May 20, 1997
Location: Sutherland, Nebraska - Location: 41:09:25N 101:07:33W Elevation: 2959 feet
Summary: Hershey to Sutherland.
Journal entry: This was one of those days that won't be soon forgotten. We are traveling along the base of the sandhills of Nebraska. The Platte River is to our left, rolling hills of sand to our right. If we could stand on a high mountain, the sandhills would appear to roll on forever and ever. They are sand. Therefore the road is now sand...thick sand...deep sand....heavy sand. This sand makes walking difficult and even harder to push handcarts. I'm sure the animals are also having a more difficult time today.
At noon we stopped at the base of a large sand hill. It appears to be part of a ridge that at one time stood guard over the Platte River. The shrunken river of today is barely a trickle in places, but in the days of old, it was much greater, flowing past the base of this sandy ridge. In order for travelers of bygone days to traverse this area, it was ford the river or go over the ridge. Most chose to go over the ridge. Thus we have the setting for the drama of today.
Most of the ridge is smooth from one end extending eastward with the exception of one area. In this area it appears eroded and washed away from the top to the bottom. We are told this was the path of the wagons over the ridge and down to the valley below. There are three possible trails the wagons could have taken. They meander and wind down the face of the ridge. Many of us have taken our places at the bottom of the ridge to be able to take pictures or just observe what is about to transpire.
An hour ago 5 wagons and 4 handcarts with several groups of people went to the back of the ridge and are now coming up the other side. It is more gradual on the other side. This side is steep. The first over is a mule rider. It is quite a distance away and it is difficult to tell exactly who it is. A few minutes pass and a rider comes over the top to the left. He and his horse are silhouetted against the clear, blue sky. To the right several walkers emerge over and soon the hills are crawling with life. The tops of the wagons appear and excitement fills the air as they wend their way down the steep slope. It takes all hands to control the horses and pull on the brakes. The horses are not sure which way to go and appear uncertain of the path. More wagons appear and people are all over the hill. Slowly, one by one, the wagons gingerly pick a precarious path. It looks easy, but the first wagon starts tipping and almost goes over. The horses pull out and slip on down the hill, righting their load. The second wagon chooses the same path and reaches the same troublesome area. Their luck is not as fortunate and they tip to the right. It appears that the slant is not too far, but we all gasp as the wagon goes over. The mules pull and tug. All the men on the hill rush to aid the fallen wagon. Twenty strong arms push and right the load. It appears to still roll and the mules finish the task of pulling down the hill. It was really exciting. Cameras from all over are pointed. The third and fourth wagons traverse the same path with no problems and they all make it safely to the bottom with no injuries.
We look again as the handcarts take their turn. Seven to eight persons per cart have to hold to keep the carts from going too fast. The wind is strong this afternoon and the dust is flying. The scene is only a re-en- actment, but you can almost feel the past and the present meshing. Last down the hill is the ox team and wagon. They travel slowly, but they have no problems. This was the real trail the pioneers took. We took the road. But the trial run down the hill was thrilling. As I watched the walkers and riders fill the hillside, I could see the pioneers of old doing the same thing. It was as if we were there, and it felt as if they were here. Sister Janet from North Platte looked at me and said, "They are here." And we both cried.
Spring is becoming more evident. The prickly cactus has new growth and the yucca plants have blossoming shoots that are now about 8 inches tall. The prairie grasses have an orange tint: the tall ones, anyway. And we have a new little yellow flower on the prairie. Since I don't know the name of this flower I will call it Little Yellow Prairie Flower. May be you can find the correct name. I took a picture of it.
They Are Here
I feel their presence.
I hear their laughing voices in the rustling leaves,
as the South breeze swirls the Nebraska sands.
The slow, lazied Platte River drifts by and
Memories of long ago footsteps remind me that
They are here.
The warm afternoon sun filters through the trees, as
Whispers of long ago travelers proclaim,
"We are here."
They are here.
I am not alone in my claim.
Others speak softly to me,
"Can you feel they are here?!"
"They are watching us and walking beside us and
impressing us with their thoughts,"
"Yes, my foot stepped where your foot steps."
"You rest your weary legs near where I stopped
to rest...many years ago."
My friends and I look at each other and we know.
They are here. They are here.
Margaret Clark May 20,1997
We also had a very interesting fellow on the handcarts today. His name is Rhett Wyatt. Lon Pearson brought him out from Kearney to pull a handcart. He says he really enjoyed the day, but he got a couple of blisters on the bottom of one of his heels. Rhett graduated from BYU in Sociology and he is blind. We were glad to have you with us, Rhett. Hope your feet are feeling better.
This morning was the dedication of a grave of an infant whose bones were found many years ago. The owner placed a stone as a marker. It is assumed that this was the infant child of a passing pioneer family: probably sometime in the 1860s. Pres. Brian Hill dedicated the gravesite. It was a touching scene with several of our group dabbing their eyes. How difficult to lose a child, bury it, and just travel on.
We spend the night tonight in a big field. There are lots of big fields out here in Nebraska! HappyNetTrekking! (And we're getting pretty dirty, too)