Packing a Prairie Schooner
I stood on the actual Oregon Trail last week, something that’s been a dream of mine since I-can’t-remember-when. I spent several hours at the National Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, high on a bluff outside of Baker City. It’s an impressive place with dioramas, audio and visual exhibits and presenters in period dress who stay in character. Except for the experience of standing right on the trail, my favorite thing was a hands-on display with a small size prairie schooner wagon. There were different shaped blocks labeled in various ways: corn meal, flour, bacon, guns and ammunition, bedroll, winter clothes, furniture, whiskey, all sorts of things. We were invited to try our hand at packing. At first, I was alone but was soon joined by a boy of about eleven, his mother and his grandmother. The four of us were serious about the procedure and put our heart into it. I wanted the bedroll, the Native American grandma said I should sleep on the ground, that there were more important things to think about than comfort. The block labeled “family heirlooms” was left behind. The boy thought we should include whiskey, his mother and grandmother quickly nixed that, saying it could make people fight and cause dissension. They agreed to an extra “block” of bacon in its place. We planned hard and loaded the thing to the gills. Later on, I saw the mother and she took me aside and thanked me for spending time with her son and the boy gave me a big hug. I was stunned — it had been the highlight of the museum experience for me.