The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail migration, or the Oregon-California Trail migration, is one of the most important events in American History. The Oregon-California trail was a 2,170-mile route from Missouri to Oregon and California. The first mass migration occurred in 1843 when around 1000 pioneers made the journey at the same time.

The trail was the only land route for settlers to go west until 1869 when the first transcontinental railroad was completed. Over 500,000 people made the trip in covered wagons pulled by mule and oxen. Some went to Oregon to farm and others went to California to search for gold. The trip usually took 4-6 months by wagon traveling 15 miles a day.

In early Spring, emigrant campers arrived in Independence, Missouri, set up camp, and waited for the grass to grow along the Oregon Trail. If they left too early, there would be no grass for their animals to eat.

Most settlers traveled in farm wagons loaded with a thousand pounds of food. Many were equipped with tool boxes, water containers, and spare axles as breaking an axle without a spare meant abandoning the wagon.

As their traveling progressed, most realized they had over packed and were forced to lighten their loads by throwing things overboard. Because of the heavy loads, many were forced to walk the 2,170 mile journey instead of ride in the wagon.

There were many accidents along the way including being run over by the wagons. Another common accident was accidental gunshots from people fooling around with guns. Cholera was also a problem for the travelers. Some wagon trains lost two-thirds of their people to this quick killing disease.

One common misconception about the travelers’ journey is that the biggest danger was the Indians or Native Americans. The Native Americans were actually friendly more often than not.

Weather was a major danger to the settlers. Traveling in the summer meant dealing with thunderstorms, lightening and hail. All in all, one in ten did not survive the journey.

The final third of the trail was the most difficult and had to be done with expediency. Winter snows would close the mountain passes and travel was a race with time. In the early years, before the Barlow road was opened, travelers would have to abandon their wagons for boats and float down the Columbia river. Many lost their lives in the rapids and rough parts just miles from their destination.

Source: The Oregon Trail
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