A quilt made to celebrate the Oregon Trail sesquicentennial will make its first public appearance in 15 years this weekend in Oregon City.
Pioneer women during the 19th century often made Oregon Trail quilts as they crossed the 2,000-mile route. About 40,000 people made the journey between 1840 and 1860.
About 4,000 people took part in the Oregon Trail Sesquicentennial Wagon Train in 1993, following a 960-mile portion of the trail as closely as possible from the Wyoming/Idaho border west to Oregon City. The 73-day trek celebrated the route's 150th anniversary.
Everyone who traveled by wagon train across some part of the state in 1993 signed their names on patches to be incorporated into the Official Sesquicentennial Wagon Train Signature Quilt.
Quilt historian and Portland resident Mary Bywater Cross was the sesquicentennial quilt project leader. She will return to the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, to present the quilt, tell stories and sign copies of the new, expanded edition of her 1993 classic, "Treasures from the Trunk: Quilts of the Oregon Trail."
In a recent interview with the Oregon City News, Cross reflected on the importance of the sesquicentennial quilt.
"It became a very important visual record of everyone who participated," she said. "I invited a group of quilters to work with me to create the pattern and the blocks after I chose the fabrics. We pieced the quilt in sections and sent it out on the wagon train with staff members."
Like on Oregon Trail quilts of the 19th century, Cross said, the sesquicentennial quilt recorded support and faith in getting the job done. Many participants wrote comments about their day like "Feet Sore, Spirits Soar."
As the group arrived in Oregon City, Cross gathered the sections and stitched them together. A quilting frame was given a place of honor at the sesquicentennial celebration in Oregon City.
"Everyone was invited to quilt some stitches, after they washed their hands," Cross said. "The quilt was hand-quilted in three days."
Cross was especially proud that all the names on both sides of the quilt are carefully preserved so not one is blocked out by thread. Cross credited quilter Katy Wolf with insisting the quilters use fan shapes so no names would be obliterated.
"Treasures in the Trunk" was a separate project that resulted from a partnership with the Douglas County Museum of History. The book is based on Cross' national survey and research to find quilts that connected to the Oregon Trail experience.
The museum mounted a traveling exhibition through Oregon and won an award of merit for "The Pattern of the Journey" exhibit from the American Association for State and Local History, which also gave awards to Cross for her books.
Cross won an Outstanding Achievement in American History Award in 1993 for the work she had done discovering the quilts and their stories in the museum homes owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution in Oregon.
Cross has guest-curated three quilt exhibitions for the Museum of the Oregon Territory in Oregon City. She made connections with people all across the country who helped her identify quilts and quilters that qualified for exhibit themes.
"Each exhibition had a theme that set the direction for seeking the quilts," Cross said. "As a quilt historian and researcher, I'm able to discover who the maker was and how the quilt was a visual record of their experience, whether it was crossing the Plains or sending a loved one off to Desert Storm."
Cross's friend Susan Butruille will join her at the Dec. 1 event in Oregon City. Formerly of Tigard, Butruille lives in Leavenworth, Washington. She will sign, sing and read from the newly released 25th-anniversary edition of her Oregon Trail classic, "Women's Voices from the Oregon Trail," published by Epicenter Press in Seattle. The book includes an updated and expanded "Guide to Women's History Along the Oregon Trail."
Cross also will show the quilt made by Adeline Brown Crawford, an Oregon Trail pioneer. Cross will talk about two other quilts made by Abigail Scott Duniway and the Harlow Album that connect with Butruille's book.
The 150th anniversary wagon-train quilt will remain at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, 1726 Washington St., through December to provide an opportunity for visiting families to reflect on memories of walking the trail in 1993.