Historic Japanese Musher Becomes Cultural Bridge Between Japan and Alaska

By Carrie Cecil and Kevin Keeler

In its heyday during the Last Great American Gold Rush (1880 – 1920), thousands of people travelled along what is now recognized as the Iditarod National Historic Trail. Among the main users of the winter trail system were mail carriers. Clad in thick parkas and heavy fur mitts, these mail carriers relied on their dogsleds to help them make their deliveries. Mail carriers and their dogs were the heroes of the trail; they were a lifeline between the residents of remote Alaska communities and the “outside” world. Today, the efforts and accomplishments of these mushing mail carriers and the many other individuals that helped to shape the Iditarod trail continue to be celebrated.

Years of advocacy by Iditarod National Trail enthusiast to memorialize the records of historic Japanese musher Jurjiro Wada are resulting in growing bonds between the people of Alaska and Japan. Jujiro Wada was born in 1875 in a small town called Komatsu-cho in western Japan. Seeking new opportunities and adventures, Wada immigrated to California before eventually settling in Alaska where he became a talented dog musher. Wada was one of the early pioneers of the historic Iditarod Trail, helping to scout the route between Seward and the now ghost-town of Iditarod. He is also recognized for his role in the founding of the city of Fairbanks, Alaska.

 Bronze statue of Jujiro Wada, famous musher of the Iditarod historic trail, erected in the town ofSeward, Alaska. (Image provided by the Bureau of Land Management.)

Bronze statue of Jujiro Wada, famous musher of the Iditarod historic trail, erected in the town ofSeward, Alaska. (Image provided by the Bureau of Land Management.)

 In his home town and country, Wada is considered a hero for his exploits. A century later, the citizens and government of Seward, Alaska have become sister cities with Wada’s hometown, and have hosted a number of visiting foreign delegations. In 2016, a bronze statue of Wada, funded and forged from local donations, was dedicated to the town of Seward. The statue was unveiled during a public ceremony with local residents of Seward and Japanese visitors alike taking part in the festivities.

Later in 2016, NHK TV, a Tokyo based news station broadcast a short documentary on Wada and Alaskan efforts to memorialize him.

A New Understanding of History on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail

By McKenna Drew

My name is McKenna Drew and I was raised in the beautiful and diverse landscape of Cedar City, Utah in Iron County. This college town is the largest in Iron County. Although Cedar City is just 180 miles north of Las Vegas it sits at approximately 5,800’ in elevation. The cold desert climate merges parts of the stunning red rock found in St. George, Utah with coniferous forests found in Cedar Mountain. I have always felt fortunate to live in such a beautiful place. Growing up,  the majority of our recreational time was spent exploring this incredible landscape.

Cedar City is home to a rich history. Historically, Native American tribes lived in the area, the most well-known tribe being the Southern Paiute. This tribe is a prominent part of the community today. In 1851, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, also settled the surrounding areas in Iron County.

My understanding of the area’s resources and history shapes my relationship to the where I grew up place and the people that once lived there. However, it was not until my present internship with the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, that I learned another important part of the area’s history.

Congress designated the Old Spanish Trail as a National Historic Trail in 2002. From 1829 to 1848, this trail was known by Spanish traders as the most feasible path between Los Angeles, California and Santa Fe, New Mexico for a pack mule trading route. The OSNHT runs through Iron County, Utah.

I graduated from Utah State University with a degree in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. Following graduation, I began internship work at the BLM Utah State office as a Recreational Site Design Intern. I work directly with Rob Sweeten, a Co-Administrator over the Old Spanish Trail. One of the projects I work on is developing recreation and development plans for the counties that the Old Spanish Trail runs through. These plans identify the best place for the recreating public to access the Old Spanish Trail.

This fall, I lead my family out on the Old Spanish Trail to visit the recreation sites near their home in Cedar City. The trip turned into a multi-generational event. Family members included grandparents, an aunt, my parents, two of my sisters, my brother-in-law, and my two year old nephew.


