Ready for the trail, Fort Seward Wagon Train heads out Monday
The annual wagon train gives people experiences on what life was like for settlers.
JAMESTOWN – Camilla Golden and Michala Marstrand took a break from the wind and the heat Sunday to visit in the air-conditioned Fort Seward Interpretive Center. The sisters from Denmark are among the 82 people embarking on the Fort Seward Wagon Train that is leaving from Fort Seward on Monday, June 20, along with 25 staff.
Golden came to the United States in 1992 and lives in New York City. She said she became a U.S. citizen several years ago. Marstrand lives in Jutland, Denmark.
For the two women, the 75-mile wagon train trip is a chance to spend time together and learn about the prairie.
“When we were kids our dad read ‘Little House on the Prairie’ for us, one chapter a night,” Golden said. “We were always clamoring for more. And so they were very alive in our recollection and our imagination in this part of the country that we don't know.”
Golden said she was clearing out some old boxes in February and found a flyer on the wagon train from 20 years ago. She wondered if it still existed.
“And a week later I signed up,” she said.
She told her sisters in Denmark about her plans.
“And then Micala said ‘Oh, that sounds amazing. I think I should come,’” Golden said.
Marstrand said she wanted to see and experience the prairie.
“And so I thought it would be a good thing for us to do that together,” she said.
The 53rd annual Fort Seward Wagon Train will travel the South Creek Trail, which goes south of Jamestown to around Montpelier before returning to Jamestown on Saturday, June 25.
During that week, the participants may walk, ride in a covered wagon, or on horses to experience life as it was for settlers years ago.
Lacey Kaiser, president of the nonprofit Fort Seward Inc. (the wagon train), said this year only one couple is returning for a second experience. The rest are newcomers, other than staff. Participants are from 21 states and Denmark.
Mike and Marge Detmer, of St. Rose, Illinois, returned this year after participating last year for the first time, saying they made many friends on the trip.
“It was very enjoyable, the families and the people who were on the wagon train, I was so impressed,” Marge said. “It was so much fun to be with them.”
For those taking part, the experience is much more than walking and riding on the trail.
“We consider ourself a working wagon train, therefore everybody has KP duties throughout each day to keep everything running smoothly, whether that’s noon cook, evening fire builders, biffy diggers …” Kaiser said, along with other jobs.
During the night camps, there are campfires, demonstrations, history talks, skits and singing, she said. Participants must dress in authentic clothing for night camps, Kaiser said. For ladies, that’s skirts, dresses, bonnets and aprons. Men can wear suspenders, jeans and button-up shirts.
For Janet McMaster of Missoula, Montana, that type of authentic experience had great appeal when she signed up.
“I’m adventuresome,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go on a wagon train, I watched ‘Wagon Train’ on TV, ‘Gunsmoke’, all the old-type Westerns.”
McMaster said she had relatives in Jamestown at one time and her parents lived in Beulah, North Dakota.
Kaiser said the wagon train is all about giving participants an idea of what life was like long ago.
“So they get a look into what it took for settlers to move across the country and put up stakes where they wanted to be and what they had to go through every day,” she said. “And we try to keep it as authentic as possible. Which means we try to limit phones, we understand that there’s cameras,” but there’s no standing around with everyone making calls and no Facebook, she said.
The Fort Seward Wagon Train travels a certain distance each day, with stops for breaks and lunch.
“Usually we try to stay off gravel roads as much as we can and go into like the pastures and section lines and we do have permissions from all the landowners that we do go across,” she said.
A convoy of vehicles accompanies the group with supplies, participants’ baggage and two ambulances with certified medical personnel in the event of an emergency, Kaiser said.
Mary Ann Kaiser, Lacey Kaiser’s mother, is the treasurer and trail tracker for the wagon train. She said this is her 20th year registering people. She noted that the regular staff who help with the wagon train are volunteers and said some have been doing it for 30 years or more, coming from out of state to do it.
She said she has helped for so many years for a few reasons.
“I want to see our heritage stay alive of how our families settled into this state,” she said. “My grandpa actually walked all the way from Indiana and then he sent back for his wife and then she came in by wagon train. I just know from the area I’m in, there’s a lot of history. And I like horses. I grew up working with teams and it’s something that I’d hate to see get lost in the hustle bustle of everyday life.”
Lacey Kaiser said working with the wagon train started as a kid for her “and it just kind of was something that got into my blood and it helps give people a different look at life.” For her, it’s a way to step away from her work, phone and the internet.
“And then, the enjoyment of the people that come,’ she said. “People usually don’t know what to expect when they come here and then the joy that it brings them throughout the week to learn new things and meet these people. It’s just something that’s nice to see that people can connect that way without knowing each other. And then it just helps protect and promote still the history of the settlers and what it was like for them and where we came from.”
Fort Seward Inc. has nine board members who do a lot of work, Lacey Kaiser said.
“It’s really appreciated,” she said.
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