Episode 79

Visiting the Oregon Trail Ruts 200 years later

🎙

Video: Oregon Trail spots you can see today

You can see the almost 200-year-old wagon ruts in Wyoming right now...and not far away is Register Cliff, where travelers would carve their names into the soft rock to let others know they had made it that far.

Both sites are an incredible timestamp on history that gives you a glimpse into what it took to travel westward in the mid to late 1800s.

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Transcript
Scott:

One day, for those listening, if I include this somewhere maybe this

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will be the cold open, but we had that,

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that kind of podcast

cover art kind of poll

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and we had one and actually was really

proud of the one that I created.

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I love the one that we have on right

now with Rosie the but there was one.

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That I created and I'll have

to, maybe I'll, I'll post for

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those But it was an old British

World War II propaganda poster.

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And it was the it's kind of this

like good looking woman sitting in

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like, in like a tight fitting dress

sitting on this like lounger chair.

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It's like lounging very a naval officer.

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Jenn: Like three officers

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around her.

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Scott: three officers

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Jenn: But why do you see

the naval guy right in

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Scott: But yeah, the one you see,

because you can see the stripes on, on

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his collar.

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And I think it says, like,

above, it says, Keep dumb, she's

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not, or keep mum, she's not so

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dumb.

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Basically saying, like, hey,

don't talk about your military

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actions in front of this person.

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She might actually be a spy.

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Jenn: try to impress her

with all the stuff you know.

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Mm

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Scott: But it's, like,

very seductive looking.

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And I recolored it, and I edited out

the, the one, and I edited out, like,

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the cigarette Drinking glass is it

actually got the most votes out of all

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of them, but I was like I really like it.

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I was really proud of it, but I don't

think it's, I don't think it was

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a good fit.

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Oh, I don't think it was a good

fit for this particular podcast.

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But if we ever did like a

talk with history after dark,

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that would be a fun one.

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It's like something that you would

not listen to with your kid in the

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car topics that are a little bit.

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not safe for, you know, or adult.

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Yeah.

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Yeah.

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Jenn: are a little bit not safe

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Scott: Anyways complete, totally aside.

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So if, if you're listening and

you're interested in talk with

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history after dark, let us know.

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You can find our email in

the podcast show notes.

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Welcome to talk with I'm your host, Scott

here with my wife and historian Jen.

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this podcast, we give you insights to

our history inspired world travels.

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YouTube channel journey and examine

history through deeper conversations

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with the curious, the explorers, and the

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Now, today we embark on a journey to

Wyoming where the Oregon trail pioneers

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of the 1800s left lasting marks on the

we're talking about our exploration of

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the wagon ruts etched into the earth at

the historic site in Guernsey, Wyoming, a

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testament to those travelers resilience.

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And we'll tell you about our visit

to Register Cliff, not too far away,

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where their names are forever carved

in preserving the stories of those who

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ventured So stick around and join us as we

bridge the gap between past and present,

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rediscovering the spirit of these brave

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So Jen, you grew up going to the

places that we're going to talk about

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Jenn: yeah, so I lived in Wyoming

from the time I was in second grade to

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10th grade.

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Cheyenne is very close to this area,

about an hour away from this area, and

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so for field trips, we would go, you

would learn different parts of the Oregon

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Trail, and as you got more, As you, as

you got older, you would learn more.

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And so we would go to

these wagon wheel ruts.

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We'd go to Register Cliff.

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We'd go to Fort Laramie just to

bring the story more to life.

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And I, I just remember being there

with my class and standing in

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between the ruts and taking pictures.

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It just looked almost the same even now,

but it was just a neat part of America

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and a neat part of American history

and to have really grown up with it.

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So we talk about this usually when we

would, when we interview people and

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talk with history, we'll ask them what

local history they know, what local

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history they learned and where you

grow up really impacts how you learn

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Scott: Oh, a hundred percent.