 Left to right: Me, my nephew and sister, Hailey Lawrence, Taylor Drew, and Grandma, Sandra Drew.  Looking at Old Spanish Trail Inscriptions

Left to right: Me, my nephew and sister, Hailey Lawrence, Taylor Drew, and Grandma, Sandra Drew.  Looking at Old Spanish Trail Inscriptions

Together we read incredible inscriptions from the Old Spanish Trail travelers and events at the exact site where they happened. As a family, we were able to understand the history of where we grew up and gain an appreciation for those that passed before us, all while enjoying the fresh air.

Although, we ranged in levels of physical activity and knowledge concerning the Old Spanish Trail we all gained a mutual appreciation and love for the history within our area. I later asked my family members what they gained from our experience along the Old Spanish Trail I could better understand the importance of National Historic Trails.

 Hiking with Dad

Hiking with Dad

My youngest sister, who is 18, said that what she gained most from this experience was historical information that she did not know before. It made her want to further explore historic trails and public lands. She also valued spending time with her family outside and felt it brought her closer to them.

My oldest sister brought her husband and her two year old son out to explore the Old Spanish Trail. When I asked her what she gained most from the experience she said,

“Exploring the trail gave me a deeper appreciation for the incredible landscape that surrounds me on a daily basis. I’ve always loved history and it was fascinating to watch it come alive right in front of me. I was able to bring my son with me to see the beautiful sites. I want to teach him and have him experience these bits of history, so that he can gain greater appreciation for places, life, and others.”                                                                                  

I asked my grandparents what their favorite part was in exploring the Old Spanish Trail. My grandparents were thrilled that there were finally efforts happening to help remember and celebrate the trail. My Grandma said, “It’s wonderful to have something that highlights a history and knowledge that has been forgotten in this area.”

Out of all the family members who came with us, the most enthusiastic participant was my Dad. My Dad is a history buff who loves studying and exploring historical inscriptions and rock art. The Old Spanish Trail was familiar to him, but as we explored these historical sites, it reignited an excitement and need to explore more history. He said,

"Understanding the history around us is very important. There are so many stories and information that is being lost. As a family, we love to experience our history and we understand that our history is part of us."

 Silhouettes in Cedar City

Silhouettes in Cedar City

After this experience, I am inspired and excited to celebrate the 50th Anniversary for the National Trails System Act. After interviewing my family members about what they gained from the Old Spanish Trail, I reflected on my experience as an intern, and what I have learned while I working on and exploring this amazing historic trail.

The first is, history takes on a new meaning and understanding when one has a vicarious experience traveling along the trail and visiting the sites. Second, spending time out on historic trails with others is a great bonding activity that can bring diverse groups together. Last, historic trails are multi-generational there is something that everyone can enjoy and learn from.

McKenna Drew is a Recreation Site Design Intern at the Bureau of Land Management Utah State Office


Driving a Wagon Train on the Oregon and California National Historic Trails

By Lee Kreutzer

When I was invited to help drive a light wagon as part of a wagon train on the Oregon and California National Historic Trails through northeastern Kansas in 2007, I felt like one of the luckiest history nerds alive!

My benefactors were Ken and Arleta Martin, of Oketo, Kansas, who were long-time members of both the Oregon-California Trails Association and the National Pony Express Association. Through the years they had organized several wagon train reenactments on the trails across Kansas, and this time they offered my National Park Service trails office colleague, Kay, and me the use of their horse and wagon. Kay, being a highly experienced NPS interpreter, was an old hand at this kind of thing, but it would be my first wagon trek and my first time driving a horse, so I was ecstatic. Another friend from the office sewed me a prairie dress and Kay loaned me one of her poke bonnets, and I was all set to roll out onto the trail.

We gathered with the other participants, a group of 73 “rut nuts” with various types of conveyances and quadrupeds –full-sized covered wagons, farm wagons, buggies, draft horses, saddle horses, mules, and dogs, at the Scott Spring Oregon Trail Park near Westmoreland on a mellow September evening. The next morning we shook the dew off our tents, got costumed and hitched up, and rolled out down a Kansas country road edged with beaming sunflowers.

