Thursday, February 18, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The 1990 Wyoming Centennial Wagon Train

In 1990, the great state of Wyoming celebrated 100 years of statehood and I entered my teen years. In order to celebrate Wyoming's centennial, the state organized a grand wagon train in June--that went across the state diagonally ending up in Cody.

My maternal grandfather had a team of burros--obstinate, and cranky little burros. He really wanted to be a part of this wagon train adventure. The wagon train rules were pretty loose. People could join for a few days at any point during the month long trek. My grandpa invited a few grandchildren along to help and enjoy the experience. I was one of the kids who got to go. Just from my recollection--which is a bit dim on some of the details--and I can't remember where my journal from that period is stashed, my cousins, Shane, Travis, Glen, and Lee all went for some part of the adventure. Travis, Lee, and I were pretty close as kids so we were all pretty excited to hang out together for a few days.

In packing for the trip, my parents were a little paranoid and over-conscious about what I would need. They made me pack snowgear, including a big snowsuit and heavy snowboots. Turns out none of that was necessary because it was hot as heck that summer. Some nice person allowed me to stash all that crap in their trailer. Good thing because those burros couldn't pull more than the wagon because they were THAT stubborn and THAT lazy.

Those burros were such nuisances. They mostly did fine walking on dirt, gravel roads, or through the brush. But when they got onto paved roads, those darn things would lay down on the ground. Talk about mortifying! Since they were stubborn little things (kind of like my grandpa) my cousins and I would walk beside the wagon, hitch a ride with someone else, or if we were lucky find a horse we could ride. 

When my cousins and I joined the train, one of the wagon masters gave us a bunch of centennial pins. Our job was to go around and sell as many as possible. I wanted a pin really bad and he told us if we sold enough, we could get our own pins as commission. We had so much fun going around to the different companies and selling those pins. People were friendly and we explored as much as we could.

We made a lot of friends quickly. I have never had trouble talking to people or meeting them. Some of the friends I made were adults. In particular, Edie and Olen Tackitt from Arkansas and a man who had a carriage and some pretty horses. I exchanged letter with Edie Tackitt for several years after the wagon train ended. Olen was a singer and after the days travel was over and camp all set up, he would get his guitar and harmonica out and play practically the whole night. I sang a lot myself. Those campfire music sessions are some of my happiest memories of all. I also made friends with an older man who had a pair of Morgans (I think). He was all by himself so sometimes I would ride with him to keep him company--meaning I talked his ear off. He also let me ride his horse sometimes-which was a real treat. I was a pretty decent rider in those days. We had horses and I rode often. 

I remember being free and being allowed to just roam where I wanted. We had to be careful about rattlesnakes and cactus. But that is pretty normal for the area. Growing up, I always knew how to watch out for snakes--especially rattlesnakes. 

My parents also got to go on the wagon train for a bit. Earlier that year, my dad had bought a team of clydesdales that he trained and worked with. He sold the team to a man who wanted to do the whole wagon train from Cheyenne to Cody. He got tired for a bit and asked my parents if they wanted to drive the team for a bit so that his wagon would stay in the train the whole trek. My parents jumped at the chance. At some point though, either my mom or sisters got sick, so she left. My sisters, Lori and Trisha, stayed with me and Dad. We were there the day a man came and took a panoramic picture of the entire wagon train and by happenstance, we ended up being smack dab in the middle of the picture. That picture currently hangs in my parents' office at their house.

A couple of memorable and funny moments from the trek with my dad: the wagon masters always put us in the worst spots to camp for the night because the camps were right in the middle of the worst cactus. I wore cowboy boots and sturdy jeans to protect me from the cactus needles. One time though, I fell right into one bad patch. My backside was just covered in cactus needles--which really hurts. My poor dad had to pick the cactus spikes out of my butt and we were both so embarrassed. 

The other hilarious thing that happened was when my dad's team escaped their enclosure one night and stampeded through the camp. Listening to my dad tell that story is probably one of the funniest things I have ever heard. I hope to someday get that on video. 

Going on the wagon train was one of my favorite adventures of all time. I'm so happy I got to relive it today on my blog.

Here are some great articles about the wagon train from 1990.



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