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Archive for Monday, August 10, 1992

HISTORY ALIVE ON THE OREGON TRAIL

August 10, 1992

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A man who is tracing a 2,200-mile pioneer journey along the Oregon Trail on horseback says the trail is a living museum that helped define the American spirit.

"All these people didn't do it (travel the trail) for recreation, they did it for a vision," said John Meek, an Oregon legislator who was in Lawrence Sunday. "One of the things you won't read about is the regrets of getting to the (Oregon) valley."

Meek, who has been riding on horseback along the Oregon Trail from his home state since May 20, gave a talk Sunday night at the Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum, 1047 Mass.

His talk, sponsored by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, coincides with the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Oregon Trail.

MEEK TOLD a story about his great-grandfather, Joe Meek, who made the trip on horseback from Oregon to Washington, D.C., to ask President James Polk to make Oregon part of the union.

Following Joe Meek's journey, Polk encouraged settlers to go to Oregon.

During the "Great Migration" from 1849 to 1862, an estimated 350,000 people made their way along the trail, John Meek said.

He said that the first settlers began using the trail in 1843. That date is being recognized as the opening of the trail.

Like his great-grandfather, Meek said he is riding a horse east along the trail to encourage people to discover Oregon and the Oregon Trail.

"You have a museum here, but folks, you've got another museum the biggest museum in the country it's called the Oregon Trail."

The trail runs from Independence, Mo., through northeast Kansas and north into Nebraska. It continues west and north, crossing Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon, ending near Oregon City.

The trail passes through Douglas County near the Wakarusa River and past Blue Mound, and north into Lawrence. It exits Lawrence along U.S. Highway 40 and heads northwest near the highway in Kanwaka Township and through Big Springs.

IN LAWRENCE, the trail roughly follows Louisiana Street north from 31st street, east on 23rd Street, north on Tennessee, and winds its way through several other streets.

Meek said that as many of 10 percent 35,000 of the settlers who used the trail, may have died along the way and were buried in unmarked graves.

"There are an average of 16 people buried every mile," he said. "You may have some around here."

Other evidence of the trail, such as rut marks made by wagons, still are visible today.

Meek said he has been riding his horse 50 to 60 miles per day on private land or highway rights of way along the trail.

He encouraged residents at the talk to promote their Oregon Trail sites and said millions of people would be touring the trail next year as part of the anniversary.

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