The Western Historical Trails Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, located not far off I-80 where it crosses the Missouri River, provides an educational and informative introduction to four important trails that passed through this region before the transcontinental railroad made travel easier. The center is administered by the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. Their website contains a You Tube tour of the museum: http://www.iowahistory.org/historic-sites/western-historic-trails/
The Lewis and Clark Trail passed north and south through the area, following the Missouri River, while the other three trails crossed the river and proceeded west. Animals originally created paths along the Platte River, which joins the Missouri not far south of Council Bluffs and Omaha, Nebraska. Native Americans, pursuing the animals over the centuries, pounded the paths into trails. The Oregon Trail, the Mormon Pioneer Trail, and the California Trail each followed in succession in the early part of the nineteenth century and provided early pioneers with the “road” to their future. These three, heavily-traveled trails paralleled the Platte River into the Rocky Mountains. In 1859, General Grenville Dodge, based on his earlier exploratory, surveying trips, recommended the Platte River route to Abraham Lincoln as the best “path” for the first transcontinental railroad. After Lincoln became president, he signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, which designated that the railroad be built along these historic trails.
[media-credit id=1 align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]In addition to touring the museum’s exhibits and visiting the book store , you can hike a short trail through the meadows and woods to the east bank of the Missouri River. If you ignore the sounds of traffic coming from the nearby interstate, you can imagine what it would have been like to approach the river riding on horseback or driving a covered wagon. I enjoyed visiting the museum and hiking the trail in 2008.