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The Fort Seward Wagon Train celebrates its 45th year while ND celebrates 125th

Culture | June 19th, 2014

The Fort Seward Wagon Train has fascinated me ever since it passed by my grandparents place just outside of Jamestown, N.D. when I was but a wee one-year-old. Covered wagons pulled by mules or draft horses, saddle horses with women in sun bonnets -- what about this equation wouldn’t capture the heart of an imaginative little girl, or anybody for that matter? Yet for some reason it seems to be one of our state’s all too well-kept secrets.

The Fort Seward Wagon Train starts out at its namesake Fort Seward, located on highway 281 North in Jamestown. Fort Seward itself was an active military fort from 1872-1877. The grounds currently house an interpretive center as well as a veterans memorial, not to mention a breathtaking view of the James River Valley.

Fort Seward Inc. is a nonprofit whose mission is to “protect and promote the history of North Dakota, and particularly the local history of Jamestown, North Dakota”.

This year marks the Fort Seward Pioneer Trail Wagon Train’s 45th year while North Dakota celebrates its 125th year of statehood. This five-day, 80-mile, family-oriented adventure is where history comes alive and where participants get to personally know our state’s flora and fauna with camping and outdoor cookouts.

This year’s festivities will take place June 22 to 28. Final in-camp registration will take place on Sunday, June 22 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Fort Seward Park. Past trails have included Whitestone Hill, The Fort Totten Trail and The Fort Ransom Trail. It’s even followed trails that lead to area centennial celebrations.

People of all ages from all over the world have participated in the wagon train. According to its website, “Our youngest passenger has been a five-month old baby and our oldest passenger was over 80.” Interestingly enough The University of Wisconsin is even offering students one college credit to those who participate in the wagon train.

Participants must wear period-appropriate clothing. Women are encouraged to wear long skirts, aprons and bonnets (especially at meal time), though blue jeans are acceptable while on horseback. Men are encouraged to wear any manner of western wear, such as vests, suspenders and wide brimmed hats. Participants are also encouraged to bring musical instruments and craft supplies for down time around the campfire.

In the early years of The Fort Seward Wagon Train, a few participants started the tradition of making a quilt while on the trail.

According to its website: “Originally, blocks of cloth were passed around and signed, or decorated with embroidery stitches, laundry pens, and embroidery paint. At the end of the wagon train, the blocks were laid out on the prairie grasses, and an informal auction took place.”

The ‘90s marked the beginning of a quilt contest judged by the board of directors. The top three winners are given a U.S. Savings Bond. All who enter the contest receive a photo of the quilt once it is completed. All donations go toward Fort Seward, Inc.

One of the longest participating board members is Delno “Ramrod” Kleinknecht, who’s been involved with the wagon train since 1971. Not only does he serve as a general overseer making sure all is well in camp, but he also serves as the wagon train “outrider,” meaning he is mounted on horseback for the duration of the trail assisting others on horseback and making sure all is well with the teams of horses pulling the wagons.

"It's like an adventure story from ‘Little House on the Prairie,’” Kleinknecht says. “It's about family and the good of being together.”

IF YOU GO:

Fort Seward Pioneer Trail: "Celebrating North Dakota's 125th" June 22-28, 2014Fort Seward Park, Jamestown, NDcovered-wagon-train.com

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