon and California Trails.

Before Lewis and Clark and the Spanish explorers and even the French trappers, Native Americans had settled and traveled the West. Tourists can visit sites such as Aztec National Monument, Chaco Canyon, Gallup, the Hubbell Trading Post and Chinle and the Canyon de Chelly in the Navajo Nation to name a few. Aztec Ruins lies near the banks of the “River of Lost Souls” named by a Spanish exploration party in 1776. They noted many ancestral Pueblo ruins as they crossed the Animas River valley looking for California. For thousands of years, Native Americans took to the trails for purposes of the harvest, the hunt, commerce, plunder, warfare, religious fervor and celebration. They may have forged trails at least as far back as some eight or nine millennia ago including thousands of miles of interconnecting trails extending from Texas’ westward to California’s Pacific Coast and from Mexico northward.


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