Then came the Oregon and California trails, starting in the early 1840s. Settlers from the East and all around the Midwest would arrive by boat on the Missouri river. They then climbed up a three mile bluff into town, dragging whatever equipment and provisions they had with them. Most of the settlers, however, traveled light and outfitted themselves in Independence, as there were plenty of people ready to provide them with wagons, mules, oxen, food and clothes.
This is a typical wagon used by the settlers.
But this is the wagon we're using to make the trip.
In the 1840s the traditional departure point for both the Oregon and California trails was the courthouse in Independence. Later on, people bypassed Independence and traveled farther upriver to leave from St. Joseph, MO, or Council Bluffs, IA. This is what the Independence courthouse looks like today. The center portion of the building is original, from the 1830s, although of course it's been renovated and added onto several times in the past 180+ years.
And this is what it looked like in the 1840s, according to a painting at the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence. You can see that the basic central portion of the building is the same.
Of course, Independence, MO, is famous for one other thing, as the hometown of Harry S Truman. There was one connection Truman had with the pioneers. When he married Bess Wallace in 1919, he moved into her house, built by her grandfather who made his money selling equipment to the west-bound settlers. They moved back into that same house after the presidency and lived there the rest of their lives.
So anyway, we left Independence and traveled northwest through Kansas, looking for old signs that our forebearers had been through here. We found this off Route 99 in North Central Kansas . . .
We couldn't see them either. But no fear, a little ways down the road I ran into a true pioneer woman.