An earnest effort to commemorate and publicize the importance of the Oregon Trail began about 1930 spearheaded by the Oregon Trail Memorial Association. This group organized a series of commemorations named the Covered Wagon Centennial. Celebrations were held everywhere from Oregon to New York including a covered wagon reenactment in St. Louis. The Oregon Trail route from Missouri to Oregon is shown below.
Monuments to This Historic Trail
Also, in July of 1930 a monument was erected at the north side of Independence Rock.
A bronze memorial honoring Ezra Meeker was unveiled. Ezra Meeker traveled the trail as a youth and spent a good part of his life memorializing it while making several journeys along it as an adult. Meeker could be considered the biggest booster of the trail's importance in American western history. At the conclusion of these ceremonies Independence Rock was dedicated as a U. S. National Monument. The Scott's Bluff National Monument in western Nebraska (pictured below left) was created in 1936 along with the completion of the new Oregon Trail Museum. It's dedication included Indian dances, speeches and brass bands.
Hollywood's Portrayal of the Oregon Trail
In 1939 Hollywood joined the new Oregon Trail interest with Universal Picture's release of "The Oregon Trail" starring Johnny Mack Brown.
The very same year a book was released on the Oregon Trail which further raised the attention of the public to this historic trail. The following year, the Oregon Trail Memorial Association restored an old officers quarters at Fort Laramie Wyoming. At about the same time Fort Laramie was made a U.S. National Monument.
Hollywood again produced a motion picture in 1945, near the end of World War two, about the Oregon Trail. The Republic Pictures release starred Sunset "Kit" Carson. Appropriately titled "The Oregon Trail", the movie was more of a general western rather than on the trail itself. Regardless, the film did add to publicity for the trail. A third motion picture was released in 1959, again titled "The Oregon Trail", starring Fred McMurray, William Bishop and Nina Shipman. This release from 20th Century Fox again spurred more interest in The Oregon Trail.
The Trail Becomes Commercialized
By this time commercial interests became interested in exploiting the renewed public interest. Businesses were named after the trail and prime locations were snapped up for retail businesses and tourist attractions. In a way this was fairly similar to the modern public interest in Route 66 although Rt 66 was a twentieth century creation. It appeared that for the traveling people of America migration to the west was a popular subject.
Remembering the Oregon Trails Place in American History
The Oregon-California Trails Association was formed in 1982. During the 1980's interpretive centers were established along the trail to help tell the story. In 1990 the National Frontier Trails Center opened it's doors in Independence Missouri. It's exhibits included the Oregon, Santa Fe and California trails. Ironically, all of these trails started in Independence Missouri.
In 1995 the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center was opened in Oregon City, Oregon. This is an excellent Oregon museum telling the story about 1800's western migration.
In 1999 the National Oregon/California Trail Center was opened in Montpelier Idaho. The museum exhibits offer interactive displays that are quite unique. Another interesting stop is the site of Fort Kearney which is now a state historic site and park near Kearney Nebraska. Other good stops include Fort Bridger in western Wyoming, Fort Laramie Wyoming, Fort Vancouver Washington and Shawnee Mission Kansas.
The Oregon Trail Commemorative Postal Stamp
See our article and photos of Oregon City, Oregon, the official terminus of the Oregon Trail.
Surprisingly, even in today's modern times, there remains about 300 miles of rutted road which the western U.S. traveler can see. While on your western road trip you can stop and stand in the same place where over 150 years ago the immigrants traveled with teams of oxen pulling in most cases all of their worldly possessions in what could be a six month journey.
It's an excellent opportunity to stop and thank the settlers who traveled this often dangerous trail and helped build the country we know today. It's a chance to know a bit more of the Oregon Trail's place in American history. There are currently over 200 historic sites located along the trail.
(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)