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A week of pioneer life: Wagon train heads out today

Participants register Sunday for the Fort Seward Wagon Train, which will depart Jamestown today and make a loop through part of Stutsman County. before ending in Jamestown on Saturday. Campers will wear clothing typical of the pioneer era and participate in historical activities on the way .Kari Lucin / The Sun1 / 3
People sit in the shade Sunday during the registration period for the Fort Seward Wagon Train, one holding a cellphone, which will not be allowed on the Wagon Train. Kari Lucin / The Sun2 / 3
As seen Sunday before the Fort Seward Wagon Train departed today, the interior of a covered wagon is plain, with few creature comforts and little excess room, and its brightly-painted green exterior and red carpet-covered seats. Kari Lucin The Sun3 / 3

If a wagon train crosses your path this week in Stutsman County, there’s no need to worry about hauntings — it’s simply the 140 intrepid campers of the Fort Seward Wagon Train.

The annual event allows people to experience a taste of pioneer life, by wearing period garb and making a weeklong journey as part of a wagon train.

“My daughter and I have been on it three times before, and two years ago was our last time,” said Elizabeth Charles, of Maine, one of many people returning after enjoying the experience before.

Charles is known as “the walking woman,” having walked the entire trail two years ago, rather than riding in the wagons or on a horse.

It would have been a very long walk. This year’s trail — called the Fort Seward Pioneer Trail —is about 62 miles long, according to the map of the route.

Though the route varies year to year, this year’s trail takes the campers north through Bloom and Fried townships, then west through Ashland, Jim River Valley and Plain View townships, then southeast through Hidden, Buchanan and Midway townships.

Most of the group arrived Sunday afternoon, though a few were expected to arrive early Monday, just before the wagon train departs at about 7:30 a.m.

The group will arrive back in Jamestown Saturday afternoon, eat lunch, and then go home.

“It’s amazing what happens in a week,” Charles said. “… (you) watch people from all walks of life come together and form a family.”

The most challenging part of the trip is typically the weather, whether it’s blistering heat and dust or constant rain, Charles added.

Temperatures are forecast to remain in the 70s for most of the trip, though there is also a 30 percent chance of rain on several days this week, according to the National Weather Service.

The dress code is another potential challenge for trail-goers, and especially the women, who need to wear skirts or dresses and bonnets. If they’re riding horses they can wear jeans, but even then, the women have to change into a skirt for dinner, Charles said.

“It’s actually cooler wearing the skirt than jeans,” she said. “You certainly learn a different way of moving.”

Her daughter, Jessica Charles, 23, said she loves the wagon train. She, too, felt the weather was the biggest challenge, along with “keeping a positive attitude through anything unexpected that’s thrown at you.”

And just in case, Ringdahl Ambulances Inc. provides emergency medical services to the group.

Fort Seward Inc., a nonprofit, has been doing the wagon trains since 1969, according to its webpage, cov

This year, a grant from the Jamestown Community Foundation for $2,400 allowed the group to purchase a video camera and new coolers, and a second grant, for $1,500 from the North Dakota Community Foundation, was used to provide programming for the jaunt.

According to the schedule, that programming will include a performance by Adam Lindquist, a Teddy Roosevelt impersonator, singers Greg and Hanna Hager and Katie Morehouse portraying Dr. Helena Wink, a pioneer doctor in Jamestown.

There will also be presentations and demonstrations by a variety of people on a variety of historical topics, such as Dale Marks on antique firearms, Katie Ledin on ghost towns and the Wooly Women on wool-spinning.

The youngest person on the trip is 10 months old, with an age range going up to the late 70s. They come from 18 states and Canada, and will be traveling with 10 passenger wagons and one chuck wagon, with 18 riding horses and 22 team horses pulling the wagons.

“If you really take the energy and make it real for yourself, this is a magical week,” Elizabeth Charles said.

Micah Toeller, part of a large family group from Wisconsin, said he went because his parents wanted him to. Toeller, a junior in high school, said he was going to miss his cellphone and his computer.

Matthew Toeller, 15, another part of the Wisconsin group, said he wasn’t sure what to expect, but said he was concerned about rain.

The group included four of his cousins, three uncles, two aunts, two grandparents, one brother and one sister.

“Six of us went last year, so last year was our first year,” said Rick Toeller, Matthew’s father.

Rick said the food was awesome, and he felt the hardest part of the trip was actually getting to Jamestown.

“All the packing, the driving. But once you get here, it’s just a lot of fun,” Rick said. “… this has been my most relaxing vacation ever. This has been my favorite.”

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by email at

Kari Lucin

Kari Lucin joined the Grand Forks Herald as a multimedia producer in August 2014. Previously, she worked for a few years at the Jamestown Sun in Jamestown, N.D., as a staff writer, and prior to that, for about six years as staff writer and later online content coordinator, at the Daily Globe in Worthington, Minn. A graduate of Jackson County Central High School and Augsburg College, she has a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English. Find more of her writing at her blog, Oh Look, a Shiny Thing! or on Twitter at @karilucin.

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