2021: History Boy Summer (Part 26) National Frontier Trails Museum

NOTE: I know it’s no longer Summer (LOL), I have a couple of these I have yet to write up that I am trying to get through followed by a final ending article. I plan to get all of these done ASAP.

Right from the get-go, when I first started this project, I wanted to go to the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, MO with my son because I knew it was largely tailored for younger museum goers. There are many things an adult would enjoy, but the interactive aspects are definitely something for kids. The last time I went was a number of years ago for one of my ex-wife’s family reunions, and I was blown away by the amount of merchandise in their gift shop and the overall quality of the museum. Would that still be true? We almost never found out as the Global Covid-19 Pandemic made sure that this particular museum stayed closed for well over a year and a half, only opening at the beginning of August. With Summer nearing completion, I knew I wanted to make this my final stop, and finally made it happen.

National Frontier Trails Museum; Independence, MO

This is one of those reviews, where I won’t have a whole ton of travel-related stories to tell, as I live pretty close to this museum, but if you are in or around the general Kansas City Metropolitan area, this is easy to find and well-worth a quick drive.

Background:

From their very own website:

“One of the most fascinating epics in American history is the overland migrations across the western United States during the mid-nineteenth century. Thousands of wagon trains slowly snaked their way along rugged trails, crossing wind-swept prairies, barren deserts, and formidable mountain ranges. The pioneer adventurers faced severe weather, accidents, deadly plagues, and many other dangers to seek trade, new homes and opportunities in the West. This extraordinary saga ranks as the largest voluntary, overland mass migration in the history of the world.

Exploration of the West began in the early nineteenth century with the Corp of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The three principle trails which crossed the West were the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California. The Santa Fe Trail, which began in 1821, was a 900-mile foreign trade route unique in American history due to its overland, rather than seafaring, commerce. The 2,000-mile Oregon Trail began to be heavily traveled in 1843 by settlers wanting to establish new homes in the northwest, while others split off on the equally long and grueling California Trail to seek their fortunes in the gold fields. Still others went west to pursue religious freedom, like the Mormons who traveled to Utah beginning in 1846. Together, these rugged pathways and their pioneers changed the face and history of America.

Independence, Missouri, a frontier village of only a few hundred people poised on the edge of American civilization, was the principle “jumping-off” point for three of the western trails. Founded in 1827, the town first became the eastern terminus for the Santa Fe Trail, and later as an outfitting post for emigrants heading to Oregon and California as well. Every spring, the center of present-day Independence was blanketed by thousands of emigrants, complete with wagons, teams, other livestock, tents, cargo, and supplies. Commotion, confusion, and excitement reigned as wagons were purchased, loaded, and organized into trains.” 

Reading:

For this trip, I decided to pick up On the Santa Fe Trail (1986) by Marc Simmons. This book compiles a number of first-hand accounts of life on the Santa Fe Trail from people that made the trip in the late nineteenth century. There are a number of books like this, so I had trouble making the choice, but due to the cost and cool old-school cover art, I went with this. If you ever travel to this museum they have hundreds of different books to choose from, it’s hard to choose!

The Trip:

My recommendation for this trip is to bundle it with two other museums. The National Frontier Trails Museum is situation right next to The Chicago & Alton Depot, a rebuilt train station and museum restoring artifacts of turn of the century rail travel. It is also directly across the street from an old turn of the century mansion called the Bingham Waggoner Estate. All three should take a total of four hours and will be a great idea for kids.

Conclusion:

I was glad to re-visit this wonderful museum with my son, and am glad he had so much fun. There is a part where kids have to load a wagon with supplies to see how much they could take before going over-weight. There is a store-room full of items and a wagon with a weight button. Kids drop items into the wagon until it says it is over-weight. He had a blast, and his smile made the trip well worth it. highly recommended.

This article is part of my summer series History Boy Summer, which you can keep up with by following this LINK.

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