U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
By Terry Del Bene, Archaeologist, Rock Springs Field Office and Lorraine Keith, Public Affairs Specialist, High Desert District
Braving hail, rain and the occasional distant bolt of lightning, a hardy group of students from the Kansas School for the Blind camped at the Little Sandy Crossing of the Oregon Trail, a site recently acquired by the Bureau of Land Management’s Rock Springs Office.
The students each played characters of the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846. The Donner Party is best known for becoming trapped for much of the winter in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and resorting to “any means possible” to stave off starvation. It was at that very campsite used by the Kansas School for the Blind that the Donner Party formed from members of other wagon companies and elected George Donner as their leader.
Though the historical theme of the trip was a serious one, the students were light-hearted and discussed their characters and the events of 1846 with great passion. It was clear that the students had studied the Donner Party. The group hiked segments of trail within BLM lands near South Pass and the Parting of the Ways.
Each student was provided experimental global positioning satellite (GPS) receivers specially designed and programmed for those with sight impairments. The GPS units were loaded with location information about the trail. Once they were familiar with the GPS units, the students were able to navigate the winding trail with relative ease and in many cases walking faster than their sighted companions did. As this technology is refined, these “talking electronic guides” will provide diary quotes relative to the specific section of trail being traveled as well as general information about the area.
By camping, the students experience many of the discomforts and wonders experienced by the 1800s emigrants. Sudden storms, bugs, badger holes, and cold temperatures made the experience more real than some might have liked, but overall it added to the authenticity of the trail visit. The group sang “Do They Miss Me At Home?” one of the most popular songs associated with the California gold rush. The students also made crafts and gave presentations regarding the Donner Party.
A highlight of the visit was the presence of a full-sized replica covered wagon. Students were familiarized with the parts of the wagon. The entire tour group then hitched themselves to the wagon and pulled it through the Little Sandy River, crossing on the original ruts of the Oregon Trail. The creaking, rattling, jingling, and splashing sounds of the river crossing were surely similar to those experienced by the 1800s travelers using this very same crossing.
Like the Donner Party of 1846, the school tour of 2009 left the Little Sandy River roughly on-schedule and with well-fed and healthy members. This was the Kansas School for the Blind’s third such trek involving southwestern Wyoming. We hope they return soon and remind us of the importance of preserving these special places for the use and wonderment of future generations.
|Last updated: 03-10-2010|
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