Sunday, November 28, 2010

Westward Thinking at St. Joseph, Missouri

Its a bit hard to find. Look for the Lewis and Clark Historical roadside historical signs pointing the way to this spot in St. Joseph, Missouri. As you travel through the hilly downtown, dominated by warehouses and government buildings you will glimpse the elevated I-29 interstate overhead. The downtown sign points you to the Missouri River. Take the brick paved street over the railroad tracks just a few yards from the river and you have arrived. 

Geographically, where you have arrived is a pivotal spot in American Western history. Here at the Missouri River's edge in St. Joseph is a triad of western journey. The first acknowledgement is the encampment sites of the 1803 Lewis and Clark expedition. The upriver and later downriver camp sites in the area are marked on an outdoor display.
The second acknowledgement is the start of the Oregon-California Trails from this spot. A plaque nearby says that each spring in the 1840s to 1850s the hills of St. Joseph were filled with hundreds of wagons waiting for ferries to take them across the river to trails leading west. On the day before Thanksgiving 2010 the only water craft visible from this marker was a tow, barge and dredger keeping the Missouri at nine foot depths for barge navigation (see the sand being piled on the barge between the tow and dredge.)

The last component of this special area is the embarking point for the short lived Pony Express. The St. Joseph to San Francisco mail route demonstrated quick information flow but when the organization did not receive a government contract the express folded as railroad and telegraphs made communication speedier.

These triad of markers at this place show wear, gang symbol spray paint and overgrown grass and bushes. Overhead the interstate traffic speeds along while the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad rolls on. This area of St. Joseph is a conjunction of travel - then and today. Seek it out. Know that.

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