By Judy Rickard, author, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011
Our next stop on the journey was reached by modern highway after leaving the dusty dirt road we had ridden for miles. What a difference in time it made! We moved further along west, still in forest land, and came to a place where we saw the marker and could pull off the highway to park. Then it was up the hill on foot to follow a marked trail to reach an abandoned highway, crumbling asphalt, faded paint lines and broken edges. From there, we could see the more-than-discouraging slope the wagons and people and livestock had to go down to continue their journey. There was no way the wagons could go down without being taken apart. Wheels and oxen had to be removed. Then the wagon bodies were held by ropes, which were wrapped around trees, and the wagon bodies were slowly let down the slope. Logs were lashed behind the wagons to slow their descent. Wow!
People and animals walked down, on the path where we walked up. Our path was pretty steep, but we managed it. We had the benefit of walking under trees and on needle-carpeted ground. The chute, the path down for wagon bodies, was a steep channel of rocks. It was imposing from above and below. Imagine thousands of feet and hooves working down that slope – what a dusty, noisy event that would have been. I have not seen anyone write how many days it took to get the group down the chute. That’s another sad reminder that my Everest ancestors did not keep an Oregon Trail journal or diary. What a record that would have been!
For us, the walk was slow and we enjoyed the ferns, evergreens and rhododendrons we found. Turns out that the pioneers mistook the rhododenrons, not in flower when they were there, as laurel – hence the name Laurel Hill. We met a young couple at the site and they were astonished that we were nearing the end of our long journey. They were in Oregon on a trip and thought it would be fun to see a few stops on the Oregon Trail. They were shocked that we had been on the trail for many weeks, across several states and were near the end, Oregon City. Guess that gave us bragging rights big time!
A sign at the site quotes pioneer James J. Bailey as saying, “It’s the longest hill on the whole journey from the States (Missouri) to Oregon.” Considering that he had taken the whole journey, I guess he should know. I believe him. If you look carefully, without falling down the chute, you can see rope burns on tree trunks and wagon wheel ruts in the area.
To find out more about Laurel Hill Chute, go to:
To find out about your ancestors on the Oregon Trail, check out the
names database site at:
For an interactive map of the Oregon Trail route, go to:
For information on The Oregon National Historic Trail, go to:
For information on finding people or documents related to The Oregon
Trail, try the new Emigrant Name Search site at:
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