August 24, 2017
The Wind River eventually connects with the region of the Sweetwater River where all of the major Emigrant Trails wound their way across the prairie. The trails are personally important to my family history. In the early 1850s, both of my great grandparents on the La Porte side of the family used the Oregon Trail to reach their Pacific Coast destination. Both were toddlers at the time. Joseph La Porte and Malona Miller found each other in Southern Oregon and eventually created a large cattle ranch in the Burnt River district in Eastern Oregon. Today we crossed paths with them.
They were not alone. A half million pioneers used this trail between 1840 and 1870 when the Transcontinental railroad was completed. Later members of the Oregon clan will arrive by rail. It was young Joseph who was our focus today. We could follow his steps in reverse heading east across Wyoming today. The first landmark is called Split Rock. It was a day west of Devil’s Gate that was in turn another days walk from Independence Rock. These landmarks were roughly 10-12 miles apart. Little Joe would have walked most the way. There was no room in their tiny wagon except for the sick, infants or the very pregnant.
As tough as this sounds, this region was a delight to the pioneers. It was the 1,000 mile mark or half way to Oregon. If the traveler’s reached Imdependence Rock by July 4, they felt they were in good shape to reach the promised land before winter. They had also reached the Sweetwater River that flowed clearly and cleanly from the Rocky Mountains. The pioneers had traveled across Nebraska near the “mile wide and inch deep” brackish Platte River. The Sweetwater must have tasted great as repeatedly attested to in the diaries of the time. As we traveled in late August, the grass near the river was green and the traces of wagon wheels are still visible.
I did have an issue with Mormon hand cart exhibit near Devil’s Gate. As is their privilege, they can certainly boast of the sacrifices of their early pioneers. However, they cover and almost try to mask over the efforts of the 95% of emigrants who used the same trails who were not Mormon. Besides, their journey was 800 miles shorter. Oh well.