Right Out Of History: Wagon Trains Celebrate Minnesota 150th Anniversary

Minnesota Sesquicentennial Wagon Train


The first weekend of May, Minnesota began the kickoff celebration of their historic past with the Sesquicentennial Wagon Train.

In all, about 85 people, on horseback and in covered wagons, buggies, surreys and one stagecoach are taking a week long,  100 mile journey, which will end Sunday at the State Capitol.

The arrival of the Sesquicentennial Wagon Train at the State Capitol is the linchpin for the kickoff for the state’s 150th birthday celebration.

The travelers started with two stuck wheels, a willful mule, a handful of skittish horses and a thrown rider. That was all before noon.

 A “green” horse three times took his driver off-road. A mule seeking his pasturemate took off, throwing his rider in the tall ditch grass.

When the group circled at noon, wagon master Olson was philosophical. I’m hoping for a better day tomorrow,” he said Monday. “The first day’s always an adjustment.”

Among the group were Pete Karpe who came from his farm in St. Francis, bringing his Percheron draft horses Trixie and Dixie, as well as his son, Mark, a capable, horse-mad 14-year-old.

Susan Longling, of Farmington, a confessed wagon-train addict, brought her Prince to pull the surrey she’d converted from her grandfather’s dairy (and bootleg liquor) cart.

As a strong sun broke through the crisp morning air, wagon master Jon Olson shouted, “Wagons, ho!” and the caravan rattled across the fairgrounds, onto the road.

Karpe had some trouble at the start, when the rig he drove became stuck in the mud. But once on the road, Dixie and Trixie easily caught pace with the group, their shod hooves ringing on the asphalt.

Townsfolk lined the streets of Cannon Falls, gathering before homes and shops to smile, wave and snap pictures.  A group of elementary kids held a hand-lettered sign: “Happy Birthday, Minnesota!”

This was “Americana” at its best!

The caravan continued, past bare fields and stands of cedar and elm.

Clay Christian the logistics man, said “We’ve got it easy”. “We’ve got county roads to go down, bridges to go across, no cliffs to take the wagons apart and lower ’em down.”

 The covered wagon is an icon of the American frontier. Still, in the 1850s, most arrived by water, via Mississippi steamboat.

From there, with the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the Mississippi behind them, settlers fanned out, often in wagons, all over the state.

The covered wagon was like the 19th century sport-utility vehicle, said Matt Anderson, a curator for the Minnesota Historical Society who specializes in transportation artifacts.

And contrary to the archetype, wagons weren’t meant for people. Usually, they were packed with luggage or cargo.

“Anybody who could walk, I’m sure did,” Anderson said.

Although the rigs at camp are more or less authentic, it’s hard to ignore some of the comforts of today: coolers, lawn chairs, RVs, digital cameras and the occasional chiming cell phone.

In spite of unexpected events along the way, when the ride was completed it was said that  “A bad day doing this is still better than a good day doing anything else.”


Re-written from news sources:


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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I always wanted to be part of a wagon train headed somewhere. I was picturing myself in a wagon though. You know, riding.:)

  2. I have a friend who has participated in wagon trains like this. I can’t even imagine what it would be like.

    BTW, the twins are now two. I’m going to have to do a birthday post soon. lol

  3. LOL Is that a Fjord hitched to the second wagon in line?

    I’d love to participate in something like this someday, psuedo history buff that I am.

  4. Sure sounds like fun. I would have loved to do something like this it must have been one hard way to travel. But then again look how much they saved on gas!

  5. I was the first or second Point Rider for this week-long wagon train and the experience was incredible. My TB/Arab gelding did a wonderful job of dealing with the semis, big trucks, motorcycles, trains, motorcoaches, and cars being within a lane of traffic from him.
    My most favorite experience was one of the mornings when I was out front going up and down the hills to hold off traffic. It seemed to be getting to be a long morning and I was wondering when the morning break was coming up. When I crested the last hill, I could see the American Flag flying at the intersection for our break. What a feeling! My first thought was this must have been what the scouts felt like when they finally saw the American Flag at the next fort. Now, I truly have a better understanding and appreciation for the riders of the Old West.
    I am absolutely in love with my gelding, Blue, and he has a home for life. Our photo in front of MN’s State Capitol will always be a great reminder.

    If you ever get a chance to do a wagon train, JUMP at it! It is the best thing I have ever done.

    Congratulations, Kyle,
    So very happy to hear from you. What a fantastic experience that must have been. I can only imagine how thrilling it must have been ! Give your horse, Blue, a hero’s pat.


  6. I was the Wagon Masrter for this event. The week was a wonderful experience. Folks like Kyle above made my job easier. A special thanks to Greg and Carla Loftis who coordinated traffic control for the week. They did a great job. The best part of the week was finishing with no one injured and all the animals in great shape. Our camp coordinator did a wonderful jobas well. Other highlights included all the assistance the local governments and police departments provided. Of course the event could not have happened without the teamsters, teams and wagons. They deserve a lot of credit for hauling all that equipment around.All in all it was just a great time.

    Congratulations Jon !
    This was indeed a fantastic event and undertaking. What a tremendous way to celebrate our American heritage! You gave the rest of us a thrill just to imagine being part of it. Everyone is to be commended. And a huge Bravo! to all the animals involved in this event.

    Best regards,

  7. Does anyone have pictures from this? One of the rest stops was at my house. My dad also rode in it, but he didn’t get many good pictures.

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