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So, me growing up, my younger years,

in central California near Monterey, I

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grew up going to a world class aquarium.

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Because that's what aquariums do.

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They have kids come and

do their field trips.

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And so, I remember just like you,

as a kid, going to the Monterey Bay

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Aquarium, which is world renowned,

and petting stingrays, and doing

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all the stuff that kids do at these

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Jenn: and I never did that, right?

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And so, and you also knew a lot about the

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missions,

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Scott: missions, and the Native

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Americans, all the

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stuff that kind of Spanish history that

kind of came all throughout California.

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Jenn: Yeah, so you very are influenced

by what is available to you.

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And that's what, you know, walk with

history really emphasizes, like what

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history is in your backyard, what history

is available to you as an easy road trip.

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And so for me growing up, this

was one of those easy road trips.

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This is the history I knew.

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So when it was very important for

me, when we took our kids out on this

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Western trip that we go to these little.

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off road places.

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And so this is very much

a part of the Oregon

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Scott: Right, and our last episode

we talked about Devil's Tower,

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and this isn't too far away.

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Jenn: No, it's on the

same side of Wyoming.

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Scott: the Same side of

Wyoming, so it's, you know,

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Jenn: you know...

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Yeah.

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Scott: Yeah.

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One, will you tell us kind of a, we

didn't really talk about the Oregon

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Jenn: Devil's Tower,

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Scott: for Devil's Tower, so what's

kind of the snapshot, like what prompted

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everybody to kind of start heading

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Jenn: So the Oregon Trail is this

Western route that people would take

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to basically move in America to change

your destiny, to go make your fortune.

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And we, they call it emigrate.

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Instead of immigrate, you're emigrating.

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So you're, you're moving

within your own country.

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And at first, in the early

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were very motivated to do this.

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And when we went to Oregon and visited

your brother, I got a book from the very

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first missionaries that made it across.

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And when they did that successfully

in:

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people to that this could be done.

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And it also coincided with a

pression that was going on in:

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and 1841 in America where farmers

and businessmen weren't making money.

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They were turning out to be

destitute and they weren't

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making a go of their businesses.

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And so they decided to pack up and go

West and try to make their fortunes.

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Scott: And, and there had

been, there had already been a

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little bit of that out there,

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right, with the fur trapping.

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I mean, there had been, even

the French, I mean, they had

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been out

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Jenn: So there had been traders out there.

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And there had, you know, of course,

Lewis and Clark had explored.

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So people knew there was this,

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Scott: kind of, way westward.

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Jenn: yeah, this area that hadn't been

discovered, settled, and it was wild,

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untamed, but it was a possibility.

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It was a dream, right?

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And so politicians really

urged people to go West.

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You see a lot of things.

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land for free.

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You can get out there

and make settlements.

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There was a

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sort

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of incentives to make settlements.

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And there was this growing spirit

of manifest destiny, where God

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intended the United States to trust

to stretch from coast to coast.

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Plus, at the time, the British kind of

had their foot on the Pacific Northwest.

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So if more Americans could move out

there, it could push the British away.

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Scott: So, you know, U.

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S.

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government,

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Jenn: hmm.

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Scott: For them to be like, okay,

how do we keep the British and

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the French and the Spanish, right?

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How do we keep them out of that land?

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We gotta get our people out there.

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And that's what they started

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Jenn: And the American dream.

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People are coming into America and

the cities are already overcrowded.

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So they sell this dream of go West,

get your families, get a cart.

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Get some possessions and go

west and build your life there.

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And people would take like their

whole families with them or villages

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with them or groups of people.

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And basically the start of the Oregon

Trail is Independence, Missouri.

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And it stretches from Missouri, it

touches Kansas, goes into Nebraska.

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Wyoming.

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And then from Wyoming is where

it's going to kind of veer off.

