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  Field Notes From
The Way West

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from Author

John Mitchell

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from Photographer

Jim Richardson

Unfiltered for authenticity, these accounts have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

on the California trails

Field Notes From Author
John Mitchell
I’ve been along parts of the California Trail before, at least a couple of times over the years. And the first time I saw the area around Independence Rock, I thought it must have looked like that back in the 1840s. When I went back there again in the late 1980s, it still looked pretty good. And when I went out there again to do this story, it was still intact. I was happy to see that something that historic had not been pecked to pieces. Degradation is happening in some places along the trail, and seeing that was the worst experience for me. It’s slipping away, especially in urban areas. It disappeared around Kansas City a hundred years ago. Sprawl is happening everywhere—even in smaller communities—and that’s taking away some of the trail. The park service is doing a pretty good job at keeping parts of the National Trail System intact, but if a farmer is growing corn somewhere in Kansas where the trail used to be you can’t kick him off his land. We all remember Horace Greeley, the old editor of the New York Daily Tribune, telling young men to go West. But he didn’t mean all the way West. At the time, in 1843, he thought that people going up the trail all the way across the country to California and Oregon were crazy and that nothing good could come of it. His West stopped at Illinois. That was a real surprise to me.

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