If you could choose when you were born, what era would you pick? Some people long to be living in the carefree roaring 20s, and others in Victorian England. How about being born into the age of world exploration, mapping out trades routes on sailing ships. I know that some people long for the vibrant Middle Ages in Europe and others want to go back to a famous war so they can fight.
My choice is to be born in the pioneer era. I have the sense of adventure needed to take off in a covered wagon with only the essentials and travel into the Wild West. I love camping and seeing new scenery. I wouldn’t mind catching fish and shooting small game for survival. By day I would travel and at night I would curl up in front of the fire and read. I would probably pray a great deal that Native Americans and wild land creatures would leave me alone.
I would still love pioneer life after arriving at a choice creek-side location and setting up my homestead. The hard work of setting up shelter, collecting firewood for the approaching winter, and growing my own food sounds fulfilling.
I longed for the pioneer/western life since I was 4 or 5 years old. I have a photo of myself at Christmas, dressed up in my Annie Oakley outfit. I had my toy guns out of the holster and was pointing them at the camera with a snide, challenging grin.
Actual pioneering in covered wagons was a thing of the past by the time I grew up, but I set out for adventure any way when I graduated from high school in 1972. I traveled the country by van, car, bus, train, and plane. I camped every possible chance, sometimes driving only a little ways out of town to pitch a tent in the desert, and sometimes traveling for weeks in between semesters. My son was out camping when he was 6 weeks old. Later, I made a few trips to undeveloped countries and then eventually to Europe. I lived in big cities, although unknown to me, the pioneer wannabe was going to progressively smaller cities and less populated areas.
I came to southeastern Wyoming for work not realizing that I was finally entering the pioneer world. I learned that most of the famous trails (Mormon, Oregon, California, Bozeman trails) used for western migration went just north of here. Fort Laramie, which provided security for many of the trails that ran along the North Platte River, is about 25 miles from my home. Also nearby are famous resting stops, where travelers carved their names and the date of their travels. Every day I look out on Laramie Peak, the first Rocky Mountain peak viewed by pioneers as they slowly moved west.
With so much history in this area, there are many museums and historic markers. However, I have found a treasure beyond anything found in the museums. I live and work among the descendants of early homesteaders. Recently I performed a marriage ceremony on a “heritage ranch”, meaning it is more than 100 years old. A few years aback I performed a marriage on a ranch which has an abandoned stage coach stop. We had to drive out in 4-wheel vehicles reach the historic site. The people and the land here have enriched my life and left their mark.
So the pioneer in me is having a heyday. On my days off, I wander around in my white van (not too much of a stretch to think of it as a Conestoga wagon), exploring the historical sites and making camp here and there. We have plenty of official camping areas, but I prefer to wander around and find quieter places where I can stare up at the full moon while stoking the campfire. Other days I work in the garden, growing my own food, which I freeze and pickle. I have my trusty dog that follows me everywhere. In the middle of winter, we curl up in front of the fireplace, read about pioneer history, and plan new adventures.
//So, what motivated this pioneer wannabe ramble today of all days? One of my goals is to learn how to cook over the campfire, like the pioneer camp cooks did. Last year I made a campfire ring in the backyard and bought both an iron tripod and a heavy Dutch oven to hang from it over the coals. However, we had a fire ban all summer and into the fall so I never got to experiment.
Last night I got the urge to cook in the Dutch oven. I didn’t get the fire going until around 7:30PM and let coals develop until around 9 PM. In the meantime, I put antelope, onions, peppers and canned tomatoes in the Dutch oven. When the coals were perfect, I suspended the pot from the tripod and let it simmer all night! This morning I checked and it wasn’t too bad. I still need to tweak the process a bit, including hanging the pot a bit higher when left out all night. I had a few burn marks on the bottom. Also, I used very small quantities that barely covered the bottom of the pot. I think it will cook better when the pot s nearly full. Still, it was a good start. The veggies were more like a “jam” consistency which was yummy on the meat. Why is it food always tastes better cooked over an open fire?
The following photo was taken in pitch dark with a flash- it sure lightened up the area!