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As It Was: Wagon Train Reenactors Face Treacherous Trails

Michael Hanley IV led a crew of pioneer reenactors from Winnemucca, Nev., to Central Point, Ore., in 1996, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Applegate Trail.

Although the 1996 wagon train members did not face starvation or attacks, they did confront breakdowns, accidents, and treacherous trails.  On a harrowing trip through Fly Canyon in Nevada, Carney Pope’s wagon slipped and nearly tipped over before hitting a solid rock that kept it upright.

At Jenny Slide in Oregon, the original Applegate Trail immigrants slid wagons down a precipice.  The reenactors faced the same daunting task when they discovered that anticipated logging roads no longer existed.  They tied a rope to the rear axle of each wagon and then wrapped the rope around a tree.  They shoved the wagon over the edge while people held onto the 200-foot rope.  Each wagon had a driver, who controlled the descent by working the brakes.  At the bottom, horse teams were attached to haul the wagons up the other side.  Hanley’s wife, Linda, rode her wagon down the slide.

The full story is told in Michael Hanley’s published journal.

Sources: Sutton, Jack. A Wedding to Remember, unpublished manuscript, Southern Oregon Historical Society, Mezzanine Box 31 A 2;  Hanley, Michael F. IV. Journal of Michael F. Hanley IV, Serving as Wagon Master on the 150th Anniversary of The Applegate Trail, 30 August to 3 October, 1996. Michael F. Hanley IV, 1999.

Pat Harper is the archivist for the Southern Oregon Historical Society, where she digitizes records, manages websites and learns more about regional history from the SOHS volunteers. After receiving her Master’s Degree in library science from the University of Illinois in 1980, Harper worked as a reference librarian, then as a library administrator. From 1994 to 2005, she was the Siskiyou County library director and lived in the country near Hornbrook, California.