A 20-mile trip for shopping or visiting a friend might entail crossing half a dozen bridges. We take our infrastructure for granted, often flying across bridges at 60 miles an hour without giving them a moment’s thought.
When our ancestors first came to the Midwest, there were no roads or bridges. Crossing a major river such as the Missouri or Mississippi was a major challenge for families traveling in wagon trains.
Those traveling on horseback were sometimes able to cross by relying on their horse to do the swimming. Of course, whatever the season, such a risky adventure normally involved getting wet.
The simplest method of crossing the rivers in the pioneer era was to wait until a hard freeze made the river safe to cross. Today the rivers don’t freeze over sufficiently to provide safe crossing, but things were different before the Army Corps of Engineers created deep, swift-flowing trenches in our rivers to keep river traffic flowing even in winter.
In the 1800s, our major rivers were wider and slower, solidly freezing in the wintertime. Entire wagon trains crossed the ice on major rivers such as the Mississippi, often camping for weeks or months, waiting for the river to freeze over.