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If you're going to go the Mormon trail

towards Utah, you're going to go the

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California trail towards California,

or you're going to hit Idaho through

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Scott: And now it does all three of

those because really I think one of

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the things we talked about in our Fort

Laramie video Was that Fort Laramie was

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like the last real big stop before you

hit the mountains Like that like that

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was kind of the last stop and then once

you start going west past Fort Laramie

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You had to commit to get past those

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Jenn: Yes, and this is, this is

where all the trails intervene.

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So this is where everyone

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Scott: all converge at

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Jenn: Converge, if you're on that

California trail, if you're on that Mormon

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trail, if you're on the Oregon trail,

you're all going to hit Fort Laramie.

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And what's interesting about the Guernsey

Ruts and Register Cliff is it's the

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first basically camp after Fort Laramie.

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It's the one day travel first camp.

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So most people who leave Fort

Laramie, their first overnight

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stay will be Register Cliff.

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Scott: One of the things that I read

about and I kind of put in like a

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little pop up video type thing on the

video was that the reason that the

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ruts, these Guernsey ruts were so well

defined is the way, one, everybody was

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converging at Fort Laramie and two, after.

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Fort Laramie, the way the

landscape was, is everybody

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passed by this particular spot.

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And so, like, you know, even in

the video we said 300, 000 to 500,

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000 traveled the Oregon Trail.

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So you get that many people over the

years with these heavy, you know,

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wagons, passing over the same exact spot.

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It gets incredibly worn in.

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I mean, we can still see them to this day.

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Jenn: wagons passing

over the that direction.

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It's because of the North Platte River.

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It's right around Laramie and it's

it, it basically has saturated

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the land around that area.

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So if you put your wagon wheels

into the mud, it's gonna get stuck.

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But if you go over this

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sandstone, it keeps your

wagon wheels from going in.

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Scott: That

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makes

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Jenn: that's why everyone is going

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in the

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Scott: literally this exact spot

like they all I mean It's it's really

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interesting to see because it wasn't

something like you said, you know about

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it growing up So you had known about

it most of your most of your life.

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I hadn't known about these right?

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I didn't really know about register cliff.

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I didn't know about the wagon ruts.

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I knew Having grown up in the

West that you could go see

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spots of the Oregon Trail.

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That was about all I knew.

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Jenn: Yeah, and these wagon ruts, they

also call it deep rut hill are they say

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the best example of Oregon Trail wagon

ruts because of erosion through the years

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or there's been people who have built up.

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where the Oregon Trail actually

was, and it has been changed, and,

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but these ones are actually the

best example if you want to see it.

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So it's, it's really neat.

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It's about a half mile south of the

town of Guernsey, but if you, you

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put it in your GPS, it'll show up.

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Scott: it's very easy

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Jenn: What's neat about this area too

is during World War II, way before World

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War II, the Depression time this is a

part of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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where FDR created these jobs for people.

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And so if you visit the Guernsey

Wagon Ruts, this is a great

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examples of architecture building

some of the buildings there.

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And the trail is actually

made by them, so the trail you

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take to walk around the wagon

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Scott: Oh, wow.

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Jenn: and the picnic area there, it's

called the Sitting Bull Picnic Shelter.

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It's all built from that

:

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And it's just really...

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Great architecture.

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It's still there today, and I remember

even as a kid sitting in the picnic

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structure and having lunch, but

You'll notice there's a nice groomed

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trail that takes you all around.

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I will say there is steps So if you are

on a wheelchair or something motorized,

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it might be more difficult, but it's

a very easy groomed trail It doesn't

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take you on to the ruts, which I think

you know trying to protect them But

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you're right beside them and you can

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Scott: Yeah.

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And you'll see in our video again,

I'll link our video in the show

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notes, but you'll see in our video,

if we wanted to like jump down

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inside of the wagon routes, we could

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Jenn: Oh, yeah.

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And I mean, I have pictures as a kid doing

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that.

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Scott: They haven't fenced them

off or anything And I think

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that's because it's in stones.

