In the early 1990s, Monroe Elementary History Teacher Ed Gwartney decided to build a wagon as they had been constructed in the old pioneer days, and decided, with his long time friend Bill Coate, to use the wagon for a short wagon trip reenactment: a perfect teaching tool that fit squarely into the Madera Method. Soon, a few more wagons were assembled and the Madera Method Wagon Trains adventures were born.
In 1996 and 1997, the Madera Method conducted wagon train trips in the hill country of Madera County. The trail took them from the Daulton Ranch, up to Raymond and back down the old, dirt stage coach road. By this time, the Madera Method Wagon Train had grown from just two wagons to five. It also included 10 large mules, six mounted outriders, and a chuck wagon. The crew consisted of volunteers who donated their time and money to make the trips possible. They remained a closely knit group.
In 1998, the Wagon Train took the children from Madera to Coloma, as California began celebrating the sesquicentennial of its statehood at Coloma, the site of the 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. The Madera Method Wagon Train joined in the celebration by taking 30 students to Coloma by wagons. Following Highway 49, the group traveled through many of California’s gold rush towns. Each community turned out with enthusiasm to welcome the young pioneers and feed them. It took 20 days for the wagons to reach Coloma. On the morning of January 24, 1998, they were greeted by Governor Pete Wilson and his wife, Gail.
In 1999, California celebrated the coming of the ‘49ers and the gold rush. The Madera Method joined in by taking students from Madera to the port of Stockton where they met a tall ship that had sailed in from San Francisco. As the Madera Method Wagon Train moved north, it was joined by other wagon trains, until by the time they reached Stockton, there were 100 wagons in the train.
From 2000 to 2005, the Madera Method Wagon Train continued to take students on trips to the back country of Madera County. They took a trip each year and sometimes took two.
In 2005, The Madera Method Wagon Train completed its most ambitious trek. The wagons, mules, horses adult crew, and students were transported to El Paso, Texas where they were met by trail riders from the Texas Wildlife Department.
Also joining the students was David Ewing Stewart, whose grandfather, William P. Huff wrote a 300,000-word journal of his travels from Richmond, Texas to Mariposa. California in 1849-50. The Texas trip began at Socorro and followed the Upper Emigrant Trail all the way to Austin, Texas. It took 30 days to make the journey. The students had Huff’s diary with them, and they read it every day as they followed the 49’ers trail backwards. They passed by all of the landmarks noted by Huff.
When they reached Austin, the wagons pulled right up to the capitol building where they received copies of the resolution passed by the Texas State Senate, commending the students and the crew on their historic accomplishment.