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Fort Seward Wagon Train departs Jamestown, N.D., today for 6-day trek

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- Starting early this morning, more than 150 people from 18 states and Canada will go back in time to relive the pioneer family experience through the 43rd annual Fort Seward Wagon Train.

Wagon Train
Breakfast is prepared at daybreak during the Fort Seward wagon train Tuesday, June 26, 2007 at camp about three miles south of Ypsilanti, N.D. Bruce Crummy / The Forum

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- Starting early this morning, more than 150 people from 18 states and Canada will go back in time to relive the pioneer family experience through the 43rd annual Fort Seward Wagon Train.

The group will make about a six-day, 79-mile trek from Jamestown to Fullerton, N.D., to learn about the historical significance of the area, venture back to the days of pioneers who first settled in the west and enjoy some family fun along the way.

Its ultimate destination will put the wagon train in Fullerton on Saturday for the town's 125th celebration parade.

"We'll have 10 covered wagons leading the way this year," said Delno Kleinknecht, a Pingree, N.D., native who has gone on the wagon trail since its inception in 1969. Kleinknecht will serve as the ramrod once again this year, meaning he will lead the group on horseback.

"I just love the people that are part of this," said Kleinknecht, who is also serving as vice president for this year's wagon train. "Kids seem to love it, too. There's something for the whole family."


The adventure began Sunday at Fort Seward Park with afternoon registration, supper and an evening orientation session.

The group will rise this morning and eat breakfast before making its initial travel. Kleinknecht said travel averages about 10 miles per day.

According to the Fort Seward Wagon Train website, "The wagon train averages about 3 to 4 miles per hour, depending on how 'hard' everyone pushes up those steeper hills."

Traveling from town to town, the wagon train will stop at various marked and unmarked historical sites along the way.

People of all ages have registered for the ride, according to Mary Ann Kaiser, registrar for this year's ride.

"We have a gentleman that is 80 years old coming along this year, and our youngest will be a child that is about 4½," said Kaiser, who is going on the wagon train for her 11th year. "Our largest family group this year has 13 members."

For safety, two ambulances will follow the wagon train throughout the course of the trip.

A typical day's activities include breakfast cooked over an open fire, interacting with other travelers along the route, singing songs in the wagon and even sitting alongside a teamster to help drive the horses.


Kaiser said this year, there will be crafts for the kids, a yodeler, a comic, more history talks than in previous years and a portrayal of the first female doctor in the Jamestown area.

"At noon each day, we enjoy a wonderful meal at the chuck wagon, where you can enjoy a great sandwich with a variety of meats," Kleinknecht said.

Meals provide a bonding experience for the whole group, Kaiser said.

"By the end of the week, we become one big, happy wagon-train family," she said.

"There's a lot of history along the way, but when we get to that campfire at night, everybody really enjoys singing and playing guitar," he said.

As for dressing for the wagon train, it's required that everyone attire themselves in proper period clothing to maintain the historic atmosphere of the adventure.

"Females may wear jeans on the trail and when riding horses, but long dresses and bonnets are required for the evening meal.

Males must wear pioneer-western wear, such as vests, suspenders and western-style hats.


Wagon train riders are encouraged to pack very light, bringing only items such as three changes of clothes, a tent for camping and other essentials such as a sleeping bag and toiletries.

"What I've been saying for years is that we're North Dakota's best-kept secret," Kaiser said. "I see how this experience pulls these families together and I think it's worth it to keep our North Dakota heritage alive."

For more information about the Fort Seward Wagon Train, visit its website at covered-wagon-train.com or email registrar@coveredwagon-train.com .

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