If you’re thinking, meh, Kansas, brown and flat, you couldn’t be more mistaken. Northeastern Kansas is beautiful rolling prairie, sprinkled with wildflowers and tickled by streams. That autumn the farm fields were golden, the pastures green from a wet summer and full of fat, curious cows that lined up along the fences to moo at the passing procession. We soon left the roads and followed original swales, cut by 19th century wagon wheels, across private lands whose owners graciously welcomed the Martin wagon train.

 Photo credit NPS

Photo credit NPS

Our horse, Lady Bay, was a dreamboat: a beautiful, long-legged bay mare (as her name rather hints), broke to harness by an Amish trainer, with a peach of a personality. (I kissed her on the nose one morning while preparing to hitch up, and she reached back and nuzzled me on the cheek! There were witnesses!) Our little wagon creaked and chirped cheerfully up and down the backroads and swales, and Lady Bay took it over the stream crossings like a boss. One such crossing, I recall, was a bit sketchy: a short, abrupt drop down to the water with a steep, long pull back up the other side. Kay handled the reins, urging Lady Bay into a mighty lunge to carry the wagon up the opposing bank. I was too chicken even to ride in the wagon for that one. I got out and watched from the safety of the streambank, instead. Bravo, Kay!

As the miles passed, some horses grew stiff and lame from the unaccustomed strenuous work and had to be trailered home or switched out. Who knew that horses are so delicate? I sure didn’t. No wonder nineteenth century cross-country travelers preferred oxen and mules.

 Photo Credit NPS

Photo Credit NPS

In the evenings we moved our motor vehicles to the next overnight spot and pitched camp. I slept in the back of the trails office SUV, but others brought campers or slept in their wagons or tents. Meals were Dutch oven country comfort food prepared and served up by caterers. One evening we had musical entertainment by a local bluegrass/country-western group that boasted one of the best female yodelers I’ve ever heard – and that includes the Dixie Chicks, the Wailin’ Jennys and the rest of the pros. Such fine, athletic vocals! It was a real treat to hear them perform.

But my favorite memory of this incredible trip is that of driving our wagon along swales through rare, native tallgrass prairie. Most Kansas tallgrass has been plowed under over the past century and a half to make room for profitable fields of wheat, soybeans, corn, milo, and hay. Hey, farmers have to make a living, too. But some have saved acres of tallgrass because they are paid by the federal government not to plow, or simply because they treasure the prairie. I never thought I’d be lucky enough see any of it. Driving a horse and wagon in the authentic track of the Oregon Trail while passing my hand over the heads of big bluestem higher than Lady Bay’s back…well, it was as close as I ever expect to get to time travel.

Ken, Arleta, and Kay—and Lady Bay, too—gave me an unforgettable trail experience. Sadly, this was Ken’s last wagon train. Shortly after the trip he was diagnosed with cancer, which caused his death in 2012. Historic trails were an important part of Ken’s life, and he made them an important part of others’ lives, as well. Thanks so much for the memories!

Lee Kreutzer is a Cultural Resource Specialist for the National Park Service National Trails Intermountain Region.

Discovering History on the Pony Express National Historic Trail

By Frank Norris, NPS

More than 150 years ago, teams of Pony Express riders galloped between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California and made history in the process. Before Pony Express service began, the fastest mail service took more than three weeks to go between the Missouri River valley and California. But beginning in April 1860, Pony Express riders cut that time down to ten days or less.

What was it like to be a Pony Express rider, and what was the route like? For many years, many basic facts about Pony Express service were shrouded in mystery. Recently, however, an assemblage of journalists and historians, occasionally assisted by the NPS, have provided long-elusive answers to these questions.

Today, historians recognize that Pony Express riders in Nebraska followed much the same route as Oregon and California Trail emigrants. But much of that route - and the sites of many Pony Express stations as well - now lie under fields of corn, soybeans, and milo. Farther west, however, many stretches of the old trail still remain as county roads, and travelers heading through portions of Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada can drive over the same route as the iconic Pony Express riders.

