If you go
What: Apple Days, an interactive history event with traditional archery, gold panning, spinning demonstrations, flint knapping, old time photographs and cider pressing.
Where: Cashmere Museum
8 a.m.: free breakfast
9 a.m.: Wenatchee Youth Circus
10 a.m.: Barb Conrad, country music
11 a.m.: Roy Wilson
11:30 a.m.: Hank Cramer, folk singer
1 p.m.: Roy Wilson, Cowlitz story teller, drumming, dancing
2 p.m. Wenatchee Youth Circus
3 p.m. Collage, contemporary music
4 p.m. Spirit of America Memorial
8 a.m. free breakfast
9:30 a.m. church service
Noon: Wenatchee Youth Circus
1:30 p.m. Cashmere Jazz Band
2:30 p.m. Collage, contemporary music
3:30 p.m. Quilt, bow hunters’ raffle,
4 p.m. Echoes of Heaven
5 p.m.: closing the Spirit of America Memorial
Cost: $5 adults, $2 kids 6-18
Information: 782-3230, cashmeremuseum.org
Of all the roads traveled by Winthrop folk singer Hank Cramer, there is one he always returns to — The Oregon Trail. Over the years, Cramer has touched the iron wheel ruts etched deep into the limestone of Wyoming, and he’s traced hundreds of names and initials carved into buttes and rocks along the way to California, Oregon and Washington. More than 500,000 people walked the 2,000-mile path out west in the largest voluntary human migration in history.
“We dismiss dreams as poppycock these days, but wind the clock back to 1843, when entire families would have such a huge dream they’d leave behind everything for a place they’d never seen before. That’s a powerful human story,” he said.
It’s a story Cramer prefers to tell through the songs, like “Across the Wide Missouri” and “Oh Susanna.” In an old western vest, straw hat and canvas pants, the baritone balladeer will share songs and stories of the Oregon Trail and cowboy days at Cashmere Museum for Apple Days Saturday.
“Being a folk musician is like being an actor,” Cramer said. “When I’m singing a song, I feel like I’m actually channeling the lives of those people and the adventures they had.”
Cramer says the first step in remembering the Oregon Trail is forgetting everything from Hollywood. For starters, no one rode in the iconic covered wagons — there was no room between all the gear and family possessions, and no shocks or suspension to cushion the jolt of the road.
The caravans circled the wagons to contain their animals. American Indians traded with the pioneers more often than they attacked, Cramer said.
Still, one in 10 died, most often of disease, wagon accidents and river crossings. The Rocky Mountains were a terrifying prospect, but many parties passed the Rockies over a 8,000-foot elevation prairie in Wyoming only to face the treacherous Cascade Range in the end, Cramer said.
As Cramer read pioneer diaries and studied the songs they sang, he realized that they were the same tunes he learned in elementary school. Many of the songs were well-known melodies that the pioneers rewrote with their own lyrics. “Across the Wide Missouri” was originally a deep-water sailor shanty from the 1790s called “Shenandoah.” The Missouri River was considered the last place to take in civilization as they knew it, Cramer said.
“Sweet Betsy From Pike” was an Irish melody — the Oregon Trail migration happened around the same time as the potato famine. Pioneers changed the words to describe places like Alkali Flats in California where they walked for miles without water.
“I was astonished that so many people would take that challenge with so few things known about where they were going or what to do when they got there,” Cramer said. “That’s six months of walking, with no idea what they would encounter along the way.”
The pioneers’ lives were as varied as Cramer’s own. They were shopkeepers and workers driven by the financial panic of 1837, blacks fleeing slavery, or Germans, Irish and Italian immigrants escaping civil war and famine.
At 60, Cramer has been an underground miner, a soldier, paratrooper, a 9-1-1 operator, a sailor and a wrangler. He estimates his repertoire of cowboy, sailor and pioneer songs is about 1,500, many learned by ear during his long roadtrips between gigs. The first song he learned was “Whoopie Ti Yi Yo (Git Along Little Doggie)” he learned from his father, a cowboy singer and one of the first soldiers lost in the Vietnam War.
A few hours after his “Way Out West” performance Saturday, Cramer will don his U.S. Army uniform and sing tribute to “The Spirit of America Memorial,” a life-size bronze statue commemorating the victims and survivors of 9/11. Cramer served 14 years in the U.S. Army, another 14 in the Army Reserves and retired after he was injured during a tour in Afghanistan.
“When I start singing songs and I hear people’s voices start to join in,” Cramer said. “I look at the audience and there’s everybody from four-year-old kids to 84-year-old grandmas, their faces light up. It’s a real gift to be not only to entertain, but to inform and thrill people. That makes it all worthwhile.”