Saturday, October 8, 2016

Traveling the Oregon Trail Backwards, Part 1

My mother reads magazines backwards, something I discovered with relief. At least now I know where I got it from. I seem to approach everything backwards, and traveling the Oregon was no exception. A few years ago I set off from Washington state to a family reunion in Missouri, following the route of the Oregon Trail backwards, sparking an idea for an Oregon Trail series which finally came to fruition with Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold 1) set to release next spring. My historical romance series is set in Montana during its gold rush, and each of the heroines travels part of the Oregon Trail.

This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt
Beginning my own journey in the spring seemed fitting. Emigrants set out as early as they could in that season to give themselves enough time to complete their travels before winter set in. I traveled with a female family member and our squabbling children in the backseat of the car. We stayed in historic hotels along the way, many of them from the Oregon Trail era. (Note: In order to share the places I saw with you, I have to rely on the photographs of others.Unfortunately, my camera was having issues at the time and the images from the trip that my traveling companion took have since been lost. However, the memories from the trip remain vivid and will remain with me a lifetime.)

The Oregon Trail is vast with many landmarks to visit, so all I can do is give you the highlights of what I saw and suggest you explore it yourself. Traveling the Oregon Trail should be done as soon as possible. Sadly, some stretches of the trail have been plowed under and those remaining aren’t being marked and preserved as the national treasures they are. Time marches on, each year erasing a little more of what remains. Don't delay.

Whitman Mission

Marcus Whitman (1802-1847)

Narcissa Whitman (1808-1847)
More than a little excited at the prospect of our journey, we drove through lofty mountain passes into eastern Washington and turned south to drive through waving wheat fields on our way to Oregon. With a pressing itinerary and a late start, we had to miss stopping at the Whitman Mission, settled by the Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, among the first missionaries who ventured westward in 1836. Unfortunately, after a measles epidemic killed many of the Cayuse children, the Whitmans died in a tragic massacre at their mission.

I was disappointed to miss the mission, but I list it here so you won't. After reading some of Narcissa’s letters, I felt a little like I knew her and wanted to pay my respects to this brave woman and her husband at their grave. I told myself I would return one day, but I never have. Writing this reminds me that I should.

Grande Ronde Valley

Grande Ronde River Valley: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

The first night’s stop was a town located in the southeastern corner of the beautiful and wild Grande Ronde valley, part of the Columbia River Plateau. Union dates from near the end of the Oregon Trail era. Native Americans summered in the Grande Ronde Valley until settlers moved in. In the beginning, the population of the Grande Ronde Valley totaled 35 white settlers and one half-Native American, with the first cabins erected in 1862. The town was platted on November 11, 1864. With the War Between the States, raging Union’s name places the town squarely on the side of the North.

Union, Oregon

Union Hotel, Union Oregon: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
The Union Hotel dates from a later period, but had good prices and vintage appeal. We booked Aline’s suite, a charming family suite with the largest walk-in shower I have ever seen (I kid you not). I would experience the Oregon Trail in many ways on this trip, and staying in this hotel served as a good starting point by easing us backward in time.

Read the next post in this series. 

About Janalyn Voigt

My father instilled a love of literature in me at an early age by reading chapters from "The Wizard of Oz," "Robinson Crusoe" and other classics. When I grew older, and he stopped reading bedtime stories, I put myself to sleep with tales I "wrote" in my head. My sixth-grade teacher noticed my storytelling ability and influenced me to become a writer.

I'm what is known as a multi-genre author, but I like to think of myself as a storyteller. The same elements appear in all my novels in proportions dictated by their genre: romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy.

Epic Fantasy: DawnSinger and Wayfarer are the first two novels in the epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven. The final books in the series, Sojourner and DawnKing, are under contract with my publisher.

Historical Fiction: Hills of Nevermore, first installment in Montana Gold, set during Montana's gold rush in the days of vigilante justice, will release in 2017.

Romantic Suspense/Mystery: Deceptive Tide (Islands of Intrigue-San Juans) will release in November 2016. This title is romantic suspense, but I am also moving into writing mystery novels written in the classic style of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.

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  1. I bet that was an awesome trip. I've been to Independence, MO, where some of the trains started out, but I'd love to follow the trail and experience all the historical things along the way.

  2. I hope you do that, Vickie. It's moving to connect with your national heritage.

  3. Hmmm....does this mean that you read the ending of novels first? Hahaha
    This was very interesting and I love the pictures. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to Part 2.

  4. When it comes to novels, I resist that urge. :o)

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Debbie. Thanks for reading.