Jim Bridger is coming. So is Sacagawea. And let’s not forget Keturah Belknap. She coming, too.



These historical figures and others – all of whom left their imprints on American history in the early 19th century during the westward expansion – are coming to the National Frontier Trails Museum on May 12 to help raise money for Friends of the National Frontier Trails Museum.

Jim Bridger is coming. So is Sacagawea. And let’s not forget Keturah Belknap. She coming, too.

These historical figures and others – all of whom left their imprints on American history in the early 19th century during the westward expansion – are coming to the National Frontier Trails Museum on May 12 to help raise money for Friends of the National Frontier Trails Museum.

“Night at the Museum – Where the Past Comes Alive” is the theme of the annual spring fundraiser in which historical figures, with ties to the Independence museum and the three trails, step out of the pages of history and tell the westward expansion story to visitors throughout the expansive museum.

Kathy Vest, president of the Friends of NFTM, says re-enactors will be in period attire and will stay in character, focusing on a single time frame in their portrayals.

“These (factual stories) are more like moments in time frames,” she explains. “It’s not someone giving a biographical sketch.”

In her portrayal of Sacagawea, Truman High School student Nicole Pio shares an exciting story that just happened to her.

“She may talk about a few events before that, but she is not going to be talking about the whole Lewis and Clark trip,” Kathy says.

“(Sacagawea) doesn’t know how (the trip) ends, because it hasn’t ended (at that time),” interjects David C. Aamodt, museum administrator/curator.

Calling the fundraiser a come-and-go event, David assures guests they don’t have to fear missing something if they are not at the museum when the doors open.

“They won’t (miss a thing). They can come a little later and that will be fine,” he says, noting the time frame allows for people to come and go.

History interpreters will be stationed inside and outside the nationally acclaimed museum, 318 W. Pacific Ave., from 6:30 to 9 p.m. They will interact with attendees during their five-to-seven-minute monologues.

Because the presentations are more of a conservation, David says, “You are just not going to listen and move on. You can interact with them.”

In his office at the far east end of the old Waggoner-Gates Mill building, David says the premise of this year’s fundraiser was the popular movie, “Night at the Museum,” in which characters come to life at night when the museum closes and do all kind of things.

“Somewhat with that similar premise, the characters ... in (our exhibits) come to life ... and people coming (that) night will be able to see that.”

Says Dave: “So we thought we would play off the idea that something was happening (at the museum), with these characters coming to life and Luther Bell, chief engineer for the Waggoner Gates Milling Co., checking on the (happenings) at mill.”

Henry Grubb will portray Luther O. Bell, referred to as “the man who kept the mill running.” Luther, who died in 1962, greets guests as they arrive, informing them he came to the mill and found all these characters from the past had come back to life.

And who better qualified to welcome guests at the old mill – now housing the NFTM – than Luther, who was instrumental in converting the power plant from steam to electricity in 1921.

“He is known for almost living at the mill ... and was known to come to the mill late at night to check on it, David says, adding: “He took his job very seriously.”

Before entering the museum, look for the life-size statute of Jim Bridger on the west side of the museum. There you will find the famous fur trapper, trader and mountain man, played by Jim Howk, spinning a tale or two.

On the inside, in the vicinity of the general store and the blacksmith’s shop, Ralph Goldsmith, portraying a blacksmith and a wagon master, explains the differences between a mule and an oxen, as well as what went into preparations for the long westward wagon trek.

At another station, Niel Johnson, as Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, discusses his push for westward expansion and manifest destiny, and William Becknell, played by Jim Beckner, tells how “The Father of the Santa Fe Trail” used the trail to make a fortune.

Then there is William Reese, played by Patrick Savanna, who tells an interesting story about panning for gold in California. Since Reese was already in Oregon when gold was discovered, he left for California and “hit the gold rush long before anybody else,” David says, noting the museum has a couple of Reese’s letters.

Another interesting character, Tabitha Brown, played by Nancy Lewis, went to Oregon with a couple of her adult children at age 66, and with the help and support of missionaries there, started a school for orphans.

“They helped get that school going, and it eventually grew into Pacific University,” David says, nothing the Oregon Legislature designated her “Mother of Oregon.”

Then there were the gold rush widows, a term used for wives left behind by their husbands who went to California to get rich in the gold fields. Rachel Brown, a free African-American, played by Alversia Pettigrew, was one of these widows.

“There is a whole story behind her and her husband,” says Dave, “and what happened in the (museum) display can be heard that night.”

Other characters include fur trappers Joel Sapp and Cliff Hander, who spin stories from their encampment near the Pioneer Women’s statue just outside the north door of the museum.

Then there is Keturah Belknap, played by Sara Poff, who went West with her son, played by Matthew Trout, and left a diary account of her trip. Her husband, who also went with her, is not being portrayed.

“In Keturah’s account, she talks about her son and what they were doing while they loaded up the wagons for the overland trip,” David recalls.

Adding to the enjoyment of the event are Ann Mallinson and Roy McClure. These accomplished musicians will provide folk music throughout the event, which also includes hors d’oeuvres and beverages and a silent auction offering vintage collectibles, unusual books, artifact replicas and other curious and unique items. Bidding ends at 8:30 p.m.

The cost is $25 per person. For reservations, call the Museum, 8l6-325-7575.

“Night at the Museum,” Kathy says, “will be a fun event, as well as an opportunity to support the museum and learn more about it and westward expansion in a unique way.

“We just want to have a fun, relaxed evening for people, where they can have good food, good fun and maybe take something from the bidding process.”

Hope to see you there.