For more than a decade in the mid-1800s, Reshaw’s Bridge in today’s Evansville, Wyo., just east of Casper, was the most important crossing of the North Platte River on the Oregon/California/Mormon Trail. During that time, tens of thousands of wagons and hundreds of thousands of people—bound west and east—crossed the bridge. The bridge is named for its owner, the French-speaking entrepreneur John Richard. Visitors today can find a reproduction of part of the bridge in Reshaw’s Park in Evansville, next to the river.
During the bus ride:
- Depending upon which direction you’re taking to the site, you may be following the trail. Are you headed east? West? Some other direction?
- How far is the bridge from Fort Laramie? If wagon trains traveled 12 to 15 miles per day, how many days would it take to travel that distance? If stagecoaches traveled 30 miles a day, how long would it take them to make the trip?
- What will be the next man-made landmark the emigrants would see in the 1850s? The 1860s? How far away are those places?
- There are numerous roadside guides for Wyoming – picking one of them up, and sharing what you see as you travel Wyoming’s highways adds interest to the bus ride. The National Park Service has a great one on the Oregon Trail across Wyoming.
- As you drive through Casper and Evansville, ask students to imagine how the countryside would have looked 150 years ago.
- Choose a trail diary (or two or three or four) that mentions the North Platte River and the trail west of Fort Laramie. Read several during the days prior to the field trip to give students an idea of what the country was like, and what the travel routine was like for the travelers.
Arriving at the bridge:
- When did emigrant travel begin on the route we now know as the Oregon Trail?
- Where were the travelers headed in the 1840s? The 1850s? The 1860s?
- What Indian people might the travelers have met along the way? How would the emigrants have felt about the Indians in the 1840s? the 1850s? the 1860s?
- How might the Indian people have felt about the emigrant travelers at those different times?
- John Richard and his brothers were in business to make money. Besides collecting tolls for the bridge, what other businesses did they engage in?
- Would you have wanted to work for the Richard brothers?
- Soldiers were stationed at the bridge beginning in 1855. Ask students to imagine how they spent their time.
- Ask students to figure out what the Richard brothers might have earned per year from wagon tolls. Find out what that would be worth in today’s money.
- Pretend you’re an emigrant on the trail. Write a letter that you would mail home. Describe what you’ve seen at the bridge and trading post, and how you feel about it. Tell what you think you’ll be seeing next.
- Pretend you’re a soldier stationed at the bridge. What is summer like? Winter? How is your pay? What do you think of your officers? Your fellow soldiers? Of Richard and his brothers?
- Pretend you are an Oglala Lakota Sioux Indian, working for the Richard brothers making leather clothes and moccasins for travelers. How do you feel about the emigrants? The soldiers? Other Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Shoshone and mixed-blood people who come to trade at Richard’s store? Where will you go to find out the answers?