In 1994, protesters tarred and feathered effigies of two local environmentalists and hanged the figures in downtown Joseph. The anger was born of anxiety. Sawmills were closing, jobs were evaporating, young people were leaving, and many residents blamed changes in federal environmental policy, which now prioritized habitat restoration over Wallowa County’s traditional sources of income—timber harvest and ranching. The Timber Wars were in full swing, forestry jobs were disappearing, and environmentalists were seen as the enemy.
For many, the words “Oregon Trail” conjure happy childhood memories of hopping on old-school computers to transform oneself into a fearless wagon leader. Hours swiftly passed as we guided settlers from Independence, Missouri to Oregon’s Willamette Valley along the 2,170-mile emigrant wagon trail. On a good day in this wildly popular fantasy-land set in the 1850s, you’d hunt enough game for a hearty bison dinner for you and your team; on a really bad day, you’d die of cholera or a pesky snakebite.
In 2018, the Oregon Trail celebrates its 175th anniversary. Traders laid the 2,170-plus-mile wagon route from about 1811 to 1840. Between the boom years of 1840 and 1860, more than 400,000-plus pioneers traveled its path. Connecting the Missouri River to Oregon’s lush valleys, the east-west trail was only passable on foot or by horseback, and those who braved it faced challenges like wagon accidents, disease outbreaks and rushing river crossings.