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Friday, July 29, 2005

 

The End of the Oregon Trail




Back in May, with family visiting from out of town, I was hoping to make a trip down to Enchanted Forest. Somehow we wound up at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center instead.

Tucked away in a corner of Oregon City, the center had fallen on hard times. One of its two trademark wagon/buildings was missing its bonnet. What remained was a set of ovular steel husks that looked like rusted whale bones. Apparently, the bonnets weren't designed with damp Northwest winters in mind and the center was working on a set of refurbishments. After a prerequisite visit to the gift shop and a few minutes spent petting a friendly neighborhood cat, we headed inside.




The center's centerpiece is a two-part interactive presentation. In a small auditorium filled with pioneer relics, a teenager in dressed in period garb told us all about the trials and tribulations of the state's first European residents. Faced with harsh conditions, an array of nasty germ bugs and the occasional accidental, self-inflicted bullet wound (many city slickers had never handled firearms prior to hitching up their wagons), these pioneers were also hard-pressed to find firewood at times. So instead they used what was lying around- in many cases dried-up buffalo dung.

Most Oregon Trail interpretative centers would leave it that but that's not the case out in Oregon City. Sure enough, the teen just so happened to have a plate of dried bison poo at her disposal. A "chip" was passed around and of course I had to take a turn holding it. The chip was light and felt like a husk of dirt. Sometime later, while eating an oatmeal cookie in the gift shop, I realized I'd forgotten to wash my hands.

Anyway, this is what decade-old buffalo chips look like:




After the fun with feces segment, we were herded into a second auditorium. A life-sized video image of John McLoughlin appeared in the door of a wooden recreation of his end of the trail storefront. He narrated a short movie about the further hardships of these early settlers. In all honesty, the film was about as enjoyable as one of those banal Disney nature documentaries. On other hand, buffalo doodie is a tough act to follow.

After the film ended and its "Promised Land" theme song was firmly lodged in our brains for all eternity, we wandered out into a second building filled with museum displays. In one was this creepy stuffed snake. Check out the even creepier card next to it. What sort of sociopath put this display together?

Further down the line was a display filled with examples of pioneer humor. Most were dry 19th century prose that probably wasn't all that funny at the time. Fairly shocking though was a photograph of a Native American pretending to shoot a pioneer. Apparently, he was pals with one of the locals and the photo was a gag.




All in all, not a bad way to spend a lazy Sunday. It's just a shame that the center doesn't sell copies of the Oregon Trail video game or "You Have Died of Dysentery" t-shirts in the gift shop. After all, why make the effort to be tasteful when your handing your visitors literal feces?

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