Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Oregon Trail Wagon Ruts / Lake Guernsey State Park Wyoming

guernsey lake in Wyoming
The Old Wagon Rut Displays
 
Lake Guernsey State Park near Guernsey Wyoming is one of the best places to see the preserved wagon wheel ruts from the days of the Oregon Trail.

 This site is a must see during your Wyoming vacation. If you're just traveling through Wyoming, this is one of the finest side trips you can add to your itinerary. Inside  Lake Guernsey State Park is a separate National Historic Landmark named the Oregon Trail Ruts.The best examples of wagon wheel ruts put there by wagon trains, many made by wagons weighing perhaps 2,500 pounds, are a few miles to the south of Guernsey in southeastern Wyoming. You may also want to visit the nearby Fort Laramie National Historic Site. Fort Laramie offers a lot of great 1800's history itself and makes an excellent companion visit. This area of Wyoming was crossed by the 1841-1869 era Oregon Trail. Today, in several parts of Wyoming, remnants of The Oregon Trail can still be seen. Some of the best examples are the ones located are around Guernsey Wyoming. 

The Long Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail route was a busy trail during the first half of the 1800's  with thousands of people traveling from Independence Missouri to Oregon City Oregon. Often the destination was Oregon's fertile Williamette Valley. When you view the old wagon wheel ruts you get an idea of the ordeal the pioneers endured on the trail. The emigrants traveled in a wagon train for safety. The trail from western Missouri to Oregon was wild and mostly uncharted territory. The dangers were many. Disease, starvation, wagon breakdowns and of course there was the Indian question. Would the wagon train come under Indian attack. To try to provide a degree of security the army built a line of forts, such as Fort Kearney in Nebraska, but the cavalry could not always be relied on simply because the distance to the nearest military post could be hundreds of miles.

It cost about $1,000 for a family to make the trip. In addition it cost about $400 for a wagon. The wagons on the Oregon Trail would usually depart from Missouri in April. A timetable for the wagon trains would have to be met because a trip over the Sierra Nevada's in winter could lead to disaster. At mountain altitudes severe snow storms could occur well before the beginning of April.

The Frontier Ordeal and the Diaries


oregon trail wagon ruts
Preserved wagon ruts
Merrill Mattes, historian of the Great Platte River Road, estimates that one in every two hundred emigrants on the Oregon Trail kept diaries while on the overland trail west. Much can be learned from these diaries and researchers love them. many of the diaries have already been turned over to museums but every so often another turns up in family archives.

 The diaries were written in many different styles, some in long prose and other just short notes jotted down. The following excerpt regarding an apparent cholera epidemic while on the Oregon wagon tail tells a lot about the horrors of frontier travel. The excerpt is from the Kansas University archives and is from the diary of Mrs. Cecilia McMillen Adams during her families trip from Illinois to Oregon in 1852 on the Oregon Trail.

"Child's grave . . . smallpox . . . child's grave.. . . [We] passed
7 new-made graves. One had 4 bodies in it . . . cholera. A
man died this morning with the cholera in the company
ahead of us. . . . Another man died. . . . Passed 6 new
graves. . . . We have passed 21 new-made graves . . . made
18 miles. . . . Passed 13 graves today".

See our article and photos of Oregon City, Oregon, the official terminus of the famous Oregon Trail.

More Sites to See

Today's modern west offers several sites where artifacts of the old west can still be seen. A few excellent ones are Independence Rock in Wyoming and Pompeys Pillar in south central Montana. Both of these sites feature etched names and signatures in rocks left there by pioneers, scouts and explorers.

Pompeys Pillar in Montana features the etched name of William Clark of the 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition. Also, Register Cliff which is about  two miles southeast of Guernsey has what they refer to as a "chalkboard" where wagon train pioneers wrote their names. It's estimated that about 500,000 emigrants traveled these trails between 1843 and 1869. 

The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 meant much less travel over the trail. The Oregon Trail site was about one days journey from the safety of Fort Laramie therefore it was a well used overnight stopping point for wagon trains. The landmark still remains in good condition much like it looked to settlers journeying west over 150 years ago. trading post was located near the cliff that also served as a Pony Express stop in 1861 and a regular stage station after that. All these places can be found and visited on a short road trip around the Guernsey Wyoming area.

Visit Guernsey Lake

The historic Guernsey Lake State Park is located northwest of the town of Guernsey Wyoming about 100 miles north of Cheyenne.

Take Interstate-25 north of Cheyenne to Rte. 26 (exit 92) and go east about 15 miles. Today, Guernsey Lake State Park offers exhibits about the Civilian Conservation Corp and buildings from the era. The buildings were constructed of timbers and hand-forged iron by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's. The park which contains the Guernsey Reservoir on the North Platte River  was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1996. Also, Guernsey Park is available for campers to the area. There are several types of campsites to chose from the cliffs area to sites near the beach. There are 7 total campgrounds. Five are on the lake with a total of 142 campsites. Photos courtesy National Park Service.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)


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