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Barlow Road

July 28, 2013
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

In 1846, Sam Barlow and Philip Foster built a road in Oregon. More specifically, a road that served as the last overland segment of the Oregon Trail. Its construction allowed covered wagons to cross the Cascade Range, and reach the Willamette Valley, which before had been nearly impossible. Even so, the Barlow Road was far and again the most harrowing one hundred miles of the nearly two thousand miles of the Oregon Trail. To add insult to injury, a toll was authorized for the road, $5.00 for each wagon, and ten cents for each head of horse, mule, ass, or horned cattle.

The road was so hated many travelers said that if Sam Barlow had ever been murdered it would have been because of Laurel Hill, the most dangerous and terrifying part of the Barlow Road. This was really saying something, as the rest of Barlow Road was not exactly easy traveling either. Laurel Hill was so steep that wagons had to be lowered down the slope with block and tackle. Many of the parties had not brought enough strong rope and many wagons hurled down the hill to end up in messy or bloody wrecks.

As bad as the Barlow Road was, the alternative was worse. It involved a wild and very dangerous excursion through the rapids of the Columbia River in a caulked wagon, or a ferry that very few could afford.

Still, by the time an emigrant party reached Laurel Hill, they were pretty well played out. Their livestock was in sad shape, and often at least one person was on the brink of death. It's probably a safe bet that a few of those unfortunates died with a curse for Sam Barlow on their lips!

At the bottom of Laurel Hill, there was a camp where the emigrants would stop, nurse their wounds and bury their dead. Today the site of the camp is called Rhododendron Village. It's in the process of being restored, and the word is the place is haunted! Strange orbs have appeared in pictures taken of the old bunkhouse. Buildings that have very little foundation left shake mysteriously as if footsteps are within. When an old piano with a mirror on the front was photographed, a woman's face appeared in the mirror as if she was playing it. There's also a door between the cooks sleeping quarters and kitchen area. It is said that it opens by itself everyday at about 4 a.m. The theory is that a ghostly cook is getting up to start breakfast.

All of this may be overactive imaginations, but people who have seen and heard these happenings are aware that they are standing on the site of one of the great graveyards of the Oregon Trail.



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