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  • Adventure 1-The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
  • Destination 6- The National Frontier Trails Museum

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As we come to the end of our first adventure in our quest to visit all the National Park Service sites in our home state of Missouri, Jim and I find ourselves in Independence, a suburb of Kansas City. We have come to visit the National Frontier Trails Museum. The museum tells the story of the major overland trails that left Independence on long, hard, sometimes tragic, journeys to the West.

As you enter the museum, you will see displays dedicated to the journey west of Lewis and Clark, and how the Corps of Discovery sparked the imagination and industry of a new nation eager to spread its influence across a continent.

Artifacts of the Corps of Discovery displayed at the National Frontier Trails Museum.

Artifacts of the Corps of Discovery displayed at the National Frontier Trails Museum.

During the middle of the nineteenth century, thousands of people left their homes in the eastern half of the United States and, along with many newly arrived immigrants, undertook a long and hard journey to set up new homes and new ventures in the great American West. Never before, and perhaps never since, had so many people traveled such distances to start new lives in new places. And almost all of them went through Independence, Missouri, the “Queen City of the Trails”.

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The city of Independence, founded in 1827, was the farthest point west in the United States along the Missouri River. It was here that steamboats and fur traders could unload their goods in the United States, and pick up supplies for their next trip west. Independence was where fur trappers could unload their valuable beaver pelts, used to create beaver hats, so much in demand in the United States and Europe.

Eventually, Independence became the “jumping off” point, and a supply post for three major trails to the West.

The Santa Fe Trail began operation in 1821. It served as an overland route on which supplies could be transported to business establishments, trappers, and government forts in the West, and products could be shipped back to market in the eastern United States. It also carried migrants out to new homes where they would open businesses to serve the trappers, the soldiers, and other adventurers, and where they would set up their own ranches and farms. The Santa Fe Trail was important to the expansion of the United States until the development of the railroad, which was able to ship goods, and carry people, in far less time and in far more comfort.

The Oregon Trail began carrying large groups of migrants west in 1843. It was the trail that 43,000 Mormons used to migrate to Utah, and at a “fork in the road”, you could transfer to the California Trail that led 2000 miles out to its terminus in Sacramento. You can still stand at the spot where so many people left to start their lives all over again in a new, and they hoped, more prosperous place.

But, as already mentioned, these trips were long and hard. When you tour the National Frontier Trails Museum, you will see exhibits set up to help you see the trails from the point of view of the migrants. All through the displays, you will find quotes from different travelers, some heart-warming, some heart-wrenching. It was from Independence that the Donner Party left on its fateful journey in 1836. It is estimated that one in ten migrants died along the way. But many made it: gold prospectors, trappers, farmers and ranchers, along with their families, who began to fill the wide open spaces of the American West.

You can learn more about the National Frontier Trails Museum, and plan your own trip, by going to its website at http://www.ci.independence.mo.us/nftm.

While in Independence, you can also take a tour in a covered wagon to learn more about the history of Independence and its importance to the western frontier trails.

Combination tickets can be purchased at the museum that allow you to take a covered wagon ride through historic Independence, MO.

Combination tickets can be purchased at the museum that allow you to take a covered wagon ride through historic Independence, MO.

This is a “journey” worth taking, a chance to see and feel some of the spirit that built this country across a very wide continent. I hope you will take the opportunity to experience it with your own family.

Colcannon On the Trail

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Many of the migrants who traveled on the western frontier trails were immigrants from other countries. They brought with them the traditions of their homelands. Some of those traditions were the recipes with which they had grown up. My own children each have a cookbook I made for them with the foods they had as we grew up together in our big. and old house here in south central Missouri.

One of the foods brought to the trail was Colcannon, something I make every year for our family St. Patrick’s Day dinner. Colcannon is also the one and only way I can get my husband to eat cabbage! This recipe for the traditional Irish potato and cabbage dish is one I found in a wonderful cookbook I bought in the gift shop of the museum. It is entitled Frontier Fare: Recipes and Lore from the Old West. It is not only full of great recipes, but the author, Sherry Monahan, shares stories and information about the culture and history of the foods eaten in the Wild West, and along the trails.

Travelers on the western trails did not always have the exact ingredients called for in the recipes they brought with them from their native lands. They often had to make due with the provisions they brought with them, in addition to any ingredients they could find along the way. And so it is in my kitchen…so I made a few changes, tried a few things, and ended up with some of the best Colcannon we have ever eaten.


  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 lb. cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup leek, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped fine
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 milk

Melt the butter in a pan and cook the cabbage, leek, and garlic until golden, about 15 minutes. In another pan, cook the potatoes until tender.

Drain the potatoes and mash them with the 1/4 c. of heavy cream, and as much of the milk as is needed to make a rough puree.

Fold in the cabbage, and top with a nice, big pat of butter. Colcannon is absolutely the best side dish to have with your St. Patrick’s Day corned beef. Enjoy!