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Pioneers of the Trail

I spent several months walking the Oregon Trail when I was five and I flew over it in several hours when I was a senior citizen. 

Jacob Butts 1840-1925

The pioneers that traveled the Oregon Trail were hardy people. 

Much hardier–than us. 

Earlier this year we read a book about two brothers who retraced the Oregon Trail in 2011 in a restored covered wagon towed by three mules. We thought that biking all or part of the Oregon Trail would be a great adventure. You can read more about that book and our thoughts in this post: Saddling Up on the Oregon Trail

Parts of the old trail go through and near the city of Boise, Idaho. During a one week stop in that friendly town we took a day to walk several miles of the pioneer path in the Oregon Trail Reserve and then we jumped on our bikes for  a 12.4 mile roundtrip loop that followed part of the trail through rangeland to the Southeast of Boise. Our path started at the Oregon Trail Reserve next to Highway 21 and passed through rangeland to Bonneville Point about five miles southeast. 

Twelve miles on bikes. Easy, right?

It kicked our butts. 

It gave us a tiny taste of what the pioneers experienced. In our three-and-a-half-hour journey we went up and down hills, traveled rutted and washed out roads, and it was warm and dusty. Unlike the people who made that journey though we weren’t dealing with fully loaded wagons, cooking meals, and sleeping outside under the stars. They dealt with disease, starvation, accidents, and sometimes hostile Indians. We only worried about cows (big cows, mind you) or a flat tire. 

We traveled just over 12 miles in three plus hours. 15 miles was a typical full day for true pioneers. 

Less than a week later we were in Grass Valley, Eastern Oregon on another section of the Oregon Trail. There we located the grave of several pioneers who died on the trail—including my great-great-great-grandmother, Catherine (Bonnett) Butts. 

Her grave is located near the village of Tygh Valley in an area that Laurie called “The Grand Canyon of Oregon.” The area is marked by canyons, steep hills, and terrain that would be inhospitable in the hot summer. My grandmother died on October 2, 1845 and was buried along with several other unnamed pioneers.

Somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 Americans made the trip west for a better life. Roughly one in ten didn’t survive the journey. It’s been called the world’s longest graveyard. 

The Jacob Butts quoted at the beginning of this post was my great-great-grandfather. He experienced the wagon age and the age of aircraft.* I’m grateful that he and his family endured the hardships they did so I could grow up in the Pacific Northwest. I’m also grateful that he didn’t pass his last name down to me. School was tough enough. I can’t imagine how tough it would be with a last name of Butts.

*Thanks to my cousin Susan for the Jacob Butts quote and for helping me, along with my mother, reconstruct the family tree. 

Thanks to cousin Shawna whose post told us how to find the Butts gravesite.

Check out the Oregon-California Trails Associationfor more information.

If you stay in the Grass Valley area highly recommend the Airbnb hosted by Roger and Bonne.

4 thoughts on “Pioneers of the Trail”

    1. Yes–I’ve got an email into the Sherman County Museum. Hopefully they’ll have more info for me. Thanks for the tip.

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