To really get a feel for the isolation and difficulties that the Pony Express riders contended with as part of their everyday jobs, a drive west from Salt Lake City across Utah's West Desert is highly recommended. Today, the Bureau of Land Management maintains the Pony Express  route as a scenic byway. Featured along the way is a reconstructed Pony Express station, along with the archaeological remnants from other Pony Express and stage stations. The road is open to two-wheel drive vehicles. Caution is advised, however; sharp rocks in the road can flatten tires, and water along the way is either scarce or nonexistent.

 Image credit: Faith Photography

Image credit: Faith Photography

Heading west into Nevada along the route can bring on even greater challenges. Along the Pony Express corridor, most of eastern and central Nevada brings the traveler into some of the least-populated country in the Lower 48 states; Life Magazine, in 1986, dubbed nearby U.S. 50 as the "loneliest road in America," and some segments of the Pony Express route (all of which is located on a dirt road) are 60 miles north of that two-lane ribbon of pavement.

Traveling that route - mostly recommended for four-wheel-drive vehicles - takes the traveler through basin-and-range country that offers forests of pinyon and juniper alternated by vast, open valleys of Great Basin sage. Ranching is virtually the only livelihood, although the trip along U.S. 50 brings the visitor to Austin, Eureka, and other 19th-century mining towns. Both ranching and mining, however, grew up after the brief heyday of the Pony Express had come and gone; instead, Pony Express riders were a vanguard of white civilization into land that was the traditional homeland of Paiutes and the Western Shoshone. Just a month after the riders began criss-crossing the area, in fact, Paiute bands rose up and destroyed many Pony Express stations, delaying mail service for several weeks.

Today, well-prepared travelers heading out over the Pony Express Trail in western Utah, and in central and eastern Nevada, will immerse themselves in some of the most lonely, isolated country anywhere in the United States. But in its own stark way, visitors will also find some of the prettiest, most pristine scenery to be found anywhere. And if they know where to look, they will find the sites - and occasionally some remaining ruins from - the many Pony Express stations that were once scattered along the trail's right-of-way.

Learn more:
Pony Express National Historic Trail - National Park Service
National Pony Express Association
ony Express National Historic Trail - Bureau of Land Management

Frank Norris is a Historian with the National Park Service National Trails Intermountain Region.

A Sense of Ownership and Accomplishment: A Volunteer's Story on the Florida National Scenic Trail

The Florida Trail would not exist if it weren’t for the many volunteers in the 1960s and 70s who dedicated their free time to the building and development of hiking trails across the state of Florida. Later these trails would be pieced together to create the Florida National Scenic Trail in 1983. For many, their volunteer work on the trail provides a sense of ownership and of accomplishment. For others, volunteering on the Florida Trail can cultivate a passion for the outdoors and provide skills to pursue a career in public lands management. Jeanene Dole, a volunteer in the Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Trail Association (FTA), is a great example a volunteer who learned hard skills that later transferred to future employment. Here is her trail story.

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I was looking to do some trail work to find out more about the area. I also wanted to meet people with similar interests. I found the Central Florida Chapter and joined their Meetup.com group. I soon started attending chapter meetings, participating in the volunteer trail work events. I was impressed with how organized the chapter is and how welcoming they were.

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An important moment for me that was representative of why I was out there doing this type of work happened at the end of a trail maintenance hike. A young couple with a child were hiking out and passed our group of volunteers. They thanked us for our work caring for the trail and they were so enthusiastic about their hike. That inspired my current motivation to create and protect something for other people to enjoy, especially future generations. I want to improve the environment and leave a good mark on the world. In fact, I believe that my experience doing trail maintenance with the FTA was a catalyst for how I ended up in the career I’m in now.

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It felt like a natural transition for me to progress from doing trail work to my current work with prescribed fires. Doing trail maintenance in Florida physically prepared me for the hot and humid conditions of prescribed fire. In my first season of fire work, I felt well-adapted to the physical demands of the job. The social environment in the fire community is also similar to the FTA community. Like my experience volunteering with the FTA, I regularly meet a wide array of people with different backgrounds and important, unique qualities that they bring to the table.

