With a series of events this weekend, local history buffs want to take citizens and visitors back to the period that generally put Independence on the map.
“Party Like it’s 1843,” hosted by the Jackson County Historical Society and other organizations, celebrates the 175th anniversary of the Great Migration – the first significant number of Americans who departed Independence on the Oregon (or Santa Fe) Trail hoping to make good on a new life.
There’s a series of events planned for Friday through Sunday, though the one that’s captured the most interest appears to be the Live Action Oregon Trail Game, an homage to the popular children’s computer game. It’s slated for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Hiram Young Park just east of the Square.
“Multiple dates are used as the beginning of the Oregon Trail, so there’s no definitive answer, but 1843 is what became known as the Great Migration, the first large-scale movement,” said Dave Aamodt, administrator of the National Frontier Trails Museum. “It’s estimated about 600 to 1,000 people were in it, but nobody wrote all the names down.”
And May was the most popular month to depart, because the rivers wouldn’t freeze over, the grass had grown enough to give animals forage and ideally it left enough time to get through the mountains before winter.
“It was very much a timing game,” Aamodt said.
No such concerns for this weekend, though.
Here is a schedule of events, some of which require tickets:
• Friday, 6:30 to 9 p.m.: Westward Ho! Down, outside the National Frontier Trails Museum, 318 W. Pacific Ave. Showcasing pioneer dancing and music with refreshments. Tickets are $20, and proceeds benefit the museum.
“We want it to be like the last night at camp before heading out on the trails,” said Leah Palmer, event and education manager at the museum.
• Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Live Action Oregon Trail Game, Hiram Young Park, 215 E. Lexington Ave. Teams of four will compete in different challenges (trivia, puzzles, physical activities) related to trail travel. Each team will receive a map and must complete each stop to finish. Points will be awarded based on how well teams complete each challenge. Cost is $20, and proceeds benefit the Historical Society.
• Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.: 1843 Lexington Avenue, Lexington between Liberty and Main streets, in front of the 1827 Log Courthouse. Similar to the set-up at Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival, there will be free pioneer crafts for kids, games and an old-time photo booth, with first-person historical interpreters in period garb.
“They will be citizens of Independence in 1843, telling people where to shop at the right places, focusing on the excitement of the Oregon Trail,” said Nancy Eppert, artistic director for the museum.
• Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Oregon Trail Lecture Series, Brady Courtroom of the Truman Historic Courthouse on the Square. All lectures are free, but an RSVP is required.
• 10:30 to 11:30: Jon Boursaw, Potawatomi Trail of Tears
• 11:45 to 12:45: Theresa Hupp, historical fiction
• 1 to 2: David Jackson, Independence in 1843
• 2:15 yo 3:15: Ross Marshall, Kansas City’s historic trails in 1843
• Saturday, 5:30 p.m.: Pioneer Fashion Show, Truman Memorial Building, 416 Maple Ave. Featuring fashions of 1840s and the trails. Emcee is Erica Layton from the Atkins-Johnson Farm and Museum in Gladstone. Tickets are $15, and proceeds benefit the Historical Society.
• Sunday, 2 p.m.: Sounds from the Oregon Trail, National Frontier Trails Museum. Local composer and musician Dana Mengel, along with other local musicians, will share selections from Mengel’s yet-to-be-performed “Oregon Trail Soundtrack.” The composition follows the pioneers from Wayne City Landing, out of Independence and across the prairies. Light refreshments will be served. Tickets are $10, and proceeds benefit the Jackson County Historical Society.
Tickets can be purchased and RSVP made at partylikeits1843.org.
“I want them to appreciate Independence more, and I also want people to realize there’s a lot of history here,” Caitlin Eckard, director of the Historical Society, said about the event-filled weekend. “It’s kind of glossed over. And I also want people to have fun.”