New panel notes path of emigrants

New panel notes path of emigrants

Descendants of Oregon Trail preservationists attended Sunday’s dedication of an interpretive panel at the junction of the Independence and St. Joe roads that carried pioneers in the westward expansion. From left, Camille Bradford, Denver; David Hammett, Marysville; and Janet Kanter, Camino, Calif. Holding the flag is Trail Life member Dominic Edwards, Marysville. Photo by Sarah Kessinger

The wide open sky spread above farm fields Sunday behind a new, colorful panel telling Oregon-California Trail history northwest of Marysville.

The land is two miles north of U.S. Highway 36 on the Washington-Marshall County line. On prairie where tallgrass began its transition to shortgrass, the site was once traversed by thousands of wagons, oxen and people making the 19th century trek west to seek fortunes.

The panel was recently installed by the KANZA chapter of the Oregon-California Trails Association with guidance from the National Park Service. It stands beside a longtime stone trail marker, which notes this was the junction of well-traveled roads merging on the famed trail.

“No one who visits this site today would ever guess that so many people once crowded and jostled their way across this land,” Pat Traffas, Overland Park, OCTA national president, told a crowd of 70 people at Sunday’s dedication ceremony. “Although no traces of either trail or junction remain, this small stone marker and new interpretive sign will commemorate this glorious junction.”

Hanover native David Gerdes, Monument, Colo., unveiled the panel amid applause. Gerdes donated the funds for the KANZA chapter of the trails association to purchase the panel.

He said the marker was near where he grew up and he was pleased to help make people more aware of the monument and its history.

Recognized at the ceremony were David Hammett, Marysville, grandson of local historian Ray Ellenbecker and great-grandson of John Ellenbecker, the historian who took up early 20th century efforts to preserve the trail’s story in Kansas.

Hammett quoted his great-grandfather, who said the monuments to the trail should be “honored and protected.” John Ellenbecker wanted to see a marker each 10 miles to keep the trail’s history intact.

Also present were Janet Kanter, Camino, Calif., great-great-granddaughter of Ezra Meeker, who started a national campaign in 1906 to place stone markers along the trail so it wouldn’t be lost, and Camille Bradford, Denver, stepdaughter of Howard R. Driggs, second president of the Oregon Trail Association.

“America has a legacy, let’s not forget it,” Kanter said before the ceremony.

The marker sits on land owned since 1962 by Ray Feldkamp, Manhattan, who said Sunday he was pleased to see the site restored and explained by the illustrated panel so future generations could appreciate trail history.

Feldkamp and Frank Bruna, who farms the site, each were given Friend of the Trail Awards from OCTA at the ceremony.

The site was also traversed by the Pony Express in the 1860s, and Gary Minge, Hanover, of the Kansas division of the National Pony Express Association paid tribute to the historic mail route Sunday.


By Sarah Kessinger, The Marysville Advocate

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