CEDAR CITY — A Cedar City couple have embarked on an ambitious horseback ride to travel the length of the famous Oregon Trail, at least to the extent possible using modern-day routes.
Oliver McCloskey and his girlfriend Kelsey Wright are planning to ride the more than 2000-mile journey from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon, over the span of four months.
The pair are striving to relive the experience of riding the historic trail without relying on any outside support during the trip.
“It’s just us, with two horses. We’re actually sleeping under the saddle blankets at night,” McCloskey told Cedar City News by telephone during a recent evening in Nebraska, where they had stopped for the night a little more than 400 miles into their journey.
McCloskey said they’d traveled approximately 18 miles that day, just short of their daily average.
“I try to do a minimum of 20 (miles per day), but that’s okay. We found a good spot to camp,” he said. “The property along the Platte River here is all private, mostly. You’ve gotta go quite a ways off to get on public lands.”
McCloskey said having to follow modern roads has already added dozens of miles to the trip.
“We’re actually at about 450 miles right now, where the actual trail itself is only about 390 miles to where I’m at,” he said on July 22. “We’re having to staircase the roads because of the places where the trail doesn’t actually exist. Like, you can’t ride through it … it pops out of cornfields and bean fields and stuff like that.”
A few days later, McCloskey provided an update, saying they were camped out on the South Platte, about 550 miles into their trip and roughly equivalent to 450 miles along the historic route.
McCloskey said they’ve been making an effort to stop at as many historical trail markers as they can along the way to pose for pictures. They estimate they’ll finish the ride near the Pacific coast of Oregon in early to mid-November.
“We’re actually riding it almost exactly as close as you can … to all the original 19 markers in the state of Nebraska,” McCloskey said, noting that the marker locations were originally mapped out by a man named Ezra Meeker, who rode the trail in the late 1800s.
“He went through and marked it, and the markers that were all erected by the Nebraska Historical Society were put up around 1912,” McCloskey added.
A native of Arizona, McCloskey has lived in Cedar City for the past 33 years since he was 10 years old. A self-described history buff, he said he has had a lifelong fascination with early explorers, fur traders and mountain men, studying their journals and other historical documents.
All during his ride, McCloskey, a professional game skinner and leather tanner, has been decked out in a full outfit of period buckskin clothing he created using deer hides he tanned himself. He also custom-made his own saddle and built much of his gear by hand, he noted.
“I’m a Lewis and Clark enthusiast,” he said. “I’ve read their journals like 10 times, studied them and wrote notes about them.”
McCloskey said another source of inspiration for him was his own ancestor James Longmire, who led a wagon trail westward along the Oregon Trail in 1853 with his 9-year-old son David in tow. The younger Longmire is McCloskey’s great-great-great grandfather, he said.
McCloskey, who left home at age 14 to work for a sheepherder and contractor named George Halterman, has been working with livestock – including sheep shearing, wool handling and driving sheep on horseback – since his early teens.
The well-traveled McCloskey has even ridden horses and worked on ranches throughout South America.
“I’ve traveled all over the world,” he said. “I rode in the Andes down in Argentina and Patagonia, Chile, and I spent a winter down there. Their summers and winters are the opposite of ours. So our fall would be their spring. I was down there, working on a big 100,000-acre ranch, working with the gauchos down there in Patagonia and then riding on the ranches right in the Andes Mountains.”
Closer to home, McCloskey said he has also explored on horseback much of the Old Spanish Trail’s path as it traverses Utah, including passing through Cedar City before making its way to the southwest corner of the state. He’s also ridden on several other historic trails in Utah, such as those used by Jedediah Smith.
McCloskey said that both horses are handling the trip well so far.
“Mine had a rope burn on her back leg, but I got it all fixed up. It took about a week to get that healed up. She’s actually gaining weight and her muscles are getting bigger, believe it or not.”
McCloskey said their interactions thus far with Nebraska residents and members of the public have been positive throughout the first leg of the journey.
“Everybody loves the Oregon Trail,” he said. “They love the history behind it. They stop and wave, and give us water. They’re really friendly.”
“And a lot of people are either minor historians, who know something about it because their grandfather’s great-great grandfather farmed that the place that you’re at, and stuff like that.”
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