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  • Nancy Herman

Into the frontier: April 1846

Updated: Oct 19


In 1846, Independence, Missouri was a westernmost city of the United States, as well as the crossroads for the Santa Fe and Oregon trails. It was a melting pot of Mexican traders, Indians, trappers, and excited pioneer families who were laying in final supplies for the long trip ahead. It was also the “jumping off” point from civilization into the frontier. Independence Square was jammed with wagons and shoppers. The air was filled with clanging from blacksmith shops, as well as music from banjos and harmonicas. Virginia Reed, traveling from Springfield, Illinois with her parents and siblings, had never witnessed such a scene!


Independence was the first stop on my trip, too. These days it is a sprawling city, and little Independence Square is a series of touristy shops and restaurants, much like Old Sacramento. Wandering through the square, I tried to imagine Virginia’s mixed feelings of excitement and sadness as she and her family left Independence–and the world as she knew it–for good.

I then spent several interesting hours at the Independence National Trails Museum, where I collected maps and other valuable information for my own westward journey.



Left, Edmund Flagg engraving of Independence Square in 1846, when Virginia Reed passed through on her way to California. Right, my own photo of Independence Square today.

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