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That's relatively easy to preserve.

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And it wasn't anything spectacular,

but it was just so neat to see

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like literally, this is where.

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Thousands upon thousands of, of wagons

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pass through this exact

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Jenn: wagons, and draft animals and people

wore down this sandstone and it's to some

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degree where it's five feet and you can

see between the wagon wheel ruts, you

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can see is these the length of a wagon.

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It's really amazing to see.

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25 years of use is what they believe

this area had from:

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in 1869, the railroad is completed.

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And so most people would take the

railroad across the West but this

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was so used during that time.

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They believe that 5, 000 people

came through there and about a 10th

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of them would die from disease.

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So right in that area

is some famous tombs.

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Gravestones from early

settlers and their families.

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And those stories are always

important to tell about the

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Oregon Trail as well, as well.

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But so when people were making this trek,

it would usually take about five months.

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And like you said, you want to

make sure you're hitting Laramie.

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pretty early,

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Scott: So when people would restock

and rest up and then be like,

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Okay

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Jenn: it by May because you

don't want to be crossing the

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mountains anywhere near the winter.

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So that was really neat.

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It was first recorded, someone passing the

ike someone wrote about it in:

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Scott: it in 1812.

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Oh wow.

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Jenn: So that's how long

they've been around.

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And then it became a national , a

historic landmark in, in:

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Scott: now, not too far away from

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there.

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Oh,

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Jenn: I wanna say one more thing.

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Oh,

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Scott: yes.

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Jenn: Brigham Young went through there.

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Really?

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He had to have, because he settled

Salt Lake City in:

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1847.

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So he passed through

there probably July of

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Scott: Wow.

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Yeah.

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That's, that's, that's pretty

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Jenn: historic tidbits.

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Scott: It's, it really is, it's one

of those things that until you get

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there and see it, like kind of hearing

about it and even seeing it in a

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video, you're like, oh that's cool.

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But once you get there, and you've

traveled through that part of Wyoming,

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which is just, huge and just feels

big because there's nothing out there.

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You're just driving through plains

and it's windy and all of a sudden

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then you hit Fort Laramie and

there's this little protection.

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Jenn: Mm hmm.

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Scott: then you get over to these

wagon ruts my gosh, like people were

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traveling across this vast expanse

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of countryside in covered

wagons and all this

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Jenn: And nothing else.

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Scott: and then not too far away

is Register Cliff, which I totally

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understand why everybody's staying

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Jenn: Mm hmm.

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Yeah.

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Mm hmm.

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Scott: probably protection that stuff.

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And so Register Cliff is called that

because everybody carved their name in the

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Jenn: It's probably

protection from the rock.

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So, it's also a historic place.

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It's open daily, sunrise to sunset.

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And it was a one day's

journey from Fort Laramie.

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So to the west.

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So, again, if you're from Fort

Laramie, this is as you're heading.

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out wherever your final destination is.

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And it's a hundred feet above

the North Platte River Valley.

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So you have some, again, you're not

going to, you have rock around you.

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So it's a little bit more, again,

it's a, it's a landmark, which

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would be easy for them to find.

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And you would be able to not

sink into the ground there, which

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Scott: there, which is...

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And, and it sounded like, even

from my research, it was, I think,

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online or the National Park website

says it's one of three kind of.

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similar style cliffs so it makes sense

for people to be going from one to the

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next one to the next one because again

landmark natural protection right and

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they're all and there's the two other ones

is Independence Rock and Names Hill or

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Jenn: And They're all in Wyoming.

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Yeah.

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Which make the same kind of rock.

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Scott: Yeah, yeah, sandstone,

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Jenn: yeah, it's this chalky limestone.

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Scott: Yeah, I think, what was the

kind of earliest name registered on

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Jenn: So they, I, there's conflicting

reports, like I've seen the earliest

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one at 1829, but when you're there,

they have a sign there that says 17,

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Scott: Yeah, it said it right on the

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Jenn: yes, right on the signs.

