The serene beauty of the bluffs along the Rock River seems almost untouched by human hands. The area is steeped in Native American history. The most prominent symbol is the eternal Indian. The 48-foot concrete sculpture nestled within Lowden State Park is created by famed Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft and inspired by Chief Black Hawk.
Commonly known as Black Hawk statue, the sculpture is visited by nearly half a million people each year. It indirectly became the inspiration for the huge festival.
"A few years ago, the then governor closed this park down as part of budgetary cut. We were very concerned about our economy, so we decided to create a festival that would celebrate Oregon, celebrate the Native American and Western Heritage, especially to celebrate Black Hawk," said Amy Trimble, a committee member of the Oregon Trail Days.
And the Oregon Trail Days Festival was born!
"When they come in, they're gonna see the largest gathering of tipis east of the Mississippi River. And we have over 50 authentic tipis, 23 of them are painted by local artists!" said Beth Henderson, a committee member of the Oregon Trial Days.
During the festival the tipis are moved to Lowden State Park for families to camp in. Festival activities in the park include a Native American dance circle and authentic ceremonial drummer. Everything happens within the watchful eye of the Black Hawk statue, which celebrated its 100th birthday on the 4th of July.
Shortly after the statue opened, tours were allowed inside, but they stopped in 1971 for safety reason. Now tours are only allowed during festival time.
"Now when you look at the Black Hawk statue, it doesn't look anything like the original Black Hawk looked. Black Hawk was a Sauk Fox Indian and he had a Mohawk; this statue, actually the face is Loredo Taft's brother-in-law. The face is very Caucasian but the statue itself embodies all the Native Americans," said Trimble.
Oregon Trail Days also celebrates Western heritage.
"We'll also have a cowboy ring arena, gunslingers, Annie Oakley, Frank Butler, so we'll have two different shows going on," said Henderson.
Not to mention the covered wagon rides, three teams, all day long, or saddle up and go for your own ride.
After an invigorating ride, you can relax at a nearby White Pines Forest State Park, under a canopy of fragrant white pine trees. You can also take in the beauty of the Rock River, from afar, or up close and personal!
On Sunday morning there's a 5-mile canoe rally. It starts in Oregon and ends here in Castle Rock State Park. You can rent a canoe, or bring your own.
Oregon Trail Days festival is Saturday and Sunday. It's an easy two hour drive from Chicago on Interstate 88 West to Interstate 39 North to Route 64 west into town. You'll know you're getting close when you leave behind the flat prairie land of Illinois and enter the magical, mystical world of the Blackhawk Waterways.
A very special guest, Jessica Patterson, the great, great, great, great granddaughter of Chief Black Hawk is scheduled to attend the festival. She will be a part of the ceremonial blessing and be available for autographs and pictures throughout the festival.
The festival begins on Saturday with the Native America blessing ceremony at the Black Hawk statue. Saturday night will feature country bands such as Southern heritage and Penny Mae. On Sunday, the festival will host the "Run-a-Muck" 8k run and the Oregon Lions Club will sponsor a pancake breakfast.
Port-a-Johns, shade tents and water will be available throughout the festival.
Parking will be available behind the courthouse on 6th Street and shuttles will run from there to Lowden State Park. Three busses will be running every 10 to 15 minutes. The shuttle costs $5 per person and free for children 12 years old or under.
Parking is also available across the road from Lowden State Park.