The Oregon Trail Center is fairly new, and it actually contains three different museums. The main one is located on the ground level and is very interactive. It includes a guided tour, so if you have a big group like we had, you may want to call ahead. The guided tour is essentially a reenactment that takes you along different scenes on the trail where you’ll learn about the trip and hear stories in the words of Oregon Trail Pioneers.
You start out in a town in the Midwest preparing to outfit your wagon for the trip west. A guide gives you great information, and we really learned a lot. For example, we didn’t know that women were allowed to claim 160 acres and “prove up” on it as well as men (this was unique to Oregon Territory). We also learned the differences between taking mules, oxen, and horses along with you on the trip. We spent quite awhile in the “stockyard” preparing for our trip.
The second stop is the store. This is a small room that looks like a store from the 1850s. The guide discusses what things you need to take with you on the journey. You also get an idea of how much you can take and what will need to be left behind.
Finally, they pack you into a Conestoga Wagon and you head west. Well, not really. Actually, you sit in the wagon (you would’ve had to walk a hundred and fifty years ago), which is on a hydraulic lift and feel the bumps and creaks of the trail. During this short “ride” you’ll hear voices that come from actual pioneer histories explaining different aspects of the trail.
There is a stop at several camps, too. These camps are made up to look like real wagontrain camps, and the guide gives interesting stories that come from historical documents. Our favorite was about Mrs. Adams. When her husband went out hunting, she cold-cocked a bear with a frying pan and then killed it. By the time he came back with a lone prairie chicken, she had bear meat frying in the skillet!
After several more stops at camp in the same area with more stories and information, they announce that you have arrived in Oregon. Then they lead you back out to the lobby. This was the only disappointment of our visit. I wanted to “arrive” in Oregon. We could easily have come into one more room and seen a 3 minute video of the destination. At least in the lobby there were some cool paintings of Oregon that you could look at. The local author had included things to find in each picture, so make sure you look closely.
In the basement of this building is another small museum, which is a Monpelier Heritage Museum. Though it is just one room, we spent about an hour because the lady at the desk took our children around and showed them almost everything in the museum. She even let them open the old cash register and see the three cent nickel. This reminded us a lot of many of the DUP museums we’ve visited across Utah.
Upstairs is one final museum. There are rotating displays in this balcony area, and during the time we were there, we saw many quilts. Since Dad is an old quilter having learned from his Grandma, we had a nice time looking at the historical quilts. They seemed to tell the history of the Montpelier area.
This Oregon Trail Center is a great way to spend an afternoon. The cost for the museum is $12 for adults, $9 for youth (8-17) and $5 for children ages 4-7. Children three and under are free. You won’t regret visiting this museum if you are in southeastern Idaho.