In my last two columns, I described a recent trip my wife and I took to southwest Montana to do some tracking of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On the way to Montana, our route took us through Wyoming. A good stopping point on the first day of our drive was Casper, Wyoming.

We weren’t expecting it, but it turned out that our stop in Casper led to a most enjoyable tour of the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. If you are going through Wyoming and have any interest at all in American history, a visit to the Interpretive Center is a must do.

A brochure from the center gives a good description: “Between 1840 and 1870 about 500,000 people moved across the Western Plains in search of free farmland, freedom of religion, wealth and new business opportunities. They traveled to the Oregon Territory, the Great Salt Lake Valley, and the California gold fields. Their frontier stories and those of the Native Americans, along with the Pony Express, are retold through seven interactive exhibits and multimedia programs.”

While you can immediately start going through the center, a good way to begin is to sit in the center of the display area and listen to the introductory program. Lifelike displays, which are sequentially highlighted along with audio, give a good overview of what happened. After listening to the intro program you begin moving around the center counterclockwise.

The first displays are of Native Americans and their thoughts. One example from Black Elk of the Lakota Sioux: “Once we were happy in our own country ... for then the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds lived together like relatives, for there was plenty for them and for us.” The four-leggeds were the buffalo which the tribes depended on. Unlike white buffalo hunters later, Native American tribes made use of every part of the buffalo — nothing went to waste.

Interestingly, close to Casper is where a number of the trails crossed — Oregon, California, Mormon, and the Pony Express. At the beginning, Native American tribes were generally friendly to the wagon trains and were eager to trade. It was later, when numbers skyrocketed and Native American lands were being ruined, that violence surged. Several of the displays in the center make the point: In 1843, only about 900 people passed through the Casper area. In 1847, nearly 7,000 emigrants passed through the area. By 1853, the number went up to about 35,000.

One of the most interesting displays is where you can climb inside a Conestoga wagon replica to experience a pioneer river crossing. Another is how a mile-measuring device worked on some of the later wagons.

The Interpretive Center is at 1501 N. Poplar St., on the northwest side of Casper, just east of I-25. See nhtcf.org for details. Most useful for real history sleuths are the auto-tour route interpretive guides provided by the center.

Doug McCormick is retired from the Air Force after spending 21 years as a space operator. He spent 14 years as a defense contractor supporting Air Force Space Command. He is now a tour guide and has started his own business, American History Tours LLC, specializing in taking people to see locations associated with significant American history. His email address is doug@historytoursamerica.com.

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