06 July 2010

Good Times: Independence Day on the Oregon Trail

By Jennifer Mueller

By as early as 1800, Independence Day celebrations were common. Traveling across the wilderness with little to call their own, celebrating the day on the Oregon Trail was a reason to escape the drudgery of five to six months of constant travel. Independence Rock was looked for eagerly, starting the trail in the early spring, the emigrants hoped to reach Independence Rock by July 4. If they had not arrived by then, they knew they were behind schedule. Many scribed their names in the rock as a memento. It was a day to rest, with a feast the most likely indulgence. Diaries often mentioned the events.

Emigrant James Nesmith: "Had the pleasure of waiting on five or six young ladies to pay a visit to Independence Rock. I had the satisfaction of putting the names of Miss Mary Zachary and Miss Jane Mills on the southeast point of the rocks."

Emigrant Margaret Hecox: "Being the fourth of July, we concluded to lay by and celebrate the day. The children had no fireworks, but we all joined in singing patriotic songs and shared in a picnic lunch."

But for an unpublished story of my own, I created a trail diary of a fictional crossing with a little more detail...

July the 4th
We lay abed this morning. All had a go as you please. Some hunted and fished, others lounged, while the children played games. Flags hung from several wagons. Another train pulled up and joined us for the celebration of our country's independence. A salute to our grand country was fired from 150 guns. All up and down the river we can hear similar salutes from those that left before and after us.

With so many women with us the feast that followed was immense. Roast antelope, roast sage hen, roast rabbit, antelope stew, sage hen stew, jack rabbit stew, antelope pot pie, sage hen fried, jack rabbit fried, fish fried. Irish potatoes brought from Ohio, Boston baked beans, rice, pickles, white bread, graham bread, warm rolls, biscuits, pound cake, fruit cake, jelly cake, Sweetwater mountain cake, peach pie, apple pie, strawberry pie, custard pie. Our two from New Orleans even introduced us to something called dirty rice made with the innards of the fowl we had killed. I don't know that I have ever eaten so much in my life.

After dinner as much brandy as could be found was rounded up and a great many toasts to our fair country were had. No one could forget the rash of Stewart weddings that took place, Alexander Stewart and Helen Vandeveer, Daniel Stewart and Charlotte Houlton, Duncan Stewart and Delia Drake.

1 comment:

librarypat said...

Simpler times, when the country was new enough that people still felt part of the beginning . Those on the trail were definitely sharing in the continued creation of what the United States of America has become. They deserved to celebrate. Their journey was anything but easy.