At 86 years old, longtime Delaware County resident Chuck Schroeder completed a longstanding goal this summer by traveling west to participate in the 58th annual Chief Joseph Trail Ride.
Schroeder, a former teacher and coach in the Buckeye Valley Local School District, was one of more than 80 riders to participate in this year’s ride, which traversed 100 miles beginning in Idaho and finishing in Montana.
The complete trail ride follows the 1,300-mile trek the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce tribe, led by Chief Joseph, took during the Nez Perce War in 1877 in an attempt to reach Canada and avoid being placed on a reservation while fleeing the United States Army. Joseph and his decimated band were ultimately forced to surrender just shy of the Canadian border and were later taken to a reservation in present-day Oklahoma.
Each year, a 100-mile segment of the trail is ridden to recreate the journey. The trail begins at the homeland of the Nez Perce in the Wallowa Valley in Joseph, Oregon, and finishes at Bear Paw Battlefield in northern Montana, where Joseph surrendered. Riders travel 20 miles each day during the five-day journey.
Appaloosa horses are required to be ridden during the trail ride, given their close ties to the Nez Perce tribe, which ultimately led to Schroeder learning about the ride as an Appaloosa Horse Club judge of 45 years.
Schroeder said he’s had horses his entire life, and while teaching in Michigan prior to moving to Delaware County, he purchased an Appaloosa mare. After breeding the mare with an Appaloosa stallion owned by his local veterinarian, Schroeder owned an Appaloosa colt and decided to join the Michigan chapter of the Appaloosa Horse Club.
“We started showing a little bit and had a lot of success,” Schroeder told The Gazette. “I was just fascinated with the Nez Perce tribe and how they developed the Appaloosa horses. I just had a real interest in the Appaloosa horses.”
He later became the president of the Michigan chapter and has been breeding Appaloosa horses since 1963.
Schroeder had wanted to partake in the ride for many years but was always so wrapped up with showing and judging that he couldn’t find time to seize the opportunity.
“It’s 2,000 miles to get out there,” he said. “It took me three-and-a-half days to get there and the same to return. And the ride itself was five days. But this was something I just really wanted to do, and it was well worth the trip. It was beautiful scenery.”
During the ride, participants would set out at 8 a.m. and ride until noon before stopping to eat lunch and water the horses. They would then ride until 4 p.m. before making camp. After eating dinner, there would be a two-hour program where descendants of the tribe, archaeologists, and other experts would speak to the riders. Schroeder said the entire experience was as much about the educational component as the riding itself.
Once finished, Schroeder felt a sense of accomplishment having completed the bucket list item, and he noted the experience was even more than he expected. The ride also gave him an appreciation for the plight of the Nez Perce as they desperately tried to preserve their traditions.
“I think the main thing was just the beautiful scenery, but also learning more about the fight the Nez Perce tribe had and hardships they went through,” he said. “And, of course, you’re riding with people with the same interests from all parts of the United States. There were people from San Antonio, Texas, to people from Wisconsin.”
Schroeder noted he traveled the farthest to take part in the ride and was probably the oldest of the riders. The youngest, he said, was 14 years old.
He went on to say, “It was very fun, and I was with people who had been on the trail ride for many years. Many of them had done the entire 1,300-mile trail. It was about developing friendships, and we all had two things in common — a love for riding and a love for the Appaloosa horse.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.