Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Travel, Trails and Historical Perspective

This was a day of travel. We're talking 630 miles of travel from south of Amarillo, Texas, to Lincoln, Nebraska. After the break of a long weekend in the mountains, work called me back to reality.

Driving is my preferred mode of travel for my work. There are times when I fly, but most travel through the Plains is about as fast by automobile as it is by air because of multiple stops and then renting a car, etc. Besides, driving time is often productive time. I get a lot of thinking done across the miles.

As I travel I also think about the old trails that crossed the Plains. For the first leg of my trip, the highway followed the old Dodge City to Amarillo trail. Next, I picked up the old Western Trail south of Dodge City and crossed the creek where the cattle herds were held while awaiting their turn into the stockyards for shipment east. At Dodge City I began following the old Santa Fe Trail until turning up US 156 at Great Bend and heading to Ellsworth, Kansas, which was one of the famous "wild west" frontier towns. From there I headed east to Salina and then north toward Nebraska. I crossed a couple of branches of the old trails to the Colorado gold fields of the 1850's and then after entering into Nebraska, I crossed the Pony Express route and the old Overland Route from Independence, Missouri, that angled northwest to the Platte River.

When we think about the wild west we usually don't think about the fact that it started in Kansas. The Kansas cow towns were wild a woolly places until the railroads brought civilization. The Texas Panhandle wasn't settled until after 1876 when the last of the Comanche were driven to the reservations of Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

One of the things that intrigues me about the old trails is how they followed the features of the land. Water was critical, fords across the occasional rivers were important, wood or other fuel for fires was needed, natural features that allowed easy travel for wagons was desired. Campsites were determined by speed of travel as well as by location of water and fuel. Many of the towns of today which dot the Plains, originated with the campsites. That is one reason the space between towns is often somewhat uniform. The distance was determined by the daily travel of an ox drawn wagon. It wasn't really until the advent of the Interstate Highway system that we began to get away from the old trails that crossed the country. Even those roughly follow the old trails. A perfect example is Interstate 80 across Nebraska. It follows the same route as the great westward migration to Oregon and California.

The next time you're traveling across the country, think about why those roads are located where they are and why the towns grew up in their particular locations. It might put a whole new slant on your perspective of history.

10 comments:

The Hermit said...

You live in a great part of the country , full of history. As I've said before, I envy you the job you have because of the excellent travel opportunities you can avail yourself of.

Plowing and Sowing said...

Good perspective. Hope you had a good break. I went to the Ft. Worth Stockyards as a part of my seven hundred some odd miles today. Speaking of old trails. I "had" to go get my birthday present at M.L. Leddy's. Take care.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Matt: Leddy's? Tough break but, somebody's gotta do it! (I just wish it had been me. I may have to make a sidetrip to Cabela's now.)

Vincent Harris said...

That drive is awesome.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

I've spent the last couple of days in northeastern Nebraska and tonight I'm in Kearney. Just down the road and across the river is Ft. Kearney, one of the bastions of the frontier protecting travelers on the Overland Trail to California and Oregon. Tomorrow I'll be working in this area before heading south on a track very close to the Dodge City to Ogalalla cattle trail. I guess I get hung up on the history but it's something that I enjoy.

Plowing and Sowing said...

I think you need to head to Cabella's. I am sure they have more "stuff" in Nebraska than in Texas. You might need to go see.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

The Cabela's here in Kearney has a "bargain basement" that I enjoy. It is items that have been returned for whatever reason. There are always some really good deals. I may have to "find time" to drop by sometime tomorrow. The big Cabela's out in Sidney is great but I don't think I'll get that far west on this trip.

Strawberry said...

Does that mean I get to go to Coldwater Creek?

Ozzy said...

Strawberry, he answered everyone else, why did'nt Poet answer your question?

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Ozzy: I'll answer it now. It turns out that I didn't have time to stop by Cabela's.

Google