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Yeah, so I was like, okay.

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Now what is very interesting is What

I really love about this is they've

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been able to trace some of the names

and I wanted to talk about that

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because I think that is super cool when

people do genealogy and they're able

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to look back on some of these names.

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Several signatures have been tracked down.

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By their descendants, including A.

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A.

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Withrow.

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He's thought to have been Able

Anderson Withrow and he was a Sadler

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from Indiana who moved to California.

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And so he came through

there, signed his name.

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And then during the Civil War, he was

part of the fighting Californians.

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So he had come through there

before the Civil War, signed his

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name on the rock, and then joined

the Civil War and fought for the

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Scott: Wow.

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Jenn: And then one of the most

poignant signatures, they say,

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belongs to Alva Hunt Unthink.

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Scott: Yes.

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What was

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that?

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Jenn: So he's a 19 year old Boy, he's

heading for California, again, he's

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part of that gold rush, and he signs his

rd,:

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and a week later, he dies of cholera,

nd,:

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marked grave outside Glenrock, Wyoming.

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So you can track, like I said, the

graves along, you can track from the

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register, if they wrote their names.

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their, their plight right

there, their journey.

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And so he's one of those famous ones.

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So what also happened with him is

his cousin will come and sign the

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rock beneath his name in 1869.

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And then his cousin's son was

signed underneath that name.

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Scott: will come and sign

the rock beneath his name

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Jenn: Yeah, Unthink, Oliver, in 1931.

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So they're all on

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Scott: his cousin's son

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will sign the same name.

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in 1931.

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Like the one that we showed, and I think

you called it out in the video, was like,

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it must have been someone with like postal

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service.

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It said U.

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S.

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Jenn: Mm hmm.

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That's a

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Scott: It's like 1850,

something like that.

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Jenn: famous

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one to take a

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Scott: That's a, that's

a pretty famous one.

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So we showed that one on there

because it's very clear to see, right?

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And it was neat to see it.

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Jenn: It's very neat.

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So what I love about Register Cliff,

again, another place I visited as a kid,

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they try to protect some of the older

names with a fence because what has

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happened is through the years more modern

people want to add their names to the

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cliff.

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Scott: There's a bunch of stuff

from like the 60s, the 70s,

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Jenn: Yes,

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:

and it's been written

over the older names.

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So they're trying to protect

some of those older names.

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And they also think there's

some pictographs inside the

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cave from American Indians.

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And they're trying to also

protect those things as well.

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So, it's, it's one of those things that

you, you know, you You want to make sure

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you're trying to preserve the history,

but it also is a living landmark.

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Right beside Register Cliff

is a little graveyard.

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And there are some

, emmigrant graves there.

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They're not sure whose graves they are.

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But again, one day out of Laramie

Fort Laramie, you know, like I said,

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a tenth of the people are going

to die of disease along the way.

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And then you even get the gentleman

who signs his name who's going

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to die a week later of cholera.

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And cholera is a disease you

get from drinking filthy water.

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So who knows if he did that at

Register Cliff for a week later to die.

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I mean, it takes about a week,

so it's very interesting.

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But Guernsey was the name of the

cattlemen in the area in:

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Scott: Oh, okay.

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Jenn: owned a bunch of that

land, and he donated that land

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to the state, to the federal

government, to make them landmarks.

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And that's why it's named after him.

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So that's where Guernsey comes from.

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Scott: from.

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Yeah, that's that's pretty cool.

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It, it was, the, the Register Cliff

one, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

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It was pretty much kind of what I expected

it to be, but the one thing that I, I, I,

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I didn't know how I'd feel about it

was just seeing the old dates on right?

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And seeing the names and

seeing the old dates on there.

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And again, I think it sounds like the

national park service tried to verify

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some of them because I'm sure there's

some on there that they couldn't verify.

