Sunday, September 24, 2006

Representations of Indians and US Army along the Oregon Trail: Outside of Saint Marys

After leaving the Saint Marys Mission the Oregon Trail began to divert away from the Kansas (Kaw) River and begin the long jot to the Platte River. The land itself was given to tribes like the Osage and Delaware. The path way was traveled not only by Frémont but later was the military road for troops going from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Reilly.

Right outside of Saint Marys is a sign advertising the excellent pay station. The sign has an Indian chief with a fancy headdress on, a prairie-style headdress. It was a disappointment to see that the historical society which made a great and accurate museum put up a horribly off sign.


Near the town of Belvue are several markers which interpret the story of Louis Vieux. A road sign markers says he was a "Potawatomi leader of French and Native American lineage" who operate a toll bridge over the Vermillion River. The sign brief talks about how he ran a successful business offering services and supplies to the emigrants. The sign also mentions a series of cholera graves from the outbreak of 1849, nothing is mentioned concerning Uniontown. On the military side it mentions the military road between forts. The Kansas State Historical Society and the Kansas Department of Transportation were responsible for the sign.


Diverting off Highway 24 will take one to the Vieux family graveyard. Near the cemetery is a sign by the Pottawatomie County Highway Department which gives a slightly different view of Vieux. While mentioning he was of Indian and French ancestry, it is worded very carefully to make him and the tribe operate on different parallels. Going up the hill one gets to his actual grave. Only here does it say he was a chief of the tribe, and only on his grave marker from 1872. However, the iconography of the various graves makes it clear he was Catholic. The synergy is perfectly captured. I theorize that the Potawatomi who said "being Indian was worse than being black" was and still is to a partial extent still correct. The sign made by the local county was most distant to the truth of Vieux's role while only his family and then the state sign could give a more realistic depiction of who exactly he was.

Near the grave of Vieux and his family are the graves of 49ers that died from the cholera outbreak. The stones are worn but still present. A sign gives a quick breakdown of what happened. Only the emigrants are mentioned and nothing concerning Uniontown is present. Indians are mentioned as conducting raids along the trail in general.


Continuing to walk from the 49er graves one crosses the Vermillion River on a bridge built on the exact spot of Vieux's old bridge. On the west side is the ruined Luis Vieux Elm tree, a national champion tree from 1979 which was later directly hit by a tornado. Near the tree are six markers which say "SOLIDER" on them. I presume these are soldiers’ graves, possibly from the cholera outbreak. However, no marker and no book so far have been able to tell me why these signs are there. A sad mystery.

The last thing to see outside of Saints Marys is the Oregon Trail Nature Park constructed by Westar Energy. I have blogged about this before so I will keep this part short. The park is truly a sight to see but it needs work. Its main depiction of Indians is some sort of hybrid between Sioux, proto-Indians with only spears, and political correctness to the extreme (why are they not killing the buffalo in the hunt?). The only mention of the army is a few words of military passing along the trail.

The node of Saint Marys is behind us. The last hour or two of Kansas is ahead of us until we hit Nebraska.

Category: Oregon Trail

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