Ninety-two years ago, while teaching at the University of Oregon, sculptor Avard Fairbanks commemorated the “Old Oregon Trail” by creating a 200-pound bronze medallion.
While Fairbanks’ pioneers were presumably heading west, a casting of his artwork has made its way east to Independence.
The 20-year-old casting, tarnished by time, shows a man in a wide-brimmed hat guiding oxen as they yank a covered wagon over rocky terrain. Inside the prairie schooner, a woman cradles a newborn.
The artist’s son, David Fairbanks, several years ago donated the medallion to the Independence-based Oregon-California Trails Association, which conveyed the medal to Jackson County on Tuesday.
The medallion’s unveiling at the Historic Truman Courthouse was witnessed by about 80 people, some dressed in historical garb while others were in town for a trails workshop put on by the Partnership for the National Trails System.
Independence was a primary departure point for westbound settlers in the mid-19th century. Fairbanks’ other medallions are installed along the trail at points in Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
The event also honored the National Park Service, which will celebrate its 100th birthday in August. National Park Service superintendent Aaron Mahr joined Fairbanks, Jackson County Executive Frank White and Travis Boley of the trails association in delivering words of gratitude and remembrance.
“May we never forget the courage of these people who put their lives at risk” to settle the western United States, Fairbanks said.
Meanwhile, a mile north, Mahr joined Mayor Eileen Weir and parks and recreation director Eric Urfer to break ground on a trail-themed playground at McCoy Park.
Urfer said the 14,000-square-foot park will feature three wagons, one each for the Oregon, California and Santa Fe trails, and it’s designed to be accessible to all. For example, Urfer said, a slide has been built to be used by children in wheelchairs.