Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Travel

July 25, 2012

Independence, Mo. --- Head west or linger longer?

Off they went, going west, and I imagined myself going along, blazing a trail west from Independence, Mo.

For me, this was a 2012 holiday next door to Kansas City.

For 250,000 people, the journey was a new life in 1845. Pioneers and gold seekers. Missionaries and Mormons.

Curious isn’t it since thousands came to Independence to leave and I discovered abundance for staying.

I learned that and more in the National Frontier Trails Museum where curator and administrator David Aamodt bubbles over with facts and admiration for the people equipping wagons and themselves for 900 miles on the Santa Fe Trail, or 2,000 miles on the Oregon Trail. Detours too for gold seekers forging the California Trail.

“Maybe 400,000 people headed west from Independence,” Aamodt suggests. “A numbered list? Hardly. They just went — didn’t have to declare anything to anyone.”

Bustling 1840s frontier city, devoted to departures. Middle of America destination now, offering context to history, enthusiasm for historic preservation and plenty of culinary pleasures.

Stay in a stylish inn named Ophelia’s on the downtown square and in the morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, hop on a covered wagon drawn by mules.

Start that narrated ride in front of the 1859 Jail where legendary bank robber Frank James stayed in 1882, around the corner from Clinton’s Drug Store where Harry S. Truman earned $3.00 a week sweeping the floor. Age 13 and his first job.

That’s how I found Independence non-stop for two days: familiar history enriched by enthusiastic historians—scholars and hobbyists, passionate advocates and delighted local residents.

Truman weaves in and out because he was a walker, and Independence is his hometown. You could start with a visit to the home he and Bess loved, or to the Presidential Library and Museum, but I’d recommend the Frontier Trails Museum first.

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