Tales of early travelsWe take travel largely for granted these days, hopping into our autos or pickups and driving hundreds, even thousands of miles, or flying in airplanes from one end of the earth to another. It wasn’t always so, of course, and it interests me how our ancestors endured the difficulties of travel.
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
We take travel largely for granted these days, hopping into our autos or pickups and driving hundreds, even thousands of miles, or flying in airplanes from one end of the earth to another. It wasn’t always so, of course, and it interests me how our ancestors endured the difficulties of travel.
Some years ago a Sun reader sent a copy of a book entitled “Prairie Pioneer — The Travels of T. R. Shimmin.” Born in Illinois in 1861, Shimmin homesteaded just west of Ellendale in 1883. Taking a line from author Clair Jacobson, T. R. gave new meaning to the phrase “summer family vacation.” In 1905 he took his family to Yellowstone National Park. They traveled in a covered wagon, leaving home in May and returning in August — four months and 2,400 miles later! The seven children on the trip range in age from 1 to 13!
In the book is a rough map of Shimmin’s route, which would be daunting even today. After crossing the Missouri River, the party followed the Cannonball River before crossing into South Dakota and into the Black Hills. From there they proceeded into Montana from Ekalaka across what is still some very inhospitable country to Miles City. From there they followed the Yellowstone River all the way to Gardiner and into Yellowstone National Park.
The party followed a different route home, exiting the park near Cody, crossing the Big Horn Basin, and then the Big Horn Mountains where they had plenty of wagon mishaps before continuing on to the Black Hills. They angled northeasterly, following a route north of the Moreau River in South Dakota, finally arriving at their homestead. The entire trip is simply unbelievable!
Early hunters who ventured into the Far North faced even greater logistical problems. One of the most memorable characters was Charles Sheldon, who spent the summers of 1904 and 1905 studying and hunting Dall sheep in the Yukon Territory. It led to his book, “Wilderness of the Upper Yukon.” Sheldon was a Yale graduate, a man of independent means, which what was required in those days to do any hunting in the North. The travel alone was so time-consuming that any hunting trip was likely to be several months in length.
Before the Alaska Highway was completed in the 1940s, hunters had to take steamer ships up the Inside Passage to the mouth of the Stikine River, then upriver into northern British Columbia. After the highway was finished, hunters would hire outfits to pack them from the highway into the enormous country north of the Peace River and south of the Yukon border. Sometimes it took two weeks just to pack into the hunting country!
Hunters also took steamer ships to Skagway, Alaska, then through a series of railroad trips, portages, and more boat travel, eventually made it to the southern Yukon and far northwestern British Columbia. As one who has hunted some of that country in modern times, I stand in awe of the difficulty those early hunters endured.
My fascination with travel into wild country certainly was not inherited. My grandfather, Jacob Kuntz, Sr., came as a boy from Austria through Russia to North Dakota where my great-grandparents homesteaded north of Solen in 1901.
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974