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I administered my first controlled burns in Florida, with the National Park Service in Big Cypress Preserve. Big Cypress burns the most acreage out of any national park system, so that was important exposure for me to this field of work. Since then I have done prescribed fires in South Dakota, Colorado, Nevada and currently, Idaho. I moved to Cascade, Idaho and I plan to return to Florida for a visit at the end of the fire season. I’m looking forward to volunteering again with the chapter in the winter and picking back up where I left off.

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Jeanene is a Forestry Technician with the USDA, and her story is just one of the thousands of engaged citizens working to keep the Florida Trail open to the American public. Learn more about the Florida Trail and the FTA at floridatrail.org.  

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Developing the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

By Coreen Donnelly

This trail development project in Tennessee's David Crockett State Park on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail was truly an amazing experience with unforgettable partners, and it all started with an idea and a little initiative to go after an Active Trails Grant in 2013. Our office had never received funding from this source before, and it seemed like the perfect match for this small trail development project. With the help and support of park manager John Bass, our office received the grant, and partnered with the park to develop a 2.5 mile Trail of Tears NHT retracement trail that weaves in and out of the historic route of the trail.

 Laying out the trail

Laying out the trail

Over the course of a year, I worked with the park and many volunteers to turn this idea into a reality. What once was a forgotten history within the park’s boundaries became a cherished trail where visitors from across the nation could come to walk in the footsteps of the Cherokee and learn about the stories and history of those who walked it before them.


Fast forward to 2017, and this interpretive trail has become one of the most popular trails in the park with an annual estimated 30,000 trail visitors. There is also an annual Trail of Tears commemorative walk held here by partners. The park also received a couple of state awards for this project, including the Historical Commission Certificates of Merit in the Book/Public Programming category for the Trail of Tears Retracement Trail kiosk and wayside exhibits.

 The author, befriending the local wildlife

The author, befriending the local wildlife

As for myself, I will always remember walking and laying out the alignment of the trail before it was built, and later getting my hands dirty with partners actually building it. (I forgot how back breaking trail construction can be!) It was the first section of national historic trail I developed as a team member at NTIR, and it, along with the partners I worked with, will always hold a special place in my heart.


Coreen Donnelly is a Landscape Architect with the National Park Service National Trails Intermountain Region.

The Multitudes in a Mural: Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

By Jenny Gaeng

At the end of the road walk on Highway 90 is the Silver City Visitors’ Center. It’s classic New Mexico adobe. Stunningly intricate murals decorate the outer wall. They are the colors of a desert sunset: yellow, pink, and deep purple. Yucca and agave plants, meticulously crafted from tile and clay, dominate the foreground. Animals in the style of pictographs line the border: pronghorns, coyotes, lizards, and more.


Inside, there is a large wall sign with the blue insignia of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Rebecca behind the desk will show you to the hiker box, a large plastic bin full of clothes, fuel canisters, and dehydrated food. She will give you the CDT log book to sign in.

If I flip back to April 2016, I can read my own name: Jenny, eager and scared. This was before the heat and snow and loose rock, before the sunsets and the endless stars, and before the other hikers assigned me the trail name Cloud.

 Jenny on her 2016 CDT thruhike

Jenny on her 2016 CDT thruhike

Fast forward to December, 2017. I have been living in Silver City for ten months, working for CDTC as Gateway Community Coordinator. Silver City was our first Gateway town, designated in 2014. Once reliant on copper and silver mining, the town is looking to redefine itself – a future based on two sustainable pillars, the wilderness and the arts.

They are going to intersect here, at the Visitors’ Center. Five students from the local charter school are designing a mural for an empty wall. It will be entirely devoted to the CDT.

I ask the girls if they are familiar with the trail. Of course, they say. Aldo Leopold, locally referred to as the “hippie high school,” takes them on backpacking trips every year. They have been to Jordan Hot Springs, and speak enthusiastically of the beauty of the Middle Fork of the Gila River.

“The thing about the CDT,” I tell them, “is that it’s very long.” It will be hard to contain its multitudes in one mural, even one of this size.

That’s okay, they reply. They want to focus on New Mexico.

