Trailing away

 

The Oregon Trail was my introduction to the West (“Oregon’s Trail Through Time,” HCN, 3/7/16). In 1975, I embarked on an auto trip along as much of the trail as I could manage, using the late Gregory Franzwa’s The Oregon Trail Revisited as my guide, along with a huge roll of county road maps at one-half-inch-to-the-mile scale, with the route of the trail painstakingly inscribed by hand. At the time, I was a 30-year-old teacher of American history who’d never been west of Kansas City, except for an airplane ride to L.A., and retracing the ruts of the Oregon Trail was truly an epiphany as teacher, citizen and — not least — as a thoughtful human. Over the next few years, and the course of not just one, but three treks along the trail, I took copious notes and hundreds of photographs, some of which were inflicted on my American history students over succeeding years. The story of the trail was not always pretty, or even admirable, but on the whole, I think the trail records an epic tale of thousands of people willing to press against boundaries, whether political, financial, practical or cultural.

Every year, the remaining traces are threatened by corporations and individuals with no knowledge of, or interest in, the trail’s historic role in the development of the West. Amid the multiple and competing demands upon the trail corridor, I hope we won’t forget that there will never be more of the trail remaining than there is at this moment; there will only be less.

Ray Schoch
Minneapolis, Minnesota