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You know, some from like the early,

early:

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tentatively verified that one from 1797.

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But you never know because someone from.

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1950 could have signed it for

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1820.

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Jenn: so that's why they try to verify

through genealogy, but you do get

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fur traders out there that early.

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So that's why it could, it's

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Scott: Yep.

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So that's I think the 1829 one

was actually like a fur trader.

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He marked it on July 14th,

which is like a significant...

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Jenn: Bastille Day

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Scott: Day.

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It was Bastille

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Jenn: and and he's French it's a French

fur trader and that's kind of how Fort

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:

Laramie starts to if you watch our

video on Fort Laramie it starts as a fur

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trading fort and so it's just neat to

what's what's neat about these two things

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:

is you're seeing the journey that is

building America and you're understanding

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A piece of the story of what these people

endured to to make dreams come true, to

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make a life, to make a change, to, to

see, you know, this American dream and,

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you know, we talk about the American

dream and what it is and what it means,

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but it's so different for each American

and really I think it's just trying

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to make a life for yourself and your

family to be free and to have something

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to, to live off of and to have comfort

and to be, you know, to be stable.

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And so I really love seeing these are

real landmarks you can go to and be in

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the space of which we talk about a lot

of history makers and the bravery it

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took to make that trek as a family as

you lose people along the way and you

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keep going and it's just amazing to be

out there and to be in the presence of

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Scott: keep going, and it's just amazing

to be out there and to in the presence

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So, if you're listening, don't forget that

you too can embark on a journey through

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time to explore the rugged landscapes

of Wyoming, where the echoes of the

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:

1800s pioneers still resonate today.

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Just like we did, you too can retrace

the footsteps of those intrepid

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settlers who embarked on the arduous

trek along the Oregon Trail, leaving

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:

behind a tangible mark of their

passage through the heart of America.

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:

Stand on windswept plains

of Wyoming and you will...

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gaze upon a remarkable testament to the

spirit of these settlers where these

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:

ruts, like scars on the landscape, tell

stories of sacrifice, determination,

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and the pursuit of the American dream.

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Your journey won't stop there, because you

can also see the awe inspiring Register

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Cliff that we just talked about, where

the pioneers in their pursuit of hope

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etch their names into the stone walls.

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These inscriptions serve as a A remarkable

historical of the individuals and families

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who pass through their way to the unknown.

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Each name tells a story and together

they paint a vivid picture of

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the diverse tapestry of those who

dared to traverse this unforgiving

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So thank you for listening to the Talk

With History podcast and please reach out

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:

to us at our website, talkwithhistory.

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:

com.

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More importantly, if you know someone else

that might enjoy this, share it with Shoot

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:

them a text and tell them to look us up.

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Because we rely on you, our community to

grow and we appreciate you all every day.

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We'll talk to you next

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Jenn: We'll talk to you next time.

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Thank you.

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That was beautiful.

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Scott: you.

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Thank you.

About the Podcast

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Talk With History
A Historian and Navy Veteran talk about traveling to historic locations

About your hosts

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Scott B

Host of the Talk With History podcast, Producer over at Walk with History on YouTube, Editor of HistoryNewsletter.com
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Jennifer B

Former Naval Aviator turned Historian and a loyal Penn Stater. (WE ARE!) I earned my Masters in American History and graduate certificate in Museum Studies, from the University of Memphis.

The Talk with History podcast gives Scott and me a chance to go deeper into the details of our Walk with History YouTube videos and gives you a behind-the-scenes look at our history-inspired adventures.

Join us as we talk about these real-world historic locations and learn about the events that continue to impact you today!

Supporters of the show!

Thank you to everyone who supports the show and keeps us up and running. Doing this with your support means that we can continue to share history and historic locations for years to come!
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Jack B $5
Thank you for the great podcasts and for sharing your passion! Love hearing about the locations you visit.