When people discuss the grandeur of the CDT, New Mexico is often overlooked. Even our official guidebook calls the northern terminus in Montana an “objectively prettier” ending. The stark rocks and muted colors of the desert hold a softer, subtler beauty.

So they decide to focus on one thing that’s scarce, but so crucial, to their ecosystem: water. Diana Ingalls Leyba, who runs the Youth Mural Program, asks me, “What’s one thing that only someone who has hiked the trail would know about?”

I pause. I don’t know what people might not know. “Cow troughs,” I say finally. “In New Mexico, we get a lot of our water from cow troughs.” I show them a picture of a giant tire, its liquid surface coated with a sheen of green algae.

The girls love this. They point excitedly to where a cow trough could go in the mural, between the Gila and the Rio Chama. They want to include a cow.

But cows aren’t the only ones looking for water in the desert. They want to include the other animals too: deer, elk, roadrunners, and the elusive Mexican Grey Wolf. They pepper me with eager questions about hiking the CDT, and I am surprised by the depth of their interest. They ask about gear, about making camp, about the different things you see and do in a day. This mural will not be just a map, but a window into life on the trail. They are determined to get it right.

I don’t know if cows will make it into the mural. I don’t know if any of my stories will become clay on a wall for all to see. After all, I am a traveler, and in two months I will be gone from this town. But these girls will stay, and the steadfast beauty of the CDT will take shape between their fingers. I think how remarkable it is, for a trail that traverses 3,100 miles and five states, to live in the hearts and minds of a tiny town in New Mexico. These girls may never see Montana. They may never hike beyond the Gila. But they are inspired to create something that will last just as long, hopefully, as the trail itself.

 Rio Chama

Rio Chama

Jenny “Cloud” Gaeng is the former Gateway Community Coordinator for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. She hails from Baltimore, Maryland, and has no intention of returning. She fell head over heels for the Rocky Mountains and decided to hike the Continental Divide Trail in 2016. That journey first led her from Mexico to Canada and then to the position of Gateway Community Coordinator. Jenny loves writing, her dog, and the feeling of weightlessness at the top of a mountain.

Volunteers are VIPs: A Story from the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

Whenever I tell others here in Iowa that I volunteer for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, they almost always ask, “Oh, did you go work on parts of the trail or build something?” So when I explain I primarily write Facebook posts from my small home office, their faces wrinkle in confusion. “Really…?”

Lacing up my hiking boots, tossing a backpack in the car and heading West for a few weeks is something I would love to do several times a year. But, even though I’m 90% retired, it would be a challenge for me to find the time for on-site volunteer work. Instead, I was blessed to discover about a year ago that the trail staff in Omaha needed someone to help develop content for their daily social media posts – a perfect match, it seemed, with my career in advertising and my love of 19th century American history and our country’s National Parks.

I’ll be the first to admit I do this partially for myself. I enjoy the research, the increased knowledge and the time spent writing. But I also do it because I hope our 16,000 Facebook followers enjoy reading and learning more about the many facets of the incredible Lewis and Clark story. For sure, this task is small, dwarfed in comparison with the work of thousands of other volunteers along the Trail’s 3,700 miles – from trail restoration to research, interpretation to internal operations. The point being – every role is important and contributes to the overall mission of the Trail.

Being a National Park VIP (Volunteers-in-Parks) is a hugely rewarding experience. There’s a place for you to help, a way for you to share your skills and talents, and an opportunity for you to make a positive impact. Contact Trail headquarters to find out how you can connect -- it’ll be a Win-Win-Win experience for you, for the staff and for everyone who enjoys and appreciates the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.


Kent Schlawin, Volunteer
Johnston, Iowa
Each year, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail benefits from the dedication of thousands of volunteers.

Chief Joseph and the 1877 War and Flight of the Nez Perce

By Roger M. Peterson

A Pacific Northwest historic event provided the topic for a recent meeting of the Kittitas County Genealogical Society in Ellensburg, WA. Society member David Storla gave a presentation about the 1877 War and Flight and the famous Nez Perce Chief Joseph who is closely associated with this historic event which occurred 140 years ago.

