November 21, 2018

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The original American roadtrippers, the Frinks in 1851


About a days drive west of Mammoth Springs is the interpretive center at Fort Kearney, Nebraska. This is the first real sign a follower gets of what the Oregon trail was. There is a copy of a journal entry by Margaret Frink dated May 1850 and the words speak for themselves.

In the afternoon we came to the injunction of the emigrant road from St. Joseph with our road. Both roads were thickly crowded with emigrants. It was a grand spectacle where we came., for the first time, in view of the westward over the broad plain. The country was so level we could see the long trains of white-topped wagons for many miles. It appeared to me that none of the population had been left behind. It seemed to me that I had never seen so many human beings in all my life.

People in the west are known to be self-reliant but I have a different theory of what makes this community unique- they #are# reliant. Think about it from this perspective, the communities are built on a history of reliance upon each other. Dating back to the Indian wars, droughts, near starvation, pioneers had to learn to be reliant on each other for skills and resources and only in this way could they have survived. People stubbornly self-reliant were scalped, starved or swallowed up whole by the vast landscape. In part, this might explain the culture of place today where politics are less divisive and communities much stronger. Just a theory I’m thinking of…. but compare that to parts of the country where there is an alternative cultural history. One where groups had to exert control over others to sustain the financial order and you have a entirely dfifferent form of landscape and a sense of community.

The Frink family’s experiences reinforces this line of thinking about relieance and are worth reading. You can read Mrs. Frink’s journal online here courtesy of Princeton’s digital library. Image title