THE society ended the year with two very different types of meeting.
Usually the December meetings end with some sort of concert with a Christmas theme followed by a bring and share Christmas party gathering.
In 2016, however, the concert and party preceded the final lecture.
On December 7 Anne Moore and her musical ensemble entertained us with Christmas music played on clarinets and bassoons, interspersed with carols and humorous stories.
Afterwards the assembled gathering enjoyed some festive fare together.
Two weeks later, Roger Shaw enthralled and intrigued us with his illustrated talk about the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s, which went from Independence in Missouri to Washington State on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, a journey of more than 3,000 miles.
The worst part was crossing through Wyoming Pass.
Apparently in 1804 Thomas Jefferson requested that a route should be found through the mid-west to the Pacific Coast of the US and the federal government urged people to “open up the West” to ease the burden on many settlements in the east. More than 500,000 migrants made the journey westwards but it was the Oregon Trail, beginning in 1843, that really made the headlines because of the sheer size of the wagon trains and the numbers involved in the migration.
More than 80 per cent of those who started the journey were farmers but even they could not have anticipated the conditions of the Great Plains, the deep rutted tracks, the cold and the droughts and the lack of fuel and water.
The longest train comprised 1,600 wagons, or “Pacific Schooners”, made by Studebakers and pulled mainly by oxen since the horses collapsed under the strain. Because of polluted water 57 people died in one day.
More than 10 million cattle were driven westwards though we have no knowledge of how many died nor of how they fared with traversing the lands occupied by between 20 and 30 million buffaloes.
The two advantages for the migrants were that buffalo meat was nutritious and buffalo dung was highly flammable.
The westward migration was so important to the history of America that, as Mr Shaw pointed out, many films about the Wild West have been made but few have any real understanding of the conditions experienced by those early pioneers.
The next meeting will be on January 18 when Hugh Granger will give a talk called “Barnes Wallace — an amazing career”.
For more information about the society, please visit our website, http://caversham heights.org or call Carol Cozens on 0118 946 1509 or Jill Hodges on 0118 959 5307.