In his presentation, Mr. Storla told his audience the tragic tale of how the ever increasing encroachment of settlers onto Nez Perce homelands resulted in a series of treaties which substantially reduced the size of land recognized as traditional Nez Perce homeland. The Treaty of 1863 caused the Nez Perce tribe to be divided into “Treaty” and Non-Treaty” groups and eventually the U. S. Army to ordered the “Non-Treaty” group to voluntarily move onto the reservation within 30 days or the Army would move them by force. This led to bloodshed and a journey of 1170 miles by the “Non-Treaty” Nez Perce group closely pursued by the U. S. Army.

 Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, at the Big Hole National Battlefield near Wisdom, MT. Battle commemoration August 2010. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson

Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, at the Big Hole National Battlefield near Wisdom, MT. Battle commemoration August 2010. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson

The flight finally ended 40 miles short of Canada in Northern Montana on October 5, 1877. Mr. Storla pointed out to his audience the various events leading up to the war as well as events during and after the war that affected the Nez Perce. He also displayed around the room, several “Show and Tell” items about the conflict further explaining aspects of the war. He told of how he had received many of the materials used in his presentation through the generous help of Sandra Broncheau-McFarland, Administrator of the Nez Perce (Nee-Me- Poo) National Historic Trail (NPNHT) office in Idaho.

Of particular interest to the attendees was information about the NPNHT and the ability to travel a “part of history” and visit sites along the Trail, using information contained in the Auto Tour brochures produced by the NPNHT staff.

 Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail in SW Montana. Big Hole National Battlefield. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson

Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail in SW Montana. Big Hole National Battlefield. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson

Near the end of Mr. Storla’s presentation he presented a handout list of resources regarding the war and Chief Joseph for further research by his audience. He also showed a slide of a 6 foot tall bust of Chief Joseph that is displayed at the west edge of Ellensburg, right next to the main road into/out of Ellensburg from Exit 106 on Interstate 90.

As he concluded his presentation Mr. Storla shared a special connection he has with Chief Joseph as he showed the attendees a Chief Joseph handmade doll that his mother made for him several years ago. In addition to the doll, he showed a miniature rifle his dad had made to go along with the doll. These items hold a special place in David’s memory of his parents. Mr. Storla also mentioned that Sandra Broncheau-McFarland told him she was a direct descendant of Chief Joseph so Mr. Storla is especially thankful for all the help she provided him in the preparation of his talk to the genealogical society.

Those who would like to know more about the NPNHT and receive information to plan any upcoming travel can visit the NPNHT website or contact NPNHT staff by e-mail at: npnht@fs.fed.us

Roger M. Peterson is a Public Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service at Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail

A Thru-Hike of America's Oldest Trail

By Bill (Samson) Wasser

On January 2, 2017, after spending a wonderful weekend exploring Natchez, Mississippi with my wife Teresa, I arrived at the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway. My goal: “thru-hike” the 444-mile Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. The Parkway was established to commemorate the “Old Natchez Trace.” Subsequently the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail was established, running parallel to the Parkway with several designated trail sections.

 Bill Wasser at the Southern Terminus of Natchez Trace Parkway

Bill Wasser at the Southern Terminus of Natchez Trace Parkway

A “thru-hike” is defined as “a completed long-distance trail end-to-end within one hiking season.” For instance, in 2013 I “thru-hiked” the 2189-mile Appalachian Trail and in 2015 the 2650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. In 2016 I attempted to thru-hike the 3100-mile Continental Divide Trail. Unfortunately, upon entering the snow-covered San Juan Mountain Range of Colorado, I slipped and broke my ankle 880 miles north of the Southern Terminus of the CDT.

It’s not exactly like I would be the first to traverse this 10,000 year old route. Centuries ago Native Americans improved the trail originally forged by migratory bison seeking salt licks. In 1810, thousands of Kaintucks made the 500-mile-long journey north, after floating down the Mississippi and hopefully departing Natchez with all their financial gains. These hardy men walked the length of the Trace to Nashville, Tennessee before dispersing towards home. Some navigated on horseback, but most were barefoot with muskets hoisted over shoulders for hunting as well as protection from highwaymen. Luckily, I didn’t have to concern myself with these Kaintuck worries!

