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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Life on the Oregon Trail

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Life on the Oregon Trail

Live historical performances are a staple at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
Live historical performances are a staple at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

Lured West by tales of fertile, wonderful green ground and land aplenty, pioneers entering the Oregon Territory, which in the 1840s and 50s began in what is now Wyoming, were disappointed by the vast sagebrush-covered country, according to Nancy Harms, interpretive specialist for the Bureau of Land Management.

The marshiness and lush green of the Lone Tree Valley which later would become Baker Valley was inspiring and gave them an inkling of what lay ahead in the Willamette Valley, Harms said. She has developed 22 programs that present more than 40 characters telling the pioneers stories through living history presentations at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. The interpretive center sits atop Flagstaff Hill five miles east of Baker City just off Highway 86.

Hattie, a woman who hails from North Carolina, tells of her disillusionment in discovering that the Oregon Territory did not quite live up to its reputation. She left her home with expectations that a person had only to scatter seed and turn around three times and the crops would be ready to harvest and that pigs ran around under the acorn trees already cooked with forks and knives stuck in them and ready to eat.

The healthful air in the Oregon Territory was said to sustain life. One popular story proclaimed that people who died were brought back to life when they were brought to Oregon, Harms said.

Although people didnt actually believe the tall tales, most hoped that some such good fortune was waiting for them, she added. As an interpretive specialist, Harms goal is to present the true story of women traveling the Oregon Trail as told through actual diaries.

I use historical facts to lay to rest the myths and to talk about what real people were like, she said.

Although past accounts of trail life have focused on the work of the men, Harms said her research shows a different reality. The basic day-to-day work truly fell to the women, she said.

With the promise of property and prosperity, the westward migration brought more than 275,000 travelers from the east between 1843 and 1860. Pioneers joined the nearly 2,000-mile trail at points along the Missouri and Platte rivers beginning at Independence, Mo.

Harms presentations are given in the Leo Adler Theater at the center and in outdoor programs during the summer.

This summer schedule also includes a variety of guest performances by nationally recognized storytellers as well as interpretive programs, demonstrations and musical programs, she said.

Tessie Williams, an elder from the Tamastslikt Interpretive Center in Pendleton, will visit the interpretive center once a month throughout the summer.

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