The Way the West was Won

Imagine with me, if you will, what it took to take a 2,000-mile journey on foot, to an untamed wilderness, taking few possessions, hoping for good weather conditions, decent health and no encounters with other people hostile to you. Imagine your wife and young children walking, day after day, by your side, sometimes hungry, often thirsty and tired, frequently scared, no roadside rest stops, restaurants or hotels. Really, no roads, just a well-worn trail and trail guide to keep you headed towards your destination.

Opportunity, for the bold and the brave, the opportunity for a better life, religious freedom, wealth, and land was the motivation for this journey of a lifetime. It wasn’t long before trading and hunting routes blazed by fur traders and Native Americans were well worn, deep and wide, as thousands of wagons, animals and people passed by.

As many as a half million people traveled this way and along the way, numerous individuals died. There is a body buried every 80 yards along the trail, with over 20,000 men, women and children dying during their journey. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to bury a loved one, and then continue on, one foot after another.

Women were an important part of settling the West; their lives were difficult, fraught with hard work, and sorrow. As I painted this, I thought of my ancestors and those of my wife, making their slow, deliberate way across those wide-open plains, crossing rivers and even mountains, burying their children and their spouses, on their way to the Great Salt Lake Valley.

The Way the West was Won Gale F. Trapp, 2013

The Way the West was Won
Gale F. Trapp, 2013

In this painting, I tried to convey the reluctance of a mother leaving behind her beloved child, facing the necessity of moving on, the cow seeming to sense the somber mood, while the wagon train continues the journey west. The mountain peak represents the obstacles still ahead, the dark sky the gloom of the moment. Not all is sad though, as little children in the wagon represent the hope for the future.

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29 thoughts on “The Way the West was Won

  1. Incredible painting Gale, and I love the imagery you create in your post. Every time I am out in nature, I cannot help but think back centuries and how life would be… The one thought that always lingers a bit longer, is how I would handle bringing family members into the wilderness…and how worried I would be for their health/discomfort. Then I begin to realize that this worry is more of a ‘modern-day’ phenomena as such travails were “just a part of life” back then when taking greater risks was a common choice.

    The painting bring out the greatest of those people, and the decisions they made.

    • Thanks for such a great comment – you’ve expressed my thoughts exactly. These people were strong, brave and determined, but didn’t think of it that way, they were just doing what they thought they needed to. Thanks again.

  2. Both your painting and words bring us into this time in history. So hard to imagine the hardships today. Only the very tough survived and even then life was short. But there is always the dream of a better life. Wonderful post Trapper.

  3. I love history and ponder this period of American history the most. I guess it is because I live in the West deserts of California. As I travel about, I gaze at the ruggedness of the scenery and often wonder how anyone made it before the more modern times. I love the sentiments captured in that art.

  4. WOW. No exclamation point, just one of those little dots. Your written word and your painted art-word both bring a sacred stillness with a sobering reality of “the way” that our predecessors / ancestors traveled: a harsh-at-times journey and a costly choice of moving forward for a redemption that waited ahead of them. The word “remembering” came to me as I considered your post. And “remembering” is a … “lost art”? Sorry for the long rely … My last post, and thank you for visiting … carried some of this substane you have in your post but no painting. IYou do good work.

    • Wilder Man, thank you for stopping by and leaving such a considered and thoughtful comment. Thanks for getting what I was trying to say… and show. Those who came before were indeed hardy, tough and yes, adventurous – just like the men you wrote about.

  5. Lovely. I like the history behind this painting and the story you have included in it.
    Saying I ‘like’ the history is a bit odd but words escape me at the moment. It must have been an incredible experience – both for the potential opportunities but also for the probable hazards. I guess you had to be either brave or desperate.

  6. I like all the cool blue in this that serves to back up the theme of loneliness and truth of the hardship these pioneers faced. Though sad, everything you did pushes forth this story. Very lonely.

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