 Old Natchez Trace. The "sunken road" was created by bison millenniums ago

Old Natchez Trace. The "sunken road" was created by bison millenniums ago

My plan was to travel designated trails where possible. However, at times I was forced to walk roadside. Despite starting in the dead of winter I raced against unseasonably warm weather resulting in severe weather for much of the trip. I hiked wet, a lot. One kindhearted park ranger stopped to make sure I was ok and to warn of an approaching storm. This gave me a chance to hop under a dilapidated cabin stuck back in the woods, where I was awarded with several adolescence gobbler turkeys strutting by, while at the same time the boss gobbler sounding off in the woods with each lightning strike.

The journey started surreal amid foggy surroundings which seemed to have the wildlife teaming. I possibly saw more whitetail deer everyday than my entire time on the Appalachian Trail. I also saw one very large alligator, revealing itself as Godzilla before violently exiting the bank and disappearing into the muddy waters below the Trace, unbeknownst to those traveling above.

I would hike daylight to dawn, with intermittent breaks, setting up camp before sundown, at the most interesting and secluded spot possible. I enjoyed listening to coyotes howling, often accompanied with serenades from Barred Owls performing duets of hoots, cackles and caws. Additionally I heard and witnessed other critters rummaging around outside the safety of my ultra-lightweight one-man tent including deer and wild hogs. There would be the occasional sound of an automobile traveling the Trace, totally unaware of my dozing off to sleep in my humble abode perched on some rise. Thursday afternoon I completed the first 100 miles where I merely exited the Trace, walked a few extra miles in the pouring rain, arriving at the comfort and warmth of my Madison, Mississippi home.

 Caption: Natchez Trace Parkway Motor-road

Caption: Natchez Trace Parkway Motor-road

My earliest memories of the Trace are from my early childhood years when my father would drive us from my hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi out Fisher Ferry Road. Upon arriving my older brother and I would explore and wade through the crystal-clear springs. I’ve driven a Harley the entire length of the Trace and traveled by car countless times. However, there is something a bit more magical about walking, listening, and taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells by foot. I spent a great deal of time reminiscing over a lifetime of fond memories collected along the Trace.

The following Monday I walked a few miles from my home to reconnect with the Trace then continued north past Reservoir Overlook. Three days later, at roughly mile 160, I arrived at the Kosciusko Information Center where I was awarded some good advice on where to grab a good hot meal. The following evening, I would arrive at historic French Camp and enjoy perhaps the best bread pudding known to man at the Council House Cafe before my support team (my amazing wife) arrived to temporarily escort me back to Madison.

 Council House at French Camp, Mississippi

Council House at French Camp, Mississippi

Days later we traveled the Trace up to Nashville and spent two fun days enjoying music and sightseeing. Sunday morning we shared an incredible breakfast at the “World Famous Loveless Café.” Afterwards, I merely had to walk out the restaurant’s back-door, backpack in hand, in order to start walking south towards French camp where I would connect the dots. In the thru-hiking world this is termed a “flip flop.”

I arrived at the Highland Rim trail section later that evening amid bikers, cyclist and convertibles enjoying the sunshiny day. My son Joel joined me a few days later at Meriwether Lewis, the spot where Meriwether Lewis of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition met his untimely death. We made several off-Trace hikes while exploring the area. My lone journey ensued and a few days later I exited the Trace directly behind the friendly Parkway Visitor Center in Tupelo, Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis Presley, to grab a hotel room for the night while enjoying modern comforts and a hot shower.

After twenty-two actual hiking days I once again arrived at French Camp, completing the journey, Teresa arriving on cue to drive me home, but not before another celebratory Council House meal. I would travel to Colorado a few months later to complete the Continental Divide Trail and claim the “Triple Crown of Hiking” joining a few hundred others who have completed the three major trails. Most of whom have more notable hiking resumes conquering trails from around the world. However, having accumulated over 8000 hiking miles, I’m the only “Triple Crowner” who God has blessed with the addition of hiking the oldest, most historic trail in this great country, the Natchez Trace.