Monday, July 18, 2011
Farewell Bend: A Place to Rest
When I read about the grinding hardships the pioneers endured, I marvel that the American West was settled at all. There are still plenty of wild, open spaces in eastern Oregon–it’s not hard to imagine their arduous journey across this arid country.
In 1843, 1,000 people left Missouri to travel to Oregon, to the “Garden of the World.” During the next two decades, 50,000 more would follow the Oregon Trail, 2,000 miles of what in 1848 emigrant Riley Root called “Landscape without soil.” In many places, the land produced barely enough to sustain the teams, and the fragile landscape eroded even more as the numbers of emigrants increased.
The little water they encountered was often tainted and caused sickness among people and animals. The weary travelers often had to make a choice whether to press on and lose oxen teams to fatigue or to give them rest and have them die of thirst.
By the time the travelers reached the Snake River, they found relief in clean water and fish, but also hardships in crossings, where drownings were not uncommon. After following the Snake River for 330 miles, the pioneers rested above a bend in the river, at a place they called “Farewell Bend” where they found respite to fortify them for the travel inland to Oregon City.
Today Farewell Bend State Recreation Area, a state park in Baker County, is still a lovely respite, a place to camp and enjoy the refreshing coolness of the Snake River. An Oregon Trail exhibit commemorates the site where pioneers rested and viewed the river for one last time before continuing westward.
Wagon ruts can still be seen north of the park. A small iron cross, visible from U.S. 30, marks the location where Snake River Shoshone Indians battled with pioneer travelers in 1860. Restored covered wagons rest at the park entrance and next to the Oregon Trail kiosk.
Farewell Bend: A place to remember, a place to reflect, a place to rest.