“Wagons West!” is more than a catch phrase here at Shebby Lee Tours. At this time of year, we eagerly await the greening of the grass just as our forebears did, and work even harder to make sure everything is in readiness for our own excursions through the great American West.
We literally follow those rutted trails toward the setting sun. Admittedly, we travel in comfortable, deluxe motorcoaches and sleep in soft beds with a solid roof over our heads. But the anticipation is no less thrilling, and the adventure of learning about this formative period in our history only heightens the journey.
You don’t actually have to have ancestors who traveled the trails to appreciate the bravery and the hardships they endured for the chance at a better life. And you don’t have to be descended from the peoples who already inhabited the land, to understand why they staked their lives to halt those invaders from the East. I recently heard a statement that pretty much sums up the situation: The whites called it wilderness. The Natives called it home. (Both were right.)
The fact that this story is multi-faceted is part of the intrigue. Those of us in the baby-boomer generation soaked in Disney versions of western characters such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. What kid in the fifties didn’t own a fake coonskin cap? In fact, every other television show was a Western in those days. There was even one called “Wagon Train”. Everything was in black and white – especially the heroes and villains. And just in case you didn’t get the hint, the characters were helpfully clad in appropriately colored hats so you could discern the good guys from the bad guys. There were exceptions: one good guy wore a mask to hide his identity (why did he do that if he was so good?) At least the Lone Ranger’s hat was white. Zorro’s entire costume was black – including the hat, and he too disguised himself, yet he was unquestionably one of the good guys.
But I digress. Things were certainly simpler then, but unfortunately – like everything else in the fifties – painted in monochromatic tones. The truth is actually far more interesting: a brilliant kaleidoscope of colors accented by softer tones with subtle shadings.
Shebby Lee Tours explores the West of both myth and reality, because both tell us about ourselves. Traveling these trails helps us understand who we are, where we have been, and how we as a society might approach the future. If you would like to experience the excitement of America’s westward expansion movement, plan to join us on the trail this season!
Shebby Lee is a historian, writer and tour operator specializing in the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. Her early training was in the theatre and she served a tour of duty as an entertainer with the USO. She is also an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.